¡Hola familia y amigos! It’s time to answer the million euro question, “where in the world is Rita?”
I last left y’all in Brighton, England where I could have spent my days running with the British Bulldogs forever. Yet in my effort to live the endless summer, it was time to channel my inner Parrothead and opt for a change in latitude and change in attitude. I left the pound behind and traded the post daylight savings 4:30 pm sunsets of England for a country that runs with actual bulls.
Located 661 mi. to the south of England, and with average temperatures in the mid 60’s throughout November, I figured Spain was the perfect place to keep my tan from fading.
First stop, Barcelona. What is this place not? Barcelona is a beach town as well as a bustling metropolis, but with its slew of parks there’s still plenty of room to grow. Divided into districts, The Gothic Quarter is the center of the old city, El Born is the fashion district, El Raval is the most multicultural and “happening” area, and the last major neighborhood is El Poble Sec.
I’m happy to say That Blond Vagabond has picked up a few fans along the way, one of which, Tidjane George, told me he’s impatiently waiting for my Barcelona post.* I know it’s been a hot minute since I posted last, but when you’re in a country that, for the most part, sees less than 70 days of rain a year, it’s extremely hard not to spend all day galavanting in the great outdoors. Now that I’ve hit my vitamin D quota for the week, here it goes.
My first impression, or rather my first action, upon exiting the metro was my jaw dropping from the stunning beauty of the city. Barcelona’s architecture is simply incredible: bold, beautiful, and full of colour. The modern additions are skillfully interwoven with the multi-century old buildings creating a whimsical urban tapestry.
An interesting bit of “architecture” specific to Barcelona are Castellers or human towers. The tradition dates back to the 18th century and represents strength and unity within the community. Without any harnesses or other safety equipment, men climb atop one another with each level standing on the shoulder of the one below. The last “man” to climb up is a six year old child. The tallest tower ever recorded was eight men high.
To some Gaudí’s works probably seem gaudy, but if you ask me walking around Barcelona is the closest you’ll ever get to feeling like an extra in, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Gaudí’s buildings are cartoon creations brought to life as they sit amongst rows of stone and mortar reality. Each is a palace fit for a gingerbread king.
Most of the park is free of charge to freely roam. However, to enter the monumental zone it will cost you €6.30. I chose not to pay, as it seems that you’re primarily paying to get a picture in front of Gaudí’s technicolor wall, but to each their own.
Fun fact: My fellow Park Guell explorer and I learned the cardiovascular way buses in Barcelona don’t stop for long. We arrived at the stop, two minutes later the bus rolled up, slung its doors open, and before I could put the chocolate bar I was eating back in my pocket, the doors had closed and it was off. A fit of laugher ensued about the fact that we missed the bus even though we beat it to the stop. It’s cool though we got the last laugh as we put our would be €2.15 bus fair towards a round of Estrella Damms (a Barcelona brew) halfway through the walk back to town.
On my first full day in the city I decided to leave the map in my back pocket and let my feet be my guide, and in typical flower child fashion I found myself in a park. Located by the Arc de Triomf, the Parc de la Ciutadella is the perfect place to set your cares free.
Day two I decided to go on a free walking tour, because staying on the move is one way to lose these walking blues. Although the only aspect of Spain that’s been blue so far is the sky. Seriously a skyscape of Spain is the easiest paint by numbers you could ever imagine. I wouldn’t be surprised if Picasso’s blue period was sparked by him missing the Barcelona skies while living in Paris. On the tour we learned some interesting facts about this Spanish-born painter who spent is formidable years in Barcelona. First, the frieze located on top of the Collegi d’Arquitectes building in the Plaça Nova is a production of one of Picasso’s drawings.
Atypical of Picasso’s now infamous cubist style, the frieze is somewhat of a joke as Picasso was making fun of Joán Miro’s simple style when he drew the original sketch. Second, one of Picasso’s first works and most famous examples of cubism is Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) 1907. Avignon street was the street a young Picasso had to cross to get from his studio apartment to his father’s house, located on this street was a brothel…. I’ll let you connected those dots.
In town you will also find the Museu Picasso. When I passed by, the line to enter was so long it looked like it ended approximately next Tuesday, so I opted to go to different museum. No, no don’t skip ahead this is one museum I attended that I’m fairly confident anyone would enjoy, The Museu de la Xocolata. Here you will learn the history of chocolate, see incredible and edible creations beyond imagination, and the best part… the entry ticket is literally a chocolate bar. Talk about a sweet deal!
I’ll let my appetite for adventure take control of the keyboard for this next bit(e.) One of my favorite spots in the city was La Boqueria, the large open market. From apples to zucchinis, here you will be able to satisfy any craving you might have. My favorite was the delectably fresh cups of juice for only €1.
I’m proud to say I’ve come a long way since age 2-13. (These were the years that my picky eating habits were the bane of my mother’s existence and 99% of my diet consisted of bread, pasta, and cereal.) While in Barcelona, I sampled Octopus and I have to say, not bad. As for taste, there’s not too much to it except for whatever it’s seasoned with, and texture-wise pretty similar to scallops.
On my forth day I went on a three hour bike tour, on which I’m happy to say I only almost got hit by a car once! Turns out Barcelon’s population of 1.6 million versus the 7,200 people that can call themselves Oak Island locals makes for some busier streets, who knew?
