🇪🇸 March 24, 2022 - Travels around Spain - Part 1, Barcelona
Written By Amanda
Tommy and I have been in love with Spain since we last traveled there in 2017. We hiked a portion of the Camino De Santiago to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. Following that trip, we knew we had to get back!
Fast forward to November 2021. Now in Evelyn’s second year of virtual schooling, and attempting to maximize the advantages, we were trying to integrate more international travel into the school year. We had just returned from a successful trip to Ireland, and with the lessons we learned, we were ready to give Spain a try!
For this trip, we decided we would be using more public transit, shorten our overall time abroad, take advantage of school holidays, and Tommy would take vacation time for the whole trip. I also applied for Evelyn to get two excused absences for educational purposes.
As an added bonus, our traveling trio became a group of five! We were fortunate to take on this adventure with two of our good friends, Jason and Melissa. Our traveling companions were very helpful with trip planning, navigating, entertaining Evelyn (or us while Evelyn was in school), and sharing the expense of the trip.
Over the next few posts, I will detail our time in Spain. Our group traveled a total of 19 days(2 ½ weeks). We made our way from Barcelona to Madrid via Southern Spain (Barcelona → Malaga → Sevilla → Granda → Madrid). Here I will recount our time in the beautiful city of Barcelona!
Day 0 - Fly to Spain
On Evelyn’s lunch break, the three of us headed to the airport with the hopes of getting through security and in the Delta lounge before the second half of her school day started. I had low expectations, but amazingly we pulled it off! Jason and Melissa joined us in the lounge shortly after we arrived. Jason, Melissa, and I celebrated the start of vacation with beers in hand while poor Evelyn and Tommy had to watch the festivities from afar as they completed their school and workday.
We had smooth travels from our local airport into JFK. Once we landed at JFK, we headed back into a very crowded Delta lounge for a decent dinner. We had no problems boarding our flight to Barcelona. Evelyn received a little extra special attention from a flight attendant (who snuck her ice cream) and one of the captains. He gave Evelyn a pair of wings and allowed her to tour the pilot’s cabin. He also showed us the wings he got as a child on Pan Am, forty-five years ago! Evelyn was so excited! It was an experience the two of us will never forget.
Evelyn, a pro now at overnight flights, stretched out between Tommy and me and got a solid 5 hours of sleep. I am always jealous of the sleep she can get on planes, but ultimately know it is to my advantage.
Day 1 - Barcelona
We had smooth travels into Barcelona and arrived early. To our surprise, we were greeted with rain and chilly weather. We can now confirm: It does rain in Spain! We figured this must be payback for all the good weather we had while in Ireland.
From the airport, our group grabbed a taxi to our hotel. Typically, we opt for cheaper public transit, but with our apprehension over pickpockets mixed with travel fatigue and the weather, we decided to grab a taxi. We were warned that you are “more likely to be pick-pocketed in Barcelona than any other city in Europe.” Also, Barcelona has a good government-regulated taxi system.
The taxi dropped us off at our hotel, H10 Catalunya Plaza Boutique Hotel right on Placa de Catalunya. We were hoping to check in early and freshen up after the long flight, but the rooms were not ready. Luckily, we could store all our luggage and the hotel was conveniently located to some tourist sites.
Disoriented, hungry, and tired, our first objective was coffee. The dreary weather seemed to make our jet lag worse than usual. We stumbled down Las Rambla and stopped at the first cafe we found! Restaurant Moka ended up being a perfect choice! Evelyn got a smoothie (I am always pushing fruit and vegetables on her when available while traveling). The adults got coffee, except for Jason, whose superpower is functioning without caffeine! I got a tortilla, which I loved so much during our previous trip. Melissa got churros and hot chocolate. Evelyn vowed that churros with chocolate is all she would be eating for the rest of the trip!
Breakfast was perfect and provided the right amount of caffeine to get us across the street to the Carrefour Market for more caffeinated beverages. Evelyn found a Kinder Egg Maxi which she had to have (and so did Tommy and I). We love getting Kinder Surprise Eggs when traveling in Europe. They are definitely not the same in the United States.
