My trip to Spain started exactly the way it would end five days later; hungover, sleep deprived, and throwing clothes into a suitcase. The three of us must have looked like crazy people as we frantically ran through the airport trying to find our gate; boarding our Air China flight to Barcelona dead last. The one and a half hour flight was surprisingly enjoyable though; a blanket, a pillow, and a much needed complementary meal. Once we had landed at Barcelona El Prat International Airport it took us close to two hours to navigate our way using public transit to our hotel located in the city centre (because the $25 can fare just couldn’t be justified). The first thing I noticed (aside from the PDA amongst couples everywhere I looked) was how much slower the train system was in comparison to Vienna. The metro ran infrequently and the long line ups to get up and down the escalators to the platforms were slightly annoying with a suitcase (and one hand on your bag to protect from the plethora of ‘sticky fingers’ in the stations). We bought a T-10 pass for 10€ which got us 10 single tickets in any one direction with the metro or bus. It doesn’t seem all that expensive when I say it now, but this really began to add up during the day as we visited different areas in the city and would require a new punch to be validated each time.
The Ayre Hotel Caspe is a nice hotel located very close to the Arc de Triomf (a stunning arch-shaped memorial built in 1888). It was within short walking distance to the metro, train and any bus you needed. The room had a small fridge, supermarkets were literally steps away, and the hotel bartender gave us free water bottles whenever we needed. The room was for double occupancy though, so we pushed the two twin beds together and slept horizontally to fit.
Barcelona is huge! And there is soooooo much to do and see it’s really unbelievable. If I could make any recommendation I would say do a hop-on-hop-off bus (about 30€) within the first day or two of arriving to the city. This way you see the sights, get admission discounts on lots of attractions and have at least some idea where you are going in the future when navigating. There’s three different routes the bus takes to really showcase everything the city has to offer. It was in an open-air rooftop seat of this bus that I completely fell in love; Barcelona has everything! Beautiful beaches, historical buildings, artistic sculptures, palm tree lined shopping streets, tranquil parks . . . honestly, I could go on.
The one slight negative for a broke backpacker is that EVERYTHING costs you something. We wanted to go up to Tibidabo Mountain, the highest point in Barcelona, so we hopped off the bus onto this sweet little tram for a 2 minute ride (6€) and that was only one way! From the tram we literally got dropped off midway up the mountain in a parking lot. The only way to go was up with a secondary cable railway that cost another 7€. I have to say, as bitter as I was at the time about spending the money, it was one of the coolest spots we visited in the city. We warped into another world about 1700 feet up. There was an amusement park at the top that was over 120 years old. The rides were different than anything I’d ever seen and the panoramic view of the Spanish coast was worth every cent we’d paid to get there (thank goodness for our selfie stick to capture it all!!).
There was a church perched on the mountain with beautiful bronze detailing that felt so spiritual (we went inside and Kristina lit a candle for her elderly grandmother; I still need to tell her how beautiful of a moment that was for me).
By far the highlight of my trip was visiting Park Guell, a public park composed of gardens and beautiful architecture. From the moment we stepped onto the grounds I was instantly reminded of Jurassic Park.
Bright coloured exotic birds chirped from high above in palm trees, detailed stonework jetted out alongside a walking path and a view overlooking Barcelona in its entirety. Thank goodness we were told to buy tickets ahead of time because the line up to go inside the area that housed Gaudi’s mosaic work was over two hours long.
We spent so much time here walking around in complete awe. If I had been in Barcelona for longer I would have returned to the park for a picnic lunch and yoga practice every single day. Complete serenity. Overwhelming beauty.
Game night was a night I will not soon forget; it was the Spanish Soccor Supercup final (Barcelona vs. Athletic Club). We got right into the spirit and dressed in home team colours to support Messi and the crew. The metro on the way to the game was completely jammed with people (imagine sardines in a can) and we were warned that the pickpockets were out in full force. As we walked towards Camp Nou (the largest stadium in Europe) the atmosphere was crazy! Flags waved back and forth, loud chanting was heard for blocks, and we were instantly lost in a sea of navy blue and red striped jerseys. Our seats were quite a ways back around centre field; although I truly don’t believe there’s a bad seat in the house. I couldn’t even focus my eyes on the game (or the players bright neon Nikes) because I was so distracted by the sheer number of people in my presence. By the time the game started there was not one empty seat (that’s over 100,000 people). It was a little surprising to me that there was no alcohol served at the stadium, but I suppose it’s all in part to keep the event family-friendly. I couldn’t even begin to describe the noise and energy in the stadium when Barcelona scored (although they didn’t end up with the win). The game finished close one in the morning and to our disappointment transit was no longer in service for the night. So 100,000 people all filled the streets trying to flag down a cab; insanity. We walked and walked and finally offered a nice gentleman some money to give us a ride back to the hotel. I’ll never forget the moment he told us (in broken English) that he was so happy his team had won and in that split second Kristina whipped her Barcelona Football Club hat off her head in hopes our ‘fare’ wouldn’t go up because we had been cheering for the competition.
