It is important to think of life as an adventure... and to be excited for where it takes you. Myself and my travel buddy Lauren were certainly excited as we set out on our trip to Barcelona. We hopped on the bus to Dublin airport with bags packed to the brim with sandals, summer clothes, and sun cream. Our minds were full of dreams about the numerous exploits, adventures and day trips we were about to have on our city break. Barcelona city is well known for its quirky, cosmopolitan, and cool character. It is a Gothic, yet modernist marvel lying alongside the Mediterranean Sea. Whether exploring the history of Barcelona through the beautiful courtyards and windy alleyways of the the Barri Gòtic, or enjoying the beauty of the modernist city, there were so many fascinating things to discover. It was inevitable that we would fall in love with one of Spain’s most charismatic and energetic cities... perhaps one of the most enchanting in Europe!
Our flight was at 6.15am which meant our alarms went off at about 4am!! It’s funny how you never seem to struggle getting out of bed when you know it’s to catch a flight... if only we had that incentive every morning. The flight seemed very quick (although we did have a nap which may have taken up most of the time!). We had an amazing view of the city as the plane dropped down and landed into Barcelona El Prat airport. We couldn’t wait to get outside to feel the glorious sunshine. We quickly collected our baggage, tried to quickly culture ourselves by reading some of the Spanish airport signs, before hopping into a waiting taxi and drove off to our hotel. We were getting rather hungry when we arrived and so without wasting any time we went exploring our new neighbourhood for something tasty to eat. We were keen to try out some local cuisine so stopped at a restaurant called ‘Romano’ which seemed to be full of local customers. We ordered Foccacia which is a yeasted flatbread popular in the Mediterranean with pineapple and ham as toppings (it was like a combination of a pizza and a sandwich). It was absolutely delicious! The feast of Sant Joan is celebrated at the start of the Summer each year in Spain on June 24th. It is the longest day of the year and the idea is that on the night of Sant Joan (June 23rd) the sun reaches its highest point before beginning to drop. The sun is seen as a symbol of fertility and wealth and so it must be given strength. The strength is represented through bonfires and fireworks of which there is an abundance of along with street performers and beach parties throughout the region. After we eventually figured out where the nearest underground station to us was, we decoded the public transport system and we were on our way to join in on Sant Joan celebrations. Climbing up the stairs out of the metro station and onto Las Ramblas was a little surreal. There were people rushing by in every direction and stalls selling souvenirs, gadgets, jewellery, flowers, tasty treats and everything in between for as far as we could see. We stood there for a second before we looked at each other and smiled in excitement! We couldn’t wait to go and explore EVERYTHING! Still mesmerised by the electric atmosphere and buzz along Las Ramblas, we strolled along the stalls and admired all the gifts and gadgets for sale. There were extravagant street performers, artists working on new creations, musicians entertaining the crowds and flowers so pretty they almost looked fake! After some tough decision making, we chose a beautiful authentic restaurant for our dinner. It went without question that we would sample some Spanish food so we ordered a fresh seafood paella which was deliciously juicy and succulent. We noticed the bakeries were all selling 'Coque' for the Sant Joan festival. These are bread style cakes that are available in either sweet or savoury. The one ingredient that they all share in common is anise which gives all of the Coques a distinctive aniseed flavour. As the sun went down, we followed the hundreds of people walking in the direction of the beach as the city got ready for the annual fireworks display. We found a cosy spot on the beach, surrounded by families, groups of friends, and couples. It was nice to see so many people out celebrating together. The fireworks were lighting up the sky for hours and were coming in from every direction. We sat there in awe admiring them before heading home to our beds to recharge our batteries for the next day.
