Today, I wanted to get far away from the tourists in the Barri Gotic for as long as I could – so, I headed northward on what turned out to be a 6.2 mile walk (not including a couple metro rides!) through two neighborhoods: Eixample and Gràcia. (Warning: long post ahead with plenty of photos! Sadly, my camera’s viewfinder is still irreparably out of commission, so poor photo quality is due to my iPhone.)
I set out for Eixample, directly to the north of Barri Gotic, just after 10am, seeking coffee and breakfast. My Airbnb is located just off of Las Ramblas, a famous (and extremely touristy) walkway through Barcelona, so I braved it for a short bit until I could divert to a side street. As I passed several Starbucks and a Costa Coffee, I realized I’d need criteria for where I stopped for breakfast: a) no audible English and b) not visibly occupied by tourists. I later amended this list to include the requirement that it be a minimum of three blocks from where a woman (in a strongly recognizable US accent) was describing to police that her large shoulder bag had been stolen after she left it by her seat outside while running inside to use the restroom (sadly, this seems commonplace in the tourist areas despite warnings). Anyhow, I ducked into a cute cafe on the border of Eixample, where I was promptly asked what I’d like in fast Catalan. Seeing my shock, the barista handed me a menu in Russian. After a bit of confused Spanish on both our parts, he realized English was our best bet. Ultimately, I got an espresso and the ‘pita of the day’, the pan tomat with Spanish tortilla (essentially an omelette filled with potatoes and cheese).
After breakfast, I continued my walk through Eixample, enjoying the tree-lined boulevards and upscale fashion storefronts.
The highlight of my morning was stumbling upon Casa Batllo, one of the most famous Gaudi works in Barcelona (one other being the Sagrada Familia church, which I’ll see on my return from Andorra). This was one of the best museums I’ve been to – it’s still privately owned by an independent family, and they’ve put a lot of effort into the experience. The virtual tour includes an augmented-reality application, which you can use as you wander the rooms to see visualizations like a window turning into a turtle’s back and swimming away. They also provide comprehensive information about each room and what the architecture might mean.
Each of the rooms has exquisite design features, from the ceilings to doorframes to flooring and glasswork. I’m not one for most art museums, but this was really incredible.
The tour proceeds across all of the floors of the house, finishing on the roof where they highlight a variety of interesting design elements.
The roof was quite interesting, too – many features were incorporated into the design, including a greenhouse roof (to allow water to drain and retain light in the attic), as well as chimneys combined together for visual appeal. He also used ‘Byzantine’ tiling, as the surfaces are not flat. Most interestingly, the room that they used to have a water heater in now has a sculpture which makes an amazing light / sound-show on the ceiling when the door is closed.
After exploring the house, I was ready for lunch and to get off my feet. I headed to the Gràcia neighborhood, which is where I heard there are great tapas bars, breweries and other artisanal eateries. Along the way, I stopped into a beautiful church, which seemed to be far off of the tourist path.
Then, I found the tapas bar I was looking for: La Pepita, a bright, family-run restaurant focusing on fresh and innovative tapas. Upon sitting down, the restaurant owner immediately asked: “Rusa?” (“Russian?”) as he flipped through menus – I guess I must really look eastern European!
I ordered several: red shrimp croquettes, grilled octopus with snap peas and mashed potatoes and (at the urging of the owner) the pan tomat (I seem to have had some version of this at each meal).
After lunch, I wandered Gràcia, which has quickly become my favorite neighborhood. It’s quiet and full of beautiful little shops and bars, as well as some amazing architecture.
All of the guides I read said I should try to stop in a ‘mercado’ when I had the chance, so instead of heading to the main one, La Boqueria (steps away from my Airbnb in the touristy part of the city), I went to the one in Gràcia, Mercado de la Libertad.
It looked essentially as you’d expect, with stands for meat, vegetables, fruits and seafood. Sadly, I think this type of market is ruined for me after the fabulous one in Riga, Latvia I visited last year; markets are beautiful to look at, but the novelty factor can’t compare.
Then, I decided that I wanted to give another touristy site a chance, Parc Guell (home to more famous Gaudi sites). Grabbing a bus and then multiple escalators to get to the top of the mountain where the park is located, I was promptly told tickets were sold out, but I could ‘check out the view by the box office’ if I wanted, accompanied by a non-commital handwave into the park itself. As I searched for the box office / a way out of the park, I unintentionally got a mini-introduction to the park and a couple good views.
After that slightly disappointing experience (oh well), I headed back into Gràcia to experience the afternoon ‘having a vermouth’ culture I’d read about (the classier version of grabbing a beer during happy hour, it seems). To get there, I wandered through the main Gràcia plaza.
Visiting the vermouth shop was like going back in time to what I imagine the 1970s were like – they use thick, dark colored glass bottles without labels to store the vermouth (in those panels, below) and have a little case with a variety of ‘tapitas’ (bites) to go along with them. Upon arrival, all eyes were on me, given it was 4pm at a very clearly locals spot – and as I said, “Quiero… probar vermout?” (I’d like to try the vermouth?) all of the older locals got excited and started suggesting appropriate ‘tapitas’ (bites) to have the ‘local experience’. Ultimately, I had the vermouth with olives wrapped in anchovies.
Afterwards, I went back to the Airbnb to rest and get out of the heat before dinner. Once I had relaxed a bit, I headed to La Vinoteca del Call, which is one of the oldest wine bars in Barcelona, located ~5 minutes from my Airbnb.
Sadly, they had a ‘Spanish-speaking’ and ‘English-speaking’ section (I didn’t realize, or else I could have easily been in the Spanish section), so I was surrounded by Americans doing silly things at dinner.
For example, one couple despaired over the quality of their food – having ordered a Spanish omelette (my breakfast, you may remember) and shaved ham for dinner, despite being at a Catalan restaurant (i.e., not their specialty, nor something especially exciting regardless). Another was uber-eager for wine – but only to their standards. “Yeah, we’d like a SPANISH wine, but nowhere above the $22 price point…” (had they checked the menu, all Catalonian wines were less than $12). Regardless, it made good people watching during dinner.
I ordered Catalonian food and was thoroughly pleased – I had the esqueixada (salt cod with onion, tomato and olive oil – very similar to the fancier version I had last night), fried mussels, and chorizo cooked in sidra, a Spanish sparkling wine. Of course, the waiter offered me pan tomat – and I couldn’t say no.
Despite the low lighting, it was delicious. After dinner, I had to head back to the tapas bar I’d been to yesterday (literally across the street from the Vinoteca), where I’d seen delicious-looking desserts pass me by. I ordered the chocolate lava cake and an old fashioned – and wasn’t disappointed (the bartender was excited when I noted about the sugar / spice rim – it was delicious and very unique!).
Overall, a great day in Barcelona! Tomorrow, I’m hoping to explore Born, a district to the east of Barri Gotic, and then have a tapas tour of Barri Gotic scheduled for the evening (I’m going to laugh if I’ve already discovered most of the places they’re taking us!).