Although I usually prefer trying to blend into the culture and population of a new destination, this time I wanted to be a tourist in Barcelona. Walking tours, documenting every moment, the paying for museums—all of that.
Immediately, my mind juxtaposed Barcelona with Grenoble; I didn’t know how much I needed to get away from the cozy streets, which lately have been more confining than cozy. Apparently, I’ve missed the atmosphere of a larger city: the pace, the life, the noise, the wider streets. Of course, this could’ve been a cultural difference as well—living in Grenoble is like being in the gentle shallow ends of the ocean, we all float on by stress-free and gently. Barcelona was a bit of a reverse culture-shock: the buses quick to run us over, the metro flying by fast enough to take a bit of my scarf with it, and full with people scarfing down meals.
Like in any other large city, Barcelona offers many free walking tours. I was unaware that there were multiple companies that offered these tours, but we chose the ones offered by Runner Bean. The tour gathered first at Plaça Reial where the guides were waiting under large green umbrellas. Because despite all my planning, I forgot to make tour reservations so we had to get there 15-20 minutes before the start of the tour. We arrived 30-40 minutes earlier, factoring in time for getting lost.
Our guide, a petite redhead from Ireland, gathered us round with her microphone and speaker-box. After introducing ourselves to everyone else in the group to get a better feel of our English level, we were off to the first stop: Palau Guëll. Palau Guëll was Gaudi’s first commissioned masterpiece.
Second on our list was Casa Batlló (does anyone know how to pronounce the second word?). Other than the Sagrada Familia, this one was my personal favorite; it looked like something out of a children’s book: the top of the building evoked images of the scales on a dragon’s back with the skull-like balconies lining the face.
Casa Milà is on a street that forces you to realize how much of Barcelona’s architecture is truly amazing… even the ones which aren’t designed by world-renowned architects. The styles evident in Barcelona are so romantic and whimsical. There are decorations on there that really are functionally useless but so aesthetically pleasing.
Afterwards, finally, she brought us to SAGRADA FAMILIA, Gaudi’s crown jewel. It’s funny because we took the metro to reach the Sagrada Familia and the station exits with the church to our backs. As I turned to respond to one of my friends, the words that were just at the tip of my tongue escaped as I saw what lay beyond.
The Sagrada Familia was amazing way to finish an informative tour… although I’m unsure how good of a tour follower I am. For the most part, I was too distracted by Barcelona’s bustling population, the smells, and the beautiful architecture to catch what the tour guide was saying.
We had already decided—before deciding any of our cultural activities—our eating schedule. We are half French after all. On today’s plate: margaritas by the beach. I realize that it doesn’t exactly count as food, but need for our Barcelona trip to resemble spring break was strong.
According to our guide, all we had to do was take this one road which would lead us straight to the waterfront where there were many good seafood restaurants. Easy enough. On the map, it looked like it was just a few blocks away. But then again, the map of Barcelona was small enough to fit on a piece of paper so our estimation of the map’s scale was dreadfully terrible.
30 minutes later and not even close to what seemed at first to be a very short walk on the map, we were over walking. The sights on the way were pretty sweet though.
It was on this very long, very chilly journey that the roads in Barcelona are very particular. In order to travel in a straight line, you first had to round the corner to find the crosswalk; after crossing over to the other side, you had to round another corner to get back onto the original path. This made for very large, diamond-shaped intersections.
Finally, we stumbled onto the boardwalk. And it was glorious.
But where were the restaurants? As we continued our already-long pilgrimage just to find something—now anything—for something to eat, this long stretch or building-less boardwalk was too much for us to handle. The cafeteria of the hospital to our right was looking more and more like a good idea.
“I mean… it’s cheap. And you get to choose what sides come with it… right? It’s kind of like the tapas we had last night!”
As we were about to give up, we spot umbrellas peeking out from under the boardwalk. Wait a minute… slowly, walking up to the rail, we popped our heads over to discover a whole under-boardwalk street of thriving restaurants and people that were being fed.
We were going to choose the restaurant we ended up at either way, but after checking the prices, we were more thankful that it was within our range. …Even though afterwards, we agreed on a consensus of limiting our meals in Barcelona to ONE a day with snacks for dinner.
As always, we started off with drinks. They both ordered an alcoholic batidos whereas I chose to put more of my budget into a nice salmon dish and save half on the drink by just ordering a normal, mango, passionfruit, and coconut batidos. So yum.
We splurged for some chips and guacamole. Although I wasn’t as impressed with the guacamole, it did satisfy my cravings.
I realized, as we sat there enjoying the lull of the ocean, that there are noticeable differences between the Spanish and the French when it comes to dining out. For the French, the entire experience is one to be enjoyed and extended for as long as possible. For the Spanish, the same applies but at a faster pace—we found that we were usually the customers that stayed the longest.
As we were doing what we do best, modeling, a hoard of 20 children suddenly came out of nowhere. It was like a scene from World War Z with the zombie-ants crawling over and destroying everything in its path. A few yards away, a small Asian man was massaging the stomach of an extremely obese man. What was this universe we had stumbled into?
One of the things we all realized this day was how insistent the street venders were in trying to get us to buy something. Not the street venders with booths down La Rambla, but street venders carrying their goods in a plastic bag asking everyone on the road if they wanted to buy a can of beer or even tissues.
France has conditioned us to ignore people like this completely, but to them it meant we didn’t hear them so they would come closer to peddle their goods. It was very annoying, but at the same time we all acknowledged that if given the choice, they wouldn’t want to be doing what they do either—it’s out of necessity.
Originally, we were going to stay by the waterfront to watch the sunset, but because the sun wasn’t setting over the water, we decided to squeeze in one last sight before heading back for a siesta: the Columbus statue.
The metro journey took only 20 minutes and as usual, we got lost and ended up at MNAC. By the time we emerged from the metro system like little gophers, it was already dark. So instead, we checked out MNAC with gorgeous illuminated fountains surrounding the building.
As we descended, we learned that it was just about time for the musical performance to do its thing. I did capture a bit of it on video but stopped because I was unsure when I would be in the mood to rewatch a quiet fountain show.
Later on, we returned to the hostel to eat our snack-dinners. The other two passed out and I would go on to meet some other friends to tear it up in Barcelona… where I would almost miss the last metro on my way home that night.
We really should’ve enjoyed this day a little more because it would be the last truly enjoyable time we would have in Barcelona… without worrying about staying dry.
Linking up with Bonnie today for #TravelTuesday!