First of all, I would like to thank everyone in the Barcelona forums. I asked my first question here about 4-5 months ago, and have posted several times since. And everyone have been so patient and helpful - so again, thanks a lot! After a lot of research, decision changes, questions, and more research, our trip finally pushed through - and here is my report. Hopefully it can also help someone out in the future.
Food and tapas:
Myself and three of my friends were only in Barcelona for a limited time (4 days), and there are so recommended places to eat at. I therefore devised a strategy that would allow us to maximize our time and try as much food in different places as possible. This may not work for the quiet-dinner types, but it worked for us!
We call it "Tapas Hopping". First step was to plan our destinations in advance, so that we can anticipate where we will be, and research the good places nearby. Then, we listed down the ones recommended here in TA, and decided on those that we want to try. (Gigis-mum's tapas map was very helpful indeed) When we were there, every meal, we would go to 2-3 different restaurants! However, we would only order 3-4 tapas which we would share among us 4. That way, we would not be so full, still can hop to that next restaurant, but we can still try the store specials. We also would order a bottle of Spanish wine or cava so that we don't order too 'little', hence would 'earn' our table. For the next place, we would order 3-4 tapas again, and some dessert. This is easier to do if yours is a fairly large group like ours, and if everyone is game for the adventure! We were in the city for 4 days, but we got to try about a dozen restaurants.
The places we ate at were: Ciudad Condal, La Rita, El Xampanyet, Can Paixano, Sagardi BCN Gotic, Taller de Tapas, Tapas del Born, El Quim de la Boqueria, Pinotxo, and a couple more whose name I forgot (will have to look at my notebook when I get home), the cafeteria in Montserrat, a good neighborhood churroz place in El Born, and several quick espresso and sangria stops in Gran Via
We didn't reserve any of the places we ate at, but most of the places are full or almost full, but luckily we always managed to get a table. For instance in Ciudad Condal, I think we just arrived 10 minutes earlier than everyone else - it was so packed that I think reservations would be necessary especially during the peak seasons.
What is my favorite? Hard to say! I really enjoyed that small shop we stopped at in Gothic Quarter for a quick sangria - I now regret that because of my blistering feet, I didn't get the name of the place. I also enjoyed Ciudad Condal and Can Paixano. But each restaurant was different, and I've never had mediocre food during our stay - and that is a very honest assessment, I think.
Apartment and El Born:
I decided to go with Habitat Apartments, in Princesa 1. The price was fair, and they answered all my questions prior to arrival very promptly. They even accommodated my request for an early check-in of 10am, instead of the usual 11am. The agent who met us was nice and professional, and quickly toured us around the flat. The apartment itself was big enough for four, furnitures were basic, and all the necessary equipments were there. We appreciated the fact that it was clean. Location is about 5 minutes walk to the Jaume I, and just a short stroll to the fantastic restaurants of El Born. The neighborhood was great, and we enjoyed walking and exploring the small streets. It feels like you are staying in history. The place is dynamic without being too noisy and crowded.
The best thing about travelling off-season are the shorter queues. Did not wait for more than 5-10 minutes in any of the usual tourist spots like La Sagrada Familia. We planned in advance the area we would explore, and matched it with the side-shopping and all the long tedious eating. I allocated a couple of hours a day for the girls - who insisted on shopping since it was the sale season - and patiently carried their bags in the Placa Catalunya/Passeig de Gracia shopping area. We would then grab a coffee, and head off to another Gaudi building/museum. Los Tarantos for a quick flamenco show in Placa Real was cheap and worth the detour. The music, singing and dancing were impressive - not a tourist trap. There are places that we purposely left off for the next trip - like the Picasso Museum. That way, we would be inspired to plan the next visit!
Like most people visiting the city for the first time, we were filled with so much paranoia prior to the trip - what with all the warnings plastered all over the internet! But, we never felt unsafe - even walking past midnight in El Born and Gothic Quarter. We of course took extra precautions, like being alert and not carrying hundreds of euros and several credit cards all the time.
I was also wondering whether it is more polite to converse in Spanish or Catalan. Everyone I encountered patiently accommodated my struggling, but functional, Spanish. In fact, I found locals to be quite friendly, and we never had a bad encounter during our stay.
My favorite moment:
After visiting La Sagrada Familia, eating lunch, then shopping, me and my friends were so exhausted, we just sat at a bench in Passeig de Gracia, and watched all the people walk by, during the sunset, and soaked in the Barcelona ambiance. Sigh....
Barcelona is such a wonderful city, and it is now tied with Paris and Bali as my three favorites in the whole world - each has its own charm and spirit. The things I enjoyed the most are the interesting walks in the Gothic/El Born neighborhoods, the great food and wine, the fact that eating is a relaxed and social event (and dining is very different in Paris and Bali, or anywhere else for that matter), and the lovely architecture and people.
Sorry this report is too long! I got carried away =)
bluegreentravelEdited: 06 February 2012, 00:00