Absence Does Make the Heart Grow Fonder – Part 2

In exactly 2 weeks, one of my really good friends, Whitni, will be venturing off for Barcelona to study architecture. My emotions for her first European adventure oscillate between excitement and envy. In honor of her soon-to-be “love at first sight” experience, I want to recapture the rest of my Barca trip from this past May.

Bhavisha, my travel partner, and I spent a wonderful day checking out the city with our new American friend, Arthur (Art). Unfortunately, Art would be checking out of the hostel the following morning since space was limited in our room. Before going to bed, we exchanged information so that we could meet up the next day.

Art and I attempted a selfie.

Art and I attempted a selfie.

As I’d traveled to Dublin, Prague, and Munich without having done any shopping on this 2-week tour, I wanted to take advantage of some of my favorite Spanish stores while in Barcelona: ZaraPull&Bear, and Bershka. Living out of this Deuter backpack was great (packed to the brim, it even passed Ryanair‘s strict cabin baggage allowance! **Ryanair has changed their cabin baggage policy over the past year for the better. To allow wiggle room in their one bag of 55 x 40 x 20 cm limit, passengers may now carry with them an additional bag up to 35 x 20 x 20 cm). As wonderful as this was, I still desperately needed to buy a few pieces of clothing since we didn’t have time to do laundry in over a week. Yuck!

Bhavisha and I raced around La Rambla, a popular tourist street (0.75 mi) known for their shopping, pickpocketing, and prostitutes. So long as you’re attentive to your belongings and surroundings, you’ll be fine. In fact, I walked along the street alone at 4:30 in the morning last year to catch the aerobus and left perfectly OK.

See those trees? They provide awesome shade for  La Rambla.

See those trees? They provide awesome shade for La Rambla.

Anyway, as we were walking around the street, I entered either 3 or 4 DIFFERENT Zaras! It almost felt like I was on this one street I visited in Seattle where there was a Starbucks on every single block. Between Zara, Pull&Bear, and Bershka, I ended up with a couple nice tops, a dress, shorts, and two scarves. If you’re not familiar with shopping in Spain, Zara, Pull&Bear, and Bershka are all owned under The Fashion Group. They provide tasteful, up-to-date styles at uniquely affordable prices. Louis Vuitton Fashion Director, Daniel Piette, once described Zara as “possibly the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world.” Do shop at these places if you can.

Side note: if you ever need WiFi, go to the Apple Store at Passeig de Gràcia.

A few hours later, we met up with Art at Casa Battló to visit the Casa Museu Gaudí and Park Güell. As they are both situated on a hill, we took about 6 or 7 outdoor escalators to reach our destination. At the top of the hill, we found a convenience shop where Art and I bought Spanish beers to savor while enjoying the views throughout Park Güell. Everything was so beautiful and you could see more amazing views of the city.

Walking/sweating around Park Güell with a scenic view of Barcelona behind me.

Walking/sweating around Park Güell with a scenic view of Barcelona behind me.

The Casa Museu Gaudí, or Gaudí’s home, was quaint. For a creative man, I was expecting a lot from his home, but it was rather humble. The tour took around 10 minutes to examine and then we were off to another interesting part of our trip.

As we were leaving the hill, rain was on its way. We stopped by one of the street vendors to check out some earrings for Art’s friend. All of the earrings are poked through cheap umbrellas and when police come by, these Pakastani men quickly close up the umbrellas and run away since this popular type of selling is illegal. While we were checking out the earrings, this exact thing happened, so we ended up with no earrings that day!

You'll find these umbrellas with earrings attached to them EVERYWHERE in Barcelona.

You’ll find these umbrellas with earrings attached to them EVERYWHERE in Barcelona.

With the rain starting to trickle down, we became hungry. We ended up at Las Empas for great empanadas, good beer (they had an extensive Belgian beer list), and more fun conversations. They also offer free WiFi, an essential for foreign travelers.

Still craving for Spanish food, we looked up “best paella in Barcelona” because it was everyone’s last night in Barcelona and Art hadn’t experienced paella at all! We found ourselves eating the BEST paella ever at Bosque Palermo. The waitress knew very little English, but she was hilarious and even gave us a discount on the paella! Only €20 for a huge pan for the 3 of us. Art noticed that the couple beside me were speaking English, so he encouraged me to ask if they were Americans as well. We found out that Phil and Maggie, the couple, were on a 12-day vacation in Spain from Los Angeles. Phil started a comedy group many years ago and when one of his guys left the group, he needed to hire someone else. One of the other members suggested bringing in this guy named Steve Carell to the group, so Phil gave him a shot. Long story short, THE MAN NEXT TO US HELPED DISCOVER ONE OF MY FAVORITE ACTORS! Phil and Maggie were one of the nicest, funniest, and certainly most interesting couples I’ve met. They were very modest as well, which made me love them even more.

Best paella I've ever eaten.

