After nearly two long years of staying on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean, we FINALLY headed back to Europe for the first time since we moved back to the States. We booked a cruise on the Celebrity Beyond to visit Spain, France and Italy, and since it was leaving from Barcelona, one of our favorite cities, we decided to fly in a couple of days early and enjoy time in Catalonia. Leading up to our trip, we were a little bit nervous watching all of the flight delays, cancellations, and luggage disasters in Europe, but fortunately, our flights into Spain were reasonably on time and uneventful.
Clearing customs and the new health checks in the Barcelona airport was easy. All four of us are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and have received our boosters, so no test was required. Filling out the Spanish health declaration was easy, and after we cleared customs and were enroute to picking up our bags, there was a quick temperature scan and a scan of our QR codes from the health passes. It didn’t add much time to the overall process.
We booked a family suite at the Le Meridien Barcelona, and even though we were just steps from Las Ramblas, it was peaceful and quiet. I have to say that we were pleasantly surprised by the hotel…service was prompt and attentive, the room received twice daily service (a first at any hotel we’ve stayed in post-Covid), and was very comfortable for the four of us. The location was central to everything, and was a great starting point to walk or catch a taxi to anywhere in the city.
Luckily, despite our early arrival, the room was ready upon check in, so we headed upstairs to shower and freshen up before heading out. We opted for an easy lunch, and headed to the nearby Mercado de la Boqueria for tapas and, of course, the requisite sangria.
Walking around the market certainly made us miss Europe and the food markets available! After lunch, Kenneth went back to the hotel room to take a little bit of a nap, and Fern and I took Belinda to Zara to do some shopping, which is her favorite Spanish tradition! We took more time to explore Las Ramblas before dinner…we had been here before, but needed to stretch our legs a little bit. We had originally planned to have dinner in a local restaurant, but none of us had slept on the flight, so we gave into exhaustion and ate a small dinner in the hotel restaurant, and then we passed out.
On day 2, we had an ambitious agenda planned, with a lot of Gaudi involved. We started our day by taking a taxi to La Sagrada Familia to see Gaudi’s as yet unfinished masterpiece. It is absolutely gorgeous, and has a very different feel than all of the super ornate European churches. Totally breathtaking. I’m glad we purchased our tickets online before our trip because the line to purchase them onsite was quite long. We didn’t decide to climb to the top of the towers on this visit because we had limited time in Barcelona.
After our morning at La Sagrada Familia, we walked to El Corte Ingles to do a little bit of shopping for some of the European products that we use as they are less expensive than buying them in the USA. Or, as in the case of the sunscreen and deodorant that we use, are only available if we buy them from a European site and have them shipped in (like Eucerin spray oil sunscreen and Clarins Men Antiperspirant).
Finally, it was time for lunch, and we were excited to try out Cañete for tapas. We had worked up quite the appetite from all our morning walking, and we weren’t disappointed with this trip. We ordered jamón, pan con tomate, tortilla espanola, some lobster croquetas, and razor clams (which were the highlight of the meal for 3/4 of us). This restaurant is one I 100% recommend, and would visit time and time again when visiting Barcelona. After filling our tummies and having some wine, we were ready to continue our day.
We decided to walk back to the hotel for a quick break after lunch…jet lag was starting to catch up with all of us. After our little siesta, we were ready to continue our Gaudi education with a visit to Casa Battló. I’ve traveled past this site before on a previous Barcelona trip, but we didn’t go inside. Let me tell you, this was 100% worth the trip. It is creative genius, and perhaps a little bit of insanity, at its best.
On the way back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner, we stopped and shopped along the way. Belinda was thrilled to find a Mango Kids, and made the most of her shopping budget. And then we headed to another amazing Catalonian find – the restaurant Fismuler. This will definitely head to the top of the list of the most enjoyable dinner experiences I’ve had. We were going to skip the razor clams on the menu as we’d just had some at lunch, but I’m oh so glad we didn’t. This is a dish that I’m probably going to crave for the rest of my life. We had croquetas made with squid ink so that they looked like little lumps of charcoal, but were delicious. For our main course, I had a cut of meat that my St. Louis friends would recognize as a pork steak, but taken from an Iberico pig. Topped with mushrooms, caperberries, and some sort of jus…delicious. Dessert was inventive…and divisive at our table. We ordered their famous cheesecake, which looks a lot like a melty, gooey camembert. Why was it divisive? It included a little bit of gorgonzola. Kenneth and I really liked it, but Belinda and Fern did not.
Finally, we walked back to the hotel to have a quick nightcap and end our exhausting day. We walked over 8.5 miles through the city, and our bodies were tired! I can say that we all slept well, and were ready to wake up the next day and start the main part of our vacation — 10 days aboard the beautiful Celebrity Beyond. But, as usual, Barcelona never disappoints.