Barcelona Day 5: Shopping in Passeig de Gracia, Around University Area and Torres Gloriés

Following a night of drinking and a good meal, we woke up very late today at around 9am, and we took time to pack our luggage in preparation for the next day – when we were going to Seville. We were out of the hotel door by 10am and took the metro to go to La Papa, a brunch place not far from Passeig de Gracia. The place was selected by my girlfriend as it is popular among young and health-oriented urbanite living in Barcelona. The interior of the restaurant is layered by some sort of a sand wall that makes it cooler than the temperature outdoor.

People in Front of La Papa, Barcelona
Mushroom Truffle Sandwich at La Papa, Barcelona

The service was great and the food is equally good and comes in a large portion. I had a mushroom truffle sandwich while my girlfriend opts for the avocado toast. When we were eating, I noticed that most of the visitors are very typical of the middle-upper class youngster living in other metropolitan cities across the globe, meaning that there was plenty of folks with yoga pants and running shoes. I read a research – or joke – once that it is correlated with the real estate prices in the area!

We walked around the area while heading to Passeig de Gracia (again) because my girlfriend had an unfinished business shopping at Oysho, a Spanish clothing company under Inditex Group – the parent company of Zara. I learned that it could take a while for ladies to shop, so rather than following accompanying (read: annoying) her shopping experience, I sat on a bench on the street before moving to café Farggi that is located near Plaça de Catalunya. I had a café con leche while reading my work emails.

Cafe Farggi, Barcelona
Having My Café con Leche While Waiting

Barcelona is a very vibrant city. I could feel the rebellious attitude of the people, their antipathy towards authority, and the love of street art. The locals in Barcelona dress in bright color, with Christmas tree green, daisy purple, and bright yellow color prominent in the street and almost every clothing stores. There are graffiti everywhere in the city, but not vandalism – of which there are few.

Barcelona Cityscape

It was around 2pm when my girlfriend finished her shopping and arrived at the café, which means we had to start walking towards our lunch place, a sushi restaurant called Shunka that was said to serve one of the best Japanese food in town. On our way there, we passed a luxury watch boutique and they happened to have a Jaeger-leCoultre Reverso on display – the model I have looking to buy. Due to the weak euro the pricing is very attractive, especially after accounting for the 15% GST refund. The problem is that I will likely have to pay tax and duty once I arrived in Canada that is worth around 20% of the purchase price. Under that scenario, I calculated that the savings will be worth only $500, which is not worth the trouble of bringing the box and dealing with the custom at the airport. I decided to skip it and in hindsight it was a good decision as I had to declare such purchase once I arrive in Canada.

Street Musician at Avenida portal de l’angel, Barcelona
My Girlfriend Favourite (Left)

The quality of the sashimi at Shunka was decent. The seafood tastes fresh and was served in an interesting platter combination. However, the ambience of the restaurant is flat and rather unflattering given the lack of natural light indoor. To close our meal (read:dessert), we walked to Pastisseria Hofmann that is located 15 minutes away. It was once awarded as the best patisserie in Barcelona and know for their uniquely shaped cakes. We ate the cakes we bought – three of them – at a public bench nearby.

Patisseria Hofmann

Since we had couple hours left before the sun goes down, we decided to explore the university area in the Northeast part of the city, initially planning to go to the library that has a cool, 18th century style interior. We took a long walk and a tram to go to the area, but failed to find an entrance door to the library even after going around it twice. Instead, we went to Torres Gloriés’ observation deck and I flew my drone on a park nearby.

The University Area, Barcelona
My Girlfriend at Torres Gloriés’ Observation Deck

The observation deck at Torres Glories is a meh, mostly because there was a steel bar outside the window that blocks the cityscape view and made it impossible to take a decent picture. More interesting, however, is the exhibition next to the ticket counter showing the implementation of big data to track the mood of Barcelona – its weather, sounds, temperature, and humidity on a live basis – based on various sensors located throughout the city. The ambience of the exhibition is very futuristic and showcase the potential of real-time data mining to spy agencies all over the world.