Best paella I’ve ever eaten.

Not wanting the night to end, we all got drinks at a small bar and just appreciated the city that gave us some incredibly fun, yet simple memories. We said our “see ya later” to Art and went back to our hostel one last time.

The next morning consisted of toasted manchego cheese sandwiches, chocolate and churros, La Boqueria, La Sagrada Família (which I still haven’t made time to enter inside after two Barca visits), and our next flight to Brussels!

Spain is famous for their manchego cheese as well as their chocolate (cup) and churros.

Spain is famous for their manchego cheese as well as their chocolate (cup) and churros.

While we didn’t befriend actual Spaniards, some of our favorite souvenirs remain close to Barcelona. There’s no wonder why I was dying to go back and still do to this day. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.




Absence Does Make the Heart Grow Fonder – Part 1

After visiting my friend, Katie, in Barcelona for 2.5 days last year, I grew an insatiable desire to revisit a city that once teased me. Missing a city like Barcelona is similar to missing a great romance. When you feel like you have all the time in the world, you don’t truly learn to appreciate something (or someone) until it’s no longer with you. During that absence, you begin to wonder, “What if I had done this or that instead? Would things be the same if we met again? Or would it be better or worse?”

I was dying to know the answers. After a 14-month absence, I got to eat, breathe, and sleep Barcelona once again this past May. Known for its eclectic environment and outrageous nightlife, I was hungry to feel the city in my blood and bones. On the first night, my travel partner, Bhavisha, and I had a nice dinner composed of patatas bravas, paella, and a pitcher of sangria. Allowing ourselves to digest for a bit, we finally hopped into a cab to test out the highly popular club, Razzmatazz. At €17, you, too, can get lost in the five clubs in one, sip on a decent complimentary drink, and have a not-so-enchanting Canadian guy kiss you. At least I can say I’ve experienced the Barcelona nightlife!

Our delicious patatas bravas topped with aioli.

The following day was a breath of fresh air when Bhavisha and I befriended our new Russian/Armenian/Californian/Bostonian friend, Arthur. As Bhavisha and I were about to head out of the hostel to eat lunch at Wok to Walk, one of my favorite restaurants in Europe, Arthur came back to the 10-bed hostel room we shared. Briefly chitchatting about our plan for the day, I invited him to eat with us. Skeptical about the restaurant recommendation at first, one bite and he was hooked (he even ate at the restaurant location in Amsterdam a few days later).

Anyway, keeping things more low-key than I had anticipated, the three of us decided to walk to the beach and actually spent about 2 hours people watching and getting to know each other. I can’t decide what entertained us the most – the purposefully divided nationalities selling us products and services every 3 minutes (the Indians sold mojitos and blankets, the Pakistanis sold earrings, the Africans braided hair, and the Asians gave massages) or the topless woman lying with her husband, who was publicly fondling her breasts around children.

If you look on the far right, you can see an Indian man trying to sell a beach blanket. I can’t imagine locals enjoying the beach with all of these sellers. We, the 3 Americans, just found it amusing.

At any rate, we couldn’t let the beach consume our limited time left in Barcelona, so we eventually decided to take a cable car ride at the suggestion of a Danish man living in Barcelona. At €16, you can witness spectacular panoramic views of the city from Montjuïc. Sights you’ll see on the actual hill are the Hotel Miramar, beautiful gardens, and overpriced restaurants (although, my sister went to Barcelona three weeks after me and said she had amazing sangria at one of the restaurants there overlooking the city). After exploring the area, we went back to mainland and enjoyed a pitcher of sangria at a nearby restaurant. We shared details of our pasts, interests, and plans for the future. For a guy just a few years older than me, he surprised me by being so open about his life to strangers; however, it felt like we’d known each other for years. Isn’t it sometimes strange when you’ve just met a person and it feels like you’ve known them for years, yet there are people in your life with whom you’ve known for years, yet still don’t really know them?

Here we are on the Montjuïc hill with beautiful Barcelona in the background. Me (left), Art (middle), and Bhavisha (right).

Once we finished our sangria, we walked around the city for a few hours before grabbing dinner at Cervecería Catalana. No matter when you arrive, the line will be out the door because it’s that great. What appeared as an upscale restaurant turned out to be surprisingly budget friendly. We ordered one too many tapas and a few drinks that came just under €50 for the three of us combined. Our meal ranged from classic manchego cheese and patatas bravas to Spanish omelettes and prawns. With good food and beer, interesting conversations, and a breathtaking city, what more could you ask for in life?

This picture doesn’t do our tapas meal justice, but I appreciated Art giving me the bird at the top of the photo. I know he loved my million food pictures.

The day was simple, yet relaxing…and still one of my favorite cities. My Czech friend, Tereza, always said, “If the weather’s nice, you better not go to museums. Go out and see the city.” I’d like to think that we accomplished that. The following day was more touristy, but I’ll get to that later.