Ladies and gentlemen, I’m in the midst of a torrid love affair. Two months ago, I traveled to Barcelona for the first time…and the city had its way with me. In fact, I feel so deeply in love with the capital of Catalonia that I changed my September flight to Madrid halfway through that trip. I felt compelled to return to the city where art and culture permeate every corner; where there is no such thing as a bad meal; and where the customs agents make you consider committing petty crimes just to get a better view. My September getaway had a very clear goal in mind: to honor the life of my mother during the one-year anniversary of her passing. And while Madrid is elegant and cosmopolitan, Barcelona is whimsical and welcoming. It felt like the perfect place to write, reflect, explore, enjoy, and truly exist in the moment.
As a side note, I can’t help but laugh as I write this. I’m sitting in a crowded Starbucks in the northeast right now, whipping up details of my return visit to Barcelona…and for some reason, instead of the coffee house music that typically permeates the early evening, vibrant salsa music is blaring through the speaker. When I tell you that Barcelona put a spell on me, apparently the residual impact is everywhere. What started as a trip to honor and celebrate life, evolved into an apartment hunting mission for my perfect future home and investment property. I fell so hard for Barcelona that I want to marry it…or at least, cohabitate for a little while. Joined by two of my closest girlfriends – one who joined me the last time, the other itching to get her España fix – I spent 11 days in the city that Gaudí built…and by the end, I was left wanting even more.
If losing my mom has taught me anything, it’s that some risks are worth taking. Life is so fleeting and capitalizing on the moment is paramount. It was this mindset that encouraged me change my flight and hop on a red eye immediately after working a shift at the hospital. How bold! How adventurous! Am I…fun? Do I…live dangerously? Was Barcelona 2.0 about to see Sonja 2.0?! The potential was limitless!
My girlfriend and I arrived a day before our Airbnb was available, so we booked a night at the Renaissance Barcelona Fira Hotel. While the property is outside of the heart of the city, an opportunity to check in early, take a hot shower, and lounge at the stunning rooftop pool felt like a fair trade off. The property was striking, with lush greenery softening a modern glass feel. The concierge team was top-notch, upgrading our room and addressing even the most trivial concerns. Interestingly, we took note of several airline crews checking in at the same time. “It must be the proximity to the airport,” we decided. That is, until we opened the door to our suite.
Outfitted in fifty shades of grey (no pun intended), we weren’t sure if we entered a hotel room or a Wall Street investment banker’s bachelor pad. Everything was black, grey, or mirrored. Everything. There wasn’t a surface you couldn’t reflect upon from every angle. The walls were dark. The linens were dark. The towels were dark. Even the bathroom was dark. And while the room was chic and stylish…it also seemed to lend itself to…well…
THE AIRLINE CREWS! Holy crap, it all made sense: no wonder all the crews preferred staying at the hotel! It wasn’t for the proximity to Barcelona-El Prat Airport: it was for the high-end sex dungeon! Suddenly my mind started to consider what, exactly, gave the hotel such excellent reviews. I hopped into the shower for a quick rinse…and was perplexed by what I saw. Instead of a mirror…the wall adjacent to the sink and vanity was a window. A window? How was I possibly seeing through the wall? Was I delirious from a lack of sleep and Dramamine? Was I simply inventing what I saw? I hopped out of the shower and walked to the wall adjacent to the shower. It was, indeed, a mirror. A freaking one-way mirror, where you can look out at whomever is standing at the vanity…but they can’t see back. What in the Cinemax was going on in here!
After a life sustaining nap and a few hours at the Miami-style pool, we made our way into the Gothic Quarter for dinner. We were an hour early for our reservation and had time to kill, so we stumbled upon a charming hole in the wall for a pre-dinner drink. Brugarol featured elegant tapas of meats and seafood, prepared before our eyes in the bar that doubled as a kitchen. While we didn’t intend to eat, the chef taunted us with freshly caught tuna steaks, cured meats, and edible flowers. We ordered the tuna tartare wontons and the slow-roasted pork cheek, savoring the rich flavors and delicate plating.
For dinner, we returned to Salterio, one of our favorite restaurants from our prior visit in July. The restaurant is so small that you are tripping over other guests to find the bathroom, but the dreamy Mediterranean décor and fragrant spices more than make up for it. Salterio is vegan and the menu is small, but every damn item is more delicious than the next. Order one of everything (I’m serious) with a pitcher of the cava sangria (the fresh nectarines and mint will blow your mind).