Flying My Drone Towards Sagrada Familia During Sunset
Street Art, Barcelona

Our last dinner in Barcelona was at Teleferic, a small restaurant located nearby Passeig de Gracia, where I flew my drone for another time from a park across the restaurant. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel and pack our luggage again.

We took metro on the way back to the hotel, and had a near-miss accident with pick pocketers. We noticed that there was three man watching us in the metro station, two as a watcher and the other one as the executioner, that tried to discreetly take my wallet in my shorts’ left pocket. Luckily, my girlfriend noticed the executioner getting a jacket out of his backpack to cover his hand before trying to reach my pocket, so we left for the next car and stayed away from the group. Before traveling to Spain, I have been briefed about elevated petty crime rate in Barcelona and prepared one “sacrificial” wallet to give if we got mugged. There was almost €500 on the wallet. Be careful people!

Teleferic Restaurant, Barcelona
The Street of Barcelona from the Sky
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Barcelona Day 4: Shopping at La Roca Village, Tibidabo, Amazing Dinner at La Flautes

Our plan today was to go to La Roca Village Factory Outlet that is located one hour away from the city. To get there from our hotel (Suizo Hotel Barcelona), we need to walk roughly 20 minutes to Barcelona Nord terminal. To avoid missing the bus schedule, we woke up at 7.30am and had a quick breakfast on our way at café 365 in the Carrer de la Princesa street.

Buying the bus ticket is not so straightforward, as there is not counter visible in the entrance door where we could ask questions. Walking further inside the terminal, we found a reception counter and asked the lady on duty where we should buy our ticket and wait, only for her to point to outside the terminal. It turned out that the bus is available almost every hour during the day and tickets could be bought on a machine located just outside one of the terminal’s door for €15/person round trip. We took the 9.00am bus and arrived at the outlet at 9.45am, 15 minutes before the stores opened.

The complex is not crowded, perhaps due to the lingering pandemic effect, and there was probably only 10-20 customers at that time. But even later in the afternoon, there was much less people than normally seen in such factory outlet. We saw no line up in any of the stores, contrary to our experience visiting Toronto factory outlet just months before.

La Roca Village Factory Outlet
Crowds in La Roca Village

The complex itself is not too large either – smaller than other outlets I have visited in other European countries or in North America – but carry most of the brands we were interested in. I lost track of what my girlfriend bought, but I got myself a pair of Tod’s shoes and a Montblanc laptop briefcase. The discount in most stores range from 15-40%. For example, the Tod’s shoes that I bought were on a 33% discount, although there were others with only 15% discount.

There was nothing worth seeing or doing in the surrounding area other than shopping, and we were not interest in going to a Nike shoe factory nearby, so after a quick paella meal at Restaurant Pasarela (within the complex), we walked to the same bus stop we were dropped earlier and departed back to Barcelona at 3.05pm. It was around 4pm when we were back in Barcelona Nord bus terminal and decided to walk back to our hotel to drop off our goods, which took a good twenty minutes walk passing Arc de Triomf and Palau de Musica under the scorching sun.

To balance our itinerary for the day with cultural sightseeing, our plan was to go to Tibidabo – the tallest hill in the Serra de Collserola overlooking the whole city. Going to Tibidabo from downtown Barcelona requires several transit. First, we need to take the metro S1 or S2 line to Peu del Funicular station, then a funicular to go uphill, and then bus number 111 that stops on the right side of the station following the exit door. We were grateful that we bought a 96-hour unlimited metro pass on our first day, as it saved us plenty of time buying single-use tickets for each of those transit.

The Front Side of Sagrat Cor Church, Barcelona
Restaurant building in Tibidabo, Barcelona

There is a small amusement park in front of the Sagrat Cor Church where visitors could take a picture of the whole Barcelona. We spent our time there exploring the church and going to the top of the tower, first by elevator and then by a spiral staircase, which cost an extra €5/person. Being at a higher ground means there were several good angles for photographing the cityscape. We took many photographs there and were initially planning to wait for the sunset, but considering that we must wait for another two hours before it gets dark, we decided to go back to the city and have a nice meal instead.

