“Oh, Barcelona…” or “Barcelona? Why?..” – those were the two most common responses I was getting from people with whom I spoke about our upcoming vacation’s destinations (nobody questioned London though).
I cannot explain why we had chosen Barcelona. I guess, we’d heard it was a beautiful city and thought of visiting it one day. Looking from here, Barcelona seemed really close to London – so we decided it was a good combination.
Since on that trip I didn’t have any fellow-perfumistas to rely upon their account of events, this part shapes to be a longer post.
I’ve spent disproportional amount of time trying to find a nice place to stay: though it was a couple of months in advance, there were almost no vacancies in the suggested areas; and owners of those several acceptable apartments that I found were not responding in a timely manner (I have to mention that with the London flat everything worked like a clockwork – through the same sites). Finally, I rented something that seemed like a good choice.
We had a late flight in, so to the arranged place of meeting with the owner we got closer to midnight. We got from him keys and instructions to our taxi driver as to where to take us; and that was when we learned that we’d need to walk to the apartment since it was on a pedestrian street.
The taxi dropped us off next to some church in the old town. Night, small groups of people walking around or finishing their drinks is empty street cafés. Narrow dirty streets with graffiti-covered shutter doors. Google Maps app sending us into a different direction every 10 steps we attempt to take. Two of us with two suitcases trying to figure out how to find the address we need…
I don’t know how it is in areas where you, my readers, leave but in both countries, in which I have experience living, a neighborhood that looks like that would not be considered safe by any stretch . So we didn’t feel safe at all.
I think we looked so miserable that a group of young tourists passing by took a pity on us and helped us to locate the building we were looking for.
Once in the apartment that looked exactly as described in the ad and depicted in photos but still felt uninviting and soulless (IKEA at its best and worst): a loud portable A/C on, quick shower, A/C off and out to bed around 1:00 in the morning. A couple of hours of dripping A/C, humming in-unit water heated replenishing hot water and occasional excited tourists walking by… Between 6 and 7 in the morning unmercifully loud metal shutters of the local shops going up just under our windows and across the street…
Around 8, when we gave up the attempts to get any more sleep, my vSO announced: “I want to go home.”
After a quick search confirmed that there were no vacant hotel rooms guaranteed to be quieter (and I didn’t even check how expensive it would be to come home a week earlier), we decided to give it a chance…
That was the lowest point in our trip, and from there it went kind of up: we were still sleep-deprived because of the combination of all the above-mentioned factors, plus remains of jet lag, plus a heavily walking neighbor above us, but we were impressed with this city’s architecture (and I’m not talking just about Gaudi), figured out that the area where we lived (El Born) was quite safe, and found things around to enjoy. On the picture below is the nicer end of the street where we lived (it was closed by the gates during the night and on weekends).
Perfumes I took with me
I discovered that I didn’t have that many Spanish perfumes in my collection that I wanted to wear or to test on this trip. Carner Barcelona El Born, which I brought also thinking about the possible bottle purchase, smelled better than the namesake area where we stayed, but I’ll need some time to disassociate these two to start enjoying this perfume again. Ramon Monegal Impossible Iris was just perfect, and I enjoyed wearing it but I already have a bottle of it. I’m not sure why I didn’t bring any other samples of Monegal’s perfumes that I have: I’m sure I could have worn Cuirelle or Pure Mariposa but somehow I didn’t think of them. But I compensated not bringing enough perfumes to wear with testing.
Perfumes I tested
Before I came to Barcelona, I didn’t realize how many good perfume shops that city had. I visited three exceptional niche perfumeries, and each of them was worth the time spent. Even if one comes from such place as London!
Situated in the extremely touristy place (a minute walk from Gaudi’s the Casa Batlló, it feels more like a perfume department in a luxury department store than a true niche place: though it carries a lot of niche lines, SAs are not too personable, and the space looks impassive. But I managed to test many perfumes, including the line I hadn’t had a chance to test before – Memo. I liked at least several “leathers” and plan to buy some samples to get to know those better. One more line, about which I haven’t heard before – Rosendo Mateu Olfactive Expressions. I liked a couple of their perfumes on paper – No 2 Lavender Spicy Chocolate (Fragrantica chose to put commas between all three ingredients in the name, and I wonder what they thought “spicy” meant in this enumeration) and No 3 Neroli Iris White Musk, but didn’t get a chance to try them on skin.
