I did wonder, after Flux Pavilion, if we’d hit a climax and whether it’d all go downhill from there. It’s such a danger when you have a really good experience somewhere, that the rest of your time there won’t be able to compare and that you’ll just end up feeling let down by all your other experiences because that first one had given you unrealistically high expectations.
Luckily, that didn’t prove to be the case with Barcelona, and we had a lot of other pretty rad adventures. For anyone planning to go to Barcelona who hasn’t been there before, the best two pieces of advice I can give you are:
1. Do some planning, because Barcelona’s such a big city that you can end up missing a lot of the good bits if you go unprepared, plus so many of the attractions are free at certain times of the day/week/month and you want to take advantage of that.
2. Find a (well informed) local or expat living there to show you around. They’ll know good, non-touristy places to check out and can tell you stories about the place that you won’t find in a guidebook or website.
Based on that, I present to you some of the other reasons I grew to love Barcelona, in chronological order only:
1. Playing Ping Pong in the Gracia:
I love ping pong but I rarely get to play it in Australia because I don’t have a ping pong table and I don’t think anywhere near where I live offers ping pong tables for public use either. In Barcelona, however, there are a permanent multitude of ping pong tables in various neighborhoods, and all you need is your own paddles and ball, which are a lot more affordable.
We were lucky enough to find a seriously fantastic guy from the Blue Mountains, Dominic, who had organised a Sunday ping pong Couchsurfing event, and even luckier that there were a really cool mix of locals, expats and travellers who came along and made for great company. It was the perfect follow up to our big night out; we sat around the ping pong tables, taking turns playing and socialising and buying fresh fruit from the little store adjacent to the tables to help us recover.
2. Markets and Hells Angel’s Hangout:
I’d been seeing signs for the Palo Alto markets everywhere – they were supposed to be these new, ultra hip design markets that were opening up in some old building, with lots of food and entertainment and other funky things that I don’t remember the specifics of. Either way, Saturday was the grand opening and I thought it’d be a lovely place to grab some dinner and while the evening away.
Unfortunately, so did half of Barcelona. These markets must really have been something – there was such a huge fanfare surrounding them, and all these staff on the outside on crowd control. And there was a line to go in. A line that stretched all the way up the road (it was a long road), and around the corner. People had bought chairs to sit on while they waited in line.
In all fairness, the brief glimpse we got of the markets did look pretty inviting, like some kind of fair. But the line was not moving quickly and there had to be at least a few hundred people ahead of us, so we weren’t getting in in a hurry – and we were desperate for food by this point.
Instead, we headed down the road perpendicular to the entrance – right opposite the Hell’s Angel’s Barcelona chapter. The club house itself was just white and red, and I thought it looked rather quaint. Not at all dingy or intimidating. The street it was on, however, was crammed on both sides with hundreds of parked bikes. Eric and Ty kept stopping to check them out, like kids in a toy store, which I found utterly adorable.
We finally ended up at this little Thai restaurant, where we had the most hilarious waiter ever. He was this funny little Asian guy who I think wasn’t a very big fan of us, because he sat us outside, in the cold – which was fine because it was full inside – but when we asked, after a little while, if there was any space inside he told us there wasn’t. He lied. We checked and there were only two tables in use.
After making us wait for ages, so that we were honestly concerned that we’d been forgotten, he came around to take our drink orders. The exchange went like this:
“Have you got lemonade?” Ty asked.
“Nope!” he replied, with this huge grin and overly happy voice, as if he was delivering us the best news in the world.
“Have you got any Fanta?”
“What have you go then?”
“Only coke!” As if this was the proudest achievement ever and we should be incredibly impressed and grateful. “ALL of the cokes – diet, zero-”
Ty cut him off. “Just regular please.”
The waiter literally looked like he belonged in some comedy, with this ridiculous smile on his face. I can’t say the food was the best – my yellow chicken curry was delicious except for the actual chicken, which tasted vile – but it was almost worth it for the comedic value.
We made up for not getting in to the Palo Alto markets the next day by going to the second hand markets at Universitait. They were great, with lots of funky handicrafts and really cheap vintage, cool art and food. I got these feathers put into my hair there, for 20E – red, hot pink and orange, which are meant to last for up to 3 months. It was a really good atmosphere and we spent a decent portion of our afternoon chilling there. Very bohemian.
3. Palau Guell:
The Palau Guell is usually 22E to visit, but as it was the first Sunday of the month, it was completely free! I’m not a huge Gaudi fan, but Dom had sung it’s praises and was going there with a few of his friends, so we figured it’d be fun tagging along. We met at 11 and we thought we’d have to wait in line for ages before we could go in – but this was another fantastic thing about Barcelona: we didn’t. We just went up to the office, they gave us 3 tickets for the next session at 12″30pm, and told us to be there 5 minutes early. I really like not having to stand in line!
With time to waste, Dom showed us around a bit. A friend of his was a tour guide and had practiced on him, so Dom knew a lot about the city; he pointed out statues and stores and told us stories, and took us along to the Plaza Real to bask briefly in the sun when he realised we hadn’t been there yet. The Plaza Real’s super exxy though, so after we stood in the sun for a bit we headed off to this lovely little tucked away cafe that was a lot cheaper.
