Friday, July 29, 2011

What to See and Do in Barcelona

What to See and Do

Start in Placa Catalunya – Our bus conveniently dropped us off here but it was a really good way to keep bearings. Las Ramblas is downhill (west), Parc Guell is uphill and everything else is inbetween.

Las Ramblas – Best street ever. As long as you hold on tight to your bag and look anyone dodgy in the eye (apparently they won’t try anything then), you’ll be fine. We made it through with all our belongings and money intact so if you’re smart about it you’re safe. Las Ramblas has everything – Placa Catalunya at the top, the Colum and wharf at the bottom. A massive path running down the middle with market stalls, street performers, restaurants and souvenirs, and markets, more shops and restaurants and access to all the little alleys down the side.

La Bocqueria – A market at 89 Las Ramblas, which deserves it’s own mention. It’s huge and varied, ranging from the disgusting (completely intact but furless dead rabbits, staring at you with bigger than normal eyes) to the delicious (candied fruits, home made chocolate fudge, fresh fruit salad).

Sagrada Familia – We got told not to go inside because it’s basically a construction zone. So we didn’t, we marveled from the outside, and spent the money at Patisserias instead.

Parc Guell – Very very cool. Take a picnic lunch with you and don’t stop climbing until you get to the top, the view is better than the Viewing Platform. The café is crazy expensive and you will want a drink after that climb, but take a drink with you and spend the money with the crazy illegal street vendors instead. Go to the ones inside the caves rather than the ones in the open because you’ll have more time to choose before they have to run from the cops.

Barri Gotic Cathedral – Keep going to the right of it, past the weird old-meets-modern building next door and turn left, parallel to the right hand side of the cathedral. The alley leads into a really cool little plaza and towards the old town. The cathedral itself is really stunning too, and the inside looks enticing in pictures but we couldn’t be bothered going inside at the time.

Get lost in the alleys – Definitely the highlight of Barcelona for us. They’re not hard to find, just turn off Las Ramblas at any point. We spent most of our time north and north-west of Las Ramblas. Don’t be scared of the seedy looking streets, it’s there we found a whole row of shops that had shoes and clothes for 3 and 5 Euros. I didn’t buy a thing, only because it wouldn’t have fit on the bike. Aside from the shopping, the best Patisserias in the world are in these alleys we swear.

Santa Caterina Markets – These markets are more the sort where you would actually do you weekly shopping than browse and get lunch, but they’re still very cool, they’re only slightly set back from the little alleys and there’s a tapas bar inside too.

Los Tarantos Flamenco – Instead of paying 40 or 50 Euros for dinner and a show, pay 8 Euros, get a half hour taster and then find dinner elsewhere. The show was awesome, the Sangria was good, we saved heaps and still had a good time. Los Tarantos is in Placa Reial and you can turn up at the door from 6pm.

Stay at Camping Tres Estrellas – massive pool, basketball and soccer fields, petanque areas, a playground, shops, a restaurant, shaded campsites, private access to the beach, hot showers that work, laundry services. Only negatives were crazy expensive wifi and the ‘half hour’ bus to the city that was closer to an hour. We got told to choose any site we wanted on the right hand side of the map at reception but when we asked which area was the quietest we got told to choose anywhere on the left hand side. It pays to ask because with motorbike gear and metal t-shirts we got lumped in with the young party side of camp when we really just wanted a few days surrounded by kids that go to bed at 10pm.

What not to do

Let go of your bag – Pickpockets are everywhere. They have knives to slice the bottom of your bag open and catch whatever falls out (they won’t use them on you). You won’t feel them reach into your pocket and you won’t know your money is gone until it’s too late. We’ve heard from quite a few people who have been robbed but just as many who haven’t. Don’t accept vouchers from anyone, don’t spologise to people that bump into you, don’t pick up anything you didn’t drop yourself. If you’re watching a street performer keep your bag in front of you and don’t stand close to anyone, including children.

Go to El Encants Vells Market in the late afternoon – we lost track of time and got there as it closed but the market looked awesome and while it’s a bit out of the way from the central city, I’d make the effort again.

Make a special effort for Basilica Santa Maria del Mar – other than the fact our search led us through awesome streets, it wasn’t as cool as expected and we couldn’t get inside to have a look.

Make a special effort for Arc de Triomf – We did because someone we met mentioned it, and it was cool, but only go if it’s on your way somewhere else or you have an afternoon to sit in the nearby park.

Walk to Parc Guell – The park is awesome, but it’s a long walk there and when you get there you still have to walk to the summit. Not so bad in the cooler months but don’t do it in Summer.

What I’d do differently –

Explore the Costa Brava - We rode through and stopped for photos but the small coastal towns around Barcelona are apparently well worth a few day trips and we didn’t have the energy.

Go to the Castle – From the bus between camp and town, we could see a castle on top of a mountain. In the dark, lit up, it looked like it were floating in the sky. No idea what it was or how to get there, but I’d hunt it down.

Go turtle hunting – What I really craved was just more downtime to recollect post-banicassim. It’s funny because we had so much downtime in Benicassim that we got bored and I really looked forward to exploring a city again but after a couple days exploring I would have a loved a few extra nothing days. So anyway, on the short walk from camp to the bus stop, we passed two roadkill turtles. We don’t have wild turtles in New Zealand but we’ve both had them as pets so it’s really weird to see them as roadkill. An estuary runs through camp and if we had a spare few hours we would have gone exploring to see if we could spot a live one.

All in all we only had three full days in the city and we could have spent many more in those little streets but I think three days was enough to see the sights and get a good feel for Barcelona. We didn’t feel rushed at any point I just think we could have done with an even slower pace.

Penelope_nz's Barcelona, Spain photoset Penelope_nz's Barcelona, Spain photoset