Free Barcelona, Spain Travel Guide

It took seven and a half months, but I’ve finally finished the review of our trip to Barcelona and Sitges, Spain in June, 2008. I started it as a review to make remembering our trip easier. As I was writing it up, I decided to make it more of a travel guide to hopefully convince you to go to Barcelona. It was an amazing trip.

There’s a lot of information in here. The guide is broken up into 10 chapters linked below with the highlights of the day for easy reference:
Day 1: Boston to Barcelona: Plaça de Catalunya
Day 2: More Walking: Santa Maria del Mar, Picasso Museum, Ciutadella, Euskal Etxea
Day 3: Gaudi and Eating: Casa Milà
Day 4: More Gaudi: Parc Guell, Sagrada Família
Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays: Barcelona Cathedral, Parrots Hotel, The Beach House
Day 6: Sitges and Beach
Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat: Montserrat
Day 8: Sitges
Day 9: Too Hot to Shop: Aparthotel Calabria, La Boqueria, Tapaç 24
Day 10: Montjuic: Montjuic

Barcelona is very beautiful. Parts are dirty and smelly, but those parts are serviced 24/7 by sanitation workers. I was struck by how most of the buildings look like they were from the 50s or 60s and wondered what makes the replacement cycle so much faster in cities like Boston. The city is eminently walkable, and the transportation system adds to the ease in getting around. If you like looking out over cities from heights, you’re in luck. There are at least 6 different tourist destinations that offer great views of the city.

Bottom line?
Where to stay: Hotel Regencia Colon – Perfectly situated and affordably priced.
Must visit landmaks: Santa Maria del Mar, La Boqueria, Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà, Montserrat, Sitges
Must eat: Tapaç 24, Euskal Etxea, Chocolateria Valor
Must shop: Kukuxumusu, Xocoa

For my mom, here’s a slideshow of our trip and a collection of videos from different points.

Also, please play around with this map I made of all the places we went to or should have gone to. I spent days before we went researching restaurants, hotels, landmarks and popping them onto this map to make it easy to figure out what to do in each neighborhood once we got there. The price of this travel guide is worth it just for this free map.

In closing, I hope you’ll go Barcelona because it’s awesome and you going will validate our decision to go. If you do go, I hope you find this Travel Guide helpful because would validate the time I put into it. Because after all, what’s a blog based Travel Guide if not an adventure in navel gazing?

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Free Barcelona, Spain Travel Guide

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 8: Sitges

Thanks for clicking on the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. There are 10 chapters total, listed at the end of this post. Check out the introduction for more information.

It was on this day that the realities of staying at a gay hotel began to set in, but only in that the realities of staying at a gay hotel are that there aren’t any women down at breakfast besides J. Earlier in the week, it was impossible to notice because we were the only ones at breakfast. Today was very hot, so why not spend the morning lounging on the beach reading trashy novels? In any case, that’s what we did until lunch. We had a smoothie at Parrots Terrace and then light sandwiches at Mostaza right next door before, uh, going back to the beach to read trashy novels for the afternoon.

Douglas at Parrots who had steered us so rightly to The Beach House on our first night in Sitges suggested Mezzanine. We weren’t AS thrilled with Mezzanine, but only because of the incredibly high bar set by The Beach House. The atmosphere was lovely, the service charming, and the tempura de gambas had eyes. The food was presented amazingly, but unfortunately, there was something missing from the taste. The chocolate cake for dessert, however, was out of this world.

tempura-de-gambas

There are 10 chapters in the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. I hope you find them useful.
Introduction
Day 1: Barcelona to Boston: Plaça de Catalunya
Day 2: More Walking: Santa Maria del Mar, Picasso Museum, Ciutadella, Euskal Etxea
Day 3: Gaudi and Eating: Casa Milà
Day 4: More Gaudi: Parc Guell, Sagrada Família
Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays: Barcelona Cathedral, Parrots Hotel, The Beach House
Day 6: Sitges and Beach
Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat: Montserrat
Day 8: Sitges
Day 9: Too Hot to Shop: Aparthotel Calabria, La Boqueria, Tapaç 24
Day 10: Montjuic: Montjuic

Map of where we went or wished we had.

