CONFESSIONS OF A BARCELONA VIRGIN
Jules May-Brown explores Spain’s most vibrant city for the first time- and meets some colourful locals…
“First time in Barcelona? It’s a great city, you’ll have so much fun!” enthused our friends… and then Gerry at the Post Office, the lady bus driver en-route and the door man who greeted us upon arrival in Spain’s second city. (Actually, this last one was less surprising, but still). They were not wrong though - Barcelona IS fun. Laid back, slightly edgy, stunningly beautiful and so, so much fun.
I suspect the memory of our first night, lost down a back street following a student (who looked like the love child of Dave Navarro and Il Divo) and singing his made up song of ‘NO SURRENDER’ repeated at top volume, will be an abiding one.
As will the nameless Italian man (who I hope was on his stag do) ambling past our table, clad only in a fluoro yellow vest and pink briefs with the words ‘Barcelona’ proudly printed across his cheeks and a charming glimpse of bum crack. He half heartedly asked for some change, before retiring to a nearby bench to drink a pint with some tourists who wanted their photo taken with him.
"The locals are by far the friendliest people I’ve encountered in Spain.."
The locals are by far the friendliest people I’ve encountered in Spain- fiercely proud of their city, and rightly so. In two days, we managed to fit in two of Gaudi’s incredibly legacies to Barcelona. World heritage site La Pedrera (Provença, 261-265) is well worth a visit for the roof terrace alone. And the Sagrada Familia which has been under refurbishment for about the past zillion years, literally brought me to tears as I stepped inside.
It’s possibly the most utterly breathtaking building I’ve ever been in. Please, please go if you visit the city. It’s worth the long snaking queue (although if you are canny you will buy tickets online before you arrive and avoid the line).
And the food. Oh, the food. This was not a healthy weekend. As a vegetarian, I don’t traditionally fare well in Spain – “Do we serve a sandwich? Without Ham? No!” (Incredulous looks all round). Barcelona is much more European in its approach, however.
We particularly liked Taller de Tapas, a small chain with restaurants dotted around the city. Here, we troughed our way through crispy battered salt cod with lemon, Gambas (prawns) in chilli and garlic, tomato bread, and grilled asparagus with a walnut dressing.
If you like your wine dry and white, anything that says Verdejo and Rueda on the label is a pretty safe bet. On the dessert front, you haven’t experienced true sugar overload until you’ve tried the Bisbe special at the Taverna Del Bisbe (Avinguda de la Catedral, 6, 08002 Barcelona)- almond nougat ice-cream with creme caramel, cream and hot chocolate sauce, delivered by gloriously surly waiters.
"I imagine that Barcelona and I are going to become old friends..."
We stayed at the fabulous Olivia Balmes Hotel (around 200 euros a night). Only open since August last year, this hotel is quickly becoming known as one of the best in the city.
Offering light, modern rooms with huge comfy beds and a delicious buffet breakfast including champagne, it’s is spotlessly clean and has an array of genuinely delightful staff on hand. My only gripe was the lack of a coffee machine in the room, but it just served as an incentive to get up and out in the morning.
What will I remember from this trip? A well-dressed man holding hands with his elderly father as they wandered down the street. Lounging in the warm sun by the harbour (did I mention you get a beach thrown in for good measure?) sipping viciously strong mojitos.
And of course my first experience of this city’s stunning architecture. I imagine that Barcelona and I are going to become old friends. Fun indeed.
IF YOU'RE VISITING THE SAGRADA FAMILIA BOOK IN ADVANCE.
THE HOTEL OLIVIA BALMES IS RECOMMENDED IN OUR FEATURE.