Ringing in the next year was always a very low-key affair in my family, with my aunts going to sleep before the historic Ball Drop in New York City and the lack of alcohol severely dampening the mood. Barcelona, with music that just makes your hips sway, flowing glasses of sangria, and world-famous clubs, sounded like the best place to spend New Years Eve. However, things took a turn on this trip so we weren’t able to hit the clubs at midnight, but partying on New Years Eve will now be added to the ever growing list of why I need to come back to this amazing city!
12:00PM – Arrive in Barcelona
2:00PM – Meduza for Lunch
4:00PM – Park Güell
6:30PM – Casa Batlló
9:00PM – Cervesería Catalana for Dinner
9:00 AM – Exploring
1:00 PM – Tapas, 24 for Lunch
3:00 PM – Siesta
5:00 PM – Ciudad Condal
9:00 PM – La Rambla
12:00 AM: Rooftop of Hotel for New Years Eve
10:30 AM – Gothic Quarter
1:00 PM – Mall of Spain & Port Vell for Gelato
5:00 PM – Plaça Reial
6:00 PM – Les Quinze Nits for Dinner
8:30 PM – Flamenco Show
10:30 PM – Paella Stop
7:30 AM – Sagrada Familia
11:00 AM – Parc de Montjuic
1:00 PM – Milk Bar and Bistro for Lunch
4:00 PM – Flight to Poland
Continuing on from the London trip, I spent the the first couple of days in Barcelona by myself and then the next few days with my friend’s family. They say that the best way to experience a culture is through their cuisine and as always, I took full advantage of this! Being a “Party of One”, I was able to hop in and out of restaurants at my leisure, avoiding being on the waitlist for the entire trip. Each tapas bar brought variations of diners, dishes, and vibes. Here’s my take on the ones that I was lucky enough to visit!
As you read, you’ll notice that I only talk about the tapas restaurants that I was able to visit. The biggest disappointment during this trip was not being able to eat good paella. Most paella is portioned for two people so I had to stick to tapas when I was dining alone. Once my friend and her family came, it got so crazy (will be explained later) that we weren’t prepared enough to find a good paella place. The paella place that we did eat at was lackluster and not worth mentioning. (sorry!)
Something to note about Europe is that they generally use google reviews more than they use Yelp (which is much more popular in the States). Some restaurants may have hundreds of reviews on Google but only a couple of reviews on Yelp. This is significant because Cervesería Catalana has 11,000 reviews on Google and is still 4.4 stars AND they have 12,514 reviews on Yelp and they are 4.5 stars. I’ll admit it, I’m guilty of depending on reviews and what people say about a restaurant before I try it. But this place is not just hype. It’s absolutely worth it.
It’s my first night in Barcelona. I’d just visited two masterpieces by one of the greatest artists of all time. (more on this later) I’d been walking in and out of boutique shops for the last hour. In my eyes, the day had gone perfectly so far. My hostel was in the perfect location right off of Rambla de Catalunya, which seemed to always be buzzing with energy. A quick search lead me to Cervesería Catalana, which had a line out the door and a crowd of people inside at 8PM. As soon as I walked inside, I walked right on out because I thought there was no way I would be able to get a table. The host told the couple in front of me that it would be a two hour wait at least. However, I strengthened my resolve and braved the push and shove crowd until, just my luck, I saw a seat at the bar. Squeezing between a couple and a single diner, I couldn’t help but giggle a bit because I got a seat!
As the host handed me a menu and I ordered a glass of white wine (obligatory), I heard a voice next to me. “I highly recommend the Tapas Sampler. I get it everytime I’m here!”. I turn to my right and see a woman, about mid to late 30s, dressed to the T with a simple black dress but adorned with designer accessories. Two thoughts ran through my mind. One, she is speaking perfect, unaccented english. Two, where can I get her Gucci earrings but for only 20% of the retail price?
