Sophomore year of high school, I anticipated my fourth period Spanish class with Señorita Hillen. The advanced class mastered simple conversations and focused on Spanish Culture. Upon flipping through slide shows about Gaudi, I urged to visit Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, and other famous houses designed by Spain’s greatest architect.
With Barcelona on the top of my bucket list, I researched every study abroad program in Spain when deciding to flee the country. Due to my graduation requirements, I had no such luck. My next option was to live in Florence and schedule a trip to my coveted city.
In spring 2013, my old friend Kelsey was re-visiting Xavier after transferring sophomore year. She surprised me when she exclaimed that she chose to spend the fall studying in Seville. Within the first few weeks living in Europe, we booked a hostel together in Barcelona.
While killing time by Snapchatting friends about my departure to Spain, I realized I should make meeting arrangements with Kelsey for our arrival to Barcelona. This idea spurred a bit too late, I’m afraid, because we both wandered around the exit gates looking for each other before deciding to head towards the Sant Jordi Albert hostel. Feeling guilty for the poor miscommunication, I waited ashamed for ten minutes in the 8-person mixed room until she arrived escorted by our hostel’s manager. Though knowing Kelsey, she just hugged me and was ready to explore the city like I was.
Sangria, Shots, and Shoko
My best friend from high school, Kelly, was lucky enough to spend spring 2013 studying in Barcelona. The pseudo-Spaniard sent me a bucket list of all her favorite places to eat and drink one arriving. Too hungry to find one of her recommended restaurants, Kelsey and I walked around the corner to a trendy tapas bar. We shared a liter of Sangria, jamon (ham) bocadillo, a small omelette-skillet and chicken kebabs. The Spanish are notoriously proud of their ham; many menus offer simply shaved ham as a main dish!
After our mini-meals, we hit up Kelly’s first bar, Chapitos, which literally means “shots”. With over 300 shots to choose from, we stuck with Kelly’s favorites and ordered The Boy Scout, Orgasm, and Harry Potter. With these shots, we roasted marshmallows on the bar, had our heads massaged, and watched sugared orange slices ignite before eating them as chasers. Kelsey and I made plans to meet up with her Seville friends at the Shoko beach club. We told a few German boys from Chapitos that we were leaving for Shoko, and one of the guys told us we wouldn’t get in because of our shoes. This had been the second time I was judged for my shoes from a European man. If the men don’t care for the way I dress, I can’t imagine what the women think.
Turns out, we didn’t get in… At first. Two minutes after being denied entrance, a promotor lead us through Shoko without paying cover or waiting in line. Looks like my sandals were appropriate for a beach bar anyways.
Kanye blared through the speakers from the DJ table, our friends popped champagne in VIP, and I headed toward the deck over looking the ocean. Life was good. We didn’t make it to sun rise like Kelly did on her study abroad trip, but we made the most of the night.
Friday morning Kelsey woke me up around 11, hinting that it was time to get a move on. After grabbing coffee and pastries we made our first stop at La Sagrada Familia. Though Antonio Gaudi takes credit for designing this incredible basilica, he neither started nor finished the building. In fact, cranes and drapes covered most of the church while we circled around looking up at workers attempting to finish the blueprints Gaudi spent 40 years creating.
Too broke and too impatient to wait in line to enter La Sagrada Familia, we hiked up hill El Carmel to Parc Guell. By the time we reached the entrance we had 20 minutes to kill before the next public entrance. We plopped down on a bench in exhaustion and stared in envy of a couple sharing a picnic. Our hunger passed when we passed through gates and walked around the municipal gardens. Tourists lined around the tiled seats, mostly napping. Confused as to why everyone was dozing off, we tried out the seats ourselves. Props to Gaudi, the curvature in his balcony backrest cupped my spine perfectly. Kelsey and I lounged among others soaking in the Spanish sun on this famous peak.
We walked below the lookout to the glistening white columns which supported it. The nature-based designs involved sea patterns and beautiful tiled animals. We avoided paying entrance into the park’s house and exited towards the gift shop. Inside, every tiled trinket sparkled in color. I wanted it all.
Deciding to take the metro back into town, I stopped to try the chocolate and churros, a famous Spanish snack. The churros tasted like a sugared French-fry and the hot chocolate was much richer than what I’m used to from the States. Getting off at the Catalunya square, we made way to Restaurant Pirineus, recommended by Kelly for the Sangria and Paella lunch special. Good thing Kelsey and I split the seafood paella, or else I would have forced fed myself the entire dish.
