Things I Love Thursday (er, Saturday) #57

Street art - Gothic Quarter

I’ve been away for a week, so I’m a bit late with this — but here’s why…

The gorgeous city of Barcelona is going to be at the top of my “things I like” list for a pretty long time, I reckon! I just spent a beautiful seven days there with Lovely Boyfriend and his family. I was pretty apprehensive before I went, I’ll admit — I didn’t speak a word of Spanish or Catalan before I set off and I hate being “one of those” kind of tourists; as a new vegan I didn’t know what to expect in terms of food available and was a bit worried I’d end up eating bread and apples for a whole week. However, I was very pleasantly surprised, and loved pretty much every single second of my trip. In case anyone’s heading there anytime soon, here’s a quick bite-sized list of stuff I did and stuff I’d recommend…

Firstly, my vegan-related worries were quickly squished, thanks to the huge array of veggie and vegan stuff on offer in fair Barcelona. I can personally recommend several places! I really liked Sesamo (the neighbourhood seems a bit scruffy and you, er, might want to avoid the outside loo, but otherwise…), a hip, friendly all-veggie place with plenty of weird and wonderful stuff on the menu (if you’re not a vegan you can say hello to the likes of gnocchi with beetroot and hazelnut sauce, peanut butter cheesecake and pumpkin pie with cardamon custard; there are damn fine vegan options too). Juicy Jones is right off the main drag on the Gothic side of Las Ramblas, and they have juices to die for as well as an all-vegan menu that includes finger-lickin’ seitan pintxos (skewers) and massive, epic sandwiches. Organic is a big warehouse-style restaurant as well as a fixed stall at the back of La Boqueria — pay attention: THEY HAVE THE BEST VEGGIE PAELLA YOU CAN GET IN BARCELONA. Go there. Right next to each other in the middle of a maze of streets in the Gothic quarter are Vegetalia and Gopal Vegan Deli, my two favourite eatieries from the trip. Vegetalia is great for a sit-down meal — they serve delicious vegan Sangria and their staff are extra lovely. Gopal is basically a vegan heaven on earth. Vegan croissants and breakfast pastries (the like of which I genuinely did not know was possible), vegan “chicken nuggets” and plenty of seitan for those of you who like your fake meat, vegan and non-alcoholic wine and beer, and best of all, uber tasty and very cheap menus del dia which include delicious dahl and spinach burgers and nommy cakes. Try the patatas bravas. (I also had my first experience with Maoz Falafel, though they’re a worldwide chain, in Barcelona. Make sure you’re very hungry, though.)

Did I do anything besides eat, I hear you cry? Well, a few things. My trip involved lots and lots of Gaudi. We visited the breathtaking La Pedrera, famous from the holiday snaps of everyone-who’s-ever-been-to-Barca. But for goodness’ sakes suffer the queue and the fifteen euro entrance fee and go inside. If you can, go in the evening and watch the sun go down over the roof terrace sculptures. Last entry is 7.30pm and you’ll want to leave yourself at least an hour. Also Parc Guell — we arrived around noon in the baking heat at about the same time, apparently, as half of continental Europe, so for the first hour or so I was silently re-naming the place “Parc Hell” in my head. But when siesta time came around the crowds thinned and I actually became really glad I’d gone. The gingerbread houses are cool but the other bits are probably better. Don’t expect to be able to photograph the dragon, though, unless you want to literally fight about a hundred posing tourists. (Oh, and it’s worth wandering around just for the various buskers and performers who are scattered around the place. I saw flamenco dancers, drummers, a capella singers, classical guitarists… oh, and those frickin’ guys with bird-whistles who seem to be everywhere.)
Still not sick of Gaudi, we naturally also headed to the Sagrada Familia. My advice: do a good circuit of the outside and make sure you see everything before you head in. The inside is a gorgeous work of art, but if you’re even vaguely respectful of religious spaces, expect to be extremely uncomfortable. There is some really damn bad, embarrassing and terrible human behaviour on display in this place, from people talking loudly on iPhones to children trying to climb on the altars unchecked by their guardians. It made me feel so murderous I had to leave. But the outside is awesome. I think I most enjoyed sitting in the sunshine in the park outside, looking up at its ostentatious madness. (Some of my party also went into the Casa Batllo, while I was content to just look at its craziness from the street outside. Apparently the inside was also spectacular and I really regretted not joining them… so if you want yet more Gaudi, this is another place to head.)

