Barcelona – Architectural Wonderland

Barcelona is one of those cities that is on EVERYONE’S bucket list and for good reason too. This Spanish city is chalk full of architectural eye candy! Known for its influential artistic history, big names like Picasso and Antoni Gaudí once called this metropolis “home” and left their mark enough to put this place on the map.

Barcelona reminded me of San Francisco in many ways including the concrete buildings, busy streets and popular tourist landmarks scattered around the city. Yet, hidden amidst the superstructures are amazing architectural gems that are sure to wow.

What we did: We accomplished so much in this big city. Here’s a rundown:

  • Picasso Museum – The Gothic quarter was probably my favorite area of Barcelona. Walking down the narrow cobblestone streets, lined with old lantern street lights and french windows, you’re transported in time. The Picasso museum is at the center of the Gothic quarter which in my opinion, was very appropriate. I would highly recommend buying tickets beforehand. 

  • Parc Güell – One of the famous landmarks created by the artist Antoni Gaudí, was originally commissioned to be a gated community for the wealthy upper class. It was later opened as a public park and is a definite MUST-SEE today! Here are some highlights…

                                   

  • Somorrostro beach – one of many beaches in the area known as Barceloneta. If you get there early enough (like we did) there are umbrellas available for rent. €10 for just the umbrella or €20 for an umbrella and two beach chairs. The water wasn’t frigid but it wasn’t warm tropical water either. Cold enough to give you the chills but comfortable enough to cool you down from the heat!

  • Museu d’Història de la Ciutat – An underground museum of the history of Barcelona. This place takes you back to the days of Barcino – the original Roman settlement. We kind of happened upon this place by (happy) accident, it’s another hidden treasure for those history buffs.

  • Sagrada Familia – The most popular and most famous of the landmarks, the Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family) is Gaudí’s gleaming (unfinished) masterpiece. There are not enough words to describe the magnificence of this cathedral. And it’s not even finished yet! The church has been under construction since 1882 and is scheduled to be completed in 2026 (144 years!!). Your entrance fee includes an audio tour – which was short, sweet and to the point. Tickets should be purchased in advance.

        

          

  • Wandered the streets – Sometimes the best way to experience a new city is just to wander aimlessly. Rey and I had the opportunity to do this and although we got lost on our way back, we stumbled upon some pretty awesome sights.
Cathedral La Seu
Antique street market
Santa Catarina indoor market
  • Experienced nightlife (Goin’ up on a Tuesday!) – Our night started off with some drinks and chill house music at a rooftop bar. Once receiving the news that Nicole had passed her board exams(!) the party was on! We made our way to Deep Tuesday, a house music party at Barcelona City Hall. We were a little wary upon arriving and noticing there were NO girls (other than me and Nicole) waiting in line. However once inside, the music did not disappoint!

What we ate: As an avid (almost obsessed) coffee-drinker, I made it my mission to find a new cafe every morning. With it being almost 100 degrees (that’s an over-exaggeration) a hot drink was not going to happen. Since “iced” coffees are not a thing in Spain, getting a coffee appropriate for the weather was somewhat of a challenge. So I settled for “cafe con leche fria” or coffee with cold milk – think hot espresso filled with cold milk = lukewarm latte.

No grandes or ventis here.

Again, like Madrid, there isn’t a whole lot of variety but these were a couple of  interesting places we found to satisfy our hunger:

Carpe Diem Lounge Club (CDLC) – Asian/Oriental themed restaurant right on Barceloneta beach! Beautiful red/gold decor, good-looking wait staff, “free” massages and of course lounge tables (if you’d prefer to lay back while drinking your sangria). This place was pretty fancy (a.k.a pricey) but well worth the experience. CDLC is among a strip of restaurants (turned nightclubs after dark) that are right along the beach. So if you’d like to come by, have a late dinner, then stay to drink and dance, make sure you have reservations and are prepared to spend some money.

Ramen-Ya Hiro – Much to our surprise Asian food was easily found in all parts of the city. After a night of dancing (& drinking) we needed a hydrating/revitalizing meal. *MAJOR side note: this place is super popular but really small. We waited for an HOUR to be seated. So I only recommend if you’re desperate for ramen.

Where we stayed: Air BnB was our go-to in this city. We stayed at a cute apartment, hidden down an alley, in the heart of the Catalonia capital. Our hostess was wonderful and very accommodating! She not only let us check-in extra early (5 hours) but she even gave us a little background history about the city and some helpful tourist tips too. The apartment had central AC (Hallelujah!) and access to a washer which definitely came in handy for our 2 week vacation. *Side note: dryers are almost non-existent in Europe, so be prepared to dry your clothes the old-fashioned way – hang them outside, undies and all!

Here are some extra tidbits of info that you should know before visiting:

