Early mornings are reserved work days and morning flights. I’m a firm believer that early mornings and holidays don’t mix, but when it’s your boyfriend’s 30th birthday, you’re in Barcelona and his parents have come to the city for the first time for just 24 hours, there’s a certain amount of pressure to make it an epic day full of everything I love about this amazing city!
And so, a little later than the 8.30am start we’d agreed, we all met in the hotel lobby for my boyfriend to open the cards I’d been secretly carrying around in my backpack, before heading out to start our day with a stroll down La Rambla. Our first destination was Santa Caterina market, although we took a long route to allow his parents to see a bit of the city rather than rush from point to point. Coffee and pastries were first on the agenda, and I even got the chance to use my Spanish as the barista didn’t speak English – finally! Much like many of the other food markets, we didn’t spend too long looking around as I knew what coming on our ‘itinerary’.
A slow stroll through the Born district took us towards the harbour, with a quick visit in Santa Maria del Mar because…church. And obviously I seem incapable of walking past a church without having a look inside! It’s very refreshing to see a city with people who haven’t been before, and as we pointed out all of our favourite things as we wandered along, it was just a reminder of how much we really love Barcelona!
Back along La Rambla, we soon neared La Boqueria, and I was so excited. On my first visit to Barcelona I stayed just next to La Boqueria and visited every day of the trip. This time, we’d saved our visit for the day with parents – though my boyfriend hadn’t known that at the time – so it was my first time back in years. Making a plan, we decided to tackle the market methodically so as not to miss anything.
There has been a lot mentioned about the tourism levels in Barcelona increasing, and I never really noticed much difference from my first visit until I arrived at La Boqueria. Where we had previously wandered around and enjoyed a lazy time checking out the stalls, this time it was very cramped, busy and felt more like a tourist hotspot rather than the local market I remembered. Despite this, we still enjoyed a tour of the stalls and managed to exercise enough restraint to buy only a couple of pastries and empanadas. Still my favourite market, even when it’s filled with tourists!
Trying to keep on track with our busy day, we continued through Sant Antoni towards our third and final market of the day. Stopping on the way for a quick game of chess in a charming little square with background music from a busker, I had that happy feeling I only ever get when I’m in a foreign city, exploring away from the tourist hotspots on a sunny day. So, so happy.
And then we arrived at Sant Antoni market. If it had been the first market of the day we’d visited, it wouldn’t have been such a disappointment, but coming from La Boqueria it was definitely a little local market and many of the stalls were closed. Those that were still open looked at us as though we were lost, and we quickly called it quits before jumping on the metro to Vallcarca to visit Parc Guell.
I’d done a fair bit of research on the best way to skip the queues at Parc Guell, and after missing out on a visit six years ago, this was one of the sights I was so excited to finally get to. Vallcarca was noted on the internet quite a bit as the best metro station to avoid the epic trek up the hill to the park. As we stepped off the metro, we weren’t surrounded by hoards of other tourists – good sign that no one else knew this easier route, or bad sign that everyone else knew not to come via this station? A short walk down the road, we were greeted by some graffiti that told us in no uncertain terms where tourists should go, and the polite interpretation would be ‘go home’. Oh gosh, where have I brought my boyfriend and his parents?!
Hoping for the best, I went with the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ approach and confidently continued on, until I saw the epic hill we had to climb. These are the kinds of mistakes I usually laugh about because my boyfriend expects nothing less and it turns into a good story to laugh about later. But being with his parents, I was nervous to give them a bad impression of a city I love so much. With no choice but to carry on, we burnt a serious amount of calories trekking up the hill to the park. Thankfully there were escalators at some sections – yep, it really is that steep! – and we made it to the top all alive. A quick stop for sandwiches and cold drinks, I signed the graffiti wall in the shop to commemorate my boyfriends birthday, earning him a lollipop in the process, and we made our way into the park to enjoy lunch with a stunning panoramic view over Barcelona. Definitely worth the climb in my opinion!
My boyfriend and I had discussed whether we should buy tickets in advance for Parc Guell and Sagrada Familia, but not wanting to be tied to a certain time slot we decided we’d just brave the queue. As we eventually neared the queue to buy our tickets, we found that they were all sold out. I think my heart may have broken just a tiny bit, as I have wanted to come back to visit the park for years, but after a quick look around we called it quits and made our way to Sagrada Familia. Sadly, we found that it was the same scenario here, and it quickly became clear to me just how much tourism has increased since we previously visited.
Rather than wallow in misery at what we’d missed out on, we had a look around the outside, treated ourselves to some ice creams and walked back to Casa Mila, another Gaudi gem I was keen to visit. As my boyfriend’s parents aren’t fond of heights, they made their way back to the hotel for a rest while we explored the famous rooftop of Casa Mila and got to check out one of the apartments in the building. Add me to the waiting list, because I want to move there when one becomes available!
Although we’d definitely covered a lot of the city, we still had the evening left and that meant one thing – pintxos! Heading to the famous Carrer Blai in the Poble Sec barrio, this was another new experience for us. As firm fans of tapas, we’d seen a few places offering pintxos but hadn’t tried the bitesize tapas that are often served buffet style on top of the bar. The concept is simple, grab a plate, take what you want to eat and keep the cocktail sticks that are in each one, and at the end of the evening the waitress counts up the cocktail sticks to work out what you owe. Usually €1 a pintxo, you can have 1 or 2 to soak up the beers or tuck into a plateful to enjoy as your dinner. Carrer Blai is full of bars offering pintxos, and you can bar crawl along the street sampling the beers and food along the way. As the next day was a public holiday in Barcelona, the bars were fairly busy and we only found a couple of places that had a table for 4 inside free, so we settled in with a paella and platefuls of pintxos. Definitely one of my favourite dinners of the whole trip!
Once we’d had our fill, it was back to the hotel for a cheeky hot chocolate and ice cream at the neighbouring cafe, before turning in early. Although my boyfriend’s parents had only arrived 24 hours before, they had an early flight home the next morning, and we had a train to catch to take us on to Cordoba. Barcelona, I still love you, and I’ll be back soon! With prebooked tickets…
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