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Barcelona Highlights, Unconventionally

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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.

El Born district, Barcelona

I loved this striking art street scene in El Born district, Barcelona’s rising star

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

La Boqueria market, one of the major Barcelona highlights

My favorite food group – Spanish ham, at La Boquería market in Barcelona

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

riding a motorcycle sidecar in Barcelona

The discreet bandage covered a small week-old surgery scar – all gone now

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.

Sagrada Familia Cathedral, one of many Barcelona highlights

Completion of Sagrada Familia Cathedral, an unsettling mixture of Gothic and Art Nouveau, is planned around 2026, the 100th anniversary of architect Gaudí’s death

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!



  1. crazy sexy fun traveler on September 29, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    you and that ride? I’m impressed! Good job

    • Leyla Giray on September 29, 2012 at 11:17 pm

      It was close – I almost didn’t go! So glad I did.

  2. Steve @ Back-Packer on September 30, 2012 at 1:45 am

    Nice one Leyla!

    Aaaaand: cool new Blog – keep it going, looks clean and fancy 🙂

    • Leyla Giray on September 30, 2012 at 9:21 am

      Thanks Steve – it’s going to take a lot of hard work and long hours to get it going but I’m psyched! 🙂 Really glad you like it.

  3. KIM MASAS on September 30, 2012 at 3:57 pm


    It was a great pleasure to take a lunch with you last week on Costa Brava.

    I think you take the essence of our land and we discover your fantastic page beginning to be a followers….

    • Leyla Giray on September 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm

      That was a delightful lunch (prepared by the Club-Hotel Giverola’s Executive Chef Manolo Cabezuelo, if I remember correctly). I’ll be writing more about the Costa Brava over the coming weeks, mostly because it was a discovery, not at all what I’d expected. Please stay in touch via Facebook or Twitter (my name on both is womenontheroad).

  4. Jennifer on October 1, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Wow, sounds like a great trip! I actually really like apartment rentals myself. We’re always pleased with the locations we end up in and it really does give you an opportunity to get the local feel. The motorcycle sidecar sounds incredibly fun!

    • Leyla Giray on October 1, 2012 at 6:40 pm

      It was! I did like the apartment rental approach – I’ll try it again next time I travel and see how user-friendly the system is 🙂 I did enjoy living in a neighborhood and away from tourists, I have to say…

  5. Laurel on October 4, 2012 at 10:19 am

    It was so nice to meet you Leyla and I’m so glad that you decided to join the trip. It was my third time in Barcelona but I discovered many new places that I hadn’t been to before, which was great.

    • Leyla Giray on October 4, 2012 at 2:12 pm

      I did too – I loved the entire experience. Barcelona of course but the discovery and the new friendships. I’m so glad we’re in touch – and that I’ve discovered your blog!

  6. Tina Boomerina on November 18, 2012 at 4:08 am

    Wow, I am married (third try) and I wish I had traveled more when I was single. I could never find anyone who could afford to go with me or I could never find anyone who could get the same time off of work. I should have just gone by myself. If I ever find myself single again, I would definitely travel solo… or go to a foreign country to teach English… or find a travel pal through the Rick Steves’ graffiti wall or some other similar site. Maybe you have a forum on here for finding travel buds… I’m not sure. Anyway, I’ve been in Barcelona a few times in my life. Every time my trip has been shortened for a serious or silly reason. Dammit. I want to spend some time in that magnificent city and REALLY see it!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on November 18, 2012 at 8:09 am

      Hey Tina – If you ever find yourself on your own with a travel itch, there’s absolutely no reason not to go it alone. If you try it once you might enjoy it! I love it because there’s a certain exhilarating feeling to finding your way around and ‘making it happen’ yourself. Whenever I travel solo I end up finding travel buddies along the way so even if you’re worried about being on your own ‘alone’ is a condition that probably won’t last long!

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