:::The trip, Day 1:::
This is gonna be a long post, rich with images & links. Of course i would recommend seeing this personally and so if you are planning a trip to Barcelona, I hope I can contribute by giving some tips.
By the way, I chose to do this in English because it would also be helpful too for readers outside Norway.
I traveled with my other job, accounting department of Bisnode Norway AS. Last time we had a company trip, we went to Amsterdam and you can find the blog entry here.
We left friday and arrived at Barcelona, El Prat airport around lunch time. The sight of palm trees made me think of my place of birth, Philippines. Don’t be mistaken though. It wasn’t that warm and tropical. Temperature at these months were very varying. It can go from plus 4 degrees celcius to 12 in a day and then certain times, the wind would make it chilly. So do bring a good and warm wind resistant springjacket.
We stayed at Hotel Onix de Rambla. A clean place with nice staff (except for the grumpy lady who was tending to breakfast serving). The free WiFi didn’t work for the whole entire stay, so don’t be attracted to the free WiFi ads hotel put out. Such poor performance as expected in most hotels. I also hoped for a comforter rather than the blanket. Aside from that it was all good and it was conveniently located near Plaza de Catalunya, Passeig de Gracia (with the Gaudi buildings) and La Rambla.
I loved the balcony with the view out to Rambla de Catalunya. At one end of Rambla de Catalunya, you can see Tibidabo which is the mountain with the amusement park and the church Sagrat Cor. One of the best places to get a view of the city, Barcelona.
My colleagues seen from our room’s balcony. You can also see the retaurant, El Raco where we had lunch first day.
Coffee in the outdoors cafe is a must. Enjoying it at El Raco, in front of our hotel, waiting for lunch. Chocolate truffle is complimentary.
The crepaccio Nero, which is a cold duck ham crepe (think it was made of buckwheat) filled with greens and dressed with walnut oils and honey vinaigrette.It was a lovely and fresh combination although they could have added more duck ham to it.
What I like about this place is that you can order most of the items in the menu in two different portions.
Some of us got the food quickly, while some got it waaay too late.
The La fresca del Norte salad with tuna and herb vinaigrette below. Small portion, mind you. Glad I didn’t choose large. The rest of our first day, we had a workshop which was the main purpose of this job trip. It was a good session with a good exchange of ideas and perspectives.
Then we got dressed for dinner. Dinner was a tapas tour with a Norwegian guide who has lived in Barcelona for many years.We had three tapas at each place which is part of a chain owned by Cacheiro restaurants. These were Trobador, La Tramoia and Divinus.
The cool thing about the tour is that we also got some useful and practical tips, background story of the food and eating traditions.
I didn’t bring the camera this evening to be able to enjoy my company, so no pictures unfortunately.
We had croquettes (crispy texture outside and softness and creaminess inside was sumptuous), omelettes and Montadito (small piece of baguette with topping, catalan version. Called Pintxo – food on a stick – by the Basque) among other stuff . Good food and combinations of flavors and spices. In the end, the spice might have been a little overwhelming (not hot food, but a little spicy) for my stomach, so I got a little heartburn. We had 2-3 servings of spicy meat. Lots of water and a little rest in my hotel room cleared that out though.
We ended the night with chilling in the cellar of Obama a few meters from our hotel, but the live music there was not something to brag about.
This was the only day we could get around town because sunday we had to leave before lunch. I went by myself to get most of the time we had.
The weather was warm in the morning. The sun was out and no wind. I started the tour with Passeig de Gracia, Eixample District, to see Gaudi’s buildings. This street had a lot of high end designer boutiques like Hermes, Gucci and YSL.
Right before the block where the three famous buildings lie, there was this other building too which was very nice and had beautiful details.
Then, I came to the trio. First of all Lleo Morera house designed by Lluis Domenech. Beside from Gaudi, he is also a great contributor to architectural highlights in Barcelona.He is also the man behind the Hospital Sant Pau and Palau Musica Catalana, both Unesco Heritage sites.
Casa Amatller designed by Joseph Puig at the request of the famous chocolatier, Antoni Amatller. Exquisite details and colors.
Near Casa Battlo, you can also see this building standing out. This is the Fundacio Antoni Tapies, a cultural center and museum (notice the ongoing photo shoot in the middle of the road).
