Part 1 in a series about a January trip to Barcelona and a Western Mediterranean cruise on NCL.
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The first time I visited Barcelona I spent a mere six hours there. It was one stop on a long, classic Mediterranean cruise, and in our madcap bus tour we saw overviews of the great highlights: checking out the Gaudi sights, an overview of the city from Montjuic, a quick stroll down Las Ramblas and back to the bus. So I was excited with my mother for a slightly more in-depth look, the prelude to yet another cruise.
Barcelona by Bike
Although part of our first morning in Barcelona was spent dealing with health concerns and navigating clinics (more on that later), we were still done in time to catch an 11 a.m. bike tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours departing from Plaza Sant Jaume. Seeing a bit of the city from the same angle that many cycling natives see it was a treat, and our guide, an American twenty-something and recent Barcelona transplant, gave us a historical overview in addition to weaving us through perilous traffic.
The Picasso Museum is one of Barcelona’s top sites, and rightly so: it provides an great examination of Picasso’s early work and evolution as an artist, and it’s fun to see how much his work changed as one wanders from room to room. Having studied Velasquez’s painting Las Meninas, it was also a treat to explore one of the museum’s last rooms, filled with various studies Picasso painted as homage to his famed Spanish predecessor. In comparison with Malaga’s newer Picasso museum, which we visited later on the same trip, I would give Barcelona’s museum first place.
Barcelona also enjoys multiple museums, of varying types, dedicated to another of its favorite sons, architect Antoni Gaudí. Having visited the small museum inside the work-in-progress Sagrada Familia cathedral, my mother and I focused on Gaudi sites we didn’t get to see during our brief first visit.
The vast Parc Güell is an open-air museum, of sorts, and as we wound our way along the trails of the peaceful park, we enjoyed seeing the many different forms Gaudí’s work can take—from fairy-tale castles and gingerbread-inspired houses to organic, plant-like forms.
Visiting the Gaudi-designed Casa Mila was somewhat less interesting, since it is the building’s stately exterior that best represents Gaudí’s living aesthetic, but the multimedia exhibits about the architect’s life and the recreated interior were still worth a visit.
Dining Like a…Tourist
Yes, Barcelona dines late. But our resolve at 9 a.m. on our first day in the city that we to eat when the locals did had evaporated by 7 p.m., when we were exhausted, jet-lagged and starved enough to abandon our original intentions. We retreated to the lobby of our hotel to explain our situation to the concierge and solicit a recommendation.
“We’re very tired and hungry and know it’s unfashionable—but we’d really like to eat. Do you know anywhere we could go that might be open this early?” my mother asked.
“Yes. When would you like to dine?” he offered warmly.
The concierge’s eyes went wide with shock. “Now?! Um…”
He ended up pointing us to a tapas place nearby that provided just what we were looking for: namely, food.
Later in our visit, we actually managed to stick it out and eat at more “reasonable” hours. Les Quinze Nits, a Spanish-Catalan-Mediterranean restaurant that’s a Barcelona institution, provided the setting for our final meal in the city—mostly selected thanks to a guidebook recommendation and a long line outside. Anything that gets a line like that must be good, right? Lemmings we might be, but the recommendation was well founded nonetheless and we enjoyed delicious paella and sangria.