Am I here to talk about ham? YUP. Well, a little bit. If you’ve been to Barcelona, you know what I’m talking about. Their love of jamón ain’t no joke. Like, it’s kind of a big deal. A huge, salty, juicy deal.
Halfway through 2015 I flew all-the-way to Spain for my first ever visit. I’ve dreamed about visiting Spain since… well, not that long actually. All those years minoring in Spanish in college I was always more attracted to Latin America – plus, they never taught me the ‘vous’ verb conjugation form, HOW WOULD I SURVIVE? Years later, my friend Amanda and I fell in love with the movie Vicky, Christina, Barcelona, then I fell in love with Spain. The exotic Spanish guitar, the slow pace of life, the ambient beigeness mixed with the eccentric vibrance of Gaudí, and Ashley-sized pieces of food called tapas. “Ashley, Amanda, Barcelona” – commence!
My unfortunate work schedule allows me a mere ten days off per year. 10! T-E-N! One-zero. It’s so upsetting – I don’t even want to talk about it. However, I make it work and I think I’m doing a fairly bang-up job of it, thankyouverymuch. You’d be amazed what you can accomplish given such little time to explore such a big, big world.
Traveling time aside, I spent 4 full days of my June in Barcelona – here is that story…
4 DAYS IN BARCELONA : DAY ONE
THE ‘HOOD // EL RAVAL
Amanda and I chose to stay in Barcelona’s Raval neighborhood, the one the books advise against. We ain’t scared. With only 4 days in Barcelona, this is an optimal location, central to many places we needed to be and only a short cab ride to the rest, IF you know where you’re going. This once sketchy neighborhood (and former red-light district) has been brought back from the depths of real estate hell and is quickly becoming the new ‘it’ neighborhood. Umm, I’m from Memphis, Tennessee – your “dicey” neighborhood isn’t going to scare me off that easily Fodor’s. Remember that time I punched a guy in Milan? Yeah, watch yourself. As far as El Raval, there was only one night that required yielding a glass bottle as a weapon. We’ll get to that later…
Often seen as a rougher, sometimes not the safest, grungier, edgier neighborhood, the Raval won my heart since, again, being from Memphis, TN, I have a soft spot for such character and I love a good Cinderella story. Who doesn’t? Plus, there’s a massive cat statue smack in the middle so obviously this place is better than all the rest. Meow.
STAYING IN EL RAVAL // WHAT ROCKS
- Proximity to La Rambla, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta beach, the marina, chocolate croissants, I could go on…
- Cat statue, obvs
- Dining options out the wazoo
- Unique hotels
- Few tourists and people altogether
STAYING IN EL RAVAL // WHAT SUCKS
- The long, dark, sparsely populated alley you have to run through to get to La Rambla and beyond
- Not a great reputation – I didn’t witness anything specific but people kept warning us about our safety and that started to get weird.
- On Sunday night, things got weird…. I mean, really weird… stay tuned.
THE HOTEL // BARCELÓ RAVAL
I mean, choose your own hotel if you want, but I’d quickly recommend the Barceló Raval if a really far-out 4 days in Barcelona is what you seek. And I hope it is.
The Barceló Raval is basically a massive, 10-floor metal silo that does nothing to hide its circularity (or its freak flag for that matter). Like acid-trip color schemes, questionable art displays, 360° views, and Ikea (again, who doesn’t?)? This is your place. Just stop all your internet searches already. The staff at the Barceló Raval was some of the most helpful and friendliest I’ve ever met and they probably all like cats. I can just tell. They helped us with everything we needed during our stay: maps we couldn’t figure out anyway, flamenco show bookings, cabs, wine glasses from “the back” in the middle of the night…
The circular rooms at the Barceló Raval are fantastic. The push of a button closes the floor-to-ceiling curtains so the neighbors sitting on broken television sets on their alley balconies won’t see you undressing through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The rooms come with everything you need: ironing board (as if I’m actually going to iron, puh-lease), safe, refrigerator for your jamón & cheese cones, toiletries, iPod alarm clock thing I never use, everything else. The room numbers light up through the hallway’s carpeted floor. I have no idea how this magic works. I don’t remember falling through that rabbit hole… and yet here we are.
The Barceló Raval boasts a complete 360° roof patio open for your viewing pleasure 24/7. Binoculars, bar, pool, plenty of seating, and some of the best views of Barcelona.
BARCELÓ RAVAL // WHAT ROCKS
- Superb location
- Everything you want in a hotel staff… if you need lots of help like me
- Unique atmosphere that keeps surprising you
- Probably the best rooftop in Barcelona (tied with Casa Milà)
- It costs less than you might think.
- The door to the roof is hidden in the wall of the 10th floor hallway so that’s pretty fun.
- I’m a perpetual 8-year-old and stuff like that will never cease to amuse me.
BARCELÓ RAVAL // WHAT SUCKS
- The rooms have a strange setup: the toilet is not near the rest of the bathroom (and is hidden in a tiny room that echoes to high heaven so…. just something to think about.)
