After another chaotic and congested flight experience courtesy of RyanAir, we arrived in to Barcelona around 8PM local time and took a taxi to our surprisingly modern and crisp hotel in the Gracia neighborhood.
As the designated trip planner, I was a bit worried our location was a little far from the beach and hustle and bustle – and I have never been so happy to be wrong! Filled with great tapas bars, clean cobblestone streets, and a lively atmosphere day and night, Gracia is a place I would recommend to anyone!
With four days to enjoy Spain’s second largest city, we wasted no time diving in to local culture and cuisine. It was about 10:30PM when we finally wandered out to get dinner, but we later learned that is totally normal for Barcelona!
Yelp brought us to La Pepita, which was easily the best find of our trip! From the oak slab bar, to the white subway tiled walls, the tapas bar was chic and ever-so-popular! We grabbed stools at the window counter and ordered a huge assortment of tapas: croquettes, shrimp, muscles, and calamari. My favorite was a cold sea bass garnished with spinach, mandarin orange, strawberry, and balsamic vinegar! Dying.
And what do you wash such a meal down with? I had the sweetest, tangyist sangria in the Universe, and Chris had the house special: a gin + tonic in a goblet-like glass. The whole experience was great. We regretted not going back, but it just might mean we have to take another trip to Barcelona!
The next day we spent wandering the streets of the city center, seeing sights from the Barcelona Catedral to the white-capped Mediterranean at Port Vell. We both really loved all of the architecture all over the city – not just the Gaudi work! It was a perfect day to walk around.
Our favorite stop of the day was Mercat de La Boqueria – a huge covered market off of popular “La Ramba”. And you might think, what could be so fun about going to a market? But really, what better sight can you gawk at than fresh food? From the catch of the day to handmade chocolates, spices, breads, fruits, and more – if you could crave it, it was there. My favorite thing was the fresh squeezed juice at every corner. Chris loved all of the raw seafood… Personally, I like mine cooked and less stinky.
We topped off the day with (cooked) seafood paella and wine at a restaurant with great reviews. In the tiny joint, we ran in to my roommates from Rome! Because this world is the smallest place, ever.
While we enjoyed the day, we were a little worried that we were doing a little bit of aimless wandering. I was looking in to a bike tour (which Chris was dreading) when I found some great TripAdvisor reviews for Vesping. We were kind of immediately sold.
By noon the next day, we had 24-hours free reign of our own Vespa scooter, complete with a mounted GPS and ultra-stylish helmets (you’re welcome, Mom).
I can’t say enough about the guys at Vesping. Their business is not only genius, but they make the experience truly genuine with their customer service. They took a half an hour to show Chris and I great places to go in Barcelona on a map, and gave us food advice based on our plans and where we were staying. The GPS had four tours programmed in: a beach loop, Gaudi tour, Olympic tour, and Tibidabo. You just follow the GPS and enjoy the ride at your leisure! They also programmed in their food recommendations and our hotel address.
Giddy, we vroomed off past Sagrada Familia to ride the coastline. We then stopped at Parc Güell before starting the Tibidabo tour, a 30 minute ride which took us on switchbacks to the top of Barcelona’s highest peak. At the top is Spain’s oldest amusement park, Tibidabo, and a beautiful church. Between the views of city and sea, the antique rides playing Spanish carnie tunes, and the stained glass church, it was hard not to feel like part of a fairytale on top of that hill. Oh, minus the hurricane force wind. I nearly blew away.
We never would have or could have gone there without our Vespa! Nor would we have hopped on it later that night to go for paella round #2, this time at El Glop – which was suggested to us by the scooter rental place earlier.
It was the best paella, in the world. After starting with a pitcher of sangria and bowl of steamed muscles, we were nearly cheering when we saw a huge cast iron pan come out with equal proportions hot saffron rice to seafood. Octopus, muscles, clams, and shrimp of all sizes – Chris may have drooled at the sight alone. And though he’s going home to perfect his own paella recipe – I’m not sure we’ll ever get it quite to that level. If we do, we’ll open up shop ourselves!
Taking advantage of our half-day with our scooter, we got up early Sunday and visited the Arc de Triomf and Parc de la Ciutadella, both refreshing and fun to walk through. From flamenco dancers to giant bubble blowers to one-man-bands, there’s always something to stop and see in Barcelona!
From there we went to some of the Olympic sites – a “magic” Fountain, the main Olympic stadium, and a large park overlooking the ocean. Not only did the city build a ton of beautiful arenas and parks for the 1992 Games, but they still use all of them regularly today. Chris took great pictures and enjoyed the Olympic feel, and I was excited to see my third Olympic campus of this trip. Crazy!
After parting with our scooter, we walked the streets before returning home to rest after a long day in the sun. Later, we grabbed burritos at a place called Teicaway, which I would best describe as a local Chipotle. We then moved on to drinks at Bobby Gin. All were near our hotel, and really great places to enjoy the local scene.
The last thing fun thing we did before leaving the next morning was munch a gluttonous amount of churros in some historic square. In other news, I left Barcelona with a new set of thighs.
But all in all, we loved Barcelona, and we loved how we did it. Though the time went fast, we really enjoyed seeing as much as we comfortably could in a day before retiring to our clean hotel, opening the doors to balcony, and taking a late afternoon siesta. We thrived in the late nature of dinner in Spain, and absolutely loved everything we ate. I think Chris would move there in a heartbeat for the seafood alone!
The Vespa completely made our trip, taking us to more places than we ever could have covered on foot x100 more fun along the way! Even Chris let out a few howls of exhilaration as we darted through tunnels, wound up into the mountains, and hit continuous green lights on Barcelona’s main Ramblas.
We’ll be back for you, Barce.
Ciao, for now.