Winters in the north of France can sometimes be quite depressing – cloudy, cold and grey. Although it’s nowhere near as bad what I’m sure most of you in the Northern US face, it’s still quite miserable for this California girl, whose blood is only used to temperatures between 50 and 70 degree Fahrenheit. So in order to escape the drudge of winter, I have a new (to me) strategy – go somewhere warm!
So that’s what we did in February – we went somewhere warm. We decided to pick the city of Barcelona, primarily thanks to a €12.99 one way Ryanair fare from Paris to Barcelona. A brief aside – here’s my take on Ryanair: I’ve personally never had a problem with them (though I’ve heard horror stories from my friends who have). Don’t expect much when flying with them and just think of it like taking public transportation – absolutely no frills and possible delays. Also make sure you read the fine print especially regarding luggage fees and online check-in. As long as you do those things, just hope there’s no strikes or cancellations and know that you’re getting what you pay for. I mean, €26 RT to Barcelona?!? Can’t really beat that.
Anyway, on to Barcelona! Barcelona is truly unlike any other city. The architecture is so different and unique, and that’s primarily due to a man named Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí was an architect who was influenced by his 3 passions in life: architecture, religion and nature. This is reflected in his architectural masterpieces, located throughout the city of Barcelona. The greatest of these is the Sagrada Familia, which has been under construction for 137 years!!!!
I’d been to this church before, but every time I visit, there’s always new additions added which makes for a unique experience.
The interior of the Sagrada Familia was just as stunning as always, though the addition of stained glass since our last visit created a darker, yet more colorful feel.
Another architectural wonder of Gaudí was an urban park that he designed, called Park Güell. It was designed to be part of a housing development that later proved unsuccessful. The park was later given to the city of Barcelona. The last time I visited, entrance was free, but since then, they’ve added an admission charge. That has done nothing, though, to deter the number of tourists visiting this attraction.
As with everything else Gaudí designed, the beauty of this park is in the details…
One building that we didn’t have any intention of visiting, but almost literally stumbled upon, was the gorgeous Palau de la Música. This gorgeous concert hall was built in the early 20th century. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to catch a performance here, but I would definitely like to do it when we return to Barcelona.
Two other highlights of Barcelona include the shopping (prices at Zara and Mango are cheaper than in France) and the food. Here are a few of our culinary highlights in Barcelona…
Our first meal in Barcelona wasn’t Catalan nor Spanish, but Mexican! Despite being quite a ways from Mexico, this restaurant serves up some pretty amazing dishes, the highlight being this chicken with green mole sauce.
If you want a place that will take tapas to the next level, this is it! Although a little pricier than typical tapas restaurants, the imagination and creativity of the chef more than make up for it. If you do decide to go, I’d highly recommend making reservations (available online) – it was completely packed on the Tuesday afternoon that we decided to go.
Yes, it’s always crowded with tourists, but 4.5 stars out of 11,845 reviews on TripAdvisor don’t lie. Out of the 7-8 times that I’ve been here, this place has never disappointed me. It has great quality tapas at reasonable prices. There are 2 different experiences here and I recommend trying both: one is the crazy, hectic experience of sitting at the bar where everyone is yelling around you and the orders are flying fast and furiously. The great thing about this experience is that you get a chance to look at many of the tapas at the bar in front of you and what other people are ordering. Even if the bar seems packed, just wait a few minutes – usually something will open up. The second experience is sitting at a table which may require quite a wait at all times of the day. This feels a bit more relaxed and civilized and you’re likely to have a better opportunity for conversation with friends. Also a nice experience.
Flax & Kale (2 locations)
I know it might not seem like it from the above photos, but I’m actually trying to eat a little healthier. Previously I would think of myself as a vegan/pescatarian who cheats quite regularly. Thankfully, in Barcelona, I found a better word to describe this – a flexitarian diet – which is a plant-based diet with the occasional inclusion of meat. I like this because I believe too much restriction of one thing just makes you crave it more. An aside – another thing I loved about Barcelona is that restaurants put all allergens in their dishes on the menu. So if you’re trying to avoid an ingredient because you’re allergic or for any other reason, it makes it easy to see which dish does or doesn’t contain it.
Anyway, what I loved about Flax & Kale is that they also subscribe to this flexitarian philosophy, but they do it in such a cool way. I’ve eaten at some vegan places before, but often times I felt out of place because I’m not a hippie. But this restaurant felt hip, happening and welcoming. The food was healthy but tasty, due to the interesting combination of ingredients that they used. This restaurant has 2 locations and we visited both.
Great food, great shopping and great architecture. And all that in addition to beautiful sunshine in the middle of winter! We were happy to have our winter getaway of this little piece of Catalan.
Until next time…