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 8: Sitges

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 9: Too Hot to Shop

Thanks for clicking on the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. There are 10 chapters total, listed at the end of this post. Check out the introduction for more information.

We had caught a headline saying something like “African Heat Headed to Spain”, earlier in the week, and if it hadn’t arrived by yesterday, it was certainly here today. After breakfast, we decided to take one more trip around town and down by the beach. On the boardwalk, we were surprised to find techno music playing and a set up for a spin class. Only in Sitges.

We caught our train back to Barcelona after sadly bidding Sitges adieu. Our hotel, Aparthotel Calabria, was in a different area of Barcelona than we had stayed earlier in the week. While it was fine, I’d suggest staying closer in to the Barri Gothic. This hotel is next door to two grocery stores, incidentally, and features giant rooms with kitchens. The room would definitely be great for a family, especially one that wanted to cook a few meals in. Our hotel looked out onto a courtyard of old buildings that had a very Eastern European feel. We dropped our bags off, cooled down for a bit, and headed out for some more walking around.

Needing lunch, we decided it was a good time to finally go to La Boqueria. La Boqueria, one of the must see attractions in Barcelona, is a large covered market with about 125 different food stands. Fish of all kinds, meats of all kinds, produce of all kinds, snacks, candies, herbs, spices, etc, etc, etc. Really a sight to see. We wanted to try either Pinotxo or El Quim but couldn’t get a seat, let alone a menu at either place and didn’t feel like dealing. J got a plate of different vegetarian foods at a health stand along the back wall. I had been hoping against hope to find the food I had enjoyed so much in Berlin, the Döner kebab, and I had heard rumors that Barcelona had them, too. Well, I found one, and it wasn’t any good. I guess we’ll have to go back to Berlin sometime to get them.

It was too hot to do anything. We had hoped to do some shopping, but couldn’t get it going. We had checked out the Chocolate Museum earlier in the week but hadn’t gone in, deciding to save it for today. It wasn’t too expensive, but it was geared exclusively to children and we should have skipped it. There were some cool chocolate sculptures, but nothing mind altering. Depressed and now needing a chocolate fix, we had to go over to Valor for some more cold chocolate drinks, which were delicious, again.

Unable to do anything else because of the heat, we kind of collapsed in the shade on the stairs of a museum in a forgotten plaza and listened to a woman play Flamenco guitar while we zoned out. Soon, we moved our siesta into the courtyard of the Ministry of Culture. There was fountain there in which we watched a woman put her feet. I don’t know what the fountain was for, but I’m certain it’s not for touristic feet dipping.

We had wanted to check out Comerç 24 but couldn’t get a reservation later than 1:15 in the afternoon so we decided to check out Tapaç 24, the no-reservation, Tapas joint by the same chef, Carlos Abellán. If you had only one day in Barcelona, I’d suggest coming here for lunch and dinner, it was that good. We ate a menu of tapas suggested by the waiter, I’m not sure we would have ordered differently. We ate foie burgers (a specialty), grilled cheese with truffle oil, pan y tomate, patatas bravas, and probably a few other dishes that I’m forgetting in all their glory. Best of all was dessert, something I’m going to bring to America if I have to open a restaurant myself. 4 scoops of chocolate ganache drizzled in olive oil and flavored with a generous portion of sea salt. It doesn’t make sense until you try it, trust me. Go here often in Barcelona.

