Updated: Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of the series. In 3,513 words I share with you why Barcelona is such a special city. Now your turn: what about Barcelona that you adore? What is your favorite place to eat? Next time I visit Barcelona, what do I absolutely have to see? Fire away in the comment section below 🙂
When I went to Europe for the first time (remember Italy?), I was advised by fellow travelers to join free walking tours whenever I visit a new city in Europe as those tours do a good job of walking us through the history and layout of the city. I didn’t get to go on one in Italy and Paris, so this time in Barcelona I marked it high priority on my agenda. To put it another way, Barcelona took my free walking tour virginity. But after what transpired, I was just happy losing it 🙂
There are several free tours running in the city as far as I know, but I opted for Travel Bound at the suggestion of my guesthouse Casa Consell and obviously the reviews on TripAdvisor. Detailed information about the tour can be found here.
Now, I don’t want to generalize and promise you an amazing time because how much fun you have will be determined by your tour guide. However, if Matthias (from Sweden who has been living in Barcelona for nearly a decade if memory serves me right) leads your group, rest assured that it’s going to be fun and informative. He’s articulate, knowledgable and energetic. And pretty funny to boot.
The tour visited Las Ramblas and La Boqueria market, both of which I had no intention of going. The fresh food and snacks at La Boqueria were awesome. But Las Ramblas, like Avenue des Champ-Élysées, I found overrated. Sorry!
Here’s a caveat: even though it’s a free walking tour, we are expected to have some tip at the ready when the tour ends. Why? Because your tour guide isn’t living on just air and water. In fact, they earn a living by guiding you. (It’s communicated clearly at the beginning of the tour though most people who go on free walking tours probably already know how it works.) The tip is NOT mandatory, and there’s no minimum amount of tip. You tip whichever amount you feel right. I personally find this tipping thing pretty great because it motivates (hopefully) the guide to do an excellent job. How do I know? Because I was once a waiter, and you have no idea how crazy hard I whored myself out every night. LOL. Bottom line is I think it’s more of common courtesy than anything else.
The reason I’m broaching this subject is because something happened in my group that made me think for the rest of my time in Barcelona. Our group consisted of 7 (or 8) persons, mostly university students and 20-something working adults from several nationalities. There was this guy, aged 30, from Slovenia who was in Barcelona for a conference and so had a day off to explore. Let’s call him X for the sake of brevity. Out of respect, I won’t share his background and other personal details he shared with me.
X was nice and appeared to be knowledgeable about history, religion and architecture. His knowledge made our discussions a bit more lively, I have to admit. Imagine if everyone in the group were like me and had little knowledge of Christianity and European history, the guide would definitely be discouraged.
When the tour came to an end with Matthias thanking us and saying goodbye, X told me that he had to leave right away because he had “this thing” to attend to. Out of curiosity, I asked him his thoughts on the tour and if he was going to tip. He loved the tour but said: “no need for tip, it’s supposed to be free. And I don’t have any money with me. I need to go to the bank.” Then he left.
I was stunned by his action. But I’m not sure if I was more bothered by the fact that he left without even saying something to our guide and tipping, the former of which was downright rude in my book, or by his excuse of not having any money whatsoever at hand. I might sound harsh here, but anyone who’s traveling and telling you at the same time that he/she doesn’t even have one or two euros (or any local currency for that matter) for change is totally bullshitting.
When someone is enthusiastic about what he does and does it well, I find it important to support him in any way I can. It can be a compliment, money or whatever; what matters is the person is aware that we appreciate what he’s doing. That’s my belief system. I went over the incident many times in my head during the following days, and the best conclusion I could come to was that not everyone thinks the same. And it’s alright. The whole point of traveling far and wide is to be less judgmental and more willing to embrace others, isn’t it?
7. Gràcia neighborhood
A gloriously beautiful day at Plaza del Sol.
Given my penchant for quiet, charming residential part of any city I visit, it comes as no surprise that I absolutely adore Gràcia. And so should you!
The neighborhood is only 1.5 miles away from the perennially touristy Passeig de Gracia, but the atmosphere here feels significantly more authentic, relaxing and artistic. It’s full of narrow streets, intricate terraces, small restaurants, bars, wine shops, antique stores, boutiques, thrift stores etc. Literally perfect for eating and shopping and wandering and people-watching.
8. Nou Candanchú (Plaza De la Vila de Gracia, 9, 08012 Barcelona)
I’m definitely not a hardcore foodie but before I visit a city, I research til my eyes bleed about restaurants where I could get the best bang for the buck. I don’t remember where I read about this solid gem (perhaps the travel section of the NYTimes published a few years ago?), but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter because I’m passing it on to you now 🙂Nou Candanchú is conveniently located in Gràcia– perfect for a lunch stop. I can’t say with certainty about other times during the day, but when I was there, there were only locals lunching by themselves or with families and friends. Quite atmospheric! Some might get self-conscious, but between you and me I have to confess I do enjoy being a white tiger in the zoo 😀
The restaurant garners rave reviews for its escalivada, a simple traditional Catalan dish of roasted vegetable usually garnished with some meat or fish. What went in mine were roasted peppers, eggplants, olives and anchovies. Describing food isn’t my strong suit, so I’ll just say that for around 10 euros, you get something that’s equally as good as sex, if not better. Heartily recommend!9. Gasterea (Carrer de Verdi, 39 08012 Barcelona)Another treasure in Gràcia that can’t be missed. I’m speaking from personal experience since I almost didn’t go out of laziness. There are so many amazing things to rave about Gasterea. The pinchos (or tapas if you want to call it that way) were ridiculously delectable, even better than what I had at Ciudad Condal, long considered an institution in Barcelona. (Perhaps I tried the not so good ones?.) You can see how much each item on the menu costs below so I’m not going into that. The waiter was attentive and friendly. And the vibe? Totally authentic. Again, I was the one and only Asian there that night. Such a shocker!!!However, the most memorable part had to be the incredible friendliness of the Barcelonean who sat next to me at the bar and is a child therapist. Despite her limited English, we managed to have a fun conversation about her work, her life, my travels and what I should order. When I didn’t know what kind of wine to go for, she went as far as offering me a sip of her wine– Txakoli from País Vasco region. It was light and fresh and so good that I had to pull a Harry-meets-Sally right there, telling the waiter: I’ll have what she’s having…
*An honorable mention: Mordisco (Passatge de la Concepcio, 08008 Barcelona)
If you want to dine somewhere a bit more fancy with spacious and artfully decorated setting, Mordisco is a noteworthy option. The food can be described as contemporary rather than traditional but tasty nonetheless. Reasonably priced as well. 10. The Catalan “shitty” tradition
As off-putting and tactless as it seems to be, I just have to put eating and pooping next to each other because they’re our natural instincts and we all do that. Keep it real babyyy!
Of all the cultural quirks that I have learned during my travels, this Catalan Christmas tradition is the most peculiar one. I’m loving it, though because it’s second-to-none. This article explains what the tradition is about, so have a look and I’ll wait.
Don’t you think it’s so quirky yet fascinating? There have been more than enough traditions around the world related to eating, so it’s time that we have more about this equally important part of our existence. Agree?