Barcelona – City of Chocolate

by Amy Knauff

This is probably going to sound crazy (or obnoxious), but I’m currently living in a Central American country with a tropical climate and… I miss autumn! I can just picture readers out there glaring mental daggers at me, or getting ready to submit this post to Don’t get me wrong, having beach weather almost year-round is pretty awesome. But autumn has been my favorite season my whole life, so when I see friends posting pictures on Facebook of gorgeous red-gold-orange-yellow trees, sidewalks filled with satisfyingly crunchy leaves, and trips with their kids to pumpkin patches or apple orchards, I can’t help getting a little nostalgic for my old East Coast autumns.

And the food! Don’t get me started on the food I’m missing… those hearty comfort foods that can only be truly enjoyed and appreciated when it’s chilly outside. The ham stews and pumpkin pies of my childhood. And from my years living in Italy, roasted chestnuts, pasta with funghi porcini, truffles. And one of my favorite cool-weather, warm-you-up treats? Hot chocolate!

Actually, I find chocolate in general much more satisfying when in cool weather. As I sit here in the tropics sweating and being bitten by mosquitos, I don’t really crave melty, messy, super-sweet chocolate (try a refreshing fresh-squeezed lemonade instead). But oh, when it’s gray and bitter outside, nothing gets those endorphins moving like a gorgeous dark chocolate truffle.

My European friends tell me that the cool weather has finally hit there. It’s nearly November, summer is well and done by now, and it’s time to really embrace the fall and everything that comes with it. If you’re visiting Barcelona around this time, I cannot emphasize enough that you should not miss all the delicious chocolatey treats you’ll find around the city.

I always knew that chocolate con churros was famous in Barcelona — and on my first visit I made sure to try the thick, gooey hot chocolate accompanied by fried churros sprinkled in sugar. It was the perfect rainy December afternoon merinda. (It’s also a favorite post-discoteca snack in the wee hours of the morning among young Spaniards, much like a trip to a 24-hour diner in the US, or a cappuccino and freshly baked cornetto in Italy.)

But it wasn’t until I took Context Travel’s “City of Chocolate” tour last time I was there (oh god! a whole tour about CHOCOLATE!) that I realized the importance of chocolate to Barcelona. When thinking about chocolate in Europe, Switzerland or Belgium probably pops into your mind: but it turns out that Spain was actually the first place that chocolate arrived in the Old World, when Columbus brought back unprocessed cacao beans with him into the port of Barcelona. In fact, after taking the chocolate tour, I suddenly started seeing chocolate shops and granjas (cafés that specialize in chocolate and sweets) all over the place when I hadn’t even noticed them before.

The “City of Chocolate” tour is led by Esther, a native Catalana with perfect English, who met us near the port and led us around the city for about 3 hours, ending in the Eixample neighborhood just north of the Old City. Context keeps their tours small (my group only had 5 people), which means you can get to know each other and the guide during the tour, easily ask questions, and the guide can personalize the tour a bit based on what the group seems to be interested in.

During the 3 hours Esther mixed a good amount of chocolate history and culture in Barcelona with interesting tidbits about the city, commenting on things as we walked, both chocolate-related and non-. I learned odds and ends that I wouldn’t have from a guidebook, like:

-the Columbus statue in the port is meant to be pointing to the New World, but it’s actually pointing in the wrong direction

-the bronze plaques you see on the ground in front of some stores signify that it’s an historic food shop

-thick, bitter hot chocolate drinks were used to keep sailors energetic, full, and warm during long trips (without weighing the ships down with too much food)

-the street performers on Las Ramblas actually have to audition and get permits to perform there

But of course the most fun part of the tour is the tasting. Esther brought us to Granja Dulcinea, one of the oldest granjas in the city, where we sat down and tried hot chocolate with melindros (a ladyfinger-like cookie) as well as a bottled cold chocolate drink called Cacaolat (which kind of looks like a Yoo-Hoo… remember those?).

We stopped in three chocolate shops later on in the tour — first at one of the oldest ones of the city (with one of those historic plaques in front), Fargas, where we saw a piece of old-fashioned chocolate-processing machinery and lots of different kinds of classic chocolate bonbons. Esther picked out several different flavors for each of us to taste-test as we walked along to our next tour stop. The second tasting stop was at a sweets store/café on Las Ramblas, filled with interesting, trendier chocolate designs and combinations, where we tried chocolate-covered mint leaves and bright red chocolate lips. Our final stop at the end of the tour was a modern, elegant shop filled with gorgeous, perfectly arranged chocolate bonbons of all different types, both classic flavors and unusual ones (ginger, Caribbean lime, strawberry-champagne, etc). Everybody on my tour was so chocolated-out by then that we all opted to take our chocolates away to have later, once we’d come down from the sugar high.

