European Farmer’s Markets

One thing I really miss about Europe (besides the food, and coffee, and culture, and people, and scenery, and so many other things) are all of the wonderful farmer’s markets. It feels like every few blocks there would be another neighborhood market with local’s selling colorful fruits and vegetables, beautiful flowers and freshly baked bread and pastries. I hate going to the grocery store, but grabbing a few things from the market down the street makes cooking so much easier and fresher.

When my Mom and I were in Modena, we walked through Mercato Albinelli, a huge daily market that’s been around since the early 1900s. The produce was so colorful it made you want to pick it up and eat it.

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My Mom pointed out that she bets it’s a lot easier to get kids to eat vegetables if they can help pick it out in an environment like this.

The other thing that blows my mind is how cheap all of the fresh produce and food is at these farmer’s markets. You could get half a loaf of fresh bread for the equivalent of $0.50. Or a pint of strawberries for $0.75. And the best part, you were supporting the local family businesses.

Right outside of our office in Prague was an incredible little market on the side of a park. It was always crowded with locals, getting lunch, grabbing a few things for dinner or just buying a beer and enjoying the sunshine.

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I spy Jillian.

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I can’t even keep track of how many farmer’s markets I went to throughout the summer, but I loved them all just the same.

Prague:

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Barcelona:

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Croatia:

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Adios Barcelona, Dobrý Den Prague

For the first time this trip, I wasn’t devastated when my month came to an end. Because to be honest, I didn’t love Barcelona, so the month spent here didn’t fly by like my months in Split and Turin.

Whenever you mention Barcelona, everyone’s reaction is “Oh, I just love Barcelona!” When I didn’t immediately fall for it, I kept thinking that I must be missing something. So for the first week or so, I tried keeping an open mind, withholding judgment on the city until I figured out what exactly everyone loves about Barcelona.

While I did find plenty to do here (paddle boarding, Gaudí exhibits, reading on the beach, EatWith, a delicious food tour) my final consensus? Barcelona is ok. I actually think visiting the city for a long weekend would be ideal; a month was just too long. There is plenty to see and do but after three full days, I think I’d be ready to move on.

I’m still scratching my head as to why everyone loves Barcelona, but here’s the main reason I wasn’t a fan: It feels like you’re in NYC or LA. I’m in Europe, I want to feel like I’m in Europe. And walking down the street in Barcelona, you can grab coffee at Starbucks, you can get a green smoothie or an acai bowl or fresh squeezed vegetable juice. Nothing has a ton of character and it all feels relatively new. I might as well be walking down Park Avenue in NYC or heading to the beach in LA. Jillian actually wrote a blog post about this same topic. And speaking of her blog, she wrote an awesome post on some of the harder aspects of traveling with a group for a long period of time – you should check it out.

And the crowds. Oh my gosh! There are one million inhabitants in Barcelona…and 50 million visitors a year. So it’s no wonder everything feels so touristy and there are swarms of people everywhere you go.

My favorite part about traveling and exploring a city is simply walking around and taking in the views and local vibe of a neighborhood. Barcelona didn’t really offer this. You were either fighting the crowds (see above) or the area just wasn’t that interesting.

While I’ve clearly hated on Barcelona a lot in this post, my month here wasn’t all bad. I mean, just look at this sunrise!

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But more than anything, it taught me a really good lesson. You aren’t going to love every place you visit. But that doesn’t mean you have to sulk around, have a bad attitude and waste your time there. You simply have to dig a little deeper to find things that you’ll enjoy.

With all that being said, I’m off to Prague (kind of…I’m obviously a little delayed in all of these posts) and I couldn’t be more excited! I studied abroad here 10 years ago and it was an absolutely magical experience. Actually, I’ll be arriving almost 10 years to the day after arriving for my study abroad trip. So, adios Barcelona and dobrý den Prague!

