In just 20 years Barcelona has gone from hosting fewer than 2 million tourists per year to over 9 million. It has become Europe's third most visited city, behind London and Paris, and is nowhere near as large as either of them. Every one of the important sites now requires a time-slot ticket and Barcelona's mayor recently began a plan to limit the volume of tourists.
We timed our visit for the first few days of February and, while it was still teeming with visitors, we were able to enjoy Barcelona and came away eager to return, armed with some knowledge of how to beat the bustle and enjoy this great city.
Our farewell to Sicily began on the last day of January with a morning train ride along the coast from Siracusa to Catania.
The Vueling airlines flight to Barcelona was smooth and quick. Before we knew it we were checking into our AirBnB apartment in the pedestrians-only Born district - narrow cobble-stone alleys between 6 to 7-story stone buildings, with an eclectic mix of bars, bakeries, and boutiques. It's a place for the curious and the creative. We didn't have to venture far to find Bormuth, a tapas bar with a very cool vibe, where we had some Rioja and a perfect balance of meat, veggie, and starch tapas.
For our first full day in Barcelona we decided to walk up to Parc Güell, the UNESCO World Heritage Site designed by Antoni Gaudi. Google maps said it would take about an hour to get there, but we decided to meander through the Gothic District and see some other Gaudi-designed buildings along the way. We came upon an art market and a farmers market before stopping for a glass of Cava and Papas Bravas at the Reial Cercle Artístic de Barcelona - a tiny museum with a terrace restaurant overlooking a small plaza and the Font de Santa Anna.
At this point our patience and energy was running really low, but the park was now only 10 minutes away. Little did we know that the last 10 minutes would be all up-hill, with a few long staircases thrown in for good measure. Fortunately, the destination was worth the last push. We took in the panoramic views of Barcelona below with a background of steel drum and sitar-playing buskers as we strolled under the clear blue sky. We were able to get into the Gaudi House Museum - it began as a model home for what was to have been a residential planned community that never really took off. Gaudi lived there for the last 19 years of his life while he worked on the Sagrada Familia. Some parts of the park now require timed tickets, which were all sold out by the time we arrived. Still we could still appreciate the Gaudi architecture from various vantage points before heading back - this time by bus. iPhone Health App is at 16,880 steps, 33 floors, and 6.7 miles and it's only 4:45 pm.
After a healthy dose of Ibuprofen and a power nap, we were back out for dinner at one of the most popular tapas bars in town - Cal Pep (thanks for the tip C J Jeffries). We joined a handful of people waiting outside just before the 7:30 opening hour and snagged two seats at the bar (reservations for the back room are only accepted for parties of 4 or more). It's reminiscent of a diner, with the grill in full view and a kitchen in a room off to the right. Our waiter asked if he can recommend our selections and we gave him the nod. We were not disappointed with the Fried Calamar, Catalan Tomato Bread, a collection of Mussels and Clams in a dippable sauce, an amazing Tuna Tartare, and Cal Pep Special White Fish. By the time we finished our meal there was a sizable queue outside the restaurant.
We finished off an absolutely full day with a concert in a small chapel within the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi featuring three Spanish guitar masters. They played a mix of traditional and jazz pieces, even playing a great version of Chick Corea's "Spain". The acoustics of the stone chapel were ethereal and the concert was the perfect end to an amazing day in Barcelona.
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Nancy McCabe &