For the rest of the dinner, we shared stories of our travels over glasses of wine. She had just visited Armenia and Georgia, both of which she highly recommended. As she shared more and more about her life, I saw a glimpse of what I want mine to look like. Unlike many people, she actually enjoyed her corporate 9-5 job in San Francisco. I feel that as a business major, we resign ourselves to the idea of sticking to a desk for the rest of our lives but in her eyes, that desk brought her to an executive position in an accounting company and has given her the opportunity to travel the world. She shared about how her life went a direction she could have never expected at my age but nonetheless she took things as they came and worked with what life gave her. It’s a strange thought to let life take the wheel in certain instances. Of course it’s a balance that you have to find but I’m starting to understand how to be proactive with our goals but still embrace the chaos.
Launching into the food review now, the tapas sampler was a good introduction to Spanish flavors and was a safe choice for the first time. The sampler came with five items: clams, shishito peppers, sardines, croquettes and shrimp. I’m much more adventurous with my food so I was kind of bored with the flavors but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. Though I wasn’t blown away by the sampler, I did enjoy my desserts…perhaps a bit too much. Between the two of us, we shared three desserts. A decadent chocolate cake with gold foil on top, an ice cream/cake concoction that balanced the line between too sweet and just sweet enough, and the most amazing churros with chocolate syrup that I’ve had in my life.
We spent over three hours wine-ing and dining, emphasis on the wine-ing. When I pulled out my wallet to pay for my meal and call it a night, she put a hand on my arm. “Don’t worry about it. I got it! You’re young! Another glass of wine for both of us please!” I was overwhelmed with gratitude but also awe. I want to be in that position where I can offer to pay for the meals of poor college students just because. Thank you Jenn for being a bad-ass and paying for my meal and being one of the best dinner partners I’ve ever had!
The next day for lunch, I decided to try Tapas, 24, a bar with equally rave reviews as Cervesería Catalana. The open kitchen and brightly lit space was unexpected for a basement level bar but was a pleasant surprise nonetheless. Luckily, I avoided the lunch rush by being a Party of One! Speaking in Spanish, I ordered a sangria and was busy putting my purse on the purse hook when I heard a giggle next to me. Confused, I turned to my right and my eyes went wide with surprise as I saw my friend from last night! Delighted, we gave each other a hug and shared in the pleasant surprise that our Party of One turned into a Party of Two once again.
Here, I ordered shredded chicken croquettes and this amazing creation that I forgot the name of. It sounded simple enough to make: a light baguette like bread stuffed with octopus, lightly drizzled with a spicy and creamy sauce. It absolutely blew my mind though. I did not expect such a burst of flavor. I blame it on the sauce! This is a must order. This was also one of the only restaurants that sold sangria by the glass and not by the jug, so take advantage of that, Party of One-ers!
I think that the owners of Ciudad Condal and Cerversaría Catalana may be the same because the menu was almost exactly the same! This place was also showered by good reviews so I knew that it had to be good as well. I was a bit more adventurous with my order this time around. I’d never been a fan of razor clams but these were seasoned and grilled to perfection.
At this restaurant, I started chatting with the woman next to me who struck me with strong “The Alchemist” vibes. We started talking about our love lives and how she’s one of the few people that actually prefers the long-distance type of relationship. She is six-years strong with her Barcelona residing boyfriend, despite the fact that she lives in Florida for the majority of the year. Then we started talking about our relationships with our parents and how time and distance affects it. It was much more somber and a different type of enlightening than my conversations with Jenn. While I admired Jenn’s obviously hard-working nature and adventurous spirit, I really revered my current dinner date’s composure about life and the state of the relationships that she has with the people around her.
Les Quinze Nits
After a day busy with walking and exploring, our group of four was ready to finally sit down and have a full meal. We found ourselves at Plaça Reial, one of the most picturesque plazas in Barcelona. The string lights drape across the plaza that’s framed by palm trees and colorfully lit by the sunset. The restaurants in the area all have heat-lamp decorated patios with Catalan music drifting quietly from the inside. People sat around the fountain in the middle, some taking in the view while others scroll through their phones. We settled on eating at Les Quinze Nits, one of my favorite meals that I had in Barcelona. We ordered a good amount of food for our growing appetites: hummus platter, confit chicken salad, mussels, Pulpo Gallego (mini octopus), Patatas Bravas (potato wedges) and the largest pitcher of sangria.
