Viva la Vida en Barcelona

So let’s pretend we’re dancing in the street, in Barcelona
Come on and dance with me in Barcelona
Drinking Sangria, I just want to be in Barcelona

Ed Sheeran had it right. I don’t think its possible to ever get sick of Barcelona. Marvellous beaches, long pedestrian promenades, vibrant street life, dramatic architecture, an efficient metro system, *phenomenal* food, and a neighborhood to fit any personality. Barcelona is a multi-layered, culturally rich city you can just get lost in, in the best way possible.

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Montserrat Beauty

One reason we were so excited for this leg of the trip is that we were meeting up with our two good friends, Kelly and Cory. They had planned a 10-day trip which happened to time up perfectly with our time in Spain! We had been missing our friends from home, so seeing them renewed our spirits and warmed our hearts. Our first day meeting them was without a doubt our favorite day in Barcelona. It was a beautiful sunny day as the four of us wandered around the beach and hidden streets of a fishing neighborhood called Barceloneta. We stopped to snack on Iberian ham, patatas bravas, little fried seafood, and of course ice cold, bubbly cava. By happenstance, we even stumbled on a lively festival that weaved through all the streets of Barceloneta. Although we still don’t know the exact meaning behind the animated festival, we deducted it had something having to do with ancient fisherman selling their fish for meat… or so I translated from a young girl describing it in Catalon. *Side note: the Catalon language spoke it is quite different than Spanish, so I was a little out of my league with communication.* There were hundreds of colorful dancers, costumes and musicians belonging to different themed groups. It was a wild time and continued late into the night, keeping the fun bar high for the day. We kept wondering, soaking up the atmosphere and ended up finishing the day with some seriously delicious paella at Arrosseria L’arròs. Cory and Adam’s choice of a squid ink variety won us all over. Drooling just thinking about it.

The following day, the four of us took off on a wine/cava tour we had planned months in advance. We hopped on a bus with a small group and made our way to our first stop, Finca Can’Estella, a small boutique winery built in the late 18th century.  Aside from being so quaint and charming, we learned a lot about cava and got to enjoy our first sip in a candlelit, historic stone vat listening to the almost musical sounds of the bubbles. After the rest of the tour, we tasted 3 additional cavas paired with tapas of bread and tomato (pan con tomate), various hams, olives, tortilla española, and local chocolate, among many others. The tapas just kept coming! With full bellies, we hopped on the bus and continued on to the second winery, Oller del Mas Cellar. This was also a very beautiful setting as it is located in a former medieval castle with a 1000-year history of winemaking. You could literally feel the history embedded in this place. We tasted 3 different organic wines and snacked on an assortment of cheeses… all delicious because honestly, everything is delicious in Spain. It was such a fun experience sipping our way throughout the day with great friends, local wines, authentic tapas and excellent tour guides.

The rest of our time in Barcelona was a little more balanced with work :). Kelly and Cory wen to explore Ibiza for a few days and we found a nice co-working space just a 15-minute walk from our AirBnB with welcoming owners and great coffee, called CoCo Coffice. We bought a 5-day pass on Barcelona’s metro and zipped all around beneath the city with ease. Travelling on such an excellent and efficient metro system really made us realize why Barcelona is able to thrive as such an expansive, diverse and desirable city.

Other highlights of Barcelona that have to be mentioned include:

  • listening and dancing to live jazz at the Harlem Club
  • the tour of La Sagrada Familia
  • sitting in Plaça de Sol, located in the awesome Gracia neighborhood, with all the area’s bohemian locals eating pizza by the slice and sipping on our cava we bought from the wine tour
  • meeting up with some locals for a day of very windy beach volleyball
  • the best tapas we had in Barcelona at Samsara, also in the Gracia neighborhood
  • our goodbye dinner with Cory and Kelly at Cera 23 (thanks again you two!)
  • a day trip to stunning Montserrat 
  • the drool-worthy, vibrant market of La Boquería
  • wondering around the Gothic Quarter
  • snail tapas (don’t knock ’em till you try ’em) and rendezvousing with my sister’s friend Kim and her husband Dink at Los Caracoles

Looking back now, we treated Barcelona, unlike the other cities we’ve been in thus far. Since we only had 10 days, we ‘lived it up’ more than we typically would have, indulging in the food scene more frequently, splurging on touristic adventures, using the metro instead of renting bicycles, and spitting time between a hotel and AirBnB. All in all, it was a fantastic time and Adam and I both think it’s a city we could have easily spent a month in and really sunk our teeth into. There are so many neighborhoods with their own distinct charm, so if you plan on going, do your research! Also, contrary to popular belief, Barcelona doesn’t have to be an expensive city for a vacation. Again with a little research, there are a lot of affordable options for accommodations, dining and entertainment. Barcelona is a must see that I would love to experience again, as the city has so much to offer that it would be a completely unique experience each time.

 

 

 

Porto, Portugal: Our Highlight Reel

The phrase “time flies when you’re having fun” exists for a reason. Our time in Portugal flew by so fast that I am just now sitting here in Barcelona writing and reminiscing about how magical Porto was. We had 23 days total in Portugal and finally found a much need ‘groove’ after bouncing around so much in South Africa. Let it be known that it is harder than anticipated to balance exploring a new city, working, sticking to a budget, exercise… oh and blogging.

