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So, You Want to Visit Barcelona?


 SO, YOU WANT TO VISIT BARCELONA?

by Lu Sobredo

A very pleasant Barcelona experience awaited me in 2021.

Sagrada Familia Cathedral 2021

It finally happened! I’m in Barcelona. My 5th time in 11 years. My husband has been coming here with family or by himself for research and to attend conferences many more times, I had lost count. This Fall 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much around. Many of the borders in various parts of Europe opened to Americans. And I am simply thrilled to be out of my American pandemic cocoon. 

I remain practical and obsess over health protocols because of my autoimmune illness. Fortunately, mask-wearing is taken very seriously in Spain or one risks getting arrested and fined or worse. The fines could be quite steep. Taxi- drivers not wearing a mask can be fined €100. Anyone inside a public place not wearing a mask could have the same fate. The Spanish Government has indeed taken a strict stance on mask wearing and other health practices. Vaccination rate is at 80% and without national mandate. Imagine that. Let that sink in!

My husband James and I do our best to relax and not to race through one tourist spot after another. Perhaps, I can say that these days as we’ve learned to be more discerning with our tour activities having had our fill of tourist attractions during the multiple visits to Barcelona over the years. 

These days, I am happy to tag along with my husband on his trips to Europe. I am able to relax while I establish a routine when in Spain as he occupies himself with his scholarly work—interviews, research, photo-documentation, etc.—mostly for his long-term documentary project as scholar or for magazine articles he was asked to write as a freelance journalist, a second act of sorts after his retirement from his fulltime career as university professor and department chair in a U.S. university. 

Lucky for us, our family has had the uncommon Spanish experience when playing tourists. We don’t subscribe to tour groups when traveling from the U.S. I’m not even sure if tour groups are even back because of the pandemic. 

My husband and I prefer designing our own tour with the help of some locals-in-the-know. Our close friends whom we consider  family in Spain are some of the most caring people in our lives. They connect us with essential contacts. Our lives have been blessed and enriched by them and these contacts. 

We trust our friends to steer us towards the most amazing places to stay, people to meet and landmarks to see. Some of the places and activities appeal to us so much we linger a little longer. This would often involve a glass of wine for my husband and a cup of coffee or a glass of Fanta for me. At times we extend our stay for days on end to experience the local daily life. 


WHERE TO STAY IN BARCELONA 

We flew from Madrid to Barcelona and took a taxi to our hotel. If I weren't physically challenged, we would have opted to take the train. The Sunday we arrived, the guardia civil aka the police, had blocked certain neighborhoods in Las Ramblas. But with a daring taxi driver we drove through an alternative maze of narrow streets and he brought us as close to our hotel as he could.

Highly recommended by our friends was CASA CAMPER. It definitely lived up to its reputation. The place is clean, modern and spacious. It’s crowning glory in my eyes has to do with their breakfast buffet with eggs and pancakes made to order. Generous offerings of food and drinks are available for 24 hours near the kitchen right off the lobby. They are hard to resist. On the shelves behind glass doors are individual servings of a variety of sandwiches, salads and desserts which are refreshed throughout the day to suit the time of day, be it lunch, afternoon merienda, dinner or late-night snack. 

At lunch time I noticed they offered hot or cold soup. You just have to ask. Find a variety of drinks, bottled water, coffee, packaged nuts, popcorn, candies and all kinds of granola-like bars. All these are complimentary as part of your hotel cost. They offer alcohol drinks on an honor system which means, when you consume wine or beer, you must write down your name and room number so the cost could be added to room charges.

Another source of pride for the hotel is their staff who are polite, helpful and interacted with guests at full attention and wearing a smile. 

We have stayed in hotels at various neighborhoods in Barcelona in the past and felt comfortable except in the summer 2018 where I lost my phone to a pickpocket while sitting at the lobby of the small hotel adjacent to the world-famous Sagrada Familia Cathedral. Despite hotel security measures, closing down traffic of a nearby street and limiting door entry to guests with a keycard only, the stereotypical pickpocket followed a guest in and stirred up a commotion inside the lobby. A rowdy distraction that worked. The experience filled me with angst as a result and I became conflicted about Barcelona. This October 2021, my travel to Barcelona has been a healing experience and I’ve made peace with the unfortunate incident of 2018. Find an article I previously wrote via this link: The Day I was Robbed in Barcelona.