From there, we continued to make our way down Las Ramblas taking in the activity and the sights. Las Ramblas is a large pedestrian friendly boulevard stretching from Placa de Catalunya to the Balearic Sea. This area is great for shopping, dining, people watching, and catching a street performance. Again, we had been warned about pick-pockets and were watchful. Looking back, I probably took this warning a little too seriously. I was constantly on guard, but ultimately we had no problems. Either security has improved, or we were there when the city wasn’t too busy. It never hurts to be aware, but I would not let this warning deter you from a visit to Barcelona.
We enjoyed a walk through La Boqueria Market and left drooling over all the seafood, jamón, and colorful fruit. We knew we would be eating very well in Spain! I also enjoyed walking off Las Ramblas a bit for a peek at Placa Reial and the Roman Necropolis. It was fascinating to see old Roman graves right in the middle of the city. Apparently, ancient artifacts are uncovered all the time while doing construction throughout Spain.
Las Ramblas ends at the Columbus Monument and Barcelona’s port. We walked along the pedestrian bridge and admired all the beautiful boats. It would have been nice to spend more here, had it been a little warmer. Fatigue was also starting to hit hard.
We made our way back up Las Ramblas to our hotel. Our family room was ready, but Jason and Melissa had to wait on theirs. We all piled into the one available room where I started to unpack and get Evelyn and I showered. By the time Jason and Melissa’s room was ready, I was fully prepared to siesta! Typically, we try not to nap on our first day to help with jet lag, but we knew this would be necessary to stay awake until the later dinner times in Spain.
We had to adjust our eating schedule a bit in Spain. I was initially very nervous about this. Especially, traveling with a child and I, personally, am prone to getting tired and hangry. Eating late ended up not being that bad. I could wait until 8 or 9 pm to eat because dinner is considered the lighter meal of the day. Lunch, typically the heaviest meal of the day and served between 2 to 3:30 pm, easily held me over. The siestas helped too! I was also surprised by how easy it was to go straight to bed right after dinner!
Probably more than a siesta, we all slept hard for about 2 hours. Even Evelyn, who hates naps! Our group rejoined around 7 pm for a complimentary pre-dinner drink in the hotel’s courtyard. I could have gone right back to sleep after that but we knew we needed dinner.
For our first dinner in Spain, we decided to try out traditional tapas. Tapas are small savory dishes (like an appetizer) traditionally served family-style and for dinner. They are a great way to share with others and to try something new! Tapas may include bread, meat (lots of jamón!), seafood (mussels, clams, squid, small fish), & vegetables (eggplant, peppers). We ate at Vinitus which was amazing and the perfect introduction to Spain and tapas! Our waiter was very patient with us “newbies” and extremely helpful! Evelyn discovered her love for jamón and surprisingly razor clams. I got my favorite, padrón peppers. Eating these peppers is like playing a game! You never knew if you would get a spicy pepper or not! The meal was not complete until Evelyn got her churros with a side of hot chocolate. Also, the adults enjoyed their sangria, of course.
Following dinner we took a short walk down Las Ramblas to see the street all lit up at night and then headed straight to bed!
Day 2 - Barcelona
Still struggling with jet lag, we all drug ourselves out of bed. There was a full day of touring planned ahead of us in Barcelona. Our hotel provided an amazing breakfast spread that fueled us for the day. Tommy says they made the best eggs he has ever had!
At the metro station, we bought a 3-day Hola BCN pass. We had tickets to Sagrada Família scheduled at 10 am. We were a bit early so we decided to head to the Barcelona-Sants Station to make our long-distance train reservations for the trip. Unfortunately, due to COVID and the fact that we were traveling with a Eurorail pass we could only make train reservations in person, at a train station, in Spain. We also did not realize that all of our planned train travels would require reservations. This is different from train trips we’ve taken within other European countries in the past. To say the process of booking reservations for each train ride, and the transfer, was a major pain is an understatement. Each reservation made was an additional cost that added up quickly. Traveling in Spain under the Eurorail pass may not have been the most cost-effective choice. We did not analyze this too much beforehand because we all had a Eurorail credit we needed to use from when the pandemic first started. At the train station, we had a very helpful attendant who booked us tickets for our planned trip to Figueres the next day. After a painfully slow 30 minutes of entering each of our individual passport numbers and paying for each leg of the trip, we needed to count our blessings that we at least had the next day booked and move on.
