NZ-raised and Melbourne-based, Lucy is the founder and director of Estuary Yoga Space, North Melbourne. As an artist and a yoga facilitator, she is dedicated to helping each person feel embodied and empowered; to experience the practices of creativity and yoga as a guide in growing through life's challenges and joys.
" Greatness is the experience of the great fullness of life "
Brother David Steindl-Rast
The city of Barcelona is synonymous with vibrance.
You may know the well-known snacking style of tapas, popular through Spain and definitely in Barcelona. 'Tapa' literally means 'lid' or 'cover', for the traditional way of serving a small snack on a plate atop the drink order of choice.* Aside from delicious, this traditional style of eating conveys a cultural inheritance: this idea of savouring simplicity and freshness in bite-size portions, sans the rush against time or the impulse for excess. (*Useful to note here that pintxos (pin-chos) are a variation on tapas, where a toothpick is used to hold the bite-size elements together.)
To travel through this city is to experience an approach to life that bursts with flavour and aliveness: there is an uplifting sense of movement, rhythm and play.
Arriving at El Prat (International) airport, you'll be greeted with frequent aerobúses taking you to the city (around 30mins). You can also catch an Uber or taxi to get where you need. Ensure you have some comfortable shoes, and a Metro card to get around - the 'Hola BCN'
card can be a great choice, offering unlimited travel for 2-5 days.
One thing to adjust to (along with any potential jet lag) is the daily rhythm. The city is sleepy until about 10 am, when shops, eateries, and public spaces begin to awaken. Breakfast is either not a thing, or perhaps rather Italian in style - a pastry and a cortado (equal parts espresso and steamed milk) might do. But don't worry - there's plenty to look forward to - feasting on a slow early afternoon lunch, a roll around on the beach or grass for mid-afternoon siesta, and a decadent availability of evening tapas or late evening dining (most restaurants open after 8.30pm; dinner is commonly enjoyed around 10 pm.
This rhythm can be played to your great advantage
Use those early morning times to visit Sagrada Familia or other sites that buzz with tourists later in the day. Many places close for siesta time (between 1-4pm) and exploring public or outside spaces are best done in the afternoon sun. When out and about, keep your valuables close - it is a bustling place and sneaky hands are best avoided through vigilance. There are very touristy spots, like La Rambla, or the famous Mercat de la Boqueria, which ooze dynamism and energy but are not essential if you prefer the less travelled route.
The vibrancy of Barcelona is visible in many manners...
Notably in the sweeping inspiration of Antonio Gaudi, the beloved and revered designer and architect hailing from this region of Catalonia. The Sagrada Familia is his most famous project - still under construction a century after his passing - and is truly a spectacle to behold. It's a little like walking into the ribcage of a mythical creature - grandeur, awe and a church singing its ode to Mother Nature. There are interludes of Gaudi throughout the city - the fun of Park Guell, the once-private residences of Casa Mila and La Pedrera are amongst them. Each holds novelties of nature in the smallest detail; the closer you look, the more you'll marvel. Well worth appreciating in the quiet morning light.
If you're looking to soak up the vibrancy at your own pace...
A day wandering through the streets of El Gotic (Gothic Quarter) will serve to delight your senses. There are countless shop windows, hidden gems that serve Churros con Chocolate (we're talking thick, molten chocolate lava in a cup - 10 am is not too early!), art galleries and stores that herald an inimitable air of being wholly unique. Architectural landmarks include Plaça Reial (Royal Plaza) and Plaça del Rei (Plaza of the King) harking from the 14th century. If you come here in the evening, don't miss experiencing Flamenco at Los Tarantos - one of Barcelona's oldest venues for this simultaneously fiery and chilling integration of rhythm, dance and voice.
With the rhythm beating through your body, it's a good time to fill your belly. Lunch is generally the boldest meal of the day, and there are numerous eateries that offer Menu del Dia - an economical dining option with 2-3 courses inclusive of wine. (Yes, wine with lunch is the usual.) There is also a proliferation of international foods - something to suit all tastes. Stay away from the main tourist routes and wander a few streets away to discover better-priced, more authentic family-run businesses. Surprise yourself with some spontaneity.
There are many places that offer tapas-style dining over both lunch and dinner hours.
For a trusted favourite, head to Quimet y Quimet in the neighbourhood of Poble Sec. Get there early - it packs in close, but the service is always friendly and recommendations are offered with welcome. It's an intimate, standing-only kind of space (as with many similar eateries) but this nook-in-the-wall is an institution showcasing the finest of tinned goods, cheeses and the crisp bubbly local sparkling wine, Cava. Don't turn your nose up at the tins - in the Spanish tradition, only the freshest seafood and vegetables are enrobed in high-grade olive oil and seasonings to soak in time. This massages out the natural fats and briny flavours of earth and sea, and the result are beautifully shiny jewels of mussels, salmon, dill, capers, pickles…simple elements mingling into a mouthwatering burst to be savoured. The effervescence of cava or vermouth (usually on tap) refreshes the palate perfectly. Anthony Bourdain was definitely on-point about this place.
Another day, another exploration
Close to the many lively eateries of Poble Sec, you might head to Montjuïc
. Translating from Catalan as 'Jewish Mountain', rises 173m overlooking the port of Barcelona. Take a cable car up, and enjoy the vistas of the wooded hills as well as some monumental spaces, including Montjuïc castle, Poble Espanyol (Spanish Village), or for more visual arts and culture - Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) and Fundació Joan Miro. Ticket prices contribute to the maintenance and growing of these preservations and galleries, but if you're on a budget, simply enjoying the fresh air and the view is worth a contented sigh.
Finally, if your mind and heart carry you away from the bustle of the city, a wonderful sanctuary can be found at the monastery in Montserrat. It's a good idea to book the train and funicular (mountain rail) online first - and pack your own snacks and lunch. You can travel out by train from Plaça d'Espanya and once there, the funicular will take you high up amidst spectacular horizons. The monastery holds a sense of mystical quiet, and there is something reverent about being in the shadow of these boulder-like foothills. Whether you're taking stillness or meandering the mountains, be mindful of getting lost in time up here - funiculars and trains run to a daily schedule, so make sure you arrive back well before the last late afternoon service.
Barcelona is a city of festivals too, so depending on what time you travel, look out for celebrations that bring even more colour to the diversity of life here. What you might find in this city is a taste of how life might move if we honour simplicity, depth and joy in work and play - let it rise above the robotic pulse of productivity. Yes, maybe this is simply what emanates on the surface - tension always exists within any living, breathing city. But such joy offers up the possibility that there is space always, for light to seep in and lift up the darkest shadows.
Not so different from a tasty pintxo, even a small taste of Barcelona can enthral you with flavour, so don't be surprised if you find yourself reaching back for more.