A “Locals” Guide to Barcelona, Spain

I might be using the term ‘local’ loosely, but I feel after a month in Barcelona, I definitely have a good sense of where to eat, what to do and where to go. So if you’re visiting the area, here is what I’d recommend:

Where to Eat in Barcelona:

Café Lolea: This tapas restaurant is known for their sangria. They actually started bottling it (in the cutest polka dot bottles) and selling it at local bodegas, and surprisingly, on Vueling flights. Which is actually pretty cool considering they’ve only been around for a few years. While I enjoyed the sangria, I actually enjoyed their tapas a lot more. In my opinion, one of the top three tapas restaurants in Barcelona.

Bo de B: An unassuming, tiny sandwich restaurant tucked right above the harbor. Be prepared to wait at least 20 minutes in line and then order through the open door before shuffling inside to pay. For €3.50, you get an overflowing sandwich, wrapped in foil for easy transport to the beach. They hollow out a delicious, freshly baked roll and fill it with freshly grilled chicken, steak or salmon and an odd mix of veggies (corn, lentils, olives, tomatoes, onions, lettuce and cabbage). The secret to this incredible sandwich is the mix of four sauces they squirt on before and after filling it – tzatziki, spicy, some unknown green sauce and a mysterious white sauce. It sounds (and looks) kind of sketchy but trust me, it’s worth it. 

Bar Bodega Quimet: This is another of my top three tapas restaurants, this time in Gràcia, on a quiet side alley. It was a lively bodega with the quintessential wine barrels lining all four walls, a small beer tap when you walk in the door and a handful of tables scattered around the middle. It was packed when we walked in but we were seated fairly quickly. The tapas were pretty straight forward, but everything was delicious and it had a wonderful “neighborhood-hangout” feel. Before we left, a girl from the table next to ours leaned over to ask how we found out about this place. Jillian had read about it on a blog and the girl gave us kudos, she said this was a true locals place and it didn’t get many tourists. Just call us Catalonyan.

Brunch and Cake: Words cannot do this place justice. They take the oddest combination of foods and turn it into an edible masterpiece.

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This was a veggie burger with curry hummus, an ice cream cone, radishes, spinach and sweet potatoes. Their salads come in dustpans. Their sandwiches with a syringe filled with guacamole. And their red velvet cake is making my mouth water just thinking about it. They have a second location, Brunch and Cake by the Sea, near Barceloneta Beach and both always have a line, but it’s worth the wait.

Travel and Cake: Brunch and Cake’s sister restaurant that is lesser known, aka, doesn’t have a wait. It has a similar menu as the two Brunch and Cake restaurants, with a wider variety of dessert options – which makes this one my favorite of the three (and yes, I sampled all of them). I also ate the best chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever had here. A bit of a walk to get here, but think of the extra steps as earning your dessert.

NAP: We were skeptical of finding good pizza in Spain after spending a month in Italy. But NAP hit the spot…and was a block and a half from our apartment! Tasty crust, perfectly cooked in a wood-fire oven, wine served in a water glass – what’s not to love?

Casa Gràcia: My friend told me about this place and I’m so glad she did as it rounds out my top three favorite tapas restaurants. It’s in the back of a hostel right on Passeig de Gràcia, the ritzy street in the middle of the L’Eixample neighborhood. The staff is incredibly friendly and the tapas delicious. The bathroom sink downstairs is hilarious:

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You wash your hands in the donkey’s stomach, from which the extra water drains into a bucket as if he’s peeing, and the hand dryer comes from the ass’ ass. There’s also a hidden door by the bathroom that leads you to an awesome bar with live music. It felt like a speakeasy where they mix fancy cocktails.

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Milk: A cute brunch/lunch spot near the beach with delicious salads and sandwiches. It feels a bit American so I probably wouldn’t recommend it if you’re only in town for a few days, but if you’re craving an American lunch, head here.

Surf House: The best place to eat on the boardwalk of Barceloneta Beach. I normally chalk these restaurants up as tourist traps, but this one offers great hamburgers, tacos and smoothies with a beautiful view of the ocean and front row seats to people watching.

