Friday, June 10, 2016

Birthday in Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona ChurchOne of the inevitables about being an expat is that you will have friends come and go.

This is exciting - ohhh! new friends.
And terrible - don't leave me friends!

We even did this to our friends on both sides of the ocean when we returned to the States after a year away...and then returned to Berlin.

That doesn't make it any more agreeable. So when our besties returned to Manchester we were more than bummed. This injustice was unbearable! Even with their visits back to Berlin and our trip to see them, we need more time with Engs.

So, we each like travel. We like each other. For reasons that are beyond comprehension, we had never forayed into Spain together (and even odder we ended up in Madrid within 6 months). Joint vacation! And what better place than beautiful Barcelona? And it was my birthday! Let's do this. So we did.

Barcelona Ratings:

Ratings will be done in churro. With chocolate.


Airport Shenanigans
4 churros -
City was very walkable so there was no reason to use the transportation downtown. The metro was not as roomy and airy as Berlin's when we did use it (closer to NYC's).

4 churros -
The airport is quite large with multiple terminals, but everything was clearly marked and easy to navigate. This city is heavily touristed and they are ready for you.

Getting in from El Prat de Llobregat Aeropuerto (or just call it Barcelona International Airport) was extremely easy with several different options. Just outside the airport there are express buses for €5.90 for a single and €10.20 for return. Not the cheapest and - surprise! - billed on board wifi didn't really work, but it was fine. You can also take the train (RENFE) and/or subway. Or if you're fancy take a taxi for 30 euroish. Full info:

The city is infinitely walkable which is our favorite way to see a city. Just walk it to death. And we got the chance to ride another metro.

Ian & Kirstie
3.5 churros & 4 churros -

The airport bus was very easy to find - plus they gave you a handy city map which we used for the rest of our trip. The underground network was super cheap at €1 per trip if you buy the T10 Travel Card at €10 for ten trips. It was confusing finding the right platform at Plaça de Catalunya though. And Ian noted it wasn't very pram/stroller friendly compared to other cities. Plus it seemed a tricky trip to get out to the amusement park (Tibidabo) on the mountain.

La Rambla


4.5 churros -

The area (Garcia) was great. Perfect for our needs as two families who still want to eat and drink out. Too bad it was November and we couldn't use the massive terrace as much.

4 churros -

We've been AirBnB devotees for a while and they really hooked us up with this one. There are a kajilion options in the city and prices are more than fair. Apparently the average is 137 euro, but you can find much cheaper and more lavish.

To suit two families, we got a 2-bedroom, 2-bath spot with full kitchen, terrace and balcony. Wifi rocked, TV didn't work, stairs were narrow and twisty into the place, style was charming and definitely not baby friendly and there were two rolls of toilet paper. For four adults over 5 nights. WTF? This is the second time this happened to us (the other being Rome) and while it is far from a deal-killer, it is weird and cheap. Don't do this AirBnB hosts. Other options we liked:

The neighborhood, Gracia, was described as village-like with many shops and restaurants. Truth! Ian fell in love with an empanada place just 5 min away.We bought Mad the cutest red rain boots.A toy shop had toys that were too hip for us, but just right for Mad. A Spaeti style grocer at the end of our street kept us in beer.

Ian & Kirstie
4.5 churros & 4 churros  

Fab place in the best area to base yourselves in the city with plenty of places to pick up food. Plus we could pretty much walk anywhere from the door. The accommodation was spacious for four adults and two toddlers with not many stairs to climb.


So...this is like the most beautiful park on earth, right?

4.5 churros-

"I mean....more sights than we could have visited". High praise from Porter.

The only drawback was the high price of everything. If we were to go into all the Gaudi attractions at almost 20 euro a pop we couldn't eat.

Stuff was expensive. 

4.75 churros -

Yeah, this place is magical. Loaded with attractions, we were thrilled just walking around. And it is infinity walkable. Not too hilly, plenty of wide boulevard (like the tourist must-do La Rambla) and views, views, views for days. There are wild parrots. Everything is picture perfect.
Park Güell
    • Parc de la Ciutadella - We went for the mammoth and went ga-ga over the gorgeous fountain
    • Basilica of the Sagrada Familia - We didn't go in, but ohhed and aweddd outside. Mistake? I went in when I was 16 and didn't remember it. Didn't seem enough incentive with a little monster.
    • Block of Discord - We gawked at every building here. While the name "Gaudi" gets thrown around quite a bit in this town (rightfully so - his influence is everywhere), it is impossible to ignore how exciting his buildings are.
    • Park Güell - Speaking of, this tourist go-to provided a beautiful look over the city and into Gaudi's imagination.
    • Barceloneta - After a heavy meal of shared tapas which spilled out over our small table, we stumbled right onto beach. Spaniards claim this isn't "good" beach because it is overcrowded and they are spoiled. We are from Berlin (via Manchester and Seattle). Even in November, it was heaven. We dipped the girls' feet in the waters and giddily ran across the sand. If you are similarly spoiled, there are fantastic beaches just 30 min away.
    • Montjuïc - It happened to be my birthday when we rode up here. The gondola was randomly not working so we bus and walked it. What a view! We saw the Olympic stadium and Museum National d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) where we busted open some surprise cava. My favorite! We also almost got my camera stolen. Petty thievery is no joke here, and even though I felt so on top of it overall, the mini spontaneous celebration had me distracted and one asshole took his moment to swoop in and try to snag my camera. Luckily, Ian was my hero and boomed "GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM OUR CAMERA!" and he actually did! Set it down and ran away. Very thankful I have an intimidating-looking guy and we can chalk this up to an experience and not a tragedy. By the time we got caught up in an Asian wedding party at the bottom of the hill it felt like a bizarre (dare I say surreal?) memory.