I could feel the rice expanding in my stomach and my pants tightening around the waistline. What’s a girl going to do when she’s feeling full? Go shopping.
We popped in and out of the stores down Carrer de Angel. Kelsey introduced me to her favorite European stores such as Stradavarious and Pull and Bear. I weakened at the knees. I had packed sandals and shorts with the Barcelona beach in mind and failed to consider that I would go out in nighttime in November, so I had to buy something for the clubs. Merry Christmas to me!
The rest of the evening we spent with Kelsey’s friends from Seville who crashed at Kabul, a popular hostel in the middle of the swanky Place Reial. I ended up paying way too much for a whiskey sour at an adjacent bar, another 10€ to get into Club Jamboree, and another 5€ on some late night pizza. Spain’s economy should be thanking me.
Beaches and Bo’ D B
With a macchiato from Farggi, a Spanish coffee chain, Kelsey and I were ready to take on day two. We snapped pics of Gaudi’s Casa Batllo, said “cool”, and kept walking. Actually touring these museums will happen later in life, when I have money and patience. What I have money and patience for these days is a 4€ toasted slice of heaven from Bo’ D B, an infamous baguette joint off the beach. Several people raved about this place, and I reassured Kelsey during the 45 minute line that our lunch would be worth the wait. With a 6 types of meats, a dozen different toppings, and three secret sauces to choose from, building the perfect sandwich challenged my appetite. Loading it all on an omelette (egg and potato), I eagerly waited to unveil my creation until we chose a spot to eat by the pier.
Now, the sandwich was good. Not best I’m my life. Maybe not worth the 45 minutes, but 100 percent worth the experience.
After our lunch we strolled down Las Ramblas and entered into the wilderness of La Boqueria. There’s something about food markets that strike my hunger no matter how full I am. This was the case with La Boqueria, starting with the ham stands (ha). Literally, the first thing I tried was ham on a stick. It was to either that or ham in a cup. To wash down the jamon, we tried out the famous fresh juice. strawberry and coconut to be exact. O, if only I could take home a gallon of that sweet slippery goodness. Next to the fruit stands were more meat, next to the meat piled colorful candies, next to the candies were more meat and then more fruit! The heart of La Boqueria bleeds the fish market, where crustaceans are sold alive, suffering away on slabs of ice. I couldn’t look at the fish for too long, so we circled around some more. Dried fruits, nuts, eggs, gelato, crepes, empanadas, pasta, croquettes, popsicles, chocolate… It can all be found under one roof. I had spent a single euro on several snacks, but I drew the line at the chocolatier when I paid 10€ for a few bonbons. Kelsey and I looked in shock when the vendor read the scale, so we paid a fled back to the hostel before spending anymore dough.
From food coma or pure exhaustion, I slept hard during our nap after the market. With one last restaurant to hit on Kelly’s list, Kelsey and I screen-shot directions to Samsara, a chic tapas place north of the hostel. The dim lighting and pillowed seating set a cool mood, but this chill vibe buzzed off when I discovered the ATM denied my card and I would be eating an extra small tapas plate for dinner.
For our final night out in the town we all prepared ourselves for “Europe’s Second Largest Club”, Razzmatazz. (So says the flyer). During our walk to Kabul, Kelsey and I sped through the promoters on La Rambla, ignoring their leads and attempt to lure us into some sketchy club. They harassed us all street long, shoving flyers in our faces asking, “You ladies partying tonight?’ ‘Do you speak English?’ ‘Sprechen a Deutsch?'” Flattered that you think I’m German, but no thank you…
We met up with Kelsey’s friends at Kabul and waited until midnight for happy hour. At 2am we finally cabbed over to Razzmatazz, an old warehouse that towers in the middle of the Cuitadella Villa Olympica. We ran up and down the five floors, dancing to all different types of music. The exact time we left Razzmatazz is questionable, but it was for certain that these past three nights in Barcelona shaved off a few years of my life.