- The shower is all glass/open to the world. (Close those curtains, ladies!) But, if you’re traveling to foreign countries and sharing a room with someone, y’all are probably that close anyway.
- Our view of the trashy back streets wasn’t ideal but I imagine the rest of the rooms had prettier things to look at.
- I hate those rainfall showers – I know y’all love them but this is my blog and I’m putting it under the ‘sucks’ category. So there.
LA RAMBLA & THE GOTHIC QUARTER
Having arrived and checked in, it was high time for food! booze! walking!
LA RAMBLA // WHY GO?
Well….. because it’s kind of the center for tourist-dom.
La Rambla is a wide, tree-lined pedestrian street serving as the barrier between the Gothic Quarter and El Raval neighborhoods. It was once a glorified drainage ditch, became a street sometime around the 1400s, and now we eat on it. Yay? Exploring La Rambla is one of the great free things to do in Barcelona.
Go because it won’t consume much time, everyone does it, to say you’ve been there, and because you will need to get to La Boqueria and this is the only way. >insert evil laugh here<
WHAT ELSE, ASHLEY? I’m glad you asked.
- Souvenir, food, clothing, everything else shops
- The Jamón Experience (we’ll get to that…)
- La Boqueria (that big market you keep reading about)
- Restaurants, cafés
- A sex museum – it’s really worth it just to watch the Japanese tourists on the street geek out over the Marilyn Monroe look-alike standing over a fan on the balcony. Bitch never learns.
- Some pretty fancy architecture (DRAGONS!!!)
- The Christopher Columbus monument – ironic because his discoveries in the New World led to the decline of the city that took centuries to recover from. But whatever.
- Port Vell
Sit down, take a weight off your orthotic walking shoes, have a beer at an outdoor café, and observe visitors way outside their natural habitat strolling by, anxiously white-knuckling their purses and shopping bags.
Ah, here is where the alcoholic journey that constituted day one in Barcelona begins. A devout follower of the religion that is cappuccino, CappUKccino was our first stop. They put Bailey’s in these dranks, y’all. How have I never tried that before? And I’m Irish for the love of leprechauns! Some may call this the start of a downhill spiral but I’m an optimist. My “downhill spiral” is more… rolling down a grassy green hill in the summer sunshine with your best friend, giggling like mad all the way down. Yeah, it was just. like. that.
I see now that CappUKccino has horrible reviews. This brings up a worthwhile point. WHO CARES?! Researching too much when you travel, you risk missing out on some of life’s finer, and more hilarious, moments. Go with the flow, let your destinations surprise you. Sometimes shit happens – and sometimes you have great food, great conversation, and lots of laughs at the bartender’s expense.
Some of the best memories I have of this trip (most trips) are from things going horribly wrong, and this coming from the biggest type-A control freak you will ever have the pleasure of meeting.
Accidentally flashing a boob to an old cheese salesman at a monastery of all places, falling down some stairs and shattering the bottle of liquor I was carrying – then climbing back up the mountain to get more, almost getting robbed in the train station and watching as your friend single-handedly attempts to end petty theft in Spain once and for all (!!!)… to name a few of the many. Actually, that all happened in one single day.
GOTHIC QUARTER // WHY GO?
Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter is the center of the old city and is just all Medieval-y. Explore the ancient gargoyle-d cathedrals and visit the cloisters to see L’Ou com Balla in action. It’s thrilling. Shop. Eat. Laugh. Photograph a group of seniors enjoying gelato. Blow up said photograph and hang it above the fireplace in your house. Get lost. Tour some more gothic cathedrals (they just keep-on-a-comin’). Visit the Picasso museum. Buy a popsicle. Eat some jamón. Get shoved into a brick wall by an old woman on a mission. Buy another popsicle.
The picture above on the right shows L’Ou com Balla – the Dancing Egg, a Catalan tradition dating back to the 16th century that takes place during the feast of Corpus Christi. ‘Tis an egg placed on the water spout of a fountain that by some sorcery DOES NOT FALL OUT. This is strange, I know. Check out this site for more information on the history and where you can find them all.
So jamón is kind of a “thing” in Barcelona. Nevermind – it’s the thing. There’s a reason for this though; duh, it’s fabulous. Barcelona’s famous Jamón Ibérico is some of the best in the world. Some may say it’s leg-endary and I would have to agree. But that’s because I love puns. You can get it in many forms: thinly sliced (think… Italian prosciutto), cubed (then dumped into a cone), or smothered in gold and sold by the leg? Apparently? Not… really sure… about… that one?
During our 4 days in Barcelona we avoided La Rambla’s Jamón Experience like you would a guy in a white shirt and tie ringing your doorbell on a Saturday afternoon*. It just looked… off. So, of cooouurse we accidentally wandered into it through an unmarked back door and were trapped. That’s how they getcha! (Maybe why you shouldn’t wander through unmarked doors in foreign countries?) It’s massive and it’s three floors all dedicated to Barcelona’s famed meat. According to the website, it’s not just big, it’s 2.000m2 big so… yeah… wow.