The “City of Chocolate” tour is a must-do for chocolate lovers like me. (By the way, there’s also a chocolate museum in Barcelona — not included on the tour — that looks like it’d be worth a visit: If you’re not a chocolate fanatic, Context Travel offers plenty of other tours you can choose from — on food, art, architecture, history, and even tours geared towards kids — in Barcelona and in 15 other European cities, 4 US cities, and 2 Asian cities. Visit their website for details.

Getting in and out of Barcelona

by Amy Knauff

EL PRAT AIRPORT:  This is Barcelona’s main airport, located very close to the city. Most flights come into here. It’s very well-connected and easy to get to and from town by here by public transport or taxi:

The quickest and most convenient way to get to or from El Prat is, of course, via taxi. They don’t have ‘flat rates’ but run by meter; however, taxis in Barcelona are not too expensive and, depending on where you’re going, it may cost you around €20-30. You should note that in addition to the price you see on the meter, there is a surcharge for luggage (€1 per piece) and weekend nights (€2.10). It takes about 20-30 minutes to get into town via taxi.

This is by far the cheapest way to get into town, and it’s actually very easy! It’s the cost of a regular public transport journey, so if you buy, for instance, the T-10 ticket that you’ll use around Barcelona in the machine at the airport, just stamp it in the turnstile and then get onto the train into town. The train stops at major points in Barcelona like Clot, Passeig de Gràcia, or Sants Estació. From these points, there is a metro station connected and you can take the metro to wherever you need to go; otherwise, you can exit the station and grab a taxi for the rest of your journey. The train runs from 6 am to 11 pm every 30 minutes. The trip is about 30 minutes or so. If you’re leaving Barcelona to go to the airport, the stop on the train you want is “aeropuerto”.

You can take the aerobús A1 to/from Terminal 1 or A2 to/from Terminal 2. The stops are: Plaça de Catalunya, Sepúlveda-Urgell, and Plaça d’Espanya. The bus runs from 5:30 am to 1 am daily, about every 20 minutes. This is also takes about 20-30 minutes, depending on traffic. A one-way ticket costs €5.30.

GIRONA AIRPORT:  This is quite far outside of Barcelona, farther up the coast. Many low-cost flights (Ryanair etc) fly into this airport.Barcelona Bus
This is the best and most convenient way to get into Barcelona city from Girona-Costa Brava airport. It takes about 75 – 90 minutes. Buses leave according to flight schedules, so you’ll always be able to get to/from the airport in time for your flight. The drop-off / pick-up point in Barcelona is the Estació d’Autobusos (bus station) at Estació del Nord. From there, you can connect to the metro to get to where you’re going, or take a taxi from outside the station. Tickets cost €15 one-way or €25 round trip. You can check out the exact schedule on

You can take a train from the Barcelona Sants train station to Girona city center. It takes about 70 minutes. The train tickets can cost from anywhere to about €7.50-€20.00 depending on what train you take. From Girona city center, you’ll need to take either a bus or a taxi to the airport. The bus takes about 25 minutes, leaves every hour, and costs €2.15 one-way or €4.10 round trip. A taxi from Girona city to Girona airport would be about €20.00. This is more expensive and complicated than the Barcelona Bus, so this would ONLY be worthwhile if you wanted to make a visit to Girona city.

Rental car
You can hire a car at the airport and drive down the coast to Barcelona. This is more expensive and will take you longer (especially if you’ve never driven in Spain before!) but this could be a good option if you want to stop at some different beaches along the way and make a day of it. Otherwise, if you just want to get directly to Barcelona, this is not a good option. At Girona airport, you’ll find a Hertz, Avis, and Europcar rental offices. We recommend calling ahead of time to check prices and also to make sure you can drop off your car in a different place than you picked it up.

The two main train stations in Barcelona are the Estació de Sants and Estació de França. From both of these, you can connect to the metro easily to get to other places in the city. There are also bus stops close by, and you can catch a taxi from outside the station if you wish.  If you come into Barcelona by bus, you’ll probably be dropped off at one of these train station as well.