La Pubilla: This one was pure luck that a) we found it and b) it happened to be so good. After enjoying the Gràcia Festival, we were walking around trying to find a place for dinner. Everything was PACKED, as in lines out the door and an hour plus wait. We were able to at least open the door at this little gem and they told us it would be a 10-minute wait, but we could grab a beer at the bar. Yes please! It turned out to have rather gourmet meals at a very reasonable price. We Googled it when we got home and it had a 4.6 star rating – lucky indeed.

FOC: This was another place I figured would be a tourist trap as it was on the main road by the harbor. But the margaritas were incredible and all nine of us had excellent meals. FOC offers a wide variety of Latin meals ranging from burritos to lomo saltado to homemade guacamole.

Coffee Shops: 

Barcelona is full of wonderful coffee shops and I found quite a few of them. I loved them so much, I figured I’d give them their own section.

Nomad Coffee: A true hipster hangout where they offer everything except normal drip coffee. Aeropress? Yep. Chemex? Of course. Cold Brew? Would you even consider it a hipster coffee shop without it? Nitro Cold Brew on tap? I have no idea what that is, but I’ll try it! When I ordered a Chemex, it took about 10-minutes for them to artfully brew it. The cappuccinos were some of the best in the city. And the Nitro Cold Brew was refreshing but so filled with caffeine that I was shaking for an hour afterwards. Nomad roasts all of their own beans so the shop smells wonderful all day long.

Asul Café: For as fancy as Nomad Coffee is, Asul offers regular ol’ drip coffee. It’s a mini mug and it’s not the best coffee I’ve ever tasted, but it’s still a cup of coffee. They also offer really good cakes to enjoy with your late-afternoon coffee while working.

Satan’s Coffee: Oddly, Satan’s Coffee is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, no idea why? But their aeropress made up for that frustration. It’s tucked into a back alley of the Gothic Quarter so it’s also a nice escape from the crowds.

Onna’s Coffee: This was recommended to me by my food tour guide and it was an awesome find. They make the best Flat Whites and they also taught me what a Flat White is: cappuccino with two shots of espresso. Although, I have since confirmed that a Flat White is not an Italian coffee, but rather an Australian drink that has recently become trendy. I’ll take it though.

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Milk and Co: Still undetermined if this is related to Milk, but it was the coffee shop place attached to our co-working space. Their coffee was pretty good and it’s definitely more of a coffee shop, which is why I list it here and they make a mean sandwich that I’d highly recommend.

What To Do In Barcelona:

EatWith (preferably Papa Serra): EatWith is huge in Barcelona, so sign-up for one and check out a local’s house, meet a few new friends and eat some delicious food. I’m partial to EatWith Tapas with Papa, but I’m sure there are others that are equally as great.

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Antoni Gaudí: You can’t go to Barcelona without seeing Gaudí, it’s literally everywhere (even the tiles you walk on down Passeig de Gràcia). My Gaudí recommendations are Park Güell and Sagrada Familia, although there are plenty of others you can check out, like Casa Milà, Casa Battló, Palau Güell, Cascada Fountain at Park de la Cuitadella…the list goes on and on.

Barceloneta Beach: This is the main beach of Barcelona. Fun fact: there was no beach in Barcelona until 1992. While the organizers of the Olympics were cleaning up the area, they flew in sand from the Sahara and built out what is now Barceloneta Beach. It’s crowded, the sand is oddly dusty and there are constant hawkers trying to sell you drinks, massages and shawls, but it’s so convenient to the city and let’s be honest, a beach is a beach. Apparently all of the locals hop on the train and head north or south to the real beaches. But it takes an hour plus to get to any of them and I was able to walk to Barceloneta, so I was happy to deal with the crowds and beach-sellers.

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Gràcia Walking Food Tour: Devour Barcelona is a great resource for finding wonderful restaurants. But their food tour was the perfect way to discover a neighborhood and the local cuisine.

Búnquers del Carmel: Although it takes close to an hour to make the trek up here, the view is 100% worth it.

