Spain- Barcelona

On Thursday, April 16th I took about a 9 hour train ride from Nice, France to Barcelona, Spain. This also happened to be the last day of my rail pass (A post to come about my train experience overview) and the final planned destination of my month-long backpacking trek. I got into Barcelona at about 8:30 at night and the train station was a little to far from my hostel to walk to, so I took a subway to the closest stop and found my hostel, The Centric Point Hostel, without a problem. I had two nights booked there and then I was flying back to Wales on Saturday.

I checked into my hostel and went up to my room to drop of my stuff. I was in an 8 bed dormitory room, and I was a little surprised when I walked in and saw it filled with girls who were obviously all getting ready to go out. Most rooms I have stayed in have been mixed rooms, but I have never had an all-one sex dominated room like this one. There were 6 girls to be exact, and there was one open bed for the night.

I started to try to make conversation with them, which I actually found a little troublesome. The reason being was that they were all French, and only a couple of them could actually speak English good enough to have a conversation with. The ones who didn’t know English very well were fluent in Spanish instead. I could now easily rank them all 1-6 on English-speaking ability. One was almost completely fluent, and then as you go down they gradually knew less, until the last one (6) who couldn’t really understand anything I said.

They were all in the 18-21 age range and were studying in Marseille, France. They were in Barcelona for something that had to do with what they were studying and were there for three nights (this being their 2nd night). They were going out to the clubs on this night and they had completely dominated the room with all of their beauty “products.” I found my way through their crap and settled into my bed and got my stuff put in my locker.

I sat and talked with them for a little while as best I could and tried to decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my night. The girls had invited me to go out clubbing with them, and while I was very tempted, I said no thanks. I definitely wanted to go out in Barcelona, I had heard the nightlife is unreal, but I was not feeling it after traveling all day and decided I would save it for Friday night. I instead decided to go for a walk and explore some of the city.

My hostel was located on one of the main streets in the middle of the city, Passeig de Gracia, and also very close to the north end of Las Ramblas, one of Barcelona’s main attractions. I decided on this night to just take a walk in the direction of the beach and see how long it would take. I figured it would be about 15 minutes. After 25 minutes though of wandering around, I finally realized that I was walking in the wrong direction of the beach.

My whole entire trip I had never quite gotten lost like this. I actually knew where I was I suppose, but I never really went in the wrong direction for such a long time. I had become a big fan of the sun and judging which way I was going by that, or even my just guessing hadn’t been wrong yet. But this time I was positive I had started in the right direction and ended up walking the complete opposite direction I wanted to go. I blame this mostly on just that I took the subway to my hostel and that got me turned around. While I didn’t exactly make it to where I wanted, it wasn’t the worst thing. I probably would have never made it to this part of the city, and I knew I would be going to the beach and Las Ramblas the next day. So after just exploring the area I was in for a little bit, I headed back to my hostel.

I was all alone in my room when I got back, and it was a little weird getting to sleep all by myself in a room for once. I was however woken up at 6am when the French girls returned from the clubs. A few hours later I got up, got ready and had my free hostel breakfast. This actually happened to be one of the better ones I had had too. The inclusion of an assortment of fresh fruits and breakfast bars to the usual items were what made it special. Not only that, but I was able to “take” a couple apples, oranges and bars with me to put in my bag for the day.

I started my day by heading to one of Barcelona’s main tourist attractions. Not many cities I have been to could say that a street was an actual tourist attraction, but Las Ramblas definitely was one in Barcelona. I started at the far north end that was located just by my hostel and slowly made my way down its entirety towards the sea.

There were so many things happening on Las Ramblas. It was pretty busy and the variety of things I saw on this wide street included; flower markets, fire-eaters, pet shops, gift shops, tons of performers, protesters and even a nudist. I spent a lot of my morning leisurely strolling down this street. About halfway down and off to the right of Las Ramblas is the glorious La Boqueria, the city’s main food market. It is filled with hundreds of stalls of people selling every kind of  food imaginable. I spent a while wandering around the labyrinth of food counters and it was probably a good thing I was still full from my large breakfast, otherwise I would have broken my bank here. I was definitely going to come back though, and picked out what I thought looked best (impossible to really decide that though) and planned on coming back later in the day.

I then made my way down the rest of Las Ramblas, past the grand Liceu (Barcelona’s opera house) and to where the famous street culminates, at the round a bout in front of the harbor that encircles the Mirador de Colon. This is a tall column-like monument that has a statue of Columbus at the top. For a couple of Euros I was able to take a lift up to the top of it and enjoy a great 360-degree view of the city and sea.