I don’t eat red meat so Barcelona’s affinity for seafood based dishes fed exactly into my diet. I had been wanting to try Pulpo Gallego the whole trip and was excited to finally have the opportunity to do so. The mini octopus were juicy and the potatoes that they were simmered in exploded with flavor from the sauces. It’s hard to describe what it tastes like but it was sweet and savory and salty all at the same time but in a good way. If you like octopus, I definitely recommend trying this dish!
Milk Bar and Bistro
Before I left for Poland, we tried to fit in one last good meal. The thing about Europe is that there are so may restaurants tucked into little alleyways that you can almost always find a gem within the rough. Milk Bar and Bistro is one of those gems. One of the best brunch places that I’ve ever been to, the cozy restaurant was packed to the brim for Thursday lunch. I ordered the Chilaquiles that to my pleasant surprise was made with Doritos instead of corn tortillas. The freshly squeezed orange juice and the explosion of flavor from my dish was well worth the wait.
Barcelona just seems to hate us though…
One of the craziest stories, which I waited until I got back home safe and sound to America before I told my parents, was when I got pick-pocketed…but not really. On New Years Eve, while waiting for my friend to arrive, I wandered around the city center then eventually making my way to the Cathedral de Barcelona. My walk there was lined with fast fashion shops, one after the next, so I was pleasantly surprised when the alleyway leading up to the Cathedral opened up to a plaza. A guitarist played a melancholy tune, lost in his own world. Rows of canopies, underneath which antiques from Spanish culture sat on display, were crowded with locals and tourists alike. The Cathedral set a dramatic background, casting a shadow over half of the plaza. These scenes are absolutely foreign to me, having lived in Southern California all of my life, so I stood and watched the people meandering in and out, soaking in the pace of life so different from my own.
After taking the obligatory pictures of the Cathedral and a few badly angled selfies, I started to make my way closer to the entrance but then realized that the queue was for online tickets only. I moved to the side and sat on a nearby step so that I could purchase it on my phone. After two attempts with different credit cards but no luck, I settled on going back to the hotel and buying the ticket on my laptop for tomorrow. I sat there for a wee bit longer, content with just people watching.
Then, a Spanish couple, probably 40 or 50 years old, approached me, with the woman sitting next to me and the man standing off to the side-ish. She asked me if I spoke Spanish, to which I replied with “just a bit!”. She then asked me about the ticket price, to which I explained to her that they were 7 Euro online but I was not able to purchase them on my phone, but maybe she can. During this time, she kept pointing in the other direction and saying that it says that they sell them in person for 24 Euro, to which I turned my head, without seeing any 24 on the signs in front of the Cathedral.
This was the first sign that something was wrong. Usually, if you ask someone a question, especially in a language that is not your native one, you really need an answer! She seemed incredibly uninterested in what I had to say and kept repeating the same thing over and over again, even though my Spanish was proficient enough to get the point across. It was then that I realized my purse was by my side, yes, but my hand wasn’t draped over it like it usually was. I stood up in an instant and felt inside my purse where my bulging wallet (because there’s way too many 10 pence coins, not because there’s tons of cash) was noticeably absent.
It was then that I noticed the husband’s presence for the first time. He was avoiding eye contact with his hands in his pockets. I looked at her and she had a smirk on her face. This was when I probably should have thought my response through a wee bit longer but I couldn’t hold it in. Without thinking, I throw out “Did you just take my f****** wallet?” I could tell that they were definitely not expecting that response from such a small, unassuming, stupid, American tourist. I may be a small American tourist, but do not ever underestimate me! They aren’t sure how to respond at first, so I helped them along. “Are you f****** kidding me?” I’m speaking loudly enough that the people near us can definitely hear me and I could tell that I’m making the pickpockets nervous by making a scene. If you’re a pickpocket, you want to slip in and out of crowds. Grab and go, grab and go. An Asian-American tourist in Barcelona with a very loud voice and very colorful language is not discrete. They start to apologize profusely and I stick out my hand, patiently (not really) waiting for my wallet to be returned to its rightful owner. Which it was. The husband was still apologizing as I walked away but the wife had that stupid smirk on her face, which I could have easily wiped off but calm-cool-collected is my 2020 mantra. Even now, two weeks later, I can barely comprehend that I was pickpocketed but then I told them to give me my wallet back – and they did!