Perfumeria Regina is also a home for the Perfume Museum. There’s not much to tell about it but a lot to show – so I’ll do a separate post to share pictures I took there.
This small shop in the Gothic area of Barcelona was probably one of the most surprising perfume shops I’ve ever visited: by rough estimate, I didn’t recognize 80% of everything they had to offer. From what I could surmise, they do not present the complete line from the brands they carry but rather handpicked fragrances. All of them are offered to smell from the funnel-shaped glass testers, which was more convenient that sniffing the sprayers. Either my perfume tastes did not coincide with tastes of their collection curator, or I’m just not prepared to discover a diamond in the rough with that number of potential diamonds but while I liked many of perfumes I smelled, especially their masculine part of the collection, I didn’t love any of them enough to put on skin. Two that I tried on my vSOs wrists I liked but not enough to even write down the brands or names properly.
La Basilica Galeria
The gallery claims to have the biggest selection of niche perfumes in the World. I don’t know if anybody questioned that statement but for all I know it might be true, especially if we talk about stand-alone perfume shops.
Once we came there, I dispatched my vSO to the relatively comfortable armchairs where he could wait for me and started methodically sniffing through the collection presented via sprayed crystal bell-formed testers, marked on top red, navy or half-and-half for feminine, masculine and unisex fragrances.
After I’d been through a couple of cases, a very friendly SA asked me if she could help me to find what I was looking for. Hopefully, in the same friendly manner I informed her that I was just going to sniff my way through the collection (I didn’t feel bad because I wasn’t even spraying any of the perfumes, all bells were already pre-sprayed). “Are you going to go through all thousand and <I don’t remember the exact number> perfumes?” – I won’t try to describe the tone, with which she asked that, but you could probably imagine it. I was completely unflappable: “I’ll skip those, with which I’m familiar” – and I returned to my exercise.
I think that La Basilica Galeria has a nice selection of niche perfumes with a good mix of more and less popular brands. But the way they present perfumes isn’t suitable for finding perfumes on your own. As I discovered when I tried to spray one of the perfumes in its bell to refresh the scent and get top notes more prominently, I wasn’t supposed to do that: they spray those perfumes on some schedule, writing it down and checking for how long those lived on the glass. The SA proudly told me that some of the perfumes were sprayed once a week… While I agree that perfume should not be judged only by its top notes – the way that mass market perfume industry would like us to do, 2-3 days old leftovers on glass surface definitely isn’t what any perfume should be judged by either. At that point I realized why most perfumes I tried by then weren’t “my cup”: my favorite floral top notes just do not live that long. After I asked, I was given some paper strips to test those perfumes that I wanted to try fresh but I could test only those, base notes of which survived nicely and were to my liking – which probably also wasn’t the worst criteria for choosing what to test on paper or skin.
Perfumes I didn’t buy
Though between the three major perfume shops I visited, I sniffed my way through about 650-700 fragrances, there were just several that interested me enough to consider for a catch from my trip to Spain.
I considered buying Gaudi de Codibel perfume for the whole 15 seconds that it took from me spotting it in the gift shop of the Casa Batlló to locate a test strip, spray and smell it. Had at least the bottle been a little more imaginative or better quality, I could have bought it just as a souvenir since we both quite enjoyed this museum. But both the scent and the packaging were beyond the exploitation of the famous name.
S-Perfume 1499 smelled very pleasant (jasmine sambac, myrrh, labdanum, olibanum, vanilla and amber – what’s not to like, right?) but everything else worked against this perfume: brand being either American (created) or Japanese (located now); the name is as non-descriptive as they come when the brand that isn’t Chanel decides to use numbers; and finally the bottle design just doesn’t suggest the price point, at which they position themselves.
I liked Paul Emilien Premiere Danse but since it’s a French brand, with which I wasn’t familiar before, I decided I’d look for a sample and test it more.
A Bulldog in the Atelier from a Spanish designer Teresa Helbig seemed like a good fit for the purpose of my search. Why didn’t I go for it? I got distracted by the Memo line, perfumes from which I didn’t plan to buy in Barcelona, and didn’t get a chance to test it properly. So with me not being a fan of that breed, it felt like I needed more time with this fragrance before exposing Rusty to it (though I liked the name).
