*Note, I was going to try and do just one blog post per city, but it just felt too long! So, sorry another Barcelona post is coming.*
It was another early wake up after our night out. Susan and Will were nice enough to pick me up at the ungodly hour for my short flight to Barcelona! I wanted to check my bag and it cost about a third of my entire ticket price, but at this point, I’m all, fuck it all, and I will pay for my convenience. 💸💸💸
The flight is so short it’s not even worth mentioning, except I’m really glad Susan warned me that since I was on a budget airlines they even charge for soft drinks. After landing and standing at the luggage carousel, I was waiting for my bag when a woman comes up with something in her hand. I had read about how Barcelona is actually one of the worst cities in Europe when it comes to pick pockets; People might be doing a street show or throw rocks at your ankles in order to distract you just so other can pilfer the crowds. Anyways, she walks up while we’re standing there and says, “Hello. Do you want-” I turn away. “No. Thanks.” “-a free map.” Ah, frick. Oh well.
Instead, I asked for one at a tourist information kiosk and about how to find the train, but then answered “danke” (thank you” in German). I am off to a roaring start.
I bought my three day metro pass, took the train into the city no problem, got off at my stop and then do that thing you do the very first time you’re plopped down in a city, and you know your destination is only 2 or 3 blocks away, which is basically just walk outward in a spiral of blocks and rearrange your map until you figure out your bearings. I found the hostel, which is actually up a flight of stairs (cuz here ground floor is ‘zero,’ so first floor is.. Well, up one) and then my room was up yet another flight. “So sorry the about the elevator construction,” the young German girl checking me in said, rolling her eyes as we walk up the stairs. “It’s like the Sagrada Família.” Hahahahahaha, Barcelona humor! I get it!
My first plans aren’t for 4 hours away to see the Picasso Museum and now I’m here, in this dorm style bedroom in Barcelona! Some version of me has been wanting this for a very long time and now she’s here! So what does ‘she’ do, first thing? After years of wanderlust, months of planning and hours of travel? What’s the first thing the young woman does upon arriving? She seistas, of course.
I slept, got up, showered and ready for my Picasso museum entrance at 5. First of all, it should be explained as a miracle that I found it. On the outside, it looks just like any other old alley way in Old City.
I cut all the lines and went to the “Meeting Place” since I booked online, but I was told I have to check my small day pack (which after today I just stopped bringing around with me. Screw sunscreen and water). I put my items in the locker….. but it wouldn’t lock; it appeared jammed or something..? Everyone else was doing fine it, so leave it to me to pick the one busted one. I made the international “I love Lucy”-esque gesture for “Oh bother, mine seems to be broken, ha ha ha.” to an unimpressed elderly man watching next to me. He briskly says to me in Spanish, while pointing “You put a Euro here.” (Cue to that scene in ‘Pretty Woman’ when he takes her to the opera and she can’t get the glasses to work: “These are broken. Mine are broken. Oh.”)
But once inside the exhibit, I can’t even begin to describe the experience. To see rooms after rooms of paintings that he made from about 13-20ish years of age- that many don’t even know about, but clearly crafted him as an artist- was pretty unreal. No photos allowed buuuuut ssssh:
There was also painting that he did around 1896 of Barceloneta- the main beach/boardwalk of Barcelona. (No, I didn’t take this photo; I stole it from the internet, thankyouverymuch.)
I was done at the museum around 6:45 and knew I had at least an hour to kill before “dinner”, since most places didn’t even open until 8. So I decided to kill time and stroll down to the very same beach!
The ocean can be felt everywhere in Barcelona, even when you can’t see it because you’re deep behind the buildings in the city center, or even slightly farther up north, where my hostel is. It comes through you when you turn down an old alley way, and the slight breeze that the city almost always almost has turns into a salty wind that rips through you. It feels pretty amazing. But it turns out, it’s pretty fucking far.
I walked, and walked and walked, through downtown, through the marina until there it was! And there were all the people. It looks quite different than that of Picasso’s time, obviously.
I sat for a while, people watching and not really having a plan since I didn’t bring any beach attire. But by now it was 8, a respectable time for dinner, finally! I was aiming for a tapas bar that had been recommended both by my travel crush, Rick Steve, and my cousin’s husband. But when I put it into Google maps (because…. of course in Barcelona, the beach has free wifi hot spots), I discovered it was almost 50 minute walk- and my hostel would be about 40. Not that I couldn’t have done it, but some of you might have encountered Hillary-with-low-blood-sugar before, so I decided instead to stop by a different tapas bar I had heard about back closer to the Picasso museum about 20 minutes away, Bar del Pla.