- Renaissance Barcelona Fira Hotel
o Pl. d'Europa, 50-52, 08902 L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Barcelona, Spain
o C/ de Salomó ben Adret, 10, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
o C/ de Salomó ben Adret, 4, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
We welcomed our third friend to a hot shower in the steamy bathroom before heading to the hoppin’ streets of Barceloneta Beach. We refueled with a coffee, a snack, and a cocktail at La Deliciosa Barceloneta (try the Chile vs Peru – a delectable take on a pisco sour, and a fresh muddled passionfruit mojito) before taking a casual stroll in the late-summer heat. We observed as tourists delighted in the Mediterranean Sea, clearly nonplussed by the fact that the beach was manmade in 1992 for the Olympics. After admiring the carefree crowd and the relics of Olympic history, we meandered into the trendy neighborhood known as El Born.
El Born is like the Hoboken of Barcelona. You can find trendy stores, restaurants, and bars with locals dining into the early hours of the morning. After popping into the Gallería Maxó art gallery for a custom painting that caught our eye a few months ago, we forged ahead in search of sustenance and shelter from the sweltering heat. We had heard about El Xampanyet all over foodie blogs and videos and tried our hand at getting a spot inside. While the line out the door killed that Saturday afternoon pipe dream, what we settled upon was one of the most phenomenal meals of the trip. Just next door, Bodega La Puntual is a cozy Spanish restaurant filled with locals. One tenet I’ve learned after traveling to several countries is simple: if the food is on any version of a blue and white plate, it’s going to be next-level amazing. The patatas bravas and the huevos rotos will knock your socks off. Top everything off with Spain’s own Estrella Beer and finish the meal with the homemade chocolate truffles in crème.
After checking into our Airbnb in the stylish neighborhood of Eixample (just a stone’s throw from the Passeig de Gràcia featuring Chanel, Versace, and La Perla among others), we took a much-needed siesta before being transported back in time to the Roaring Twenties…well, sort of. Gatsby Barcelona is a chic, Gatsby-inspired lounge featuring decadent cocktails, stunning décor, and live cabaret shows every twenty minutes. Where the food fell short (it was good – there is no such thing as a bad meal in Barcelona – but certainly not great for the price), the dancers and DJ made up for it. Dress to impress; people watch; and have your senses titillated by the acrobatics that take place during your meal. More of a novelty experience than a regular occurrence, Gatsby is expensive: don’t bother upgrading to the VIP tickets. Instead, enjoy your meal; people watch for a while; and head to the next bar or club before it becomes too packed.
- La Deliciosa Barceloneta
o Plaça del Mar, s/n, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
- Bodega La Puntual
o Carrer de Montcada, 22, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
- Gatsby Barcelona
o Carrer de Tuset, 19, 08006 Barcelona, Spain
What does one do after getting home at 3:00am from a 9:00pm dinner that escalated quickly? The correct answer is not taking a 9:30am Modernism and Gaudí tour the next day. And yet, there we were: bleary eyed on a Sunday morning that also happened to be a Catalan national holiday, desperately in search of café con leche and our tour guide. Once sufficiently caffeinated and acquainted with the other tourists who dared to brave the aftermath of a Saturday night out in Barcelona, our exhaustion quickly subsided. Instead, we were exhilarated by the stunning impact that Antoni Gaudí had on the city. Our charming guide painted a portrait of a city that was once peppered with artists and architects rivaling the coffee houses of Paris. We admired the famed Casa Batlló, Casa Amatller, Casa Mila, and the imposing progress of La Sagrada Familia. While one of my girlfriends and I had already toured these structures a few weeks prior, the magic and genius of these structures feels like the first time, every time.
While my girlfriends made their way to the Picasso Museum, I elected to take a late afternoon nap. If there’s one thing I learned after my first trip to Barcelona, it’s that every twenty-four-hour day is actually forty-eight hours long. I can’t explain it: it’s science. The time-space continuum just hits differently in España. You cannot and will not do Barcelona, without Barcelona doing you first. One of our travel mates attempted to fit ten-days worth of activities into her five-day long visit – and while she put up one hell of a fight – she quickly learned that Barcelona is not a city made for a travel itinerary one night stand. Instead, it’s a long, steady courtship that requires getting to know one another slowly and deliberately. In this way, Barcelona will beat the American out of you. You have an agenda? Good luck. You want to run on a calendar? Better luck next time. Barcelona doesn’t care that you had a tour of the Gothic Quarter scheduled for 4:00pm. Somehow, you’ll end up in a beautiful plaza sipping on sangria and petting local dogs, totally unaware of what day of the week it is.
