It began with a Thursday evening Ave from Ciudad Real where I live to Madrid. The Ave is the high speed train that has routes all across Spain and can travel up to around 300 km/hr or 186 mph. I took the hour long train ride all alone and it was exhilarating. This was my first big excursion during this Spain experience and to feel confident enough in my Spanish and in my travel savvy to know I could get where I needed to go was so exciting. It's only been three weeks and my confidence in myself and my ability to do what needs to be done has skyrocketed. After a little bit of a search I found the restaurant in the train station where I was meeting Katie and 3 of the other girls from my program, and then we headed off on the metro to the other station where we would catch our overnight train.
A travel lesson was learned this night: if you book an overnight train, be sure to book a BED on the overnight train or you will be attempting to sleep for 8 hours in the position that you see Katie demonstrating below. It could have been worse and it could have been better - I have the whole first Harry Potter Audiobook in Spanish on my iPod so I turned that on and tried to get comfortable. The lights stayed on all night so I felt like I woke up every five minutes, but on Friday I felt pretty good considering the situation.
We got in to Barcelona at around 7:30 a.m., met up with the 6th member of our group, and found our way to The Generator Hostel to store our luggage and change our clothes. On the way to the metro we got coffee and some random Barcelona citizen walked right up to our friend Mackenzie, smacked her coffee cup out of her hand and gave her the finger for no reason!! It was pretty shocking so early in the morning. Unfortunately this was not our only encounter with rude people in Barcelona. Then we began our weekend of walking! We probably walked at least 5 miles each day I'm guessing? My calves have been killing me this week. This market called La Boqueria on Las Ramblas (a huge pedestrian street) was simply amazing.
There were stalls as far as you could see, filled with any kind of food you could imagine. There were fruits and vegetables and seafood that I couldn't even tell you the names of and the smells were constantly changing at every turn. Here's the website: http://www.boqueria.info/index.php. But it was hard to resist trying a little bit of everything. The 6 of us got a few different things to try and it was all so tasty. I had an empanada with chorizo sausage in it and most of the girls got a fresh fruit juice drink. We also had an encounter with a not so nice vendor in the market. We were standing and looking at one of the stalls and this woman pretty much screams at us to move out of her way as she was walking from one stall to the one we were looking at. We weren't doing anything wrong and she could have gone around us or said, "Excuse me." Then she proceeded to cuss us out and give us the finger from her stall after we gave her a funny look. Caroline took it upon herself to talk back to her a bit, which we appreciated, but man our blood pressure shot right up.
While we were walking around we had a couple more instances of people being rude. They would hear us speaking English (talking about how amazed we were about whatever we were looking at) and say something snarky. One guy said, "Oh my GOD!" really loud in accented English as he walked by us, and I just didn't appreciate it. We weren't bothering anyone and we were appreciating the culture and history of the city we were visiting. It's that injustice feeling in your gut that has you wanting to chase him down and yell, "You don't even know me!!"
But that's not how I'll remember Barcelona. Luckily, the culture and history there can speak for itself and doesn't need it's citizens to tell me how amazing and beautiful it is. We randomly stopped in the Basilica de la Mare de Deu de la Merce which was an incredible, 18th century, baroque style basilica. It's named for the patron of Barcelona, The Lady of Thanks, I think it would be; I really liked the St, Michael altar area.
We did a lot more walking and wanted to get a sandwich at this supposedly phenomenal restaurant called Bo de B (Bocadillo de Barcelona) that someone recommended to us, but it hadn't opened yet so we got some vegetable paella that was pretty great. They we returned to the hostel to check in, shower, and get ready for the evening. This hostel was pretty swanky. Our beds were so comfortable, we had a bathroom all to ourselves, we could rent towels, and they had a bar with a drink special just for us! Needless to say we took advantage of that, and happened to meet the British blokes that were checking in at the same time we were.
