My trip in Barcelona officially started when I got off the overnight from Madrid. Still a bit sleepy, I looked around as to make sure I was really there. Barcelona! It’d be the final stop of that debut-trip in Europe, which had started in Scotland on November 1st.
I was wax euphoric and, therefore, everything around me looked fantastic – even though the train station was just ok, a train station. I had breakfast in a McCafe to use the Internet and find out how to reach my hostel by underground. It was near Las Ramblas (what an elegant name for an avenue). Different from other places, at this time I had a ticket, a gift from the Australian guy I met in Wales (such a shame I don’t remember his name).
I took the underground, still amazed, and got off where I was supposed to find the hostel quite easily. I’d booked a bed in that place with some difficulty, just one day before travelling, as it seems that party hostels are more common than normal hostels in Barcelona. No, I was in no mood for noise during the night and bloody drank guys.
It should be a piece of cake to get to the hostel, but guess what? To and fro for ages without not even finding the fucking street. I saw some policemen and I thought “oh those guys know every corner around here, they’ll help me”. They hadn’t heard of the street before. That shocked me a little (officers are supposed to get around effortlessly in case of chasing someone or something like this), but I was more worried about my hostel than local issues. It’s just unbelievable how hard it takes to me to find my accommodation wherever I go. Out of the blue, a good soul appeared and gave clear and correct instructions. What a godsend.
The hostel was huge, with a big kitchen for the guests and a lobby with many tables and sofas. The receptionists were nice, and quickly I took the lift to see my bedroom. It had plenty of space and it didn’t seem fully occupied. Thank goodness the enormous locker was inside it, and I even managed to keep my backpack in there.
Down to the reception again, I grabbed a map and went for a walk. I was hungry, so I first stopped at a restaurant. I found a reasonable one not far from the station, fair prices, and I used their Internet to tell my friends that not only was I safe and sound, but also in one of the most stunning cities in Europe.
Las Ramblas is definitely the most famous place in Barcelona, and it was pleasant to walk up and down, observing shops, local people mingled with tourists and, of course, its marvellous architecture. The idea of La Sagrada Familia and other precious buildings made me cheerful. I’d just arrived and it was still day number one!
I was impressed by the number of Catalonian flags in town. I don’t know many things about the political stuff in the region, and I imagine that it must be very enriching to live for a while in Barcelona to understand more of the matter.
There’s something very impressive about Barcelona, almost difficult to define, what turns it into an experience, more than an awesome touristic spot. I pretty much love cities which make me feel small compared to its magnitude. And that was the case. The kind of awesome environment to host the Olympic Games, as well as Rio, for instance, where no matter you look you see some sort of beauty and grandiosity.
In the Gothic Quarter, there are medieval churches, charming squares and narrow and crooked streets. I love markets, so I visited the two ones I came across near there, including La Boqueria. I was enchanted by all those colours of food, drink, and cultures.
Even with a map, I was confused about my way, and I ended up at the beach. It was cold, cloudy and, empty, with just a few people around. I still remember my feeling there, a feeling of gratitude. The world was my oyster!
After lying around, I went back to Las Ramblas because I wanted to walk around in the evening too. Amazing. Monuments and fountains are illuminated with different colours, and it’s even more impressive than in daylight.
I met a Brazilian girl in the hostel, who had come from… Dublin! With those thousands of Brazilians there, I was not surprised at all. She was from Minas and spent some weeks in Ireland studying English. On a tight budget, she managed to travel to Barcelona thank to his godfather, who gave her some money before her trip.
So, at this time, I became trilingual again, speaking Portuguese with my new “roomie”, English in the rest of the hostel and Spanish in the street. Yeah, I decided that I was perfectly able to order my food in the local language. My only effort was to read the menu and say that in a loud voice. Not very challenging, honestly, but better than nothing.
Day 2: Football and architecture
The following day was time to visit the attraction I expected the most: Camp Nou! I was excited even in the underground, before seeing the stadium. It’s indescribable the feeling of approaching a place which is very familiar to you but only on TV, radio, internet, newspapers. However, on a certain day, it’s there, in front of your eyes. I entered the area of the stadium and, on the left, there were the ticket offices. If I had more time and money, I would certainly buy one to watch a match. It must be thrilling!
Inside, I bought my pass to access the arena and quickly bumped into a group of Brazilians. Noisy and full of enthusiasm, which is not a surprise, given we were in one of the most important temples of football in the world. Different from museums, churches and art galleries, I believe stadiums are places where you are expected to shout, take selfies and go crazy and it seems pointless to go there and remain even-tempered.