In true Spanish fashion, we booked a 10:30pm dinner reservation on a Sunday evening. We assumed that attending an authentic flamenco show beforehand would work up an appetite, but we didn’t realize it would transport us into another dimension. I know I keep saying “if you do one thing in Barcelona,” but this time I mean it: if you do one thing in Barcelona, make sure you buy tickets for the Gran Gala Flamenco at the Palau de la Música Catalana. I’m unsure how to describe the transcendent experience that afflicted the entire audience during the show, but I swear to you…the lead flamenco dancer had an otherworldly connection that felt like an out of body experience for everyone in the room. While traditional singers belted out with emotion, the dancers showcased the intensity of their mind-body connection on stage. Flanked by a live guitarist, violinist, and drummer in the backdrop of the deliciously captivating Palau, the entire show felt like a spiritual awakening.
I’m not gonna lie: the flamenco show left us feeling shook. It felt as through the entire room was vibrating with the power and intensity of the lead dancer, whose legs appeared to be disconnected from her body. We arrived at the trendy Asian fusion restaurant SLVJ still feeling a sense of wonder and enchantment after the show. And while Mercury was indeed in retrograde and we were in the thick of a full moon, there was still something inexplicable about that evening. If you’re planning to enjoy a delicious meal and some dance music while contemplating the meaning of life, get the glazed and spicy edamame followed by Wagyu beef fried rice and a sushi roll. Finish off your existential crisis with the coconut tres leches and a glass of cava.
- Modernism and Gaudí Tour (Go City Barcelona Pass)
o Location Varies
- Gran Gala Flamenco Show
o C/ Palau de la Música, 4-6, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
o C/ d'Enric Granados, 86, 08008 Barcelona, Spain
My Barcelona virgin girlfriend was determined to explore every bucket-list experience possible on a narrow timeline. She decided the best way to enjoy a relaxing European getaway was to do a ten-mile hike. Needless to say, we did not join her. In fact, if you ever hear me say the words, “I’m going hiking,” rest assured that actually means I’ve purchased a new pair of yoga pants and some cute walking shoes and plan to “hike” into Target. While she scaled the serrated mountain tops of Montserrat, my OG Barcelona bestie and I took the opportunity to explore the city. We perused shops and wandered the streets, conveniently happening upon El Ñaño Balmes. This colorful Ecuadorian foodie delight featured incredible flavors and massive portions. Whatever you order, come hungry and plan to share. We sipped on a fruity passionfruit sangria while digging into our plates and never finding the end. In fact, this meal was so good, we made a return visit later in the week.
After lunch, we strolled La Rambla and enjoyed some mid-afternoon gelato from Chocolat Box. Dinner with a group of new friends we made on our last visit featured fresh fig salad, delicious beef tenderloin, and pan con tomate at the artsy jazz restaurant Guzzo Club. We capped off the evening with bottles of cava and reggaeton music at a bar nearby (don’t ask me for a name, just let your body move until it detects the beat of the music), enjoying a lively crowd and friendly banter.
- El Ñaño Balmes
o Carrer de Balmes, 18, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
- Chocolat Box
o Carrer dels Capellans, 2, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
- Guzzo Club
o Plaça Comercial, 10, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
September 13th will forever remain one of the most influential days of my life. One year ago on the 13th of September, I lost my best friend. My mom passed onto the other side and left me to explore a strange new world where I knew her influence would be felt without her physically being here. The basis of my return visit to Barcelona was in the back of my mind the entire time: I wanted to honor my mother in a way that would make her thrilled to see that my zest for life was alive and well. My plan, every 13th of September, is to travel to a place that she has never been…but would love to see. My instant connection with the city of Barcelona made me feel at home from the moment I first landed, and I knew that a day of remembrance, reflection, healing, pain, joy, love, and full presence had to occur there.
While I had originally planned to take this trip solo, I am forever grateful to my girlfriends for joining me – especially on the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death. They gave me space when I wanted it and provided comfort when I needed it. The day itself still feels quite surreal: not only was it punctuated by deep reflection and pain…it was softened by magic, music, laughter, and love.
