Busy in Barcelona

Busy in Barcelona

This weekend, a group of about 20 of us (half of our program) decided to travel to Barcelona to take in the unique sights and culture of Spain’s second largest city (next to the capital, Madrid). We took the train (about a five-hour ride) on Thursday night so that we would be able to spend all day Friday and Saturday, and most of Sunday, exploring before we took our train home.

It started out nice and chaotic since our train arrived at 11:49 (and, of course, was not on time). Additionally, the last metro, which was the only way to get to our hostel, stopped running at 12.

So the five people I traveled with and I ran through the station with all our stuff flailing around asking questions, and got to the platform with one minute to spare! Then we realized that we were on the right line, but wrong side of the platform…so we ran again, even faster - and luckily made it to the last metro just in time!

We then had to walk some more to get to our hostel. The outside of the window said, “The best hostel you've ever seen” which didn't do much for me, because this is the only hostel I’d ever seen. For 12€ a night, I was pretty much expecting a cement room with mattresses. BUT this place was “súper guay” (Spaniard's version of cool). It was really designed to accommodate young travelers and was themed just as well as a Disney hotel.

We stayed in a room of eight, all people from our program (but normally when you don’t have that big of a group, you’re placed with some random people). There were tons of international people staying there, too. All in all, better than my expectations.

However, most of our time was not spent here, as we had to take in the real culture of Barcelona. Having visited this city before and having plans to go back this spring with my family, I told my friends that I was game to do whatever they wanted to do.

On Friday, we decided to explore on our own and made our way to the Sagrada Familia (Antonio Gaudi's most famous project, which is yet to be finished), into a couple of shops and cafes and through a park before grabbing dinner.

Later that night, we all had reservations for ICEBARcelona, which is a bar entirely made out of ice that happens to be located right on the coast of the Mediterranean. I had seen pictures of places like this before, but it’s really different when you’re inside. It was fun to wear the big puffy coats and gloves, which were necessary to hold the glasses made of pure ice.

After being in the average of 65-degree weather for almost a month, the 20-degree room did seem pretty chilly to us. But I realized quickly that it was nothing compared the the negatives back at home in Rochester and the whipping winds of the Falls.

On Saturday, we were up early for the free walking tour, which was sponsored by our hostel. Our tour guide was “pure gold” and she should be, because she came from Ireland! She emphasized how she had only planned to come to Spain for one year, but 20 years later, here she is saying that there’s something about Barcelona that can “suck you in” - so be careful.

We spent the next two hours learning why…and it was great because she shared everything with us with so much excitement and so much passion. Some of the buildings I had already seen, like the Catedral de Barcelona, but some were new for me, too, like the Plaza del Rey, where Christopher Columbus returned after his voyage to the Americas to share his discoveries with the King and Queen.

The way she ran the tour was really interesting because she gave us the historical facts in the form of stories. As we were walking, we heard some guys in front of us mention Alicante and it turned out they go to our same school and were visiting the city this weekend, too! Huge coincidence!

The most important lesson of the tour was to realize the difference of cultures within this specific part of Spain, Catalunya. This is something that I know a little bit about from Maria, but learned a lot more about this weekend. For those of you who aren't familiar with this, Spain is divided up into multiple provinces, with each having its own traditions and language.

Catalan is the language of Catalunya (where Barcelona is located), which really is not Spanish. The closest thing I can use to describe it is somewhat of a mix between Spanish and French, but it’s really it’s own language.

We were lucky enough to learn some words from our tour guide at the end. To me, hearing it is almost indecipherable, but I can somewhat understand it if I read it. Catalunya has been in controversy with Spain for a long time because it actually wants to separate.

As you walk through the streets, you can tell who wants this and who believes it’s a good idea to stick with Spain. Almost every balcony has a flag waving to show whether the owner supports the separation or not.

The independence flag of Catalunya is red and yellow stripes with a blue triangle and white star, while the regular flag of Catalunya is just the stripes. We even learned details of how this flag was created.

Afterward, we had a nice tapas lunch, with a traditional Catalan dish called calçots. This is something I had with Maria before that I loved, so I definitely wanted my friends to try it. It’s a long and skinny onion-like legume, which they completely char on a barbecue, then you strip the black skin off to a perfectly cooked vegetable on the inside and dip in a signature sauce. Deeeeeeelicious.

After our lunch, we did more walking and then spent a good amount of time in La Rambla, which is like the shopping center of the city. Good thing we left our guy friends behind because they would not have been able to handle our serious shopping escapade, since the day before they were annoyed with us for spending too long in a grocery store (no more than 20 minutes!).

Later on, we had an interesting and unintended dining experience, which is what we get for trying to be cheap. All I’m going to say is I don’t suggest going to a Chinese restaurant that sells pizza in Spain…but it was a meal that we won’t soon forget.

On our last morning, we checked out of our awesome hostel and I got to meet up with Maria again! As most of you know, she lives right in the city, actually only about 10 minutes away from where we stayed. Of course, I couldn't go to my sister's city without seeing her.

We spent time walking around and getting bubble tea, which was super-exciting because I didn't know that existed in Spain. Afterward, I navigated the metro on my own so I could meet up with my friends.

I have to say that there’s something very empowering about realizing that you’re able to navigate a foreign city successfully (getting lost a couple times is definitely supposed to happen) as well as book your own train tickets and sleeping arrangements, without too much help. This shows me that I am a lot more capable than I thought, and ever had the opportunity to be at home.

Lastly, we visited my favorite part of the city, Parc Güell! This is another work by Gaudi and not your average park. For those of you who know the Cheetah Girls 2, this was the big scene. There are many trees and tunnels made from rock, but the most intruding part is the mosaic buildings, towers and famous curved benches that overlook the city all the way to the sea.

As we were walking around, we saw street vendors, violin players, professional bubble blowers, and the same guys from Alicante who were on our tour the day before! This was our last hoorah and a perfect end to our weekend in Barcelona. Another five-hour train ride that allowed us to catch up on some sleep was the only thing between us and home.

I left the city with really sore feet (which Sarah claims is the true way to tell if you had a successful trip), a couple new shirts and a new pair of shoes that I probably didn't need…and a big smile on my face. Experiencing this city for a second time with friends was not a part of the plan, but something I’m surely glad I did. There’s always new things you’d never thought you’d find (i.e the Chinese restaurant) and memories I’m glad I got to be a part of. And now, I definitely feel ready to share this place with my family in the spring. Until next time, BCN!

See it for yourself…

image1 Spain
Off to the train we go!
20somethings (and an almost 20) getting excited about giant bubbles!
Exploring the Parc
image 2 SPAIN
La Sagrada Familia