Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Barcelona: solo travel success

Although our 10-day Semana Santa was only a few weeks ago, we have a long weekend here in Spain (a puente) with no classes Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.

Thus, I took advantage of our last puente of the school year to explore Barcelona.  Due to some last minute changes in travel plans, I was traveling solo for the whole weekend.  It actually worked out quite well though, because I'd been playing around with the idea of taking a trip by myself for quite some time, just to see if I'd like it or not.  This was the push I needed to actually do it, and the weekend was a success!

The great thing about traveling by yourself is that you get to do what you want to do when you want to do it.  Had I been traveling with someone else, they probably wouldn't have wanted to walk as much as I did on Saturday and Sunday, go to bed as early as I did each night, spend so little, or eat such few meals out (I did lots of snacking and fruit).

Since it was only a few days I didn't get lonely, and there were always people to make small talk with in the hostel or on my walking tours.  The only weird part was eating alone!  Well, most of the time I'd get stuff to go, then eat out in a lovely park -- which was great.  But the two times I ate at restaurants, I felt a bit silly.

Madrid vs. Barcelona

As Barcelona is often compared to Madrid, I found myself making my own comparisons between the two cities.  At first glance as my bus made its way through the city to the bus station, Barcelona was a lot more similar to Madrid than other Spanish cities I've been to.  It didn't have the arab influence that the southern cities of Andalucía possess, for example.  But Barcelona set itself apart from Madrid in three main ways:

1. Beach.

This is an obvious but important difference.  Sorry Madrid Río, but you ain't got nothin' on the Mediterranean Sea.

2. Gaudí.

Without Antoni Gaudí's architecture and art, half of Barcelona's top tourist sites would be non-existent.

3. Bike-friendly

There were excellent bike lanes all over the city, with numerous Bicing bikes among the riders.

What I saw in Barcelona

Since I thought I'd be spending the first two days with a Barcelona veteran, I didn't plan anything or research the city at all before leaving.  I knew it was on the coast, and had read the Everywhereist's posts in March about her recent trip to Barcelona.  But bascially I knew nothing.  Before I left to catch my bus on Friday, I grabbed my free AAA Europe travel book and cut out the four pages it had on Barcelona.  I folded them up, and they became my guide and to-see list for the weekend.  I loved the feeling every time I crossed something off the list.

What sites did I cross off that list?  Well, since I'm all about order, I need to document my trip chronologically somewhere.  And that somewhere is here.  Later I'll add posts with the details, pictures, and my awesome stories that you friends all love me for. But for now, here's the weekend beginning with Friday (read: skip to end of post):

On FRIDAY night once I found my hostel, I walked for a bit down La Rambla.   La Rambla is a main touristy street with a promenade down the middle; filled with street vendors, restaurants, kiosks, street performers, and shops.

I walked until I reached the Christopher Columbus Monument, which little did I know was right next to one of the ports.  I was right next to the Mediterranean and had no idea because of night's dark!

On SATURDAY morning I headed to the must-see Park Güell, designed by Antoni Gaudí.  That afternoon I took a free walking tour with "Tour Me Out" through the Gothic area of town.  Sites visited include: Plaza Real, Los Caracoles, Plaza de George Orwell, Santa María del Mar, and the cathedral.  I learned a great deal of information, and highly recommend the tour to others.

After the tour I bought myself a fruit smoothie and headed down to the port (in daylight).  After looking at all the booths near Port Vell, I listened to a band for a while.  The smoothie wasn't going to do it after a full day of walking, so I bought a kebap to-go, which I ate back at the hostel.  Too tired for much else, I called it an early night and went to bed shortly after.

On SUNDAY morning I took the other walking tour offered by "Tour Me Out": the Gaudí tour.  It began with Guell Palace, followed by Casa Batlló, La Pedrera, and ended with the Sagrada Familia.  Afterwards I walked from the Sagrada Familia back to Port Vell, where I bought a ring at one of the booths at the port.  I spent the second half of my day walking through Montjüic, a hill overlooking the harbor that contains many gardens, a castle, and the Olympic stadium (1992).  Montjuic offered gorgeous views and welcoming green surroundings.

I walked back to my hostel instead of taking the metro.  My feet would later hate me for this, as I had been walking (not just on foot, but walking) since 10 that morning.  By the time the sun set, it was past 9pm.  I grabbed my coat from the hostel and headed to the George Orwell Plaza, where my tour guide on Saturday said there were some neat vegan/vegetarian restaurants.  I had my first experience of sit-down dining alone; it was as awkward as one can imagine.  Vegan "como pollo" burger (like chicken) and patatas bravas.

MONDAY was sort of a catch-all day.  I mailed some postcards at the Correos (post office), and bought some clothes at Humana.  I had my second meal alone, at a nice restaurant outside in the Plaza Real.  Then I walked through the Parque de la Ciutadella, down to Barcelona's very own Arc de triumf.  Later I made my way to the Barcelonetta, on the coast.  I listened to a different band near the port, and forced myself to sit down this time (my feet were really killing at this point).  I walked down to the beach and watched some Asian women giving massages to beach-goers.

Later that afternoon as I made my way back into the center, I entered both of the cathedrals I had seen from the outside on my Gothic walking tour two days before.  That night I packed up my backpack for the morning, then set out in search of a little something to eat.  An hour of walking later, I found an ethnic pastry shop near my hostel where I bought a samosa and some baklava-like dessert.

TUESDAY consisted of breakfast at the hostel, then off to the bus station for my return-trip to Madrid.

Enjoying one of Montjuic's green gardens on Sunday afternoon

Have you been to Barcelona before?  Do you agree with my 3 distinguishing features that I think set it apart from Madrid?

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