I got there close to 8:20, knowing I was still kind of early and that this place is known for attracting both locals and well, yes, Rick Steve readers, but it was already busy even for being early. There were two people ahead of me, but only one spot available at the bar so I got seated next to two older Spanish ladies, having a beer & tapas. (And then espresso at the end. At like 9:30 at night. I loved them.) I was kinda nervous about ordering. My Spanish isn’t what it used to be (and it only ‘used to be’ 2 years of high school Spanish), and half the stuff is in Castilian anyways. But apparently my eyes just read, “tourist,” as I was handed an English menu. (Just kidding. I think it was more the day pack and awkward pointing towards the single seat.) I was anxious for my first meal in Barcalona, since food to me so highly a part of how I travel. Would it be as good as everyone said? What if it *was* amazing but.. I just ordered wrong?
I got one dish that was highly recommended in reviews, fried beef with foie gras (sorry, Mom) and one that I thought was what the two older Spanish ladies next to me had ordered with prawns, Prawns something something, (€5.30) that looked delicious. My fried beef (€5.60) came out first and was so good.
Then the prawns arrived and it turned out that the “something something” I’d ordered were sushi rolls and not the fried prawn things my neighbors had. But damned if they weren’t some of the freshest prawn rolls I’ve had, so… I ordered a second glass of cava (What? I’m on vacation and it was only €3.50) and settled in to people watch and type blog notes. Around 10pm I walked the second half back to my hotel to get ready for my Sagrada Familia experience bright and early at 9am tmw.
Day 17: I had booked my ticket for Sagrada Família as the first time slot in the day, thanks to Amy’s advice, who was also traveling here after me. A 9am access entrance meant an 8am wake up call to get ready and walk and find the place. Barcelona was quiet in the morning. I passed through a park and got my first breathtaking look at the cathedral that was started in 1882 and has since been a labor of love for this city. They are aiming for completion on the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death, which means 2026!
The outside was ornate and detailed like many of the churches I had just been visiting, and still impressive. There is actually a ton of history, hidden meanings and symbols in them, but too much to go into detail here.
But once inside I think I actually breathed “wow.” It’s hard to describe. I saw the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul years ago with Saamanta, and when I was inside it felt… historic and important, and like a museum of sorts. This felt… Majestic. Gaudí was very religious but also a devote lover of nature. He built the columns of the cathedral to feel like trees and the stained glass windows to feel like the sunlight trickling in through the rainforest. And it does!
I had also booked on my ticket a 10:30 entrance to go up one the towers, which meant I had plenty of time. I walked at my own pace around the cathedral, taking it in, and then went back and started over with the ripped out pages of my Rick Steve’s guide, which is where I get most of my historical details. 😉 Like for example, in the 1950s, the city didn’t really think that the completion of the cathedral was possible and sold the land next to it for developers, which means where Gaudí designed the front gate to be is now an apartment building that will have to be bought back!
The planned front gate has the Lord’s Prayer in Castilian and then “give us our daily bread” in over 40 languages.
At 10:30 I went to the tower entrance (well, actually it was the wrong tower entrance but the lady working winked and said I could go up anyways. This was in my favor as this tower experience was considered “better” as you crossed over a foot bridge versus the other was only a spiral staircase.) I know I said no more towers, and I forget who told me or where I read to do the tower experience, but it was very neat and I’m glad I can say I’ve been upon side the tower of La Sagrada Familia.
On the foot bridge:
After I was back on the ground, I had about two hours until my next timed entrance at “La Pedrera” (“The Quarry) another private residence built by Gaudi. I got breakfast and lingered at Cachitos, a small cafe that appears on several “Best Coffee Shops in Barcelona” lists that I had researched.
A little before 1, I made my way to the Casa Mila, the official name of the building, named for the Mila family who commissioned it. They start the tour on the roof and you make your way down, and I was blown away. I had expected to have more of a visceral reaction at the Picasso museum; I’m a (pseudo) art teacher, after all. But it’s those unexpected moments that make travel so amazing and I got goose bumps and a lump in my throat at seeing the rooftop terrace of La Pedrera for the first time. The pictures can’t do it justice.
After the tour, around 2:30, I was hungry and my plan for lunch today was the Mercado de La Boquaria, which, from what I could tell, was a “Pike Place” like type market, that was bustling with both tourists and locals but also fresh and amazing food. I walked across town, down the bustling Ramblas street and into the market without a plan. I just wandered in awe. “Excuse me is that a cup the size of my head of pineapple for €1? And fresh seafood? And what I hope are fresh insides of that pig?”
I watched and noticed and then back tracked. Where was that paper container of ham that looked like an ice cream cone..? I had yet to try iberico ham because of its frequently €17 price on tapas menus but here was a single serving for a much more reasonable price (€4.50).