There are 10 chapters in the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. I hope you find them useful.
Introduction
Day 1: Barcelona to Boston: Plaça de Catalunya
Day 2: More Walking: Santa Maria del Mar, Picasso Museum, Ciutadella, Euskal Etxea
Day 3: Gaudi and Eating: Casa Milà
Day 4: More Gaudi: Parc Guell, Sagrada Família
Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays: Barcelona Cathedral, Parrots Hotel, The Beach House
Day 6: Sitges and Beach
Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat: Montserrat
Day 8: Sitges
Day 9: Too Hot to Shop: Aparthotel Calabria, La Boqueria, Tapaç 24
Day 10: Montjuic: Montjuic

Map of where we went or wished we had.

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 9: Too Hot to Shop

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat

Thanks for clicking on the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. There are 10 chapters total, listed at the end of this post. Check out the introduction for more information.

About an hour and a half from Barcelona/Sitges is the monastery Santa Maria de Montserrat on top of the mountain/hill Montserrat. We decided to go there one of the days we were in Sitges, and instead of having to take a train back to Barcelona and then one up to Montserrat, we decided to rent a car. For some reason, I had the same irrational fear of driving in Europe that I have of sharks. I wasn’t sure what could go wrong, only that something would, and I’d be less able to deal with it than usual. Renting a car in Sitges was something of a chore. We went into a travel office last night that suggested the Avis down the street. We went into the Avis office and the guy said he might have a car sometime this evening for 80 Euros, but we should check back today. We went into a travel agency at the end of Sin Street (across from the hamburger stand) and they rented us a car for 40 Euros. We picked up the car from a garage this morning and we were off, haphazardly finding our way out of Sitges and onto the highway.

We were cruising along pretty well, following our directions, until suddenly, none of the directions made any sense. (It turned out there were two exits with the same name, though we couldn’t have known that at the time.) This was it, in my mind, and I was ready to take this driving adventure back to the garage and read trashy novels on the beach. But J insisted we persevere so we stopped at a gas station where she acted as interpreter. “Estoy perdida”, she said to the romantic truck driver. “Todos estamos perdidos en la vida”, he responded with a twinkle in his eye, “Sigame, le muestro la carretera.” (“I’m lost.” “In life, we are all lost. Follow me, I’ll show you to the highway.”) The truck driver had us follow him for about 5 miles until he got us back onto the highway we needed to be on and we never strayed again. This interaction was my favorite of the trip.

Montserrat is actually the city below the mountain. Once you get there, you can take a train to the top, or drive up on a steep, windy road that reminded me of some roads in Hawaii. I took it slow as there were folks driving down and also a good number of bikers riding to the top (psychos!). The monastery is beautiful and literally cut right into the side of the mountain. In front of the entrance, there is a circular pattern in the stone where several people were getting their picture taken with their arms out, eyes closed, and shoes off. Everyday at 1, the choir sings, so either try to be there for that, or avoid it because that’s when the most people are there. I’d never heard the term funicular before going to Spain (it’s a type of train that goes up steep inclines), but we took one up to a higher part of the mountain. From there we were able to hike for 20 minutes or so to get to a 500 year old hermitage that that formed a hamlet of sorts with other dwellings carved out of the side of the mountain. The hermitage was a replica, because, interestingly enough, the original had been destroyed about 200 years earlier by marauding French. We went back down to the visitor’s center where we lunched on Cornetto. All in all, Montserrat is great and worth seeing, but I suggest taking the train from Barcelona. It runs every hour and takes you all the way up to the monastery.

On the way home, we took an alternate route that hugged the beautiful coast for a time. I was relaxed enough about driving in Europe at that point that we checked out Spanish radio. This was unfortunate because we happened on to that cursed Umbrella song. By the grace of Sitges, we made our way back to the right part of town and parked the car a short walk from the rental office. We found out later that I had left the lights on, but they didn’t seem to mind. After a brief respite in the hotel, we napped on the beach in the dwindling sunlight.

We couldn’t decide where to go for dinner, which resulted in us wandering aimlessly until we ended up at Restaurante Taiwan across from Al Fresco. I have a thing about trying Chinese food in various locales and tasting their Peking Raviolis. I’d like to say you can tell a lot about a city from the raviolis, but that would be silly. Restaurante Taiwan’s version are called empanadillas and receive passing marks for tastiness.

