48 (and a bit) hours in Barcelona

6th March 2017

At Parade we’ve always believed in the value of taking a well-earned studio break once in a while, especially since we work in such a creative industry. It’s hard to say this without sounding a bit ‘arty-farty’ but as designers, we take inspiration from our surroundings; what we read, what we listen to, the things we experience and the places we visit. As a busy little studio, it’s so easy to get stuck into project after project without taking the necessary time out which is so crucial for supplementing our imaginations. As Henry Ford once said “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” And in the reputable Ted Talk, 'The power of time off', design guru Stefan Sagmeister explains how he takes a year out every seven years to combat staleness of his creative mind.

Although a year off may be a little extreme for us, a couple of days away from our Macs is far more achievable. So after a good six months’ wait and the occasional blasting of Freddie Mercury & Montesserat Caballé the time had finally arrived to set our emails to out of office and head to Bristol Airport. Destination: Barcelona - design capital of Europe.

Gayle, Parade’s organising expert (and closet travel agent) had prepared an itinerary that even Judith Chalmers would have been proud of. From booking the flights and fabulous Leonardo Hotel on Las Ramblas, to organising the sightseeing bus routes, gallery tickets and recommended places to eat and drink, we were one step away from buying her an umbrella with ’Tour Guide’ written on. From the moment we touched down, her Barcelona Time Out guide barely left her hands.

Having become highly excitable from passing the Estrella factory on the taxi journey to the hotel, we rapidly checked-in so that we could head straight back out to explore Barcelona for the first time and feed our curious appetites with some local tapas and obligatory ’holiday’ drinks.

First on the hit list was to visit Plaça Reial just off Las Ramblas in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. We instantly fell in love with this beautifully elegant square accentuated by classical buildings, fountain, street lamps and palm trees. The ambiance alone was enough to make us want to embrace the culture of the cosmopolitan city and kick back with a large gin and tonic.

We dined in the wonderful Ocaña restaurant with its fabulous light-bulb signage, stunning original 1850s architecture mixed with sixties chairs and works by young contemporary artists. It also made an impression on us for having its own vintage-style ‘Photographies’ photo booth, which we couldn’t resist cramming in behind the heavy red curtain for a few snaps. We didn’t want the evening to draw to a close, but knowing we only had one full-day sightseeing the next day, and not wanting to miss a moment of it by being blurry-eyed, we swigged the last of the Caipirinhas and Estrella and headed back to the hotel for a good nights sleep.

Armed with cameras, tickets and sunglasses, we stepped out into the warm morning sunshine and headed straight to Mercat de la Boqeria to begin our exploration and to grab some breakfast. This incredible centrally located produce market was bursting with vibrant colour and potent scents from the abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, sea creatures, meats and cheeses on offer. It was already bustling with people who had arrived early to take advantage of purchasing goods for local restaurants and bars. We were there primarily to eat. And soak up the atmosphere of course. We sat at a bar amongst the array of tapas and lobster-filled tanks available to buy and consume and mused over the handwritten chalk board menu above our heads. Having filled our boots with Spanish omelette, patatas bravas with bacon and egg, and fried mixed mushrooms, strong coffee and of course a Coke Light for Claire, we were ready to move on to the next destination on the itinerary. 

With such a huge expanse to cover in a day, the best way for us to travel around the city whilst being able to take in the views was the open-top sightseeing bus. The mornings drive was a great introduction to the city and the first time we laid eyes on Gaudí’s architecture. For those that have never been to Barcelona, or know much about it’s architectural history - you simply can not visit the city without having Gaudí slammed in your face. And we mean that in a good way. The Spanish architect (1852-1926) has had a massive influence on the face of Barcelona architecture and stunning examples of his highly individualised work can been seen all around the city. We were blown away by his masterpieces Casa Batlló with it’s famous 'skull and bones' balconies, Casa Milá, know as La Pedrera ‘The stone quarry’, and of course, the most famous of all, Sagrada Família the largest unfinished Roman Catholic church in the world. It’s difficult to describe the enormity and ingenuity of it. Surely it should be a contender for the 8th Wonder of the world?

We had to be tough when deciding which places were a must to get off and explore, and which places we could drive past on the double decker and take photos. Heres the hit list of places we disembarked the bus to have a mooch around, refuel and take in the sights.