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Lluis Manuel: Several years ago, my Mom and I discovered how comfy espadrilles are. I knew they were a Mediterranean shoe, but never really thought more about it. Turns out, they’re a Spanish shoe, originally from the Pyrenees but found throughout Spain. Lluis Manuel offers countless varieties, from traditional, flat espadrilles to heeled espadrilles to sneaker espadrilles. It’s rather fun to go in and see all of the styles and try on a few… but be prepared for the faint smell of feet that follows you in.

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Casa Milà/La Pedrera Jazz: Jazz on a roof, at sunset, with a glass of cava, enjoying Gaudí’s architecture. Is there any better way to experience it?

Paddle Boarding: I rented SUP paddleboards from Pukas Surf Eskola multiple times; it was a relaxing, peaceful way to spend the morning. The rental shop is right on the boardwalk and you’re free to paddle as long and as far as you’d like. But beware, one of the times we went, there were jellyfish EVERYWHERE! They were cool to look at from the safety of our paddleboards, but I made damn sure I stayed on that board!

Sunrise at the Beach: Barceloneta Beach faces west, which means it offers a gorgeous sunrise. It’s well worth the early morning wake-up call to check it out. And for added entertainment, a lot of people are still out from the night before, so you can people watch their drunken antics as they too, wait for the sunrise…before going to bed.

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Mercat de Santa Caterina: Take a walk through this huge, indoor farmer’s market and admire all of the fresh fruit, veggies, meat, fish and prepared foods. While I never made it to La Boqueria, I heard this was a much more local feel compared to the tourist market closer to La Rambla.

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Enjoy Bodega Wine: It doesn’t really matter what bodega you check out, just make sure you enjoy the novelty of filling up a 1.5 liter water bottle with cheap, tasty wine.

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Where To Go Around Barcelona:

Kayaking and Snorkeling in Costa Brava: Costa Brava is an hour north of Barcelona but feels worlds away. For as crowded and commercial as Barceloneta Beach is, this one feels like Europeans simply enjoying the ocean. The sea kayaking was really fun and although I’m not really one for snorkeling, it was pretty cool.

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Parc de Pedralbes: Need a break from the crowds? Feeling a bit overheated? Hop on the metro and head to Parc de Pedralbes. It’s a lovely park with huge trees that offer glorious shade with different fountains and statues tucked in small inlets as well as a beautiful castle at the top.

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Portugal: There are several cheap, short flights over to Portugal everyday. The country is absolutely worth a trip to check it out.

Valencia: Catch a train south to Valencia and experience another Spanish town, a bit smaller and quainter than Barcelona.

Viva Valencia

When Catherine told me that she and Camille were planning a quick weekend escape to Valencia our last weekend in Barcelona, I quickly jumped on board. The August crowds in Barcelona are almost unbearable – you can’t avoid the huge groups of tourists and since most Spaniards take vacation in August, finding those “local gems” is all but impossible. So the thought of escaping the throngs of people and intense August heat was very enticing. I managed to escape one of them – guess which followed us to the seaside town of Valencia?

Yep, another vacation heat wave. Our two days in Valencia may have actually been the hottest of the summer. And that’s saying something since we battled through oppressive heat in Dubrovnik, no air conditioning in Turin, 100+ degree-days in Florence and the intense sun of Portugal.

But by this point, we’re all pros at maneuvering through European streets to find the shadiest parts, ignoring sweaty forearms and shins (yep, both of those are a thing) and carting around 1.5 liter bottles of water to replenish all of the liquids we sweat out.

We caught the first train out of Barcelona Saturday morning and were very pleasantly surprised by the Spanish trains: tons of legroom, right on time, quiet and they had TVs in each car playing the Hunger Games. We arrived in Valencia a few hours later, checked into our AirBnB and realized it had glorious central air. Oh how we’d forgotten what that felt like. It says a lot about our desire to explore the city that we were willing to leave that cool haven for the hot, humid Spanish sun.

But explore we did! We wandered over to the Mercado Central and admired the huge building and all of the fruit, veggie, meat and cheese stalls.

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We stumbled on Torres de Quart, part of the medieval wall that surrounded the old town of Valencia to protect the city. It was built in the 15th century and is still very impressive to come across, I can’t imagine what it was like 700 years ago.

