Somehow I was in Spain for over four months and had not yet managed to see the legendary city of Barcelona. By this time, everyone I knew had already gone or was planning on going when I had exams or was in Japan. Darn. But no worry; seeing as I’d be in Japan alone for a month, I figured a solo voyage would be a fun little experiment. I was a bit nervous about how much fun I’d have alone, but this went away pretty quickly, especially upon realizing that this meant no waiting for people or having to debate for an hour about where to eat and the like. Traveling with friends is nice, but traveling alone has its perks too.
I reached Barcelona Saturday afternoon and checked in to my hostel before grabbing some shawarma while watching a Matthew Perry and Salma Hyack film. I then
hiked walked uphill to Park Guell, which was overrun with Americans. I spent a lovely few hours taking photos and contemplating the difference between textures, like viscosity and sliminess. Taking the long way, I meandered to an adorable, lively square near the hostel, where I read and watched couples dance for fun. While checking in, the lady at the hostel told me about Carrefoc, a yearly event where people parade with fireworks, dressed like devils. Though the main event was later in the year, each neighborhood celebrated at its own time; I got lucky and one such parade would pass in front of the hostel that evening. I stuck around to watch it, but only stayed to half because it was similar to part of Las Fallas and I was famished.
Once more looking to the hostel for advice, I went to a restaurant around the corner whose business card I picked up from the hostel lobby. The restaurant was called Mexcla and served Mexican tapas. Though there wasn’t much about it online, I was so glad I decided to give it a shot. A patron outside sang its praises as I walked in and the service was friendly and attentive, answering any questions I had about the menu. After much debate, I settled on a tamarind and chamoy margarita, fried pimientos padrones filled with squash and zucchini and served with tamarind sauce, and chipotle pork tacos with pickled onions, all of which came with tortilla chips and salsa verde. I can’t exaggerate how delicious this was; if this restaurant was back in the States, my family would certainly frequent it. Overall, a bit of a tarter range of flavors, but it was fine, given my love of sour foods. I spent the meal reading – a frequent occurrence in my solo voyage. 🙂 I then walked next door for a double cone of mint chocolate chip and chocolate gelato (delicious, but couldn’t compare to Italy), then headed back to the hostel, prepared to turn in for the night like an old person, whoo.
I had heard talk of others from the hostel planning on going of to Razzmatazz, one of Barcelona’s most popular clubs, but I didn’t feel like going to a club, least of all with a bunch of people I’d just met. I got to my room and started talking to my bunkmate, a Civil Engineering from Boulder. Jonny and i hit it off with weird similarities (EWB, Galapagos, Moleskines) he invited me to join him and friend Katie at a nearby bar, wouldn’t be out long because of early flight. #YOLO I was so glad I went, because it was pretty nerdy, though full of Americans. Name of bar: Dow Jones. Premise: stock market. Drink prices were listed on screens; they went up if people bought a certain drink and went down if they didn’t. Every so often, the market would “crash” and all the prices would drop. It was chaotic but fun, and Megs would love it. We hung around for a bit and left when a guy yelled “I JUST SNORTED ALCOHOL, WHAT HAS MY LIFE COME TO.” – clearly our cue to leave – and got back to the hostel around 2. Pretty great day (and night)!
I spent Sunday walking. Around 10 hours straight, in fact. I blame the map; most maps we’ve used in European cities make the place seem larger than it is, but Barcelona was the opposite, and I ended up walking more than I realized. This made me aware of another hazard of traveling alone – it’s easy to forget to take breaks and sit down periodically. I strolled down Passeig de Gracias, one of the largest streets in the city, and had a pricey cup of coffee before continuing down to see Casa Mila and Casa Batllo – two of Gaudi’s works – from the outside. I continued town Las Ramblas, enjoying the street art and vendors. Meandering into a church and cathedral, I took some photos, only to realize later that Maddie, her mom, and aunt were in that church at the same time. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, but those three were in the city at the same time as me; I was planning to meet up with them at some point. More about that later.
