EAT. PLAY. LOVE.
By Mayleen Ramey
My first trip to Barcelona was in May 2012. After filming an episode of Destination Tennis in Mallorca, I decided to take a solo trip to the capital of Catalonia. Coming from a week of production, with a nonstop schedule, planning every minute of my day, plus a full crew onhand, this trip couldn’t have been more different. With just a bag, a tennis racquet and not a single confirmed item on my itinerary, I arrived in Barcelona with a purpose (food, fun, tennis), a room, and desire to figure it out as I went.
What unfolded, was the most unexpected adventure. While getting lost trying to find a bike tour, I randomly bumped into a group of LA actor friends, visiting for a Vampire Diaries convention. I then got (willingly) roped into their glamorous weekend, while also trekking off to visit various tennis courts up and down the coast, in between these dinners and parties. In all of my travel shows, I never would have scripted such a fantastic turn of events and never could have imagined something so extraordinary happening again. Until it did, on my second trip to this magical city in October 2022.
I was living in London for half of the year and decided to kick off my month-long birthday celebration with a visit back to Barcelona. It’s only a short flight from London and my cousin had recently moved there to live with her Spanish beau, so I’d been wanting to visit for ages. My last trip ten years ago was a whirlwind, but I somehow managed to check off all the typical tourist boxes from flamenco shows to La Sagrada Familia; this time, I was looking forward to experiencing the city with locals as my guides, seeing what it would be like to live there.
Feel the Burn in Chinatown
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my cousin lives in Fort Piene, essentially Barcelona’s Chinatown! I didn’t realize a Chinatown even existed in Barcelona and that it would be quite as extensive as it was. It’s spread out (unlike London’s Chinatown) with all types of Asian cuisines inconspicuously sprinkled into what looks like an otherwise normal Catalan neighborhood. From great Chinese food, sushi, Korean, and even higher-end Asian fusion restaurants, we had plenty of options. But one area in particular caught my eye. It seemed to be the hot pot section of this mini Asian town. Because my cousin’s partner had never had hot pot and I wanted to celebrate their new life and union, I insisted that I treat them to what I knew would be an unforgettable first meal.
We landed at Schuler Hot Pot to a full Asian staff, welcoming us in Catalan. With nonexistent Catalan skills and rusty Spanish, I returned the greeting in Chinese, which was well-received with grins and them quickly ushering us to a prime table. The decor was sleek, the food looked fresh and abundant, but what struck us all was the technology. The tables were fully integrated with individual electric burners (there were tables with the standard shared pots) and also, half of the waiters were robots! Scooting around silently, delivering plates of ingredients to amused diners.
By Barcelona standards, this restaurant was quite pricey. We had dined in numerous tapas places, with incredible affordable cuisine, readily available at almost every block, with fresh seafood, plates of tapas and wine for about $10 per person. Our dinner here was about $50 per person, but a worthwhile splurge and perfect way to welcome our newest member of the family, with an introduction to our food culture. We had warned him about the level of spiciness, but he insisted on trying the hottest they had to offer. The table began overflowing with fresh scallops (unbelievably good), various meats and vegetables, and several broths, some with a shiny, thick layer of chili oil. These are the ones I typically avoid, but tonight we all dove in as a collective hot pot initiation. This resulted in a table full of red, sweaty happy faces, lots of laughter, bottles of wine to dull the burn, and a meal to remember.
Music to Feed the Soul
It was now time for my introduction to their world: jazz! My cousin’s boyfriend is a jazz musician, trumpet player and instructor, and she is a fashion photographer. They met at a jazz club in New York City, which would lead to years of a long-distance romance before she ultimately uprooted her life and moved from LA to Barcelona. Seeing her new life and hometown, I knew she was meant to be here, so in love, inspired, and thriving. In her short time, she was already a fixture in the jazz world and brought me along for a musical ride.
Artists are vastly supported and respected by the government and local community. The jazz scene is a small, yet passionate slice of Barcelona’s music culture. My cousin and I accompanied her man’s band to his gigs at numerous restaurants and clubs throughout the week. From a small, smokey dive bar called Jazz Man to Balius gastropub in the trendy, posh Polbenou neighborhood, jazz is what the cool kids listen to, while gin and tonics are the drink of choice. With hushed crowds, hanging on the musicians’ every note, the band is a super star, not filler background noise.
My favorite part of the trip was being invited to his band’s Saturday afternoon paella party at their flat. This included two huge pans of homemade paella, prepared by all five band members crammed into the kitchen, arguing loudly over whose family’s recipe and method was better. While taking breaks from cooking and debates, the band would reassemble in the living room to put on the most incredible impromptu jazz shows. We ate, sang and danced on repeat through the night. I was taking in the moment, with cava in-hand, listening to these beautiful sounds and watching the setting sun illuminate the city in a golden light. I realized the significance of this special experience and fleeting moment, committing it to a core memory forever.
Red Clay Has My Heart
I couldn’t leave Barcelona without trekking back to the surface that sets my heart aflutter. I found a private club overlooking the city that looked perfect for a hit and photo shoot with my talented cousin. Unfortunately for us, the weather wasn’t cooperating, as a sky of gloomy grey enveloped the usually-colorful city. Since I’d already booked a lesson with the pro and it was my last full day in Barcelona, we jumped in a taxi, heading to Vall Parc, and hoped for the best.
Upon arrival, we were greeted with the most mesmerizing scene, rows of courts built into the hillside. The first tier, blue and green padel courts, followed by layers of gorgeous red clay, ascending like stairs up the mountain. And looking the other way, a view of Barcelona, stretching all the way to the sea. Suddenly, as if arriving to my own surprise birthday party, the sun jumped out from where it had been hiding all day, revealing bright blue skies, while we exclaimed, practically in unison, “the sun!”. I ran onto the court for my lesson with the pro, Eric, while my cousin grabbed her camera and snapped away.
Here are some shots from our photo shoot.
Photographer: Daisy Rast
Play All Day
There are plenty of ways to play all day inn Barcelona, on and off the court! I discovered that Barcelona has a thriving ping pong (table tennis) scene, with outdoor tables at most public parks. My cousin and I walked over to one quite close to her house for a friendly game.
While strolling through the Arc de Triomf one early evening, I noticed dance classes, from breakdance to salsa, taking place along the promenade. One that caught my eye was a high-energy zumba-style dance aerobics class, a group of Spanish ladies dancing and hollering along to Pitbull. I stopped to watch and the instructor immediately gestured for me to join, so jumped in and started shaking the hips. I had so much fun, I ended up coming back twice before I left!
EAT. PLAY. LOVE.
A Travel Guide for Tennis-Lovers & Foodies
A GlobeHAPA Production
▪️Shuler Hot Pot: @shuler.hot.pot
▪️ Chinese Food
▪️ Ping Pong at Parc de les Glories
▪️ Zumba-Style Dance Class: @nrgplus.eu
▪️ Jazz Man: @jazzmanbarcelona
▪️ Balius Gastropub: @baliusbar
▪️ Tennis or Padel at Vall Parc
▪️ Barcelona Open: @bcnopenbs
For more in-depth Barcelona recommendations of where to stay & play, check out my City Guide (coming soon)!