Montserrat

When in doubt, travel!


Two moms and a bottle of wine is what we said we’d name our Barcelona guidebook. While accurate, it was more of a nod to the insanely affordable, yet delicious wine, as well as the comical circumstances only one can find themselves in while traveling in a foreign country.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Back in February of this year, I hit a wall. I desperately needed something to look forward to, other than the 1st and 3rd weekends of the month without my kids.

That sounds horrible, I know. As a single mom with a bent towards introversion, peace and quiet, uninterrupted time, not feeling like a nag or having to prepare yet another meal or feeling like I was working 24/7, is exactly what I needed.

It had also been far too long since I traveled outside of the United States. My travel itch was furiously scratching.

One night, when I should have been asleep already, I started searching for flights to Europe. I’d go anywhere to escape, but Europe felt right! When I found a direct flight to Barcelona on Norwegian under $400, I was sold.

I was set to go alone, as I had plenty of times before (and quite enjoy it), but I threw it out a dear friend who I’ve known since 6th grade. And what do you know, she was game.

The few short months leading up to the trip were nothing less of one curve ball after another: foolishly playing on the playground resulting in 10 stitches; late nights working a part-time job in addition to side hustles; very little downtime on the weekends and being on the road a lot; rough parenting patches; and lastly, my Uncle having his final stroke mere days before we were scheduled to go. With multiple hospital visits to see him leading up to the flight, I was uncertain if I’d even be able to leave town.

Long story short, and sadly, as I was taking off in Oakland, he passed away.

But let’s focus on the fun things, feet on the ground in Spain!

We packed light, mainly because we opted to not pay an additional price to check luggage. Though I might get some opposition, I loved the challenge of meeting a weight limit and packing minimally.

To meet the requirement, I utilized the following and even had 2 pounds to spare:

1.    A lightweight backpacking backpack to hold -

  • Minimal clothing and toiletries – 5 shirts, 3 pairs of pants, a skirt, a hoodie and jean jacket, 2 pairs of shoes, makeup and cleansers, toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, and done.

  • Workout band

2.    Carry-on bag 9a smaller backpack) –

  • 2 books

  • Journal + pens

  • Snacks: chomps, epic bars, Organifi green and gold juice

  • Travel scarf to double as purse when I didn’t want to carry my smaller backpack; minimalist wallet

  • Phone + headphones

  • Beautycounter makeup wipes to feel a little fresh and clean on the plane

  • Neck pillow in hopes of sleep

packing.jpg

 

HOTEL: Being the start of the busy season, I missed out on AirBnB apartments. I was a bit disappointed at first but when I found the fun boutique hotel chain Praktik (I’d compare it to a Kimpton here in the states), I was stoked. We stayed at the Praktik Vinoteca, but after visiting two other centrally located Praktik hotels, your stay would be well enjoyed at any of them.

Though the metro is easy and cheap to get to/from the airport into Barcelona, Praktik arranged a taxi to pick us up at the airport. After a red-eye, it was the best thing we could have done for ourselves. I highly recommend the splurge and ease.

. . . . . .

From here I’ll break it down by our daily activities, what we loved, and what we would have done differently:

DAY 1 –

arrive! Once we dropped off our suitcases at the hotel and enjoyed a complimentary glass of rose on our mini balcony, we put on our walking shoes and hit the Ramblas, walking nearly 2 miles down to the water to soak in the sights and sounds, hitting up the La Boqueria for a meat “bouquet” snack along the way. Realizing we hadn’t eaten barely anything since before boarding our flight, we booked it to Ciudad Condal, a highly recommended restaurant by many family and friends.

You’d think two college educated women with two maps could find the dang place, yet we walked by it three or four times before succumbing to hunger at 9pm and entering the restaurant called “Ciutat Comtal.” For a good 15 minutes I was convinced that it had to be the place because the letters were close enough, but you get two perfectionists together and you want to be accurate.

Needless to say, we put our name down and hung out in the bar, hoping someone would leave soon. Sure enough, a seat opened up and we pounced on it. Starving at this point, we ordered everything that sounded and looked delicious around us. IT.DID.NOT.DISAPPOINT.