We had decided on Porto as a home base after a lot of research that positioned it as a blue-collar city where the people are friendly, hard working and very proud of their city. A city with more grit than its shinier cousin, Lisbon, with an up and coming food scene that rivals it. Our AirBnB was actually across the river from Porto in a charming fishing village called Villa Nova de Gaia. We chose Gaia for a few reasons: a little cheaper, some of the best fresh seafood in Porto, and it was on the marina with great sunset views. Technically we were in Gaia’s quaint neighborhood of Afurada which was the kind of place where it was clear everyone knew everyone and there was a tangible pride and local culture. Since I somehow don’t have a picture,  close your eyes and imagine:

…small narrow stone streets lined with modest yet beautifully tiled buildings, family run cafes every few feet, sweet grandmas with calf length skirts, tall wool socks and slippers ironing on the sidewalk, FC Porto flags and scarves hanging from the windows, stray cats sunbathing and lurking at every corner, kids playing and riding their bikes, old men smoking and yelling at the fútbol game on tv, drying laundry ruffling on the balconies bringing a clean scent to the air, and fresh fish continuously grilling on every corner.

Okay now open your eyes. Wasn’t it beautiful?

Let’s dive right into our highlight reel. Here are our favorite moments from our time in Portugal, in no particular order.

  • Renting bikes for 3 weeks for $200 euro total. This not only made our commute much faster and cheaper but was passive exercise and allowed us to experience the city on a street level. Oh and the view along the boardwalk…. sigh
  • Adam’s co-working space Porto i/o. Super friendly community, a stellar view, affordable, and good coffee.
  • Adam’s fun and cheap lunches with co-workers
  • Shopping at the neighborhood market than having a sunset picnic of cured meat, fresh bread, passion fruit, local cheese, and local wine. Oh and then a cute dog joined.
  • Finding our way to Cervejaria Gazela, a local spot Anthony Bourdain visited on his trip to Porto. The food: cachorrinhos (cheese, hotdog-like meat, special sauce, and bread all panini’ed pressed to perfection. The drink: cold, ‘pressured’ (on tap) Superbock. We also met a friend here, Pedro, that I’m sure helped us because we looked lost. Pedro ordered for us, found us seats and promised to take us to explore “real” Porto… see #13
  • A traditional Fado three-course dinner arranged by our AirBnB host. Fado happens during dinner when someone powerfully signs a stream of melancholy songs with a small group of musicians.
  • Biking home from Matosinhos and discovering a truly perfect outdoor Hawaiian themed restaurant with lounge chairs on a platform right off the sand, with a view of the ocean and a bottle of vinho verde for $9 euro (young sparkling white wine). We had two and smuggled ½ of the second home 🙂
  • A day cruise up the Douro River and train ride back
  • A visit and tasting to the port winery Real Companhia Velha. We paid more for the tour and tasting than we typically would have, but it was well worth it with a private tour of the cellars, bonus tastings from our guide and a delicious cheese, olive, and nut board. We LOVED this.
  • A weekend trip to Lisbon where we rented a car and drove down the coast
  • Stopping in Nazare on the way to Lisbon to video my stepdad Art from the biggest wave in the world. The surf was choppy and kind of flat this particular day but still very cool and a perfectly cute town (so cute we stopped on our way back to Porto for lunch)
  • A day trip to Braga with friends from the co-working space. One friend drove us all to this **MAGICAL** area by the river with volleyball courts, a bar, architectural relics, a beautiful bridge, and people enjoying every bit of it. This might have been one of our favorite days.
    Brada
    Braga’s magical area by the river

  • Going out on the town with our friend Pedro and his buddy. They took us to an area with no tourists and we had a ball of a time until about 3am when we just got too tired for any more fun : )
  • Watching a huge street racing event, cars were getting major air and the crowd (the entire city) was going wild
  • Eating at Ramiro in Lisbon. We were (literally) crushing crab with hammers and eating WAY too much because it was. that. good. The entertainment of the servers reaching in a tank for lobsters was quite a sight too.
  • Going to the Palace of Sintra and walking all around the city. We had some marvellous tapas and sangria at Tascantinga and got our vertical steps in for the day.
  • Eating at Casa Guedes: where we randomly discovered while waiting for an uber what we believe to be the best pernil sandwich in all of Porto. Freshly carved marinated pork, local sheep’s cheese, wheat bun and a guy slapping them together barehanded and focused. About as local as it gets
  • Adam’s euro haircut and fresh shave at Barbas Shop.
  • Dancing the night away with Dutch friends we met in Lisbon
  • Spending Adam’s 34th birthday in Porto! Pre-dinner cocktails sponsored by Matt and Julie Yung and a delicious dinner at Ar de Rio.
  • Working at my comfy coffee shop for the bulk of my work days, 7groasters
  • Traditional Portuguese food: fresh fish always grilled right outside, potatoes, onion + tomato + olive + lettuce salad, rice, a bottle of wine. Our favorite was right by our AirBnb called Armazem do Peixe.
  • Pastel de nata! Heavenly Portuguese pastry
  • Early morning sand volleyball workout and espressos on the beach
  • Riding the boat taxi for $2 euro, $3 with your bike