For lunch, I made my way to Casa Guinart, which came highly recommended by Alyssa, who had been there twice. I had a glass of sangria, fresh pumpkin pasta in creamy pesto sauce, and a dessert that featured four different textures of chocolate. I may have died and went to foodie heaven. I sat at the bar and watched the chefs cook and fawned over the food with an older German couple that sat near me. Good times. As I left, it began to drizzle, so I headed towards the Picasso museum. Apparently, everyone else had the same idea and the line was incredibly long. Luckily, I had my umbrella and Kindle, the combination of which kept me occupied for the hour or so I stood in line. The museum was alright. I was surprised by the diversity of Picasso’s work, but am generally not a fan of his more iconic pieces.
I then walked past the Palau de Musica, back to Casa Batllo, an eclectic, colorful building designed by the genius architect Antonio Gaudi. I was incredibly thankful for the audio guide, which detailed many nuances about Gaudi’s handiwork that were not only unique in form, but had a valuable function. For example, something as subtle as using a gradient on the blue tiles in a window well so they all looked the same shade, while receiving different amounts of light. (My explanation of that is bad, but trust me, this guy was a genius.) The roof was my favorite; it was made to resample a dragon perched atop the building.
Seeing that I had a few hours before dinner, I walked back to some shops near Park Guell to pick up a gift for Matt, then met Maddie & Co. at their hotel for wine, then dinner at a nearby restaurant called College. I had a delicious orecchiette and we split two desserts: one similar to the one I had at lunch and the other with passionfruit and white chocolate. It was all delicious, and I had a great time with Maddie and her “two lesbian mothers.” They were so sweet and insisted on walking me partway to my hostel, worrying like the moms they are until I got all the way back in one piece.
I spent my last day in Barcelona hitting up some of the bigger highlights and walking significantly less (partially because my feet were about to fall off). My first stop was La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece. I made sure to get there early to avoid waiting hours for tickets, but the line still wrapped halfway around the massive church. Once more my Kindle came to my aid, along with a surprisingly fast-moving line. Armed with audio guide, I spent a few hours in the magnificent church. As impressed as I was with the gorgeous Glory facade, I was not prepared for how stunning the inside was. The rainbow stained glass, stone arches, and tree-like columns created an interior I cannot do justice to with words; this is truly the most amazing building I have ever seen. Gaudi wins. I hope to come back some day when it is finished.
The only thing that could possibly compare to such overwhelming beauty was food, and lots of it. Good thing Barcelona is home to La Boqueria, a wonderful market full of fresh fruit, juice, cheese, meat, and more. I walked around, taking photos and grazing on cuts of meat, a chicken tamale, and coconut-dragonfruit juice. Before leaving, I grabbed some goat cheese with cranberries and chocolates (including one shaped like a little hedgehog!) as a snack for later. I ate these immediately after returning to the hostel, which was my next course of action.
Following a quick siesta, I met up with Paula, who is proof that studying abroad is an experience that opens doors around the world. Paula, who lives in Barcelona, spent the semester in Hong Kong, where she was good friends with Amy, who got us two in contact with each other. Like Paula said, “I now have friends all over the world, even if I haven’t met them yet.” The two of us drove to one of her favorite places in the city, near Tibidabo, where we got a gorgeous panoramic view. Sadly Paula had to go to dinner with family so we were only able to chat for a bit, but it was great to meet her and I could easily see why she and Amy were such close friends. This magical moment was brought to you by: Studying Abroad. Do it, kids.
On my own again for dinner, I was lazy and went to a place near the hostel called Samsara. I had guacamole, asparagus with eggs (recommended to me by my waiter), mashed potatoes (compliments of the chef), and “dragon” label wine (seriously, slap “dragon” on anything and I’ll try it). Overall, a relaxing dinner and great way to end my trip. Huzzah for a successful solo voyage that made me much more confident about traveling alone in Japan.