So when I went back a day or two later with my friends, I was hyperaware of the people around me. The people that pickpocketed me blended in so seamlessly. They appeared to be so kind and genuine but of course, their intentions in starting a conversation with me were not. So, this is my lesson to everyone that is reading this blog right now. It’s not enough to be careful most of the time. You have to be careful all of the time, especially when you are traveling. Use your common sense. Use your intuition. And sadly, be even more vigilant when you are talking to strangers. I’d like to assume to everyone is kind, fine and dandy but it’s not always the case, so be ready when they’re not.
At the same time that this was happening, my friend was suffering from her own predicament. The hustle and bustle of the train station and bloody early flight that she had from Edinburgh to Barcelona took a toll and she forgot her backpack on the train…and realized it as the train was already rolling away. The loss was devastating: her laptop, her sister’s clothes, her prescription glasses, headphones and numerous other valuable things were in her possession one minute and then they weren’t. A loss as drastic as that is hard to recover quickly from, especially when the stress of traveling nonstop for four weeks, spending every minute of the day with your best friend and family, and going back to America is already weighing on you.
When my friend and her family questioned the employees at the train station, they were reluctant to help. When they filed a police report at the station, it became another lost-item report on the ever-growing pile. Barcelona has one of the highest occurrence rates of pickpocketing so the chances of her being reunited with her backpack were slim. It became an unshakable cloud over our heads for the next few days. But since then, we’ve tried to remain positive and proactive in learning from lessons like these.
Antoni Gaudí and his Wonders
To fully experience Barcelona, visiting an Antoni Gaudí site is imperative. Even if you don’t like art or museums or Gaudí, I think that seeing his artwork in person and seeing the reverence on the visitors’ faces is pretty cool. There are over 20 sites and museums so it was hard to choose which ones I wanted to visit since time was limited. However, I knew that Park Güell was absolutely on the list.
The pictures that I took do not do it justice. There is a free portion of the park and a paid restricted portion for 10 Euro a ticket. The free portion gives you a taste of the beautiful views that the park offers but much of the architecture that Gaudi designed and the various museums on site are restricted to only ticket-holders.
Creativity is always tossed around in academics. “He’s so creative!” “What a creative piece of work she made.” But whenever I walk around places like Park Güell, I see what being creative truly means. I could never in my wildest dreams design structures, rooms, and landscapes like Antoni Gaudí did. Sure, maybe I could mildly recreate it but I can’t create it out of nothing. The capacity of my creativeness is finding pictures on Pinterest to add onto my boards. This man stared at a piece of land and said I want this building to look like this and I want to use these materials. How absolutely astonishing! One of my favorite aspects of his art was his usage of mosaics. Using broken, discarded ceramics that people threw away, he repurposed the material to create something so beautiful that people will travel thousands of miles to see it in person. I wonder all the time if famous artists like him or Da Vinci or Rembrandt knew the magnitude of the impact that their art would eventually have on the world.
The other Antoni Gaudí site that I decided to visit was Casa Batlló. After putting the address into Google Maps, I found myself still walking along the main road and then suddenly, I was standing right next to the building. I looked up and I found myself at a loss for words once again. There was a huge crowd in front of the building, all seeing the building through the screens of their phones. I quickly snapped this picture then sat down on one of the benches out front and just studied everything. The unique skull-esque shape of the balconies, the signature mosaic tiling and the beautiful addition of color with the shutters. His art style is truly one of a kind and while I walked through the many floors of the building, this was further proven.
