The Insider's Guide to Barcelona ...and Life!
Barcelona is a city of stories.
Can you write an Insider's guide to Barcelona without mentioning its history? I don't think so. This city has so much of it, and you can really feel it when you are there. Although you can read about it in the history books, I really recommend reading up on the more personal stories first. Read novels. Watch movies. Read about the people.
I read the stories of Barcelona way before I visited the city for the first time. I read the Shadow of the Wind and Cathedral of the Sea. I soaked up the energy of the city in my imagination. I connected with it's war history, its background as one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean, and the stories of how its many cathedrals were built. I watched Vicky Christina Barcelona and dreamt about Gaudí and passionate handsome artists living on red wine and Spanish guitar.
Barcelona and I have history together, too.
The first time I went to Barcelona, I was happy. I loved walking the narrow streets, I explored, found awesome restaurants, shopped in little cute shops, discovered ruins and I photographed everything with my lomo cameras.
It was beautiful.
The second time was very different. I went back during a time in my life when I was very severely eating disordered and very, very miserable. I had no energy to explore, I had no desire for life. Although Barcelona was still vibrant and lively, I wasn't.
It has been such a journey for me to come back for a third time and feel how I have grown and evolved in the past few years. Barcelona has grown and evolved too. Since last time I was there, a lot of new restaurants and shops have opened, and some of the places I visited last time has closed. I am like that to. Some places in me have been opened. Some have been closed.
When I connect with a city, I also connect with myself. That's why I have decided to write a different kind of Insider's guide to Barcelona. It's a guide to Barcelona, but most of all, it's a guide to life.
The Insider's Guide to Barcelona ...and Life!
To Barcelona: Go back to this city multiple times. See how much you have changed in the meantime. See how you can get a sense of the time passing and changing. Notice how much they have built on La Sagrada Família since the last time you were there. Barcelona is always evolving, just like you. Come back many times!
To Life: Return to your dreams, revisit your intentions, go back to your childhood places. Try working with a skilled therapist. Look through your family's photo albums. Go back to the places you have forgotten, or wish you could forget. Although I believe that generally it's good to focus on the future over the past, it can be extremely valuable to revisit your past every now and then to soak in the wisdom and learn from where you have been.
In Barcelona: Stay in an awesome place where you feel safe, comfortable and where you can take off your shoes after a long day out and sink into the most comfortable bed you have ever felt. For hotels, choose small over big, personal over impersonal and boutique over business. Camille and I stayed in a beautiful hotel apartment at Retrome Barcelona with our own kitchen, a huge balcony, vintage furniture and warm personal service.
In Life: Invest in a great bed and comfortable organic cotton bedsheets. Have lots and lots of pillows. Use lavender oil to relax. Turn off all electronics at least one hour before bed. Do deep breathing or restorative yoga before you go to sleep. Write down all your worries on a piece of paper so you can let them go.
Hop on, hop off
In Barcelona: There was a time when I would literally rather be dead than to be seen on a hop-on-hop-off bus. Today, I find freedom in not caring what people think. If you are short on time in this great city, use the hop-on-hop-off to get to the most exciting places, and cruise around with the wind in your hair. Hop on in the Barri Gothic. Hop off at La Sagrada família. Hop on at Park Güell. Hop off at the vintage amusement park. Hop on when you are tired. Hop off next to your hotel.
In life: Hop on and say yes to everything that feels exciting and awesome to you. Hop off everything that doesn't. Hop on trains and flights and buses. Hop off in a new and adventurous place. Hop on the people (please don't interpret this literally, haha!) that make you feel great. Hop off relationships, friendships, family relations and any other situations that make you feel bad. Ride through life with the wind in your hair.
Hang out with great people
In Barcelona: Hook up with old friends and new friends. I'm sure you know someone who knows someone who lives there. Connect with people. Invite all your friends to go with you. ...or don't. Go alone! No one's company is greater than your own.
In life: Life is too short to be around people who only weigh you down. Let them go. Seek out the people who share the same dreams, hopes and values as you do. Look for them in the places you like to go and hang out yourself. Check out Heart Wide Open for an international community of supportive women.
