Thursday, 15 September 2011

The Needles Guide to Barcelona

I've been to Barcelona several times, but this was one of my best trips, mainly because we went 'off menu' and avoided most of the central places. So, here's my guide to having a good time in this great city. This guide is irreverent, disorganized - hell, it's probably even a bit inaccurate, but it worked for me, and hopefully will for you too. Oh, and as this blog is supposed to be about sewing, there are some outfits along the way.

First -

1 - Booze
There's a pretty laidback attitude to drinking in this city. People start pretty early in the day - I saw some very well-to-do grannies with their grandchildren drinking beer at around 10.00 - but no one gets crazy drunk, except Swedish and American teenagers on Las Ramblas. There are fabulous little bars tucked down every side street. 

We found one on the first night called Barbara Ann, dedicated to all things rock and roll. We stumbled in after 1 on a Thursday night to be greeted by a small room with 45's hanging from the ceiling, and a Carnaby St-esque mural above a little stage. 2 shots of rum, €4. Then you end up like this:

My holiday outfit! Little red blouse and blue button through skirt.
We also spent several happy hours at Las Guindas, watching the tatooed barmaids make very complicated mojitos and listening to a selection of 50's and 60's tunes. Then there was Bar Ramon, which is really a tapas restaurant, but plays great music. I noticed they also sponsor some of the rock and roll nights around the city. A meal there seems to involve a lot of shouting and pointing (we were with some Spanish speakers), but the food was great.

If you really want to get out of your mind on booze, while having a truly historic experience, there's no better than Bar Marsella

 Opened in the early 1800's, this bar apparently introduced absinthe to Barcelona. It's in a pretty rough corner of the Raval, an area that's rapidly being gentrified. You'll find it easy to walk right past this place, for several reasons - you're usually distracted by all of the 'ladies of the night' outside, it looks derelict to the uninitiated, and if you've been before, you usually leave in the sort of state that will cloud any memory you have of it.

You know I said it looks derelict? That also applies to the interior:

Check out the cobwebs

Preparing the absinthe - it tasted like rough Sambuca
The owners seem to stay just the right side of any health regulations, without getting shut down or making too much effort. Makes a change from sterile All Bar One.

2 - Food -

Meat. Potatoes. Bread. Beer. Meat. More beer. Potatoes. More meat. A bit more bread. Some cheese. More meat. Some fish. More beer. And a tomato. And I loved it all! Besides tapas, food is quite robust, and simply cooked. Some of the best meals are at little caffs frequented by taxi drivers. Breakfast is pretty basic, usually a coffee and a toasted sandwich called a bikini, or a croissant. It's really all about lunch, with some pretty good deals for 3 courses for about €9. This usually includes wine and coffee.

For a less formal experience, try the champagneria, Can Paixano, near the port. This is basically a ham and wine merchant that has a grill up one side of its cave-like premises:

 For a couple of euros, you choose something from the board, mostly meat based, shout it out to one of the staff at the counter, and they hand you a roll stuffed with whatever you ordered. For 95 cents, you add a glass of pink cava:

There's no airs and graces here - no seating, you stand at the counter to eat, and when you're done, it seems to be accepted that you throw your wrapper on the ground. Friends tell me that originally it was popular with local workers - street sweepers, guys from the building sites, etc - but now it's in every guidebook, so you have to time it right in order to avoid the meat-fuelled bundle.

And there's cake:

LBD I made a few years ago, out of some curtain fabric printed with geishas
I always call this area 'cake alley', because it is an alley full of beautiful, old-fashioned cake shops. And because of Spain's obvious connections to the 'New World', the source of chocolate, most cakes are slathered in the stuff. Pasteleria Santa Clara is worth visiting.

3 - Art and Achitecture

Street in Born
 It always fascinates me how different Barcelona looks to other European cities. Because of wars and politics, it seems to have developed seperately to the rest of the continent. You'll be in heaven if you like Art Nouveau; everywhere you look, swirls and curves adorn every surface. 

Outside La Pedrera, one of Gaudi's great works, and a red pencil skirt, by me!

As well as this, people still live in the centre of the city, creating distinct neighbourhoods each with their own personality. 

There's also a rebellious side to the city, with graffiti everywhere, to the point where it seems to have been embraced:

4 - Alternative Culture
Skateboarding and tattoos are the order of the day in Barcelona. As I said previously, there seems to be a rebellious streak running through the personality of the city. Squats are not uncommon, protest is still important (there was a camp in Place de Catalunya until recently), and to be a punk is still quite a statement. As with the graffiti, the city seems to maybe not embrace, but at least tolerate alternative cultures, as can be seen outside the Contemporary Art Museum (MACBA). The plaza in front of the museum has been taken over by skateboarders, to the point that it seems to be on the list of places to visit by any skater worth their salt.

We were fortunate enough to be there while the Copa de Catalana Freestyle Festival was on. And it was really free - 0.0 euros to get in! We had a great few hours there, and especially enjoyed the roller derby - these girls are hot and scary all at once:

There were also some fab breakdancers:

And because the event was free, you had families, curious locals, interested kids, even people out walking their dog, all getting along with hardcore enthusiasts.

Button thru skirt, with a little pink blouse I made a few years ago.

When we got the train home, the party carried on in the station and the carriages:

And finally...

5 - Language and other stuff
I don't speak any Spanish (I could have done with your help, La Dama!), but I would make the effort whenever I could to at least say a few words. There's also the added complication of the 2 languages, Catalan which is the language of the region, and Castillian. Increasingly, English is spoken, especially by the young, so you're never completely on your own. They're quite reliant on tourist money, so menus translated to English are not uncommon. It also makes for some amusing misunderstandings:

Mmmm, chicken tights and beef stripes - tasty...

Weather - 
September is generally pretty hot, with the temperature hovering around 27C most days. Make sure you take sunscreen! It made a lovely change from grey Britain, but sometimes I felt like this:

And that was my little holiday to Barcelona. This was how I felt when I arrived back in Dalston:


  1. You've got me craving a trip to Barcelona now! What a wonderful post and I'm glad that gorgeous newly-made red blouse got an outing. x

  2. Amor, I have never been to spain, would love to go someday.
    Everything looks so beautiful and inviting. Especially to the cake alleys, that would of been my main hang out. Adorar your black geisha dress, so pretty. All your outfits are so cute.
    I see you wearing your red blouse. I would of been your intrepreter ,but you would have to pay me in cakes and tequila.

  3. Hello and thanks for your lovely comment on my blog about the scarf. Love your guide to Barcelona but have to beg to differ on one point... 'no one gets crazy drunk in Barcelona...'
    Oh deary me, I have to admit that I did. By accident in a little tapas bar on the corner of the street where our hotel was. We only went in for a glass of wine and a spot of tapas but hey ho!
    Love it that you live in Dalston and actually call it Dalston! It is starting to have its own identity at last. I have some great photos on my old broken pc of Dalston junction and The Waste through the ages.
    Sorry, mrs... I'm rambling

  4. love it guapa chica...and do come soon xxx


I love comments!