I then headed towards the harbor, specifically Port Vell. It is a little bit like Navy Pier in Chicago, in that it is a major tourist attraction with the wide variety of things happening on it. There is a huge new building/area on it called the Maremagnum, which includes an up market shopping mall, a huge aquarium (which I almost went in but it was way to expensive, and I have seen my fair share of aquariums), a cinema, an IMAX and a lot of bars and restaurants.

I then went around to the other side of the port and past the really nice marina. I was now in the Barceloneta district. This is the area that I had read has the real genuine Catalan life, and is also home to the best beaches and seafood restaurants (I wish I could have had some) in Barcelona. When I got there, I headed down towards the boardwalk and beach area.

The weather was really nice this day and I had brought my beach attire (and valuables) in my messenger bag (towel, shades, ipod) and had on my trunks under my shorts and was wearing my flippy-floppies. I walked down the entirety of the boardwalk all the way to Port Olimpic. I then walked back down it until I found a suitable place on the beach for me to get my bronze on.

Oh and yes, women in Spain (just like in France) do not believe in wearing tops while on the beach. Once again on this beach I ran into lots of old top-less woman, it was not quite as bad as France was though.

I went down and tested the waters and walked along it for a little while and then settled on a spot. This spot happened to be a nice reclining layout chair. I was pretty sure I wasn’t suppose to be on it and you were suppose to pay to use it or something, but there were plenty around and I stripped down and laid out on it.

After about 40 minutes of enjoying the Spanish sun two things interrupted me at the same time. First I noticed some clouds starting to roll in and they were about it cover up the sun. And then right after that I was tapped on the shoulder by some Spanish dude. He didn’t speak much English, but I was getting the jist of what he was saying. He was trying to tell me that you have to pay for the chairs by the hour and he was motioning to me to leave if I wasn’t going to. Taking one kwick glance back up at the sun being swallowed up by the clouds, I said adios and peaced out.

As I packed my stuff back up in my messenger bag, I had noticed that it was finally time to retire it. I had noticed about a week before that it had started to rip, and then at the beginning of this day I had seen that it may not last the whole day, but I decided to bring it anyway. But as I was walking off the beach the bottom was pretty much ripping all the way through, and so I went into a Spar (convenience store) real close to me and showed them my problem and they gave me sack for free to put my stuff in. I then found a trash can outside and said a sad good-bye to the bag that had treated me so well.

I had gotten the bag for free at my Northwestern Mutual annual national meeting last summer and it wasn’t the greatest quality. I packed it in my big bag last-minute when I left for my month-long trek and it ended up being one of the best things I brought with me. It enabled me to bring things with me that I needed each day at my different places (travel book, valuables, beach stuff, etc) without having to carrying them in my hands or bring my big bag. It packed really small in my large bag and I was very glad I brought it. And while it was inevitable that it wouldn’t last to long, what luck that it actually would break on my very last stop and the last day of my long journey.

It was then in the afternoon and I decided to go back to my hostel and drop of my Spar sack of stuff. I took the direct route to it, the way I had attempted to go the previous night when I walked in the wrong direction. After the hostel I then headed back to Las Ramblas to have another walk down it and stop at La Boqueria for some grub.

The clouds that had scattered me off the beach had produced a few sprinkles on my walk back to my hostel. But as I started down Las Ramblas, it started to rain a little harder, but nothing that was going to deter me from exploring Barcelona. I then got some food at La Boqueria and then headed towards the district of Anella Olimpica. This is an elevated area that was home to many of the venues, including the Olympic Arena (Estadi Olimpic), for the 1992 summer Olympics.

As I got close to the start of the climb up the hill to the Anella Olimpicait started to downpour on me. I found some cover under a building by an intersection at the base of the hill. An older lady joined me soon after and it was raining hard for quite a while so I decided to make some conversation. As I guessed, she didn’t speak English. But she did speak Spanish and I thought it would be fun to test my Spanglish skills out on her. Basically I could barely understand anything she would say, but I would just counter with any random Spanish phrase that I could think of that I thought might be somewhat relevant. I’m not even sure if I said a lot of the things right, but my contributions to the convo included things such as: “It is raining,” I was on the beach,” “My name is Kyle, I am a student,” “Where is the library,” and some other random things.

Our lovely conversation was interrupted by quite the event though. Out of the corner of my eye I saw it coming, but I couldn’t yell anything in time. A man was crossing the street by us and a car was coming down the perpendicular street and turning left onto it. BAM! Car smokes him. He basically got flipped up onto the hood and then rolled off. Luckily he was not hurt though. He got up straight away and started yelling at the driver. I’m not sure if he was in a hurry or just wanted to get out of the heavy rain, but he flipped the driver the bird one more time and ran off.