Both my vSO and I liked Ramon Monegal Next to Me but I got confused with the name: judging by the list of notes and packaging, this one isn’t the same as Dubai Next to Me but, other than on Fragrantica, I cannot find any information about this one… And I’m not a huge Monegal fan (Impossible Iris is the only perfume from the brand that I like and wear).
The last two perfumes seriously tempted me despite the wrong country of origin and stupid names: 1831 and 1926. For those of us who is not versed in music history: I’m talking about 1831 Norma and 1926 Turandot by Histoires de Parfums. I tried and was completely enchanted by these two in the parfum extrait version. They both smell to me like classic perfumes. My vSO and I had different preferences for these two (I liked Norma a little more), it is a French brand, and they were more expensive than I felt comfortable spending on the spur-of-the-moment bottle. But only a coupon code, which I hope to get in e-mail soon, stands between me and the Order button on one of the decanter sites for these samples.
Barcelona leg of our trip was … trying. On the first morning we were ready to cut the losses and try to find our way back home. On the sixths morning, as we were leaving, we didn’t feel sad. But in between we had some positive experiences, and we both agreed that this city was worth re-visiting one day – provided we can find some more modern and soundproofed lodging. Until then I have perfume to remind me about the good, the bad and the ugly of this vacation. Which one? I’ll tell you soon.
Images: my own
Oh no, sorry to hear about your problems at the very beginning of your visit to Barcelona. Glad there were some good people who helped you find the place.
Your appartment conditions pretty much remind me of my airbnb place in Naples. There were bars and shops downstairs, it was extremely humid and even though I had aircon in my room I was not allowed to use it in the evenings.
All in all good that your overall experience of Barcelona is more positive than negative (right?)
Looking forward to learning about what you got there :)
I hope that this trip was a valuable lesson, which will help me to minimize, if not avoid, disappointments for future destinations.
There were many great things. I would say that it was far from a good trip but mostly for the health reasons (in response to the lack of sleep and stress), so we realized that it wasn’t a city’s fault and we’ll just need to be better prepared the next time.
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If you ever come to Poland I will come to Warsaw too to give you a trip around perfumeries ;)
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Will you first recommend the right area to stay? ;)
I don’t know that many places as I’m not a Warsaw guy 😜
Ah dear, I feel your heat and pain. The opening of metal shutters in the morning is a particularly cruel noise. And I have stayed in similar places, most recently in Manchester – though the noise came from bin lorries and early morning deliveries to a supermarket. It is true that a lot of Europe is a bit scruffy and might appear unsafe, but may not be in practice in my experience. Though to reprise Lucasai’s point, Naples most definitely is that!! And Barcelona is certainly notorious for petty crime and pickpockets etc, though you are very vigilant about that sort of thing. And El Born the perfume I really, really like and hope the district didn’t put you off.
Re your sniffing adventures, I had only been to one of those three, as you know – Regia and its en suite museum – and as in London I am totally in awe of your stamina to sniff as many hundreds of new things as you did. I don’t think I have such fire in my belly these days, and you do need that to keep hunting for ‘diamonds’. How annoying about the constraints of the ‘bell jar refreshing schedule’, and I am glad you found some things to like regardless. I must say that apart from Ramon Monegal and Carner Barcelona and Memo, the other brands were all new to me. Like L above, I am curious to hear what you did buy there!
Sorry – to clarify, Lucasai was only saying that his flat in Naples was similar to your accommodation, while I was making a wider point that that city is dangerous. I have had some very rum experiences there myself, though it may be safer now!
Actually, I forgot to mention (your “bin lorries” reminded me): around 3 or 4 at night there were cleaning vehicles moving through the streets (vacuuming or brushing – I’m not sure) but we heard them only twice – most likely, because by that time our minds would just give up and fell into sleep ;)
I can’t say I’m surprised with the number of perfumes: not only I am still curious about perfumes, but when I am on a mission to find something, I’m unstoppable! :)
With those bells… I do not really mind – had they warned about it in advance: I would have asked for paper strips much earlier. Though… Probably my vSO would have had to spend even more time on those armchairs (which, if to think about it, were not that comfortable). So all to the better. And I did still managed to find some gems.
Too bad about the accommodation, I’m sure you would have really enjoyed your stay if based somewhere else. I remember finding out when reviewing El Born (which I admired very much) that it’s the young, cool area of the city, but like some hipster locales of East London, it’s not always where you want to be as a tourist or late at night.
