Tapas. Sangria. Siesta. Barcelona quickly put us at ease with its laid-back pace of life.
The city's beautiful parks didn't hurt either. We found between outdoor cafes and the many greenspaces that one could spend days in Barcelona without entering a building save to sleep at night. On our first day we treked up to Guell Park and were absolutely wowed by the Gaudi structures scattered all over this huge green area, giving everything a very surreal, very unique style. Tourists snapped pictures right next to locals enjoying the afternoon. We found a similar scene at Parc de la Ciutadella, minus the Gaudi architecture. This is another great sprawling park with a huge fountain as its centerpiece. We even caught a free classical music concert there one night.
The most expansive park area we found was the Sants-Montjuic district. This area houses the National Palace, Botanical Gardens (a great spot for our lunch picnic!), and El Poble Espanyola--a "traditional" Spanish village that we decided had too high an entrance fee to visit. We found out later that this is actually a fake village built in the 1920s! We were saving our Euros for the nearby Olympic Stadium and the Montjuic fort, but were surprised and delighted that both were free! The historic fort had amazing panoramic views of the city and we had a lot of fun sitting up top watching boats come in from sea and planes descend to the nearby airport. We decided to hike up and down from the city level, but it's also possible to take a cable car to and from the waterfront which looked like a more relaxing option. Overall the whole Sants-Montjuic area was relatively uncrowded and serene compared to sites back at sea level.
On our first night in Barcelona, we found a busy cervezeria (beer-eria? yes please!) to sit outside and enjoy some tapas and drink. Katrina had been dying for real sangria since arriving in town, so that was the first thing we found on the menu. Given our budget, we were saddened to see it listed for 9 Euros. We weren't surprised since a glass of wine could set you back that much in Paris. But then we realized it was 9 Euros for a pitcher! And the tapas was proportionally priced. Dining out in Barcelona was wonderfully affordable and we had a great time eating around the clock.
We were surprised on our visit to the Barcelona waterfront to find such beautiful beaches walking distance from downtown. (We're from Boston...think dirty Revere beach.) We hadn't brought our swim gear when we stumbled upon it, so instead we found some empty chairs and basked in the Mediterranean sun. There were also tons of restaurants and cafes lining the beach--great views, but overpriced menus to match. Not far, though, we happened across a fantastic tapas spot in Barceloneta at 56 Carrer del Baluard, in the southwest corner of Placa Poeta Bosca. Tables were shared, Catalan chatter was loud, and we guessed at what to order from a blackboard menu on the wall. We found out later that the "morcillos" we ate is a Spanish spin on blood pudding.
We found two huge markets while in Barcelona, the bustling Mercat de la Boqueria near the cruise port (crowded with more tourists than locals) and the smaller Mercat de Santa Caterina. Both housed butchers, cheese mongers, and stand after stand of deliciously fresh produce. We stocked up on serrano ham and manchego for a nice picnic dinner. Both markets are located adjacent to the older parts of the city, composed of charming narrow alleys which are a maze to navigate. No matter how many times we found ourselves in this quarter of the city there was literally always something new around every corner.
We were lucky enough in our honeymoon preparations to win a free stay at the five-star Claris Hotel from a lastminutetravel.com promotion. We enjoyed four nights of luxury, complete with spacious accomodations, plush robes, sparkling bathroom (including bidet!) and a beautiful rooftop pool with great views of the city. It was a real pleasure returning to our room at night, save for the reception staff. We're not sure if they flagged us as non-paying guests, or if our first appearance in travelling clothes and backpacks grabbing at the free candy gave us away, but they treated us brusquely. Definitely not what one would expect of five-star service.
Looking around the bus on the ride to the airport at the end of our visit it was plain to see from the sun-kissed (even the Brits!), smiling faces that everyone spent their time as we did in Barcelona...outside. Its as if Barcelona was granted by the gods eternal good weather because for four days we experienced almost unabated sun. We know realize that siesta is out of necessity rather than novelity as it would be impossible to make it through a day under the pounding rays from above without a little snooze.More pictures from Barcelona can be found here.