The Element of Surprise

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

-Lewis Carroll

We landed in Barcelona at dusk, which we swore we would never do again after our first trip to Rome. Although we were immediately in awe of the city, finding our accommodations was slightly reminiscent of that night in Rome. After taking the Aerobus to Placa de Catalunya and attempting to figure out our route on foot, all in the midst of the hustle an bustle of the busy street of La Rambla, we opted to take a taxi instead. We were staying in the borough of El Born, which is a series of beautiful gothic pedestrian lanes, each looking increasingly like the last. The cab driver took us as far as he could and then dropped us off, pointed down a lane and rambled something in Spanish. We thanked him and continued on our way, now an hour late meeting the person from which we were picking up our apartment key. Frustration began to build as we walked in circles through the maze that is El Born, not to mention the fact that all the tiny little lanes were not labeled on our map. After 30 minutes of searching, we finally found our apartment, and were thrilled with it’s charm and proximity to so many cafes, bars and restaurants.

We decided that we deserved a nice dinner out after our efforts in finding our accommodations, so we went wandering the streets of El Born and ended up in a tiny tapa restaurant called Tapeo. It was our first Spanish tapa experience and we were sold, it was amazing! The small portions allow us to try several typical Spanish menu items and share them all. It would be tapas for dinner each night in Barcelona from that point on.

The next day we stopped by many local attractions, such as the Parc de la Ciutadella, the Arc du Triomf, and several unique buildings designed by architect Antoni Gaudi; however none held a candle to Gaudi’s true ‘piece de resistance’ the basilica of Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction began on this masterpiece in 1882 and continued until Gaudi’s death in 1926. Before he passed he left plans for completion of the basilica, which is still underway today. The expected year of completion is beyond 2026. We arrived, thinking we could walk right in, but there were massive crowds surrounding all sides of Sagrada Familia, and we were there during low season. When we first arrived, at 12:00pm, we could only buy tickets for a 3:00pm visit, which we did. It was well worth the wait to tour the amazing structure. Gaudi was an absolute genius and ahead of his time with his Art Nouveau architectural style. It was the most incredible structure we had ever had the opportunity to visit.

We spent that evening drinking Spanish wines and cava (which is sparkling wine) and Czech liquors with our welcoming Airbnb hosts, Nina and Mauricio, along with another British couple that were also staying at the apartment. One shared bottle turned into eight, which turned into a memorable night and new travel friendships made.

Although Sagrada Familia was hard to top, we nevertheless enjoyed the rest of our time in Barcelona. Where many European cities are full of history and bursting with ancient ruins, Barcelona is more modern artsy, complete with city beaches, endless tapa restaurants, colourful markets and numerous art galleries and museums. The toughest decisions was which gallery to visit in or limited time, but we chose the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. At our visit there we learned about Catalonian history, which is a specific region of Spain. We were also extremely eager to see an original Picasso, which after keeping our eyes peeled for the entire afternoon there, was the last piece in the Moderns area. Had more time allowed, we would have loved to visit the Picasso Museum, to take in many more of his works, but that will have to wait until our next visit to Barcelona. We had fallen head over heals in love with Barcelona and vowed we would be back once Sagrada Familia is complete.

Ibiza was our next Spanish destination, which is a Balearic Island, just a short Ryanair flight away. The island has become popular, in recent years, for its summer party scene which young people flood to, all looking to hear the hottest new DJs and dance in some of the best clubs in the world. The operative word being ‘summer’.

We stayed in an area, outside of the city of Eivissa, called Sant Jordi. After dropping our bags at our apartment we ventured out for a walk to get some lunch and find a supermarket…ghost town. We knew it was low season, and that many restaurants, shops and bars are only open in the summer, but we assumed it would be 50/50, open and closed, not 99/1. We decided to walk into Eivissa to get a better sense of the area and see if it was any busier there. Although in the city it was more like 60/40, we were still not thrilled about spending the next four days there, so we began weighing our options: fly back to Barcelona and spend a few more days there, fly to another Spanish city or rent a car and explore other areas of the island. We decided to do the latter of the options, which turned out to be the best unplanned decision of our trip yet.

Although Ibiza is only known, to the masses, as a place for partying, it has so much more to offer! We had picked up a map of the island at the tourist information booth in Eivissa, which pointed out beaches, scenic look-outs as well as historical and archeological sites. With a picnic lunch packed, and the map as our guide, away we went. We drove from one end of the island, the area of Sant Josep, to the opposite end, Sant Joan. We soon realized all the beauty that this small island had to offer, with some of the most incredible cove beaches and daunting cliff coastlines we had ever seen. The best part was that, because it was low season, we didn’t have to fight the crowds.

With so few travellers on island, we felt and lived like locals by cooking most of our own meals and attending any and all second hand and artisan markets we could find; at which there was there was the truest hippy culture we had ever seen. Dreadlocks, fur vests, feather head pieces and beads in abundance; we had conversation with some of the nicest people from all over the world while taking in the aroma of incense and the sounds of local musicians.

Although we made good use of the kitchen in our apartment, we did have one dinner out…one unforgettable dinner out. In the back streets of Sant Jordi we stumbled upon Clandestino Kitchen and Cocktail Bar. We were immediately drawn to it, as one of the only places that was open, but stayed because of the welcoming and cozy atmosphere, complete with white Mediterranean walls, barn board floors and wood burning fire place heating the place and giving off a feeling of home. The menu, as it changed daily, existed only on a chalk board that was presented at each individual table, one at a time, as the menu items were explained. Both of our meals were superb, not to mention the impeccable service and inviting atmosphere. Two and a half hours later we walked back to our apartment, still raving to each other about our unforgettable gastronomic experience.

Barcelona blew us away more than we could have imagined and Ibiza was our most pleasant surprise yet. Both turned out to be incredible places to visit and we would highly recommend both, but perhaps not for the typical reasons. When we are preparing for a trip we spend so much time imagining the things we will do and reading about them in books, that we often are disappointed when experiences are not just how we pictured them to be. What our experiences in Spain have taught us is that things may not always be as they seem and sometimes it’s best to let go our of preconceived notions, let the unplanned happen and enjoy the element of surprise.

Next stop…Italy…

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