Daniel and I spent a little less than two weeks in Spain, and most of that time was in Barcelona. Since it rained on and off and was a little cold, we didn’t visit the beach and instead we spent most of our time in other parts of the city. Here are some of our takeaways:
Favorite Thing We Saw
My favorite thing we did was a tour of La Sagrada Familia. It’s cliché, but it’s the biggest tourist attraction for a reason. I liked it so much I wrote an entire post about it. It is amazing and I recommend it to everyone.
Daniel says that his favorite thing was visiting Park Güell (also designed by Gaudi), because it “has a good mix of architecture and nature.” Park Güell was originally intended as a housing development with extensive gardens, and has lots of big trees and gingerbread-style homes. I am not surprised that this was Daniel’s favorite; wherever we travel I want to look at the buildings and Daniel wants to picnic in the parks.
Favorite Thing We Ate
Spain is famous for producing vermouth, so I tried it there for the first time. Vermouth is a wine that is infused with herbs and (optionally) caramel. I was very dubious–it sounded like it would taste like medicine–but Daniel talked me into it. It is much sweeter than I expected, almost like a dessert cocktail. I tried red and white vermouth, and I think that I preferred the white, though I liked both. It tastes totally different than “normal” wine.
On the subject of food, I discovered that there is a traditional tapas dish called pan con tomate (literally “bread with tomato”) that I had been making my own version of for years. Basically you toast some bread with butter or oil, rub it with garlic and butter, and then smear it with the inside of a tomato. I re-invented this dish when I was just out of college and broke. I have been calling my version “squished tomato-y toast”, but I’m switching to “pan con tomate” because that sounds much more cultured. 😀
Daniel’s favorite food discovery was churros con chocolate, of course.
Also, the horchata, which I wrote about in the last post!
Things We Worried About But Shouldn’t Have
Everything we read and everyone we talked to about this trip warned us about the pickpockets in Barcelona. Our taxi driver from the airport, the air-bnb owner, tour guides, signs in the metro stations, cafe workers, everyone said to be very, very careful. We were told not to take out our phones in restaurants, not to keep any valuables in our pockets, to keep purses and backpacks in front of our body, etc. All of this made us totally paranoid, and in the end it wasn’t an issue. We never felt unsafe and never saw anyone who seemed to be angling for our valuables. Both of us are pretty familiar with the common pick-pocketing tactics (pretending to bump into you, leaning up against you in a crowded space) and we never experienced any of it. This could be because we visited in a less popular time of year; it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Daniel was also concerned about visiting a country where we don’t speak the language, but it wasn’t an issue because so many people spoke English, and when they didn’t pantomime got us pretty far.
Things We Didn’t Worry About But Should Have
Maybe the weather? We knew there would be a chance of rain, but we didn’t have space for any rain-gear. We just got wet, and spent a lot of time waiting out showers in cafes, which wasn’t so bad.
Most Overrated Thing
La Rambla, a big shopping street and tourist attraction. It’s basically the Fisherman’s Wharf of Barcelona, but with no seals and lots of pushy salespeople. Anything you can get there you can probably get in another part of the city better, cheaper, and with less hassle.
Also, croquettes, which are another traditional tapas dish. Croquettes are little fried dumplings with a breaded exterior and a meat or vegetable-based filling. I had looked up articles about local foods to try in Barcelona, and everyone mentioned croquettes. We tried these twice, once from a grocery store and then, because we figured that grocery store food shouldn’t be used as a basis of judgement for any new dish, from a cafe. Daniel and I both found them a little bit strange. What we didn’t expect was just how mushy and paste-like the interior is. The filling is essentially a bechamel sauce with some add-ins (traditionally ham). They weren’t bad, just not as good as they were made out to be.
I wasn’t able to find salad dressing anywhere. It didn’t appear to be carried in grocery stores at all, and even when I ordered a salad from a restaurant it was served dry. This was fine, because I was able to buy some oil and vinegar and use that as a dressing, I just thought it was odd.
Same goes for face wash: I couldn’t find it anywhere. I guess people just use shower gel on their face?
Flamenco dancing: who knew it involved so much foot-stomping? I grew up near Santa Barbara, and every year they have a week-long Fiesta celebration with flamenco dancing, so I thought I knew what I was getting into when I booked tickets to see a show in Barcelona. Apparently though, the authentic Spanish stuff is totally different than what I was used to. There was lots of discordant singing and lots of vigorous stomping. I’m glad I saw it, but I guess I was expecting it to be more beautiful and less aggressive.
(I will say that the staff at that flamenco venue was amazing, because they let us in even though I completely missed our reservation. In most the rest of the world the date is arranged DD-MM-YY, as opposed to the MM-DD-YY format Americans use. So, when I saw “2” in what I just assumed was the space for the day of month I incorrectly assumed my reservation was for the 2nd. Nope, that “2” was for February, and we showed up a day late to our reservation.)
What We Would Do Differently Next Time
I would probably choose to spend more time in Valencia. It doesn’t have as much to see as Barcelona, but it has a more relaxed feeling and, in my opinion, is a prettier city.
I just asked Daniel what he would do differently, and his answer is similar: “spend less time in Barcelona and more time in the countryside.”
We had a good time. Barcelona felt very similar to San Francisco (but with way, way better public transit). I guess that in many ways a big city is a big city. Especially some of the downtown shopping districts; they had all of the same stores and chains as San Francisco. (There’s a Taco Bell, KFC, and Five Guys all across the street from La Sagrada Familia.) I was surprised, I guess I was expecting it to be more different.
However, this is a good time of year to see Spain if you are okay with missing out on the beach. Since it’s the off season, flights and housing were quite cheap and nothing felt overly crowded. Even the major tourist attractions didn’t have long lines. And while the weather wasn’t warm in Barcelona, it was no colder than San Francisco at this time of year, and plenty warm enough to walk around in.