We followed a leisurely lunch at Terra Mia (the spicy chorizo pasta was divine) with a visit to both of Gaudí’s crown jewels: Park Güell and La Sagrada Familia. Capitalizing on the tours included with the Go City Barcelona pass (spring for the all-inclusive option: you won’t regret it), we explored the colorful wonder of the sprawling architectural wonderland. During the tour, we met a couple from the United States that joined our group. The woman was lovely – she smiled at me and said, “You absolutely must take a photo! Your outfit matches the architecture!” “How sweet,” I thought to myself, “I guess I’m doing a pretty good job of hiding what today means to me.”
While my girlfriends returned to take photos after the tour, I excused myself and sat at a café in the park to write and reflect. I brought a copy of “Coffee with My Dead Mother: Lessons on Loss, Hope, and Navigating a New Normal” with me. I wasn’t sure where I would leave it or what I would do with it, but I wanted to read a few passages; sign the book; and leave it for someone who may need my own experience in that moment. As I scribbled down thoughts in my journal (once again, healing my soul with the help of gelato), the couple appeared next to me. “I’m not sure why…but I feel like I need to give this to you,” I said. She was taken aback for a moment: “My mother just passed away in June. We are honoring her with a memorial in November. I need to read this book.”
And just like that, serendipity. Universal harmony. Unseen forces. I was the person she never knew she needed, and she was the kindness that meant more to me than she ever could have known. My heart felt full as we made our way to La Sagrada Familia – an experience that I knew would be an overwhelming one at baseline, tenfold on this day in particular. Our tour group gathered outside of the architectural behemoth, admiring the result of nature, religion, and spirituality that was still a work in progress over one hundred years later.
As we entered the basilica, a flood of colors permeated the room. The sun was starting to set, and the stained glass painted portraits of watercolor on walls, floors, and awe-struck spectators. At one point, I felt an overwhelming sense of…everything. A flood of emotions. I sat down on one of the pews while the tour guide lectured on about modernist architecture. Tears streamed down my face as I sat silently watching the alter, keenly aware of the direct connection between love and pain.
We completed the tour, and I was in something of a fog, feeling dizzy from the slurry of emotions that punctuated the day. Before the church closed for an evening mass, we had an opportunity to enter the original church and the crypt where Gaudí’s body was laid to rest. I entered the church moments before services began, and while I do not consider myself religious, I am deeply spiritual. I sat in the back of the church and watched locals enter the pews – a curious vision of normalcy and mundane reality, merely steps away from one of the greatest achievements in architectural history. As I sat in quiet observance, the smell of incense permeated the room. Suddenly it hit me: the scent was so familiar. It was the scent of the Macedonian Orthodox church when I was a young girl. It was the scent of weddings and holidays. And now…it was the scent of funerals. I closed my eyes and images of the day we laid my mom to rest came flashing into my mind. Hot tears streamed down my red face, and I stood up to catch my breath and get some air. I sat on a bench in the courtyard outside of the church entry and saw my best friend sitting there. She is friend who has seen me through the hardest and darkest moments of my life. She is the friend that insisted she join me on a trip, where I believed I wanted to be alone.
My head dropped into my hands, and I began to sob. For the first time all day and since the trip, I unloaded. She wrapped her arms around me and stroked my head as I cried in her arms. While fighting back her own tears, she abruptly asked: “Do you want something to make you laugh right now?” “Yes,” I replied desperately. “Why…is your head so lumpy?” I burst out laughing and touched my scalp, in a fit of hysterics over the clip-in hair extensions that made my head a rocky terrain. “Oh, thank goodness,” she said, “For a second, I thought I had finally discovered your only flaw!”
“Wait! I need to show you something! You distracted me with your irregularly shaped head!” She leapt from the bench and frantically scanned the cobbled ground. She searched every nook and cranny for something but didn’t say what. Finally, with an exasperated sigh, she said, “It was a white feather! And it was sitting on the ground right next to me! You told me white feathers mean your mom is around and I swear I’m not making it up!” I looked at her and smiled: I already knew my mom was around. Feather or not, I could feel her with me the entire day. I was just grateful that the people I loved most in this world could see her there, too.
