With two weeks of vacation, I decided to spend my first week in Barcelona! I knew virtually nothing about Spain, and speak
very little absolutely no Spanish, but everyone raves about Barcelona, so I arrived with a lot of anticipation. For the record, I absolutely LOVED Barcelona, and it is now one of my favorite cities in Europe. The city is lively, clean, and beautiful. The people are wonderfully kind and laid back, and Spain is dirt cheap compared to France. I had an absolute blast (even being solo!) and this is a city I will DEFINITELY return to in the future.
To get to Barcelona, I flew with RyanAir– a European budget airline. My roundtrip airline ticket from Marseille to Barcelona was 39€- a steal! The hostel where I stayed was so great. Sant Jordi Hostels is a chain around Barcelona with six different locations; the branch where I stayed was called Mambo Tango. The price was a steal- less than 10€ per night for a dorm, it was very well located, extremely clean hosted dinner or sangria night, a free pub crawl, and offer discounted tickets for all of the biggest attractions to buy in advance.
I indulged in these upon touching down in Barcelona. Tapas are a variety of appetizers and snacks, and a specialty of Spanish cuisine.
Gaudí is Barcelona’s most famous architect, so I first took a Gaudí-based free walking tour. The guide took us to all four of Gaudí’s most famous structures, and then told us the histories about all of them. I especially loved learning about the famous Sagrada Familia, including the details and meanings of the front and back of the cathedral. One of the most surprising things I learned is that Barcelona and Gaudí are actually not that old- it was actually during the earliest part of the twentieth century that Gaudí was well-known, and when he helped put Barcelona on the map!
In front of Casa Calvet– it was equally as beautiful at night !
In front of Sangrada Família, which illustrates Jesus’s birth (and BC events)
The back (and cleaner part) of Sangrada Família– where the architecture illustrates Jesus’s death.
After the tour, I decided to continue my Gaudí day and head to Park Güell with a girl I met from Portland. I spent the rest of the afternoon just hiking and enjoying the scenery, and soaking in all of the sights. I also went into Gaudí’s house and learned a bit more about the history of the park. I did not go inside any of Gaudí’s monuments, because you have to pay (a lot!) Originally my plan was to just choose one to enter, but I just simply ran out of time. I don’t regret this though, because I still saw and learned so much about each one and now I have a reason to come back to Barcelona one day.
Barcelona lives up to the stereotype of having some of the best nightlife around. On my second night, I spontaneously went to see a folk band in a hole-in-the-wall bar with a few new friends from the hostel. The band (Del Tirón Green Band) was so good! (It turns out I am really into bluegrass and folk!) The members in this band are all in their twenties, except for the 65-year-old American who relocated to Spain from Hollywood about 30 years ago. The three of us ventured back to the hostel around 3 AM navigating through the dark streets and to the other side of the city, returning around 4 AM.
New Europe Walking Tour
I also took a free Sandeman walking tour of Barcelona, which focused on the Barri Gòtic (Gothic District) and the Old City, parts I hadn’t yet explored. We saw Barcelona’s only cathedral, as well as many other churches. We also explored the rather unknown Jewish Quarter and finished near the port.
Christopher Columbus climbed these steps to tell the King and Queen that he had found India… aka North America
La Seu Cathedral, or the Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulalia
Barcino was the original name for Barcelona
Our tour guide taught us all about the people who freely fly their Catalan flags from their apartments (seriously, they are everywhere!) I knew before coming to Barcelona that people here were more likely to speak their regional dialect, Catalan, before the nation’s other official language, Spanish, but I did not realize just how passionate people from Catalonia are about their region! Citizens here fly their flags because there is a huge push for Catalonia to leave Spain and become its own nation. Kind of like Texans, who have the reputation of identifying as being Texan before American, people from this region say they are from Catalonia before they say they are from Spain. Additionally, some of the Catalan flags here have a blue triangle and some have a red or yellow triangle- the blue stands for the favor of smaller government in the new Catalan nation, whereas people who support yellow or red are more in favor for a communist-type of regime for new Catalonia, if it ever gets passed (it most likely won’t.)
I decided to take advantage of the daily three-hour Spanish siesta (basically the period of the day when everything is closed) on the famous beaches of Barcelona. I dipped my toes in the quite active Mediterranean, and then just laid out and napped. The most annoying thing about these beaches and this city is the fact that there are a crap ton of pickpockets and people trying to sell you stuff on the beach. I couldn’t fully relax because I was also actively clenching my possessions.
This is one of the busiest streets in Barcelona. There are always a lot street performers and vendors, and it’s just a fun place to be (it felt like a very modest and calm version of Venice Beach). It is also host to the famous Boqueria Market, considered to be one of the best in the world!
During my stroll I did some shopping and finally arrived at the Square, where there was a HUGE teachers protest going on in response to the changes being made in public schools (am I back in Wisconsin!?)
I watched for a few minutes and then worked my through the sea of people to the next street, where I stumbled upon the Magic Fountain of Monjuïc, located just in front of the Palau Nacional. The fountain hosts amazing light and water spectacles on Thursdays, except in the wintertime (yes, that includes October, even though each day it was 75 degrees and sunny!). So, now I have another reason to go back to Barcelona! Luckily it was still breathtaking during the daytime.
Parc de la Ciutadella
This was easily my favorite site in all of Barcelona. It reminded me a lot of Central Park- when you are inside, you forget that you are in a hustling and bustling city! I walked through the gardens and pathways and just people watched, and just awed that the most beautiful Cascada Fountain, which was built by Gaudí when he was a college student. I checked out the Arc de Triomf, and then finally plopped a squat and just spent some time lounging on the grass and reading my book, taking in the scenery, smells, and sounds of Barcelona.
All in all, I loved Barcelona, and learned how to relax and to be a traveler and not a tourist. One of my favorite travel bloggers explains it perfectly:
“Barcelona moves slowly – dinner is at 9, you’re early to the bar if it’s before 2 am, and everyone sleeps late and loves their siesta. And since this city moves slowly, so should you. Sleep late, take breaks, eat lots, don’t rush your visit, and just enjoy Barcelona – at a Spaniard’s pace!” –Nomadic Matt (source)