Getting around Barcelona – a guide to public transportation

by Amy Knauff


Before starting out:

1. Check out There’s a handy feature where you can put in a starting address and destination and they’ll calculate for you the best way to get where you need to go. For mobile users, the “where am I” feature is useful if you’re lost: just enter the address where you find yourself, and a map will come up showing exactly where you are and what the closest public transport is.

2. Pick up a metro map. They’re free in every metro station. If you don’t see one, ask the staff. It clearly shows all the metro lines and how they connect to each other.

3. If you think you’ll be using the bus, pick up a free bus map at any tourism office. It shows all the bus lines and timetables, and it also has a separate map for night buses.



There are loads of different options, but below I’ll outline the ones that are most useful for tourists. Keep in mind that the tickets are valid for all public transport types in Barcelona, with a few exceptions.

You can buy tickets in the machines in any metro station, at the airport train station, or at any Punt TMB (the public transport system’s info point). Individual bus tickets are bought directly on the bus.

There are different fares for each type, depending on the number of “zones” you want to be able to travel to. “1 zone” is all you will need for getting around Barcelona. The prices quoted below are the adult “1 zone” price.

Single metro ticket – €2.00
Valid for one metro journey only.

Single bus ticket – €2.00
Valid for one bus journey only.

T-Día – €6.95
This is a personal card (meaning you can’t share it with anybody else) and is valid from the time you first stamp it to the end of the service that day. Useful if you are in Barcelona for one full day and will be taking the public transport a lot.

2-day travel card – €12.80
3-day travel card – €18.50
4-day travel card – €23.50
5-day travel card – €28.00
This is a personal ticket valid for an unlimited number of journeys for the number of days indicated. Useful if you’re staying exactly 2, 3, 4, or 5 days.

T-10 – €9.25
This is a non-personal ticket (meaning if you are traveling with other people you can share it: just go through the metro entry and then pass it back to your friend) and is good for 10 journeys. Great option for two or more people traveling together for a few days.

T-50 – €37.00
This is a personal ticket valid for 50 journeys in a period of 30 days or less. Good for one person spending a few weeks in the city. This is what I got when I spent 2 weeks in Barcelona recently looking for new Cross-pollinate properties; I never thought I would use it up, but I actually did use the entire thing in 2 weeks of running around town.

There are monthly tickets, youth tickets, senior tickets, etc, as well — all the options are on the TMB website.

Using the metro:

It couldn’t be simpler. You just stamp your card, pass through the turnstile, then follow the signs in the correct direction. If you need to change lines, that is included in the price of ONE journey — just make sure you don’t exit and come back in. Everything is well-marked. On the platform, an electronic screen tells you how many minutes and seconds until the next metro comes (accurately!). They run pretty frequently during the day; at night they are less frequent but you’ll probably never have to wait longer than 10 minutes.

The metro runs Mon-Thurs and public holidays from 5 am to midnight. Fridays and eves of public holidays from 5 am to 2 am. On Saturdays and eves of 1 Jan, 24 June, 15 Aug, and 24 Sept, from 5am then continuous service (through the night). Sundays continuous service until midnight. 24 Dec:  from 5 am to 11 pm.


Using the bus:

This one is a little trickier. The bus stops are generally easy to spot — a pole with a sign indicating the bus number, and often a covered bench with glass sides for those who are waiting. However, the bus stops don’t have a list of every stop the bus makes — just the route number, the stop name, and destination. That means it’s not immediately clear to Barcelona newbies where the bus is going to take you, and the exact route it’s going to take. Either consult your bus map, or ask a fellow passenger waiting (preferably not another tourist!) or the driver. Most buses run from 6 am to about midnight. After midnight, the night buses take over (with more limited stops).

Using the funicular de Montjuïc:

If you are going to Montjuïc park, you can take the metro to the Paral·lel station and then follow the signs for the funicular, a sort of cable car that goes up the very steep incline of the park. If you’re coming from inside the Paral·lel station, you don’t need to stamp your ticket again to go onto the funicular, so it’s included in the price of one journey. The funicular runs from Mon-Fri 7:30 am to 8 pm and weekends and holidays 9 am to 8 pm (autumn and winter), and Mon-Fri 7:30 am to 10 pm and weekends and holidays 9 am to 10 pm (spring and summer).

There are other forms of public transport in Barcelona (the tourist bus, the tramvia blau, etc), but they require a different, more expensive ticket and are considered ‘leisure transport’, so they’ll be addressed in a different post.