- Park Guëll
o Plaça Comercial, 10, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
- La Sagrada Familia
o C/ de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona, Spain
- Terra Mia
o C/ Ana Mª Matute Ausejo, 31, 08024 Barcelona, Spain
Day 5 and a Half
Technically speaking, my dinner alone took place on the 13th. But since every day in Barcelona is twice as long, enter day 5 and a half. While my girlfriends met up with our local Barcelona friends, I elected to sit dinner out. It had been an emotionally charged day, and I wanted some time alone to live like a local with a glass of wine, a nice meal, and an early exit. Located just across the street from our Airbnb, Colmado gave me exactly what I needed: delicious tapas, a spicy red blend, and adorable Spanish speaking bartenders. I sat at the bar and wrote in my iPhone notes, punctuating sentences with garlic hummus and jamón Ibérico. Bachata music played loudly in the dining room, my hips instinctively shifting in my chair to the beat.
The young, charming bartender asked me if I would like anything else, and I requested a bottle of water in Spanish. “Una botella de agua, por favor.” I’m smooth. Fluent, practically! I respond without pause or hesitation. Until he rambles off a response with such rapid-fire ferocity that I’m left to softly whisper, “Más despacio, por favor…” He repeats his answer slower and more deliberately. Clearly any shot I had at pretending to be a locally grown Barcelonina was ruined. My cover was blown. Once again, I am the master of my own demise. What a fool I am! What an imposter! I’m a tourist attempting to blend into life as a local seamlessly, and I’ve failed already. ¡Que lastima! Thankfully, my linguistic hiccups arise in a way that makes me appear more endearing than annoying.
Two servers and two bartenders congregate behind the tiny bar, accented by a row of whiskey shots lined across the counter. “¡Para tú!” One bartender declares. “¡No, gracias!” I respond, “Estoy demasiada vieja para whiskey!” I snap a few photos while they take their shot, unaware of whether it’s illegal or merely frowned upon for the staff to get high on their own supply. I start to laugh, thinking back fondly to my days as a bartender. If I had a dollar for every time we snuck a shot while on the clock… “¿Una foto?” One of the bartenders asks. I take his phone and do my best to direct positions and lighting in my broken Spanish. Apparently, social media is the universal language. Everyone seemed to approve of my handiwork, returning to their stations and caring for the nonplussed patrons with just a touch of whiskey-induced charisma.
I’m not sure how I thought I would spend the one-year anniversary of my mom’s death, but if you would have said, “Curating photos for a group of handsome (very handsome) young (very, very young) Spanish bartenders…”
Well, that certainly wouldn’t have made my bingo board.
The funny thing is…life gives us exactly what we need, precisely when we need it. And while my day was magical and mystical and emotionally vulnerable…moments like this remind me that sometimes laughter, connection, and one too many glasses of vino tinto are the very things that remind us we are human. Remind us how to disconnect. Remind us how to exist in the moment. Remind us how it feels to be alive.
Once I finish my Crianza, ask for my check, and return to my apartment, I am welcomed by a surge of adrenaline. It’s exciting to ponder the deliciously promising potential of “what’s to come.” Not only for me…but for four young men trying to make a buck and have some fun while doing it. And for the record? My Spanish is getting pretty damn good for a blonde girl from Jersey. That alone feels like a reason to celebrate.
o C/ de Provença, 236, 08008 Barcelona, Spain
We made it to the halfway mark! If you’re still reading, congratulations! You’ve been forewarned: if Spain is a marathon, Barcelona is an Ironman competition. On the sixth day of España (and the last day for our tiny but mighty world adventurer girlfriend), we made our grand return to what is hands down my favorite place to enjoy a life-altering meal in Barcelona: El Quim de La Boqueria. Tucked within the heart of La Boqueria Marketplace, you’ll find tourist snapping photos of beautifully curated meats, cheeses, and tropical fruits while locals try to grab their daily grocery haul in between. We ate at El Quim on our prior visit to the city and were utterly blown away by how a glorified food stand in the center of a food market could produce flavors and scents that leave you dreaming of your last meal. In a happy coincidence, our server from the last visit was working and grabbed a pair of chairs for us amid the chaotic crowd. The bar seating at El Quim is on a first come, first served basis, but trust me, the meal is well worth the wait. Our new friend Ivan greeted us with a smile, handing over paper place mats, a menu card, and a number 2 pencil. Selecting your meal at El Quim is like filling out the hardest Scantron exam of your life: what if you fill in the wrong bubble? What if you choose a meal that isn’t as decadent as the person next to you? What if you are left feeling an overwhelming sense of foodie FOMO?
