I have asked a few people of what they think about firstly when it comes to Barcelona. The answer is either Camp Nou or Gaudí. For a soccer dummy like me, Camp Nou is obviously off the table. And Gaudí… you just cannot avoid Gaudí in Barcelona.
Apart from the iconic Sagrada Família, Gaudí has an indelible mark on Barcelona’s architecture and style. The city itself also resembles its most famous artist’s creations, Barcelona is anything but boring and conventional.
But beyond Gaudí, the capital city of Catalonia has so much more to offer. I came to Barcelona mainly to see with my own eyes Gaudí’s legacy, yet the non-Gaudí side turned out to leave me quite impressed.
My first image of Spain was that of Sagrada Família. At home in Vietnam, we used to have a book titled something like 40 Wonders of the World, in which Sagrada Família is proudly listed as one of the best of the best. For a few years (that is, until 4 years ago), I still believed that it was in Mexico… Excuse my shallowness, but my young brain at the time of reading could not register this extremely foreign name. The church, whose exterior looks like a bizarre synthesis of a Disney castle and giant corncobs, was embedded in my head as a very Mexican thing (corn –> grilled corn –> corn tortillas –> nachos –> Mexico). There, I said it, feel free to curse me in all kinds of languages for my dim-witted, narrow, manipulated, over-simplistic, politically incorrect, culturally superficial past thinking.
But but… I mean, guys, look at this photos. I swear that those towers look like corncobs.
After Zaragoza, the bf and I again took a (long) morning train to the Mediterranean city of Tarragona. We stayed in this city for a day before heading to Barcelona–our final destination in Spain. Famous for its mediaeval alleys and impressive Roman ruins, especially the iconic Amphitheater overlooking the sea, Tarragona is a beautiful port town that deserves at least a day trip from its bigger and better-known neighbor city.
Think Spanish food and what comes first to your mind? Lots, indeed. Spanish food is among the best known in the world, not only for its level of yumminess but also for its incredible diversity. Varied climates and terrains mean that a myriad of different vegetables are grown. While lamb, beef and chicken abound, Spain’s extended coastline brings seafood to the country’s gastronomic scene. Most importantly, perhaps, is the influence of different cultures embedded in Spanish cooking: Roman & Greek (where else do you think olive oil and wine came from?), Moorish (gazpacho, baby, it’s the gazpacho), Jewish (stew in olla), and Christian (SPANISH HAM!). Paella, croquetas, tortilla española, jamon, chorizo, churros, sangria… even the name sound exciting already.
However, if you can only choose ONE type of Spanish food to savour, stick with tapas. Everyone knows what tapas mean, but in plain English: a variety of Spanish appetizers, served hot or cold, which make you very happy after tasting and keep you longing for more. Good thing is that you can find tapas bars everywhere in the world, but in Spain, tapas have been perfected into real cuisine.
When we were in Spain, the sheer density of tapas bars per square kilometer was confusing and intimidating. As visitors, we of course wanted to find a real gem among this multitude of establishments. After failing to make it to one of Girona’s best tapas bars (according to TripAdvisor), we decided to avenge our loss by heading to La Republicana–arguably the most popular and the best place to enjoy tapas in Zaragoza the next day.
Situated by the mighty Ebro river, the great city of Zaragoza is a less visited gem in northeastern Spain but has its fair share of amazing landmarks. After two slow days at the medieval Girona, Zaragoza with its feisty atmosphere and impressive sceneries gave us a pleasant, refreshing contrast.
Catalan flags hanging from balconies, colorful houses along the Onya river, quaint narrow cobbled streets, looming cathedrals and formidable medieval walls, welcome to Girona–the fortress of Catalonia.