After dinner we went on a hunt for gelato. In attempting to determine which of the four places to go, we asked the girl behind the counter if they were selling ice cream or gelato. She asked the difference between gelato and ice cream. For the record, gelato has less fat and no air added for a creamier taste.

There are 10 chapters in the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. I hope you find them useful.
Introduction
Day 1: Barcelona to Boston: Plaça de Catalunya
Day 2: More Walking: Santa Maria del Mar, Picasso Museum, Ciutadella, Euskal Etxea
Day 3: Gaudi and Eating: Casa Milà
Day 4: More Gaudi: Parc Guell, Sagrada Família
Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays: Barcelona Cathedral, Parrots Hotel, The Beach House
Day 6: Sitges and Beach
Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat: Montserrat
Day 8: Sitges
Day 9: Too Hot to Shop: Aparthotel Calabria, La Boqueria, Tapaç 24
Day 10: Montjuic: Montjuic

Map of where we went or wished we had.

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 6: Sitges and Beach

Thanks for clicking on the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. There are 10 chapters total, listed at the end of this post. Check out the introduction for more information.

Sitges is an excellent little city/town. It’s small enough that you can walk all over everywhere and walk by the same streets until they become familiar, but big enough that it’s still interesting to see everything a couple times. Right by our hotel was a block without an official name, Calle del Pecado, or Sin Street, with cafes on either side of the road. The outdoor tables for the cafes are lined up 4 deep to give the maximum amount seats for people watching. This was my favorite part of Sitges, I thought of it as walking the gauntlet. Watching people people watching is more fun than I would have thought.

As I said yesterday, the weather became perfect about as soon as we got to Sitges, so we were excited to head to the beach after slathering on the 800 SPF sun block J had gotten for us. The hotel was a block and half from the beach, so we were basking in the sun reading trashy novels in no time. This being a European beach on the Mediterranean, you should be warned that there are a fair amount of Speedo bathing suits for the fellas, and not all of the ladies wear both parts of their bathing suit.

After about 2 hours of basking and trashy novels among the half-decent Europeans, we walked over to a Creperie on the corner of Sin Street for lunch. Has anyone ever had a bad crepe? I doubt it. By that point, we were exhausted and needed a nap, after which we promptly went back to the beach for several more hours of basking and trashy novels.

After another nap, which admittedly I spent reading trashy novels, we headed out to find some food. Douglas at the hotel had suggested Al Fresco as the 2nd best restaurant in Sitges, but we ended up at their sister restaurant next door, the Al Fresco Cafe. J got the menu del dia which came with vegetable soup, lasagna, and this delicious mango bread for dessert. I can’t remember what I got, but I remember liking this restaurant, so it must have been good.

There are 10 chapters in the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. I hope you find them useful.
Introduction
Day 1: Barcelona to Boston: Plaça de Catalunya
Day 2: More Walking: Santa Maria del Mar, Picasso Museum, Ciutadella, Euskal Etxea
Day 3: Gaudi and Eating: Casa Milà
Day 4: More Gaudi: Parc Guell, Sagrada Família
Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays: Barcelona Cathedral, Parrots Hotel, The Beach House
Day 6: Sitges and Beach
Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat: Montserrat
Day 8: Sitges
Day 9: Too Hot to Shop: Aparthotel Calabria, La Boqueria, Tapaç 24
Day 10: Montjuic: Montjuic

Map of where we went or wished we had.

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 6: Sitges and Beach

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays

Thanks for clicking on the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. There are 10 chapters total, listed at the end of this post. Check out the introduction for more information.

It was J’s birthday today, which I clearly forgot until the middle of the morning. All week, I had been trying to think of a way to celebrate a birthday while on vacation and then I just forgot. Then again, we’re on vacation, the whole time is a celebration!