Other stuff? Parks — Lovely Boyfriend and I enjoyed lounging and wandering in both Parc de la Cuitadella and the Jardins d’Atlanta. The beach is pretty OK considering it’s right in the middle of a huge city and it’s easily accessible on foot and via the Metro — I’d recommend heading up to the Cuitadella station and trying that end of the beach, though, as it’s less dirty and crowded than the Barceloneta end. Just keep an eye out for black market tat-peddlars who’ll relentlessly pursue you if you sit down for any length of time — avoid eye contact unless you want to be sold some flat, warm beer, an ugly pashmina or perhaps weirdest, an on-the-spot back massage.
What else? Just plod around. The Bari Gotic (Gothic quarter) and El Raval are the two halves of the ‘old town’, cut neatly in half by Las Ramblas, which is like Barcelona’s version of the Royal Mile (we tried to spend as little time as possible actually on the street, but if you like crowds, the thrill of high pickpocket risk, lots of badly-behaved Brits on stag dos and everything geared towards gullible tourists, it’s your place). Both are great for just wandering and seeing what you can find (although NB: some bits of El Raval can get quite shady quite quickly). If you’re cash-strapped you can just spot out all the amazing street art (see pictured). Final thoughts? My lack of Spanish/Catalan was not really a problem at all (most folk seem to speak both, but the vast majority also speak English, or enough Spanglish that you can get by fine), and the residents are all chilled and friendly and generally welcome tourists if you’re the well-behaved sort. You don’t need an open-top bus tour to find your way about — get a map and avoid the queues and hefty prices by walking. Get a ten-trip Metro pass for the best value… oh, and when in the Metro, look out for the sneaky sons-of-bitches trying to sneak through the barriers by pressing themselves against your back and going through at the same time as you (apart from anything else, personal space fail. Ew). Apparently pick-pocketing is a huge problem and Barcelona’s bag thieves are extremely inventive — I heard tales of thieves knifing through bagstraps with pocket knives and other such tricks. I was fine and didn’t witness any such wickedness, but I was careful to a paranoid degree. Finally, the tap water aint so hot. Bottled water is cheap and won’t make you sick, so go with that unless you’re particularly iron stomached. NOW GO BOOK YOUR PLANE TICKET ALREADY. Barcelona is totally awesome.

Honourable mentions:
Lovely Boyfriend’s lovely family. Thanks so much to Kate, Malcolm, David and Ula for being so brilliant. // Kerry Hardie. My god, I love this woman’s poems. Her Selected from Bloodaxe kept me edified and inspired throughout my Barcelona trip. // Dorianne Laux. And ditto this woman. Her Book of Men is one of the best collections I have read for years, literally. There are not words for how much I want to be even half the poet she is. // Excitement over forthcoming gigs — come and see me read my stuff THIS WEEKEND (Sun 15th) at Young Blood, organised by Stirling University. It’s at the Junk Rooms in Stirling from 6.30pm. Or if that’s too much like short notice, I’m also reading at Trashed Organ’s BelongingFest opening night on 30th. // Booja Booja. OH WAIT HAVE I MENTIONED THIS BEFORE? // Flip flops. It may only be five degrees here in Scotland (at least ten lower than Barca — boo!) and the heating’s still on in my flat, but MY FEET ARE REBELLING, dammit. It’s officially springtime and that means GOODBYE, SOCKS!

What are you loving this week?


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One Response to “Things I Love Thursday (er, Saturday) #57”

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