Top Hotel Recommendation

CASA CAMPER is the my top choice on this trip. A Spanish- family owned 4-star hotel, it is equipped with a double door entry. First door opens automatically for new guests. The second door is secure and only front desk staff could open for new guests with reservations. Established guests can enter through the second door with their own keys. 

The hotel is situated in a peaceful corner even though it’s about 15 minutes from the center of the Raval District, considered the most ethnically diverse neighborhood near the south end of Las Ramblas. It is also known to be where the pickpockets tend to live among other immigrants. Most pickpockets are rumored not to be of Spanish but of other European descent. And I’ll leave it at that. 

The Raval District was our choice this time offering convenience for my husband’s research on Filipino global migration. The area is noted for reasonably affordable prices and has a variety of night life.

THE COTTON HOUSE, a 5-star boutique luxury hotel affiliated with the Marriott. We were invited by the Office of Tourism in Barcelona to receive a tour. I like the fact that the rooftop has a lap pool, perfect for my aqua exercise, and theres a patio where one can hang out for drinks or for the view. From their rooftop you can see the unique steeples of the famed Sagrada Familia Cathedral. The Plaza Catalunya is a 5-minute walk. The hotel has a full-service restaurant with seating indoors and the lovely terrace outdoors on the 6th floor. A great bargain is their three-course lunch at €28 per person. You don’t have to be staying there to make a reservation to eat.

THE SILKEN, a 4-star hotel located two blocks from the CASA CAMPER, is a nice hotel. We did not stay in this property this time, but we have experienced the Silken in San Sebastian in Northern Spain the summer of 2018. The generous spread at their buffet breakfast was extra cost. The hotel usually has a nice restaurant. It’s perfect when one doesn’t feel like going out for a nice meal. If this hotel does not have a full-service restaurant, don’t despair. Right next door are tapas bars. Along the stretch of this small street are several little places to eat with outdoor seating.




Casa Camper Hotel in Raval District




Breakfast Buffet at Casa Camper







Snack Food Items in individual containers at Casa Camper




Buffet Breakfast at the Cotton House 






Dining Area at the Cotton House






Rooftop patio opposite a lap pool at the Cotton House




In the middle is a view of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral from the rooftop of the Cotton House




King size bed with a terrace at the Cotton House



WHERE TO EAT

If you want to venture for food, there seems to be a food establishment in most streets. But we try to be selective. Our hotel staff at Casa Camper had the uncanny ability to recommend what’s just right. The cost could vary from an average of €25 to €50 for two (tapas or small family style meals) to €200 (Michelin Star or Michelin Guide recommended). We tried the whole spectrum of choices while in Barcelona. The list is not in any particular order of our favorites.

FIL – MANILA met our expectation for Filipino food taste while happily interacting with Filipinos working/living in Barcelona. It worked out well for the professor now journalist husband to meet country mates for his project on global migration of Filipinos. I, on the other hand, was simply elated to get to know some young people who risked all leaving the Philippines to venture to an unknown future in Spain. They said, they are happy where they settled.

BAR CENTRAL RAVAL in Barcelona was the tapas place we had dinner on our first night in Barcelona in 2021. It was recommended by Miriam at the Reception Desk of Casa Camper Hotel. It has a casual ambience, offered privacy and social distancing. The candlelight and a few lights in the garden and those strung overhead gave a romantic atmosphere to the place. However, those in our age group needed our telephone light enhanced to read the menu on our phone screens. The selection was a perfect mix of small tapas and plates to share and more than enough for two. Our servers, one from Columbia, another from Argentina and one from Barcelona chatted with us in English and Spanish.

BAR LOBO is another tapas bar, two blocks away, less than a five-minute walk from our hotel. All other places we wanted to go were fully booked and Bar Lobo has outdoor spaces, the food was touted to be quite good and there was no need for a reservation. You just have to show up early in the evening to get seated. The wait staff was thoughtful in warning my husband to put away his big camera as it could potentially be tempting to the wrong people. But the food absolutely filled the craving for what we needed one night, not wanting a sandwich offered by our hotel, but also too tired to fully enjoy a unique Michelin Star experience.