On the tour we learned some beaching fun facts. A walk down the palm tree-lined, beach front streets would make any west coastie feel at home, and for good reason. Before Barcelona hosted the 1992 olympics, the beaches were an industrial zone rather than a tourist hot spot. After learning they won the bid to host the games town officials decided they needed to revamp, thus studied various beaches around the world. Barcelona decided they liked the look of California’s beaches best and bought two million palm trees from the golden coast as well as four ships of sand from Egypt in order to achieve the look. It turns out two million palms wasn’t enough. However, California refused to sell Barcelona a mere 2,000 more so the city called Brazil who happily agreed. When the trees were halfway to Spain, Brazil called back and said oops sorry we can’t actually sell you those trees because they are an endangered species, but we lease them to you for twenty years. If these palms could be read, they’d have one of the most unique life lines because sure enough in 2012 Barcelona pulled up the 2,000 Brazilian trees and sent them home.
The Lords of Dogtown would feel twice as at home in this Mediterranean playground as it is often hailed as the skate capital of Europe. The map my hostel gave me was dotted with more figures of skaters than cathedrals, and in a European city that’s saying a lot. On my second to last night in town we found Nevermind Bar and with no doubt in my mind, this is coolest bar I’ve ever seen. It is grunge rock/skate themed complete with a skate bowl that flannel-clad customers were dropping into between sips of Heineken.
Barcelona is known for its night life. The clubs here are filled to the brim with youthful exuberance from midnight till dawn. Not one to shy away from cultural experiences, I joined in on my hostel’s night out. For just a few euros, the night began with a “family” dinner consisting of a mile high plate of paella and a never ending bucket of sangria… If you see Milton tell him paradise isn’t lost, it’s in the basement of St. Jordi’s Rock Hostel. After we finished feasting, we pulled a table into the center of the room and played sangria pong until it was time to bar crawl.
To my festival fam, if you are free on the 24th of September make your way to Barcelona for La Mercè Festival. Honoring the patron saint of Barcelona, this is the largest street festival of the year complete with fire runs, parades, and much to David Bowie (RIP) & Mick Jagger’s delight, dancing in the street.
To any backpacker planning on stopping in Barcelona, 10/10 I’d recommend St. Jordi’s Rock Hostel. It is clean, secure, in walking distance of the city centre, staffed by incredibly friendly & helpful individuals, has a rooftop terrace complete with a spectacular view, and best of all every floor is themed as a different infamous classic rock venue. Hope I’m not starting to sound like a broken record with all my rock talk…. or shameless puns.
In some ways I feel like my adventure has just begun now that I’m in a new country with a vastly different culture as well as language. Speaking of which, Barcelona is the capital of the Catalonian region of Spain, thus most resident speak Catalan rather than Spanish. For example, good morning in Catalan is “bon dia” rather than “buenos días” and goodbye is “adéu” rather than “adiós.” On the walking tour we learned this region is actively seeking separation from Spain. In November 2014 Catalan nationalists held an unofficial referendum on independence and 80% of those who voted backed the movement. The Spanish government shot them down, but this has not slowed the movement, if anything it has exacerbated Catalonia’s desire for independence. Catalonia plans to hold another referendum, but this time through EU regulations, thus it will be much harder for the Spanish government to ignore. Our guide told us who knows it’s quite possible that in the next few years we might see Catalonia become its own nation. This is an amazing reminder that we are always on the heels of change. Remeber today’s current events are just tomorrow’s history lessons.
It turns out even with my freckles and strawberry blond hair I actually fit in Barcelona quite nicely. The receptionist at my hostel was stunned to learn my name was Rita Serra because both are apparently common Catalan names. As one of those kids who NEVER found their name on a gas station keychain, touristy mug, or later in life, a share a coke bottle (totally not bitter or anything) it felt nice to fit in. In fact on my last day walking around I found this mini flyer laying on the street.
Last side note, Barcelona is second most pick-pocketed city in Europe. By no means should you let this sway you from visiting this enchanting city. Just always be aware of what’s going on around you, and honestly the best way to avoid being pick-pocketed is to not stick out as a major tourist. This means unclip the fanny pack (bum bag,) don’t leave the cannon swinging around your neck, and the biggest red flag, don’t go out dripping in jewelry.
With that I will bid y’all adéu!
*Will give blog post shout out in exchange for letting me sleep on your couch. Call me a sell out if you want, but hey I’m balling on a budget. *
TVB Travel Tips
1. Exchange rates don’t fluctuate too wildly from one day to the next, but it’s still best to check the current rate before exchanging your cash to ensure you’re not getting short changed.
2. Ladies, cathedrals often won’t let you in if you are wearing shorts, so throw a modest skirt in your bag that you can slip on before getting your Jesus on.
3. Free walking tours aren’t necessarily free. The people who lead them aren’t actually getting paid for the time they’ve spent showing you around the city. Instead they work for tips. In my humble opinion, if someone takes two hours to show you around town, offers fun facts the internet doesn’t offer, and gives a cliff notes version of a few centuries of history all while making you laugh, they deserve a tip.
4. Walking tours, go on one! Another great way to meet people and make friends. I ended up splitting (probably one too many) buckets of beer and shooting pool until who knows when with a boisterous, bevy of Australians I met on the tour.