  • Transportation: Unlike Madrid, walking everywhere wasn’t the most pleasant experience. Luckily the metro is super cheap! The four of us split two 10 ride passes (T10) which cost €9.95. This pass lasted us all 4 days and allowed us to travel to all of the popular spots around the city. Taxis are everywhere however drivers get pretty upset when you don’t want to go further than a 5 minute drive (20 minute walk). Scooters and go-peds and motorcycles, oh my! These guys are literally everywhere and are not afraid to run you over, so be careful! Oh and not to mention cross-walk signs last about 5 seconds so definitely no lingering!
  • Weather: We visited Barcelona (right after Madrid) at the end of July and it was HOTTER than HOT! Not only were temperatures in the 90s but humidity was around 80%!! Gahh! As someone who is not a fan of the heat (nor of weather that messes with my hair or makes me sweat more than I already have to) I wasn’t the happiest of campers.
  • Language: The primary language here is Catalan which (in my opinion) is a mix of Spanish, French and Portuguese. I will say, this was EXTREMELY frustrating when reading menus and signs around the city. Luckily, everyone speaks Spanish (and mostly English) so communicating wasn’t an issue.
  • FC Barcelona: If not known for their architecture, Barcelona is absolutely known for their famous soccer team. Attending an FC Barcelona game would have been (without a doubt) an unforgettable experience. Unfortunately, the ONLY month that the soccer team doesn’t play is in July…the month we visited. So if you’re an avid soccer fan, plan your visit during a time they’re playing!
  • Pick-pocketing/scams: We were definitely warned hundreds of times about the crime in Barcelona. The large amount of tourists are an easy target. Remember to always keep your eyes peeled and your purse/wallet close to you. Although we weren’t robbed, we were bamboozled by the beach “staff”. Not until our second purchase of “sangria” did we realize these $5 drinks ($20 for 4) had ZERO amounts of alcohol in them. We were obviously pissed but what could we do…lesson learned. These guys are sneaky too! They dress up with (what looks like a uniform) walking around with drinks on trays. One homie even carried a bottle of “rum” around as “proof” that the drinks had alcohol. To our great pleasure, one beach-goer finally called these guys out in front of a large audience. Unfortunately, not even this deterred them from trying to sell them. My tip: BYOB!

Although I was not a fan of the weather, nor was I impressed by the smell (dog pee and rotting trash) I will say that I enjoyed the popular points of interest and would agree that it’s a definite bucket list destination (just maybe not in the dead of summer).

Madrid – Andalusian beauty

Madrid was by-far my favorite Spanish city. The cobblestone streets, adobe buildings, outdoor cafes and plazas every few blocks… how could you not fall in love with this old-fashioned Spanish town!

Lodging: We were lucky enough to find a beautifully located Air BnB in the heart of the city, near Plaza Santa Ana. We were fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to visit during summer so the weather was HOT! Our apartment had AC in the living room…and that’s about it. We ended up trading off nights sleeping in the living room because the actual bedrooms were just too hot. I would highly recommend a place with central AC if you plan on visiting during July-August.

FOOD: Tapas and wine galore! We ate “jamon y queso” and sangria (because it was too hot to drink wine-wine) almost EVERY day! Although the variety of food is pretty limited, the number of restaurants and cafes is definitely not in short supply. Some of my favorite spots included:

Stop Madrid – a classic tapas and wine restaurant that serves all types of fresh ham and cheeses. This was our first experience with Spanish tapas on our vacation and they did not disappoint.

Lateral Santa Ana – trendy, popular restaurant with a variety of dishes that are sure to appeal to anyone. Lateral has several locations all over Madrid but we visited the one in Plaza Santa Ana because of its close proximity to our apartment and because of the beautiful patio seating we just couldn’t pass up on.

We did wait a good 30-45 minutes for a table but were lucky enough to find seats at the bar while we waited. Their drinks are EXCELLENT! Made with fresh/exotic fruits, you can’t help but try one.

Patiently waiting at the bar 🙂

Patio seating was definitely worth the wait too! Very romantic (as is most of the dining in Madrid).

      

One thing to know is that Spain practices “siesta”. Between 3-6 PM many places shut down for a quick “nap” or rest. Locals usually enjoy dinner around 10 PM so be prepared to eat late! OH! And if you are not a night owl (like Spaniards) try not to get too upset when you hear them yelling and screaming outside your bedroom window at 5 AM.

Fun things we did: Most people will say that Madrid isn’t the most exciting place to visit which is partially true (in comparison to Barcelona) however, it’s the best place to sit back, relax and let the world pass you by. We definitely did this by spending a day in Buen Retiro Park (direct translation “Park of Good Retreat”).

Playing Uno/listening to music/drinking wine
Cuties <3

Aside from the relaxed park life, we also did some other cool things:

  • Tour of the Royal Palace
  • Plaza Mayor – people watching (while drinking Sangria) & shopping
Alex was a pro by the end of this trip!
  • Mercado de San Miguel – indoor market with LOTS of tapas, weird fish, fruits and drinks.
  • Plaza Sol – shopping
  • Azotea rooftop bar – drinks & sunset over Madrid  (chill house music playing in the background).

  • Eat churros and chocolate – a MUST try! They are literally TO DIE FOR!
Thanks Snapchat for the cute location tag 😉

Let’s just say, our 4 days in Madrid were not wasted. Major THANKS to my friend Sofia for providing stellar suggestions on places to eat and visit. For cute travel videos, check out her vlog, Midnight Travels!

For our full Madrid album, visit our Shutterfly website: Adventures w/ Rey.

 

 

Hello world!

My name is Monica and I’m a 26 yo from Northern California with cosmic wanderlust. I always knew I wanted to travel but never realized I’d fall in love with the world as much as I have now.

I’ve decided to start a travel blog because 1) family and friends have expressed interest in the details of my trips and 2) I think it’d be a great way to keep track of my adventures throughout the coming years.

My goal is to share pictures (obviously) and provide suggestions on places to eat, drink and fun things to do.

Rey is my travel partner (and boyfriend of 6 years) and without him this travel blog would not be possible. You can follow us on our adventures by reading about them here.  At most, I hope my blog inspires you to travel beyond your own backyard and at the very least, you get a kick out of my horrible writing and awkward pictures. Enjoy!