DOS PEBROTS was the pièce de résistance on our last night in Barcelona when I decided to surprise my husband. I happily arranged to treat him to dinner at a Michelin Guide recommended restaurant conveniently located a few steps from our hotel. A friendly young staff at the front desk of our hotel, Pablo, enthusiastically called for an 8 o’clock dinner reservation for two. Table for walk-ins would not likely be available as I saw the staff kindly turning away couples wanting a table the night we were there. I strongly suggest making a reservation a day or two ahead.

The whole experience did not disappoint. Every dish was a surprise to the tongue. 

We had a choice of ordering ala carte or from a fixed menu. Be prepared to pay €60 to €75 per person. Every morsel awakened our palates. The elegant and with old-world Mediterranean taste at Dos Prebots, the meal definitely suited our wish to celebrate a joyful time in Barcelona.

DOS PALILLOS, a Spanish Japanese fusion sea food restaurant, a Michelin Guide recommended establishment could run you around €220 euros per person. And you better reserve at least 2 to 3 days ahead. We couldn’t get a reservation at all for the same night.  It is right next door to CASA CAMPER.

As it turned out these two restaurants that I listed above are the creation of Albert Raurich, former head chef at Ferran Adria’s world famous El Bulli which closed by 2007. El Bulli is reportedly now a culinary institute. The Dos Palillos earned a Michelin Star at its creation.

 Nightlife in the Raval District 

Reading the Menu at Bar Central Raval

Fil-Manila




Ribs and salad at Bar Lobo








Drizzling honey on figs at Dos Pebrots









Figs Doughnut with Fennel Honey




WHAT LANDMARKS TO VISIT

This 2021 visit in Barcelona was less for touring the world-famous places and more for getting to know a neighborhood. However, if you are visiting for the first or second time, a must-see in your itinerary could include but not limited to the list below. 

Okay, I am partial to the work of the famed architect Antoni Gaudi (top three on my list). I won’t add any description to the list leaving that up to the individual guest or tourist to discover for themselves. Remember, where lots of people gather, so do pickpockets. So, beware! I carry a SafePack shoulder bag for my peace of mind.

1. Basilica de Sagrada Familia (Sagrada Familia Cathedral)

2. Park Guell

3. Casa Mila

4. Plaza Catalunya

5. Las Ramblas

6.    La Barceloneta Beach 

7. La Bouqueria Market 

8. Barcelona Cathedral

9. Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art




Inside the Sagrada Familia Cathedral












Casa Mila 





Barcelona Cathedral at Night



Las Ramblas







Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art







ACCESSIBILITY

A representative from Barcelona Tourism and International Communication and  International Press emphasized the repositioning of Barcelona as a premium international tourist destination as well as a premium destination for a unique shopping experience, especially after the onset of the pandemic. Being a traveler with a disability, expect me to say more on the subject at another time.

From all indications, much effort had been done to make travel in Barcelona as accessible as much as possible for the physically challenged, as well as others with individual needs because of a medical condition. Find more information on accessibility via this link, Access to the Disabled.

Thank you to our friends in Spain who contribute to helping make our travel convenient, enjoyable and uniquely memorable. 

More travel articles are in progress including hints on a uniquely  personal shopping experience. Watch for it.

With the pandemic still a threat, my husband and I and our friends take precaution and limit our exposure while still taking time to savor great food, relish the scenery, laugh at ourselves, share stories about our day or the strangers we meet. But travel, we do.

Happy travels in Barcelona, Spain! It is as good a time as any for creating memories!

~

Essay ©Lu Sobredo :: Photo ©Lu and James Sobredo

Note: Photos included with the essay give a small glimpse of Barcelona. Most of the photos were taken during the 2021 travel but some may have come from an earlier visit. More photos are available in several postings at www.facebook.Lutravelsabroad.com

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

DISCLAIMER: Any establishment or vendor mentioned in this essay is based on the personal experience of the author who does not receive benefit or compensation in return in any form. The intent is to help the readers create a unique travel experience for themselves. Action taken by the readers is left to their individual choice.








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