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Barcelona. Why have I never made it out to this wonderful city before now? It’s ridiculous when you think about it. Sunny weather, cheapish flights, good food. Madness.
Recently I had the good fortune of being able to head over to the capital of Catalonia (is that right?) for our annual Terms of Service team meetup with work. The whole time I was there I had the tune from Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona stuck in my head. Oh Barcelonaaaaaa. One of my friends and colleagues David was coming over from New York, and suggested that we fly out a few days early to explore before the serious business part started, and so we took the opportunity to do so. I’d hoped Grace would be able to come too, but her work shifts didn’t let that happen. Just means we’ll need to make another trip at some point. How awful.
There’s no real chronological narrative that I can give from the 10 or so days I was out there, as it’s all kind of blended into one big hazy mass. Instead, I’m going to group things into loose categories, and bung all the pictures from my iPhone, RX100, and Leica in together. Heresy.
The best cities in the world need to have a good drinking culture as part of their credentials. Extra points awarded for weird and wonderful local tipples. In this regard, Barcelona comes out pretty well. For some reason Brewdog seemed to be readily available everywhere (not that I drank any), sangria was fruity and plentiful, and wine was cheaper than juice in many of the restaurants. On top of all that, who can really complain about imbibing in cocktails by the beach?
The real alcoholic gem was something called ‘Panther Milk’ – called something in Spanish that I won’t even bother Googling to pretend like I remember. Pantera de Leche maybe? Either way, it’s a delicious concoction of something involving cinnamon, condensed milk, gin, and rum. Sounds awful, but it was deceivingly delicious. For a measly 10 Euros, you get a full bottle of this White Russian-esque mixture – and can even have it changed up with the addition of other spirits to change the flavour. Strawberry, kiwi, coffee and the like. We were warned not to get pished on it, and one of our party found out the hard way. The less said about that the better, eh Watkis?
Bars in Barcelona are generally good fun – and the spirits cheap if you go to the right places. Just like elsewhere in the Mediterranean, the measures are pretty considerable; a particular novelty for those of us restricted by the Weights and Measures Act 1985. We met up with some friends from Glasgow and had a great time bouncing around and drinking bars dry (literally), but had the best times in some of the quieter places that weren’t filled up with tourists, or testosterone fuelled ‘alpha males’ out on the prowl. Stick to the quirky bars down the side streets rather than on the main strips and you won’t go far wrong.
Tapas is everywhere in Barcelona. Something that I am sure will come as a huge shock. As I’m gluten intolerant, it limits the choices I’ve got, so as awesome as it could be, it also got old pretty quick… patatas bravas being an obvious exception. What was that spicy sauce? I need to get some more of it in my life.
We managed to find some really amazing things to eat over the week though. Small plates are everywhere, but it isn’t the only thing that’s available. There are really tiny, interesting restaurants down every the warren of side streets. Cheese, meats, and fresh veg feature heavily in. We also managed to find a decent amount of gluten free options… including one of the best ‘hot dogs’ (proper sausage) I’ve ever tasted. I will dream about it for years to come. No picture though, soz.
Eggs, potatoes, meat, and cheese are big here. If you can’t find somewhere great to eat, walk for a few minutes down the road. There seems to be endless nooks and crannies to explore.
One of the biggest highlights about the city for me was the Boqueria Market. I’m a sucker for places like this in general, but this one was something particularly special. Filled with beautiful colours, the fruit and veg were big, fresh, and inexpensive. We got some fresh fruit drinks for 1 Euro each, and they were some of the best things I’ve ever tasted. Rather than the disappointing watery, or thick juices you get used to, this was perfect. I had a kind of dragonfruit with fresh coconut… and it was unbelievably good. I don’t like coconut in drinks normally, but this was perfect.
There was also every kind of meat, cheese, spice, and fish you could imagine; including kinds I’d never seen before. Oh, and chocolate boobs of course. It’s no exaggeration to say that I could have wandered around there for hours happily. It’s enough to make me want to come back purely to spend a whole day buying different things and taking it back to an apartment later to make an amazing feast. Drool.
Barcelona is Gaudi’s city. No idea who he is? Nah, me neither. At least not till I got there. You’re probably more familiar with his ‘magnum opus’, the as of yet uncompleted Sagrada Família. In other words, the big cathedral thing you see on all the postcards.
We visited a few of his creations, including the aforementioned Cathedral, Park Güell and Casa Batlló. The first one was pretty impressive when you first walk in, but not a whole lot to see unless you have a particular penchant for the religious, or without paying extra to go up to the top and admire the view (we didn’t). The Park was also very cool, with weird looking swirly constructions that look like you’ve landed on the set of a Cat in the Hat movie. The bit you have to pay to get into is cool, but also pretty small. Whether it’s worth the wait and the cost to get in probably depends on your interest in architecture, or just ticking the box to say you’ve been there and done it. The best of the three was the ‘Gaudi House’ though, which we were conveniently just staying along the street from. Outside it looks a bit like the front is melting off, with various skeleton imagery incorporated… but inside is where it really comes into its own. The whole thing is designed without straight lines (apparently), and made to evoke the sea. I’m not really a big aficionado of architecture, but this place was pretty amazing; the attention to detail crazy. At 20ish Euros each entry it wasn’t cheap, but if you had to pick just one place I would dinghy paying for both the Park and the Cathedral and head here instead. No real pictures of the inside, soz.
I’m really a bit at a loss as to what to say about Barcelona in general. It has all the elements of an awesome place to be – with the food, the beach, and everything else. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing at first though. Somebody suggested it might be a lack of authenticity in the areas that we spent our time, with a lot of things seemingly set up to cope with the huge number of tourists that they get – but I’m not quite sure that hits the nail on the head, as we definitely spent a lot of time in places that locals frequented.
In one sense, there wasn’t the same tangible sense of identity hanging in the air like you might find in other cities – even despite the Catalonian flags draped from every balcony. When you’re in Athens, or Paris, or London, you feel like you’re there – but not so much the same sort of thing in Barcelona. The atmosphere was far more understated, and perhaps that’s actually part of its charm. Almost from the moment we arrived I felt relaxed and comfortable – something that sometimes doesn’t even happen at all whilst travelling. I can’t put my finger on it, but the more time I spent in the city, the more I liked it. There isn’t a lack of culture evident in Barcelona – far from it – it’s just that it doesn’t feel the need to smack you around the face with it. The city feels like somewhere that you really need to spend a decent amount of time in to understand. A few months here would be amazing – if only I could work out a way to make it happen.
I guess the only real solution will be to go back soon.
Other (black and white) pictures from the trip are here.