Before my trip to Barcelona, I had been to Spain only twice before; once to Teneriffa for a short, sunny, weekend get-away, and once for a stop-over on my way to Paris.
I knew, before arriving, that Barcelona would be packed with tourists. I expected long lines, crowded streets, and aggressive drivers. The height of tourism season in Barcelona is between July and August, which was exactly when I was to be visiting. I don’t usually mind large crowds when I travel as I, a tourist myself, contribute to that crowd, so I wasn’t frightened by the threatening articles that warned me of pick-pockets and thieves. I packed a small purse with many small compartments to keep my valuables safe and made my way to the most modern city in Spain.
It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Barcelona. I took a cab from the airport to Caller de Ferran and fell directly under its Catalan spell. The streets we small and narrow, and just as crowded as I imagined them to be. On every corner an ice cream shop or a restaurant offering the best tapas in town, accompanied by (for a person based in an expensive city like Stockholm) a jaw-droppingly cheap glass of wine.
Architecture is the first thing I notice when I travel to a new city, and the buildings in Barcelona made my heart skip a beat. From normal apartment buildings to greater creations such as the breathtaking Sagrada Familia, I had never seen such beautiful structures. Somehow it felt modern and ancient all at once.
The hustle and bustle of the busy streets were of course an experience in itself, however, what I found to be the most charming were the quieter roads a kilometer or two outside of the pulsing city.
My first day there, I felt the need to explore as much as I could on foot, without ever consulting a map. This is my favourite thing to do when visiting a new city; pick a direction, and start walking until I discover something amazing. After an hour or so of exploring the city, I made my way to a quiet neighbourhood where native Barcelonians were going about their daily lives. Suddenly, the roar of a large crowd was replaced by the sound of a classic Spanish guitar being played from balconies throughout the neighbourhood. Children were playing football in the street and being called in for dinner, older, well-dressed men with canes were conversing (loudly) on every park bench. The smell of freshly washed laundry filled the air, and you could see various pieces of clothing strung up on lines between each apartment building.
I was to be meeting a friend that night whom I hadn’t seen since high school. We met up at one of the many plazas throughout the city, and I couldn’t wait to experience the nightlife.
The food in Barcelona is, of course, unlike anything else. Paella, pan con tomato, calamaries, chorizo, croquetas… all washed down with the perfect glass of Tempranillo (as a self-proclaimed wine geek, being surrounded by so many gorgeous Spanish wines had me in heaven).
The city came even more alive as the night went on. Families were out having dinner together, couples sat close together at small romantic tables, staring deeply into each others’ eyes. Music was constantly playing throughout the plaza and people would get up to dance as if no one was watching them. So much love, so much energy, so much happiness.
We wound up sitting next to a couple who were visiting from Germany. They had been to Barcelona many times; in fact, it’s where they met and fell in love! I always try to engage with others while traveling, whether they be tourists themselves or native to the city I’m visitng. Everyone has a unique story, everyone can teach you something. I promised myself long ago to make sure to ask people questions, as many as I can, whenever I can… interaction with others is what brings us closer as human beings, and the things you learn about them stay with you forever.
The next day, we got up early to visit Park Guell, the attraction I had been most looking forward to. Designed by Gaudi in 1900, the colors and energy of the park was overwhelming. Walking through the park felt like disappearing into a fantasy land, all of the buildings reminded me of gingerbread houses and cotton candy dreams.I love that Gaudi respected the vegetation throughout the park when he designed it, it felt almost as though he build around the bushes and trees, as to not disturb them.
Upon walking a way into the park, we heard music and what sounded like tap shoes. A crowd had gathered to watch 2 men play Spanish guitar while another danced perfectly to the music, the sound of his shoes scuffing the concrete sounded almost liked drums. Children came forth to dance, I’d never seen such a happy group of people!
We walked passed a woman playing ABBA songs on a xylophone-looking instrument, and as I am incessantly curious about people, I had to ask her what she was doing there. She was a Swede who came to Barcelona in 1992 to get her masters degree in European History. She planned to go back to Sweden and teach history at Stockholm University, but fell so deeply in love with Barcelona that she never returned! She told us that she came to the park every Saturday to play songs on various instruments she had learned while living there, simply to put a smile on the faces of passers-by.
From Park Guell, we made our way to the beach for a drink. This city offers SO much! Culture, history, a busy city with shopping and restaurants as well as a beautiful, sandy beach with plenty of space to lay down and work on your tan. The boardwalk is sensational, hugging the beach and offering tapas, ice cream and cold drinks along the way.
The food markets are to die for. Fresh fruit and juice available for 2-4 euros. Chorizos and other sausages hanging from the ceiling, fresh fish and shellfish beautifully presented on ice.
Leaving Barcelona was truly difficult; I had been captivated by its charm and incredible people. When visiting Barcelona, I highly suggest staying at an Air BnB instead of a hotel or hostel. Renting an apartment in the city gives a more authentic experience, and more flexibility when it comes to food and drink.
Barcelona is certainly high up on the list of must-see cities in Europe. I know I left a piece of my heart among the busy streets, and look forward to going back to retrieve it.