I highly recommend the following dishes:

  • Solomillos (little filet mignon tapas)

  • Pimientos de Padron (sautéed shishito peppers)

  • Baked artichoke hearts

  • Asparagus and mushrooms

  • Honey Aioli Cod

  • Egg and chorizo over fries

 

DAY 2 –

The longest day ever…. With the idea that we would get our bearings and make it a Gaudi day, we jumped on the on/off bus. We grabbed the blue line to hit up Sagrada Familia on the way. Upon our arrival, we discovered that you CANNOT purchase tickets there, only online. Despite the free wifi around the cathedral, we also found out that tickets were sold out for the next couple of days.

TIP: FOR ANY ATTRACTION YOU WISH TO VISIT, BUY YOUR TICKETS ONLINE.

Many friends told us to buy tickets online but never why – it’s because they don’t sell them there on-site, in most cases. Save time and stress by creating your schedule before you get on the plane.

A little bummed, we jumped back on the bus to discover Park Guell.

Let me tell you, the anticipation of traversing this park has been on my heart for 18 YEARS since I studied architecture at University of Washington. I was so excited.

Yet I wasn’t so excited when the bus dropped us off in a residential neighborhood without clear directions. We followed the masses and got there but it was certainly touch and go and some points.

TIP: BRING YOUR FAVORITE GUIDEBOOK!

This was the first time I traveled without a guidebook nor doing as much research as I would have liked. I skipped the guidebook because of the weight limit and the working mom life kept me from planning more. All in all we survived just fine, but there were moments I was a little bummed I didn’t have them.

Back to the Park…

It was a lovely, sunny day. We meandered, got annoyed at the vendors, toured Gaudi’s house for 5euros (so interesting), and even sat on a bench to read while listening to live music. So dreamy! If reading in the sunshine wasn’t making me sleepy, I could have sat there all day.

We explored some more only to realize we needed a ticket into the section I REALLY wanted to see. And again, no tickets were being sold there and it was sold out. Boo!

So we decided to head back to the bus.

Mistake #1, we didn’t grab a route map that were available on the bus; mistake #2, we opted to find the stop after the one we got off on, which turned out to be NOWHERE near where we were. We figured we’d keep walking until we found it. We did, but it was back where we got on, over 2 miles away!

Fatigued and hungry, we grabbed some lunch, got back on the blue line and began our journey again, taking a few naps while basking in the sun on the second level of the bus. I might have urged us to get off at a few different stops along the way, especially at Montjuic, but I let my companion sleep. We were exhausted! Jet lag and walking miles upon miles is no joke!

Needing a pick-me-up, we jump off near the waterfront for a snack at Cecconi’s. I can’t vouch for the delicious food that passed us by, but the pistachio gelato, tiramisu, champagne and cappuccinos went down all too smoothly. My architecture heart also loved the space. It was the perfect pitstop before more exploring.

We jumped back on the bus and went back to Casa Batllo. We lucked out and were able to purchase tickets and join a tour right then and there. Go team! The 35euro price tag seemed a bit steep, but it was so worth it. Gaudi’s work is impeccable and the guided tour via a personal iphone/headset told the history and inspiration of the space, and delighted all of senses.

Casa Battlo.jpg

After jumping back on the red line for an hour to see other parts of the town, we realized it close to 10pm and hungry.

We walked to a local restaurant a block from our hotel, L’Olive. Shocking, the kalamata olives tapa may have been the best I’ve ever had (I may need to go back to Greece to confirm!), the simple, grilled veggies were perfection and the paella never tasted as good! This Michelin rated restaurant should be added to your list.

DAY 3 –

With a number of people telling me not to miss Montserrrat, we read a few posts about how to get there and went to the Plaça Espanya train station.

Like everything we read, it was a bit confusing. Basically, keep following the signs to the R5 line to Aeri de Montserrat; be sure to buy the combined ticket for the train and cable car at Plaça Espanya.

If confused, there are people to help you with any questions. I promise you won’t be the only one going to Montserrat.

By train, the journey takes about one and a half hours. From the Aeri de Montserrat station, take the cable car to the top. It’s very obvious at this point what to do!

