Trip to Europe Part I: Barcelona

I write a lot on this blog about software, work, and my hobbies, but one thing I haven't had the opportunity to write about yet is one of my favorite past times - traveling. After a long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jully and I were finally able to take a trip to Europe, something neither of us had been able to do for years. I've never wanted my blog to be about just one topic, so I figured this was a good time to switch gears and write a bit about our trip, and what we learned traveling during these times.

This is part one of a three-part series based on this trip. We visited Barcelona, Lisbon, and Madrid on our vacation, so this first part will be all about Barcelona. When I get around to writing parts 2 and 3, I'll link them here!

Planning the Trip

I've planned a lot of vacations, but there were some extra considerations to make for this trip that made it a bit different. Getting into Spain, we had to do some paperwork ahead of time with proof of full vaccination against COVID-19. The second leg of our trip was in Portugal, so we had to have a PCR test scheduled for part-way through our stay in order to get into the country, and we also had to have another test scheduled at the end to get back into the United States. Overall it wasn't too complicated but it still was a lot more filling out forms and pre-planning than I'm used to.

Otherwise, we took a pretty relaxed approach to the trip! It was a combination of Airbnb and hotel stays, depending on when we were arriving in each city and if we'd need luggage storage (hotels were usually much more equipped for this than Airbnbs). We didn't even have all of our lodging booked ahead of time, and booked our final hotel from the airport. This worked well since it wasn't peak season and travel hasn't returned to full capacity, so there was plenty of last-minute lodging available.

Top Visits

With only 3 nights in Barcelona at the start of our trip and 1 night at the end (more of an extended layover really), we had to be careful what to choose to do. Here's a distilled list of our favorite experiences.

Exploring the Gothic Quarter

We booked a hotel in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona so we could drop off our bags when we arrived, and spend the day exploring, fighting the urge to go straight to sleep after a long day of traveling. We stayed at Hotel España Ramblas and really enjoyed our nights there - the location was perfect to walk everywhere on our first day

Jully standing in one of the alleyways of the gothic quarter

We spent most of the day going from shops to bars to cafes and back again, checking out all the little places the neighborhood had to offer. We also snuck in a mid-afternoon nap once we could check in to our hotel. We usually started dinner anywhere between 8:30 pm to 10:00 pm so there was plenty of time to rest beforehand.

Food and Drink

We checked out a number of wine bars on the first and last nights we were in town (you'll see a pattern of this for us - what can I say, we fell in love with Spanish wines). We visited Zim, a tiny, cash-only wine bar with only space for maybe 10 people. Prior to that, we had just enjoyed another wine bar, Zona D'Ombra, which was also charming but a bit larger.

Wine glasses on a table in a small wine bar

We stopped in a number of tapas places throughout the day - something we already miss dearly now that we're home. We read somewhere that a rule of thumb was not to eat lunch anywhere open before 1:00 pm for fear of it being a bit too much of a "tourist trap" - meals are much later in Spain than we're used to. We did have to break that rule on the first day since we were starving by 11 am and can now confirm that the advice was accurate.

For dinner we ate at Cera 23 - one of the restaurants I'll call a must-visit. We loved the vibe, the food was delicious, and it was a bit off the beaten path - it seems more of a local's spot than a tourist destination, which was exactly what we were looking for.

Sights to See

Inside the Gothic Quarter, we stopped to visit the Basí­lica Santa Maria del Mar and the Barcelona Cathedral - both beautiful cathedrals to tour. Neither was as impressive as Gaudi's Sagrada Família but I'll get to that later.

Rows of colorful cups on juice sitting in an ice cooler at a market

The next morning we walked through the Mercat de la Boqueria - a covered market where we stopped for fresh juice and breakfast, self-proclaimed as the "best market in the world".

A map with our favorite spots in the gothic quarter

Everything here was within walking distance, so it was a great way to spend our first day running on little sleep and waiting for check-in time at our hotel.

Exploring Antoni Gaudí's Works

Antoni Gaudí I Cornet was a modernist architect from Catalan whose works you have likely seen before, but it's really something else to see them in person.

Casa Batlló

Designed originally as a home, Casa Batlló is an incredible work of art. While it's expensive to tour (this was by far the most expensive admission we paid on the trip, at €39 - €49 per person) we thought it was worth every penny for the experience. We paid a little extra for "gold" status tickets and got to have some fun in a private room taking photos in costume - it was kind of silly but we had a lot of fun doing it.

The colorful exterior of the house Casa Batlló

The cover photo for this post is the attic of the above mentioned house; even the mundane spaces are very beautiful and well-designed.

La Sagrada Família

The Sagrada Família is an as-yet-unfinished large basilica, also designed in part by Antoni Gaudí. Another famous landmark in Barcelona, I was very familiar with it but it was an amazing sight to see in person.

A close up shot of some of the spires of La Sagrada Família

We spent a while inside, taking in the architecture and bright stained glass windows, and got to hear the large organ play! I also recommend hanging at a cafe nearby for the top of the hour to hear the bells chime - the bells are capable of playing every note on a piano and are quite interesting to hear.

Park Güell

Park Güell is a large green space featuring a number of works by Gaudí. This involved a lot of walking but we enjoyed looking at the different outdoor installations and got to relax with an Aperol Spritz at the cafe after a long day of exploring.

A photo of one of the houses at Park Güell designed by Gaudí

There are more works to see by Gaudí around Catalonia but these were the three that we chose as the most important for us to visit. We could have easily spent multiple days on architecture tours alone, but there was of course plenty more we wanted to see.

A map of our favorite Gaudí designed sites

Casa Batlló and La Sagrada Família had super easy access from the metro, but we did have to walk a bit to get to Park Güell. Definitely worth it, but it was certainly an exhausting day.

Other Must-Stop Favorites

La Cova Fumada was hands down our favorite tapas place. The wait was long and they don't take reservations, but it was well worth it to have some incredible food paired with a pitcher of good red wine.

BierCaB is a great craft beer spot to try beers from all over the world, with many local options too! The wagyu was also delicious.

Chaka Khan is a cool gastropub we stopped in for drinks at while waiting for our reservation at Cera 23. I can only attest to the drinks but they were some of the best cocktails we had on the trip.

Hemingway Gin and Cocktails is a very fun basement bar with amazing cocktails - these were by far the best we had on the trip. Each one was so unique - like the espresso martini pictured above (left) and the other cocktails.

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