Barcelona. The moment our bus rolled into Barcelona, I knew. It was like love at first sight. Our love affair started without words, without the need for talk or explanations or questions of "is this right?" Of course it was right. Barcelona + Robin forever.

I haven't been to Barcelona in a couple of years, and since then I have recently wandered unassumingly into Prague, with which I was unfaithful to Barcelona. ADULTEROUS, if you will. Both cities are absolutely incredible, with unique architecture and irresistible charm. My two-timing ass doesn't deserve either of them. But Barcelona will always and forever be my first European love. And here is why.

The attitude and convictions that the people of Barcelona exude are in direct parallel with Gaudi's architectural design: they are fun, friendly, happy, crazy. "That's an over-generalization," you mutter under your breath as you read this, but you can Google "is barcelona happy?" right now and find several articles ranking Barcelona in the top 5 happiest cities in Europe…some lists have them ranked top 5 in the world. It's easy to see why: with its rich culture, the beaches in the backyard, the laid-back lifestyle, and of course, the food, Barcelona residents truly are living the good life. It's amazing when you go to a city with happy people, because it makes YOU happy just being there. And I think that is what drew me to Barcelona. The beauty, of course, but also the people.

What to Do

Go to the beach

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The beaches of Barcelona are beautiful, right on the Mediterranean Sea, which if you've read about my time in Venice or Nice, you'd know I am a sucker for the Mediterranean Sea. Enter the beach with an open mind and an open heart. FUN FACT: this is Europe, and people are not always clothed on their Saturday afternoon on the beach. Naked men everywhere. Which I love! (TO CLARIFY: I love the freedom that people feel with their bodies and the lack of shame that is so omnipresent in American culture. I'm serious. Oh man, I feel like I'm digging myself into a hole here). Spain also has some of the nicest weather anywhere, especially this city right on the water, so take advantage of it by slathering on your SPF 99 and taking a dip in the sea.

Meander down La Rambla

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La Rambla is a 1.2 kilometer street in the center of Barcelona lined with restaurants, souvenir shops, entertainers, museums, and theaters. One of the first places I ran across in Barcelona and I love it -- not for the tourist magnets that are the shops and kiosks, but for all the people, the street artists, and the sense that you have finally made it to Spain. I bought a Messi jersey for my brother while I was here, and I did the entire transaction in Spanish which, let me tell ya, I was smirking about for about 6 months afterwards (despite having two grandparents who came to the United States from Peru and having several years of Spanish classes under my belt, my Spanish is not fluent, and my accent is horrific, and this incredible man still managed to understand me. Good on you sir, and thank you for you patience).

Shop at La Boqueria

While we're talking about La Rambla, La Boqueria is right there, a large public market close to Barcelona's opera house. It has a wide variety of goods for sale, including produce, seafood, and prepared foods. A perfect place to go for a quick snack to refuel for the rest of your day, or for hours of wandering, tasting, and enjoying.

Visit the Picasso Museum

Everyone knows who Picasso is. He is one of the most famous artists to ever exist. He is kind of a big deal. The Museu Picasso has over 4,200 works by this Spanish talent, making it one of the most complete collections of his art! How can you resist that??

Enjoy the nightlife

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The best people I could have hoped to meet on this trip.

Barcelona's nightlife is WILD. Remember when I said the people of Barcelona are in general very happy and fun? They like to get down. Barcelona is a party city, and there is no shortage of things to do on a Friday night. One of the best clubs in the entire city is Opium, a club that is right on the beach. Plus, nightlife is a great opportunity to meet locals and visitors from around the world. My roommate ended up having her purse stolen while she was there…so keep in mind that while clubs are fun and alcohol is yum, this region is also known for its pick-pockets and losing your stuff while you're traveling is a really bad situation.

What to Eat…and Drink

Tapas

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Photo courtesy of Txapela.

Whoever came up with the tapas concept is my kind of woman. You want fish, but also kind of want pork, but also kind of want something with cheese, but also kind of want a vegetable? "No problem!" says tapas. "Have it all, pal! In small, manageable, belly-friendly portions!" Wow, thank you tapas. I just love tapas. Txapela is a really great authentic restaurant in central Barcelona with a huge menu of hot and cold tapas and plenty of sangria to wash it down. The menu is in Catalan, and you'd be surprised how many nuances are different from the Spanish language! Pretty cool place, and excellent tapas. Trust me, spring for the tapas.

Paella

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Paella is a Spanish staple dish (originating in Valencia, not Barcelona, but still very popular in Barcelona, especially because of its proximity to water and paella's proclivity to containing seafood). Don't tell anyone but I got meat in my paella; I was about at my limit with seafood after Italy and southern France…no matter how important it is for me to try local cuisine I can only do so much seafood. But traditionally paella is a seafood dish. My meat paella was also scrumptious. We got this particular meal at Restaurante Guitó, a very good restaurant with reasonable prices which I would recommend, but there are paella restaurants all across the city in every nook and cranny.

Sangria

How can you abstain from getting a pitcher or ten of sangria during your stay in Spain? After all, sangria is SPANISH WINE. Hello? Western Europe (think France, Spain, and Italy) is a whole bunch of religious wine-drinkers (a fact I am very much okay with), and Spain in particular has the best sangria in the entire world (obviously?). It is strong, fruity, and delicious: everything you'd want in a Spanish wine. The Spanish restaurants in downtown DC do not compare.

What to See

Parc Güell

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Did you think we'd get through an entire Barcelona post without diving into Gaudí? Silly. Antonio Gaudí's Catalan Modernist architecture is probably one of Barcelona's most distinguishable characteristics, if not its most distinguishable. There are examples of his work sprawled across the entire city. Parc Güell is one place where his work truly shines, classified as an UNESCO World Heritage Site under "Works of Antonio Gaudí." Wander the park, marvel in his unique style, take in this iconic view over the city. It is an absolute must while you're in Barcelona. Gaudí is a Catalan god amongst men.

Sagrada Família

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Another insanely famous Gaudí site, considered his magnus opus: the Sagrada Família. Construction on this baby began in the late 1800s and is not expected to be completed until 2026: 100 years after Gaudí's death. By the time Gaudí had died, only about a quarter of his project had been completed! Talk about an involved endeavor. The basilica is probably the most unique you'll ever step foot in, and it is an icon of this city. Can't miss it.

Casa Batlló

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Just for good measure, throwing in this one last work of Gaudí. If it hasn't been made painfully obvious already, a huge part of Barcelona's charm, what makes it unlike any other city you've visited, is this architectural design. Enjoy this funky place! I LOVE IT!

The view from Mirador del Migdia

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…or anywhere on Montjuïc Mountain. Mirador del Migdia is actually the least frequented overlook on the entire mountain. In addition to the draw of the beautiful Castle of Montjuïc, this Catalonian hill is frequented by visitors who want to get some of the best views over the city. I am all about getting nice views, and this is a great place to capture them.

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So what are you waiting for, let me ask you? Is your flight to Barcelona booked yet? Half kidding, but even writing about this charming city makes me want to go back immediately (that is, if I can be forgiven for my dalliance with the equally charming Prague). Have you been to Barcelona? Do you love it as much as I do?

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