We were now running a little behind and had to rush to Sagrada Família. Fortunately, they didn’t mind that we were a little late. Once through security, only one member in our group could get the audio guide to work. Luckily, we had our Ricks Steves Spain Guidebook as a backup. Sagrada Família is a large unfinished basilica designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Construction (slowed by the Spanish Civil War, funding, and even the recent pandemic) began in 1882 and still continues to this day! Some locals believe the fact that it is not finished is what adds to its appeal. It was a little surreal to make our visit while active construction was going on! Along with the beautifully detailed carvings everywhere you look on the outside, I loved the unique addition of color. The inside was also very different from any other basilica/ church/ cathedral I have ever visited. Contrasting to the outside, it was almost simplistic in comparison. There was the use of rich-colored wood and ironwork. Along with very clean lines in the designs. I have to admit, initially, I was just checking a visit to this basilica off my tourist “must-see list”; however, I left in awe! Before leaving we visited the parks located at both the front and the back of the basilica. Evelyn enjoyed some time on a playground and popping large bubbles blown by a street vendor, while I took pictures.
Following our visit to the Sagrada Família, we started to make our way to Park Guell where we had tickets to tour at 2 pm. At one of our metro changeovers, we popped off to get a look at Casa Mila (also designed by Antoni Gaudí) and find a place to grab some lunch. We ended up at Dora Tapas Bar, which was good, we just didn’t realize they would still be serving breakfast at noon. Again, we hadn’t fully adjusted to the eating schedule in Spain. Luckily, they had no problem with us ordering a beer with our second round of eggs for the day.
Belly’s full, we took the metro to Park Guell and made the steep uphill climb to one of the many entrances into the park. There is a bus that would get us closer, but extra exercise didn’t hurt. Google maps took us into the park at an odd entrance. We could never really get oriented or understand the park’s virtual map. Finally, we just gave up and started to wander. Luckily, this time, we headed all downhill. This stylish park was originally intended to be a community of 60 single-family homes. Although the project was not completed, what remains is an architect’s playground of textured stone structures, colorful tile work, and unique buildings. All with beautiful views over the city!
I had several “Instagram vs reality” moments while exploring the park. It was unbelievably crowded and impossible to get pictures without a lot of people. This was even after waiting in line to get into the lower courtyard area as a form of crowd control. A little on edge, we took a break at the cafe while we worked out our plans for the rest of the day.
Although our bodies were longing for a siesta, we knew we needed to push on and explore more of Barcelona. This would be our last full day in the city. We had plans to meet one of Tommy’s coworkers for dinner that evening and we would be in Figueres most of the following day. We made our way back (downhill) to the metro and then to the Gothic Quarter. There we took a whirlwind self-guided Ricks Steves walking tour. We made it to Placa Nova and the Barcelona Cathedral where we enjoyed a brief street performance. Both Evelyn and Melissa were amazed! We peeked into La Casa de l’Ardiaca, walked around the Jewish quarter, over to Placa-Sant-Felip Neri, and ended at the Placa del Rei.
All about ready to crash, we headed to dinner at La Collita. We were excited to dine with one of Tommy’s coworkers and her husband. Originally, from Pennsylvania, now living in Barcelona with her husband, who was born and raised in the city. We enjoyed yet another wonderful meal of tapas! It was nice having guidance with the menu and trying out their different recommendations. For this meal we were more adventurous with the different types of croquettes that we tried. Again, we had to stop Evelyn from eating the whole jamón plate. It was also nice to learn more about the city from locals.
Returning to our hotel for the night, Jason and Melissa had a saxophone player performing outside of their window. It was enjoyable for them and luckily brief.