When I walked inside, I had to take a step back to take in the whole room. Then, I had to take a few steps forward to see the designs up close and to feel the texture of the walls under my fingertips. It was so hard to go through the house because it didn’t seem like a museum to me. The spaces were real areas where guests were entertained, people slept and stories were shared. I wanted to sit down in one of the very few chairs there to have a cup of tea and read a book. I wanted to stay and look out the windows and see the busy streets of Passeig de Grácia below me. I wanted to walk up the stairs and see the snow fall behind me. Yes…there was falling snow inside the building. It was magical.
Things on My Mind aka I Can’t Categorize These Blurbs
One of my favorite moments of this trip was on New Years Day. Rachel and I explored Port Vell, where there was a plethora of shops and restaurants for every time of vacationer. There we decided to stop. We grabbed some gelato and just sat there. We talked about life, boys, jobs, travel – anything and everything. Watching the sunset with my feet swinging precariously between me and the water reminded me of home and of how much I miss California. While I was in Europe, I very rarely missed home. I couldn’t afford it. I was always thinking of next stop this, gotta do that, prepare for this – it was always go go go. I was only in Europe for four months so I had to make the most of it. Sitting there with Rachel, my ice cream, and the most peaceful sunset I’d ever seen – I didn’t need to think about the next step because I was right where I needed to be in that moment.
That didn’t stop us from grabbing a few very beautiful pictures during the sunset though.
On New Years Eve, instead of a night out in town, we had a quiet night in. We got a pizza, rushed back to our hotel and watched the fireworks light up the sky from the rooftop. In Spain, the tradition is to eat a single grape with every ring of the clock once it hits midnight. Eating twelve grapes in twelve seconds is harder than it sounds! The hotel even gave us Cava, a spanish sparkling wine similar to champagne. While we were eating our pizza and sipping our wine, other residents at the hotel kept coming over and peeking into the pizza box, thinking that the food was provided along with the cava. We couldn’t help but giggle at how unexpectedly laid back our New Years Eve was. There was no midnight kiss. There was no booming club music. There was no crazy story about having to use my poor Spanish at the club to order a mint mojito. But that’s okay. It was still a New Years Eve to remember.
I’ve had hot and cold experiences with hostels. Some have been good at most while others were so bad that I shiver just at the thought (see Amsterdam post) However, I can say that Casa Gracia is one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at and perhaps may even be better than some hotels that I’ve stayed at. I didn’t take any photos of the building myself but I can attest to the accuracy of the photos that are posted online. I would have stayed there for a week without complaint! The lobby was pristine, with marble floors and brass accents everywhere. The bar literally glistened because of the sun’s reflection off of the perfectly polished glasses. The rooms had complimentary toiletries and freshly folded towels on every bed, but the part that I loved most about the entire building were the ceilings. High ceilings just make a space so much more elegant and airy, which is hard to do when you have six beds, six suitcases, and six people in a room. If you are traveling to Barcelona on a budget, Casa Gracia is the way to go! They have private rooms too!
You’re probably thinking, “I’ve read so much about food and Antoni Gaudi, but what about Sagrada Familia?” I genuinely cried a bit when I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to go inside. I was so disappointed in myself for not prioritizing getting tickets over anything else…It’s been my dream ever since I was 15 to see the inside of this building in person. It was a tough lesson learned when I put it off so that I could go with my friends. My advice in these situations is that if you really really want to do something, eat something, or visit a site as popular as the Sagrada Familia, it’s not worth it to wait for your friends to book together. Just book it as soon as you can. It’s worse to not be able to see it at all than to go alone. I woke up early, at 6:30AM on the last day that I had in Barcelona so that I could see it. It was tough to settle for just walking outside the cathedral because the doors were so close, yet so far.
To say that Barcelona went unexpectedly is an understatement. So many things happened that I still haven’t processed completely. Yet, it’s still on my list of top countries in Europe. The people that I met, the things that I got to see, the food…my goodness the food was spectacular! I wish that my friend didn’t have to go through her predicament, but I know that she’s taking it like a champ and has learned so much from it. I wish that I was able to eat good paella, go clubbing and see the inside of the Sagrada Familia but I just have an inkling that the next time I go to Barcelona will remedy all of the lost potential in this trip. Onto the next one…Poland!