On Eixample, overtourism & lost shoes | Barcelona

Barcelona

When I was thinking where to go for some after-winter sun,  and deciding between Porto and Formula 1 in Baku, the final thought was that right now I want to spend some time near the ocean with the breeze, the waves and even some sand in the most unwelcome places. Which is why going more or less along Portugal’s coast seemed like a good idea.  

And like with most good ideas, life happened. After unimpressive bus ride from Porto I got to Lisbon, the Sleeping Beauty it seemed. While I was in the mood for Alice in Wonderland. So when I stumbled upon a dirt-cheap bus ticket to Spain, I took a sharp turn to another country, falling in love with Madrid’s Prado and Mercado. And not much else. Finally, finding another ticket, this time time for a flight from Barcelona to Skopje, is how I landed in Catalonia’s capital. 

Oh Barcelona. Famous for Gaudi, whose flair of genius I recognize, if not necessarily care for. Making headlines as a posterchild for overtourism, with around 30 million visitors a year compared to ‘only’ 1.7 million residents. Those two reasons, which make it a wet tourist dream for so many people, are exactly why Barcelona was never on my bucket list. Or more precisely – I’d like to go there, if it became ‘trendy’ to go somewhere else. But well, money is money. And it was the cheapest option to get out of Spain, which is kind of weird when you think about it. With trying to curb the amount of tourists and all…

Anyway, I have to admit – I ran away from human traffic jam in La Barceloneta and mostly avoided tourist areas in Gothic Quarter, El Born and near Gaudi’s works. And even with all that, I fell in love with the city, mostly with Eixample district. What can I say, I have a type. I like them lined with big old trees and even older buildings. And effortless elegance. I also love taking a peek inside one of the buildings and finding a gothic church courtyard behind them. Or people watching in El Fornet, a surprisingly well decorated cafe chain. Everywhere else, you get Starbucks. In Barcelona – you get this.

As for overtourism, I’m just gonna stick to common sense and consideration instead of radical preachiness. And if you wanna read more thoughts on the subject, Annika from The Midnight Blue Elephant recently put them in words better than I ever could.

Anybody missing a shoe or two?
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Porto Story

Quem És, Porto? Who are you, Porto? 

Around the corner from São Bento train station, which is famous for its tiled interior depicting Portugal’s past, is a more modern take on azulejos. Covering the whole facade of a building on Rua da Madeira 182 are answers to that question – who are you, Porto? – submitted anonymously by city’s residents. 

That combination is exactly how Porto seems like, at least to me – the allure of the past enhanced by the energy of the present. And even though the old tram was converted to a tourist attraction, or tiled facades of Capela das Almas and Igreja do Carmo are now top Instagram spots, Porto still does feel honest.

Mercado do Bolhão

Mercado do Bolhão &around has got to be my favourite area in the morning. A proper old market hall – good for fresh food, with an added bonus of excellent people watching. 

When I’m there, I also like to step into one of the old stores on Rua Formosa, just across the street from the market hall. Confeitaria do Bolhão – a bakery/cafe/grocery store/restaurant – holds a special place in my heart. And in my stomach.

Azulejos

Though not exclusively Portuguese, azulejos really flourished here. From Instagram-famous walls of São Bento train station, Igreja do Carmo and Capela das Almas to many, many unnamed buildings throughout the city, there surely in no shortage of them.

There’s even a workshop on Airbnb where you can paint one yourself.

 

The Light

And there’s the last thing – THE LIGHT. That hazy warm glow that adds magic to what you see. 

See for yourself at Porto’s prime golden hour spot – Miradouro da Serra do Pilar, just above the famous Ponte Luís I. You, and just a few other photographers. No more than 100, I promise my friend! Best deal in the city! 

 

Tips & Tricks

  • first things first – it’s a city with coffee for under 1 EUR!
  • for sipping, no-milk types like me I’d suggest you try ‘um abatanado’ – a long black. For others – a good guide on Portugal’s coffee.
  • this is also a city of hills and miradouros – take advantage. From the ones I’ve been to, I like Miradouro da Serra do Pilar, da Vitoria and the area around Sé Catedral the most.
  • great local blog on Porto
  • make the time to spend time on the coast. My suggestion: Foz do Douro for the ‘angry ocean’ weather, and the lighthouse. Catch Flor do Gás while you’re there – it’s a small boat taxi connecting Foz do Douro with Afurada, a fishing village on the other side of the river. And of course there’s Miramar for sunset, with a chapel on the beach.
  • next to Palácio da Bolsa, and in sharp contrast with its spread, is a strikingly red industrial Mercado Ferreira Borges. When I was there someone started spontaneously playing on a piano inside, but that might not be guaranteed 😉
  • have you heard about La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires? Cemitério do Prado do Repouso has a similar atmosphere. With addition of azulejos and a legend of the grave no. 177/33 from 1868, about a rich prostitute and her unusual love memento.
  • if you’ve already seen Rua das Flores, go to Rua do Almada for a walk. 
  • and lastly, here you can get 25 EUR off your first stay through Airbnb, and here is one-time offer for 12 EUR on Booking.com. Personally, I use both websites.
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One step forward

Porto - pastel de nata



Hey guys,

First things first – few words of introduction. Or better yet – three things about me and my travel preferences. So, hopefully, you’ll get an idea if what I like is your piece of cake or should you run in the other direction.

  • I pick Belgrade over Budapest. Porto over Lisbon. Buenos Aires over Rio de Janeiro. Warsaw over Krakow. Istanbul over all of the above. Possibly. At least until I change my mind. If they are beautifully elegant, but rough around the edges – it’s a good chance they are my cup of tea.
  • Venezuela blew my mind when it comes to nature, and I haven’t even seen Angel Falls, tepui or Orinoco delta. Not that I wouldn’t love to. But I’m too chicken to go there right now. It was the combination of lush greenery and mountain scenery, often hugged by a rising fog that made such an impression on me. Plus nature’s display of power in the form of Catatumbo lightning. Other than that – I pick rugged coast and rough seas over sunny beach. Though palms are kinda cool 😉
  • Sometimes I don’t visit a single sight. I prefer to just walk around, look and enjoy. And eat. Always eat. I will never be one of those people who make a travel plan and only go from one attraction to another, ticking off things from their list.

Other than that, I also feel uncomfortable with people seeing me brush my teeth, though that’s hardly a travel preference. Even if it happens quite often when traveling. Well, somewhat often. But, to be fair, I brush my teeth in strange places sometimes. Ok, I’m gonna shut up now.

Till the next time,

Iz

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