The Granny-in-her-20's Guide to Summer Barcelona
The granny's guide to Barcelona
Barcelona. Heart of Spain. Catalunya. Gaudi. Sagrada Familia. Scorching heat. 35 Celsius plus. Beautiful fruits and produce everywhere. Delicious food. People smiling and say ‘Hola!’ and ‘Si!’ more than anything. 3pm Lunch. 9pm Dinner. Sunset at 10pm.
I was exceptionally well-prepared for my Barcelona trip, so prepared plus a bit of luck that I am able to have the smoothest trip for years. I decided to write them down!
(1) Please avoid anything that involves walking under the sun from 2pm-5ish.
I’m talking about July-August Barcelona, and you can take that as a +/- 1 hour reference if you’re travelling shortly before or after that. I have no words to describe the amount of desperation for water and shades when you’re in the middle of nowhere trying to get to your tourist spot - there’s no turning back because you’re in the middle of it, and getting back vs getting there is same distance.
This is crucial when you want to limit your load and buying bottled water.
(**In Barcelona, restaurants don’t serve ‘tap water’ - they all come in bottles. So if you want to stay hydrated without spending unnecessary money, you might want to rethink your itinerary.)
(2) Check out the Detour app before you go.
Detour is a collection of tours curated by very interesting people from various industries. They can be from a former Mi5 spy (London), a chef (Barcelona), and many others! I thought it was just an app with routes and an audio playlist (so you go ‘stop 1 - hit ‘play’ number 1’ kind of simple app), but it wasn’t that simple. Not sponsored - just super impressed!!
It is equipped with GPS so the audio plays when you reach that destination. It’s like scavenger hunt x walking tour with your own personal guide. The guide isn’t robotic but lively, with a dose of personality that you would totally love. What’s better is the level of granularity - literally it is like the guide is there, they tell you to walk past with ‘red bikes’ on your right, or look up to find a special sign on the corner of a door…
The most surprising is its use of virtual reality. People were generally weary of using their phones when travelling because it didn’t feel ‘immersive’. Why look at your phone while you travel? But VR made that happen - you can still see whatever there is in front of you and have VR guiding you to your next location.
(**Make sure you have enough battery before you start the tour. Also would be great if you can have active internet. Or else, DOWNLOAD THE TOUR FIRST before you start.)
(3) When you arrive at Barcelona, there are various ways to get out of the airport.
Taxi / Uber (but no, coz they were on strike). Metro. Aerobus (kind of like airport express buses).
Special note on metro - when we arrived at the station, there were literally 200 people queueing for tickets because there were only 3 ticket machines available and you know tourists takes 10000 years to find their station, get their coins out, and buy the tickets.
Look to the left of the ticket machines - you’ll find a “tourist office” which says “no single tickets”. Reverse engineer it, it means it sells “non-single” tickets! (My gawd I think I am a genius when I accidentally saw the sign and guessed they sell passes!) Buy a 2-/3-/7- day pass and you’ll accidentally embark on a ‘low waste’ journey of not having to buy tickets every time you take the metro.
(4) Buy all visitor tickets in advance
Well - this is a no-brainer, but hear me out. You want to reduce paper clutter and you might be delighted to know that almost all of the places I visited, from Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, Park Güell, to National Art Museum - all did not require physical tickets. What’s better, if you buy online, e-tickets are also ‘premium’ passes - you can skip the queue and just stride inside the world famous church or apartments that Gaudi built with 0 time wasted. Tried and tested - I did not have to wait at any point.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE use the audio guide for Casa Mila. I don’t want to spoil it, but you won’t regret it.
(5) If you need to do duty free shopping on departures from Barcelona Airport
On HIGH ALERT after customs and before immigration. It’s the point of no return.
The set up of Barcelona is the weirdest I’ve ever seen. It’s duty free sales is 100% dependent on the chance that people passing customs, right before they reach immigration, are able to spot a very faint grey sign that point down to “Sky Centre” where all of the shops are. Once you pass immigration, there’s no return. You are free to enjoy your last moments of Barcelona at shabby airport gates or the really chaotic cafeterias.
(1) Bring a bra-less wardrobe
The summer heat in Barcelona means that you wouldn’t really want to have anything restraining on your body, especially when metros and many eateries have no or next to absence of air-con. Making matters worse, taxis are on strike and Ubers aren’t available in the city. So all you can do is walking under the heat. I’ve been on a walk for 30 minutes to Park Güell and National Art Muesum of Catalonia EACH - it’s unthinkable for someone from Hong Kong to find that 90% of the journey is roof-less.
