Barcelona: The City of Tickled Tastebuds and Beautiful Buildings (Part 1)

For me, step one when organising a holiday is booking the flights. Flights are the most expensive component (if you plan on staying in a cheap hostel, that is) and if you book the hostel first but have no way of getting there, well… that’s not ideal. If you have flights booked already, then you’re as good as halfway there.

The next step is sorting out where you’re going to sleep and personally, I live and breathe Hostelworld when it comes to this. After sifting through the different ways one can order their search (would you like to have the hostels with the worst reviews at the top or those that are the furthest from the city centre?), I finally found my match – Fabrizzio’s Guesthouse. I recommend this hostel to any small groups that wish to stay in Barça: in my case there were 3 of us and we managed to find a dorm for only 3 people which, believe me, is very difficult. At Fabrizzio’s there are only 5 bedrooms and therefore the spacious living room, 2 bathrooms and generous kitchen provide its few guests with plenty of space to spread out and unwind.

The only issue that we encountered with Fabrizzio’s was finding it: we ended up blundering into a huge Modernista tenement, asking in faltering Spanish where we could dump our bags. Being no fault of the hostel’s – considering that we had the address, had been provided with numerous maps and even a photo of the front doorbell – this should not discourage you from staying here. Eventually we found it, and its authenticity made up for the puddles of sweat forming on the floor around us. There are many original multiple-occupancy buildings still in Barcelona and they have a very specific feel to them: dark, cool entrance halls; cold marble stairways winding round an old and creaky lift which still has a grate and no real closing mechanism; huge oak doors with rusty knockers leading to the individual flats. Fabrizzio’s is located in one of these apartments, giving you a fix of Old Barça before you even leave the hostel. Oh, and the shower is fantastically powerful.

P1020358(Head to La Boqueria for fresh fruit juice and nectarines the size of your head! Author’s own photo)

Having relieved ourselves of our bags we headed out for a meander. The walk from the hostel on Carrer del Consell de Cent to La Rambla – Barcelona’s busiest and most famous pedestrianised street – takes a good half hour but you get to see much of the city’s Gothic Quarter on the way, so it’s well worth it. La Rambla is a bizarre street filled with an amalgamation of strange curiosities, with one of its most notable quirks being that it sells animals along the side of the road. After cooing at the tiny bunnies and laughing at the baby tortoises who were climbing on each other in an attempt to escape, we found ourselves outside the Museu de l’Erotica (Museum of Sex). We decided to forgo a visit to this particular establishment because situated on the opposite side of the street is the famous Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, or simply La Boqueria. This huge market promised to be an absolutely delicious way to while away an afternoon, and so that’s exactly what we found ourselves doing. Eating a nectarine the size of my face and washing it down with freshly made passion fruit juice was indeed much my idea of a perfect afternoon – marginally better than staring gormlessly at a statue of a giant penis, perhaps.

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Barcelona: The City of Tickled Tastebuds and Beautiful Buildings (Part 2)

Fabrizzio’s Guesthouse, our home for the trip, offers an endless supply of croissants.  Free coffee and a free pastry treat in the morning is a sure way to put me in a good mood for the next few hours, so when we left the hostel on Day Two, I was feeling happy and satisfied. Our first stop – according to the itinerary I had so meticulously and painstakingly drawn up – was to be La Pedrera, one of Antoni Gaudí’s most beautiful works. There is no way you can leave Barcelona without hearing this name enough times to make your ears bleed, but in case you don’t know who Gaudí is, here is what you need to know:

1) He was a Spanish architect who had some pretty awesome visions.

2) Seven of his projects have been declared as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

3) He is bloody brilliant!

casa-mila-gaudi-barcelona(Admire Gaudi’s impressive work at La Pedrera.  http://www.zubitravel.com)

La Pedrera, or Casa Milà, as it is officially named, is a pivotal structure in the genre of Modernista buildings. Completed in 1910, it was seen to achieve an innovative balance between practicality and aestheticism, with its exterior walls undulating like waves whilst much of the building’s inside is supported by strong columns, instead of load-bearing walls. As a result of Gaudí’s rather impressive résumé and evident popularity with tourists, I suggest buying tickets online before walking into the vicinity of said building. A student ticket costs €16.50 – a soul-crushing price to pay to look around a building – but does let you to avoid the queue. Also, avoiding the queue does leave you more time to stuff your face and bag with free croissants.

