My trip to Barcelona was a whirlwind of awesomeness full of beautiful sites, amazing food, and great friends, both old and new. I arrived with just one day to explore the city before competing in the IBJJF International Master – Europe.
I stayed in Verdum with a friend who also trains. She is a black belt under Cyborg, and she is a plant-based athlete. Barcelona has fruit and vegetable stands on almost every corner with a great selection of fresh options.
I loved how easy it was to find quick, healthy snacks on the go, but I had no idea what was in store later that day.
We took the metro to Placa de Catalunya. As soon as we stepped back outside I was blown away by the architecture. The buildings are so beautiful. There were so many people walking around on the streets that I kind of felt like I was in Manhattan, but much much prettier and with a much bigger sense of historic value. The plaza itself has beautiful fountains, green space for lounging, and a hoard of pigeons you can feed if you want. I wanted to walk around and take in all the beauty, so that’s what we did.
The gothic quarter is full of winding stone streets and narrow alleys that seem to hold their own secrets. We wandered around taking random turns to see what we could find. One courtyard we stumbled upon had a life-size chess board, and another had the most beautiful mosaic tile artwork. By then we were starting to get hungry again, and we just happened to walk right by a vegan restaurant that had great menu options and fresh juices.
We wandered around a little more and hit the mother of all street market jackpots! La Boqueria Mercat is a maze of never-ending booths selling all kinds of meats, cheeses, fruits, juices, desserts, and spices. Every booth is different, but almost all of them had quick options for eating on the run. It was amazing! Since I was competing the next day, I couldn’t stuff my face with everything I wanted to, but I vowed to come back and do just that.
The next day was tournament day! Several of my friends from home were also competing. It was such a fun tournament! I met some cool chicks from other countries, and everyone was in great spirits. In my experience, the Masters tournaments have a different vibe. Maybe because everyone is older, I’m not sure, but as a whole those events feel more relaxed, more fun, and the camaraderie among the athletes is always excellent.
I was fortunate enough to win my division by submission, but I opted to forgo the open class to see more of the city and eat. After exercising some serious self-control the day before in the amazing street market, I wanted to go all out.
We left the venue and headed to the coast. But first, there was a peanut butter sandwich (okay two) with my name on it.
The tournament was in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, which is close to the beach, but my friends took me for a drive through the mountains to Platja d’Aro in S’Agaro. The drive itself was beautiful; there are castles everywhere in Barcelona! I was most excited to see the Mediterranean Sea for the first time.
The beach in S’Agaro is very small, but there is a long walkway with breathtakingly beautiful sights. There are rock formations you can walk on and watch the waves crash into, little caves worn into the rocks by the sea, hidden stone steps to go down and explore, a series of tiny beaches that feel private, and the walkway ends at a much larger sand beach. It was the most beautiful part of the entire trip.
At this point I was like ‘where are the carbs?’ There is a string of restaurants right along the beach, so we stopped in to La Clova for some pizza. They have a fresh herb garden right in the entryway! My friends ordered their pizza without cheese, and I opted for the pear and gorgonzola. Not only was it delicious, but I was able to eat the entire thing all by myself. #winning
Even though my friend’s are vegans, they kept telling me that Spain is known for its cured hams, similar to prosciutto, but way better, or so they swear. The obvious next step would be to try some.
We ordered the ham based on the amount we wanted, but it came with all kinds of other things to nibble on. We also ordered a cheese platter to try some different local cheeses. The red one tasted like pizza. The best part was the fruit paste that appeared to be guava but was a different fruit I couldn’t pronounce. The sweet of the fruit mixed with the salt of the ham was on point. By this time I had an impressively large food baby, so we headed back home for the night.
The next day I headed home, but not before a delicious breakfast of – you guessed it – more carbs! Barcelona has its own version of mexican churros, which are a type of fried dough. They leave out the cinnamon sugar coating in exchange for a cup of hot chocolate for dipping. Not hot chocolate like warm milk with chocolate mixed in, oh no. Hot chocolate as in a mug of melted chocolate. It was heavenly.
Overall, the trip was so much fun. Barcelona is beautiful, the people are so nice, the food is amazing, the city is easy to get around, and there are so many things to do and see. There wasn’t enough time in the schedule (or room in my belly) to try the famous paella, but there is always next year.