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I periodically go exploring. I like to venture into places I haven't been to, see the architecture, intake the coffee culture of a new place and most importantly photograph my journey. I have a natural love for landscape photography and I frequently use the skills and habits acquired shooting landscapes to other areas of my photography.
This Christmas I had a very special surprise. Joanna was visiting London so that we can spend Christmas together. She decided to get us a trip to Barcelona for two. I couldn't ask for a better surprise.
We decided to a few days after Christmas, because we wanted to spend it in London. So soon enough we went to Gatwick Airport and patiently awaited our late EasyJet flight in one of the many cafes at the North Terminal. Gatwick Airport naturally welcomed us with rain, miserable weather and terminal improvements. It didn't matter though, because we were just about to jet-off for a few days and have a wonderful time exploring Barcelona.
We landed late afternoon on Friday, so we quickly decided to head to the hotel and go to the city to grab some food. The hotel was a pleasant surprise, merely 15 min from the airport and with an awesome view. We stayed at a place called Hotel Hesperia. Quite good staff, good decor, quality hotel.
We quickly went into the city. The hotel shuttle left us not far from Placa Catalunya so we ventured towards the very famous La Rambla area, since every single travel publication urges you to explore this commercialised street. We made the mistake of seeking food over here. Never again! At least the high-street was pretty. And we decided to cheer ourselves up with some wine and chocolate. Is wine AND chocolate even allowed in one combination?
Saturday was the exploration day! Excited and armed with some local knowledge from TripAdvisor we went first into the city and after re-fuelling with cheap, local, disgustingly bitter coffee went to the local markets just off La Rambla. The many stalls offer a variety of different foods, from fruit, to different cuts of meat, local specialties and quite a few traditional, Catalan eating places. As expected in this part of the city most of those cater for tourist crowds, however it is still a pleasant and unique experience.
Our next stop was Sagrada Familia. We decided to walk there from the city, which was actually quite a hike. We decided to walk because it is the best way of experiencing the city, in my opinion anyway. Unfortunately Sagrada Familia had a queue with 3 hours worth of waiting. Looks like you need to book online. After looking around the exterior of the cathedral, we decided to book tickets for Sunday and grab some quick lunch.
Park Guell however, our next stop, proved to be extremely worth visiting. Not only is this work of Antoni Gaudi impressive, but the park also provides one of the best views in Barcelona. Located conveniently on a hill in the northern parts of the city, it allows you to see the majority of Barcelona from one of the many viewpoints.
Park Guell seems to have quite a lot of performers hanging out in it. We encountered accordion players, guitar players, a 'japanese' samurai, people selling trinkets, drummers and even a pretty funny and very entertaining band.
We waited for the sunset in Park Guell. Not only was it quite romantic, but I also got to shoot a few images under really awesome light conditions.
After our disgusting first day food adventure we decided to dig a little bit deeper and find a place far enough from the commercial centre to actually find locals eating in it. From our previous travels we learnt that if the place is full of locals, it usually means that it's pretty good. According to forum members on TripAdvisor most places selling 'tapas' in Barcelona have nothing to do with Spanish food. It is hard to find decent food in Barcelona too. We tried and tried and we finally settled for a Mexican place not that far from La Rambla, just on the back of the Contemporary Arts Museum - Rosa del Raval.
The place had really good service and we must have been the only non-Spanish speaking people inside. Well, Joanna speaks Spanish, however the American dialect which she learnt in New Jersey, which posed some difficulties, but we still managed to communicate reasonably fluently. Between Joanna's knowledge of Spanish and the waitress's broken English, we managed to quite successfully order burritos and a bottle of Cava. Both were surprisingly good and the place had a really good vibe around it. So good that we ended up eating there again the next day, after failing to find any exciting alternatives.
We started our last day in Barcelona with a trip to Sagrada Familia. Having booked tickets in the local Starbucks after Hesperia's WiFi failure the night before, we skipped the queue and entered the cathedral to be blown away with its scale and architecture. We also booked tickets for the Nativity Tower which takes you 75 metres above Barcelona where you can enjoy the panoramic view of the city from one of the many balconies, windows and viewpoints.
The staircase down towards the city was interesting too. The lower points of the staircase, after descending from the tower, feel a bit dangerous, but we managed to get down in one piece.
Our last stop in Barcelona was Antoni Gaudi's biggest achievement - Casa Batllo. His beautiful house which he restored with the help of his apprentices stand proud to this day at Passeig de Gràcia, 43. Inspired by the aquatic world, everything inside is designed with natural light in mind. This beautiful example of human imagination brings you on an amazing journey through Gaudi's sophisticated mind. The audio tour in Casa Batllo must be one of the best I have ever experienced too.
And last, but not least, we said bye to Barcelona by waiting in the airport for a few hours. It was a great adventure, but not one that you repeat. It was definitely worth visiting though.