My old lady friend then decided it was time to go, or more likely found an excuse to exit our delightful conversation, and I was alone again. I got out my map and realized that there were still quite of few things I wanted to see before my one full day in Barcelona was over and I was running out of time, so I decided to scrap the Anella Olimpica. A few minutes later the rain stopped and I was off again.

I headed north from where I was at and towards the district of El Raval. Here I saw Barcelona’s oldest church, Sant Pau Del Camp. I then walked down Rambla de Raval, a newer boulevard with a lot of cool cafes and stores. This took me straight to the MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barceolona), a really unique looking museum.

From there, I crossed back across Las Ramblas and to the Barri Gothic district, one of Barcelona’s most popular areas. The busiest and central part of this district is where I headed, the Placa de Sant Jaume. Adjacent to this plaza is La Seu, Barcelona’s giant gothic cathedral. It was being restored at the time I was there, so it lost a little of its magnificence, but I hear it has been under restoration forever. I spent a little while exploring this really unique and historic district and getting lost in its winding side streets. I then went back over to Las Ramblas for one last trip down part of it and then back up to my hostel as the sun was starting to set.

I arrived back in my hostel right as the six French girls were getting back from their day out. I sat and talked with the few of them that I could actually converse with and then let them convince me to go out with them that night. I had heard very good things about Barcelona’s nightlife and definitely wanted to go out in style on my last night of Easter break on mainland Europe. It was also one of the girls’ 22nd birthday at midnight that night, so I figured that was a good excuse to go too.

This is one of the few hostels I stayed in that had its own bathroom in the bedroom. So all the girls started to get ready, and I gave them a good head start and caught up on some internet browsing time on my laptop in bed. Once they were finally almost all ready I jumped in the shower, did my hair up, put on my backpacking dress shirt (black dress shirt: I like it a lot and it doesn’t show stains or wrinkles as easily) and got myself smelling good.

I wasn’t exactly sure what we were going to do, but I was just going with the flow and tagging along with them. They kept trying to ask me what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go, but I just kept saying I was just tagging along. The entire time I was around them they were obviously speaking French when they weren’t talking to me, and so one of them would always turn to me and say how they weren’t talking about me, they promise.

They told me how we were going to have a typical Spanish night out, which is similar to what they would do in France, but I already knew it was going to be different then how us Americans do. First off, we didn’t leave to go out until 11pm, with no drinks in us yet. I then found out we weren’t actually going to a bar or club yet, but instead to a restaurant to eat. This was good though because I was actually hungry. The first place we went to eat we sat outside, but then they made us move inside because they wanted to close the patio. So we went upstairs, and one of the girls was talking to the waiter in Spanish upstairs, and for some reason I never understood, something was wrong with us sitting up there so we went back downstairs and found a table. As we tried to order, the same girl kept talking to this waiter and what seemed like arguing with him and then all the sudden got up, as did everyone else and we were leaving. Not quite sure what happened here either, something about the food I think.

We then found another place that I guess they had eaten at before and was really good. This place I actually recognized by its name because it was recommended as a really good tapas restaurant in my travel book. We got a table for the seven of us there and we were finally good to go, just before midnight. I realized that this was also my best chance for my traditional local meal experience while in Spain (this is actually my second trip to espana though, see Palma, where I had plenty of good Spanish food).

For drinks, we ordered a few pitchers of sangria to share, which was really, really good. At midnight we toasted to the birthday girl and they sang happy birthday in French, then we all did it in Spanish and then in English. For our meal we got a wide variety of tapas to share (obviously). All of the food was excellent. I was a little worried that we didn’t order quite enough at first, but then I realized I was with all girls, and I’m pretty sure I dominated almost half the food on the table, but very politely did so and I pretty much waited to eat too much until I knew no one else was eating any more. And then when the bill came they would 100% absolutely Not accept any of my money. It really wasn’t too expensive, but they just wouldn’t let me pay, nice girls.

We had a lot of good conversation during our time at Spanish style midnight dinner. Most of it was focused on me though. Most of them had never really had too many interactions with an American man before, so they were very interested in talking to me and hearing all kinds of things about me. They kept on complementing me in their broken English about how nice and go-with-the-flow I was. One thing they said about me was that I look like the actor Josh Duhamel (Transformers, Las Vegas, All My Children, Fergie’s man, we share the same birthday). I have been told I look like him multiple times before, but it is a little different hearing it from French girls.

