Finally we made it to Barcelona! We’d already done so much on break that both Dylan and I were exhausted, but we made it to our hostel pretty easily the first day. While Santander is in the Spanish state of Cantabria, Barcelona is in Catalonia so, like Mallorca, they speak Catalan. Of course, everyone still speaks Spanish, too, and most people also speak English (these trilingual people, so impressive).
(A picture of one of the wonderful streets in Barcelona. Most of them looked like this, with really nice architecture, trees, and wide avenues.)
The architecture in Barcelona is beautiful! The city is filled with large avenues and trees and really lovely and imaginative architecture. By far the best thing to do in Barcelona is just walk around and get lost in the wonderful alleys and side streets. It’s a lot of walking and my feet are torn to pieces, but it’s definitely worth it! You stumble upon the most magical little stores and buildings and churches, without even trying.
(Another street view. We loved the windows in this building!)
The first night, Dylan and I walked down La Rambla, which is the main street and shopping district in Barcelona. It’s HUGE and very crowded, with lots of great side streets branching off in every direction. There are tons of shops, of course, but also lots of street vendors, street performers, and street artists. We passed a whole block of florists that made the air smell lovely!
(A picture of La Rambla at night. It’s always busy!)
(A picture of the flowers on La Rambla. There are different areas on La Rambla: the florists, the artists, the tourist shops, and restaurants, etc.)
Our favorite thing to do on La Rambla, though, was watch the street artists. There were portrait drawers, people that did caricatures, and really talented street artists that created fantasy drawings with spray paint and fire! They were magical to watch and you could stand there while they created an entirely original, custom piece of art right before your eyes! We came back every night we were in Barcelona to watch them.
(Our favorite type of street artist, creating a really cool piece right in front of us.)
La Rambla ends in a tall monument to Christopher Columbus (despite the fact that he was a jerk) and the port water front. There was really nice bridge and lots of boats so we watched over it while the sun set that first night before walking back up La Rambla and having some paella for dinner. Paella, by the way, is a Southern Spain specialty. Originating in Valencia, it’s kind of seafood jumbo, and you can’t go to Spain without having some.
(The view of the port at night. There were some delicious waffle and crepe stands nearby too that made it smell delicious. Mmm!)
We fell asleep pretty much immediately when we got back to our hostel. The hostel we stayed in was pretty centrally located and pretty small. It wasn’t too bad (really good for the price) and included free breakfast (and free food, as you know, is my favorite). The next day we deemed would be our Gaudi day, so we put on good walking shoes and headed out.
(One of Gaudi’s famous buildings, the Casa Mila, which we didn’t go in but saw from the outside, which as impressive, too.)
Gaudi was an artist and architect in Barcelona who created really amazing and imaginative buildings! You should certainly look up more about him, but he really favored fantasy and fantastic creatures in his work and did a lot of mosaic pieces. They charge to go into all of his buildings so we were selective. We walked by a few like Casa Batllo (The inside is modelled after what it would be like to be in a dragon’s belly. Locals call it the House of Bones. Oooh.) and Casa Mila. Then we went to Park Güell, a park designed by Gaudi.
(The outside of the Casa Batllo, the House of Bones!)
We went to the park because entrance was supposed to be free. Our luck, the city of Barcelona had decided the very day we went to start charging. They only charged to go into part of the park, so we skipped that part and just walked around the rest, which was fine. We got the see the Gaudi mosaic benches from a far and climbed a ton of steps to get a number of great views overlooking the city. There were also lots of great vendors and street musicians so we stopped to listen to some music a few times.
(Some street musicians in the park. They were really energetic and fun! A lot of locals like to hang out in the park too so there was a big push back against the cost of the park the day we were there. We saw one guy who was spray painting things like “Free Park Güell get chased down by a police officer!)
(Dylan and I posing at the very top of the park in front of the great view. We met a nice German couple who took our picture and told us about the city charging for the park.)
Afterward we got lunch at a yummy oriental restaurant. In Spain, restaurants have something called the Menu of the Day which is a great three course meal deal plus drink for super cheap. Afterward we went to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous church, a huge structure that looks a bit like a drippy sand castle I’d make on a beach as a kid. It dominates the Barcelona skyline, and despite being in the work for nearly 70 years is still not finished.
(The outside of the impressive Sagrada Familia.)
This, Dylan and I bought tickets to go into and to climb a tower inside. It was phenomenal. The weather was great by the time we arrived and there was a street performer making large bubbles out front. We played with those like five-year-olds for a while and then went inside the church.
(The huge bubbles! You know you would play with them, too.)
Quite simply, it was the most amazing building I’ve ever been inside. Between the lighting that the stained glass created, the tree like pillars, the sheer size, and the curved, organic shapes, it was terrific. I can’t say enough incredible things about it. One thing I can say is that it didn’t make me feel particularly religious. Awed, yes, but more at the power of what man can create than at the power of god.
(The amazing effect of the stained glass inside in the afternoon. I love this place!)
(The interior of the Sagrada Familia.)
The whole experience was like what it would be like to walk around inside the mind of an artist. The tower views were very pretty as well. We had to pick between two towers, the Passion and the Nativity. We’d read the view from the Nativity tower was better so we did that one although I’m sure both would be great.