To get started, you visit the museum, where you know more about more than one century. Two things caught my attention, even though they’re not unknown: the strong relation between the club and its community, especially when it comes to the political situation; and the great importance that Brazilian players have had along Barcelona’s history. There are so many references to Ronaldinho, Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Romário, Rivaldo, Neymar that you can’t help feeling a certain pride while there, among those priceless trophies. You almost want to tug someone beside you and say, “Hey, I’m Brazilian, I’m special too” haha.
On the whole, I enjoyed the visit, but the general atmosphere of the huge room disappointed me somehow. Indeed, Barcelona became a powerful and marketable brand last years, and, in a certain way, I felt the museum too commercial, as the sponsors and their logos want to share attention with visitors. In a corner, there was a space with some advertisement about Qatar Airlines. Honestly, football clubs are way bigger than any sponsorship, so it annoys me that companies occupy such an important place. It’s unavoidable to have them around the stadiums and on the shirts, but is that so necessary to let them near football boots and photographs?
Anyway, we moved on and it was time to see the pitch. Finally! From the chairs (we weren’t allowed to get closer), I saw the grass and chairs and all its colours. And I was speechless. It’s so beautiful. When a teenager, I was a huge fan of Barcelona because of some Dutch (and handsome players) who joined the club at that time. I watched so many matches at home on Sunday, struggling to tune the channel that broadcasted them. Sometimes the image was terrible and I could hardly see the players. I didn’t have a computer and Internet wasn’t accessible in the 90’s, so that was my only chance of following the team. Twenty years later, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was there.
So, Barcelona or Real Madrid? I try not to make comparisons between experiences, but generally speaking, the arena in Madrid seemed less “business-driven”, and the result is an environment where you feel more the passion that comes from the sport. It’s just my perception, though, and of course, both stadiums are unmissable.
After the tour in the stadium and in the shop (with a gift to my father), it was time to visit the second great attraction in Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia. It that kind of place from where you heard so many praises that you imagine it won’t be that surprising. However, I was mistaken. Gaudí’s most famous work is more than impressive, it’s extraordinary. Enormous. The aspect of melting gives it an aspect of mystery, added the fact that it’s still under construction.
I was in two minds about paying to go into the cathedral as I had little money, but, again, I’d heard that its interior was as splendid as the outside, so I bought a ticket. At that time you had to be under 27 or something to get a student discount in Europe. When selling my ticket, a man just asked “Are you a student” and I said “yes”, what was true (I had a student visa). As he didn’t ask to see my ID and I looked younger than my 30’s, I paid only half the price. Not bad.
I had the chance to confirm the rumours about the temple: inside it’s marvellous. It was built in a way that the light can penetrate, coming from many colourful mosaics. The bad part of the visit was the tourists without any respect for a sacred place. They shout, they run, the touch everywhere. What the hell!
La Sagrada Familia is so astonishing that you don’t want to leave it, but there were more things to see, so here we go. From there, I went to La Pedrera, another Gaudí’s work. Barcelona is sort of an amusement park if you like architecture and art.
From the pavement, I had a look at Casa Battló, known as House of Bones because it resembles a cranium. I didn’t visit inside, as the money and the crowds around put me off. It was nice from my where I was anyway.
I kept walking to see all the statues and fountains along the way, as well as crossing again the alleys in the Gothic Quarter. My second day was over, and what a day!
Day 3: history and some hidden treasures
On my third day, I walked around the Arc de Triomf, one of the most famous attractions in Barcelona. The beautiful square was almost empty (low season, the best thing in the world). When you have almost all the place for you, you can relax more and do your silly things, such as taking as many selfies as you can until the time you perfectly frame you and the arch on the camera.
Strolling, I found a cultural centre, which had been a convent, a school or something like that. A treasure that you don’t even notice if you are in a hurry. Not far from there, El Born CC, another arts centre located in the old market of Born. When reforming the building to turn it into a library, the workers discovered archaeological vestiges: the market had been built over a medieval city! The ruins are still there to impress you. Besides, you can learn a lot from Catalonia’s history. I tried to read many texts in Catalan and for me, the language is a mix of Spanish, Portuguese and French. I was able to get the gist of the panels and that was a huge surprise. I’d say that it’s easier to understand Catalan than French (at least when it comes to reading). Travelling and learning, marvellous!
Next stop, Parc de Ciutadella. One of my favourite spots there. It’s a park with some remarkable buildings, statues, and a gorgeous fountain. According to this description, it just seems a typical park, but nothing is exactly commonplace in Barcelona. Everything is fantastic. I was struck by the “naked trees”, without leaves, so organized as if in a “ballet”.
