As I begin to write this post, we’re sitting in an illy cafe near Espana station killing time before heading to the airport to catch a flight to Munchen. Even though it’s a Saturday, this cafe is surprisingly empty and we have two large couches to ourselves. The iced coffee is average at best, but the wifi is free and there are couches so we’ve planted for the time being.
At close to a month since our departure from Japan, we’ve been craving Japanese food and some down time. I’d expected this – to get worn out from traveling – but it wasn’t just because I’m unfit. It’s not so much the walking 25,000 steps a day that’s exhausting, but rather the planning. Oh god the planning. The last minute Airbnb bookings, the scrambling to get tickets for Alhambra, the Couchsurfing requests and subsequent rejection upon rejection.
So we’re taking a week off. After drinking our livers to oblivion for the next few days at Oktoberfest (and I don’t even like beer), we’re going to escape somewhere for a week straight and not do anything but work, read, (maybe) blog and cook Japanese food. I refuse to plan anything but doing thorough research into where to eat ice cream and desserts.
Looking back on our time in Spain
After close to 2 weeks in Spain, I’ve begun to realize that a lot of my preconceptions and expectations have been off. And others are on point.
- Food in Spain is good if you have the money to spend, but cheap eats are terrible
- Seriously, do not eat at cheap places. Spend that money on a box of Magnums. Or 5 packs of prosciutto. Or both. If the tapas are 1-2EUR you’re going to get what you pay for. You should be expecting to spend at least 30EUR for two if you want anything bordering on decent. You were warned…
When eating out, you can never go wrong with prosciutto
- Bread is the staple carb and my body is not made for this life
Prosciutto = yes, this bread = no
- Despite this, bread here is not very good (our Portuguese friend warned us of this, and sadly he was right)
- Barcelona is home to some damned good roasted (fried?) potatoes that, of course, come with a side of bread
Bulgogi beef roasted potatoes… worth every cent
- It is possible to cook edible rice without a rice cooker
- Prosciutto is just as good as I had imagined. Jamon iberico is a valid reason to visit travel half way across the world to Spain (or Portugal)
- Despite the lack of normal chilled milk, Spanish know how to do yoghurt. Danone branded Oikos flavored with apple and cinnamon is easily the best yoghurt I’ve ever eaten.
- Chocolate coated corn cakes are fucking amazing. Why have I not eaten these before?! (note: they have them in Germany and Czech Republic too!! Aus, what’s going on?)
- Locals are friendly, however English is surprisingly limited once you get out of the tourist traps (yes, I do care about things other than food)
- Every damn place you want to visit requires at least 10EUR to enter (Gaudí’s family better be getting royalties)
- Seriously, why call a place a park and show it on the map as looking like a park with walking tracks when it requires an entry fee? /rant
Why enter when you can just take a photo from outside? (We weren’t the only ones!)
- Compared to the rest of Spain/Portugal we’ve visited, Barcelona’s weather is fantastic
- Aussie coffee has ruined me and Spanish coffee sucks
Unfortunately e didn’t get a chance to test this theory… but I’m skeptical
Barcelona first impressions
We arrived from Madrid by bus, and were welcomed by beautiful mixes of old and modern architecture and wide, clean streets which we’d been missing in Seville and Madrid. (Disclaimer: as I was battling a cold during our short stay in Madrid we didn’t get to explore the city at all – I encouraged Fumi to but I think he was happy to have an excuse to finally veg out for a couple of days)
The Barcelona subway transport system was reasonably easy to use and it was no trouble getting to our accommodation which was considered “far” (15mins+) from the centre but no problem for us at all.
In remembrance of the August 17th attack on La Rambla
Misadventures in Barcelona
There wren’t any major misadventures while we were in Barcelona (compared to the “fun” we had in London) but there were a few unexpected surprises…
- Smaller, local grocery stores have a very limited selection and the fresh fruit/vegetable there are not very appetizing. If you want to stock up on groceries, you may need to hunt for a larger supermarket if you’re outside of the centre of town.
- The 2 day and 3 day train/bus passes that include travel to the airport can only be used on specific airport buses. We only discovered this after we’d waited for a bus from Espana station and were boarding the bus. Other non-locals behind us were caught up the same way so this seems like a common issue.
Patiently waiting for the airport bus
Countless ticket options and language options are available
- Seeing anything by Gaudí includes booking tickets in advance and it can really add up. I didn’t expect that the park also had costs to enter; it’s always worth doing your research in advance.
- If you’re staying out of the centre of town, options for eating out are very limited unless you are happy with sandwiches and fried everything. It was disappointing that there was nowhere to eat veggies or more simple food – even when ordering cooked chicken breast at a local “cafe bar” it was absolutely soaked in canola oil.
My version of gastronomic torture. At least the egg yolk was good…
Some things we remember about Barcelona
La Sagrada Familia is a Temple designed by Antoni Gaudí, which has been under construction for 135 years and is set to be completed in the first half of this century. The architecture. From the outside the building is impressive, but it’s really the inside where I felt Gaudí’s skill showed. We were fortunate enough to go just before the sun began to set, so could see the lighting inside change dramatically over the space of half an hour. Note: no camera stands are allowed to be used inside.
The Picasso Museum was an interesting show of his works as a student, moving from realistic to more abstract works. We both appreciate beautiful artwork, but neither of us are really big on visiting art galleries and could have survived not going, so the free entry on Thursday afternoon was what really helped get us through the door. Note: no photography is allowed inside the gallery.
The beautiful exterior of the museum was an added bonus
The Gothic Quarter, as the name suggests, is an area with gothic style buildings and architecture. After so my hype over Barcelona, we had felt somewhat disappointed with the city’s ‘look’ (other than Gaudíand a few other impressive buildings), but after stumbling into this area out minds were changed. It is a beautiful part of the city – and as one might expect quite touristy – and has many restaurants, bars and cafes to checkout. It’s also home to the Picasso Museum.
Our Couchsurfing experience was unforgettable. A local Catlan, Oscar, kindly offered his pullout couch to us for a night in Montgat, a small town just outside of Barcelona which is surrounded by the ocean and mountains. Oscar is a firefighter and father, and as a local he was reasonably involved in the region’s current fight for independence. (We left Barcelona the day before the independence referendum.)
Oscar’s hobbies included playing the guitar, singing, learning English, cooking and recently picking up the clarinet (or maybe it was the sax)
We cooked a Japanese style lunch, and in return Oscar cooked what can only be described death by cheese:
Apparently this is a favorite of the firefighters where Oscar works
Our first proper drone flight finally happened when we were nearby Gaudí’s Park Güell. Photos from the drone are to come…
We have liftoff!
Not a view from the drone, but a beautiful view nonetheless
Barcelona is a beautiful city and has a lot to offer – good food, beautiful sights and great hospitality.
However, I would not recommend it for someone on a backpackers budget – even on a reasonable budget like ours which is more than enough to scrape by. Unless you’re willing to fork out for each meal (or perhaps do a tonne of research) you are going to be disappointed by what you order. Time and again it was dry bread, way too much cheap oil and no vegetables.
Tosca, located close to the centre of town was one of the good tapas places we went – but is not friendly for a backpacker on a budget
Now that we’ve traveled through Czech Republic as well, we’ve learnt quickly that if you want to have a good time, you need to go where you can get better value for money.
Sadly, Barcelona isn’t the city for that.
It’s a no brainer really, but now we’ve experienced it we’re in the process of updating our travel plans. We’re learning that Eastern Europe really does have a lot to offer both in beautiful sights and with amazing, affordable food (oh Prague, you spoilt us).
Til next time