Although I was only in Barcelona, Spain for about 30 hours, I fell in love with the romanticism that encapsulated everything from the architecture, to the food, to the people I met briefly along the way.
But first, let’s start at the beginning of my trip, shall we?
The group of girls I would be traveling with were a new bunch for me. One of them I had met briefly once before, another I had met a few times for coffee dates to discuss content creation and our lives after FIDM. She was actually the one that invited me on this trip. And the third girl I had actually met and worked with at my first retail job at the Banana Republic Flagship almost eight years prior to this. We had lost touch, and yet now, on this trip, we’d be traveling and discovering new places together!
Anyway, we departed from Oakland International Airport on a Sunday evening and arrived in Barcelona about 12 hours later. It was early Afternoon in Spain. It was gloomy, the roads were wet and the air was humid. After buying some extra Euros, we grabbed a taxi and headed to our home for the next couple of days, Hostel Sant Jordi Rock Palace.
I had never stayed at a hostel. The two times I had been to Europe before were with organized school groups and so it was all perfectly planned and supervised. Now, at 26, I would finally be experiencing Europe as it should be, with an open mindedness and carefree spirit. I think something that is always important to remember when you are going to Europe on a budget is that you have to be prepared for anything. Whether that means staying at not-so glamorous places or having to take public transportation instead of a cab. You have to be aware that the experience of just being there is much more valuable than the luxury of being 100% comfortable.
Anyway, I was really nervous as were arriving to the hostel because I had no clue what to expect. But the place was actually pretty cool. It was rock-n-roll themed and clean. We ended up getting beds in a 10-bed dormitory. I was under the impression that it was women only, but nope. These were co-ed. That made me more nervous. The flip side was that I got the bottom bunk right by the balcony overlooking the street. On the other hand the guy directly across from me had a severely bad case of B.O. I was like, NO! So when he stepped out momentarily, I sprayed my Downey Wrinkle Releasing Spray I was going to use to iron out my clothes, all over his bed, and left the window wide open. The other thing was that we each were assigned a locker. In the locker, I kept all of my most valuable possessions which were pretty much all of my Diabetes and Insulin Pump supplies. I also made sure to always put a lock on my suitcase which would be stored just under my bed. I used another lock on my backpack that I would be carrying around with me everywhere because, well, you never know.
So after all of that, we did a quick change and decided to get started on our adventure through Barcelona! I would only be in Spain for less than 2 complete days, so it was important to prioritize and see as much as I could. I highly recommend, if you’re going to Barcelona, book at least 3 days. There is so much to see all over this large city!
Our first stop was to grab a café con leche at Charlot Café to regain some much needed energy. As we walked, got lost, and explored the city, I was amazed by how different it was from all of the other places in Europe I had been to before. It is very Gothic and romantic at the same time.
The architecture is weird in the best way possible. The people were frank, but kind. The women, although beautiful, don’t bother too much with elaborate hair and makeup. And the fashion here is minimal, neutral, functional, effortless; in other words, understated chic.
The graffiti art in La Rambla is some of the most beautiful art I’ve seen. Although many just walk right by that kind of stuff, I love to admire it because you can really get a sense of the way people here think and feel through their art. The graffiti is just BAM in your face and sometimes, literal.
A few other areas we visited on day one include:
One of my absolute favorite places we visited on our first day was La Catedral de Barcelona. It was crowded with tourists and locals alike. There was a small market to the side and someone playing the violin as well. It not only sounds picturesque, it was.
At one point, it started raining. We caught a bus back to Carrer de Balmes, the street our hostel was located on, so that we could rest up, shower, and get ready for the evening’s festivities. By now you may have realized that at this point, I have been awake a good 24 hours, minus the 2 or so that I was able to sleep on the plane. Side note: I have never been able to comfortably sleep on car rides, flights, train rides, you name it. But I was lucky enough to get a double seat because the one next to my window seat had a stain that no one wanted to sit on. I avoided the stain but was glad I could at least stretch my limbs and relax without the awkwardness of having to ask if I could get up to use the restroom. Side note over.
Hostel Sant Jordi is cool because they are the ones that actually organize these nightlife outings. Anyone in the hostel can attend. When the time came, we all met out in front of the building where we had a chance to chat with some of the other guests. There were people from all over the world! Eventually, one of the staff members escorted us to a bar less than a mile away where we could get some drinks and dance for a while.
We drank about a pint of sangria and danced to J Balvin songs one of my friends had to request. I am not a party person, but this was mellow and pretty fun. Also, that sangria was pretty strong.
After about an hour, we were all picked up by a large coach bus that was going to take us to the actual nightclub where the party would be continuing. I honestly can’t remember the name of the place. Anyway, we walked (ok, maybe stumbled) in and the DJ was wearing a unicorn mask. Cool. Anyway, it was a lot of fun. Word of advice, stay alert. Like many nightclubs, there are tons of people cramped into the space available. Stay hydrated.
It was really late (or super early) when we finally headed back to our hostel. I pretty much crashed, but did wake up at some point to treat a low blood sugar (alcohol tends to lower blood sugar rapidly and it can be difficult to control). Thankfully I had thought ahead and had picked up an orange juice the previous afternoon.