The next morning we all got various breakfast foods and drinks to try and recharge from the night. One of the best things I learned the last time I was in Spain, is that a couple loaves of bread and a package of Philadelphia cream cheese is the perfect breakfast/lunch/snack/dinner. It's better than a toasted bagel with cream cheese or toast with jelly; it just hits the spot and it's easy to share.
We walked to La Sagrada Familia and waited in line for our tickets, but our entry time was until 2:45 so we took a stroll for a couple of hours through a lovely park and this great arch. We went back to Bo de B to eat but the line was too long and we would have missed our entry into La Sagrada Familia had we waited. So alas, Bo de B had to wait.
And then finally we got back to La Sagrada Familia. This is one of my favorite places in the world. Even though I saw it last time I was in Spain, my jaw still dropped when I walked inside. It's unlike anything else in the world, and has been named a World Heritage Site. It's been under construction since 1882 is not slated to be completed until 2026 which is the 100th anniversary of Antoni Gaudi's (the architect's) death. I encourage you to check out the Wikipedia for this place to learn more and see more photos, because mine don't do it justice! Every square inch of it incorporates symbolism and stories from Christ's life, inspiration from nature, and architectural genius that will remain for centuries.
The Nativity Facade
After an exhilarating and quick hour in La Sagrada Familia we headed up to Park Guell, another one of Guadi's masterpieces. Unfortunately they have started charging 8 euros to see the monuments, so we only got to walk the trails around it. We went up as high as we could go in the park and were rewarded with a magnificent view of Barcelona and the Mediterranean Sea in the distance.
After days of talking about it, we FINALLY made it to Bo de B. Third time's the charm and boy was it worth the wait. I ordered a chicken sandwich and got a full sized BAGUETTE loaded with freshly grilled chicken, fresh vegetables, about 6 kinds of sauces, and feta cheese and it was great. Some of the other girls got chicken tzatziki which is pictured below and boy were there were a lot of feelings. I think it tasted extra amazing because of all the time we had waited and looked forward to it.
Megan was a champ and almost ate it all!
After that 3 of the girls went back to the hostel and 3 of us stayed in the main plaza for a while playing cards, enjoying the weather, and chatting. It was a calm and relaxing night for sure. The next morning Katie and Mackenzie left at around 8:30, and so the 4 of us remaining walked more. We went inside the Cathedral of Barcelona which was stunning of course. They were having Mass so we couldn't walk through the entire thing, but I kind of wish we had planned on going to Mass. Oh well. Another city, in another cathedral for sure. Caroline and Ellis left next at around noon, so Megan and I continued our stroll. This time we went down along the water and along the beach! It was strange to see people at the beach so far into October, but the weather was beautiful and we sat at a beach restaurant for lunch. The stories about the nudity at beaches in Spain is true - I not only saw some topless ladies, but also a fully nude older lady just hanging out (pun intended)!
Our final adventure was the walk back to the hostel. On the way we had to use the bathroom, and for some reason bathrooms are a little elusive in the streets of small shops. Plus if you want to use them, shop owners want you to buy something of course - if you don't, rudeness ensues. But we took our chances on an Irish pub, ignored the signs that said in 3 languages "Toilets are for customers only," and through the bar, past the bartender and down the stairs. Not getting yelled at on the way out was almost the crowning achievement of Barcelona weekend for Megan and I.
Then it was time to collect our things and head to the train station. I took an Ave back to Ciudad Real (by myself again!) and it was very nice. The seats are more comfortable than a plane and they played the movie Saving Mr. Banks in Spanish which I was able to understand and enjoy! It was only a 3 hour and 45 minute trip which was much better than the 8 hour one.
Here's my first souvenir! I love bears and I love Spain and this handmade necklace from a street market in Barcelona will be the perfect mix of the two!
Barcelona was more expensive than I thought so I think I need to slow down my weekend trips a bit. Living and learning over here and I'm doing alright.