There were other cool and nice buildings in Passeig de Gracia.
Further up was the other Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece in the area. This is Casa Mila or better known as La Pedrera (The Quarry). If you have the time, you should take a trip to the rooftop (Georg Lucas was inspired by this rooftop for Starwars). It cost 16,50 euro for the entrance fee. Next time I hope I have the time for it.
Today I was going to ride the metro and I had already planned it beforehand. Though, the stories of pick-pocketing discouraged me and so I dropped it altogether.
Impulsively, I took the sightseeing bus (hop on, hop off) to get to the next destination, Parc Güell. It costs 26 euro for one day and I could jump on which ever route on the available stops (the routes are distinguished by the color of the bus).
What I should have known is that this goes only one direction, so if I was to go to some areas which was nearer the opposite direction, I can’t. I would have to go through the whole round-trip and it can take an hour or more.We were handed earphone for the tour guide and brochures.
Then, I arrived at Parc Guell with its famous entrance with the mosaic dragon.
So happy with this picture of the view from Nature Square. You can see Sagrada Familia on the left under construction, the two largest buildings in Barcelona (left side), Hotel Arts and Torre Mapfre (partly covered by that branch) both at 505 feet and the W Barcelona/Hotel Vela (right side) with that semi arch shape.
Then I took a taxi to Sagrada Familia. Antoni Gaudi’s work that never gets finished. Even after his death, they are still working at it. It is financed through the entrance tickets and private donations and is expected to be completed 2026. His tomb is also here.
It has 3 facades with different themes and design. The Passion facade is shown on the picture below.It is facing the west and the setting sun. It is much more simple than the nativity facade. It is dedicated to the passion of Christ and suffering when he was crucified. Each of the four towers is dedicated to an apostle (James, Thomas, Philip and Bartholomew).
This is the nativity facade facing east dedicated to the birth of Christ. This is also the one that is most characteristic of Gaudi’s work.
Image on the right below is what I believe is the apse facade consecrated to “Our lady”. This facade is not mentioned as one of the facade in Wikipedia, but is mentioned in the official website.
This is the Glory facade under construction and they started working on this in 2002. It is the largest and is expected to be the most striking. It is dedicated to the celestial glory of Jesus and represents the road to God.
I had to have a small bite since we were set to meet for lunch as late as 2 pm (ordinary lunch here is 2 pm and dinner is usually 9 pm).
I went for KFC which I missed a lot since we don’t have this in Norway. A magnificent view, but minus for cashiers not speaking English well, no gravy or mashed potato, coleslaw shredded to almost a mash in a weird container and sweet and artificial tasting pineapple juice. Far from the KFC experience in other countries. A little disappointing.
I was going to meet up with my colleagues near Plaza de Catalunya so I took a taxi to get to El Corte Ingles, a mall. There are three of these in the vicinity of Plaza Catalunya. I did some window shopping on this round as I knew I would go back again after lunch. In the escalators, I bumped into some of my colleagues doing some shopping as well.
When we all met up, we decided to just walk a bit and find a random restaurant along the way. We landed at Navarra. Nice place (most of the dining places here are nice and cozy). A shame that our waiter didn’t communicate well in English I had a light meal with a few tapas and marinated olives. It was ok, nothing spectacular. Three of my co-workers shared Paella. It looked sumptuous.
After lunch, we could do our own thing again and I decided to head to the Gothic quarter, Barrio Gothic, to see the Barcelona Cathedral and to El Born area where Santa Maria del Mar is (El Born houses many of the top rated restaurants).
On the left image below, you can see a typical tree in the city with its characteristic faded look as if they have been sandpapered. On the image on the right side below you can see Torre Agbar from a distance which is the bullet shaped building, fourth largest in Barcelona.
At Avinguda Portal de l’Angel I did some shopping again and found some pieces at Zara. Zara is the by way everywhere in Barcelona! I love the fit of the jeans here for me.
I also went to the El Corte Ingles at this street which had floors upon floors of sportswear unlike the first El Corte Ingles I was in. Messi is definitely a star here. By the way, they usually have a tourist discount upon presentation of passport at all El Corte Ingles malls. I think it is 10%. There’s not so much information around this and the staff won’t automatically inform you.
