So, about Spain.
I’d have to say that the chance to go was definitely unexpected. Work-related business ultimately led me to this opportunity, and I’d go so far as to say that it was one of the best experiences of this year. I’d like to use my last recap post of the trip as a “personal reflection”, but I’m incredibly behind on recapping in general, so I’m just gonna get right to it!
I left for Barcelona on a Thursday morning, Cali time. It felt odd to not go into lab, but I quickly got into the traveler’s mindset when my Lyft came by to take me to the airport. I flew to Charlotte via American Airlines, and while this leg wasn’t so bad, I quickly grew to despise AA when flying out of Charlotte.
I was carrying a conference poster rolled up in a tall case, and every time I tried to secure it in an overhead compartment, it would promptly roll out. Passengers around me had no problem tapping my shoulder and pointing at my loose poster roll, but did anyone bother to help me out? Yeah-no.
When it fell out and the cap burst off and rolled under someone’s seat beyond my reach, I requested their help but no one would budge. I asked a stewardess to help, but she quickly proved herself to be one big female canine if you know what I mean…
Eventually a guy stood up, found the cap, and helped me secure the poster better. I thanked him but I still felt heated from the whole situation. At least I had eight or so hours to myself and to cool down…
I arrived in Barcelona at around 11am local time. I didn’t have a window seat, so I missed out on getting a sneak peak of the city, but my concern upon landing was how would I make it out to the city.
My first Airbnb was near a major transport hub, and my host recommended Intake Aerobus. But that’s when I encountered my first issue.
Lesson #1 – Always bring cash when traveling in Spain from another country.
I quickly learned that in order for me to be able to use a credit card overseas, at least at a ticket vendor machine, I needed to have a PIN associated with that car. Clueless me was puzzled about this when I attempted to purchase an Aerobus ticket. The ticketmaster ultimately came over, and after trying it for himself, he simply said “No.” and handed the card back to me.
Again, my concern was just making it out to the city in one piece, so I had to find a way. I next tried to purchase some Metro tickets at one of the automated kiosks. No luck there, since it once again asked for a PIN and I was stuck. Luckily, a woman who was supervising the area gave me the recommendation to get a HOLA BCN card at the counter, since I could purchase it with a credit card without providing a PIN.
That was a success, and it only cost me €14 for a 48hr pass! I immediately found the station out, and headed towards Plaça de Espãnya.
I was staying at an Airbnb that was near the center of all things—it was close to a multi-story mall that was converted from a bull fighting arena, and there was just activity all-around.
I was in awe of everything around me…I did clutch on my backpack and suitcase tightly because I had read about pickpockets (and I wanted go avoid what I had experienced in Paris earlier this summer with my family), but as soon as I saw the Airbnb I was staying at, I became more relaxed.
I checked in easily, set my things aside, and immediately fell into a glorious nap! I woke up later that afternoon and talked to my Dad for a bit before deciding that I should at least go for a walk to get rid of the grogginess. It was cold and rainy outside, and I probably should have packed a jacket, but I made do and walked north in the direction of Plaça de Cataunya.
I walked by an array of shops, markets, paella cafes, and coffee cafes, but what blue me away was how clean the streets were. Compared to the polluted streets of London and dusty roads of Paris, Barcelona was pretty much spotless, haha!
There were two Starbucks along my route, and I stopped at each in order to use their wifi and check where I was. I didn’t want to go out too far as it got darker and colder, and since I was feeling tired, I turned around after getting to Plaça de Cataunya. I tried to find a vegan place that was supposedly in the city center, but it was hard to navigate to and I was getting more tired, hungry, and impatient.
I ended up deciding on a place close to the Airbnb: SandwiChez.
It was a cozy coffee shop chain, and I got myself a simple Falafel Wrap with a side of chai tea. Everything was warmed up, and I found a convenient little spot by the wall to relax and enjoy my meal.
I surprisingly didn’t have too much jetlag that night, and I was able to fall asleep pretty quickly. I did wake up a few times in the early morning, but I was tired enough to stay in bed until 9am the next morning. I slowly got ready, and tried to map out what I’d like to do and what would be the best way to get to these attractions.
Park Guell sounded intriguing, almost like an architectural amusement park. It was also a destination that required some travel planning, so I decided to check that out first. I used the Metro to get to the closest station, and when I exited, I found myself in the most gorgeous-looking, quiet, European neighborhood. It almost reminded me of the hilly streets of San Francisco combined with the green earthiness of the PNW.
I ended up walking in the wrong direction for about 20 minutes before re-orienting myself and actually heading towards Park Guell. Even though it was on top of a hill, it wasn’t too arduous to get to…there were escalators guiding visitors up!
And the view was very well worth it…
Everything was architectural eye candy…
My favorite were these iconic arch structures:
After walking for a bit, I stopped for some coffee, and even took a look inside the gift shop.
There were so many colorful and cute knick-knacks, but I didn’t find anything that called out to me as “gift material”.
I soon walked out of Park Guell, and into another coffee shop (Coffee Park) that was just outside the exit. Since I didn’t have any food (just coffee), I was on the hunt for some churros, or something.
What actually ended up catching my eye were the cannolis. I intended to order one, but since they had a minimum credit card charge, I “had” to get two 😉
They were delicious, but maybe two was overkill, haha.
I walked back to the closest metro station and easily used the map to get off at the Sagrada Familia station. As soon as I stepped out from underground, I was met with a stunning view of a gothic cathedral. Everyone around me was just standing and staring at the grand, behemoth building before them.
It was hard to get a clear picture due to the sun rays, so I walked around to the entrance on the other side. I didn’t go inside the cathedral, but seeing the outside was enough for me.
I did some more exploring of the neighborhood by foot. I even stopped inside a supermarket and just walked around, familiarizing myself with what a typical Spanish person eats on a daily basis.
I heard that the Arc de Triomf was worth checking out, so I used my HOLA BCN card to hop on a bus. Ever since moving to LA, I’ve made it one of my unofficial missions to learn how to use the modes of public transit in the cities I visit. I got a taste of how the trains work, so it only made sense that I hop on board a bus eventually during my visit.
The Arc De Triomphe of Paris is nothing compared to Spain’s.
Just walking under the structure and along the pathway was such a happy event. There was a good crowd, not too many people, and so much activity taking place. I really wanted to take a selfie but angles just weren’t cutting it.
This was proving to be the place to be, especially on a sunny day right after a cold and rainy one.
To be continued in Part 2!