We thought we’d do a little shopping in the morning before catching a commuter rail-like train to Sitges. Taking advantage of our close proximity to Barcelona Cathedral, we popped in quickly in the morning and confirmed that it’s not nearly as cool as Santa Maria del Mar. There is this crazy garden in the back of the Cathedral, though, with palm trees and geese. We then headed over to Calle Petritxol to check out Xocoa. On our way, we heard a giant commotion roiling though the alleys. We got to the mouth of Plaça de Sant Jaume, only to be blocked by a giant garbage truck trying to get by 2 riot police vans. (Almost no one drives in the close alleys of The Born and Barri Gothic except for the street sweepers and garbage men and women, who seem to be cleaning nonstop). It took the garbage truck about 5 minutes to get by, which seemed like forever because I REALLY wanted to see what was going on in the square. It was impossible to tell what the people were protesting, but eventually, a group of men were let into the building and everyone cheered.

Xocoa is a chocolate boutique that sells lots of great snacks and gifts and snacks to gift. We picked up a chili chocolate bar and a few truffles that were yummy. There are a few other chocolate stores on this street, making it worth a visit.

We checked out a few more stores and then mistakenly went to 4Gats. I say mistakenly because I had talked about this as a restaurant to avoid and J had only heard me talking about it, not what I said. She thought I wanted to go there and I thought she wanted to go there. There’s a reason people need to communicate and that reason is to avoid restaurants like 4Gats. The restaurant is historic and the building interesting, but if you’re going to go, I’ve heard the coffee and dessert route is the way to go. We got the fixed price lunch menu and a chance to sit up on the balcony looking down on the main dining room. The service was friendly, but the food was awful. I got a creamy pasta starter that was the best of everything we got. J’s fish came with veggies that looked and tasted like they had been boiled for 2 days. We felt snookered, afterward, to realize that the desserts we had ordered were not part of the fixed menu as we had believed. Go here, take a picture, and then go someplace else for lunch.

We went back to our hotel and picked up our bags to go to Sitges. The train ride was about 35 minutes, and while it had been drizzly and cloudy in Barcelona, it was sunny in Sitges. We got off the train not knowing how to get to our hotel. Finding the information booth closed, we walked around Sitges, stumbled upon the Mediterranean Sea, and then lucked into finding our hotel, Parrots. After booking the hotel, I read up on Sitges and found it described as, “The internationally renowned sun-drenched gay mecca of Europe” and, “Gayer than the capital of Gayland”. I saw “Is Sitges too gay?” and, “Too gay for families?” on a couple of message boards, and whatever that means, the answer is no. Yes, there are a plethora of gay men in Sitges. Unless you’re a secretly gay Republican that pretends not to be gay by being virulently homophobic, you will have a lovely time in Sitges. That said, Parrots is a gay hotel with a sauna that just opened and J was the only woman down at breakfast, garnering a few inquisitive, but friendly looks.

We asked Douglas at the front desk where to go for dinner, and he sent us to, what he called, “The third best restaurant in Sitges”, The Beach House. It was amazing and the portions were very generous. J got the watermelon salad and baked tortelini and I got the Cesar and Tuscan chicken. Everything was fabulous and, well, fabulous.

There are 10 chapters in the Free Barcelona Travel Guide. I hope you find them useful.
Introduction
Day 1: Barcelona to Boston: Plaça de Catalunya
Day 2: More Walking: Santa Maria del Mar, Picasso Museum, Ciutadella, Euskal Etxea
Day 3: Gaudi and Eating: Casa Milà
Day 4: More Gaudi: Parc Guell, Sagrada Família
Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays: Barcelona Cathedral, Parrots Hotel, The Beach House
Day 6: Sitges and Beach
Day 7: Sitges and Montserrat: Montserrat
Day 8: Sitges
Day 9: Too Hot to Shop: Aparthotel Calabria, La Boqueria, Tapaç 24
Day 10: Montjuic: Montjuic

Map of where we went or wished we had.

Free Barcelona Travel Guide – Day 5: Sitges and Birthdays