I also dropped by H&M which was so pompously decorated. The shops here are so grand, reminding me of Milan, Italy. The prices was lower than what I am used to in Norway, so I saved a little. I was also looking for shoes, but didn’t find any. Some of the shoe stores here has weird concept of shopping in display windows and then you point at what you like and they bring your size.
I went on the many small alleys, navigating through on a combination of sheer luck and at few times consulting my map (avoided being obvious that I was a tourist and I wouldn’t want to get distracted), but I never got lost.
I came out to a part of Plaza de Sant Joseph Oriol, neighbor to Plaza del Pi, and saw parts of the church, Santa Maria del Pi. Many painters show their artworks here and is said to be a meeting place of artists and bohemians.
Walking and walking, I suddenly found myself in front of Plaza Nova and Casa de l’Ardacia shown below.
The height of the ceiling, the Gothic details and the vast space was overwhelming. To think this was built by man, brick by brick.
After that experience, I went out for a short coffee break so I could consult with my map.
This time I was going to the port area to see the monument of Columbus at Port Vell and on the end of Passeig de Colom. After giving up on finding a seat on a filled Starbucks at the main road, Via Laietana, I headed back to Barcelona Cathedral area and found Taverna del Bisbe. Here I had some Cappuccino in their outdoors area. It was a bit chilly at this point as it was windy so the warm coffee did me well.
At the end of the main road Via Laietana I saw this staue, Barcelona face by Roy Lichtenstein, an american graphic artist known for his pop art work and cartoon inspired work. This was part of the renovation of Port Vell during Olymic era.
And from a distance, you can see the happy Lobster statue by Javier Mariscal, also at Port Vell and created for the Olympics as well.
And walking in the surprisingly empty Passeig de Colom, the Monument of Columbus appeared. I hear that you can go in here and go to the top for a magnificent view of the city.
I then headed back to El Born area through Via Laietana.
At Carrer Caputxes, I went inside Bubo by Carles Mampel who among many other awards won worlds best chocolate cake in Lyon for his Xabina chocolate cake. In 2008, he was incorporated into Relais dessert, a body recognizing the world’s best pastry shop (Pascal in Norway is also a member of this).
Shortly after I took the pictures of these macarons, they began filling it again. I bought macarons (violet with a floral hint, white truffle, caramel which is my favorite, almond, chocolate and raspberry).
I also ordered some bombons, which are made of highest quality Valrhona chocolate. Bombon have very nontraditional chocolate flavors (kind of like Vosges Haut who commercialized and made this trendy). I bought one with strawberry and balsamico and Pa amb tomaquet which is inspired by tomato rubbed toasted bread they serve on almost all spanish restaurants here. And as a lover of peanut and chocolate combination, I had to order the peanut praline bombon as well. I bought a chocolate bar with macadamia and fleur de sel (hand-harvested sea salt) for my parents and sister.
I had to taste some cake right away, so I ordered two bite-sized petit fours. One being a raspberry chocolate (raspberry sacher) and chocolate sphere. The raspberry tasted oh so fresh and natural. It was a delightful combination with the rich chocolate.
Just around the corner, I found myself at Santa Maria del Mar.
The interior has a lighter stone than Barcelona cathedral or it could very well be the illumination that made it seem so. When you enter, it is more open than the Barcelona cathedral with no chambers in the middle (Barcelona is a hall church while this was a basilica) .
I then headed to Plaza Pla de Palau by Passeig Isabell II and I found a sightseeing bus stop (near here you can also find the famous seafood restaurant, Cal Pep). Since, I paid already for the whole day, I decided to hop on here. It took a little while before it arrived. I managed to get on what was the last trip of the day and the last stop was Plaza de Catalunya. Perfect!
First, I bought some toys and a pair of the cutest tiny Levi’s jeans for my little dude, Kean, at El Corte de Ingles. I then walked towards my hotel and got dressed for dinner.
Dinner was at Barrio Gothic area. I actually walked passed this on the way to Barcelona Cathedral earlier. Restaurante Xaloc is the place. We took the cab there and the first one led us to a completely wrong place, so we had to hop on a second cab.
Food was ok at Restaurant Xaloc. After lots of tapas, I was looking for some larger meal and fish. So I went with the salmon. Nothing fancy, but it was prepared well and very juicy. As an appetizer, I had tempura fried aubergine (my fave veggie) with romesco sauce. Loved the sauce, yummy, but the tempura was way too greasy prepared and not warm. It was heavy and not light and fluffy.
