Barcelona completely surprised me this time around and erased all previous notions of the city during my brief stay. My first impression six years ago had been at the height of summer with triple digit temperatures and hostel hopping when we failed to booked our rooms in advance during the high season.
Six years later I hoped to do it a bit differently.
I booked a budget hotel in hopes of getting a good night’s sleep after a long flight, but as you know travel has a wicked sense of humor and I ended up unexpectedly staying in a hostel. This turned out to be the best twist of fate I could ask for.
Let’s start at the beginning…
My trip began like a bad dream: like in the middle of the night coming to your hotel and realizing they left your key in the bar across the street that is completely dark and closed for the evening kind of nightmare. Yeah.
Luckily Frances and Kristi, a lovely couple from San Francisco (what are the odds!) happened to be in the same situation and we headed over to a 24-hour corner store where the owners tried so graciously to call the hotel for us.
Enter Abe who happened to be on a midnight snack run, who invited us to come to his hostel around the corner.
Guys, when a stranger offers you to stay in their hostel, sometimes you should say yes, despite recent horror hostel movies. This was one of those moments.
Thus this is how I came to stay at Fabrizzo’s Petit.
In the morning, Khrystian, one of the lovely hotel staff that instantly made me feel at home, urged me to go to the Gràcia neighborhood, that was adjacent to Park Güell. He promised me it wouldn’t disappoint.
He was right.
It was hard not to fall in love with this local neighborhood. I wandered around the spacious squares and narrow side streets for hours, watching daily life unfold: parents walking their children home from school, friends meeting after work in outdoor cafés, dog owners going on their evening stoll, before my sore calves ached in protest. Before going back, I realized I was starving. I popped into a corner café and got a savory chicken and onion pastry that instantly melted into my mouth.
During the evening, I explored the El Born neighborhood, where I had a delicious jamon iberico sandwich from a shop that specialized in ham. This sandwich made me a quick convert, where before I had merely been on the fence about this local specialty.
Ham sandwich in hand, I spent the rest of the evening wandered through the illuminated Barri Gotic neighborhood. Ducking off a main street, I stumbled onto a large bustling square with cafes lining the perimeter. I felt like I had found another world.
I came back to Barcelona the day before I was due to fly home to the U.S. I was tempted to go back to Fabrizzio’s, but there was a two-night stay minimum, so I opted for a hotel in Plaça d’Espanya. As luck would have it, one of my favorite cafes from my last visit was just around the corner. After all the ham I had ingested during the week, it was nice to counterbalance it with a hearty salad.
On my last night I realized I hadn’t seen the Casa Batlló and so with twenty minutes before the sun set, I dashed like a mad woman to see this architectural beauty. Rushing around was really not my ideal travel style, but it was now or never and I’m glad I went because I mean come on.
In Barcelona, I often felt like I was in a fairytale, between the whimsical Gaudi architecture and the hidden city squares. It was hard to leave this city. Really hard. But I will be back, if only to eat my way through the Gracia neighborhood.
Barcelona is ideal in the spring, when there are less crowds and the weather is bearable. Believe me, it’s so much easier to walk around when you don’t feel like you are swimming through warm air (or people).
Here’s a sample of my 36 hours in Barcelona:
Known for their delicious focaccia bread, they also serve healthy pastas, salads and desserts. My personal favorite is the lox and crème fresh focaccia bread and I will shamelessly admit I had it twice in the same day. Other branches around the city as well.
Determined to try a classic Spanish bocadillo? Splurge and pay a few more euros for the jamón bellota (a fancy pants version of jamón iberico), that literally melts in your mouth. A few more branches around the city as well.
I didn’t have chance to go this time round, but I’ve only heard good things about this tour that focuses solely on deliciousness in the Gracia neighborhood.
A quiet local neighborhood that seems miles away from the noise of Parc Guell (but is actually right next door), has some delicious food options and optimal people-watching opportunities. Highly recommend spending at least half a day.
A popular neighborhood for its gothic architecture and is especially beautiful when illuminated at night.
Would love to go back and wander the narrow alleys during the day, but it was lively at night and I will forever remember it as the area that produced that heavenly ham sandwich. Sigh.
Another of Gaudi’s masterpieces worth checking out in the Girona neighborhood, located on Passeig de Gràcia, one of the major avenues of the city, . For further nearby neighborhood exploration, I recommend walking on Carrer d’Aragó towards the Girona metro station and wandering around the tree-lined streets.
One of Gaudi’s must sees. The main part requires a ticket, but there are plenty of the grounds that are free of charge, worth seeing and also give you a break from the massive crowds.
Free breakfast, lovely facilities, accommodating staff, great location, instantly feels like home.
An inexpensive hotel in a central location. Rooms are spotless and modern.
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Have you been to Barcelona? Any recommendations?