I took a night bus at 230a to catch an early flight to Barcelona on Saturday. I knowingly overestimated the time needed so I arrived before security even opened, but I couldn’t sleep either way. I took bus 46 from El Prat to Plaça Espanya and walking twenty minutes to our hostel, St. Christopher’s Inn. This was my first hostel experience so I splurged a bit and got into an 8-bed suite with my best friend Rachel and her (now mine, too!) friend, Katie, who was in Europe for the holiday break. Our roommates were part of a fencing team from Ukraine. They were quite interesting girls, or so I assume because of the time of day they return from the night life. At times, we had to converse in Spanish because that was our only hope for semi-successful communication. I am still confused by the suggested use of a broom to unlock the window.
We set right off on Saturday morning to see Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral. The queue was about forty minutes, but with sixty degrees and sun, we barely noticed. The cathedral is my favorite sight from the trip. You would imagine Gaudí to be nuts and have a short attention span, but I think his thought process is genius. The inside columns and ceiling resemble a forest canopy—every element has a naturalistic explanation, even the stairs. From golden ratios to parabolas, each element is thought out and executed (though left unfinished due to his sudden death by tram). He passed away in 1926 and the cathedral is thought to still be fourteen years from complete. But the best part is the light. He directed and manipulated light in exquisite ways. To just be washed in the orange glow warms you up a bit.
I don’t want to seem less than overwhelmed by everything else, but we did so much in three days that it hurts to remember it all. We did walk to the free Guell Park, another Gaudí work. It had the quirks of his style and amazing views of Barcelona. We ate lunch on the beach, to which we carried (with lots of willpower) Bo de B sandwiches to devour in the sand. We waited forty minutes for our baguette, on top of a long commute with empty bellies. I had chicken that included everything from pesto sauce, lentils and cucumbers to chili sauce and rice. Basically everything you’d ever want between bread. We did the La Rambla tourist garb and didn’t give it much attention. We splurged for the good chocolate and saved with some cheap wine to start the night. We tried a place called Esito Chupitos which featured 500 €2 shots. Rachel and Katie roasted a marshmallow over their flaming shot so that was cool. We didn’t do anything crazy, except buy a baguette on La Rambla that turned out to be a cleverly disguised chunk of granite. Rachel gave it back to the man that described it as crusty; of the Earth’s crust, yes.
Sunday’s weather was sixty (this is warm, pathetic I know) so we caught a crowded, steamy bus to Tibidabo. The ride was thirty minutes and straight up a mountain. We all felt wobbly upon alighting. The top featured a church, a telecommunications tower, an amusement park and sweeping views of Spain. The haze effectively distorted the horizon line and held our attention for only so long before we were back down the mountain and off for food—this becomes a common theme. Paella is a traditional dish that reminds me of seafood jambalaya, so we headed to the beachside patio at Cavamar. Though service was poor and the wait was long, the atmosphere, food and company was enough. Though full, what would Barcelona be without churros? I took us to a hole-in-the-wall place first which we actually walked away from after seeing the location and window display, but the reviews held true and the comedic, older man was correct in guiding us with the recommended portion of 1 kilo per person. I wouldn’t be mad. We shared 250 grams worth and cried when the churros were gone. So we said, hey, let’s go on a churro crawl. In Spain, it is popular to dip churros into liquid, hot chocolate so that’s what we did at this great little café where the men wear bow ties and serve you cups of warm chocolate with dollops of cream on top. This experience was necessary and recommended, but their churros weren’t as good as the first place. When did we become so snobby about fried dough? Now effectively sugar-high, we consulted our travel companion, Trip Advisor City Guide.
I’m in no way paid to do this, but I’d be a great candidate because this app is the best thing to happen to travel. It works offline (which is great when your phone is in airplane mode for five months), gives directions, recommendations, reviews, photos, history and keeps a log of your journey. Rachel and I swear by it. Don’t go traveling without it.
We saw just about everything Saturday evening. From sprinting through the Picasso Museum in 23 minutes to Barrí Gothic and other districts, we did it all. We left nothing unturned, except our date with sangria. I happened to discover the best low-key place to be in the late hours. This hole-in-the-wall bar was hidden in alleys, but the crowd was local and the drinks were decent. Sangria de cava was our first pitcher, with sangria being our second. The tapas included chips and queso, meatballs with tomato sauce and fuet (a chorizo dish). It was all so good and we stayed there far longer than planned, but I’m not mad about it.
I loved traveling with Rachel and Katie. We are pretty like-minded when it comes to experiencing the culture (mostly by eating food) and not willing to let the day pass uneventfully. I hope we can travel together again because Monday wasn’t as lovely without them.
The girls took off before the sun broke so I was on my own in an empty hostel on a Monday morning in a foreign country. I made a friend at breakfast from Berlin who swapped some stories with me and offered to meet up when I make my way to her city next month. Her name is Paula. I spent the morning wandering two markets of meat and fruit, stumbling upon an arch, a few parks and the beach. This time I dipped my toes in the water and journaled with my feet submerged in sand. A man asked me to watch his bags while he swam and upon return he told me he was from Berlin. He was giving me details on the city when he told me his major: something to the effect of international forest conservation management. This happened to be the same career the girl from breakfast was studying. As it goes, the only two people I spoke with today take classes together and know each other quite well. I almost choked. Also, his name is Paul. I walked away smiling for a very long time because I’m exactly where I need to be.
I went back to the market for some salami, happened upon heaven at a doughnut shop off a side street (my doughnut addiction has gone off the charts in the last year) and purchased a crème brûlée chök. The gentlemen inside was so kind and his doughnuts were so beautiful and I wish it wasn’t socially unacceptable to eat five because this was my last day in town and I can’t bear the thought of not knowing my next encounter with those lovely dough rings. I walked a lot, found different parks to eat each treat in and explored Montjunc at the last minute. I wandered the ’92 Olympic site which is responsible for so much positive development in Barcelona. It’s a good thing that I love London otherwise you’d have to really pry me away from this city.
Barcelona was full of surprises and culture. My two years of Spanish didn’t let me down, though I curse myself for not taking language seriously in my youth. I am envious of those who can speak multiple languages fluently because I feel like a scrub when I depend on others to know English. Luckily, my recall was better than I imagined, but Barcelona speaks a Catalan dialect. I had no idea upon arrival. So aside from a little sunburn, I’m walking away from Barcelona with a lot more than I had when I started and I mean that in the most personally enriching way. Though completely exhausted, drained and unprepared for University in the morning, this exploring keeps me going. I’m living on three hours of sleep at night because the exhilaration demands it. My next big adventure is a few weeks out so I’ll use this time to recoup and continue my sojourn in the United Kingdom. Buenos noches, Barcelona.