Well done for the heroic testing of some 650- 700 perfumes though! I noticed you have amazing “nose stamina” in London but that is quite astonishing. Surely this should count as some kind of super-power? :)
Looking forward tot he perfume purchase reveal!
I think that super-power (thank you! now I’ll think about myself as a Wonder Woman… Wait… Why “now”?.. :) Anyway…) is nature’s compensation for my chronic inability to recognize most of the notes in perfumes – no matter how many times I smell something (including raw materials) trying to “teach” my nose. But, to tell you the truth, I’m happy that I still like perfumes that much.
I’ll come back to my El Born sample in a while.
I was in Barcelona last summer and will be going there again later this year to ring in the new year :-). It’s too bad about the accomodations.. i managed to miss all the perfumeries you mentioned as It was mainly my sister who planned out the sites we visited. Left to her own devices, she will always pick accomodations that include a gym which means we end up staying at hotels. I will try to meet up with an NSTer but probably just for coffee and a samples swap!
I don’t like staying in hotels if it’s longer than 2-3 days: I’m getting too claustrophobic in those small rooms, and I just cannot eat out 3 times a day. But it means I should be more careful with choosing apartments.
Compared to what is available in NY, I’d say The Perfumery might be more interesting but the Galeria is a better place to visit with a non-perfumista friend/relative: they have a very interesting fashion jewelry store on the first flour, which can easily take 15-20 minutes (at least) for your company while you’re sniffing something interesting downstairs.
Pity about the accommodation. Sounds like Barcelona has a lot to offer, beyond its more well-known landmarks. More than 650 fragrances? Phew! Do you ever suffer from olfactory fatigue?
Barcelona is beautiful – you just need to find the right location to sleep and eat if you’re a light sleeper or require some special diet :)
I don’t remember ever getting tired of smelling different perfumes. Probably I stop reacting enthusiastically to something I would have liked it it was perfume #5 instead of #250, but I’m usually ready to keep going after I’m done with everything at the particular store.
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You have impressive olfactory stamina.
I had no idea Barcelona was such a great place to go perfume sniffing, though I’m sorry that you had such a rough time sleeping. I can envisage the conversation with the SA vividly but at least she ‘got it’, I’ve come across numerous who don’t. They keep insisting wanting to be there to guide, perhaps I need to train the unflappable Undina look, I think.
I do like that HdP opera collection. I normally prefer calling the perfume the Name rather than Number, as I can’t remember all of them, but I did like Norma and Turandot a lot. You do know they exist as edp at a much more approachable price? I didn’t notice much difference in the too. Although admittedly it wasn’t side by side testing, but merely from memory.
I didn’t realize that about Barcelona until we started going from the place to place. At least it was my consolation for the hardships we had there (I’m not sure my poor vSO considered that as such, though he liked the Perfumery a lot).
The SA was watching me for a while but after I skipped Amouage and some other similar caliber brand, she probably concluded that I knew what I was talking about. But it was a funny exchange. She definitely expected me to be impressed more by the number of perfumes in their collection :)
You were the only blogger from my surroundings who reviewed those HdP’s perfumes, and I remembered them because of your reviews. I gave up and actually bought samples – two that I liked in both concentrations and the other 3 in EdP. I haven’t received it yet but once I test them I might write more. But the “thanks” is actually all yours: since I’m not a huge EdP’s fan, if it wasn’t for your reviews, I might have gone by those bottles without trying them.
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You have inspired me to get back to writing my own blog posts about my perfume-focused trip to Barcelona in January! I visited all three of the locations you mentioned, and had a blast. (I also bought perfumes — surprise!). I’m sorry your trip overall was less than satisfactory; I have come to love Barcelona after several trips there, but you are right that it takes some inside information to get the visit right. My spouse goes there for work a few times a year, so has many colleagues who have recommended neighborhoods, hotels, restaurants, etc., which has made our trips together there very enjoyable. I love the funky Barcelona design vibe, including the many Desigual and Custo Barcelona shops (with their own fragrances for sale, too!).
It happens to me all the time! I read somebody’s post, start commenting and realize that I have much more to say than it’s customary for the most verbose comments :) I’m glad to “pay forward” and look forward to reading your posts.
Two months after the trip, when all the negative experiences faded away, and both my vSO and I are feeling well (at least, back to the base level ;) ), all the positives of that vacation make it pleasant to remember and do the imaginary planning for future visits.
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