Well, I assure you: this is one test you’ll pass with flying colors, because everything on the menu is insanely delicious. Whether it’s the slow-cooked ribs or the savory oxtail, the patatas bravas or the butifarra sausage, you’ll leave feeling satisfied but always wanting more. In fact, between the café con leche and a bottle of sparkling cava, we made sure to lick our plates clean for a second time.
After an extended lunch, we made our way to Montjuïc for amazing views of the city. The girls took a cable car over Barceloneta beach onto the overlook. I, however, preferred to take my full belly and motion sickness up the mountain in a taxi. We explored the gardens and found our way to the Castle of Montjuïc. Here, for whatever reason, one of the girls brought a carton of fresh figs from the market. Somehow, a series of silly fig-eating photos ensued…further proving that you don’t need a plan to have an amazing time. All you need are the right people…and sometimes, a couple of props.
We made our way back to Barceloneta beach for an ocean view dinner at the charming boho chic Julieta’s. Here we devoured a fresh green salad, tuna tartare, and a vegetarian paella that was flavored to perfection. We walked along the boardwalk and hit the lobby of the W Hotel for a night cap, which made for the perfect combination of cocktails and people watching.
- Castle of Montjuïc
o Ctra. de Montjuïc, 66, 08038 Barcelona, Spain
- El Quim de La Boqueria
o Mercado de La Boqueria, La Rambla, 91, 08001 Barcelona, Spain
o Passeig del Mare Nostrum, 19, 08039 Barcelona, Spain
- The W Hotel
o Plaça Rosa Del Vents 1, Final, Pg. de Joan de Borbó, 08039 Barcelona, Spain
We said adios to one of the girls after she nearly pulled an all-nighter at a beach club before her flight back home. Oh, to be thirty again! With the master of our itinerary no longer in the country, the last two women standing took an opportunity to plan the bare minimum for the remainder of the trip. After meeting a realtor and checking out a gorgeous, renovated apartment in the Gothic Quarter, we casually strolled while imagining what life could be like as a local. We came to a screeching halt at the door of Patisseria La Colmena. Originally opened in 1849, the bakery is a mainstay of sweets and treats in Barcelona. I got a fresh chocolate meringue that was piled so high, I assumed the entire bottom half was filler or cake: I was amazed to see I was wrong. I was hit hard with sweet, crispy, melty decadence. My girlfriend got something called a chucho (spelled xuxu) filled with crème – it was like an elevated donut. The sweets were so incredible we stopped back to try more desserts two more times during the week.
After making our way to the Plaça Reial for a leisurely lunch at Les Quintz Nits (try the gazpacho while you’re there), we made a return visit to the ever-magnificent Handmade Barcelona shoe shop in El Born. We became great friends with some of the staff after our last visit, and this time, we were having a private espadrille making workshop with a very specific goal in mind: futbol, that is. We had tickets to watch the FC Barcelona Match on Saturday and came up with the idea to make hand-crafted espadrilles in team colors. Truth be told, the extent of my soccer knowledge comes from Ted Lasso. Regardless, we wanted to create something fabulous to mark such a culturally immersive event.
Tied with attending a flamenco show, you absolutely must attend a workshop to make your own shoes when you are in Barcelona. The experience is perfect for guests of all ages: couples, friends, solo travelers, children, company outings…you name it. Music plays as you sip on cava and enjoy sweets while being taught, step by step, how to design your own shoes. The team is consistently praised for their ebullience and charm, and they are an Airbnb top experience in the world for a reason.
After admiring our finished products and working up an appetite, we took a recommendation from our Barcelona friends and went to Kinza. Traditional Georgian cuisine in a stylish setting, this meal takes the award for the most flavorful of the trip. The herbs and spices permeated the kebabs; the stuffed grape leaves were tangy and balanced; the soup dumplings exploded in your mouth with warmth and richness. Peppered with an occasional song and dance by the owner, Kinza was an absolute hit. The dishes resembled Macedonian cuisine that I grew up with, and the entire experience made me feel right at home.