    Ian & Kirstie
    4.5 churros & 4.5 churros  

    So much to choose from! But as Ian P notes, it's all pretty expensive. I hoped to do the cable car trip across the habour but it was a pricey €11 single or €16.50 return. Plaza del Rey was free after 3pm on Sundays though. But wandering the streets was the best way to see the city anyway. And the beach is free too of course!
      Which brings me to the one downer of the city. Many of said attractions are actually quite pricey. Granted, coming from Berlin everything seems expensive. But budget 15-20 euros for each attraction. For example, Sagrada Familia is 15 euro; Port Cable Car 16.50 euro etc.

      And one regret - I saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona and wasn't too romanced, but I really wanted to be Scarlett Johansson on the swings. But transport was a nightmare and opening hours were tricky in the off-season. Anyone been there? Tell me if it is worth it.


      Boqueria Market

      2 churros-

      I know Barcelona is not known for its tapas compared to the rest of Spain, and that certainly ended up being the case. Definitely seemed like a lot of options and nice restaurants, but with the toddlers made it difficult, as well as the Spanish eating schedule.

      Unfortunately, Spanish food might not be our favorite cuisine.

      2.5 churros  - 

      We had trouble finding great food in Barcelona. "How?" you very legitimately might ask. I carefully mapped out hot spots to eat. There was a tapas bar hat doubled as a bull-fighting museum, classic vermouth bars and set menus of paella it felt inevitable we would try. But try as we might, places were closed for updates/off-season/force of nature. Every time I was like "this is the place!" it was closed tight without warning. We ate, but I know it wasn't always Barcelona's best.


      • Boqueria Market - Toursity? Of course. Full of 1 euro juices in the evening that are delicious on their own and mixed with Spaeti style cava? YES. And of course there are huge hanging pork shanks, prepared dishes, etc. We also went to the market in Garcia and it was a lot more authentic (as it had normal everyday things you'd want to buy and cook).
      • Cava - I like every country's version of Champagne. Hallo Rotkäppchen!  
      • Churros e Chocolate - We only had the sufficient insulin to process one place and that was Churrería Laietana. Seriously old-school, this tiny location was bright and cheery even after nightfall when Matilda was feeling less than sweet. Me? I fell in love. 
      • Totally fine tapas
      • Black Lab Brewhouse & Kitchen - We planned to show up during the match between Real Madrid and Barcelona and it was even better than we hoped. The beer was a delight, we wished we hadn't eaten before because they're modern offerings sounded tasty and the environment was just right. The girls cried each time Barcelona scored a goal - which was a lot! Congrats Barcelona. 
      • Doughnuts - These are clearly a thing in Barcelona right now. Cool with me. We stumbled on La Donutería, one of my picks, and it was as tasty as I hoped.
      • Tapas - It is hard to go wrong. All fairly inexpensive, but mostly unimpressive. We came out of this trip feeling like we might be a bit meh on Spanish food. Everyone we have said this to has reacted with incredulity. Are we total weirdos?! We didn't hate it, but this isn't our soul food.
      We clearly did not experience the best of Barcelona or Spain as a whole...but I dunno. Fried and fish just isn't our favorite. Clearly, we'll eat anything and there is plenty to enjoy. But not our #1 cuisine.

      Ian & Kirstie
      3.5 churros & 3 churros  

      How could we not find a paella in this city?! We did have some great Tapas though - particularly the calamari. My only grumble with Tapas is you don't know how much to order, but its great food to share with friends. And the chocolate churros were worth going to Barcelona alone. We both loved the empanadas too. The food and drink wasn't pricey either - especially the multi-coloured fruit juices in the market.


      4 churros -

      Totally understand the attraction to Barcelona. It is a really fun party city, on the beach, with amazing architecture. Surprisingly expensive in many ways. And one thief too many.

      4.5 churros -

      (Spoiler alert for upcoming blog post) We went to Madrid the spring after this fall trip and people asked for a comparison. We were surprised that we quite liked Madrid, but the two cities are vastly different. The easiest comparison I can give is that while Madrid was regal gleaming white, Barcelona was all earthy, chaotic color.

      Gaudi drew on this city like a coloring book and his buildings add a humor and child-like surrealism that can't be found anywhere else. Plus - the beach, the mountains, the city are all tied up in one. It is a breath-taking landscape.

      Block of Dischord

      I love a random Saturday parade with fireworks
      Park Güell


      Matilda - a total boss anywhere she goes

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      We're Back in Berlin Ja!

      We're Back in Berlin Ja!
      ebe & ian at Yak-toberfest 2008