*Note: For those with reduced mobility, Barcelona is considered one of the most wheelchair-friendly cities in Europe. Since the 1992 Olympics, many metro stations have been refurbished to provide reliable elevator access for those in wheelchairs. The buses have all been adapted to allow for wheelchair access. You can see a map of wheelchair-accessible metro stations here.

Life in Italy vs. Spain

by Amy Knauff

One would imagine the two to be pretty similar, right? After all, they’re both sunny Mediterranean countries with Latin peoples who have a history of taking post-lunch naps during the workweek, a love of good food and wine, and are known for their gregariousness, hospitality and good humor. But despite the similarities, the two countries — and more specifically, Rome and Barcelona — are worlds apart, each with their own characteristics and ways of doing things.

Scene: The historic center of Rome, which is jam-packed with souvenir shops, newsstands, bookstores, and tobacco shops selling racks full of postcards. It’s also jam-packed with tourists, some of whom presumably want to send postcards home to their loved ones.

Monday: I stop in a tobacco shop near Campo de’ Fiori and ask if they have stamps. Before I’m able to finish saying the word “stamp” (francobollo, in Italian), the cashier shakes her head no to dismiss me and starts talking to the person behind me in line. Later that afternoon, I stop in two more tobacco shops. Same result. One of them tells me to come back in the morning because apparently they’ll get a delivery of stamps then.

Tuesday: Walking near Piazza Navona, I stop in a tabaccaio. No stamps. Try three more tabaccai the same day: no luck. “They haven’t come in,” they tell me. Is there some sort of federal stamp shortage I’m not aware of? I also stop by the tabaccaio that had told me to come back today. They still don’t have them either. “By now you’ll have to wait till Thursday,” the girl tells me. Thursday? Oh yes, Wednesday is a federal holiday and everything is closed.

Wednesday: I don’t even bother trying.

Thursday: I visit three different tabaccai; no stamps to be found.

Friday: I finally give in and go to the post office. Get my number from the machine and settle in for a 35-minute wait to mail one stinking postcard. When it’s my turn and I go up to the counter, the woman says, “Oh, you’re just mailing this? You could have just bought a stamp, you didn’t need to come here.” She starts pointing to a nearby tabaccaio and telling me to get out of line and go buy my stamp there. I give her a Look of Death and say through gritted teeth, “Can’t you just print the postage on it?” As if that hadn’t occurred to her, she assents and prints the postage and I pay.

RESULT: 5 days to mail a postcard.


Scene: A residential part of L’Eixample, not particularly close to the Passeig de Gràcia (which is the more touristy part of the neighborhood) in Barcelona.

Thursday: I’ve just spent a few minutes sitting in a sunny park writing a postcard. I spot a nearby tobacco shop and go in to ask for a stamp (sello, in Spanish). I ask the owner, almost nervous, “Do you have stamps… for the US?” She replies pleasantly as she takes out her giant book full of stamps: “Yes. How many?” This has been way too easy. I decide to push my luck and ask her if there’s a mailbox nearby. She points out the door and says there’s a mailbox one block up. I find it right on the corner, bright yellow, and drop my postcard in.

RESULT: 5 minutes to mail a postcard.


CONCLUSION:  Sometimes the simplest tasks that can be easily accomplished in most other places somehow become Herculean in Rome. Organization is not Italy’s strength and although this is usually considered an acceptable sacrifice for good food and inexpensive wine, Barcelona doesn’t lack in either, and works surprisingly well, from the flow of traffic to public transport to basic everyday chores and interactions.

Roca de Gaudì – almond meringue in Barcelona

by Amy Knauff

On my last visit to Barcelona, I was coming back from a walk around the Parco Güell when I walked by a tempting bakery window. Of course I had to stop inside and try something. I bought one of the giant meringues that you can see in the photo; the person working at the counter told me it was called “roca de Gaudí”. It’s really just a simple meringue flavored with almonds; delicious if you are into meringues (super sugary!).

Strangely enough, I haven’t been able to find anything online about how this almond-flavored meringue got the name “roca de Gaudí”, and whether the term is just used in Barcelona or in all of Catalonia. Any Barca experts out there know?

I did find a nice, simple recipe to make it at this website.

The sweets next to the rocas de Gaudí in the photo are called coques de vidre, a sweet, thin, crispy Catalan cake made with anise liqueur and a layer of smooth sugar that’s like glass (vidre). I didn’t try it last time, but I will on my next trip! In the meantime, here’s a recipe for that too – in case your curiosity has been piqued.