I reflect on the whirlwind of the past 3 days as I depart Barcelona, the capital of Spain’s autonomous Catalonia region. Shortly after my last entry, I arrived in Barcelona from Madrid via train. Having never been to Barcelona, I ended up immediately wasting 7 euro on a taxi to take me to my hotel which was literally 600 meters from the Barcalona-Sants train station. After setting into my hotel, I immediately decided to go out and explore the city as I had a few hours to kill before my guided tour of Barcelona’s famous Sagrada Familia Cathedral. Buying the metro ticket was sort of a culture shock as the default language for Barcelona is Catalan, not Spanish. To me, Catalan was phonetically much closer to Portuguese than Spanish. I must admit that I stared at metro screen much longer than I anticipated until I eventually found the button to convert the language back to Spanish. Additionally, Barcelona’s metro was very interesting as it seemed pretty outdated compared to other cities, including Madrid. Specifically, you actually have to turn a handle to open the door at your stop. I almost missed my first stop as I instinctively just stared at the door waiting for it to open automatically (this is 2023, right?). Despite these minor inconveniences, I overall found Barcelona to be an impressive city. Based off my extremely small sample size, I felt that Barcelona was much more colorful and diverse than Madrid. However, Madrid definitely had the more impressive architecture from a photogenic perspective. Some of the highlights from my time in Barcelona include.
La Sagrada Familia-A few hours after arriving in Barcelona, I set up a guided tour of the city’s top tourist destination, Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. The tour cost about 30 euro and although relatively expensive, I’ve discovered over my years of traveling that its always best to gain some historical context to the sites that I visit. When I arrived to Sagrada Familia, there were two things that immediately stood out; the amount of construction going on and how windy it was. The construction issue was explained during the tour as the goal is to add twelve towers to the basilica to represent Jesus’ twelve disciples. It seemed like they’d only built four so far. However, the wind made the experience pretty miserable as it only exacerbated the already chilly temperatures. The wind was so bad that when we were on the outside portion of the tour, some of the people actually stayed inside the cathedral and simply listened to the guide on the headset. Overall, I thought the architecture was more memorable than the story behind it but I also came about an hour before closing, so I did not have time to immerse myself in the expansive museum located under the main chapel. If you are going to drop 30 euro on a ticket to La Sagrada Familia, I recommend coming early in the day to maximize time to explore the museum.
La Rambla- Translated to “the boulevard”, most cities in Spain have a commercial area with shops and restaurants. However, Barcelona’s La Rambla, which stretches about 1.2 kilometers in the city center, is probably the most internationally well-known. The last time I had heard of La Rambla was in 2017 when a lone-wolf Islamic State terrorist drove a van into the middle of the strip killing 13 people. After seeing first-hand how compacted and crowded the strip was, I am surprised that the death count wasn’t higher. In present day, La Rambla was filled with international shops and restaurants (i.e Five Guys, Apple, Foot Locker). Trying to find a place to eat for dinner was like being on a dating app; every time I thought I’d settle on a place, four other restaurants looked equally as good. However, I did have my first experience of being profiled. I went into one restaurant and sat down to eat but the waiter, who did not want to serve me, told me to go sit at bar. As I inquired the reason why, it became apparent that he thought I was cheap based off the way I was dressed (hoodie and jeans) and didn’t want to be bothered serving me. I told him that I would take my cheap American ass to one of the 15 other restaurants located in the same 200-meter radius. Apparently, identifying myself as an American caused him to change his tune as he basically followed me out the restaurant begging me to stay. I ended up going to a restaurant called Raco Bonsucces which had self-proclaimed to have “the best paella in Barcelona”. While the prices were pretty affordable, I considered both the tapas and paella to be mid-tier. Overall, La Rambla was very chaotic but in a good way. It was very easy to get lost either on the main strip or the dozens of side streets that had equally interesting shops and cafes.
Girona-My final day in Barcelona, I decided to take a day trip to the city of Girona, located about 1.5 hours north of Barcelona via train. I’d actually debated about whether to take the trip as I was both tired and I had felt there was still much more that I could do in Barcelona. In the end, I decided to take the trip and I’m glad that I did. The round-trip train ticket from Girona to Barcelona was about 28 euro. Upon arriving in Girona, I was able to take a local bus (1.40 euro per trip) to La Plaza de la Independencia which was located in the heart of Girona’s historical center. One neat thing about the buses in Spain is the ability to purchase your ticket by credit card directly from the bus driver. In fact, the bus driver in Girona didn’t even accept my euro coins for payment. Prior to arriving in Girona, I booked a free historical walking tour with a company called Girona Explorers. The tour guide, named Juan Marc, was very knowledgeable in both the history of Girona as well as the Catalonian regions’ current fight for independence from the central Spanish government in Madrid. Another cool thing that I learned was that Girona was used to film parts of season 6 of HBO’s Game of Thrones. We were able to walk to many of the places used in the show. Because the tour was in English, I also met some other Americans; an expat couple that moved to Spain (wife was a former U.S. foreign service officer) and a lesbian couple that was in a middle of a 3-month trip throughout Europe. More power to the lesbian couple for being able to afford three months in Europe as I’ve been in Spain a week and have almost dropped $3k on this trip. Overall, the Girona tour was my favorite part of the trip (thus far). I also like how, in general, the tours are free, and the customers can compensate the guide based on their individualized experience. In fact, I think it actually works out financially better for the guide as they average about 10-20 euro per person for 2-3 hours of work. After the tour, I walked along the historical wall and was able to get some great pictures of historical Girona from above. I ended my trip to Girona by trying a local desert called xuixo, a deep-fried sugar-coated cylindrical pastry filled with cream, chocolate, or fruit. Honestly, this sounds more like something you’d find at the Texas State Fair than a cosmopolitan European city. I ordered the chocolate xuixo which I found to be pretty good, although I’m not sure I would make a habit of ordering xuixo’s.
Alas, my time in Barcelona has ended and I am currently on the train to Valencia, Spain. While I did as much as I could in Barcelona, I felt that I barely scratched the surface on what the city has to offer and would definitely be interested in returning one day. Looking ahead, I will be in Valencia for 4 days, but I currently only have plans for 2 of those days. I’ll use the 45 or so more minutes of this train ride to do some research and finish developing my itinerary. I look forward to writing about my successful and fun-filled experience in Valencia early next week.