- Handmade Barcelona – The Espadrille Experience
o Locations Vary
o C. del Call, 7, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
- La Colmena
o Plaça de l'Àngel, 12, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
- Les Quintz Nits
o Pl. Reial, 6, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
o Carrer dels Banys Vells, 15, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
My best friend is a world traveler. She and her husband are always visiting to a new country, and when he can’t go, she travels with me. For a girl from the suburbs of Boston, she’s become Mrs. Worldwide in the best way. So, when her dad – a Boston firefighter – requested a t-shirt from a Barcelona firehouse (he collects them from her travels), we were hard pressed to say no. After all, it’s the bomberos that keep us safe from all the smolder in España. We took a thirty-minute walk through the outskirts of Barcelona in search of the fire station, and took a pit stop at Amalia’s Portuguese Flavors along the way. Fueled by pasteles de nata and chocolate eclairs, we finally caught a glimpse of routine living: people walking to work; children on their way to school; auto mechanic shops and hardware stores. After being surrounded by tourists for so many days, it was refreshing to see how normal life seemed ourside of the heart of the city.
After securing our t-shirts from the firehouse – the crew was courteous and helpful, breaking into a locked closet to find our hidden treasures – we made our way to Café Alsur for lunch. Our server was charming and playful, suggesting the surfer mojito to kick off our meal instead of the still water we ordered. The food and ambiance were both perfectly suited to an impromptu lunch in the garment district, and we could have lounged there for hours longer. Between the music and the service, it was another hidden gem that will require a return visit.
Our next stop was fabric shopping in the garment district, followed by another hit of La Colmena bakery before heading home to relax before dinner. In the evening, we discovered a whimsical hole in the wall called Story. The space was quaint and charming, with literal shelves of books available to peruse or purchase. The owner was a delight, as were the mango salad, roasted artichoke hearts, and truffle pasta.
- Parc de Bombers De L’Eixample
o C/ d'Aragó, 2, 08015 Barcelona, Spain
- Amalia’s Portuguese Flavors
o Carrer del Comte d'Urgell, 132, 08011 Barcelona, Spain
- Café Alsur
o C/ de Roger de Llúria, 23, 08010 Barcelona
o Carrer del Pou de la Cadena, 8, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Game day finally arrived! Armed with styled t-shirts, custom espadrilles, and passionfruit mimosas, we were prepared for our first foray into European futbol. The town buzzed as crowds of fans and tourists made their way into Camp Nou. The stadium itself, which houses over 99,000 fans, was a sight to be seen. We took our girlfriend – a Barcelona local but a Colombia native – and even she was in awe of the crowd. We purchased FC Barcelona tickets online weeks in advance, and unbeknownst to me, a purchase price of $120 per person will get you five rows back from the pitch. As we walked toward our seats, we suddenly realized that we had some of the best seats in the house – ones that would go for hundreds of dollars back home.
After admiring the view (and my, what a view it was!), we took a trip to the concession stand. “I’ll take an Estrella for the game,” my girlfriend said. The woman behind the counter replied, “Our beer is non-alcoholic.” Excuse me? A country that serves alcohol in convenience stores and gelato shoppes, doesn’t serve any at one of the largest sports arenas in the world? It’s not even problematic: just shocking. And amusing. And kind of brilliant. Whatever happened once upon a time to lead to this situation, it was for the best. The stadium was packed to the sky with fans and families, and while the crowd was engaging and infectious…everyone was highly respectful. Maybe this no alcohol thing at games allows people to act based on passion and excitement, not on drunken lunacy.
A 3-0 victory against the opponent was the perfect finish to an awe-inspiring sporting event. If you have the opportunity to attend a game, I highly recommend it: even if you aren’t a sports fan. Clocking in at just under two hours, the match was just long enough to be exciting, but short enough to not bore you to tears. Between the players and the fans, the people watching was top notch. And yes, our coordinating shoes were an absolute hit.
We trekked back into the center of the city by foot (taxis were slammed thanks to the game) and earned a delicious repeat meal at El Ñaño Balmes. With bellies full and still in our gameday attire, we found a quiet bar for a nightcap. Or so we thought. After having a glass of wine and a glass of cava (for a grand total of $6.40), we walked toward our Airbnb. “Maybe we can check out one of the spots near our place.” It was still early, after all…barely past midnight and certainly not crazy by Spanish standards. Before we could utter another word, a gentleman standing at the door of La Perla Club/71Oyster Bar escorted us through an elegant bar and into a dimly lit hallway, where we emerged in a posh nightclub. The DJ played funk pop mashups while we danced in the corner – half sitting, half standing. Despite being remarkably underdressed, the service was spectacular, and the patrons were friendly. The mojito was strong, but the Moscow mule was dangerous…and I mean that in the best way. Thanks to a fun-loving bartender and great tracks, we accidentally made it out until 3:00am.
