I didn’t sleep much on the flight. I don’t sleep well on flights, but for some reason this one especially. I landed in Barcelona, took the train into the city, checked into my hotel (which happened to be space/sci fi themed), and did some limited exploring around Sants, the area I was staying in. There’s not a lot there, but I did find some great pintxos and wine. I slept early and for a long time.
I had a good list of recent Barcelona recommendations from a friend, so I decided to start off with a full day of city exploring. I made my way into the Gothic quarter and had a couple of coffees at Nomad, a local third wave roaster and cafe. The coffee was expensive but good.
I roamed the city, checking out some Gaudi architecture, then headed to the Barceloneta, the main beach area in the heart of the city. There are several beaches there, each packed with tourists and lined with beach bars.
It was fairly warm, low 20s, and I had beers on the beach in the sunshine. Dinner was tapas and wine, followed by a cocktail, followed by sleep.
Once again I started the day off with coffee at Nomad. I had a charcuterie style lunch in the Gothic district, then decided (naïvely) to check out the major Gaudi monuments, Park Güell and Sagrada Familia. Both were just packed with tourists, and I learned that you need a ticket to enter each of these.
I bought tickets online for Saturday, then continued walking. I headed back to the Barceloneta - this time prepared with swimming supplies. After some swimming in the Mediterranean, I headed to a pintxos bar nearby that I knew carried Spanish sidra - unique Basque style cider that I had only had a couple of times. I headed to yet another tapas bar (there are a lot of these) for dinner, where I had a few glasses of wine and some excellent seafood. I ended the night with a cocktail up the street, then headed home.
Friday I knew would be the best weather of the week, and I had done my research - there’s a small beach town about a 30 minute train ride away called Sitges that many locals and tourists travel to to escape the crowded beaches of the Barceloneta. I got an early start after a mediocre coffee at the train station, and arrived in Sitges at around 10 AM.
The clouds were still out, so I wandered the town for a while until it got a bit warmer. I did some reading on the beach, and had lunch & sidra at a local pintxos bar. There are 13 beach in Sitges, and I spent the afternoon lounging on at several of them.
The water was fairly warm but refreshing, and very clean. There were also beach bars here, and I discovered that vino cava, Spanish sparkling white wine, is delicious. I headed back into the city, exhausted and sunburnt, had a quick dinner and headed to bed.
Saturday, my last day in Barcelona, started again with coffee. I walked up to Park Güell, ticket in hand, and explored the monument. It was beautiful, with fascinating, unique architecture, but the crowds were overwhelming and spoiled it for me a bit.
I also had a ticket to the Sagrada Familia, so I had a snack + wine at a street cafe and headed over. The Sagrada had even more tourists, and a lot of security, but was even more majestic and impressive. The sheer size and magnitude of the building, the esoteric complexity of the design, is breathtaking.
I arrived in Biarritz at about 6 PM and met Robin at the airport. The weather prediction for the week was not what we hoped for - mostly cloudy, some rain, maybe some sun. We checked into our Airbnb and wandered through the town, checking out the beaches and landscapes.
Biarritz is a tiny beachside surfing town with narrow, winding streets - it feels like the French equivalent to Tofino. We ate at a bar in down - a feast of charcuterie and fish and chips. There’s a lot of beach-style pub food in Biarritz, along with French basque style seafood.
The next morning we woke up and had espressos and croissants at a local cafe.
There are many to choose from, so we picked at random. The espresso is dark roasted Italian, but well balanced, and the croissants are excellent. We went to the Halles de Biarritz, a local indoor market, and spent a long time just appreciating the selection of cheeses, cured meats and European produce. We grabbed some things to eat, rented a car from the airport and headed south towards Spain. We drove along the coast to San Sebastián, stopping at different spots to explore the coastline and eat charcuterie by the sea.
After some local craft beers in San Sebastián, we drove out towards the ciderhouse we were visiting. The countryside is beautiful and lush.