The Gothic quarter of town was definitely worth checking out. Tiny cobblestone alleys lined with trendy tapas bars and amazing architecture. Interesting sculptures and art pieces were on every corner.
On Sunday’s between 3pm and 8pm there are a number of different museums that offer free admission (we checked out the Picasso Museum on our way through).
The party scene in Barcelona is supposed to be one of the best (and craziest) in the world; I couldn’t agree more. A beach lined with high end clubs, although still not many girls in heels, featuring well known DJ’s each night (Major Lazer and Otto Knows).
We ended up at a club called Shoko a few different nights; loved the music, indoor/outdoor dance floors, and the beach access. My best memories were sitting on the beach enjoying the company of new friends drinking the 1€ beers the vendors sold before going back inside to enjoy the music (where the same beer was 7€). One afternoon, on a search for nachos, we discovered Rosa Negra (a Mexican restaurant just off La Rambla). The wait staff invited us back the next evening to ‘pre drink’ before the club (no one goes out in Barcelona until well after midnight) and I was shocked to see the crowds at a restaurant at this time. Im guessing it’s the 3.50€ mojitos and margs that make it such a happening place.
Either way, we met so many people from around the world here (it seems like everyone in Barcelona is visiting from somewhere) and got some good advice. Always (always) go to the clubs’ online site and sign up for the guest list. It’s not like Canada where you have to arrive before 11pm, and this list can save line-up time and a 15€ – 20€ cover charge.
Yes, the beach clubs at night were amazing. . . but truth be told, my favourite evening was spent with thousands of other tacky tourists at Barcelona’s Magic Fountain. Every Thursday to Sunday, from 9 to 11:30pm hoards of people crowd around a huge fountain (with an amazing mountain backdrop) for a spectacular display of music, colour, motion and water that puts the Bellagio to shame. If you are ever in Barcelona it is a must do.
La Rambla!!! Ahhh, La Rambla . . . as fun to be part of as it is to say. This central street is like nowhere else I’ve ever been. Its crowded (a real breeding ground for pickpockets), illegal venders are constantly harassing you to buy knock-offs, and souvenir kiosks with the same overpriced merch are everywhere you look – yet, I’d say it’s something you just have to see. Within minutes of being on the boulevard we watched a frantic woman stop traffic to scream after the man who recently stole her iPhone (seemed everyone we met had a storey about something they’d had taken). We quickly learned not to bring anything valuable and very limited money to this area because these guys are good at what they do. At night the restaurants set up patios to host open air tapas bars. It really doesn’t matter what time of day you go; it’s people-watching at its best.
About halfway down La Rambla is the largest market in Barcelona: Mercat St Josep La Boqueria (or simply called the Boqueria). It is a paradise for the senses; the smells, the colours, the seafood, the busy comings and goings of people. At the Boqueria people eat, shop and socialize together doing what the Spanish excel at, living life well with amazing food and drink. Open everyday but Sunday from 8-8; go for breakfast and stay for lunch! Seriously.
Sagrada de familia is an incredible and awe-inspiring piece of architecture from Antoni Gaudi. The church is still a construction site but it doesn’t hinder it’s beauty; truly spectacular! Construction started in the 1800’s (all the little details are beyond what I could ever write), and Sunday services can hold up to 9,000 people at a time. The three spires at the top reach almost 550′ tall and can be seen from every viewpoint we visited in the city. Really something special.
Our last day in paradise was spent on the beach outside the city called Ocata (it came highly recommend by a local working at the hotel). It was a short train ride alongside white sand beaches. Vendors sold beautiful sarongs, fresh coconut and knock-off accessories as we soaked up some rays. We packed veggies and hummus for lunch and spent the entire day in the ocean waves. The warm breeze disguised the scorching sunburn I was getting that day; (lesson learned) always put sunscreen on the areas that don’t often see the sunshine.
There is a reason that everyone who’s been to Barcelona admits it’s one of their favorite cities. Yes, it’s expensive, but the money I spend traveling is only going to make my life richer. While I’m young and able I need to see this big world, and there’s no point in worrying about what that will cost. The experiences I had in Barcelona (and all over Europe) are far more valuable than money ever will be. In ten years from now when I think back to this adventure, I’ll be more disappointed with the things I didn’t do than the ones I did. So off I go to continue exploring and seeing as much as I possibly can. . . life is far too short to be lived in one place.