Considering Le Pedrera’s ornate and unique style, it comes as a surprise that it was actually intended to be a residential building. The couple that commissioned Gaudí to design it, lived there until the latest survivor died in 1964, and since 1999 the restored apartments have been open to the public. Nowadays, the most famous part of Casa Milà is the rooftop and, I must say, it is the most spiffing location for a spot of hide-and-seek. The chimney tops tower over you as you stand looking up at their scowling stone faces, some endowed with trencadís – or ‘ceramic fragments’ – and some with glittering pieces of cava bottles, in true Barça fashion.

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Barcelona: The City of Tickled Tastebuds and Beautiful Buildings (part 3)

Our third and final day in Barcelona brought with it the most brilliant sunshine and the promise of spectacular views over the city from Park Güell. Another mind-explosion of Gaudí’s, Park Güell demonstrates the artistic mind in all its glory: coloured mosaics adorn the walls and the famous ‘El Drac’ statue, whilst bursts of tropical flowers line the paths and entice you deeper and deeper into the mind of its master and creator.

barcelona-sehenswürdigkeiten-park-güell-barcelona---staedtereise---westtours-gruppenreisen(Wander around the colourful mosaics of Gaudi’s Park Güell  www.ihdwal.com)

The first thing that struck us about the park is what we experienced on our approach. Arriving by tube to Vallcarca station, we made our way to the entrance by ascending Baixada de la Glòria on external escalators; just to clarify, that is escalators that are outside. Connecting one street level to another, these escalators are the best thing ever – especially in 30°c heat. Arriving at the park, we were greeted by two outhouses, both hosts to Gaudí’s characteristic wavy gables and mosaic façades: these are the fanciest toilet buildings you are ever likely to see. As we moved into the park properly we encountered ‘El Drac’ – a water-spouting, mosaic-covered statue that usually get swamped by photo-taking tourists. If you can push your way through the throngs — which we managed with much difficulty and only a few scratches — you are greeted by a multitude of Doric columns which are used to hold up the park’s famous terrace. From this viewing platform, you can take in the panoramic vistas of the city over the low walls or you can simply sit and catch your breath in one of the crescent-shaped alcoves – there as a result of the serpentine design of the seating.

Having licked our wounds and recuperated somewhat, we meandered deeper into the park. As it is so extensive, I recommend leaving a whole day to explore Gaudí’s Güell if you can, but if you can’t — as we couldn’t — definitely arrive early. In order to absorb as much as we could, we briskly wound our way up through the park, watching the views get more and more spectacular as a result of it being effectively built onto the side of a hill. A welcome break in our sweaty and dehydrated walk, we stumbled upon a reggae-come-jazz band performing in the middle of our path. We decided to stop for a water break and a bit of a boogie before descending through the park to buy ice-cream, eventually heading back into the centre of town.

park-guell-el-drac(Meander through the crowds to take a look at El Drac. www.reidsguides.com)

Next on our itinerary (and yes, we really did have an itinerary), we were scheduled to eat some classic Spanish churros with hot chocolate and decided to delve into the labyrinthine streets off to the east of La Rambla in order to get this fatty, sugary fix. As recommended by our Lonely Planet guidebook, we opted to buy the churros at the Xurreria and then walk four doors down to La Granja for dipping. Unfortunately, we had not accounted for siesta time and so the cafe was closed, but luckily we found a sports bar not too far away. We only chose this place because it was the sole establishment on the whole street that had even a breath of life emanating from inside so we entered, sceptical that they would even serve hot chocolate. We were pleasantly surprised. Ushered through the dingy inside, we were lead to a courtyard out the back which captured the afternoon sun and warmed us nicely as we dunked our doughnutty treats into the soup-like consistency that is proper Spanish hot chocolate.

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