Oh My Gaudi

It feels like just yesterday that I was touching down in Barcelona!  But it was nearly three weeks ago…and I’m finally posting about it.  Spain, what a beautiful country.  Full of delicious food, beautiful music and fantastic architecture.  My dad went with me, though he arrived a few hours earlier than I did due to our different flights.  I managed to score a very cheap flight last November through Delta’s sale, while my dad took Lufthansa instead because he made a last minute decision to come to Spain with me.  After a few flight delays, lots of airplane food and little sleep, I finally landed in Barcelona during rush hour and managed to make it to my hotel by late evening.  Though the traffic was bad, my cab driver let me use my Spotify account (@kasiarymar) to play music, so there was lots of Despacito (Justin Bieber’s version) on our drive in, which made it much smoother.  When I finally made it, I checked in, unpacked, stopped by my dad’s room to check his ETA for dinner and we went straight up to our hotel’s rooftop tapas bar.  And it did NOT disappoint.

I elected to stay in the Hotel El Palace in Barcelona due to its central location and historical significance.  Originally built as a Ritz hotel, it recently was renovated and reopened under new management.  However, this hotel’s history as a Ritz hotel dates back to the days of Dali and WW1, with the likes of Dali himself staying in the hotel, amongst other celebrities and even royalty.  Shifting back to the present, my dad and I made it to the rooftop bar and ordered our first Spanish meals of el jamon (Iberian ham), calamari, patatas bravas and, of course, sangria.  Although I didn’t realize that a “luxury sangria” meant a foot tall XXXL glass of sangria, I went with the flow and it did not disappoint.  All of the food was fresh and tasty, while local guitar players strummed away at their guitars closely and panoramic views filled our eyes.  It was the perfect way to start off my first day in Barcelona.  We ended the night wandering around the Gothic District, which was just outside our doorstep.  I was already excited with what Barcelona had to offer.

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Our first morning in the city began a bit rockier than expected, as my Dad and I woke up late and barely made it to our bus tour for Montserrat, which is a Monastery home to the famous Virgin of Montserrat (Spain’s Black Madonna), a Benedictine Abbey, scattered ancient hermitages and hiking trails.  We somehow made it, thanks to my cousin (also named Kasia) holding the bus for us–she met us in Barcelona from Poland.  I decided to book the Viator Early Access Tour due to its early arrival time, as it is first bus tour that arrives in Montserrat, which provides time for you to tour the of the first bus tour of the day to arrive in Montserrat, so it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.  Overall, the tour was decent and informative but the church, Monastery and views of the surrounding mountains were beautiful.  My dad, cousin and I found time to take the funicular to the top of the mountain and snap a few pics, before rushing down the the liquor tasting area (yes, you can taste test liquor made at the Monastery! – Hazel was my favorite) and running to make the bus back to the city.

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After a quick lunch stop at a local tapas restaurant, my Dad, cousin and I strolled a few blocks to the Placa de Catalunya, where we boarded our hop on-hop off bus tour.  If you decide to do the same tour we did, remember to PRINT OUT your voucher, as it’s quite a hassle to go to the bus tour’s information desk and print out your voucher–my wifi was not connecting and email kept failing.  After a half hour delay, we boarded our bus and took the Red Route, which featured sites such as the Gothic District, Port Olimpic, Port Vell and Montjuic.  We hopped off at the Gothic District and strolled around, got some gelato and ended the day once again at our hotel’s rooftop bar (they just have the best tapas and drinks!).

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We began the next day, Sunday, at Sagrada Familia for the Experience Panoramic Views Tour (check out a YouTube video below), which is a combined audio and panoramic tour.  Our audio tour was 9:15am, followed by a panoramic tour at 11:15am.  The church was absolutely stunning.  I can confidently say I have never and will never see anything like it.  It was an innovative beacon of architecture and religious haven within a bustling city.  If you decide to do the interior tour (which you SHOULD NOT MISS), plan to book tickets online at least one week in advance.  The panoramic tour requires a separate time slot, so you need to separately book this as well.  Give yourself about an hour and a half to tour the interior of the church and its museum before the panoramic tour.  Just as the interior tour of the church is a must-see, the panoramic tour is as well.  It does go very high up and has some winding staircases, so people who have physical disabilities, are scared of heights or have vertigo should probably stay back.  That being said, the panorama from the top had some of the best city views I’d seen thus far in Barcelona.  You’re also able to see the details (like dove and olive branch statues) in the spiraling steeples, which are otherwise very difficult to spot from down below.

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After the Sagrada Familia tour, the three of us hopped back on the hop on-hop off bus tour, but this time, we took the Blue Route.  It was Gaudi-filled day, as we drove by a few more Gaudi landmarks, such as the Casa Batillo and Park Guell.  We got off the bus at Park Guell and toured around–note that you have to walk about 10 minutes up a hill to get to the park; it isn’t located in front of the bus stop, which is unclearly communicated on the tour.  Our tour only consisted of walking around the gardens and over bridges.  Access to the Monumental Park, which is the most photographed sector of the park, required advance purchase of a ticket.  You can get these online or at the park–but note that if you wait to purchase it at the park, you may get a time slot that is hours from when you bought it.  This is why we did not buy tickets–we got to the park around noon and the earliest time they had for that day was 5pm!  Nevertheless, it was still a beautiful walk.

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The rest of the bus tour was spent driving by additional Blue Route highlights, such as the Camp Nou Stadium, which is the home field of Barcelona FC.  After a quick dinner, my dad and I headed over to the Palau de la Musica Catalana for a Raimon concert.  Raimon is a local treasure in Catalonia–his songs are mainly sung in Catalan and are fiercely patriotic.  You could feel the energy in the concert hall as elderly, local Catalans filled the hall to the brim and heartily sang along to each one of Raimon’s songs.

Unfortunately this was our last night in Barcelona before heading to our next step–Mallorca!   My dad and I spent the next morning stuffing ourselves with breakfast at our hotel, packing and driving to the airport.  We took a non-stop flight via RyanAir, which was a smooth and easy ride.  Tickets are very reasonable (~37 Euros) but we paid extra for a Priority Seat and Early Boarding, which is worth the extra few Euros.  Check out some of my recommendations below on my favorite Barcelona spots!

Eat

Lonja de Tapas – Juame I : Authentic tapas for cheap prices

Rooftop Bar at Hotel El Palace: Authentic tapas and craft cocktails but pricey

El Nacional: Open and airy square of restaurants that each have a unique theme (seafood, desserts, drinks, etc)

Drink

Espit Chupitos: Lively bar for 20-somethings.  Think Wrigleyville/post-college atmosphere

Explore

La Boqueria: Farmers market in Las Ramblas

Gothic Quarter: Perfect evening walk featuring local street musicians and hidden courtyards.  Also great for daytime church exploring (be sure to dress conservatively)

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