Recapping my trip to Barcelona, Lisbon, Nice, and Monte Carlo with Michelle, and sharing some personal thoughts / tips about where we stayed, what we did, what we ate, and anything in between.
Where we stayed
Our trip to Europe itself was a slog, with total travel time racking up 14 hours in the air and 5 hours of layovers, we were exhausted to say the least. But we made it! Barcelona was super warm (around 80F) as we made our way to our hotel in the El Raval area. We used links like this to decide where to stay, and chose El Raval since it was (1) close to public transportation, (2) central in the city to the historic quarters + other tourist attractions, and (3) listed as a place with a lot of activity. It was a little rough around the edges (lots of graffiti on the walls, lots of tourists so we were worried about pickpockets) but still a totally tolerable place to live. Our hotel - Hotel BCN 40 - was surprisingly comfortable for being 2-stars. There was a 24 hour receptionist desk and the housekeeping diligently kept our room amazingly tidy every single day, which was so pleasant to come back to after a whole day of romping around the city. We paid €732 for 5 nights.
What we did
Our hotel was right next to La Rambla, a street with lots of shopping and restaurants which also houses the cities most famous food market, La Boqueria. Highly recommend getting some jamon and oysters there; while busy, food here is delicious! I was super bummed to learn that I wasn’t allowed to bring meats back to the USA. We roamed the Gothic Quarter or older parts of the city, and it was cool to be walking alongside the city’s history. We visited La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Palau Guell, and generally walked the city.
We met up with some friends and had delicious food, most notably at Lluritu (amazing mussels, razorback clams, and tuna belly!) for just $25pp. I continued my tradition of looking for the highest rooftop bar in a city and had champagne (probably prosecco) at Zity Bar on the top of the Novotel hotel.
Inspirations from Barcelona
While we were in Europe, I noted down the ideas from things we ate or did that I might try to do/have back in the states. From Barcelona, I really enjoyed clara (50/50 beer and lemon soda mix), sparkling water (I’ve always loved La Croix but now I enjoy regular sparkling too), white wine sangria (orange, lemon, mint, and some orange juice), red onions in everything.
Where we stayed
We stayed in an Airbnb in the Principe Real neighborhood and spent a lot of our time just walking up and down the hill. Lisbon really reminded us of San Francisco, with its trams, Golden Gate bridge look-a-like, and copious hills. Nearby neighborhoods that also would have been good are Bairro Alto (a little downhill from us in Bairro Alto, but more touristy) and Chiado. I wouldn’t personally stay in Alfama (very hilly, slightly far away from many things we liked) or Belem (very far away, like 40m away from the places we frequented).
What we did
After a day at Belem, we went to Sintra for a day trip about an hour train ride west of Lisbon center.
We were a bit unlucky - it was extremely foggy when we arrived, so we didn’t get much of a view of the castle or surrounding area. Even worse, we bamboozled ourselves into standing in a queue of people lasting an hour and a half. Only after we made it through 80% of the queue did we realize that it was just to see the inside of the castle!! And I’ll be honest, I think the magic is in the castle exterior, not the interior. Sure, there were some cool tiles and architecture, but you’re in Europe! Most of the architecture you’ll see without queueing will be better than the Pena Palace interior.
Finally, after our day trips to Belem and Sintra, we spent time walking up and down the Alfama district. One of my favorite things was just sitting with Michelle at the top of a busy hill/intersection and leisurely sipping a pint of beer. We had no cares in the world and it felt amazing. Afterward, we went up to a viewpoint (Miradouro da Senhora do Monte) which is just about the tallest viewpoint you’ll get in the city. Lisbon is a weird city to try and drink champagne at the tallest point (should it be the rooftop bar with the most floors? Do I count hills in geographic height?), so we kept it simple and bought a bottle of champagne to have at the top of this miradouro. It was honestly fun to walk into a bar and ask for an entire bottle of champagne. The choices were €100 champagne or €22 prosecco. I’ve chosen champagne at the top of Paris, London, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, so I just had to keep it going. We bought the champagne 😊
What we ate
All across Lisbon, the food was amazing. Highlights included the egg/potato/prosciutto dish at Henrique Sa Passoa in Timeout market and A Cevicheria (seriously life-changing ceviche), and O’Frade. Seriously “must haves”! If you love sweets, I recommend most of the places selling egg tarts. We opted for the famous Pasteis de Belem while we were in the neighborhood, but I think there are many.
Inspirations from Lisbon
Between all the restaurants we went to, I really liked such random stuff. Pisco sours were delicious (but also €13 each), having specially branded beer glasses for just that type of beer was cool, and we had soft red peppers in just about everything. Truly the best thing we ate all trip was the Puro Ceviche at A Cevicheria (so good I wrote down the ingredients: croacker, sweet potato puree, red onion, wakame seaweed), Esperao white wine, vine plants held up by hooks against the corner of a wall.
Nice, France + Monte Carlo, Monaco
Where we stayed
We stayed in an Airbnb in “Old Nice” or their historic quarters. We didn’t build a strong opinion about other neighborhoods, so no tip about where we’d stay if we did it again. I will say I felt safe and there was a lot to do in the area. It kind of seemed like all the tourists for the entire city were staying there. Everything was subsequently busy and expensive, which wasn’t the best, but it was satisfactory.
What we did
Unfortunately Michelle had some kind of allergic reaction to what was in the air (cigarettes? car exhaust? french air?) so we spent a lot of time indoors. We ended up shopping in the nearby area and eating multiple meals in Old Nice.
On the second day, we did a day trip out to Monte Carlo, Monaco. I knew it would be a bougie place, so naturally I wanted to live that life too. I booked a couples massage at the Spa Metropole by Givenchy for €200 per person around 11am when we arrived and a lunch reservation at the Horizon Rooftop restaurant at 12:30pm.
After lunch, we swung by the famous Casino de Monte Carlo at first only to visit and see the inside, but it was so hot (near 97F) that we just decided to stay in the air conditioning and play some games.
In the casino, I showed Michelle my favorite video poker game, Jacks or Better. Honestly, I evangelize this game to everyone I know now. The return to player is about 98.3 to 99.5% depending on the odds (otherwise I don’t play). This feels like a worse house edge than most table games (e.g. blackjack), plus you can use your phone to look up the mathematically correct move to do and bet only a few dollars per hand. Playing can last you a much longer time than a $25 per hand minimum game of blackjack might. We ended up putting in €100 and netting out to €340 (+€240!!!). It was super fun. When the temperature cooled a little, Michelle and I headed shopping and she seriously considered buying the YSL Kate bag. It planted the seed, because she ended up getting it the next day in Nice! I think she got about 45% off the US price given the price in Euros + the VAT refund we submitted at the airport. Talk about value.
On our last day, I booked us a perfume-making workshop because my French friend said that Nice is known for their perfumes. It was a fun hour of sniffing different scents, picking our favorites, and mixing it together to make our own unique scents. Molinard also notes your ingredients and proportions so that if you ever want to buy it again, they’ll make it again for you!
What we ate
In Nice, we tried to find classic french food which included some duck confit, as well as the fun cliches like fried frog legs (they really do taste like chicken) and escargot (more like pesto clams).
Inspirations from Nice/Monaco
I didn’t write any on my list, but I really liked the luxury of Monte Carlo. I think the inspiration is, “treat yourself”!!