When you ask me what the world’s biggest country is, I say: cities. Capitals, or just plain super large cities are often more alike than the countries they symbolize. A city used to be on a ranking between village and province. Nowadays, cities are countries of their own. They fascinate me. Blame my age, or my urbanite life in Amsterdam, anything. I love cities.
Every city demands a different number of hours, days or weeks to get a bit of its feel, acquaint yourself with its people, climate and culture. For Barcelona, 4 whole days was perfect. If you dare to hire a bike. And if you do, go to Mattia 46, a small bike shop at Carrer de l’Unió – just off the (in)famous La Rambla. In 2010, Mattia’s bikes look good, apart from their extensive promotional material on either side. But that’s justified, since renting the bikes costs 5 euros a day. Note: Barcelona has a lot of one-way lanes, and only some are equipped with professional bike lanes. Other than that, you’d better use the pavement and harass locals and tourists.
When you arrive in Barcelona just after non-Mediterranean dinner time, there are lots of places to scoop some tapas till midnight. A wonderful night walk trough La Rivera and El Born brings you to La Fianna, a bit of a search – but please order some quesadillas and nachos next to your cocktail, and enjoy the oriental lounge. Our hotel was located in El Raval, an area reserved for narrow passage-ways that give a sense of drama at night, which is usually reserved for film sets. Just wandering around we stumbled upon Bar Lobo, at first glance a true hipster-heaven for interior designers – and actually serving great, light food. Another night we ended up at Dos Trece, more of an expat-place with great vegetarian options – the place changes into more of a cocktail bar at night. Another great surprise was the cortado, actually a mini caffé latte, but not to be mistaken for a caffé machiatto. Read about the ratios here, I’ll just tell you it’s a perfect sized shot of caffeine to start your day with.Take a bottle of Vichy Catalan Water on the side, I love the salty taste of it. In general, eating breakfast outside is something I put on my Amsterdam-wishlist. The smoothest breakfast we had was at Charlot Café in l’Eixample, a bit off-track, making it a local spot. My true rediscovery of a great omelette (or tortilla) was at Els Fogons, the restaurant next to the Barceloneta Market. Wow. And when you’re in Gracia, visit Placa del Sol, a small square which houses a superb small café (Café del Sol), with a splendid lunch menu. Apparently popular by locals and students. Speaking of foodie-indulgence, you can buy the most unimaginable tastes of chocolate, packed in pop-arty wrappers, at xocao in El Born. And, if you are to climb Mount Tibidabo (by taking a truly old-school tram), walk down and drink a cortado (of course!) at the terrace of hotel La Florida.
There are some things about Barcelona you wish your own city would have, too. Apart from a Mediterranean climate, and sea on a stone’s throw, they do some little things to soothen the life of an urbanite:
– Free entry to most museums on the first Sunday of the month
– Close shops during lunch, re-opening in evening hours: dynamic streetlife guaranteed
– Allow for a lot more street-art, coloring the edgy corners of the city
– Car-free city center
– Taking granddad’s and grandma’s out and about
– Low-threshold to go out for dinner: lots of affordable restaurants
– Multiple covered markets