Get help from people more experienced than you
In Barcelona: Visit the tourist information for some insider tips on what to see and where to go. Because there is so much to see, it's worth getting some guidance on what is going on beyond the major tourist places. Also, do a guided tour for the ultimate experience. The best part of our whole trip was a food tour organized by Devour Barcelona. We had an awesome local guide take us through the narrow maze-like streets of Gràcia, where we visited family-owned restaurants and shops that looked completely untouched by time. We tasted everything from cava, cheese, olives and made our own tomato bread – to the tastiest Syrian pastries. Places we would have never found otherwise!
In life: It is always a good idea to get guidance and help, no matter where you are on your journey of life. Get guidance from a good mentor, work with a therapist or life coach, ask friends for their best recommendations, spend time with your elders and learn from them. Seek out the best teachers in your field. Take advice from people who have done what you want to do. It will make everything so much easier. Always.
Wander and get lost. Then find yourself.
In Barcelona: This city, with its narrow streets and alleys, is perfect for wandering. Start in the Barri Gòtic and explore the old, old city with its maze-like streets. Continue with the area of El Born, and make sure you visit the Cathedral of the Sea; the Santa Maria del Mar. Other areas that are great for wandering around is El Raval and Vila de Gràcia. Find yourself in a lovely square watching the birds, the locals and the children playing. Find yourself in the moment. Soak it in.
In Life: Choose the road less travelled by and wander through life like an explorer and a traveller. Life is an adventure! Don't worry if you feel (or get) lost, this is part of the game.
It's when we are lost that we can find the true treasures in this world. (Tweet this!)
Find yourself along the way, but don't rush it. You have your whole life to find yourself. Marvel in the wonder of being unexplored territory.
Lounge in the sun (because life is a beach!)
In Barcelona: The beach is only a short walk away – with it's sand, surfers and the splashing, surging ocean. Take the bus, underground or walk down La Rambla, hit the beach and relax your soul to the soundtrack of the waves. And then when you feel rejuvenated, head back up into the city and have some tapas and a glass of sparkly cava.
In Life: Hang out where the sunshine in your life is. Lounge in your happy place. Surf the waves life throw at you, and make sure you relax as much as you can. If you don't live in a sunny place, BE the sunny place. Smile more!
In Barcelona: It's easy to eat green and lean in Barcelona, even in the land of cheese and ham! My lovely receptionist at Retrome Barcelona recommended some great places and we dined at Teresa Carles, Flax & Kale, Veggie Garden and Copasetic. All of these also do gluten free and vegan options. Devour Barcelona gave me vegetarian and lactose free options at all stops on our amazing food tour.
In Life: A plant-based diet is very good for you. I won't try to convince you to go vegetarian or vegan... or paleo, gluten-free, low-this or high-that. Just eat more plants. Everyone agree on that one! You'll feel healthier, lighter, have more energy and provide yourself with all the nutrients your body needs. Plus, it's great for the planet too!
In Barcelona: It is always a good idea to look up, because nowhere else is the architecture THIS eclectic and amazing! You have all kinds of styles in one place, and the treasures are everywhere. Look up for surprises!
In Life: Don't forget to look at the stars. Dream. Lie down and do some cloud gazing. We basically spend our whole lives looking down, at our feet, at our smartphones... or looking down on ourselves. Let's look up instead! Look for the positive in any situation. Connect with something larger than yourself.
Get some perspective
In Barcelona: When visiting a big city it is always good to get some perspective and overview, and in Barcelona you have several great options! Go to Park Güell, visit the tower of La Sagrada Família or take the Montjuic cable car for some awesome views of this great city.
In Life: Everything feels easier when you get some perspective. If you are in the middle of something challenging, or just want to learn more about yourself, perspective comes with distance. Take a break, a vacation or go on a journey to see things more clearly. Visit a developing country! Nothing will give you perspective like that... Writing about things might also help you see everything from a different angle, or talk to your friends, a therapist, a family member or a life coach to get some help to see your life in different ways. Anything that can help you think about your situation differently and see it in a different way will help you get perspective and see new possibilities.
What are your top tips for Barcelona? And life?
[Thank you to the Tourism Board of Barcelona, Retrome Barcelona and Devour Barcelona for generously sponsoring our stay and proving such great service and warmth. All opinions are my own. Photos taken by me on my trip in 2010. To see more recent photos, please check out my Instagram!]