What saved my life was Uniqlo’s strappy top with bra pads built-in. They aren’t made with cotton or linen but plastic (nylon, polyester and spandex), which I feel guilty of, and I know I can do better.
I’ve brought nipple pads and it wasn’t a good idea during the day. I was so sweaty and they literally slipped off. I had to run to a toilet and have them packed safely. I went braless the whole day.
Of course, if you’re adventurous, you can totally go braless in Barcelona! People don‘t really care.
I went bra-less in all these photos. :P No one can tell anyways!!! 成日都覺得戴咗好有自欺欺人／喬裝／此地無銀 feel...
(2) Bring a wide-brimmed hat and elastic band
If you have nice dyed locks or bald, or anyone with nice hair, I recommend wearing straw, wide-brimmed hats that aren’t too tight. Try not to wear caps because imagine the scorching heat from directly above and your head is wrapped around with tightly knitted cap that leaves no breathing room? I was glad I was able to find one in the city, but I recommend bringing your own just in case.
The hat is not only useful for protecting your scalp or wonderful locks, but it’s also useful for protecting your eyes (on top of your beautiful sunglasses with legit UV protection), so no squinting when looking at your phone under the sun searching for locations!
Don’t worry about straightening or curling with irons. They won’t last. So your best bet is to bring an elastic band to tie your hair up when you’re not wearing your hat!
(3) Wear light coloured linen / cotton shirt
I cannot stress this enough. On my first day, I was wearing my spaghetti strap cami and walked under the sun. I could feel my skin turning hot and my shoulders were almost burnt. On my second day, trying to look cool and stylish, I wore my white cotton beach shirt just because they looked fine even with the crease. It wasn’t loose so perhaps effect was less ideal, but I felt cool (literally and metaphorically!) because the sunlight wasn’t in direct contact with my skin and I walked like a breeze.
(1) Avoid backpacks but try canvas bags
I can’t advise what you should bring because obviously it differs among people, but what I would highly suggest is NOT to wear backpacks. It’s simply not helpful when it’s so hot. Do. Not. Even. Attempt.
Canvas bags are nice - they also don’t absorb heat as much as dark-coloured backpacks made with plastic.
(2) Bring very light reusable water bottle
Again, spend your dollar on museum entrance or delicious tapas, not for that bottle of water in plastic. There are water foundations around and while it might look slightly daunting from Asian eyes but they are actually safe to drink. You might find people washing hands/face with that water, but you can’t blame them - they’ve been sweating like crazy, a little refreshing water splash doesn’t hurt!
(3) No need to be on straw-alert
Most of the time, they are default no straws. Plus, you probably are drinking sangria or gasping for hydration so you basically downing big gulps of whatever that you’ve ordered. The heat meant that there’s no time for sophistication or small lady-like sips. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy your drink.
(4) A reusable cup is handy if you want to eat gelato, but not necessary
Just order one with the cone. You can offer your hankie to the staff so they will wrap the hankie around the cone replacing the thin piece of paper.
If you like, bring an extra hankie for wiping sweat and oil from your face. But don’t bother because you will be too hot to even remember to wipe your face. But it’s kind of cool if you run into a water fountain and make yourself a chilled wet towel.
(5) 12Gb SIM card from HK airport at HKD 398
Get that from the Nobletime AV shop at the departure hall next to Relay / Travelax near the Departure Entrance to customs. Don’t bother with the WiFi eggs - this is good enough.
- Hotel I stayed in: H1898.
- Best tourist spot: Sagrada Familia
- Best eatery visited: Gats Barcelona
- Best almost-vegetarian dish: Green beans and asparagus salad from Gats
- Best vegan dish: Cherry Gazpacho / Bravas Patatas
- Best non-vegetarian dish: Tuna tataki with guacamole
- Best audio guide: Casa Mila
- Biggest scam: Park Güell - I hiked up for 40 minutes only to find that I bought ticket of the wrong date + a big part of the park is under renovation
- Best experience: Detour - El Born route
- Best surprise: Manual Thinking Studio right next to El Born
- Best gelato flavour: Lime & basil
- Best gem for ladies: Spanish ladies with immaculate style even under intense heat
- Best gem for gents: All ladies walking in sexy outfit to escape from the heat
If you're a foodie, and you've trusted in me and booked Hotel 1898:
Lime & Basil Gelato
Can we have this in Hong Kong???
Amazingly good food at affordable price