A Layover in Barcelona

Barcelona architecture

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Barcelona calcots Barcelona architecture

Coming back from wonderful Rome, I had a long layover in Barcelona. Rather than sit around in the airport, I took full advantage of being in this vibrant city and hopped on the bus from the airport to the city center. I intentionally try to schedule long layovers into my travel plans, because in some sneaky way, it feels like you get a peek at another destination for free! I like to tell myself that anyway. :)

Here’s what I saw last time I was in Barcelona:


Also, if you ever find yourself at the BCN airport with some hours to kill, here’s a handy link to the multiple ways you can get yourself from the middle-of-nowhere airport, to gaping at Gaudi’s masterpieces in no time.

The Places That Hooked Me in…

You know that moment when you’re in a new place, whether it be for a few hours or a few days and your pulse quickens a bit? When you glance around and your surroundings absolutely grab you?

It may hit you unexpectedly—during an amazing al fresco meal, while strolling out on a balmy night, or watching the sun set. It may overwhelm your senses all at once.

The relationship you can have with a new place is like love; you’re left wanting more.

Here are the places that hooked me in, and the moments where it hit me:

Athens, Greece

Climbing up the Acropolis and seeing the spread of this ancient city below me. Stumbling upon a tucked-away street of chic cafes. Indulging in cheesecake on a rooftop overlooking the Acropolis lit-up at night. Gorgeous seaside nightclubs spent laughing and dancing with friends.

Sevilla, Spain

Exploring the winding, narrow streets of Barrio Santa Cruz. Delighting in cold cervezas and the finest jamón. Relaxing alongside the Río Guadalquiver.  Marveling at the tile-work of Plaza España. Taking in the view from the bell tower.

Naxos, Greece

Riding motorbikes through the countryside. Dipping my toes in the Mediterranean. Feasting on saganaki, horiatiki and souvlaki. Celebrating with drinks at happy hour near the beach. Counting the different shades of blue in the ocean.

San Sebastián, Spain

Devouring pintxos in the old part of the city. Walking alongside the bustling waterfront. Window-shopping in the center. Imagining my dream-home overlooking the sea.

Barcelona, Spain

Admiring the quirky architecture of Gaudi. Experiencing the lively nightlife. Soaking up the sunshine. Snapping photos of all of the city’s color and action. Sampling food in the local markets.

These are the select few places in the world that stole my heart and still call me back long after I’ve left. They leave me daydreaming of a return trip, nostalgically thinking in the memories I created there.

Where in the world has captured your heart?

Gracia Festival Barcelona (Guest Post)

One of my favorite travel bloggers, Christine of C’est Christine, whom I discovered as I was just starting out with my own blog, has contributed a guest post today on the Gracia festival in Barcelona. Christine’s writing is always top-notch, her photography stunning, and her expat life that has taken her to two countries and continents (first France, now Australia!) —so fun to follow. Thanks, Christine!

As I wandered around Barcelona on my first day in Spain, I came across a street with a life-size Lego installation. It struck me as a bit odd, but I was on a desperate hunt for my first authentic plate of patatas bravas and thus didn’t stop to inquire.

As I checked into my hotel later that day, however, the receptionist raved about my lucky timing: that Saturday night was the culmination of Gracia Festival, a week-long fiesta that involves a major street-decorating competition. Aha! Enormous Legos explained.

Surfacing from the metro after attending the FC Barcelona game, my friend and I were greeted by an enormous fire-spewing dragon, enthusiastic crowds and the wafting strains of flamenco music. We spent the rest of the night (and early the next morning) throwing back drinks, shaking our hips and ooh-ing- and aah-ing over the seriously impressive street decorations.

  • Salud!: There is no shortage of drinks at this festival. Neighborhood restaurants set up makeshift bars outside, selling cheap and cold mojitos, sangria and beers. Convenience stores have plenty of cold beers on hand for a Euro or two each. Drinking in the streets is allowed, and even encouraged—so bring some cash, and don’t worry about how your head will feel in the morning.

  • Wear your dancing shoes: Courtyards magically transform into stages and dance floors, with music ranging from flamenco to hard rock to acoustic guitar. Find a spot with the music of your choice and dance like nobody’s watching.

  • Playing to win: The 17 streets and squares pour their heart and soul into this decorating competition. Each street has its own theme, decided upon and put into expression by a council formed by residents of the street itself. We saw a life-size Lego installation, a festive cabaret and an interactive carved wood display. The incredible creativity, cooperation and hard work put in by residents are obvious.
  • Get lost: Although the big squares often attract the crowds, such as Diamant, Plaça de Sol and La Virreina, you’ll really get a sense of what the festival is all about if you head for the clutter of narrow streets right in the heart of the barrio, between Torrent de la Olla and Escorial.
  • Go early or go late: The street decorations are in the best shape early in the festival, but the crowds come out in full force on the last night. It’s worth taking a wander during the day to truly appreciate the work that’s gone into the decorations, but the most fun happens after nightfall. And this is Spain, of course—so the party doesn’t get started until late and often doesn’t stop until the sun comes up.

[box type=”info”] The Gracia Festival usually takes place in late August: this year’s dates are August 15-21, 2011. Entry is free and no tickets are required. Gràcia is served by Metro Lines 3 (Fontana station) and 4 (Joanic).[/box]