It’s not my first time in Barcelona but it’s definitely my most offbeat – and slightly adventurous: I arrived by train after a 13-hour journey from Santiago de Compostela, stayed in a luxurious flat, shopped for food at the upmarket La Boquería and was whipped around the city in a motorcycle sidecar.
This came about because I applied – and with several other travel bloggers won – an all-inclusive two-day visit to Barcelona organized by Housetrip, an online service that helps you find, book or list your holiday apartment, a system I wasn’t familiar with.
Staying in Barcelona: hotel or apartment?
Our particular apartment was near Joanic metro, a few stops from the Barcelona highlights but well in the heart of a residential area. Watching people walk their dogs in the morning and drop into neighborhood tapas bars at night made me feel I lived in the city rather than in an amusement park, which is what parts of central Barcelona remind me of in peak season.
I only had eyes for the shower, at least twice the size I’d been used to in my last few weeks of travel. Several of us shared four bedrooms and two bathrooms and if we’d paid, the cost would have been a hair under US$200 a night, or $50 per room. A room for two would work out to $25 a head. Granted, you’d have to share a (decadently luxurious) bathroom with one other room but I can live with that in exchange for a fully-equipped kitchen. I get fed up with restaurants so being able to cook some meals and make coffee overrides the bathroom-sharing issue.
What if you’re traveling solo, as I usually do?
I checked a few properties on the Housetrip website and here’s what I came up with: a studio in Paris at $60/night; $68/night for a studio on a houseboat in Lyon; and several individual bedrooms in London at under $50/night. Pretty good.
To give you a basis for comparison, I spent the previous weeks in perfectly acceptable but quite basic guesthouses with a small bedroom, a bathroom to myself but no kitchen: in Porto, Portugal I paid $32/night (admittedly not an expensive city) and in Santiago de Compostela, Spain I paid $50/night. Again, I compared with the Housetrip option and a studio or bedroom in a private house cost no more than a basic room in a guesthouse. And you get the kitchen.
Eating my way through Barcelona’s La Boquería
That sparkling kitchen sadly remained unused given our hectic schedule, a shame since we certainly could have shopped when we went to the market. Not just any market – but La Boquería, where the region’s gastronomic bright lights can apparently be spotted shopping. Our Catalan guide, gastronome and historian Albert Planas, told us Ferran Adriá, who has been called the world’s greatest chef (and who ran the legendary but temporarily closed El Bulli) frequently shops here.
In one incarnation or another this market, a major Barcelona attraction, has been around for almost 800 years, but its covered version dates back only to 1840 so it’s relatively modern.
Old or new, it is a radical assault on the body – eyes, ears, nose, tongue. I didn’t know where to look – ham of course but seafood, fresh and dried fish, vegetables, olives – oh, those olives! – nuts, cheeses, mushrooms, snails… Just close your eyes and weave through the stalls, letting scents guide you, and you’ll always know exactly where you are. I was there for an hour but I could have spent the day.
Albert was happy to show us the corners of Barcelona he knew and loved, like the Patissería Escribá, Casa Gispert (Barcelona’s first nut roasters) and the Cala del Vermut, which specializes in fortified vermouth wine, where the group moved seamlessly from solids to liquids.
This outstanding walking tour, ‘Farm to Fork, the Boquería and Beyond’, is one of several by Context Travel and included intensive stuffing ourselves with samples ranging from ham and sausage to cheese and chocolate.
Barcelona sightseeing at eye level
Although in my early twenties I actually owned a small bike, I am categorically not the motorcycle type. I don’t have great balance, I tend to tip over, and I’ve been known to get gears mixed up so when I had a chance to ride through Barcelona in a motorcycle sidecar with Ride Brightside I almost backed out. At the meeting point I eyed the helmet with suspicion and noted the flimsy build of the motorcycle sidecar.
I decided to give it a try and I’m so glad I did – it was one of the highlights of my Barcelona visit.
What a fun and interesting way to visit the city! My guide João was from Portugal but his love for his adopted city was obvious. From him I learned that the architect Antoni Gaudí, who is responsible for the Sagrada Familia Cathedral, was hit by a tram while crossing a street. He had let himself go as he aged and no one recognized him – so no one helped him to the hospital. (This unfortunately also says something about the mores and accepted behavior of the 1920s.)
I also discovered new (to me) neighborhoods like El Born, filled with art and small restaurants and eclectic foods, and the hill of Montjuic, from which the view of Barcelona below is breathtaking.
The ride took all morning and if you’d ever hinted I’d be riding through Barcelona in a motorcycle sidecar, I would have laughed at you. But I’d definitely do it again.
My only complaint comes from car exhaust fumes, which also happen to be at eye level, but the versatility of the bikes enabled us to avoid most of them and go everywhere, down tiny side streets and over curbs and that more than made up for any discomfort.
Like millions of others, I love Barcelona and I never get tired of discovering new aspects of the city. I still have an unfulfilled wish: the weather was dull and I won’t be happy until I have bright and colorful photos of my favorite Gaudí landmarks.
Next time – sunshine please!