Barcelona: On Not Quite Falling in Love

Barcelona is a funny city, at least as far as I’m concerned: it’s a place I’ve tried to click with, twice now, but somehow never quite get there. Which is strange, because so many people I know adore Barcelona.

There is, I know, I know, much to love. The beautiful architecture, the tapas culture, the quiet little lanes of the Barri Gòtic and the grand boulevards of the Eixample, the views of the sea: these are all wonderful things. But, for whatever reason, I never quite fall in love with Barcelona.

That’s not to say there aren’t wonderful things in Barcelona. There are, of course! Many, in fact. The aforementioned Barri Gòtic, for example, has a certain magic about it (when you’re not in the overcrowded touristy bits). My flight landed in Spain at 6am, so I found myself through customs, checked into my hotel, and out exploring before the city was fully awake. There was something particularly magical about the sleepy Barri Gòtic in those quiet morning hours.

I ate at El Nacional twice, once solo and once with my sister after she arrived in town. In truth, the food there was good but not particularly great. What was more exciting, to me at least? The aesthetic. It’s a huge, beautiful space.

At Casa Batlló, a Gaudi creation, I found myself in awe of the exterior, which is a real stunner. The interior? Not so much. Oh, don’t get me wrong: the inside is beautiful too. But the crowds were fairly oppressive, which detracted from the magic quite a bit. I see now that my antipathy towards crowds is a running theme of this post but, alas, the heart feels how it feels.

While trolling for Barcelona restaurant recommendations, one spot I saw mentioned all over the internets was Brunch & Cake. Here, they put together some seriously colorful, whimsical plates, like the blueberry cheesecake “pancakes” my sister and I shared. The pancakes came topped with a pineapple and had the consistency of straight-up cake. They were super yummy (one of the best things I ate last year, in fact).

For dinner one night, my sister and I made our way to Pla Restaurant, a gem of a spot tucked away in the Barri Gòtic. Everything here was good, and we split it all: mussels (in a sublime broth), a tuna and avocado starter, a prawn and seaweed risotto (my highlight of the meal), the duck breast, and a mint chocolate chip mousse for dessert.

The Palau de la Música was super colorful: the outside, covered in vibrantly hued tiles; the inside, featuring a grand old concert hall. A seriously beautiful space.

My sister religiously followed the Eater guides to Barcelona during our trip, and they told us that the place for horchata in Barcelona was Orxateria i Torrons Sirvent (try spelling that on your own). On a pretty steamy Barcelona day, these were super refreshing.

Visiting Casa Milà, you can see why it’s one of Barcelona’s iconic spots. The rooftop is, quite simply, stunning. It was crowded and hot up there – everybody trying to get their pictures, you know – but I did not really mind it. That space is worth a measure of hassle. The view inside the courtyard, looking up, is breathtaking as well.

And what would a trip to Barcelona be without a stop at La Boqueria, the bustling, colorful market off Las Ramblas? My sister and I scoured the market before grabbing lunch and eating it in a courtyard, then went back into the market for dessert: macaron ice cream sandwiches. Who could resist those?!

Our final meal of the trip was at Martinez, a restaurant high above the water featuring great views and a great outdoor terrace. A friend had recommended it to me for the paella, which was quite nice, but I also just appreciated the ambiance in general here. It was a good place to end our time in the city.

And with that, I close the book on Barcelona, round two. Much as with round one, I left the city with mixed feelings. Even just looking back at my pictures, I recognize how beautiful the city often is. Still, I cannot say in all honesty it’s up there with my favorite cities. I wonder if I’ll ever crack the Barcelona enigma, or if it will remain just that: beautiful, but not quite what I’m looking for.

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