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A bit later, we stopped for a pick-me up. This is what “brunch” looks like when you have a 4:30am wake-up call and you’re on vacation.

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Breakfast of champions: espresso, beer, French fries and olives

While not quite as artistic as Lisbon, Valencia also provided some wonderful finds:

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We spent the rest of the afternoon getting lost in the (shady) alleys of Valencia, loving the quiet streets…

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…and enjoying a wonderful charcuterie board lunch, complete with local cocktails (Agua de Valencia and Clara con Lemón) while getting to know the bartenders from Cuba and Mexico who both call Valencia home now.

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Sunday, we headed out to the beach for breakfast on a beautiful back patio and people watching on the boardwalk.

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On our way back to the apartment, before catching our train back to Barcelona, we stopped at this hidden garden gem.

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We wandered through the shrubbery mazes almost by ourselves and savored the wonderful shade the trees provided. We’re not sure what the gardens were or why they were built, but it was a great last taste of Valencia.

Although our quick trip south wasn’t as busy as my typical weekends away, it felt rejuvenating after a month of busy Barcelona.

Sagrada Família – Continuing the Weird Tour of Gaudí’s Architecture

I feel like I could have spent my entire month in Barcelona visiting Gaudí houses, monuments, buildings, statues and parks – they are literally everywhere in the city. While they’re all beautifully bizarre and different from one another, it gets expensive to visit them all and there is only so many times you can hear the history of Gaudí’s life and design. That being said, I knew I wanted to see the Sagrada Família and wow, I definitely saved the most impressive for last.

The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (I no longer question why people shorten the name) is a monstrous Catholic church designed and partially built by Gaudí. He became involved with the church in 1883, one year after construction began. By the time he died in 1926, he had all but devoted himself to the Sagrada Família. At the time of his death, only about a quarter of the church was completed. And to date, it’s still being built; using Gaudí’s original designs to as closely match his vision as possible.

Supposedly, the church will be finished in 2026, on the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death. Although I also heard that it will be finished in 2052, Gaduí’s 200th birthday. Rumors abound that it’s all just a marketing scheme to get people to come back: “Oh, you have to visit again on your next trip to Barcelona to see what’s been added and how it’s changed with the new construction!”

Despite the construction cranes, scaffolding and tarps, the Sagrada Família is absolutely remarkable!

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I was told it was worth it to do the audio tour and I’m so glad I listened (pun intended). I actually had some issues finding where you pick up your audio device (100% user error – I was too busy looking up and completely walked by the stand at the beginning) but I liked it better that way. I ended up walking through the entire church admiring the gorgeous architecture and sun streaming through the stained glass so when I walked through again, listening to the audio tour, I was able to focus on the details they were describing rather than the massive, overall church.

The tour starts at the Nativity façade, which was built by Gaudí and combines both Gothic and Art Nouveau styles:

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As soon as I walked inside, I was blown away by the sheer size as well as all of the colorful sunbeams streaming in. Gaudí strategically placed stained glass to capture the sun rising and sun setting, casting oranges, yellows, blues, greens and pinks throughout the church.

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The East panel of stained glass has warmer hues for the sun rise…

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…and the West panel has cooler hues as the sun sets.

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One thing I completely missed my first time around, pre-audio-tour, is that as you look up, the you feel as though you’re in the forest, seeing the sun peak through the leaves of the treetops.

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The Passion façade, on the opposite entrance to the Nativity façade, is very noticeably un-Gaudí-esque.

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Although different than all of his other works, this façade was still constructed based on Gaudí’s original design; the harsh lines were designed to portray the sins of man and strike fear into the onlooker.

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On my walk home, I did a lap around the Sagrada Família to see it how it changes from the different angles:

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Thank you, Antoni Gaudí, for your wonderfully weird architecture.

Devour Food Tour – Barcelona

In my humble opinion, food is a quintessential aspect of traveling. I love eating and drinking my way through a city; trying the local fare, talking with fellow restaurant patrons, sampling local beers and cocktails, enjoying delicious desserts, all of it.