We arrived at the ciderhouse and got a tour from Mikel, our friendly and accommodating host. After the tour, other people started to arrive, and the event started. The only person allowed to tap one of the enormous cider casks is the cidermaker, and as soon as it happens (he's supposed to yell Txotx), everyone lines up with their glass to drink as much cider as they want.
This was paired with a 5 course meal: fresh chorizo, cod omelette, cod fried with green peppers, steak, and cheese. We alternated eating this incredible food and sampling Basque ciders for a few hours before heading back to Biarritz. It was one of the most unique cultural experiences I’ve had. We arrived back in Biarritz at around midnight and headed to a bar downtown, having many more beers until the bar closed.
We had a lazy morning with a small breakfast at a local Italian cafe. We took a bottle of cider and our charcuterie down to the beach, where it was cold and windy, but still nice.
The sun finally came out late in the day, so we swam for the first time in Biarritz (it was cold). We had a nice French seafood dinner at a spot in town and drank a few more beers at a local spot.
The next day, Robin’s last day in Biarritz, was finally gloriously sunny. We started with espressos at a French cafe in the sun, then headed to the beach for some surfing.
We rented boards and headed into the waves. This was our first day of full, hot sun and it felt very good. We surfed with moderate success for a couple of hours before some clouds rolled in, so we packed up and headed north to the main tourist beach.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing in the sun, then had burgers and beers on a patio with a gorgeous view before Robin packed up and headed for the airport. I watched the sun set on the beach, then had a much needed early night in.
My last full day in Biarritz. The weather wasn’t very good, so it’s a chill day - I had my daily petit dejouner of espresso and a croissant, stopped at the market for some cheese, and headed out on foot north to the lighthouse.
I walked out along the beaches, enjoyed a small picnic and espresso at the lighthouse, then leisurely made my way back, spending the afternoon wandering the beaches at low tide and exploring tide pools.
Beer at a cafe right on the beach in the center of town, dinner at Le Surfing, a burger bar with the best possible view, and then a quiet evening of packing (and enjoying some quiet time before a Berlin weekend).
I got up early in Biarritz, checked out of my Airbnb and headed to the airport. The trip to Berlin was smooth, and I checked into my Airbnb after some limited confusion with the host. It was a lovely apartment in Neukölln, a vibrant neighbourhood in southern Berlin.
I did some scouting around the area, got some groceries and met up with a friend I met in Berlin 7 years ago for dinner and drinks at a cool bar in the area.
I got up and did some research on coffee. I took the U Bahn to Kreuzberg and had a couple of excellent coffees at Chapter One. My friend Hendrik took the train in from Hamburg, and we spent the afternoon at a friend’s birthday party at a park in Neukolln, drinking radlers in the park. We also wandered through Tempelhof, a famous abandoned airport.
We had dinner at Berlinburger, a local landmark, then Hendrik headed back to Hamburg and I went home for an early night in.
On advice from friends, I decided to head to the flea market at Mauerpark (Wall Park), which ended up being half flea market and half modern market, with many local vendors and creators.
It was really wonderful - I picked up some things and left before it got incredibly busy. I headed to meet up with my friend Isabel to check out something called the Carnival of Cultures. It was something else - literally one million people in one place, with a crazy parade that, by the end, consisted of one dance party float after another. The streets were a mess, I was sunburnt - I slept well that night.
Monday to Thursday
I spent the last days of my trip working, mostly from my Airbnb and some cafes nearby. Two weeks of travelling and low sleep had taken its toll on my immune system, and I had a bad cold. I took frequent breaks to visit cafes, eat falafel & döner (very popular foods in Berlin), and have drinks with friends. Highlights from this last, quieter part of the trip: beers with Isabel at a biergarten and beers at Klunkerkranich, a rooftop bar with an incredible view hidden in a parkade on top of a mall in Neukölln.
Friday I flew home, tired but feeling accomplished. It was a good trip, and it felt good to be back in Europe after 7 years away.