I wanted fruit or something fresh that my diet had been lacking recently, buuut…. the man selling fried salt cod fritters was also convincing. I got pistachios for a snack for the train (or whenever) and a roll for the next morning. Oh, and cherries to walk back to the hostel with. I love that freaking market and could easily eat every meal here.
I got back to the hostel just in time for whadya know, siesta time. I love a day that can be planned around meals and napping. After waking up and getting ready to go out again around 10pm, I headed out to the other tapas recommendation given to me, that I had tried to go to the night before, La Bodegueta. It was a short walk in a different more trendy neighborhood away from the central of town. It felt more youthful and slightly upscale. I almost walked right by the restaurant which was a little door down off the street and when I walked in I was slightly confused at it being so empty. I realized soon, as I saw servers going in and out of trays of drinks and food, that I had totally overlooked the outdoor seating area. It would have been nice, but I was situated. And I had also heard that tapas bars charge more for a table than at the bar, and more for outside than inside. I was fine where I was. And by the time I left at 11, it was full of mostly inside as well
I had a great tapas meal of cava, patatas bravas and…. I got my freaking shrimp.
I know it looks like a massacre, due to my severely poor peeling technique, but it was freaking delicious and you better believe I sucked each and everyone of those heads. It was here I also had my lengthiest Spanish conversation so far this trip. However, I use the term ‘conversation’ loosely, as you will see. The server was very friendly and he asked in Spanish:
Him: Where are you from?
Him: Where in America?
Him: Aah, Washington!
Him: And I know New York and Los Angeles.
Him: Do you speak Spanish?
Me: No, but I know (wrong verb, like ‘that buddy of mine, Spanish, I know him’) it.
Him: Ah, you understand it. You you understand it enough to something something
Me (guessing): Yes.
Him: Ah, well, you understand a little.
At the next course he continued;
Him: You are on vacation?
Him: How many more days are you here?
Me: Two days.
He looked at me disappointed and like I’m suppose to say more, so I continue: Y entoncés Madrid y Granada Y Sevilla y Lisboa.
Literally this is taking all my working brain power to chanel my high school Spanish.
Ah, why are you traveling alone, he asks.
Me (uhh blank stare. Open ended questions were not part of the deal. I don’t even know where to begin): I’m a teacher. (Which I know doesn’t answer the question in the slightest but I knew how to say it.)
Him: Oh! What do you teach?
Me: A teacher of the deaf. (I really like to avoid verbs at all possible.)
Him: Ohhh! You know…. (he starts gesturing)
Me: Yes. But.. (At this point we are clearly zoned in and communicating excellently because I can tell what he is thinking) is not the same.
Him: Oh! I thought it would all be the same. It should be the same everywhere, right?
Me: no, like…English and Spanish, right? (Ugh, I swear I don’t mean to be patronizing, but this discussion is hard enough in my native language)
Him: well… I need an English teacher….
Me: nervous laugh. Thinks: check please.
The manager insisted on taking my picture at the end of my meal (which I now feel like might have been a set up?) and my new friend jumped in too.
I knew of another tapas bar in this neighborhood that was only about a 6 minute walk and was just on Eaters heat map for Barcelona, called la cava. It’s a trendy a vermouth bar opened up by the same owners as another to a popular eating spot called la pepeita. So I figured why not stop in for a drink on my way back to the hostal. It was so cute and I’m so glad I did.
It wasn’t busy when I got there, but, again, was filled when I left. In my new found confidence of my Spanish the level of a 3 year old, I told the bartender “I only want to drink.” “Muy bien”, she said her eyes looking at me expectantly. “Uhhh a vermouth!” “Muy bien!” I liked her. She made me feel like everything I was doing was the best possible choice. She poured me a glass from a tap, and garnished with both an olive and an orange wedge and it was amazingly refreshing. Light and fruity with a hint of spice. I people- watched as more couples filled in the bar and the bartender interact with them all.
I got back late and instead of the travel high that I had been feeling, once I was in my room a sort of melancholy came over me. I guess sometimes when you have an amazing experience in a city it makes you wish you had someone there to share it with all the more. The trip was getting daunting. I already had over two weeks of rapid travel, and now had just gotten to Spain where I could explore at my own will… but I knew in way it meant I was starting all over again with suitcase living and hostel jumping and map staring. I missed my boyfriend and summer in Seattle with my friends and my dog and plus my butt hurts and it’s supposed to be 100 degrees in the next three cities I’m going to and did I mention that I can get pretty pouty?
It was late by now and I told myself to take it easy tomorrow. The only thing I had planned was I wanted to be at the cathedral around noon to see Catalonian dances. Then maybe that market again for lunch? Ooh and the beach…