My first alarm rings at nine for a morning run. How ambitious of me. The second rings at 11am, allowing enough time for me to stuff all my belongings in my duffel (though somehow forgetting my tennis shoes- karma?), grab an Egg McMuffin, and meet my grandparents outside the Hardrock by noon. My grandparents are the most experienced travelers in my family. With dozens of countries under their belt, they had yet to visit Spain. Being the first grandchild to see Europe, I was lucky to offer them the opportunity to meet me abroad. The three of us waited patiently for the landlord to bring the keys to our apartment only a few blocks from La Rambla. We locked up our luggage and shared paella, jamon, nachos, and patatas bravas for lunch. Perhaps I ate more than my stomach could handle, but I had to follow the golden rule: take advantage of free food.
We walked (slowly) down Passeig de Gracia towards Gaudi’s Casa Pedrera. Suddenly a loud shot blew off, turning our attention to the intersection. A driver crashed into a Mercedes, impacting the full front bumper and shoving a couple to the curb. The neighborhood froze in shock while we watched for a few minutes to ensure the couples’ safety. They were fine, most likely whiplashed, but unfortunately this was not our only time witnessing reckless driving throughout the streets of Spain. Before Pedrera, we stopped at a McDonald’s for a drink. Similar to Dublin, the Golden Arches towered over three stories for seating. The front of the building included a McCafe offering a wide selection of pastries. I tried my first macaroon… In Barcelona. From a McDonald’s. It would have been more cliche to try my first macaroon while I was in France but that’s not how I roll.
Finally arriving to La Pedrera, we gazed up at the wavy windows and debated over the 16€ entrance fee. Already grateful that my grandparents paid a pretty penny for this Eurotrip, I figured the street view of the building was enough of a site, so we ventured back to La Rambla.
We looped around Placa Reial while the sun and temperature started to set. I wanted to stop in a cafe for churros and chocolate to warm up a bit. Walking into Art i San off Placa Reial, we cozied up in the cute shop for much longer than expected. After lingering over the hot chocolate, Grandma noted that she would be contempt with gelato for dinner. I’m down. We stood up and ordered three cones. Living in Florence, I never dreamed of grabbing any creamier gelato. But the homemade ice cream from Art i San comes dangerously close to the best cold stuff my lips have ever touched. Staying out in our seats and only getting up to throw away trash, more time passed as we caught up on life, experiences, and aspirations. Before leaving, Grandma didn’t want to be hungry in a few hours so we ordered two savory crepes. I should have passed on the third course, but of course, I didn’t.
Gondola With The Grandparents
I wanted to spend my last day in Barcelona on a high note, with an airlift to Mount Monjuic. After a small breakfast in a nearby cafe, I walked my grandparents around the beach and La Boqueria before ascending up to the famous hill.
Landing at the foot of gondola we toured around the fortress, amazed by the calmness of the crowd. Every other tourist trap packed in hundreds of visitors, but the sites on Mount Monjuic remained mostly untouched. Granted, the Olympic Museum we saw next was closed for the day, but the memorials still struck our fancy.
Spindling down the mountain rests the Museum of National Art. From a distance we mistook the vast building for a basilica, and were impressed by the size of museum up close.
We took our time stepping down back into the streets, soaking in the beauty of Barcelona’s architecture. A metro shipped us back to Catalunya in time to find a Wifi cafe for espresso and internet access. I asked the barista for a bonbom without knowing the drink’s content.
The shot tasted like an extra sweet cappuccino, spiking enough buzz for me to look up restaurants for dinner. Searching for tapas, I used my FourSquare app to find Pintxos, literally meaning “bites” in Catalan. The trendy spot outside Place de Le Seu is self-serve, offering dozens of hoe devours garnished with toothpicks. Much like a cafeteria, I returned to the food line to pick out delectable appetizers a couple times throughout the evening. As for the bill, we were charge 1.65€ per toothpick. Depending on your appetite, Pintxos could be a cheap-eat or suck your wallet dry.
Outside Pintxos I noticed Happy Pills, a candy shop on Kelly’s list. Having to check it out, I slipped through the narrow store, picking up a “pill bottle” and filled it with an assortment of sweets. Before checking out my prescription, I had to label on directions for my new meds.
Carrying my new gummies back toward our apartment, the three of us shared a bottle of wine at a nearby restaurant. We ended the night right. Drinking wine, talking about relationships, and giving thanks to how lucky we were.
I truly am so thankful to have finally visited the city I have been longing to see for years. I anticipate returning. Who knows how long it will take me, but I will be returning.