The Landscape from the Top of Sagrat Cor Church
Barcelona Cityscape Taken from Tibidabo
The Funicular Station to and from Tibidabo

On our way to the Chinese hot pot restaurant the day before, we passed a tapas bar called Vinitus with long line in front of the entrance door – something that made us curious. Our plan today was to go there for dinner. But on our way from the metro station, we spotted another good-looking restaurant named La Flautes located in Carrer de la Diputació. Since we were expecting a long line up at Vinitus and there were only few at La Flautes, we decided to give it a try.

The service and ambience were great, and more importantly the food was amazing. In hindsight, we both agree that La Flautes is the best meal we had during the whole Spain and Portugal trip. We ordered 9 plates of tapas and a bottle of red wine to fill our belly. Among our favourites are octopus on top of a mashed pumpkin, a veal steak, prawn skewers, and duck breast. When we left the restaurant and walked home, I had a feeling that it will be a while before I could find such an impressive food again. Must go!

People Crossing the Street in Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona
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Barcelona Day 3: Moco Museum, Shopping, Casa Milà, Casa Batlló

Ronda Litoral, Barcelona, During Sunrise

This is the first morning that my girlfriend and I woke up early together. First, that’s because she wanted to have a morning run and second, I wanted to fly my drone from the coastal area. We walked to Ronda Litoral on the east of our hotel and as she ran, I flew my DJI Mini2 to Barcelona’s sky. There are several limitations on how high you could fly (120 meters) and other criteria of the drone (<250g) that you could use without obtaining a permit, so it its prudent to check the local regulation before every flight.

Flying Over the Eastern Side of Barcelona
Barcelona Cityscape in the Morning

An hour or so later when the sun was visibly above the two-stories buildings we walked back to our hotel to take a shower before going to all the museum and landmarks planned for the day. We started the day slowly, first going to the Bishop’s Bridge while there were few people around in the morning and took couple photographs of the famous spot. Walking further north from the bridge we found a small café with a patio outside facing Catedral de Barcelona named Estruch. There we had our breakfast of croissant, orange juice, and coffee accompanied by hundreds of birds flocking in front of the cathedral. A pleasant morning indeed, but unfortunately the nice weather does not last until the evening, as we later found out.

Bishop’s Bridge, Barcelona
Our Breakfast at Cafe Estruch

Our first destination was the Moco Museum Barcelona, which is located nearby the Picasso Museum we visited yesterday. The name Moco was taken from the fact that it houses MOdern and COntemporary art. Compared to the museums we visited before, Moco is more descriptive and grounded on street art. If, like me, you need a break from the abstract paintings you can’t understand, then this museum offers a refreshing collection that common people could relate to.

Moco Museum Barcelona
Snoopy Sofa at Moco Museum
Banksy’s Monkey at Moco Museum

The rest of our morning was spent on walking through small alleys between Moco Museum and Plaça de Catalunya, visiting small shops located there, while heading to Passeig de Gracia, where most of the branded stores and shopping malls are located. Among the stores we visited on the strip includes Massimo Dutti, Longchamp, Cos, and Lego (yes, as an adult it is still a fun store to visit).

Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona

Near the end of north end of Passeig de Gracia was Casa Milà, the first landmark we visited for the day. It was a residential condo built for Roser Segimón and her husband Pere Milà between 1906 and 1912, and also the last private residence designed by architect Antoni Gaudí. Before beginning our tour for the interior of the building, we were given an audio guide device that explains in details the building features and structures. Mind you that we have to climb the stairs to the rooftop at the very beginning of the tour, which could be exhausting for older people or those with disabilities – there are elevators for wheelchair, but it does not seem to have access to the rooftop.

Casa Milà Taken from the Rooftop
The Rooftop of Casa Milà
Sagrada Familia Taken from Casa Milà

Going through the rooms in Casa Milà tells us plenty about the way of living for upper-middle class population back in 1900s. Compared to our current situation, they seem to be living a pretty good life. For example, the maid’s bathroom is three times bigger than mine in Montreal! Not to mention having a private library and an office space, which is a luxury these days.