The place was also chilly, the long table was narrow and got fast filled up with orders and drinks. The chairs (except for the couch portion) was hard and uncomfortable. Some of my table companions got their food very late. The lady who served us was really nice though and the food was satisfying. The others at my table raved about their food as well. My appetite was satisfied and no major deductions, but not a place I would go to a second time.
Me and another colleague weren’t feeling well. I started with a cold already on friday before departure from Norway and so we decided to go ahead of the others.
We were going to leave the hotel at around 11 am, so I woke up early to get a little bit of sightseeing and food outside before departure. The streets were empty and there was a little rain. I noticed a lot of officials and roadblocks. I found out later that the Barcelona marathon was today. I walked to Avinguda portal l’angel.
And then La Boqueria which is the famous market with fresh produce and restaurants. To my dismay, it was closed. So I didn’t get to taste the prawns sauteed in garlic and cava (the spanish champagne) or the baby squid with eggs from El Quim de la Boqueria. I should have double checked the opening hours, but I was under the impression that markets are usually open on sundays.
On the way back to the hotel, I got to witness the Barcelona Marathon.Wheelchair users are also participants here.
This short trip got me yearning for more and I have vowed to get back. Most for the beautiful sights, culinary experience and a bit of shopping.
Although, I managed to get to most famous attractions and areas in a short amount of time, I found out I missed a lot as well. And definitely a lot of restaurants I want to try next time as well as actually enter the buildings and museums. Definitely a trip I will be doing in the summer instead.
Next time, I will be trying these dining places which gets a lot of raves
- Tickets, Avinguda del Paral·lel, 164 (by the brothers Albert and Ferran Adria who previously owned and managed El Buli which is now closed. this place is said to be a culinary experience with innovative twists and molecular gastronomy)
- Quimet y Quimet, Carrer del Poeta Cabanyes, 25 (small and cramped space, but fantastic food as I read with lots of good and fresh combinations of ingredients and expensive canned seafood you can take home)
- El Quim de la Boqueria at Le Boqueria market near Liceu metro stop (a must, although beware that there are just 18 stools, so you might have to wait up a bit. check a video here. alternatively try out Bar Pinotxo. although these are restaurants in market, these are gourmet spots)
- Maitea, Carrer de Casanova, 157 (pintxos is one of the highlights here and all of theme are with a toothpick that you will collect and you will billed according to number of sticks. a little bit like the concept of paying for sushi on conveyor belts)
- Ciudad Condal, Rambla de Catalunya, 18 (was near the hotel we stayed, but always full, so it was a bit challenging to get space for the big group that we were)
- Mirabe/Mirablau, Carrer de Manuel Arnús, 2, Tibidabo (best part might very well be the view, dubbed as the balcony of Barcelona way up high in Tibidabo. food and service though gets a lot of rant, soI would suggest to come here for only the view and maybe snacks and drinks)
- Matsuri, Carrer Regomir, 1, (japanese dining well raved about)
- Koy Shunka, Copons, 7 (japanese with its first Michelin star 2013)
- Cal Pep, Plaça de les Olles, 8 (seafood as specialty)
- Baluard Bakery, Carrer del Baluart, 38 – 40, Barceloneta area
- Pampero, Doctor Letamendi, 25, Argentinian steak house (get 20% off the bill when reserving at their website), alternatively Restaurante Parilla Alfonsina
- Con Gracia, Carrer de Martínez de la Rosa, 8
- Cera 23, Carrer de la Cera, n023
- Bun Bo, Carrer Sagristans 3 or their Raval branch, Carrer dels Angels 6 (just because I am in love with Vietnamese cuisine)
- Mon restaurant, Carrer Provenca 93 (Caribbean flavors is also a favorite)
Other restaurants worth checking out; Tapeo anem de tapas, Montiel restaurante, Arola at hotel Arts and Bubo (see above for review on Bubo). Bubo also has a bar near the pastry shop. You can find there one of the traditional dishes of savory cocas which is a rectangular shaped pizza like Catalan dish with puff pastry and topping.