Unlike what we had experienced in the city, Montserrat was the complete opposite. For the hiker, you’ll want to wear your hiking shoes and be prepared to explore. We meandered for a bit after a surprisingly tasty lunch in the cafeteria, and finally making our way to the Benedictine monastery and basilica. Located inside the basilica is a statue of the Virgin of Montserrat, one of the few black madonnas of Europe. The trams to the other parts of the mountain were closed, but I suspect the views and trails are impeccable.

For dinner we hit up Teleferic. Coincidentally there is a Teleferic in Walnut Creek, my current hometown, so we had to stop by! I have to say, the Sangria may have been my favorite.

The only way up is on that teeny tiny, yellow teleferic.

The only way up is on that teeny tiny, yellow teleferic.

DAY 4 –

Woke up to rain. It’s a sad day when you want to explore but it’s wet and dreary out. We certainly didn’t pack for rain or cold weather, so we were quite miserable, but we made the most of it. After striking out at a restaurant we thought we’d try for lunch, we ended up at Black Remedy, where we noshed on food and drinks, and read some. It wasn’t incredibly cozy, so we moved on. I tell ya, I never used to mind the rain, but after living in Seattle for 16 years, I’ll take all the sunshine I can get. It definitely affects your mood. Also, being cold is simply not my favorite at all!

We walked through the Gotic quarter, through another market to see the weirdest sight: the tallest Asian couple I’ve ever seen (both were well over 6’ tall) dressed up as if it was a warm Spring day, getting their engagement photos taken. Rather than photos though, they were being followed by a cameraman. They also looked incredibly apathetic.

If you ever come across a music video with a forlorn couple walking through a Spanish market surrounded by dead fish and chorizo, with two American girls huddled together for warmth, you better believe that was us!

But I digress….

Since we were near the Picasso Museum, we meandered in the drizzly weather that way, only to find it jam packed, with NO tickets sold on site, as well as no WIFI to buy them online.

I imagine they lose a ton of money by the way this system is set up, but I guess they don’t care.

Striking out again, we meandered the alleys to find a drink! Wine or hot tea would suffice.

A couple of cafes later, we decided to head back to the hotel to warm up.

Dinner was at Ciudad Condal again to make sure it really was as good as it was the first night in our starvation stupor. It most certainly was!

DAY 5 –

stiges.jpg

The sun was out and we had plans to jump on the train again and head to Stiges, a beach town about an hour down the coast. We felt relatively comfortable by now riding the metro but this trip also involved a train. By all of the online searches we reviewed, we knew we were going to take the C2 train from Estació de França on to Sitges. But it wasn’t that simple and to be honest I couldn’t tell you the exact way to get there. We followed a suggestion from a website to look for Vilanova i la Geltru, but this was a stop after Stiges.

Apparently, we got on an express train which didn’t stop at Stiges and therefore we had to play the “Stupid American Girl” card and tell multiple train agents that yes, we had paid our fare, we went an extra stop, let us on the damn train!

It all worked out but there HAS to be a better, more simple way to get there!

All in all, Stiges was a quaint beach town where we meandered through the town and the along the beach, stumbled upon a honky tonk talent show (!), negotiated a blanket to be able to read comfortably on the sand, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch.

If you don’t care about beaches or shopping, this day trip may not be wrth it for you. However, Stiges is home to Don Bacardi, so that may be worth checking out if you like Rum.

We returned in time to make our Sagrada Familia tour at 7:15pm, only to realize I didn’t actually have the proper documentation, which I thought I had!

TIP: be sure to have the accurate paperwork downloaded on your phone or printed out

It all worked out though as I had enough information for the security guards to print out proper tickets for us.

We joined the masses and finally got into.

YOU GUYS, I wasn’t prepared for the incredible architecture inside the cathedral. The lighting was impeccable, breathtaking. I can’t even begin to articulate the precision and beauty, the attention to detail. You just have to see it for yourself. Gaudi was a genius. Period.

sagrada2.jpg

I’ve been to a lot of incredible places around the world and I have to say this may top all of the man-made structures I’ve seen, even in my beloved Roma.

We would have stayed later but it turns out they close at 8!

Despite our mega big, late lunch, we figured we’d try a new restaurant and just get drinks and dessert. Jumping on the metro, we went to Silvestre.