After dinner at about 1am we headed to a bar. We went to a cool local bar that was pretty busy by the time we got there. I had been explained to at dinner that the birthday girl was going to buy the first round of the night at the first bar since it was her birthday. This is a little different then the American custom of everyone else buying the birthday person drinks and shots, but I wasn’t going to complain. After the first round, I got up to go buy some drinks, but was immediately told to sit down. There was one girl who wasn’t drinking at all, but she told me she would go get me drinks. As I started to object, one of the others explained that she would just go get one for free from a guy and then bring it to me, turns out I fell into a pretty good situation this night.

After a few rounds and a lot of conversation at this bar it was time to go to the clubs. The bars close at about 3am in Barcelona, the exact time it was, and the same time that some clubs open. I was expecting to spend a decent amount of money this night and was afraid I hadn’t brought enough out, but it was already 3am, I was full and a little drunk, but I hadn’t spent a single Euro. The club we went to I did finally have to break out some cash thought. It was a staggering 15 Euros just to get in, but I was told this was one of the premiere clubs in all of Barcelona and it was also a Friday night. The price did also include a free drink at the bar upon entry too.

The club was huge and had a ton of people in it and it had a really cool and unique décor. I got my free drink and eventually bought the birthday girl a birthday shot. Before I knew it, it was 6am and the club was closing. Quite a site to be walking out of a dark club to the sun rising. We had talked earlier this night about how there are a couple of clubs that don’t open until 6am, and close at 11am, for the people who still hadn’t had enough. We talked about going as we were leaving the club, and were actually on our way to one, but then decided it probably wasn’t in our best interest since we all had to check out of the hostel in a few hours and I had a plane to catch in 5 hours. So we called it a “morning” and made our way back to our hostel.

The next morning, or wait, that morning I mean, I got up after a solid 2 hours of sleep and hurried down to get breakfast before it closed up. I took a sack down with me to fill with fruit and bars for my day of travel I had ahead of me. I said goodbye to my French friends (facebook friends now) and barely got checked out of my hostel in time. I had a couple of hours before I had to head to the airport, so I put my bag in luggage storage and headed out for one last exploration of the city.

I randomly just started wandering in a direction I really hadn’t been yet and I ended up at the very green and calm Parc de la Ciutadella. In this park there was the castle looking Catalan Parliament building, a lake, Gaudi’s monumental fountain, and also the zoo (didn’t make it inside the zoo sadly). There was also a flea-market type thing going on inside part of it that I checked out for a little while.

It was then time for me to head back to my hostel, pick up my stuff and head to the airport. This was probably the cheapest and easiest trip to an airport I have ever had; I took the subway to it from right outside my hostel, it only cost 2 Euros and only took about 20 minutes total to get there. I had a long line to wait in to check into my flight, and this gave me plenty time to worry about whether or not I was going to be able to carry on my large backpack. I had “snuck” it onto my flight to Scotland in February (meaning its dimensions and weight were both a little to big, but they didn’t weigh or measure it) but now it was packed much more full and definitely was way to heavy (I was able to check-it for free on my flight to start Easter break, but not this time). I had read that it was 30 Euros to check your carry-on if it was to big, but I figured it was worth the shot of trying to carry it on. While waiting in line, I saw other people weighing their bags on a check-in station that wasn’t being used, so I decided to go test mine. It ended up being 20kgs (44lbs), which was twice the carry-on limit of 10kgs. And I also knew there was no way it was fitting in the carry-on bag measuring racks.

The lady who checked me in ended up not even looking at my bag or weighing it (I was trying to somewhat hide it from her) and I got by with carrying it on. I’m not exactly sure if this is something I want to be bragging about though, sneaking large objects onto a plane. But I got it on the plane and saved myself a lot of money. And I actually had to take a couple of things out of it just to fit it in the overhead storage compartment; that is how big it was.

Overall I absolutely Loved Barcelona. The city had such a good vibe to it and it was just a tremendous place to be in. I met some really cool girls, spent some good time on the beach, saw a lot of cool things and gothic buildings, and in general just had a blast there. Barcelona just had such a great atmosphere to it and I loved just being in it and soaking it up. I still can’t name an absolute favorite of my trip, but I’m thinking right now that it is a tie between Barcelona and Munich.

So I arrived later that day back in the UK at Cardiff airport and took a train ride back to Swansea and I was completely exhausted and glad to be back at my place and able to completely unpack my stuff, have my own bed and relax(until my flatmates immediately forced me to go out with them). What an amazing experience though. I will have an Easter break review blog post coming soon.

Sorry for the lengthy post, I just have so much to say and I feel like I’m still holding back! I’ll be back stateside in a few weeks though and everyone can hear more stories in person.

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