Will the real Barcelona please stand up

After a emotional goodbye to the #camelcrew we collapsed; exhausted in every sense of the word, in a free-fall of an adrenalin slump/extreme come-down. We were tired, overwhelmed and relapsing into the same feelings we had when we first began our journey. Going from 24/7 company with some of our most dearest for 5 weeks straight, to nothing, hit us and hit us hard. THANK GOD for Deliveroo and Narcos on Netflix!! We spent the next couple of days recovering emotionally, mentally and physically. Our minds were spinning from everything we had experienced and crammed into the previous month. Out of sync with our previous travel lifestyle, we wound down and continued living life a little slower.

Barcelona, we must confess, seemed underwhelming our first time around. So, here for another week, we were determined to find ‘the real’ Barcelona and give it another shot – because – IT’S BARCELONA, right!? The impression Barcelona made on us the first time around, however short, was jaded, touristic in almost every nook and cranny, crowded and….. dull. This went against everything we ‘knew’ of Barcelona and Catalan Spain so we needed to head back and explore the city some more.

Where is the real Barcelona? Obviously far from experts in travel or at finding the hidden gems in a city, Anthony Bourdain and Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) – we are not. But, we have been doing this for a few months and had managed success in other cities. With this mission in mind, we decided to forego any niceties in our apartment second-time around to find something functional and in the right neighbourhood. ‘Neighbourhood over apartment’ is our normal approach, but Barcelona being surprisingly expensive, for a short stay, meant the niceties sacrificed were normally our must haves, ie. natural light, clean, uncluttered and a closet.  We did our research and happily struck gold. Our neibourhood for the week, El Raval, is a previously immigrant-majority/ red light suburb that is in the process of gentrification. The more we explored Barcelona, the more stoked I became with the neighbourhood we chose. El Raval, to me, seemed akin to the only woman at a nudist beach of sagging old men.  Around our apartment were plenty of local cafes, bars, tapas and pintxo taverns frequented by locals and expats alike. The street adjacent, is regarded as the go-to street for all foodies visiting and living in Barcelona. Thankfully in this area we were regarded more like expats than tourists and here we were sheltered from the prolific anti-tourist graffiti and ‘Tourists Go Home’ banners hanging from balconies.

There is an un-ignorable resentment towards tourists that resonates throughout the city to varying degrees; hatred at worst and toleration at best. As you wander around the touristy parts of the city you begin to feel for the locals. There are SO many tourists and we weren’t even in the peak season. An endless amount of self-important people walking AT you on every footpath, selfie sticks being flailed about with disregard, little use of politesses and just an overall lack of ‘common’ decency. Since leaving Barcelona we have found out that the government is capping the amount of tourists per year to curb the problem.

This is not to say that we weren’t able to enjoy our time here. Armed with the little Spanish we remembered from binge watching Narcos, which wholly consisted of ‘Plata or Plomo?’ we explored the city. We spent a chilled Sunday afternoon sinking beers at a secret beer garden on Montjuic, listening to local DJ’s play lounge/house music while gazing out over the Balearic Sea. Barbeques setup around the park were selling all sorts of grilled local meats. Bbq, beers, tunes, view and my lover, what more could an aussie ask for? Seadreamer was sea dreaming.

We grazed and drank our way down the famed pintxo street with the only guide of where to eat being the amount of locals and how packed in they were. If the locals love it enough to pack 2-3 people deep from the bar I am sure we were in the right place. The vermut (Spanish Vermouth) had me like Oliver Twist; “Please sir, I want some more”. This stuff was fucking delicious! Most bars have their own ‘recipe’ so we naturally thought it best to see how they all differ. This led to the odd boozy lunch and a few night caps on our walks home.

After days of exploring the city, we stumbled upon Mercado de La Boqueria, although I don’t know how it took us that long to find it. It is has been market of form or another since 1217 and is absolutely massive and right on La Rambla. The undercover market is filled to the roof with fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, spices, jamon, meats, wines, as well as some bistro vendors. It’s not so much the variety of produce but the variety within the produce that was incredible. Every body part of an animal was for sale alongside fruits and vegetables from around the world. A powerful concoction of bright colours, spices, touting vendors and displays of unknown edibles had us mesmerised and returning for more. The adjacent street, La Rambla, is tourist and pickpocket central (probs why we didn’t find it earlier).

One afternoon, after wandering the streets, we decided to join one of the many private ‘green’ clubs in Barcelona, to see what all the fuss was about. The interior of the club was swish. There were around 20 brown chesterfield couches arranged in booths, a few flat screen tvs, timber flooring, a fully stocked bar with barman, a DJ spinning chilled music, a free pool table, a dispensary with an expert in the ‘medium’ and industrial ventilation. We spent

an hour or two relaxing before we made the ‘what seemed’ epic trip home. Again THANK GOD for Deliveroo!! #dazedandconfused

On a day of wonderful weather, we hired beach cruiser bikes from a local bicycle/art workshop, Elciclo, and explored the boulevard and back streets. The owner rents/ builds bikes and uses the spare parts to make sculptures and lighting fixtures with zero welding. At first he made them for himself until a man from Melbourne asked to buy one for his store. So his first art piece is somewhere in Melbourne, Sean and Amiée keep your eyes peeled. As we rode the length of the boulevard, the scenery changed from a marina full of multi-million dollar yachts, to beaches packed with sun-bakers, to guys working out on playground equipment, to hawkers selling beach rugs, to restaurants with sun-decks full of people. We rode the backstreets on our return and found cool courtyards and walls plastered in street art.

To try to beat the crowds we decided to visit the Gaudi Museum at around 6pm. It was an overcast day, cold and on dusk and the place was STILL packed with tourists. Madness. So it was logical that streets around the Gaudi museum had the most prevalence of anti-tourist graffiti. After wandering through admiring the wonderfully eccentric architecture we were pleasantly surprised that the Gaudi gardens were almost empty of people. At a spot overlooking the whole garden, the gingerbread-like Gaudi houses stuck out through the trees as if from a cartoon fairytale. We setup our picnic then sat, unwound and soaked in the surreal surroundings. The finale was some amazing donuts we brought from our local artisan donut bakery next door to our apartment. That’s right, an artisan small batch donut bakery next door, that did flavours like Matcha/Chocolate and Rose/Pistachio. Court struggled each day to walk past and not in.

Even after dedicating a second time ‘round visit to Barcelona, it remains hard to say what and where the real Barcelona is. Perhaps it is the fault of film and television that had us expecting a city that was more. More lively, more vibrant, more colourful, more emotional; in its people and streetscape. I can’t help but feel the magic, for which Barcelona was renowned globally, has long faded due to the overwhelming tourist pressure on the city. Hopefully the new limit on tourists nurtures what spark is left and Barcelona returns to it’s roots as a cultural wonderland.

However, for the time being, the towns of Seville and San Sebastian, are the places in Spain that have stolen my heart.

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