There’s far too much to see in Barcelona to sleep in so we got up early to make the most of our day. Our first stop was La Sagrada Familia which is a large Roman Catholic church designed by catalan architect Gaudi. Although still incomplete (the first stone was laid in 1882) the church is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is so popular that you must purchase your tickets in advance for later on that day. (Travel Tip: Book your ticket online before your arrive to save time.) With our evening sorted, we headed for breakfast in a beautiful snug café with a wooden interior and fresh bunches of lavender on each table to plan out the rest of our day over some chocolat pains, fresh fruit salads, and creamy caramel lattes... Yum!! We decided to go to the Barri Gòtic and uncover some of Barcelona’s history on a Segway tour! This area of the city was gorgeous and the Segway tour was a great, fun way to see it. It was made up of winding alleyways and cobblestone pathways. There was something new to discover around every corner. It was as though we had gone back in time with big thick black lanterns and old-fashioned shutters that looked as though they had been lifted right out of a film set. When we got back to La Sagrada Familia for our tour later that evening, we began to understand why it was such a popular attraction. It was exquisite. The level of detail in the colourful glass stained windows was incredible. We now understood why it has taken so long to build. After visiting the main church area, we got a lift up to the towers and enjoyed views of the entire city. What a way to spend the evening. As we exited the building, we decided to ask a local where we should eat our dinner. A very chic restaurant was recommended where they cook up the food specific to your order right in front of you. We could choose what type of pasta with a choice of sauces and toppings. We basically designed our own dinner! Our appetites satisfied, and our feet tired, we made our way back to our hotel to make adventure plans for the next day!
We had booked ourselves a time slot of 9am to visit the wonderful Park Guell and so it was another early start on day 3 of our Spanish adventure. We were quickly becoming professionals at using the underground, in fact we barely needed to look at the map anymore! After arriving at the correct station, we spotted a little bakery with fresh breads and cakes. With a cup of coffee in one hand and a warm sweet pastry in the other, we began our incline walk to Park Guell with the morning sunshine beating down on us. The park which is located on Carmel Hill was designed by Gaudi and it’s original intention was a luxury housing estate. It is now open to the public who come in their thousands to admire the delicate mosaic creations and the surrounding gardens. We were blown away by the intrinsic detail of the park... it is definitely worth a visit. After making our way back into the centre, we enjoyed some tapas and flamenco dancing in the Barri Gòtic. We then headed to La Boqueira which is one of the best food markets in the world. The stalls displayed everything from homemade fresh juices, exotic fruits, luxury nuts, cheeses from around the world... pretty much everything a foodie could wish for! There was a designated section for meats, seafood and a range of different restaurants all under the one roof. We even got a chance to learn how to cook the famous Spanish dish paella and for dessert we made our own delicious crepes with our new friend Pablito. As it was a particularly hot day outside (30 degrees), we decided to take a rest at the beach for a while. After a refreshing swim in the Mediterranean, we were all set for another eventful evening! We had heard about a place called Mont Juic and decided to see what all the fuss was about. We took a cable car up the mountain and made it just in time to see the sunset. As we climbed higher and higher in the cable car, the sky grew pinker as the sun went down and the city became smaller beneath us. It was magical! From the top, we could see the entire city and beyond. We admired the world around us and the city beneath us, which we have fallen in love with. However, there was no time to waste as we had a fountain display to catch at the bottom of the mountain. Lucky for us we happen to ask the right person for directions - a friendly man out on a run who didn’t realise we were joking when we said we would run along with him! We ended up running alongside him down the side of the mountain with him for almost 5 kilometers (with all our equipment!) as he told us different stories about the city and his favourite places to go. He even showed us the 1992 Olympic Stadium and brought us into the Olympic swimming pool! What a nice guy! It really must have been comical to see us running along after him in dresses, equipment and flip flops! We found the fountain display which light up the entire night sky with its water acrobatics in sync to music and lighting effects. What an end to a perfect day.
We couldn’t believe that it was our last day of our trip already. We had packed so much into the short time we had been in the city but yet there was so much more to do in this city of never ending fun. Seeing as we had explored the city by foot, by Segway, by underground and by cable car... we decided to choose a new method of transport and hopped on a boat at the port to capture the city from the water. It was so relaxing to hear the waves crash beneath us as we drifted away from the port out along the harbour. It was also pretty interesting to see the city from an entirely different angle. Before we headed back to the airport, we decided to stroll up Las Ramblas one more time to purchase some gifts, and souvenirs so that we could bring a little piece of Barcelona back home with us! We just had to have some tasty Spanish food before we left and we came across a beautiful restaurant (which had been recommended to us) called ‘Schilling’. We celebrated our fantastic trip with some tasty food and Spanish sangria. What a success all round.
With four tired feet, and four days of happy memories in my new favourite city, we made our way to the airport to catch our flight home. We laughed about the funny stories and reminisced on the excellent time we had all the way back to the arrivals lounge in Cork airport!