The Magic Fountain and The National Palace (National Art Museum of Catalonia)

Although we knew we were visiting the fountain in daylight and unable to see the amazing exhibition in its full glory - we still had to visit the area that we’d seen so much of in the 1992 Olympic Games (Apart from Lauren, who wasn't born until 1994!)

The Barcelona Pavilion

The Barcelona Pavilion designed by German architect and the final Bauhaus Director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, which also houses his iconic Barcelona chair. Mies van der Rohe is also associated with the phrase ‘Less is More’, a mantra that we often use ourselves in our own design.

The Picasso Museum

We didn’t want to spend a whole day roaming around galleries, but felt we couldn’t come to Barcelona without seeing the work of Pablo Picasso. It’s always a strange experience being in the presence of such famous paintings ‘in the flesh’ so-to-speak. Paintings that you’ve seen a million times in books, films and replica prints, but are now standing in front of the real McCoy. There was an awful lot of paintings and drawings we were familiar with, and some we weren’t - such as a portrait we discovered that bore a striking resemblance to John Lennon. For some unbeknown reason, this was the painting that has since become our most memorable Barcelona image. Having quietly discussed the similarity, it sent us into fits of constrained laughter as we strolled the peaceful gallery, whilst people around us stood and gazed with serious, intellectual expressions listening to audio description in their headphones. You know what it’s like when you laugh anywhere inappropriate, it makes it all the more unbearable. Very silly. But very funny.

El Born District 

From research, we already knew we wanted to spend some time here to have lunch. This medieval corner of Barcelona has grown into being one of the most fashionable places in the city with its vibrant café culture and bar scene. Its also home to some beautiful, but pricey boutiques and trendy, design led shops like Studiostore, which was high priority of places to visit. We had a wander around the Cultural and Memorial Centre before choosing an inviting, outdoor table on a cobbled street restaurant in which to enjoy a lazy lunch washed down with a few Estrellas. Having been sufficiently entertained by local street performers, we recharged the batteries in preparations for the afternoons activities.

Park Güell

Our final destination and one which we were all very excited about. Located high above the city with a fairly steep climb to get to, the Parc Güell is certainly one of the most famous sights of Barcelona. It is a public park composed of gardens and architectonic elements designed by Gaudí. The park was built between 1900 and 1914 and was officially opened as a public park in 1926. In 1984, UNESCO declared the park a World Heritage Site under ‘Works of Antoni Gaudí.’ The wonderful buildings with their usually shaped roofs, sculptures of lizards and walls decorated with colourful mosaics and fantastic views across the city, makes the park an almost magical place that you would expect to find in a fairytale.

After our final bus journey back to Las Ramblas and taking in the last of the daylight views, we headed back to the hotel armed with some ridiculously cheap cans of Estrella to enjoy whilst getting ready to go ‘out, out’. 

After a few drinks at the hotel poolside bar, we hopped in a taxi to take us to the beach where we had been recommended a cool place to eat and drink called Opium. It was indeed very cool, but guessing it was a little early in the season for beachside dining and not ones for clubbing, we opted for a cocktail and ordered a taxi to take us back to the Gothic quarter where we knew we’d find the vibe we were looking for. And we did. A few bottles of wine later and a delicious final night dinner, the night seemed too young to end. We strolled through the narrow cobbled maze-like streets (similar to that from the film Labyrinth) to find a place we could spend our final few hours. In true tourist style, our eyes lit up as we approached ‘Bar Manchester’, a dark, underground Catalan bar disguised as a British pub. It was everything we wanted in a bar at that time of night. Drinks, sticky alcohol-soaked tables and a mixture of Joy Division, The Smiths and The Stone Roses.

And that was it. We set our alarm clocks for 3 hours time to get up for our flight back to Bristol and before we knew it, we were back behind our desks singing ‘Memories’. Now it has been widely commented by friends and associates of Parade that our little trip was merely an excuse for a ‘p*ss up’ or a ‘jolly’. How very dare they. OK, so we’re not pretending that our 48 hours in Barcelona was particularly gruelling work, but we certainly took advantage of the culture, the atmosphere and the abundance of creative design examples on posters, lampost banners, signage and exhibition displays. And if we collected any more printed collateral from the museums, bars, restaurants and shops we visited we would have had to buy extra weight allowance on our return journey. Our scrap books are now bulging - and more to the point, our creative appreciation has been revitalized from our trip. And yes. We had a few drinks too. When in Rome and all that. Well, you know, Barcelona.

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