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Trip Report Barcelona City Break, Planned by a Tween

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The Travelers. Ex-pats living in Vienna. This year for the school October recess week DH was preoccupied with meetings and DS was working on college applications, so DD (12) and I escaped grey, fog-covered and clammy Austria for a few days.

We made a good team: DD read through the guidebook and selected the sights; I paid for the holiday coordinated the daily agenda. With the weather being so beautiful she opted for more outdoor time and practically no indoor/museum time. Our itinerary worked beautifully for us as we like to roam and wander, and Barcelona lends itself to that sport well.

Lodging. We rented this apartment through Oh-Barcelona! in Eixample, just three blocks from Sagrada Familia and public transport access. The apartment and the neighborhood were both much to our liking; just far enough from the touristy area, but with plenty of local liveliness. We also enjoyed warmer-than-average weather, so we slept with our balcony doors open to the Barcelona street noise drifting up into our apartment at night. From my n=4 nights, I can state that Barcelona only “sleeps” between 02:00 and 04:00. ☺

Transportation. The Aerobus from BCN to the city is efficient; we had no difficulty navigating the ticket machine. The TMB (metro) has the urbanity of the Paris system down to the gritty subway smell (which is like a tonic to me whenever I arrive in Paris but maybe not so for others), but is as clean as the WienerLinein in Vienna. An added bonus is that it’s cheap! The T-10 card was the way to go. Be sure to keep your card on your person, though. During our visit we were asked to show proof of transit twice, and the fine for lack of transit proof is €100.

Pickpocketing. The owner of our apartment cautioned us about pickpocketers, and we were prepared for our holiday with that in mind. With the exception of sections of La Rambla, notably closer to the cruise ship port that were very crowded with distracted tourists and the Carrefour further up the street, nowhere else in our wanderings did we feel any heightened need for caution. At no point did we encounter any of the scenarios described on this forum, either. Maybe the pickpocketers were on holiday, as well?

Sightseeing in 3 ½ Days. Our first late afternoon arrival was more or less introductory. A small scattering of overpriced groceries to fill the apartment (We arrived on Sunday and had to make do with the gas station market offerings of ridiculously overpriced tuna and bread, and a €7 bottle of wine that tasted like nail polish remover—the best the gas station had to offer—plus a couple of small breakfast provisions) followed by a quick visit to view Sagrada Familia from the exterior.

The following morning we skipped the long lines for Sagrada Familia altogether, and found ourselves practically first in line for Casa Mila (La Pedrera). We engaged with a very nice retired couple from L.A. while waiting to enter. They were "somewhere" in the middle of a Mediterranean cruise of various ports and had two days shore leave in Barcelona. The movie, "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" immediately sprang to mind when the husband could not recall which port they had just come from. The morning light on the chimneys of Casa Mila are beautiful memories for us, as was the relative quiet of the roof terrace. Later Casa Battlo, further along the boulevard from La Pedrera tempted us, but the long, long, long line to enter the building did not. We are finicky travelers this way.

But! Park Güell to the rescue! A UNESCO Heritage site, the park was designed to offer peace and calm, a small point lost on the hundreds of those who climbed, and climbed, uphill to the park to jockey for the right photo op on the sea serpent bench and elbow one another for a pose with the resident mosaic lizard. We were among the last tourists to enjoy the park at no cost; tickets are now required to view the monumental area, and are time-limited to manage the crowds. DD reported that our Gaudi morning and Gaudi afternoon made for an “amazing” day.

The remainder of the day was given over to a late lunch of paella at a sidewalk restaurant table overlooking La Rambla. Lunch was a “yea,” but La Rambla was a “nay.” At La Rambla's southern end passengers from cruise ships disembark at regular intervals, sometimes dragging suitcases and looking a little confused; and in between there are regular tourists, tchotchke hawkers, street vendors and presumably ordinary Barcelonians, all making for excellent people watching but otherwise little else. Thankfully we sidetracked into La Boqueria, Barcelona’s city market to escape La Rambla and instead savor the aisles of fresh fruit and paper cones of thinly-sliced jamon and manchego. So much better than La Rambla proper.