While I was researching restaurants in Barcelona, I came across a blog by Devour Barcelona that had wonderful recommendations. Upon further digging on their website, I realized they were actually a food tour company and their blog was just a side gig.

I’ve done two food tours before, one in Chicago and one in Parma, Italy. Both were absolutely incredible, a fun and delicious way to learn the history of a city, discover a new neighborhood and try some of the most quintessential foods of the area. So I quickly signed up and headed up to Gràcia.

I was joined by a family of six from New York who neither drank nor ate pork, so the tour guide, Esther, joined me when there were drinks served and I was given the family’s serving of pork while they enjoyed my fish. Seemed like a fair trade. Esther is originally from Amsterdam but has lived in Barcelona the last 10 years. Ironically, she lives around the corner from me and we realized we were both at the same coffee shop the day before. Small world! Or in this case, city.

Here’s a recap of the restaurants and local fare we sampled:

Baluard Bakery

Freshly baked, almond croissant

We started the day off on a healthy note…

When we rounded the corner, you could smell the bread baking and it was heavenly. On the weekends, the line wraps around the block with locals picking up breakfast and/or bread for the next few days. The owner grew up in a family of bakers, but started Forn Baluard several years ago, wanting to bring fresh baked bread and other bakery items to Barcelona, using simple ingredients and old-fashioned techniques. She expanded to this location, Baluard Bakery, a few years ago. The croissant was divine – melt in your mouth with the perfect almond taste.

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Selecció d’olives I conserves Glória

Olive, artichoke and sun-dried tomato skewer

Our next stop was the Mercat de l’Abaceria Central, aka, the Gràcia local market. The major tourist market in Barcelona is the Mercado de la Boqueria. We were told this is tourist-central and no locals do any shopping here. The market across from my apartment, Mercat de Santa Caternia, is a step-down – still a little touristy given its location, but also an actual market for those living in the area. This market is truly a local experience. A lot of the stalls were closed since it was August and most Spaniards (and Europeans in general) take their holiday the entire month. But the stands that were open had quite a few shoppers and the vendors were more than happy to talk to everyone. Apparently people’s daily visit to the market is basically social hour, catching up with neighbors and hearing the latest gossip.

This “course” was supposed to have anchovies, but the family on the tour with me enjoyed mine and the vendor made me a special one sans fish (gracias, señor). The olives in Spain are incredible and you can’t really go wrong mixing it with an artichoke. The sun-dried tomato was a nice added touch.

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Fabregas

Jamón Serrano and Jamón Ibérico 

This was another vendor at the Mercat de l’Abaceria Central. Actually, it’s a bit of a Gràcia market love story. Apparently the owner of this particular stall is married to a man who she met at the market when she was but a wee child. Both of their parents owned stalls and they would run around as kids while their parents worked. Awwww.

Since the family didn’t eat any ham, I got their portion. But there were six of them, so really I ate my portion and then they wrapped up the rest of the gigantic mound so that I could have it later for dinner. Both were delicious but I think I slightly preferred the Jamón Ibérico.

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L’Anxoveta

“Bomba” potato and ground beef croquette with brava sauce and aioli
Make-your-own pa amb tomaquet (pan con tomate)
Pimientos del pardon (spicy green peppers)
Moritz beer

This was a local tapas restaurant. The owner and his wife lost their jobs during the recession. They figured no one would hire them at their age, so decided to make their own jobs and they have run this restaurant ever since. He was extremely gregarious but spoke absolutely no English. Esther translated for us but you could tell that he loved being the center of attention.

The “bomba” was a fried croquette filled with beef and potato. It was ok, but the sauce was delicious. Pan con tomate is a Catalan appetizer served at pretty much every restaurant. It’s grilled bread, rubbed with a halved, fresh tomato drizzled with olive oil and salt. This was one of the best I had the entire time I was in Barcelona. The pimientos del pardon were incredible – nothing fancy, just grilled mini-green peppers. Apparently 1-in-10 are spicy. I never got one, but one of the boys of the family apparently did. He stopped eating them after that. And the Moritz beer was obviously tasty. Moritz is brewed in Barcelona and the most common generic beer served throughout the city.

