Spain. Sigh. Where shall I begin?
I am officially back in Tübingen (for at least the next few weeks), and I’m hoping that writing this post at my familiar desk, surrounded by heaps of laundry, unread books, and a grocery list a mile long will kick me out of vacation mode and into high gear. We’ll see.
Gwen and I arrived in Barcelona last Wednesday evening and managed to make our way to the hostel with no major issues. We checked into our room and then headed out for a late Spanish-style dinner at Maitea
, a tapas bar about a thirty minute walk from the hostel. All of the tapas there are served on slices of baguette; some are warm and some are cold, but they are all the same price (1.50 euros). A few of our favorites were the goat cheese, black currant jelly, and prosciutto one, or the one with a slice of spanish tortilla (omelette with potato and onion) on top. Around eleven, we called it an early night (which seemed to be a common theme throughout our trip) and rested up for our first full day in Spain.
Thursday morning, we headed for the famous main street, La Rambla, with our guidebook in tow and an idea of some of the sights we could see in downtown Barcelona. The first of those was La Boquería market, where we enjoyed smoothies and a pastry as we wandered down the pathways through the stalls along with about 700 other tourists and locals. The smells were intense and often conflicting--a sweet and savory crepe stand across from a woman selling fresh mussels and squid, for example, or huge legs of smoked pork (literally legs . . . they still had hooves attached) swinging dangerously close to a display of delicious-looking truffles and other assorted chocolates. Gwen, who is a recovering vegetarian, paled at the stands laden with tripe and pigs’ heads, and I have to admit that I walked a bit quicker past those ones as well.
Our walk down La Rambla, which brought us past the Gothic cathedral, several beautiful plazas, and interesting street performers left and right, ended at the harbor. We admired the ocean for a bit and then set out to find La Barceloneta, which is, of course, the beach. It took us longer than expected to make it there, and by the time we did, we practically threw ourselves down into the sand and proceeded to sunbathe for the better part of an hour. But between being harrassed by Thai women asking us if we wanted massages (“You girls like massah - hey? Very good, Thai massa-hey?”) and a group of Croatian bums a little too interested in our belongings, we decided to head back to the hotel and take a siesta before another dinner of tapas at our favorite restaurant we went to, Tallers de Tapas
Since the weather was so beautiful and you never know how long that might last, we spent Friday in Sitges
, which is an idyllic beachside town about forty minutes outside of the city. The fine sand and bright blue water were exactly what we needed (the accompanying sunburns less so), and some frozen yogurt with kiwi, mango, and dark chocolate sauce from Llao Llao
(which our very helpful Spanish server, Miguel, told us means ‘yummy’ in Argentina) really hit the spot. We loved Sitges so much that we knew we had to come back, so we returned to Barcelona with a few full days of sightseeing in mind to ensure that we’d have the time to do just that.
On Saturday, we were determined to see the Gaudí architecture that has made Barcelona so famous. Our guidebook provided a walking tour for us that we were able to follow with only a few wrong turns that took us by the major buildings. The apartment building, Casa Milá, was pretty cool, but also pretty expensive to go inside, so we opted for checking out the exterior and saving our funds for the main attraction, La Sagrada Familia. A long line and thirteen euros a piece later, we found ourselves standing inside the most magnificent cathedral of all time. I have seen quite a few cathedrals in my day, and am particularly partial to the Gothic style of the Middle Ages. But nothing--absolutely nothing--can compare to this structure. It is enormous, envisioned by Gaudí to be able to hold 15,000 (!) people. The stain glass windows are overwhelming, and flood the entire space in colored light. A museum in the basement explains more about its construction, which was begun in 1883 but won’t be finished until 2026, which will mark the 100-year anniversary of Gaudí’s unfortunate death. (He was hit by a tram. Public transportation fail.)
And because we couldn’t get enough of crowded Catholic churches, we spent Sunday at Montserrat, a monastery in the mountains about an hour outside of Barcelona. Alright, so that wasn’t the real reason we went to Montserrat . . . Our guidebook had such stunning pictures of it, actually, that we decided we had to go. Advice for travelers in the future: Avoid vising monasteries on Sunday. Every single Catholic person ever appeared to have chosen that day to visit the basilica, along with about half of the tourist population in Barcelona as well. The monastery was absolutely beautiful, perched way up in the mountains and accessible only by cable car (or so we thought). There are lots of hiking trails surrounding it, and since we had taken the cable car up, we thought we would hike down the mountain for some less-intense exercise. Unfortunately, our inability to read Spanish led us down the wrong trail, and as it began to slope back upwards, we became a bit nervous. When we reached a very, very random chapel in the middle of nowhere on the mountain that was also a dead end, we realized we had made a mistake. So we speed-hiked back up the mountain and made it to the cable car in time to catch a ride down the mountain and to our train back to town, which was so full (there was apparently a soccer game that evening) that we had to stand for the whole hour it took back into Barcelona. Overall, I think we’re both glad we went, but if we had to do it over, we might have chosen to go on a weekday morning. With so many tourists there, it was hard to experience the peace and solitude that one expects to find in a still-functioning monastery. And we might also have tried to read the signs marking the trails more carefully . . .
Inside the basilica at Montserrat:
The dizzying view from the monastery:
We still had one more Gaudí piece of architecture to see, which was Parc Güell
. It came highly recommended from Shannon, my brother’s girlfriend, who is studying abroad in Madrid right now. So Monday morning, after another breakfast of fruit and a pastry from La Boquería (Yes, that’s right . . . Pastry Day came several times last week. Sue me.), we made our way to the park, again along with seemingly every other tourist in Barcelona:
What we had envisioned as a leisurely stroll through a park turned out to be more of a leisurely hike up a small mountain, which would have been fine except for my chosen footwear for the day:
Oops. But we both made it up in our flats, and finally were able to ask someone to take a picture of us together!
Gwen and me at the top of Parc Güell:
We took a hint from my guidebook and went to Les Quinze Nits
for a late lunch and to rest our weary feet. The place looked so fancy from the outside that we normally would have walked right by, but as the guidebook promised, the lunch prices were extremely reasonable. A half liter of sangria later, we found ourselves ordering desserts and giggling about nothing in particular. Needless to say, it was an excellent way to wind down the afternoon, and we went back to the hostel for another siesta feeling quite satisfied with our time in Barcelona thus far. Gwen pouring herself some sangria:
For dinner, we met one of my friends from my sorority (Alpha Delta Pi) who is studying abroad this semester in Barcelona. It was great to catch up with her and hear how things are going, especially because I used to work for the Global Education Office at Vanderbilt and still feel like I have a responsibility to make sure that students who study abroad have the best possible experiences! It seems that Barcelona really is as wonderful as it seems, and Kathryn says she will have a hard time leaving at the end of May to go back home. Gwen and I had a hard time leaving after just a week, so we can’t even imagine what it must be like for her!
Pi love in the subway station:
Tuesday, we returned to Sitges as promised and were lucky to have yet another day of perfect beach weather. No sunburns, either, thanks to an ample application of sunscreen. We visited our friend Miguel again, who was excited to see us (once he remembered who we were). As we were leaving the beach for the last time, we walked by what looks to me like a Gaudí-inspired sand castle . . .
A big part of why I am so passionate about traveling is that I love seeing and experiencing new things, so when I leave a place, I rarely have the impression that I absolutely must return. But something about Spain has captured my heart, and I already look forward to the day that I am fortunate enough to go back. Madrid, Seville, Granada--I want to see it all! And if my travels were to bring me back to Sitges and Barcelona, well, I would be the last one to complain.