It was 9pm but we were the first ones in the joint. It was a bit odd, but we embraced it as much as we could, especially since this was the first place on our trip where they didn’t speak much English.

Embrace it we did. After reviewing the menu, we decided we had to order more than dessert and wine.

We devoured:

  • Duck crepes (Crepe con pato)

  • Scallops with bacon and asparagus

  • Shrimp

  • Cod Croquette

  • Apple tart

  • Vino

This may have been the best meal in my life!

And shockingly, as most meals we enjoyed, it was roughly $60 total. There was no way in hell we’d enjoy such delicious food, including wine and dessert for $60 in California. Perhaps I’m jaded because California, the Bay Area in particular, is so ridiculously expensive, but this seemed outrageously affordable. Too good to be true, in fact!

DAY 6 –

We took one of our last days, very slow. We had lunch at Honest Greens, a beautiful paleo restaurant which spoke volumes to the awareness and demand of healthy, fast food. We meandered the Ramblas again, and grabbed a gelato. We rested and read in our hotel’s courtyard until our 5:30 reservation back at Park Guell. This time we took the metro to the Park, which was another journey to note!

We took the green line (L3) to Vallcarca, where we heard of some magical escalators up the hill. Yes, there were escalators, but half of them weren’t working and you still have to walk  up a significant hill. Bring water!

bench.jpg

All of that being said, I was thrilled to be back in the park. Like I mentioned above, seeing, touching and sitting in the famous Trencadis Serpentine Mosaic Tile Bench has been a dream nearly 20 years in the making. Minus the selfie taking crowds, it was perfect. Like the park’s mosaic kimodo dragon below on the steps, we basked in the late afternoon sunlight, reading our books. Pure bliss.

I never wanted this moment to end, but as the sun went down it got chilly and we got hungry. We also knew it may take a while to get down the hill again!

We were Gracia quarter pros by now and knew the metro well enough to navigate our way back to the Gotic quarter where we found our way to dinner at Sensi. Another all-star dinner!

We devoured:

  • Tuna tartare

  • A fancy green salad

  • Stuffed tomatoes with beef and lamb

  • Vegetarian lasagna

On the eve of my birthday, we thought it was only appropriate to get dessert. All attempts failed as it was a Sunday night and the restaurants we had earmarked for a special treat were closed. On our way back, we stumbled by a chocolate shop and grabbed three rather large truffles to share.

Back at our hotel, we toasted the evening with a bottle of cava and our chocolates as I rang in my 38th birthday.

DAY 7 -

I’m always a little melancholy the last day of trip when the hours seem to move at rapid pace signifying the return to reality. I never feel like I have enough time to soak in the history, the people, the entire experience of traveling.

To make matters worse (perhaps that’s not right) – to add another layer to all of the emotions on our last day - it was my birthday.

Sure, I booked the flight back knowing it was going to be my birthday, but more than anything I wish I could have gifted myself one more day.

After breakfast I quickly wound around the Eixample to get one more breath of the Catalonian culture. Coffee cups clanked against table tops as people started their day, Spanish words rolled out of local’s mouths on the street corners, and I simply tried to absorb it all, wishing time would stop.

Could I take a seat at one of tables and blend in?

I didn’t want to go back to long days behind a computer or frustrating commutes on a packed train into a dirty and lifeless city (compared to this one). I felt alive amidst the history and culture; going back to laundry piles and responsibility seemed cumbersome.

That’s what traveling does though. It gives you perspective and a renewed sense of self as it adds another dimension to your story. It allows you to take a step back, a long breath, and re-calibrate

It’s empowering.

My love for travel and architecture blossomed at the same time, around the age of 10. Now nearly 30 years later, I’m still in awe of the entire experience every time I go somewhere new.

I have to say, I already knew I was going to love Gaudi’s work, but I fell in love with the rooftops of Barcelona.

Man, I never want to stop exploring our amazing world.

I look forward to the day I can do with my daughters, until then I get to recap the adventures and inspire them to see the world.

P.S. I may have had the longest birthday ever. We chased the sun from waking up in Barcelona to finally going to sleep in California on the same day! It’s one for the books!

Wine, chocolate and a good book are always in style!

Wine, chocolate and a good book are always in style!