Day 3 - Day Trip to Figueres & Girona
Following another wonderful breakfast, we headed back to Barcelona-Sants Station to work on more reservations before our scheduled train to Figueres. Again, we struggled through yet another painful process as we got reservations for just a portion of the remainder of our trip. Ultimately, we left feeling successful but pushed for time to catch our train. Something else a bit different about train travel in Spain is you have to go through security and then ticket check before boarding. It’s recommended that you start this process at least 30 minutes before your train is scheduled to leave. We were able to board our train just in time! There was a bit of confusion about our seat assignments as someone was already sitting there and didn’t want to move. After triple-checking the train car and our seat numbers, we were persistent and she finally relocated. I felt bad because we didn’t understand Catalonian nor her English, but we had literally paid for those seats and wanted to stay together. She also did not present us with a ticket to prove that was her assigned seat. My first train ride in Spain and I was already over it.
Our goal for traveling to Figueres was to tour the Dalí Theatre-Museum. Salvador Dalí was a Spanish surrealist artist born in Figueres. He oversaw the building of the museum, which holds the largest collection of his works and even his grave. The walk from the train station into the city center was not too impressive. However, you could spot the museum right away! The bright building has egg-shaped tops and is dotted with what we later found out were loaves of bread. The Dalí Theatre-Museum, in itself, was quite an experience. Dalí’s goal was “The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream”, Salvador Dalí. I’d say he definitely succeeded! Dalí was a very interesting character and also a very skilled and diverse artist. The museum housed not only paintings and sketches, but sculptures, collages, and mechanical devices! I do caution parents. Dalí does use a lot of phallic images. At seven years old, Evelyn did not notice, but we were a little on guard and prepared for any questions she may have when leaving.
After the museum, we walked around Figueres looking for a place to eat lunch. The historic core was very cute and much more scenic than our walk through the outskirts from the train station. Apparently, we did not time lunch well because at 2 pm we were dismissed from several restaurants because they were “full”. We got this at other times during our travels and still haven’t figured out if that means that the restaurant was full “at this time” (and just don’t keep a waiting list but come back later) or done seating for lunch for the day.
We were finally able to get a table at Dalícatessen after our waitress shooed one of the idling customers away. Our overall experience at the restaurant was not the best, but they have great reviews so maybe we were just there at a bad time. While waiting for our food to come out (for an exceptionally long time), Jason snuck off to a local bakery. On the walk back to the train station he surprised us with some local pastries, flaona and fulla. They were both very sweet and delicious. Evelyn of course gave her seal of approval!
On the way back to Barcelona, we hopped off the train in the city of Girona. Our goal was to see some of the Game of Thrones filming locations. The Cathedral of Girona and the city’s stone streets and alleyways are backdrops for the show. Our time in this adorable little town was very brief due to the train schedules; however, we really enjoyed it! We truly could have spent a full day here. The whole town looks like it was taken from Game of Thrones. We were able to walk from the train station to the cathedral and through some of the city streets. However, we were unable to figure out how to walk along the city wall. We had trouble getting our GPS to work since the city is full of stone walls. If I ever find myself in Barcelona again, I will definitely come back and spend more time here.
Slightly losing track of time in such a beautiful place, we had to rush back to the train station. Once back in Barcelona we took the metro to Casa Batllo to check that off our “must-see” list. From there we walked back towards our hotel stopping at Bitte! Wurst - Rambla Catalunya for dinner. Definitely nothing special about this restaurant. It was convenient and they had seating for us. After a very full day, we were too tired to look anywhere else.
Day 4 - Leaving Barcelona
We enjoyed our last delicious breakfast spread at H10 Catalunya Plaza Boutique Hotel before checking out and attempting to take the metro to the airport. The route would involve two changes which is not easy with all your luggage. Unfortunately, we made a mistake in our route planning in not realizing one of the connections was to a train (not the metro system) which wasn’t scheduled to leave for another 30 minutes. That was valuable time we did not want to waste. Luckily, Tommy and Jason found a quicker route and we switched to another only slightly faster train. All worked out but our confidence was a little shaken.
Navigating through the airport and our flight into Malaga all went smoothly. Aside from the fact that we were constantly second-guessing our decisions because we were not familiar with the airport. Also, everything was in Spanish or Catalonian.
I enjoyed the time we had in Barcelona. I feel like we only brushed the surface of all there is to do, but we also maximized our time! I would jump at any opportunity I had to go back. Next time I would like to see the Picasso Museum, Montjuic Sites, the beaches, and possible Montserrat.