Pastisseria Principe

Handmade Syrian pastry 

Why did we go to a Syrian pastry shop on a Barcelona food tour, you ask? Well we did too. Apparently the owner visited Barcelona 30 years ago. He fell in love with a Spanish woman, married her and never left. Since then, his pastry shop has become a local institution, hand making and delivering 2,000+ pastries a day! He also does a lot for the neighborhood, so he’s been adopted as a local at this point. I had a pastry with a pistachio filling. I’ve never had a Middle Eastern pastry before but I’ve definitely been missing out.

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Bodega E. Marin

Homemade vermut
Pickled anchovies
Potato chips fried in extra virgin olive oil

This is how I was introduced to the wonders of the bodega. I mean, this stop alone was worth the whole food tour! Vermut (better known as vermouth) is wine flavored with herbs, spices and fruits. Each is made slightly differently based on the mixologist (ahem, old men making it in a barrel in their kitchen). I sampled three while in Barcelona and I enjoyed the all. Vermut is served on the rocks and goes down very smoothly with a slight smoky flavor. I passed on the anchovies so I have no description for you. But the potato chips were delicious, especially eaten while sipping on vermut…at 1:30 in the afternoon…standing on the sidewalk…eating from a plastic table set-up for us. Apparently this is how the locals eat sandwiches at lunch from the bodega. Just call me Catalan.

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El Glop

Botifarra sausage & escalivada with romesco sauce
Jaume Serra Brut Nature Cava
Crema Catalana

Entering our final stop, I was a bit buzzed and really full. But I managed to find room to sample our last few things. The restaurant itself was a bit odd – it was in a garden level and had the slight feel of a banquet room. But it was packed with people eating lunch and it turned out to be very tasty, so I’ll forgo the less-than-ideal atmosphere.

The sausage with romesco sauce was one of the best things I had my entire month in Spain. I actually tried several other botifarra sausages hoping to find one that tasted similar, but to no avail. Escalivada is just a fancy Spanish word for grilled vegetables, which were basically used as a medium to eat more romesco sauce. The cava was ok, but I’m not much of a sparkling wine fan, so I didn’t expect much. The crema Catalana, however, was incredible. It’s very similar to crème brûlée except it uses milk rather than cream, so it’s ever so slightly lighter.

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Overall, it was a great afternoon of over indulgence. I learned a lot, my fellow foodies were really nice and our tour guide was wonderful. I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Barcelona!

La Festa Major de Gràcia

The Gràcia neighborhood of Barcelona is just north of the main tourist areas, but you feel a world away from the crowds. It has a much more local feel and you aren’t swarmed with millions of other tourists. To be honest, I think this is my favorite area in all of Barcelona.

Until the late 1800s, Gràcia was actually a different town. But as Barcelona grew, it sort of gobbled it up. But those from Gràcia remain very proud of their neighborhood and there’s definitely a different feel when you walk around. Granted, that might also be because you aren’t dodging 47,823 other people.

That being said, for one week every year, the quiet streets of Gràcia are packed with people. The Festa Major de Gràcia happens mid-August and is the largest neighborhood festival in all of Barcelona. Residents compete for the title of “best street or square” by decorating their (you guessed it) street or square with elaborate themes. Everything is handmade by the local residents and everyone really gets into it. I walked through the area a week before the festival and residents were hard at work making decorations and getting ready in the middle of the street.

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We checked out the festival one night and were blown away. Each street is completely decked out with varying themes: underwater, seasons, Game of Thrones, space, etc. There are stages with local bands playing every few blocks, restaurants (and possibly simply local entrepreneurs) selling beer from store doors, and tons of people walking through the streets, checking out the decorations.

My pictures came out terribly, but hopefully they give a sense of how amazingly elaborate the streets are decorated:

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It really is a neighborhood festival – this group was enjoying a picnic, set-up at a long table in the middle of what I’m assuming is their street.

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This video shows the decorations a bit better than the pictures.

