I am ashamed and horrified to admit that it has been almost one entire year since our last blog post! So much so, that it has taken me the better part of an hour to work out the new settings on WordPress so that I could actually start typing this! London life is pleasantly busy, but I think the reason our blog is lagging is because of the sheer volume of photos to sort through. This is a first-world problem that I avoid a) because it’s time consuming b) it drives home the reality that the trip, is in fact, over! The beauty of photos is that vivid memories come racing back to you, and for this I am incredibly grateful, but also terrified of the longing that creeps back in my heart to head straight to Heathrow for the next adventure. Despite the absence of travel blogging, I hope that you have been enjoying our more current photos on Instagram/Facebook which is a quick and easy way of sharing snapshots of our travels.
People often email me to ask how we afford to travel so much. The answer to that is because we prioritise it. We make sacrifices in our day-to-day lives to ensure that money is available for travel, and we have become experts on traveling cheap and booking in advance! Joel has a crazy amount of school holidays, and with my overtime, we have so far managed to squeeze a trip in each break. This is an art (and a discipline that I have become very good at), much to Joel’s bemusement. We have not even started one trip before I am booking the next, and poor Joel has spent many exhausted nights on the Easyjet, Ryanair and Airbnb websites trying to find the best flights and accommodation!
We actually visited the vibrant city of Barcelona in October 2011 so I am stretching the elasticity of my brain a little with this one….here goes!
Barcelona….. I have wanted to visit this city since my friend showed me a postcard in my early teens. Sagrada Familia always fascinated me, as did the geometric grid layout of the neighbourhoods…oh and tapas. We were suitably relaxed after a few days in Mallorca, and ready for the bustling city life! At the airport I busied myself over a city map and some key facts. Importantly I learnt that Barcelona does not regard itself as a Spanish city, but rather a Catalan city, with it’s own language. Thank goodness it’s similar to Spanish as I was excited to use my few phrases of Spanish learnt with mum at a community college night course! So with this I felt I had a wise fact under my belt and was equipped to set out discovering this wonderfully vibrant metropolis.
As we wheeled our suitcases on to Las Ramblas, which is the main boulevard and thoroughfare stretching all the way to the sea, we instantly loved the place. It is literally buzzing. It was like the whole of Barcelona decided simultaneously that they were going to walk Las Ramblas (and is the case at any time of day or night!). It just never stops. Of course there are the tourists, and the scammers, pushers and beggers to capatalise on the suspecting newcomers – but it seemed as though the locals loved it as much as we did. I have to say, that was our ongoing experience of the city – locally owned and loved (if you know which places to avoid). We made our way to our tiny apartment tucked in a side alley complete with a soup kitchen underneath… attracting all manner of …interesting… patrons!. We knew that staying in El Raval would not be glitz and glamour, but our apartment was fantastic, and we loved living in the real side of Barcelona where the tourists wouldn’t go. Not to mention Las Ramblas was a mere three minute walk away. The crooked streets and soaring facades complete with hundreds of balconies with all sort of rugs, washing, plant life and who knows what else drooping from them, made us look at each other with a big fat grin. This is travel!
It didn’t matter that it was 11pm, the city was just waking up and we went with the flow. Late nights became a regular occasion for us. Waking anytime before 10am is fruitless as nobody else is up, or interested in opening their shop. Oh, and siestas…lets not forget that! So the first evening we experienced our first authentic tapas, complete with Sangria in a city that was only just getting dressed for the night ahead. We could not keep up with the pace, and after a walk up and down Las Ramblas gawking at the weirdness-that-is-barca, we hit the sack.
The next morning brought with it our favourite Barcelonan experience: La Boqueria. The food markets of all food markets, the city within a city. You want it – they have it, and the little old ladies early in the morning had this market sussed! All they had to do was pull their little wheeled bag up at the counter, and items were wordlessly dispensed. We used our rudimentry spanish each morning in an attempt of becoming ‘a local’ to order our palma ham and cheese baguette with the obligatory fresh juice on the side. We made La Boqueria a ritual of our stay, giving evil eyes to anyone who dared perch on our ‘claimed’ stools to devour their purchase.
We had four days or so to take in the city, so we lazily tackled sections at a time, followed by glorious evening meals where we ordered both correctly and incorrectly (tapas can be a gamble!) and I ransacked my favourite store Massimo Dutti which happens to be Spanish and much cheaper in its home country. A fantastic excuse for a spot of shopping. Over a year later I am still wearing my purchases as staples (thought I would throw that in there to justify further shopping expeditions to my husband!). We enjoyed exploring the Barri Gotic which is the old town with the exquisite Barcelona Cathedral being the centrepoint of the city’s history. Barri Gotic is a narrow labyrinth of streets which can be quite disorienting, with new treasures around each corner. We reclined in peaceful squares, and got lost in enchanting boutiques. I loved observing the people of the city, always animated, colourful and social. They were to be found in large groups, enjoying the nightlife, pulling on a cigarette, or holding their friends captive with some great Spanish/Catalan story.
You simply cannot write about Barcelona without mentioning Guadi, the flamboyant architect who is so celebrated in this Catalan capital. Sagrada Familia was just as awe-inspiring as the photos suggest, but what we found fascinating (aside from the two billion early asian tourists) was that they are still building! And they have been since 1882. One end of the cathedral is clearly from a different architectural period than the other, although they have tried to emulate Guadi’s Gothic design. I much preferred the older side which looks sort of like one of those droopy wet-sand castles you make on the beach as a kid. Parc Gruell was also a whimsical journey through the bizarre mind of Guadi. Talk about going against the grain! Cheers to you Guadi, I hope they finish your church soon (estimated finish date 2028 – maybe we will visit then!).
Barcelona is unique, in that such a cosmopolitan city, with a defined sense of culture, cuisine and celebration – also exists on the beach – which has its own strong connotations and influences. Yet Barcelona has merged the art, passion, colour and intensity of the city centre seamlessly with the laid back flow of a beachside town down by the marina and sea. It is extraordinary to criss-cross between the two, and rather than getting the vibe of two separate places, you learn to accept Barcelona as an unequivocal whole that offers everything a holidaymaker could ‘technically’ want.
The last venture worth mentioning was a daytrip to Montserratt (meaning serrated mountain). It is a Benedictine Monastry nestled into the mountainside hosting the Virgin of of Montserratt which people que around the Basilica to touch. You will need to scroll down and look at the photos to understand what am talking about when I say it looks like Loony Toon hills, confused with the splendid architecture of a settlement present since the 9th century. We stood by and observed the locals in their traditional dance, and took the funicular up to the peaks of Montserrat where there are many hiking trails. It could be the closest I have felt to walking on moon craters in some extra-terrestrial world. A must see if you ever visit Barca!
l shall leave you there, amongst the reveling, vibrant, intensified city that we so loved, and would recommend if you make it to this monumental place, that you stay off the tourist grid where possible. Otherwise you are in danger of becoming just another tourist eating in restaurants along La Rambla, with your menu in English, and Americans at the table next to you. Oh, and remember ‘real’ dinner starts at 10pm so adjust your body clocks, Barcelona breathes at night!