Ben Holbrook’s Perfect Day in Barcelona

I wake to the sound of Erica, Pablo and Chica purring at the foot of our bed, the smell of bread baking in the kitchen. A warm breeze floats in from the balcony and I rise to prepare a cafetiere of coffee and bash some eggs around in a pan. Rosana checks on our limonero (lemon tree) and yelps with joy as she discovers the beginnings of our first lemons. “It’s like a miracle!”

Ben preparing to cruise the boardwalk

Ben preparing to cruise the boardwalk

The “Let’s go to the beach!” moment

Once the caffeine has revived us, we kiss our cats goodbye for the day, smear on a layer of suncream that smells like coconut and childhood memories and head out into the street. Rosana’s on her bike, I’m on my longboard.

We roll past the bakery and the Ethiopian restaurant next door, past the bodega where we only go to drink but not to eat because the camerero has the hands of a coal miner.

We weave through the thick of the crowd that clots in a mass outside of Las Arenas, a huge shopping mall that used to be a bullring, and I picture daredevil toreros side-stepping stroppy bulls as old timers scream and shout from the stands. I’m glad they’ve put an end to the barbarism, but it’s a shame we no longer have a place to go to see grown men attempting to look tough whilst wearing pink stockings and yellow scarves. “¡Olé!” I cry, to Rosana’s embarrassment.

The Palau Nacional art gallery glows in the background, levitating like a palace in the clouds, and the sky is so blue that it throbs with a warm green and purple hue. We stop to take in the views. “Every time we come here I wonder how we could ever live anywhere else,” I say to Rosana, who laughs at my over sentimental proclamation. She’d never admit it, but I know she feels the same.

Views from the MNAC

Taking in the city views from the MNAC art museum

We blaze down Avenida Paral-lel, speeding like maniacs along the cycle track so as not to get held up at the traffic lights. Tanned men and women in sandals and pastel pink t-shirts zoom along next to us on scooters, cooling their skin in the early morning rays. We pass Tickets, the iconic (Michelin-starred) tapas restaurant owned by Ferran Adrià, who became world-famous for his innovative molecular gastronomy at El Bulli — named “best restaurant in the world” five years in a row.

I arrive at the port and stop to let Rosana catch up. The aromas of melted chocolate and sugar dusted waffles fill my senses and when she arrives she finds me with a big grin on my face. She looks so beautiful on her bike, so alive and free.

The “I can’t believe we live on the Mediterranean!” moment

It’s my perfect day so the wall of tourists that normally greets us parts like the Red Sea and lets us cruise on through. We approach Barceloneta and are welcomed by the grinding grooves of Cuban clave rumbling through the crowd. We stop to watch them play. “These guys make so much money,” Rosana tells me, “that they only have to work for a few months during the summer!” She’s told me this before — she tells me every time we see them here — but I smile and nod accordingly. For a moment I imagine our lives with our guitars on our backs, strumming out old Elvis and Johnny Cash numbers in the sun, working for just a few months in the summer and spending the rest of the year exploring Europe in a camper van. One day…

We zip down the boardwalk to the W Hotel and watch people paddle their way across the bay on fourteen foot SUP boards, only the occasional naked man interrupting my line of vision. “I live on the Mediterranean,” I say to myself out loud, “I made it happen.”

Evening out the tan lines

Evening out the tan lines at the beach

The “Vermouth and pica pica?” moment

We stop to cool off in the shade of a palm tree, kissing and sipping from a cold can of beer that I’ve brought from home as a surprise. Unlike usual, it’s still burning cold, because… well, because this is my perfect day, and after stopping to watch the waves we’re ready for a little pica pica (something to nibble). Luckily I know just the spot.

Sipping beer by the beach

Rosana sipping the surprise beer by the beach

We cut and weave and waltz our way off the touristy Passeig de Joan de Borbó, sneaking off to Can Ganassa in Plaça de la Barceloneta, where we order a vermouth, olives and a couple of anchovies drizzled in lemon juice and olive oil. You won’t find it on any of the “best tapas bars in Barceloneta” lists, even mine, but it’s definitely one of my favourites.

Vermouth and tapas

Vermouth and tapas at Restaurante Can Ganassa in Barceloneta

The “I need music!” moment

Sedated and relaxed, we arrive home. We pick up our guitars and I suggest we practise a couple of the Elvis and Johnny Cash tracks we used to play. We nail each song first time round and retire to our bedroom, falling madly and deeply into a fatal, comatose siesta. One hour becomes four, but we wake feeling bright and brand new, not muggy and sedated as we normally do, because… this is my perfect day.

We stroll out into the street again, the sun low but still searing, and head over to our beloved Plaça d’Osca, where we bump into some friends. Together, we sit out under the stars, sipping Catalan craft beers at LaGorda and HomoSibaris and sucking fat olives clean from their bones. We talk about how wonderful the city is and of the new places we’ve found to eat, agreeing on everything apart from where we should go for dinner tonight… it’s always the same.

Craft beers

Craft beers at LaGorda Beer Factory, Carrer de Riego, 29

The “Are you hungry?” moment

We end up at Malamén on Carrer Blai, glugging Priorat reds and Empordà whites, sharing plates of Swedish-Spanish fusion tapas. Our appetites wet and spirits high, we flock en masse to Manorota where the chef is waiting to walk us through the contemporary Catalan menu. I watch my friends smiling and laughing, indulging in every moment. I am a very lucky man, I think.

Fusion tapas at Malamén

Ben digging into Swedish-Spanish fusion tapas at Malamén in Poblesec

Rosana and I stop off at Negroni Cocktail Bar (Carrer de Joaquín Costa, 46) on our way home for the last one… for the one that we came out for. There’s no menu to order from, but I trust bartender Daniel Gómez’s judgement. He doesn’t fail me. He never does.

We walk home, hand in hand, our path drenched in moonlight, and I wonder how we could ever live anywhere else.

photo of Ben Holbrook

Ben Holbrook from Driftwood Journals

Ben Holbrook is a freelance travel writer, blogger and copywriter who has been living in Barcelona on and off since 2009. He runs travel blog — “an inside guide to the good life in Barcelona and beyond” — and recently authored the Barcelona edition for The HUNT Guides. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for his latest finds and mutterings.

If you’d like to write your ‘Perfect Day in Barcelona’ then please get in touch via the email address at the bottom of this website. I’d love to hear from you. The more we have the better!

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