For lunch we have table d’hôte at a local specialty cuisine restaurant named Suculent that is located on Rambla street. The use of spices and quality of both the seafood and meat were great, but perhaps it is too exotic to my liking. We had a duck croquette and red prawn ceviche as a starter, followed by steak tartare, stingray, lamb neck, and a dessert. My personal favorite is the lamb neck that was cooked to perfection until the meat becomes very tender. Overall, we had a good experience, although it was probably more fitting for a slow dinner over a bottle of wine rather than for a lunch following long walking day. 

Not long after we were back on Passeig de Gracia to continue shopping. First, we went to Loewe – where my girlfriend bought a bag – and then to Hermès, where I got myself a tie. One thing I noticed almost immediately is that every branded store offers a plain white paper bag to cover the regular paper bag, confirming my suspicion that petty crimes rate might be elevated in Barcelona and that walking on the street with branded paper bag is not a wise decision.

Passeig de Gracia Seen from Inside Casa Batlló

Our last landmark visit for the day is Casa Batlló, another residential masterpiece designed by Antoni Gaudí. Although it clearly has a similar style to Casa Milà we visited earlier, the interior feels more exquisite and polished. Despite us buying the golden ticket – that includes a one-hour jazz-like concert at 7pm at the rooftop – there was a queue outside the building, and we noticed that it started to drizzle. The tour begins at the basement of the building where audio guide (we got an iPad mini and a headset) was distributed. From there, we could independently explore the rooms level-by-level until we reached the rooftop.

The Rooftop of Casa Batlló

As we feared earlier, once we arrived at the rooftop, we were told that the concert would be canceled and that there will be a partial refund for our tickets. We had such a high expectation for the night and in the end the big rain never happened. The drizzle stopped when the concert was supposed to begin, so we were quite disappointed that night. To cheer ourselves we decided to go to a popular Chinese hot pot restaurant, Liuyishou that is located not far away from Passeig de Gracia. The food is as expected but not very special, in my view. After the meal we went straight back to hotel via metro and slept.

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Barcelona Day 2: Montjuïc National Palace, Joan Miro Foundation, Picasso Museum, Dinner at Peix Vela

Surprisingly, I woke up quite early today at around 6am and had a difficulty going back to sleep, which perhaps is driven by the excitement of exploring a new city overcoming my physical tiredness. I put on my shorts and shoes, and grab my camera on the way out silently as my girlfriend was still very deep in her sleep.

There is little question on which direction I’m heading – east to the beach – to survey for my drone flight planned the next morning. I walked through Via Laietana street and passed La Cara de Barcelona sculpture before turning right and had a slow morning walk alongside the Ronda Litoral as the sun started to rise from the left side of my body.

Once the sun rose high enough and the buildings were lit in its golden color, I headed back towards my hotel in search of a good breakfast spot while waiting for my girlfriend to wake up. Luckily, across my hotel (Suizo Hotel Barcelona), there is a large café named Cappukccino that opens at 7am. I tried to wait in front of the counter to have my order taken, only to be told to take a seat and wait for the waitress to come to my table. Unlike in North American café, where we have to stand and buy our meal first and then find a seat, in Spain customers are treated like a King. I could really enjoy this, I thought.

Interior of Cappukccino, Barcelona

The café is situated on the corner of a busy street and has large glass doors that make it easy to watch the street scene. While eating my croissant and café con leche, I read half edition of my weekly The Economist magazine and had an hour video call with my parents.

My Morning Breakfast at Cappukccino, Barcelona

We divided Barcelona into several different district to visit in our plan and today our goal is to explore the Montjuïc mountain and the beach. We took a metro from the station in front of our hotel, Jaume I, to Espanya, and then we walked further uphill to Montjuïc National Palace, which also houses Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.

There is a large fountain on the downhill and the right side of it is Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, a German Pavilion designed for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona. The fee for visiting the site is €8, which I think is quite expensive for such a small exposition. But there, I found a new quote that I like, “I don’t want to be interesting. I want to be good”.