We got off to a late start the next morning. I had to grab a bite to eat because I didn’t want to risk my blood sugar dropping again. I found the cutest café right around the corner from Sant Jordi called Pa Amb Lola. I got a café con leche (these kept me alive the entire two weeks I was in Europe), a yummy turkey bagel, and a dulce de leche filled cookie. After this mid-morning pick me up, we all had the same goal in mind: La Sagrada Familia.
It was about a half hour walk from our hostel, which gave us a chance to really get a better look at the city.
La Sagrada Familia is an unfinished church that was designed by the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. This Cathedral was proclaimed a Basilica by the Roman Catholic Pope in 2010, and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We were about a block or two away from La Sagrada Familia when we caught a glimpse of it. It was majestic and stunning. I never imagined it to be as tall as it was. It was also surrounded by swarms of tourists. I suggest that if you are hoping to tour the inside, purchase your tickets online in advance. They were completely sold out when we arrived.
The architecture of this church was just like many other aspects of Barcelona I had mentioned before, in your face, literal, captivating. It is a place I would one day love to take my parents.
After much admiration for the wonder before us and a quick photo opp, we divided up into groups of two because we had different goals in mind. My friend Diana and I wanted to explore Parque Guell and the other girls were headed to the Picasso Museum. Since Diana and I would be leaving to Italy early the next morning, we felt that Parque Guell was more crucial during our brief visit.
To get to Parque Guell, we would have to take a cab. At this point, it also started to rain. This is when we learned that taxi cabs are nowhere to be found when it starts pouring. Eventually we ran after one that was vacant and it took us up to Parque Guell.
Parque Guell is another wonder by Gaudi that is located on a mountain range called Carmel Hills that is a bit out of the city.
We arrived at the perfect time because it was close to sunset. From up above you can catch a gorgeous view of Barcelona. Of course, we had to take advantage of the photo opportunity in front of us. After walking through and just acknowledging how lucky we were to be in such a beautiful place on this planet, we decided that we were hungry.
We managed to catch a bus that was heading back into the city, closer to our hostel. We figured we would grab a bite and then head back to shower and pack for or next adventure in the early morning.
Unfortunately, the bus was going the opposite way of where we intended to go. So even though it was pouring, we hopped off and started looking for the right bus. We never found it. Instead we walked, what seemed like forever, in the rain, looking for anywhere we could eat. The streets were becoming desolate. We found a grocery store where we picked up a pastry, walked a couple of blocks where we found shelter under the canopy of an apartment building. When I say it was pouring, I mean, it was pouring like the sky was a huge shower head. We were trying to come up with our next move. Should we wait out the rain? Should we keep walking?
As we were standing there, dripping and hungry, two older women walked out of the apartment building. My friend asked where the nearest restaurant was, and they pointed to the building right across the street with a sign saying "SOCO". They were actually on their way there to meet a few friends and they offered to walk us over to the restaurant under their umbrellas.
I grabbed a hold of one lady and Diana walked with the other. The lady I walked with was telling me about how she moved to Barcelona from Venezuela a few years prior in order to keep her recently widowed sister company. She was also curious to know why we spoke Spanish so well. We explained our backgrounds and they were pleasantly surprised. They actually had children that were working in Mexico.
Something beautiful about, not just Barcelona, but of each and every place we visited in Europe, is that they really admire the Mexican people and culture. I wasn’t born in Mexico, but I still felt proud as people’s eyes lit up when they found out where we were from.
Anyway, we wanted to eat something closer to traditional Spanish cuisine. Before they went off to find their friends inside SOCO, the women suggested, and even told our host to please serve us "patatas." This dish is basically potatoes with egg and bacon. It was so incredibly delicious, and a great comfort food. Even though we had a tough time in the rain, Diana and I cheered because we were ending our Barcelona stay in the most perfectly serendipitous way. We sat there, drying off, peeking out the window watching it rain, eating carbs with one hand and holding a glass of wine in the other. Pure bliss.
After our meal, the waiter and bartender helped us call a cab. While we waited, we drank another café con leche, and decided to walk over to the kind women who had helped us. They were in the middle of girl-talk, but surprisingly, they introduced us to their friends as if we were old acquaintances. They asked about our trip and we told them how we would be traveling all over the place in the following weeks. They had only the best wishes for us.
Once we said our goodbyes and thanked the group once again, Diana and I went outside (still raining BTW), caught a cab and headed back to Sant Jordi.
Since it as our last night in Barcelona, and the last time all four of us would be together on this trip, we opened a bottle of wine and decided to just talk. We ended up talking for hours! It was great because I got to know the girls a little more. The only downside was, I still had to shower and pack! And our flight was really early. I decided it was pointless to try and sleep so I stayed up prepping for our departure. Unlike the trip to Spain, I was less nervous and more excited about Italy, which I can easily say is one of my favorite places in the world!
Have you been to Barcelona or any other part of Spain? What was your experience like?
Stay tuned for a post, just like this one, all about my time in Florence, Italy! Thanks for reading!
-The B of V