The best part about being in a town for five days is that you can while the hours away and try new streets, the ordinary ones, where you can find graffiti, derelict buildings and even shopping centres which are different from the ones you got used to.
Day 4: Parc del Laberint, more Gaudí and
Labyrinth Park (Parc del Laberint) was recommended by one of my “roommates” in Porto. I met the Spanish girl in the hostel and, after chatting away, she told me about this place. She was not from Barcelona, but had lived enough to discover “secret treasures”. Reachable by the underground, the park was the “main attraction” on my fourth day. Perhaps there is more movement there in the high season but in November… there were no more than five visitors including me. And what a park! It’s not exactly abandoned but visibly doesn’t get as much attention as other places in Barcelona.
I’m not complaining. On the contrary: strangely I like empty and intriguing places. They’re sort of spooky, but I feel highly connected to buildings and areas which seem “forgotten”. They fascinate me. So far, Parc del Laberint remains as one of my strongest memories from my first trip around Europe. I particularly fell in love with the leaves on the ground, so brown, so much Autumn 🙂
I took the underground again, this time to go to Park Güell. It was a change. If the previous park was almost deserted, this one was jam-packed with tourists. And those crazy ones who take one hundred selfies together and don’t mind running over you from time to time. Price-conscious and not willing to face those crowds, I decided it wouldn’t be worth. Also because you can see everything from the top, as the area is open. In fact, the only thing I would miss out were the visitors. The surroundings seemed as much or even more sensational as the park itself, so it was a good deal.
If you hike a little, you reach the top of the hill, so I did it. I sat for a moment to admire the view and express my gratitude to life, besides resting, as I was tired. The problem was that I didn’t find a way to go back to the park, so I walked a lot until I gave up and went down through another path. It was a residential area and not very welcoming, but eventually, I was out of the park.
To save some euros, I went back to the hostel on foot. The distance was quite enormous. One of the advantages of travelling solo: no one can bother you about insane choices. Walk more, see more, feel more.
Day 5: the last one. Why?
It was Saturday and I woke up a little sad. It was the last day of my trip. In the evening, I’d be flying back to Dublin. Actually, that was awesome, because I missed my friends. On the other hand, I enjoyed so much the experience of backpacking by myself that it was quite painful to stop. Besides, Ireland had become “home” and I had things to sort out there, what made even more difficult to say goodbye to Barcelona.
I’d think about sadness later, I told myself, so I went to visit Palau Nacional, which wasn’t far from the hostel. It was drizzling, so, wearing my blue and beloved raincoat, I went on foot to have a look at that palace. It’s so beautiful! The sides of the stairs are decorated with fountains and plaid tiles, blue and yellow. The surroundings are well-wooded, and not even the poor weather dampened my enthusiasm.
The rain became heavier, however, so I had to protect myself under a shelter. There weren’t many people at that time, and we had plenty of room in front of the palace, which houses The National Museum of Art of Catalonia. It’d be open for visits only later, but unfortunately, I had to move on.
Back to my “expedition” and photographs, I went down the stairs to see the entire building, and it was fantastic. One of the places that shows why Barcelona is so popular among travellers. There’s an impressive waterfall, and a huge fountain in the middle of the square. I almost could hear a voice saying “Hi, I’m Barcelona, I’m fucking beautiful, amn’t I?” Oh, yeah. Definitely.
Very close to the palace you can visit the structure built and used for the Olympic Games in 1992. Just a few tourists there, but I made an effort to visualize the same place full of teams, flags and fans twenty-two years before.
Five days seems to be a reasonable time to visit a city, but Barcelona has so many features that I believe you need months (or even years) to explore all its details. An example was Montjuïc Castle, an old military fortress dating from the fifteen century that must be great, but I didn’t have time to visit it. The consolation: mentally planning another trip.
In the historic centre again, another stroll, including a stop to eat a paella in a restaurant. I’m not keen on seafood (it doesn’t look nice, no matter how much I try), so I preferred the vegetarian one. Twelve euros (sitting outside), a fair price.
I still had time to visit the docks and pop into a shopping centre in front of it. It was over L I went to the hostel just to take my backpack and take the plane back to Dublin.
At the airport, as I saw Irish people waiting for the flight, I remembered the good things about “my place” in Europe. Mixed feelings: I wanted to stay and I wanted to go “home”.
Those 29 days travelling solo changed me completely. Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff, London, Porto, Lisbon, Seville, Granada, Madrid, and Barcelona. During my life, I’d seen people crossing borders and I thought that I wouldn’t be as courageous and smart as they were. Well, I proved myself. I was. And I was pretty sure I wanted more. Always more.