Interior of Mies Van der Rohe Pavilion
On the way to Montjuïc National Palace

There are several escalators to go uphill from the fountain level, and we later learned that car access to the top is also available. Since I’m not particularly interested in going inside the art museum, I waited on a long bench on the porch of the National Palace while enjoying a live music and the cityscape. Alongside the local musician with his guitar, there were also 3-4 African immigrants selling their wares on top of a large white clothe. During the hour or so I was sitting there, I watched three times the game of cat-and-mouse being played between them and the police patrolling the area. Whenever a police car is near, the farthest scout would let others know so that they could wrap up their goods and leave the premise, only to be back few minutes after. A hardworking bunch, I thought to myself.

The Sideview of Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
Barcelona Cityscape Taken from MNAC

It took about 15 minutes from the National Palace to our next destination, Joan Miro Foundation, where we spent a good one and a half hour observing paintings and sculpture of the celebrated artist. Perhaps because it was Sunday, there were some crowds in the museum, many of the locals.

Joan Miro Foundation, Barcelona
Barcelona Cityscape from Joan Miro Foundation

To go back to the city we took the metro from a station located next to the mountain’s gondola station. It was 3pm when we were back in the city center (Liceu metro station) that I had a painful sensation on my lower right abdomen that is probably due to the combination of long walk, the heat, and irregular eating time, so we looked for a restaurant nearby and had a quick pasta lunch before heading back to the hotel.

Barcelona in the Summertime

My condition improved quickly following the meal that by the time we were in the hotel room I was completely alright, hence our decision to move ahead with our schedule to the Picasso museum. The museum is in one of the small alleys nearby Jaume I metro station. The medieval mansions house extensive collection of Spanish cubist’s works & masterpieces, taking us slightly over one hour to tour the complex.

Picasso Museum

The air of Barcelona in the Summer was humid, and it is almost impossible to not sweat walking around the city. However, the small alleys across the city means it is easy to find shaded area on the walkaway, unless you are walking alongside the beach. Our dinner, booked before our trip, was at Peix Vela, a fancy restaurant under the management of W Hotel located at the very end of the strip.

Barceloneta Beach

The beach in Barcelona is full of crowds and the pedestrian road nearby was packed by youngsters skateboarding and rollerblading in both directions. It is not exactly the type of beach where one could read and enjoy a cold drink in peace, given the noise level. Nevertheless, the beach area offers its own vibrant sports and other community activities.

Seafood Paella at Peix Vela

Our meal at a Peix Vela was a decent one. We opened a bottle of white wine to pair with the seafood paella – my new favorite food – and had a slow meal while waiting for the sunset. We took a walk after the meal and headed back to the hotel, knowing that we want to catch the sunrise in the morning.

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Barcelona Day 1: Departure from Montreal, Palau de la Musica, Sagrada Familia

The Covid-19 pandemic has put a stop to global travel for over two years, locking hundreds of millions soul in their own country. And that includes my girlfriend and I, who are living in Montreal and spent our 2021 Summer trip traveling locally to Gaspe Peninsula, the most eastern region of Quebec. For this Summer we both agree that the risk of catching covid is rather low, and hence our plan to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain and Portugal.

Tram in Lisbon, Portugal

We started booking our hotels and tickets three months in advance of our trip, and luckily the prices were lower compared to where they are today. Our budget for the whole trip (12 days) is CAD$4000 per person, excluding shopping, and we mostly stayed at 3-star hotels located in the city-center, opting instead to spend more on foods. Now that the trip is over and I am cherishing the places we went to and the food we ate, I conclude that it was exactly the kind of holiday we need. But first, about that hiccup in the airport…

Simply put, we almost missed our flights due to the extremely long baggage check-in queue for AirTransat in the Montreal Airport. Arriving three hours early does not help much, as there was about 30 people ahead of us in the line just 45 minutes before our 10pm flight supposed to depart. Finally, the staff started to prioritize passengers departing for Barcelona, and we were told to wait directly behind the counter. Due to the lack of experience of the mostly new employees, it took over 15 minutes for our tickets to be issued and our baggage checked-in, compared to the normal five. After getting our tickets, we were literally running to the gate, only to found that the flight was delayed by one hour to wait for the other passengers that were still behind. Not really a good way to start a vacation, but the story gets better from there.