And you have to have Chocolate con Churros in Barcelona. Try it out at Churrería Granja Ruz, Carrer Princesa 12 who serves with different thickness and chocolate dips. This is less famous than Granja La Pallaresa Chocolate Restaurant, but much better result according to what I read in the web and much friendlier. Remember also to get some Catalan Creme Brulee while in Barcelona.
Another typical food in Spain is Paella. There is a tradition of Sunday Paella and I heard the best place to savor this is at Barceloneta area near the beach.
And I would have to check out the following places as well that I missed:
- Arc de Triomph (this is red due to the color of bricks used, unlike the one in Paris)
- Tibidabo (high up in the hills with the amusement park and Sagrat Cor church)
- Plaza Reial (beautiful plaza and the lanterns here is actually Gaudi’s first commissioned public work)
- Palau de la Musica Catalana (UNESCO heritage just like Hospital de Sant Pau. Beautiful inside and out with great elaborate details. Designed by Lluis Domenech who also made the Lleo Morera house in my images further up and Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau)
- Palau Güell (another one of Gaudi’s work. newly restored after seven years and reopened to public. due to limited access because of fire restrictions, be sure to book ahead if you want to go inside. don’t miss out on the colorful and eccentric rooftop as well as its medieval touch)
- Santa Caterina market (a little more modern than La Boqueria with a great architectural design)
- Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (fantastic interior. another Unesco heritage site designed by Lluis Domenech)
- Ciutadella park (you can also find the zoo here and a lake)
- Inside Sagrada Familia
- Top of Columbus monument
- Explore more of Parc Güell and climb higher up to get some good view
- Rooftop of Casa Mila
- The decorative archs in the alleys of Barrio Gothic
- La Boqueria market
- Montjüic area with the Montjüic castle, the Botanical garden, National art museum of Catalonia, Fundacion Joan Miro (museum of modern art), Park de Joan Miro (Joan Miro is a Catalan painter, sculptor and ceramist), Poble Espanyol (the spanish village famous for arts and crafts), Plaza de Espanya (nice view of this from the National Arts Museum), the magic fountain of Montjuic and Pavello Mies Van Der Rohe at Barcelona Pavillion
- Barceloneta (beach and waterfront area)
- Barcelona fish statue by Frank Gehry at waterfront
- Museu Picasso
- Cable car
- Santa Maria del Pi and the viscinity
- Labyrinth park (oldest park, but located outside the city. only allows 750 visitors a day to maintain the park’s beauty)
- Casa Vicens (Gaudi’s first important work, a residential building for industrialist Manuel Vicens)
- Sant Pau del Camp (monastery declared as National monument in 1879)
- Montserrat (if you have enough time and a longer stay, take a trip to Montserrat which many says to be a highlight of a Barcelona trip. It takes one hour with train and the mountain view of this Benedictine monastery is said to be spectacular)
- Catalonia in miniature, 17 km from Barcelona. Barcelona in a smaller scale version.
View barcelona in a larger map
Other practical tips
Before travelling, I had a lot of warnings about the pick pocketing activity in Barcelona. Others would say though that it is typical of the big cities and is quite normal. I also learned about the laws that makes it hard for offenders to be persecuted. There is an amount and value, that when kept below, would only result in a small fine. The victim would also have to give evidence, and therefore tourists are preferred victims as they don’t usually have the time to follow this up.
Basically use common sense: Don’t look lost (if you want to consult your map, don’t take it out so often and wait till you get to a cafe or store), travel in group, avoid shady places and alleys at night, avoid strangers approaching you, keep your belongings close and in front of you (I had my valuables in a zipped compartment in my jacket instead of the bag I was carrying, I had a watch instead of pulling out the iPhone all the time and I used the Black rapid strap for my camera) and don’t play the hero as they usually operate in group and also avoid cramp places if possible.
For transportation tips, go here. Taxi is cheaper than Norway, so it is a good alternative in my view. If you use the Metro, buy a T10 ticket instead of single tickets for each journey. This entitles you to ten rides for a lower price. The disadvantage of the metro is of course it can be cramped and make it easier for pickpocketers.
As for language, be warned that many employees in restaurants, taxis and malls does not speak English or speaks it poorly. Make use of hand gestures and menu/dish pointing ;)
Here are some useful links for foodies:
http://www.bcnrestaurantes.com/eng/ (which has even the menus for the restaurants listed here)
I can also recommend these links for more info:
Happy travelling :)