* “Hello! My name is Elder Price. And I would like to share with you the most amazing book. Hello! My name is Elder Grant. It’s a book about America a long, long time ago.”
I’m not sure what “salt time” is, but I’m diggin’ it. Maybe my new life motto? Salt-rimmed margaritas, movie popcorn salt, a salty sea breeze blowing through my hair – yeah, I’m definitely living on salt time. You feel me, right?
The upper level is an all-ham tasting room bathed in red light with solid, thick wooden slab tables and no souls to be seen. The ground level is a jamón retail store. Not gonna lie, I bought 20€ worth of jamón for my jusband back jome. The basement however, was the most off-putting. A ham museum, believe it or not. I talk more about it in my article, “11 Things I Don’t Want to Do in Europe. Period.” It’s worth the click, trust me.
ROOFTOPS, 10 PM SUNSHINE, AND A “QUICK DRINK”
The rooftop at the Barceló Raval is where you need to spend your sunset. It’s also where you learn that it never gets dark in Barcelona. Like ever, right? This picture was taken around 10:00 PM. This is what… oh… 3:30 PM in Boston looks like. It suddenly made sense why typical “dinner time” in Barcelona isn’t until 9:30 or 10 and your night’s activities get going even later. I’m down with that. Especially with that first day jetlag… oh yeah, this works.
With ten minutes to kill before the start of our flamenco show we decided to grab a “quick drink” on La Rambla before heading in. We took up residence at the closest café and ordered a beer and a sangria. And patatas bravas. And croquettes. The plan: scarf the food, chug the drinks, let’s go. Flamenco.
Within minutes our drinks arrived: a liter-sized beer for me and a liter-sized sangria with three-foot straws for Amanda. Thus began one of the most hilarious nights of my life. Hours later I was in literal pain from excessive laughter. Never ones to back down from a challenge, we chugged those sons-of bitches and ran to the flamenco show with seconds to spare. Properly lit at this point the ushers seated us up front against the stage and promptly served us our complimentary sangria. Olé suckas!
I’m sure this isn’t typical of Spain but the liter beer/sangria situation happened to us on the regular, and we always accepted graciously. Just like a lady should, mm-hmm.
WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
You already kinda know… flamenco is an art form native to Spain that incorporates singing, dancing, guitar, hand clapping, finger snapping, back-and-forth hair whipping, and lots and lots of sweating. It has the distinction of being a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity – a classification I didn’t even know existed.
Flamenco tells a story through the use of
some of the fastest dancing I have ever seen. I was blown. away. by the talent of these performers. I was also hit in the face by a rogue bobby pin that flew out of the dancer’s hair. Whip it good!
Seriously though, I can’t even begin to describe this experience to you – you must witness this for yourself. I had an idea of what Flamenco was based on some “Sexy Senorita” Halloween costumes I’ve seen and maybe a Looney Tunes cartoon or something – but I was not prepared for what I experienced. I have never seen anything like this. And I’ve been to Asia. I’ve seen some cuh-razy shit.
WHERE TO GO
With the combined advice of my Barcelona guidebook and my friend Amanda’s friend who lives in Barcelona, we had our hotel concierge book us tickets to the early bird 10:30 PM show at Tablao Cordobes. I think there’s a restaurant upstairs, but after our “quick drink” we were ushered directly to the intimate basement space, straight to our seats up front so everyone could see our red faces and tear-streaked cheeks, and served our complimentary sangria.
A flamenco show is a must when in Spain and I can’t recommend Tablao Cordobes enough. I said free sangria, right?
I’m just saying, the Barceló Raval’s rooftop is open all night and is a great way to end your first of 4 days in Barcelona. Oh, and make out apparently. So that’s what all those couches are up there for… It was very “make out party” à la Full House. So… sorry we ruined your sexy time when we showed up with our wine, loud, hysterical laughter and camera flashes! (I’m really not sorry but y’all already knew that.)
When in doubt, buy the bottle with “Orgaz” in the title. <– Advice from a beer drinker.
WHAT I LEARNED // DAY ONE
- Wear your purse/camera on your front. Criminals will come up behind you with hedge clippers, cut off your stuff and run.
- Cappuccino with Bailey’s is a phenomenal way to start your day.
- A hotel without the best view in the city is stupid.
- After seeing a flamenco show, I now know I am completely without talent.
- All cultures love cats.
- I need a horse lamp. Like now.
- Pizza is gooood in every country.
WHERE I ATE // DAY ONE
- Cappuccino w/ Bailey’s at CappUKccino
- Cone of jamón from a shop in the Gothic Quarter whose name I don’t know
- Beer and pizza at some café on La Rambla
- Beer and patatas bravas, again, on La Rambla somewhere
- Seriously, it’s very generic, I don’t even know if these places have names.
- I should really get serious about remembering the names of these places.
- Days 2, 3, and 4 get better, I promise.
- WOW I did not eat that much on day one… that explains some things…
WHAT DID YOU / WILL YOU DO ON YOUR FIRST DAY IN BARCELONA? LET ME KNOW BELOW!
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On to DAY TWO…