A Catalan State Of Mind

In Barcelona, the capital city of the Spanish region of Cataluña, rest and relaxation are taken seriously. From the moment I stepped out of the Metro, I noticed it. People, young and old, dozing off on park benches, couples sharing kisses and whispers as they took a leisurely stroll, children laughing as they chased pigeons through the plaza, young professionals at an outdoor table having a drink together at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Our walk from the Metro to the sophisticated Cram l’Hotel, in l’Eixample, a predominantly residential area, revealed even more about the locals. In a mere 15 minutes I observed just how different Catalans are from Americans. They laugh more, if you smile at someone, they smile back, they’re serious about food, but very few are overweight. They are kind and willing to oblige a lost tourist whose Spanish isn’t exactly top notch.

After waking from a long nap, jet-lagged, starving, and ready for my first taste of Barcelona, I hit the town for my first ever tapas crawl. Although Barcelona is not traditionally known for tapas, the act of hopping from bar to bar drinking ice cold Estrellas (a popular beer, native to the city), cava (Spanish-style champagne), or vino tinto (red wine, of course), and indulging in small dishes such as, Iberico ham and Manchego cheese on thinly sliced baguette, fried calamari with just a squeeze of lemon, and Morcilla sausage with charred chili peppers has, in recent years, become a much-loved and frequently practiced custom of locals and tourists alike.

The highlight of Barcelona was enjoying locally grown, healthful, and inventive meals prepared by chefs all over the city, but Barcelona has something to offer every traveler. From beach bums longing to lounge along the Mediterranean, to art and architecture mavens sure to be enamored by the works of Gaudi and Picasso, to history gurus searching for relics of centuries past...even fashionistas will melt at the sight of Passeig de Gracia!

So whether you’re into indulging in late-night, leisurely meals or designer shopping sprees, a trip to this metropolitan city will definitely satisfy every whim.

Places to Stay
Cram l’hotel
A modern, chic, boutique hotel with an unpretentious and attentive staff. It can be a little pricey, but a quick Internet search can yield some great deals. Book early, Cram has a mere 67 rooms. (34) 93 216 77 00/www.hotelcram.com

Cocoon Barcelona
Cocoon Barcelona, also located in l’Eixample provides excellent apartment rentals to tourists for the approximate cost of a very basic hotel or hostel accomodation. www.cocoonbarcelona.com

Places to Eat
Cinc Sentits
Run by a Spanish family who prides themselves in every detail, your meal comes with a hefty price tag, but you leave feeling as if your life wouldn’t have been complete without it. The chef has jumped on the molecular cuisine bandwagon, but uses mostly fresh ingredients from Cataluña. The filet mignon is to die for, sauces are light and refreshing, and the lemon dessert is a religious experience. Make reservations in advance. (34) 93 323 94 90/www.cincsentits.com

Casual, fine-dining at its best, here you can get all the local specialties and feel like a hipster doing it. The goat cheese salad is fabulous as is the crema catalana, a traditional Catalan dessert. (34) 93 451 14 34/www.mejador-restaurant.com

Taverna Mediterranea
To eat and socialize with the locals, you can’t beat this robust and lively bar/restaurant. Although a little cramped, the tight space only adds to the authenticity of the experience. The food is great, the cava sangria is excellent, and the atmosphere is even better.
(34) 64 972 17 43/Enrique Granados, 58/ l’Eixample

Places to See
La Boqueria
This famous food market, offers up fresh, local foods of almost any variety as well as the cuisine of tiny bars dotted throughout. The famous bar Pinoxto is perfect for breakfast and coffee and the newer El Quim de la Boqueria is your best bet for a seafood lunch with a side of patata bravas If you prefer not to wait in line, stop by the fresh food stalls for all the makings of a great picnic. Rambla 91/www.boqueria.info

La Pedrera
One of the most astonishing works of famous architect, Antoni Gaudi, the rooftop of this architectural marvel is jaw-dropping. Be sure to check out the century-old, fully furnished apartment housed here. Provenca, 261-265/www.fundaciocaixacatalunya.org

La Rambla
This go to spot for Barcelona tourists is great for souvenir shopping, food, and other tourism-centric novelties. La Rambla is also the gateway to many Barcelona neighborhoods including El Barri Gotic and El Raval. Begins at Placa Catalunya and continues on to Port Vell.

Sagrada Familia
No Barcelona experience is complete without a trip to this massive, still unfinished project of Gaudi, whether you pay to tour the interior or just enjoy the view from outside, it is undoubtedly an unbelievable sight. (34) 93 207 30 31/www.sagradafamilia.org

Parc Guell
Even among the thousands of tourists that flock here everyday, this Gaudi masterpiece is an oasis of peace, relaxation, and wonder. The awe-inspiring mosaics and carvings exemplify the aura of Barcelona.

Shayne Rodriguez Thompson