Saturday, February 19, 2011

Day 101: Ross' Backpacker's Barcelona Top 10

I don't know exactly why but arriving in a new country is always exhilarating. Exhausted after my three day hitch hiking extravaganza, as I emerged from the subway I felt anew. The warmth of Barcelona flowed into me. Buildings towered over me, people all over the place yammering in Catalan, complete entropy. I fell in love with this city immediately. I'll never forget the feeling I got when I crossed the first big street. The pedestrian light turned green and a flood of people charged towards me. I couldn't help but smile, I felt like I was back in Manhattan.

Barcelona as seen from Park Güell!

From the grandeur of Gaudi to its beautiful beaches, Barcelona is a metropolitan paradise. Walking aimlessly through the streets is a whirlwind of trendy stores, historic buildings, fresh markets, profuse parks, tantalizing tapas, lush languages and indians quacking away on various voice changing gizmos. Barcelona was one hell of an introduction to Spain.

One of my favorite pictures I've ever taken.

Of the ten days that I spent in Barcelona, I was hosted by two people. My first hosts were a pair of girls from Vancouver. They are two incredibly lucky college students studying abroad in Barcelona. We enjoyed a wonderful few days together, cooking, touring around the city, going out and getting sloppy on €1 cava and reveling in the bottle of wine we enjoyed on the beach. Learning about their lives was a treat and speaking English with native speakers was refreshing. They lived in the center of the city so we spent lots of time in the storm.

Myself, my two hosts, and another CouchSurfer from Viena.

My second host, who's extreme generosity I've already described, lived in a suburb of Barcelona called Les Planes. His house was nestled into a hillside and nearly covered with trees. It felt like living in the jungle. Samuel treated myself and his other surfer to a weekend of touring around the city. I am so appreciative of my two hosts because they each allowed me to see a different side of the city. So without further ado, here my ten favorite activities in Barcelona.

Samuel's beautiful living room.

Ross' Backpacker's Barcelona Top 10:

1. Sagrada Familia
Pay to go inside. Go on a weekday early in the morning. I stood at the entrance, unable to move, for at least a minute. Spend a while in the church and watch the light change. I enjoyed reading about his inspiration for the church's architecture in the museum. Perhaps going to see the museum before would be a neat build-up. Either way you're going to freak.

I didn't know that Sagrada Familia is only half finished.
Gaudi was heavily inspired by natural structures.

2. Barcelona's Mar Belle (the beach)
Laying in the sun on one of Barcelona's many beaches is the perfect counter to a long day of city crawling. Despite the time of year, even in February it was 20ºC and warm enough to lay on the beach.

Skinny dipping in the Mediterranean was estaba muy frío!
Nude beaches FTW, you'll have to use your imagination.

3. Plaça del Tibidabo
For the best view of Barcelona take S1 or S2 train to Peu del Funicular. The funicular will bring you to the top of the hill with an amazing view, but take the bus right by the station to get to the Plaça. Besides the best view in the city, there's also a fascinating three-in-one church and a ridiculous amusement park.

The top of the church on Mont Tibidabo.
The holy cobweb.

4. Tapas & Cava
I feel like I've been living like a Spaniard all my life – waking up late, taking naps, and eating a lot. When I discovered tapas I was a little upset I've wasted 22 years of my life without them. They're little snacks of a few flavor packed bites. The girls brought me to a fantastic tapas place called Sagardi. You pick which tapas you'd like and then pay by the number of toothpicks on your plate. For outstanding Moroccan sandwiches check out Bo De B (near Barceloneta). Then head to Can Panixano for cava and more tapas!

The power trio enjoying tapas at Tapa Tapa.
Purple was my theme for tapa selection at Sagardi.

5. Barcelona's Boquaria
Boca means mouth in Spanish. Barcelona's boquaria is not only a feast for all of your senses. Seeing where your meat cut with a bandsaw right in front of you. Feeling the skins of different fruits. Smelling the fresh seafood. Ordering ingredients for my cassoulet in Spanish was a lot of fun. Plus, the food is way better quality and the prices are cheaper than most super markets.

The entrance to Barcelona's boquaria as seen from La Rambla.
This kid reminded me of a younger version of myself.

6. Park Güell
If you only have time to check out one of Barcelona's parks, let it be Park Güell. This park is a masterful marriage of architecture and landscaping. It is home to many pieces from Gaudi and it's packed with people. From the top of the park you have a great view of Barcelona and Sagrada Familia. Take your time walking the twisting paths and do your best to soak up the environment around you.

One of Gaudi's pieces in Park Güell.
The main entrance to Park Güell.

7. La Rambla
I've never seen a street quite like La Rambla before. It's a crazy hodgepodge of tourists, locals, and vendors. It starts in the center of Barcelona at Plaça Catalunia and ends at the beach. It's a hot spot for thieves but don't be deterred. Off of its side streets are some of the best places to eat. Sit on a bench for a while and watch the scene unfold.

This statue is mimicking the famous Italian mime,  Jerome Murat.
Some of the statues were really creative.

8. The Stores
Barcelona has some of the coolest stores that I've ever seen. The first place the girls brought me was the Vinçon design store. I was pretty sure I died and went to design heaven. There are tons of other great stores in Barcelona no matter where your interests may lie. Take some time to do plenty of window shopping and buy macarons whenever you get the chance.

Who doesn't want a fish lamp?
Crumpled paper paperweights – a design classic.

9. The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc
Right outside of the España metro stop lies the Palau Nacional and the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. The combination of these two landmarks in one area is stunning. At night the fountain comes live with impressive displays of water and lights choreographed to music. After the fountain puts you under its spell take a walk up and check out the Palace.

Palau Nacional all lit up and special looking.

My day trip to Montserrat was one of the many highlights of my time in Barcelona. Only an hour train ride away, trekking around in the nature of Montserrat provided a much needed break from hectic city life. The views from this monastery built into a mountain are breathtaking. Climb to the top instead of taking the funicular!

A mountain goat scared the crap out of me!
An amazing view – I could see Barcelona!

If you go to Barcelona, which I recommend you do, spend a lot of time wandering aimlessly through the streets. A new flavor is brought by each district and they mix together to form an amazing cornucopia that could only be compliments of Barcelona. A few days is not enough to see everything here. Unless you want to be unbearably teased, give yourself at least a week to absorb the city. I spent ten days there and between the people I met and the city itself, I can't wait to return. Viva Barcelona!


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