Two blocks off the main tourist drag……and I’m an honoured guest in Barcelona

Hi Frugalistas!

While I love seeing the sights of the places I visit I also love just wandering about, getting a bit lost and stumbling across unexpected treasures.  Even if the “treasure” turn out to be in my guide book, the fact that I’ve “found it myself” certainly adds just a bit more extra excitement and enjoyment.

The “quiet” end of the Ramblas

I recently arrived in Barcelona at Sunday lunch time.  I headed off to my hotel, checked in, grabbed a map and went off for a walk without my guidebook (as I am wont to do).  Wandering down the Ramblas on a Sunday afternoon was a bit of a culture shock, even after the busyness of London.  Wall to wall people, complete with all the tourist horrors – cheap restaurants with pictures of the food, multilingual advertising and aggressive spruikers, souvenir stands….you know, the standard tourist thing in towns that are just “too loved” by tourism.  I made it down to the end to the Columbus monument, and couldn’t face the thought of heading back the same way……..

A tapas with fresh, local anchovy and a glass of the local sparkling rose. What’s not to love about that?

So, checking the map, I thought I’d make my way back up a parallel route via the Barre Gotic (the Gothic Quarter).  Still touristy I thought, but at least a different route, and only a couple of blocks from the Ramblas if my map reading skills failed and I got lost.  Wandering back I started noticing people walking in the opposite direction to me (ie coming from where I was going) carrying wine glasses.  There seemed to be more and more the further I walked, some drinking wine, then others eating…..until I stumbled upon a square……not just any square though…..a square with a Catalan food and wine festival, full to brim with people and not a tourist in sight!

Nothing like the tourist restaurants I’d left on the Ramblas

Too good an opportunity to miss!  I bought my tickets for the tapas, a glass and some wine vouchers and off I went, head long into Catalonian cuisine, with not a word of English in sight.  Now, I do stand out a bit in Southern Europe.  With my blond hair, blue eyes and very fair skin I can’t even pretend to be a local.  Away from the tourists in the Ramblas I stood out even more, even in a busy throng.  Every time I perched at a table to enjoy my glass and my food somebody spoke to me (in English).  Where was I from?  (Oh, wow, Australia, so far!)  How long was I planning on being in Barcelona?  Our country is in a terrible mess, so thank you for coming!   Was I enjoying the food?  What wine was I drinking?  Hints on what to try next.  I admired babies, discussed Australian politics and the Australian economy, the woes of Europe, the vagaries of the Australian accent, apologised for not speaking Spanish and never initiated a single conversation myself……I felt like an honoured guest at a party that everyone wanted to make sure was having a good time.

A gorgeous little stew of chick peas, chorizo and tripe

So while the tourists were eating EUR10 tourist menus on the Ramblas, two blocks away, I was living it up (for just EUR12) on tapas cooked and served with love inside the stands by what often looked like Mum, Dad and the kids, great local wine served by the vigneron who grew it and made and generally being loved up by the locals…….

You can’t plan for experiences like this, unless you plan to go two blocks off the main tourist drag, and see what you find…….

I’d love to hear about your “two blocks off the tourist drag” unexpected discoveries!

Family run and made on the premises – great food and great hospitality just off the Ramblas

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13 Comments on “Two blocks off the main tourist drag……and I’m an honoured guest in Barcelona”

  1. feckthisshit 06/11/2012 at 9:30 pm #

    Awesome! I love it when you stumble upon a little gem like that. I had a similar experience in Wellington a few months back. We found a local Sunday market and ended up paying a quarter of the price for our food than if we had wandered into the usual tourist spots. Not a tourist in sight either. Plus the locals always love to see you actually engaging in their culture too!!! I’m all about local stands, markets and stalls!!! So much better.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 07/11/2012 at 8:17 am #

      I really think “finding” stuff is one of the best parts of travel, probably because you can’t plan for it, it just happens. When you do stumble across it, it is really important to recognise it for the true gift it really is and embrace it fully.

      Thanks for dropping by and sharing your experience!

  2. FoundTravel 07/11/2012 at 5:24 pm #

    I’ve used the same ‘trick’ often! In Barcelona, in fact! But also most cities I go! You get MUCH better quality and for a reasonable price… AND you get a chance to chat with the locals! That way you discover more hidden treasures!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 07/11/2012 at 7:05 pm #

      I never eat on the main tourist drag either.

      Thanks for looking in and sharing your experience!

  3. Jeff @ Go Travelzing 05/09/2013 at 11:20 am #

    Barcelona is my favorite city but it is crowded with tourists. I use the same method as you by walking a couple of blocks away from where the crowds are. It is amazing how all the tourists never venture to the side streets.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 06/09/2013 at 7:17 pm #

      I do the same in most big cities. I particularly loathe parts of the Champs Élysées, and don’t get me started on Oxford st in London. I love the backstreets!

  4. fotoeins 01/03/2014 at 8:29 am #

    Jo, “two blocks off the drag” could be its own blog; you kniow someone’s gonna do it. 🙂 Thanks for writing about your quick and delicious detour in the Barca!

  5. flashpackerfamily 01/03/2014 at 8:49 am #

    Totally agree Jo! Getting off the main tourist drag is essential for good eating.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 01/03/2014 at 10:39 am #

      It’s always my eating strategy, but this was special because of the social aspects and the whole unexpectedness.

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