Barcelona is so comfortable with tourists that it’s easy to navigate the city in English or Spanish, as a first time visitor, veteran fan, wanderer or serious sight-seeker. No matter the style of travel you prefer, I think a person can learn a lot with days away from their regular routine. Here are some Barca lessons from our newly formed travel team: Corey D, May, Mrs. Woo, and myself.
- If you see a set of outdoor tables packed with diners, don’t just pull up a chair with the crowd. Take note of the table cloths. These differentiate between eating the most popular pinchos on the block and the frozen-to-fried food at Punjabi Bar 😦 , the opportunistic restaurant whose tables are mixed in with the others! At least we learned this lesson in our first 2 hours of arriving Barcelona.
- Definitely score some jamon and salami at the local markets. Definitely say ‘Puedo probar?’ to taste a few morsels, and definitely ask the gentleman to slice your purchases unless you’re keen for an arm workout using the dull knife at the airbnb. Corey D and May took the first jamon-slicing shift for our happy hour of baguette, yummy cured meat, olives, tomatoes, and an inexpensive bottle of red from the grocery store.
- Check out the Caixa Forum for free arts events. It was an easy walk from our Poble-Sec apartment to see Julia Colom Quartet, a jazz group giving a free show. Bonus: the concert ended in time for us to check out the Magic Fountain across the street!
- Lesson Four: Ask the servers what their favorite thing is on the menu… even if it feel obvious that you’re going to order some form of octopus at the restaurant called Pulpetto. Our server pointed us towards the steak!? It was the best thing we ate that night.
- Wake up just a little earlier to take the long road. You never know when you’ll need to stop to admire the street art, or shop at the bric-a-brac market along the port to purchase a cataplana copper clam-shaped plate with your friend’s girlfriend’s mom’s Euro?! I only later learned that I’d need a gas range to cook with this treasure, but I’ll figure that out later.
- Keep up the daily learning by taking a walking tour- I’ve had great experiences with the Sandeman group offering pay-what-you-will prices. Below, the cliff notes of the tour.
This square is where local came to pay taxes or came to watch an execution. Our guide shared that Columbus walked these steps to meet Queen Isabella who sponsored his trip to the Americas. When asked who wanted to take a picture on the stairs, no one in the group budged.
Picasso’s frieze depicts various Catalonian traditions that were suppressed under the Franco regime. It looks like a painting, but it’s a sandblasting technique with very small black stones engrained into a larger stone slab.
We visited the historically Jewish quarter which you’d nearly miss if someone didn’t point it out. During the Spanish Inquisition, any non-Catholic holy space had to be built lower than any Catholic space. The synagogue’s windows were practically at the same level as the street.
This neighborhood used to be where the town met the sea port, the poorest area in town. This church was built by the port workers, men who after finishing their work on the ships, would carry stones from the quarry over a mountain to ensure a church was built in this neighborhood. The workers are memorialized at the church entrance.
Mulberry Graveyard and Independence Square are the reminders of Catalan’s history of nationalism, and its turbulent history with the rest of the nation. The Catalonians turned on the Spanish crown in the War of Spanish Succession in the early 1700s. This traitorous act was confronted in the siege of Barcelona. Starving Catalonia defenders were killed as the Spanish military stormed the city, and buried the men and boys in the square now known as the Mulberry Graveyard and Independence Square. The crown establish a military base in Barcelona with many of the canons pointing inwards as a reminder of the pecking order in Spain. There is an eternal flame in the red arching structure, and currently, the square is frequented by locals pushing for Catalonian independence.
World Expo Park and Arc de Triumph: Our guide shared that the 1992 Olympic Games launched Barcelona into the world of international tourism. The city used its funds to build a decent stadium, but one far less elaborate than many of the arenas we see today. The city focused using funds money into the city’s transportation and port infrastructure. The stadium’s location overlooked the sea and the city so that viewers around the world would see the Olympic events televised against a beautiful backdrop. The first year of Olympic beach volleyball couldn’t be hosted without sand, so the city imported Egyptian sand to build the beaches– beaches that remain a magnet for tourism. Finally, the Arc De Triumph isn’t an arc commemorating a war, but rather a ‘welcome gate’ into the garden park promenade.
7. Lesson Seven: Linger after the tour to ask your guide for local lunch suggestions. You’ll end up at a spot like Joanet, in a shady plaza, eating baby squid and broadbeans with the perfect house white.
8. Top tip: check out which museums offer free hours. We saw an incredible photography exhibit at the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona (CCCB). The World Press Photo Contest rewards photographers who’ve contributed to the past year of visual journalism.
I squeezed every last minute out of this weekend with Corey D, May, and Mrs. Woo! Looking forward to more spontaneous adventures soon.