On our second full day we awoke early to join other morning birds for the first entry of the day at Sagrada Familia (bought the tickets online the night before). Inside, just a few dozen of us had the space to ourselves for the first half an hour or so, the sunlight creating its own music to accompany the Gregorian chants drifting through the church. To our enjoyment, everyone inside the basilica viewed the structure with due reverence.

From Sagrada Familia we transited to the old, medieval quarter of Barcelona and its cathedral. No lines or fees to enter, no tour buses disgorging mindless camera clickers, just a snappy guard inconsistently rejecting visitors who were not properly dressed. The lighting in this cathedral was appropriately theatrical. Gregorian chants were not necessary to feel transported in time here. The cloister was delight, its geese happy to sound off for the visitors! Then, a little off our map, we found ourselves in El Born and amused ourselves by wandering its streets, too. To wrap up the day, a walk through Parc Cuitadella and then down to Barceloneta Beach to dip our toes in the cool waters of the Mediterranean. Many steps walked, each one worth it.

Some may be horrified that we passed on the "must see" Picasso Museum and its collection of little known (to us) paintings. We're good with that. On our last day we opted instead for the funicular ride and a cable car lift to the top of Parc Montjuïc and were rewarded with incredible views and, as we discovered, more to see and do than a days' worth of exploration on the walk back down can accomplish unless on some crazy tourist death march. Though we took a pass on the Picasso Museum we made the effort for another "must see," Fundacio Joan Miro while in the park. We're always up for contemporary art because most of it makes no sense to us; the enjoyment comes in just looking at it. Miro’s “stick figure art,” as DD called it, was pronounced worth the wait in line.

Food and Dining. Barcelona is a feast for the senses, perhaps none more so for us than the sense of taste, but no late nights or high-end dining for we gals. Paella was always a pleasant sit-down meal (Paella Valenciana preferred) when we were in the mood to sit for a while; sitting for tapas required time, as well, as we could never easily decide from among the dozens of choices. Our favorite tapas included patates de aoilii, tuna and red pepper salad, simple sliced Iberian ham and small bowls of olives, vinegared sardines and perfectly grilled chorizo with pimento tapenade.

We ate nothing on this holiday that was less than delectable, and for fast food we didn't have to venture beyond botega offerings or hole-in-the-medieval wall eateries, either. Bocadillos of chorizo or manchego and tomato relish made for satisfying on-the-go snacking, and one can’t shake a stick in Barcelona without hitting a bocadillo vendor. One night we even attempted patates de aioli in our apartment, along with olives and spicy kebabs we discovered at the market—our own little tapas party, if you will. The empanadas from the botega downstairs set a high standard, yet somehow every empanada afterward tasted better than the previous, from "expensive" made from scratch beef empanadas (€3,00 each!) at a tiny-but-chic cafe in the trendy Barri El Born; to the simple pollo empanadas in a not-so-trendy-and-chic Barri where the waitress at our outside table cautioned me to wear my camera rather than place it on the table for safety; to Argentinian empanadas from a carnisseria around the corner from our apartment. Do not ask me what the difference is between Spanish and Argentinian empanadas; all I know is that a platter of these little handpies at any international summit could lead to world peace.

La Boqueria offered indulgences of paper cones and skewers of freshly sliced Iberian ham, chorizo, and Manchego for mere €pennies. "Taste a little bit of Catalonia" we did! The cups of fresh fruit salad everywhere were a healthy and inexpensive indulgence in between crepes from the street vendors, too. Finally, one of the most novel treats came from an old-fashioned Xurreria tucked somewhere in the Barri Gotic that we will never be able to find again: homemade “Cheetos”!

On our final evening we walked over to Sagrada Familia for one last visit as the sun was setting. Families were walking through the park in front of the basilica, children and dogs were rumpusing about, and elderly Spanish gentlemen were deeply engaged in a game of boules. A most agreeable endnote to our short city break.

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