(The view from the top of the Nativity Tower. There are lots of angles to look out, so this is just one.)
(Another interior shot of the church, with the ceiling, which looked like tree tops. Gaudi invented this type of column that branches out like trees, making the Sagrada Familia the only place in the world that uses it.)
After the church we stopped at one of the many outdoor cafes in Barcelona and treated ourselves to lemon cake. We’d walked over 10 miles that day, but we had a bit more ahead of us. We went to La Boqueria, a large market off of La Rambla where locals go to sell all kinds of foods and goods. We loved it! Tons of fresh meat and fruits and vegetables. The fish was so fresh some of it was still moving! We also found a fancy handmade truffle stand and got a few to sample.
(The fresh fish. It made me sad when they moved! I told that to a lady in Spanish next to me and she laughed and patted me on the shoulder. My Spanish skills get me sympathy.)
Afterward we went to our new favorite restaurant, an oriental stir-fry restaurant called Wok to Walk where you pick your toppings and they cook it in front of you. Mmm. We visited our favorite street artists and then fell asleep immediately.
(The chocolate stand in the market that we enjoyed.)
The next day we walked to the beach in the morning. Along the way we stumbled into the Gothic Quarter, an older area of Barcelona comprised of tons of tiny, scrambled side streets splintering off each other. There were lots of cute apartments and hidden shops in these alleys, plus the beautiful Barcelona music hall.
(The Barcelona music hall. They are tucked away in a side street so you might never notice it but the building was amazing! I wish we could have heard a concert in there.)
(One of the dozens of side streets in the Gothic Quarter. Just a lot of fun to walk around in.)
We also saw more of the old part of town and government buildings on our way to the beach. Once we got there it was pretty windy and the water really cold so we just waded into the Mediterranean and then sat out for a bit. We walked along the boardwalk, which was very popular and had a great view. Then we walked through a nearby park to see the zoo, the Arc de Triumph (not the Paris one, Barcelona has one too!). The park was beautiful and featured really wonderful fountains, lakes, and memorials.
(One the beaches in Barcelona that we visited.)
(My favorite fountain in the park! So pretty and peaceful. Lots of people were having picnics there and nearby there was a memorial to a transsexual who was killed for their gender identity. I thought it was really cool that there was a memorial for this, as I’m not sure attention would be drawn to it in the States.)
After stopping for lunch, we went back to the Gothic Quarter to explore some more where we found the best little bakery that had tons of great goodies. We both got massive meringues that gave us both tummy aches but where totally worth it. Then we went into the Barcelona Cathedral, which was very impressive. They took us up to the tower as well for another nice view of the city.
(The meringue that got the best of us. Mine is chocolate and his is lemon. Do you really blame us?)
(The inside of the Barcelona Cathedral. It took 200 years to build, which is just crazy to think about.)
We took a break back at the hostel afterward before going out to dinner at this fun bar because that night happened to be the Barcelona v. Madrid Football (Soccer) match! We were so lucky to be in Barcelona when the game happened because (a) it’s the biggest rivalry in football and (b) it’s a huge cultural event that was fun to witness. Every restaurant and bar was packed full of people all with their tables and chairs turned toward the TVs. When Barcelona scored a goal, people on the street watching through the windows would randomly hug each other and everyone in the bar high-fived. It was such a nice sense of camaraderie. And we won! While eating delicious tapas.
(A rally on La Rambla we went to following the game to celebrate Barcelona’s victory. FC Barca for the win!)
Afterward Dylan and I explored more streets near La Rambla and looked in cute stores. There was a rally in La Rambla cheering Barcelona’s victory, which was fun. Then we ended the night at the beautiful fountains near La Rambla.
(Us in front of the fountains at night. Pretty romantic.)
The next day we met up with my roommate Natalie, her friend Natalie (yes, they are both Natalie), and our friend Soxy who is also studying abroad in England. They happened to be in Barcelona at the same time. We got lunch with them and then Dylan and second Natalie had to leave for the airport. My roommate, Soxy and I toured around the Gothic Quarter some more afterward, saw the Picasso Museum, and the inside of Santa Maria del Mar, another impressive Cathedral in that area. We also got the best gelato I’d ever had. We had a yummy dinner at a kabob place (kabob’s are a huge deal in Europe) and went back to London late.
(The outside of Santa Maria del Mar on the beautiful last day.)
The entirety of fall break was fantastic and I couldn’t have asked for better places to visit or better people to visit them with. Now I’m back in London and while it is rainy and colder and I have work and school, I’m glad to be back. London has an energy that isn’t the same as other cities, and it’s nice to be back in my flat with my friends in my routine. Plus, there is still so much I want to do here before my semester comes to an end!
There are plenty of other places I considered travelling to for fall break, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to do everything, not just globally, but even just in London. Aside from a trip to Ireland after my program ends, I’ll stay primarily in London for the rest of my trip, but I won’t regret not going to more places. There is only so much time I have here and while I’ll always still want to go to new places, I’m glad I’ll get to spend some time experiencing and appreciating even more in this great place that I’m living in now.
(Me and Dylan together in Barcelona. Who knows where we will end up next?)