Barcelona is a sunny, vibrant city of great food, incredible architecture and intense history. Flying in over the sea and stepping off the plane into the heat was an extremely welcomed change from the past week and a half of UK and Scandinavian weather. It felt so good to have the warm sun on my face, it instantly put me in a great mood. Finding my way through Barcelona Airport to the train, I had great music pumping through my headphones and walking with a new tropical spring in my step. I was ready for a great couple of days in Spain, taking in the flavor and culture, while unexpectedly learning the best travel lesson yet (but more on that later).
I was off to stay with a former Boise State student that was living in Barcelona with her husband. Julia is a very good friend of a few of my best friends, and it could not have been better! Finding their apartment, however was a different situation entirely. I took the train from Terminal 2 in the airport down to her stop in town, which was very easy. I highly recommend (as it was recommended to me) to purchase the T10 metro pass while staying in Barcelona. It is only 9.95 euros (about $12) and gets you 10 rides on the metro or the airport train. This is a great deal, seeing how each ride as a single costs a bit over 2.25 euros. If you don’t use them all you can always do what I do and find someone when you get off from your last stop that is buying a ticket and give it to them. Travelers help travelers, it’s all about the community.
I got off the train at the right stop, and worked my way to the street, only to realize I had no idea where I was or where to go. I had the address, but that was it. Thankfully, I had downloaded an app of Barcelona that had an offline map. Another huge recommendation for visiting this city, get the Barcelona Ubnon app (iPhone and Android), it was a huge lifesaver. The best part of the app is the ability to use location services to tell you where you are. I accessed this quite often in my three days and cut the amount of time getting lost significantly. Using this app, I wound my way around the curvy streets, rang the wrong building the first time and eventually found Julia’s doorstep.
We spent a bit of time getting to know each other before she took me grocery shopping. Since grocery stores are one of my favorite parts of traveling, I was excited to go with someone who could actually tell me what everything was. We had a great time but soon she was off to work for a few hours so I was left to explore. That first evening I explored around the FC Barcelona stadium, dreaming of being able to see a game inside. The official store was worth some exploration as well, all 4 floors of it!
Afterwards I worked my way over (via getting entirely lost) to the National Museum of Catalan Art. Let me first explain that Barcelona lies within the region of Catalonia in Spain. The Catalans are extremely patriotic people with many that you meet telling you they are from Catalonia, not Spain. Therefore, to see an art museum of this grandeur, entirely dedicated to Catalonia, was not surprising. It was a lovely building and grounds along with it. I didn’t do much exploring here, but there was some spectacular people watching. This is a must stop for a sunset during your time in Barcelona. The views of the city were spectacular, and a perfect welcome to Spain.
The next day was my adventures day. As I try to do in every new city, I took started with a free walking tour of the city. (For an explanation of what free walking tours are and how they work, check out my post on the tour in Edinburgh, HERE!). As with every Sandeman’s New Europe tour, it was spectacular! Andrew Pitt, our tour guide, was hilarious and chuck full of information. We stayed mostly in the Gothic quarter, which was the original city of Barcelona and ventured only a little bit into a newer (but still a hundred years old) neighborhood. We learned about the history of Barcelona’s ports, the struggle for Catalan independence and the events that molded modern-day Barcelona.
It was a great morning, but what is the best part about free walking tours? The recommendations from local guides themselves. One of Andy’s recommendations was a tapas place just down the road from where the tour ended and it sounded like the perfect idea for lunch. I headed there straight away, as did others from our tour. As I plated up my choices and took a seat, a couple from my tour offered me to sit with them. They were an absolutely lovely couple from Manchester, England celebrating their 10 year wedding anniversary. We had a great chat and even better food. This is one of my favorite parts of solo travel, it forces you to be brave enough to make friends.
After lunch, I left my new friends and spent an hour or so just strolling the tiny streets of the Gothic quarter shopping. I found new sunglasses to replace mine that had broken, and of course, my souvenir scarf (I collect them from anywhere I go). Purchasing my scarf was a great experience. I found an adorable little boutique with great prices, but it was clear the owner didn’t speak English. The only thing I could think of was to try Italian, and for the most part it worked! We found some words that didn’t translate correctly, but pretty much all of it did. Spain overall has been a great place for me to work on my Italian. Trying to translate signs has forced me to reach back on my vocabulary, its been a great workup to being in Italy in a little over a week.
In the afternoon, I took part in another tour, this time on the architecture of Antoni Gaudi. Usually I am not a huge architecture buff, but this tour was recommended by a couple of fellow travelers and happened to be half off this week through Sandeman’s. A large part of the tour was on the Basilica of Sagrada Famiglia, Gaudi’s crowning glory, and since they were sold out of tickets to go inside for the day, this seemed like a great Plan B. The tour took me to a part of Barcelona I wasn’t expecting to experience and gave me all the trivia answers I could ever need!
The crowning moment of the tour for me was seeing the Sagrada Famiglia for the first time. This church was started in the late 1800s and really started making progress when Gaudi came on to work on it full-time in 1910. Gaudi was an incredibly faithful man and wanted to design a building entirely for God. This church was intended to be by the people for the people and therefore is entirely built on donations. By his death in 1926, the church was 25% completed. It only reached 50% by the late 1900s after the Franco years in Spain. They just recently passed 75% completion and are working on a 25 million euros a year budget to get it completed by the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi’s death in 2026.
The basilica has three different facades each depicting a different portion of the bible. They are incredibly intricate and vastly different to one another. I will definitely be returning in the late 2020s to see this wonder completed. It is one of the most astounding man-made works I have ever seen. It is so large that I couldn’t even get great pictures of it, not that pictures could do it any justice. It absolutely is a must see attraction, so add it to your bucket lists now.
The tour ended at the Sagrada Famiglia around 5:30pm, which was perfect timing for free entry into the Barcelona Cathedral (it is free from 8am -12pm and 5:30pm -7pm, otherwise 6 euros). Before catching the metro back across town, I walked to see the Arc de Triomf created for the 1888 World’s Fair and get a few glimpses of the sea. I made it to the cathedral about 30 minutes before it closed, and not a minute too soon as it proceeded to downpour. The cathedral is a stunning Gothic style church, but it helps to take a tour first (or one inside for 6 euros) to explain the different parts of history it served and the many saints that served it.
By the time the cathedral closed, I was pretty sure I had enough energy for one more stop before my feet fell off. No shocker here, it was a food market and one of the largest ones I have ever seen. Sant Josep de la Boqueria’s is a large iron structure filled with booths of everything from meat, cheese and bread, to fruit juices and sweets. I had a few snacks and was on my way back to the flat.
I spent the evening relaxing with Julia and her husband John, they are some of the nicest people in the world. Now here is where that best travel lesson comes, the importance of making connections around the world and building your own travel community. In school, they harp of networking every single day, how getting a job in today’s society is first who you know and then what you know. The same applies to traveling. I have been shown how good people are around the world time and time again, Sam from Colorado in being my first friend Iceland, to sharing seats with the family from Utah on the bus to the Cliffs of Moher, to lunch with Allison and Stewart from Manchester to John and Julia opening their home to me. People are good people all over the world as long as you give them the chance to be. Don’t be afraid to say hi to someone or ask a question of a fellow traveler along the way. Sometimes it takes going solo to have the bravery, but it is just as important on every trip. Who knows, maybe they will start as hosts with a place for you to lay your head at night, but end up being people you can see sitting at your dinner table 10 years down the road. Travel is a magical network of good people all around the world.
-The Very Hungry Traveler