The flight from Montreal to Barcelona took 7 hours and we spent a good chunk of it sleeping, as we know that we will have to start to hitting the road in the morning when we landed. We got our luggage pretty quickly once we landed in Barcelona and showed our Spain Travel Health (SPTH) – an equivalent to our Canadian proof of vaccination – QR code that we filled online before our departure to the staff on our way out of Barcelona’s airport. Transport from the airport was not an issue as there was plenty of taxi waiting outside the terminal. We took one to our hotel (Suizo Hotel Barcelona) for a fixed price of €39.

The Grill Restaurant in Barcelona

First thing our agenda is to find a decent restaurant – there are plenty – for our lunch. We settled for a seafood and steak restaurant called Grill that is located within 5 minutes walk from our hotel. My girlfriend chose the grilled octopus served with mashed potatoes while I had a slow-cooked cow rib. Both meal were equally tasty and well recommended.

Barcelona is a beautiful city. It is bustling, but not overcrowded. It got the best of both mountain and beach. The old buildings, cathedrals, and architectures are refreshing compared to what we see daily in North America. The weather is warm and the temperature peaks at around 4pm, and the late sunset time time means we have a long daylight to explore the city.

Palau de Musica Catalana (second building on the left)

Wi-fi is widely available in hotels, cafes and restaurants, but considering the relatively inexpensive cost of data in Europe, we decided to buy a local sim card (Orange). For only €20 we got a 65Gb quota connection within Spain, five of which could be used in other European countries. For your reference, in Canada a 6Gb package costs over CAD$40 per month. Other than for reading our work emails and browsing, we use Google Maps heavily to direct us between places.

The first site we passed after lunch was Palau de la Música Catalana, a concert hall built in 1905 that was declared as UNESCO World Heritage in 1997. The building is located on a small alley near the city center, and during the daylight the sun has almost always shine only on part of the building wall.

Our second destination is one of the most popular architectural and tourist landmark in the city, the famous Sagrada Familia – a large unfinished minor basilica that currently is also the largest unfinished Roman Catholic church. We walked all the way from the eastern part of Barcelona to the center of it, which is a mistake in hindsight. It took about an hour and drained so much of our energy that we stopped at a small café in front of the bullring stadium midway to take a break and drank cold juice. Luckily, we did not have to queue for tickets, as we have bought the ticket online months in advance to also book the excursion to go to the top of one of the towers.

The Interior of Sagrada Familia

The architecture and interior of the basilica, designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, do not disappoint. The interior of the church could probably accommodate over a thousand people, and the air inside is very cool despite all the crowds, thanks to the very tall ceiling and large doors on both side of the building. When we were inside at around 4-5pm, the lights were simply beautiful.

Lights Passing Through the the Church’s Window

To go to the top of the towers – we picked the nativity side – no large bags are allowed due to the very tight space on the staircase on the way down. There is a locker just before the service elevator on the right, back corner of the church, and the elevator took us directly to the top of the tower. From there, we enjoyed the cityscape of Barcelona.

Other than the church itself, in the basement level there is also an exhibition related to the history and details of the church that is worth visiting, not to mention the souvenir shop located just before the exit.

Barcelona Cityscape from Nativity Side of Sagrada Familia
Staircases in the Tower of Sagrada Familia

After walking some 20.000 steps for the day our legs were tired and refused to walk further, but we were still excited to explore the new city. Since we have four more full days to explore the city, we decided to buy a 96-hour metro pass for €31 on our way back to the hotel, which turned out to be a good investment and saved us lots of time and money going from one corner of the city to another in the coming days.

Liceu Metro Station, Barcelona

Our dinner for the night was already booked by my girlfriend a month before the trip at a popular place called Bar Brutal. The interior of the bar was rather dark and suitable for having a drink. The food is also decent but comes in a very small portion, which makes it quite pricey. We were still hungry after finishing our appetizer and two main meals, but preferred to look for a heavier meal instead. We went to a Japanese noodle restaurant called Udon Born across the street to fulfill our stomach afterwards.

Bar Brutal, Barcelona

There were few minimarkets in the area, and we had previously noticed that our hotel didn’t provide any bottled water in the room, hence we bought half dozens of water bottle before heading back to the hotel. Despite the noise on the street below (it was Saturday night), we slept the night undisturbed.

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