In the main square, we were able to watch two colles castelleres, basically human stacking towers. This is apparently the Catalan national sport and there are groups all over the region. Essentially, a huge group of people support each other with their arms. Then smaller groups start climbing on the shoulders of the others to literally build a human tower. The top group is usually comprised of young children, and they’re often 6+ people up. I tried snapping a picture for each layer to capture how cool it is to watch it being built. I also took this video which shows how they just kind of climb up each other’s shoulders.

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Búnquers del Carmel

I almost didn’t go with Jillian to Búnquers del Carmel as it sounded like a hassle to get up there, but so glad that I did! It took us about an hour to get to this popular overlook, but once up there, we quickly realized this was where the locals come to enjoy the view over Barcelona. Correction: this is where the teenage locals come to enjoy the view over Barcelona. I believe the average age was about 19.

But the view was incredible and we timed it perfectly, just as the sun was setting.

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Classing It Up At La Pedrera

Somewhere we found out that you can listen to a jazz concert on the rooftop of the Gaudí house, Casa Milà, aka La Pedrera.

Jillian’s boyfriend, Jon, visited in Barcelona and they were nice enough to let me tag along as a third wheel on his first night in town. So Jillian, Jon and I had a lovely sunset date at the Gaudí house!

Our ticket offered free entrance during the afternoon, so on my “lunch break”, I headed over to check it out. Gaudí was commissioned to build Casa Milà in 1906 by Pere Milà to be the home for he and his wife. It was later split into two houses, and then several apartments. It’s built on Passeig de Gracià, one of the wealthiest streets in Spain. As the house came together, people were not pleased with the aesthetics and nicknamed it La Pedrera, meaning “stone quarry” in Spanish.

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The courtyard of the apartment was really impressive and distinctively Gaudí.

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People actually still live in many of the apartments and the first two floors are occupied by shops and offices.

Visitors are able to tour the roof, attic and a top floor apartment outfitted as it would have been back in the 1920s.

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The roof is really cool.

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Gaudí didn’t want any of the normal roofing elements to be visible; he wanted everything to be aesthetically pleasing. So these are chimneys and air conditioner vents and elevator shafts.

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This arch offers a perfect view of the Sagrada Família, another Gaudí building.

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And this one, a view of Mount Tibidabo, the highest point in Barcelona.

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Rumor has it that George Lucas visited La Pedrera and liked the chimney covers so much, he modeled the Storm Trooper’s helmets off the design.

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The attic wasn’t anything spectacular, it just showed Gaudí’s architectural process. Although there was one part that showed how his furniture and handles were molded for practicality based on how they would be used.

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Later that night, I met Jon and Jillian back at La Pedrera for the jazz concert. As we enjoyed a glass of cava, we walked around the rooftop as the sun was setting. It was an absolutely gorgeous view.

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The band was really good and, ironically, from America. It was fun to listen to and the backdrop couldn’t have been prettier.

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Thanks Jon and Jillian for including me on your date!

Running Across Europe: Barcelona Edition

Since running in Europe offers such beautiful views and an easy way to see each new city, I’ve continued the tradition in Barcelona. That and I really like to drink Bodega wine and I’m trying to avoid such a drastic “abroad bod” this time around.

My first run was through Parc de la Ciutadella.

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I started at 9:30am. Mistake #1. It was already oppressively hot and insanely humid. While the locals of Barcelona were still sleeping, the tourists were not. So I had to dodge a bunch of people. I had walked by the park the day before and figured it was a great place to go for a run. Mistake #2. It was really small and part of it was closed for construction. So I basically had to run up, down and around the same path multiple times. Borrrrrrring.

For my second run, I got smarter. I ran by the beach and started a little earlier. It was much more enjoyable.

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My third run was even better because it was overcast.

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And my last run, I decided to get up super early and enjoy the sunrise at the beach. Luckily, the sun rises at 7:12am so in reality, it wasn’t that early. But I have definitely switched to the Spanish schedule so my alarm might as well have gone off at 3:30am. But this view definitely made it worthwhile.

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