- Camp Nou (FC Barcelona)
o C. d'Arístides Maillol, 12, 08028 Barcelona, Spain
- El Ñaño Balmes
o Carrer de Balmes, 18, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
- La Perla Club/71Oyster Bar
o C/ d'Enric Granados, 71, 08008 Barcelona, Spain
Alas, the final leg of our Barcelona marathon arrived…just in time for us to truly get our bearings on the city. We decided that the day would include either shopping or eating, and nothing more. As we wandered through the trendy Eixample district and stopped to snap a quick picture, we were photobombed by a pair of Pomeranians that nearly made us cancel our flights and stay in Barcelona forever. After returning Rocco and Bella to their beautiful owner, we grabbed some Starbucks (don’t judge me: I needed a cold brew) and went shopping. While many stores are closed on Sundays, some stores and most restaurants had normal business hours.
We popped in and out of local shops for hours, totally unaware of the fact that it was nearly 5:00pm and we hadn’t eaten lunch. We ran into a local friend who asked us where we were headed. “To have lunch,” we replied. “Wow! You two are officially Spaniards now! Lunch at 5:00pm!” Our last meal in Barcelona was totally unexpected, and incredibly delicious. Outfitted in pink and black walls and stylish graffiti, Vegan Junk Food Bar was a social media wet dream. The ambiance was fun and funky, balanced by a dance-worth playlist of 90’s Hip-Hop and R&B. Our server explained that everything on the menu was vegan…but you could have fooled me! The appetizers were packed with flavor (the vegan chicken tenders could have convinced even the staunchest carnivore) and the vegan burger and shwarma were both tasty and satisfying. The real star of the show, however, was the Vatos Cocos cocktail: dark rum, pineapple juice, and sliced lime inside of a freshly sliced coconut. When I tell you there is something for everybody in Barcelona – and that there is no such thing as a bad meal – I absolutely mean it.
- Vegan Junk Food Bar
o 1, Carrer de Manresa, 4, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Normally, I wouldn’t feel compelled to write about the day we flew back home. However, I cannot emphasize enough – once again – how insanely efficient (and gorgeous) everyone working at Josep Tarradellas Barcelona–El Prat Airport is. I mean, maybe they aren’t any better than others. Maybe they are even pretty bad, actually. Perhaps I got lost in the gaze of the agent at window number 14, and this skewed my perception of reality. But all kidding aside, the check-in and boarding process were incredibly smooth and efficient. As a bonus, the flight attending in the jump seat of our exit row was delightful, funny, and an absolute pleasure in the sky. If anyone at United Airlines is reading this, please give Patrizia a raise. She is a gift.
If there is one lesson the last year has taught me, it’s that you always believe you have more time. In truth, you only ever have twice as long when you’re in Barcelona. If you’re going through a rough patch; a challenging time; a difficult moment…I hope you realize that there is still so much beauty, magic, and wonder left in this world. I hope you will take the time to live like a tourist in your own city and explore something new. I hope you will channel your heartache into something with purpose and remain prolific through your pain. Most of all, I hope you slow down…slower…slower…even slower still. I hope you will come to a screeching halt; open your eyes; and soak in everything that surrounds you. Where America teaches me the value of hard work and discipline, Spain allows me to enjoy the fruits of that labor. Where America is forward facing and hyper-fixated on the future, Spain reminds me that tomorrow is never promised. And as I sit in a crowded coffee shop teeming with customers checking their watches and scrolling their cell phones, I can’t help but see it as the ultimate dichotomy. Work less. Live more. Complain less. Appreciate more. Worry less. Trust more. Think less. Do more. There is so much love, life, and laughter to be discovered…and it doesn’t always have to be a plane ride away.
** If you're interested in joining me and some of my favorite people on a trip in 2023, I will be hosting my first TrovaTrip to Sevilla and Granada in the south of Spain, May 3rd - 9th. Click here to join me: I assure you, it will be the trip of a lifetime!