The cafe was really cool – it had paper placemats and coloured crayons everywhere so you could draw on them while you waited for your food. It would have been perfect – in fact, it was perfect for the rest of us, but Ty found a bug in his coffee (after he’d had a few sips) and it freaked out the rest of the coffee drinkers, who were worried that something might come to the surface of their cups too. The owner was super apologetic though and it looked like an honest and one time only mistake, so she gave him another coffee, didn’t charge him for either of the drinks, and we left happy.
When we went into the Palau Guell after that, I was pleasantly surprised to be handed an audio guide. I love konwing the stories about a place and I just feel like there’s so much lost potentian when galleries and museums don’t give you anything beyond some basic information. A good audio guide is the best – and this was pretty good, with lots of music and anecdotes to give you a good feel for the history of this place.
I’d been to the Sagrada Familia before and been completely unimpressed so I wasn’t sure what to expect here. Dom’s a landscape architect though, and hugely into Gaudi. I always love being around people who are passionate about things because it helps open your (by which I mean my) eyes to why those things are great; it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll like them (Ian tried to get me to like cricket and I’d still rather watch paint dry) but it does mean that I give them a proper chance. And this time I really appreciated Gaudi’s work; I loved seeing the little intricacies in the woodwork and carvings, the logic behind the design, and just the whimsicality of his style. My favourite part was the chimneys, all beautifully mosaiced, just this collection of colourful little towers looking rather incongrous there on the roof, but still just utterly gorgeous. I was finally coming to understand what all this Gaudi fuss was about.
4. Street Art:
Barcelona is famous for it’s street art, and it’s fantastic because it’s much more culturally acceptable there and I think the penalty is just a fine (which can get up to 3000E, but still, just a fine) so it pulls in artists from all over the place who’ve just coloured and created all over the place. As it so happened, Dom was a street artist himself, and he’d done heaps of street art in Sydney and the Blue Mountains when he was younger – he showed me photos and they were pretty epic. Dom was so into that scene, even in Barcelona, and as we’d wander along he’d point out pieces of art and tell us who’d done them and the stories behind them, which was awesome.
He didn’t want to risk getting in trouble graffitiing while travelling, so instead he’d been making these funky mosaics, sometimes on tiles, sometimes in cracks in the walls, and he’d put them all over the place – from Brick Lane in London to all over the Gracia (where he lived and I was staying) and many other places in between. It was amazing to walk along and see something that I knew was by him (even cooler in other countries), and I guess on his part too it was pretty rad knowing that it would probably outlast him and that all these people would see it and that he was contributing to the cultural capital of a place. Very cool.
5. Skateboarders outside the MCA and the best ever red velvet cake:
I spent a lot of time doing this last time, and this time we didn’t have quite as long, but I do love that the museum of contemporary art is also famous for all the skateboarders who practice outside. It’s really nice to just sit there, chilling, and watch as they do some pretty bad-ass tricks. It’s a very Barcelona-thing, and although I think there’s actually technically fines for skateboarding, there just seem to be skateboards everywhere, and it’s so widely accepted. It says something about the police there too, that they don’t tend to apprehend people for doing illegal things unless they’re actually causing trouble.
Right around the corner from the MCA was also a darling little cake shop, which I really felt deserved a mention. I can’t tell you the name, and we were running late as we went past it, and then did a double take at this exquisite layered red velvet cake sitting alluringly on a glass cake stand just at my eye level. We were meant to be meeting Eric, who had slept in, but we figured we could be late for the sake of this cake, and grabbed a decadent slice and sat there moaning as we consumed it, in the throes of ecstasy and probably looking like complete retards. Barcelona may not always do food great, but it has some truly excellent cake.
6. Docks in the evening
The three of us spent our last evening together down by the docks. We had grand plans to go to the beach, but instead just walked around the marina a lot, which was super pretty with the sun going down and all these yachts speckling the horizon. Eric shelled out for an overpriced ice cream, which turned out to be very sub-par, poor guy, but at least we had the view and good company.
It was a nice way to end our time together. We were pretty exhausted by this point. We’d spent the arvo going on a mad hunt for a place called Bitacora that was supposed to have really good food, and after hunting for ages, asking handfuls of Catalans who were completely ignorant about their neighborhood and ultimately getting Eric to sneak into a touristy restaurant to use their wifi while Ty verbally sparred with the spruiker out front for a good 10 minutes to keep them distracted, we got there, had to wait ages, and then made the worst menu choices ever (we know this because other people had food that smelled and looked good, but ours was just awful). What a disappointment. But at least it was an adventure, and I made up for it by grabbing some really sweet kaki (Spanish/Catalan name for persimmons) on the way back, and filling up on those.
My final conclusion:
Barcelona does not have anywhere near as good (or as cheap) food as anywhere else I’d visited in Spain, but it was woderfully bohemian, and I loved it this time around. I loved the art everywhere, loved that the city was so vibrant and quirky, and loved that there was so much going on and so much to do all the time. The fact that we’d been lucky enough to meet Dom definitely helped, but I think that if I go back, even if Dom isn’t there, I’d still have an amazing time. I’m glad I gave it a second chance!