This past weekend I took my first weekend trip of the semester to Barcelona! It was definitely a bucket list city, and since it’s pretty close to Aix, I knew i had to go. One of my suitemates Elizabeth found a super cheap deal on the Ouibus from Marseille to Barcelona. So, Thursday night after our classes and host family dinner, Clee, Mirah, Elizabeth, Patricia, and I took the shuttle bus to Marseille, then the overnight but to Barcelona! I was fully expecting to pass out right away — one of my best traits is that I can sleep anywhere — but no luck this time. I couldn’t find a comfortable position and kept turning over and over. It was about 5:45 in the morning when I finally decided to shut my eyes and make a concerted effort to relax and go to sleep. Right as that happened, I heard music start blaring on the overhead speaker — none other than “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. I could not even believe this was happening. Did the bus driver just decide he was bored and wanted to start playing music?! Just my luck as I started to doze off. I thought that he had just wanted to jam out to a quick song, but then “Dancing in September” was next. One of my favorite old school songs to dance to growing up, it has been completely overplayed since coming to France. That, and Whitney Houston. Apparently Europeans love Whitney.
This music was actually a wake up call for our arrival to Barcelona! It was bittersweet — yes I was so happy to get there, but I could have used the last attempted hour of sleep while the sun was still down. Oh well. We had arrived!
We hung out in the bus station for an hour because we didn’t want to go out into the city too early. However, once it hit 7:00am we went to our first stop of the day — a little cafe. After getting a cafe con lèche and a croissant (go figure) in my system, I was ready for the day ahead.
We walked down the street and saw the red Arc de Triomf as our first sight. Snapped a couple pictures, then continued to walk down the street. We saw the Cathedral of Barcelona (which was amazing because no one was up at 8:30am) and visited the Pablo Picasso museum. I had never seen the span of his work, which was so cool to discover. They structured the museum in the order in which he painted them, so it was a journey through his lifetime where his development as an artist was clear. Even better, since we were students we got into free and saved €14!
We stopped at a local café for lunch, one of the food spots that our handy dandy Rick Steves’ Spain book had suggested (this was our Bible of the trip. We followed him for everything. The one caveat was that the book was 8 years old, and some of the prices for restaurants and attractions had changed substantially!). We took a little walking tour along Las Ramblas to the port on the other side. There were all sorts of vendors, especially gelato and churros. We toured around Old City and saw the original foundation of the city before going in to La Boqueria, Barcelona’s huuuuge indoor market. Everything looked so fresh and was so inexpensive — from a lady selling only eggs, to fruit smoothies, to chocolate and gummy candies. It reminded me a lot of Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia but with a lot more vibrant colors.
We finished walking around a bit more and getting to know the city before getting caught in the rain and heading back to the Air Bnb. Everyone took a crucial hour nap. We woke up, took showers, and got ready for dinner. After extensive research, I chose a restaurant (unsurprisingly I typically took control in this area) but the wait was long and seemed inefficient. We walked to another tapas place, where we ended up waiting an hour anyway. We had some hangry people on our hands! We had sangria, sausage pasta, potatos bravas (a Barcelona favorite that we would have every meal over the course of the trip), and a potato “bomb.” We then went to a bar off Las Ramblas called Sub Rosa — where the happy hour lasted until 11pm! So culturally different than here! Then, we went to a bar whose walls were lined with sticky notes from all the patrons who had been there. Of course we left our marking–a post-it note that said “Anchor Down!” Patricia, a student from Barnard with Vandy’s program, had a friend studying abroad in Barcelona who joined us there. I also met one of his friends from school whose direct roommate had graduated high school in the same class as me. Again, the world continues to show it’s small size to leave me in disbelief. Our final stop of the night was a place called “Garden of the Fairies” in Catalan, recommended by our Air Bnb hosts. When we walked in, it felt like we were entering another land. There were fake trees and rivers literally in the bar! We only stayed there for 15 minutes, but it was cool to see. I’m surprised we made it through the day after our ridiculously early wake up call!
On day 2 we slept in a little bit before getting ready for the day and stopping by 365. It is a little chain cafe in Barcelona that has become one of my favorite spots ever — we all got cafe con lèche and a pastry for only €2.50!! It was the perfect little breakfast spot and gave me the jolt of energy I definitely needed. We made our way by bus to Park Güell, the famous outdoor park by Antonn Gaudí, filled with beautiful mosaics and designs. It was definitely my favorite place in Barcelona. It felt so magical, and the colors were absolutely amazing. It was a day full of Gaudí! After stopping for lunch at La Flauta (chosen by yours truly based on it’s recommendation from our Rick Steves book) in Eixample, we walked down the street and stopped by different buildings designed by Gaudí, including the Casa Battlo and Caso Milo. Finally we made our way to the unfinished Cathedral by Gaudí, Sagrada Familia. It was absolutely amazing — the modern style on the outside was not necessary my favorite, though I was in awe of its pure size as well as the stain glass windows and welcoming feel indoors.
After the museums and buildings, our group wanted to go see a fountain light show that we had heard was a must-see in Barcelona. We sat on the steps of the building facing the fountain for over an hour, until we asked a woman working at a café nearby if the show was going to happen – she told us they haven’t had it in weeks, and it wouldn’t be back until late February. So much for the communication!! We took the subway back and searched for a paella restaurant, but had no luck in that department. So, tapas again! We ended up eating at a little old-family restaurant called Elisabets. The tapas were really good, but I preferred the ones at lunch. The carnivores in our group had tuna, chicken, manchego and bread (it was listed as “queso,” but of course with our American knowledge we believed this to be melted cheese to dip the bread in. Nope, queso is simply queso, or cheese, in Spain! No melting necessary). Our two vegetarians ordered focaccia, which also looked delicious. And, it goes without saying, patatos bravas. We went to Las Ramblas for some gelato. As we were walking back, we were harassed by countless club promoters trying to hand out fliers. This happened the night before, too. Honestly, it was annoying and frustrating – they would talk to you as you walked for at least 10 feet, yelling in your ear about free shots and free admission. We became pros at annoying them.
We bought two bottles of cava at the local store before hanging out at our apartment for a bit. By this time it was around 11:30 (a 20 minute wait for dinner in Barcelona is not a thing – and if they say that they are lying), so we hung out for a little bit together. Though we were exhausted, I was determined to go to a club in Barcelona. Even the people in the guidebook stated that, “Even if you are not the clubbing type, you have to go at least once to experience it.” So, clubbing we did. The clubs there do not get busy until around 2am – which I cannot even comprehend – so we left then like we had been advised! We went to one place called Opium, and stayed there until 6am in the morning. It was equipped with neon lights and fog machines, and plenty of dancing! That was the reason I really wanted to go – I will never stay away from a dance floor, no matter how much my two left feet struggle to move normally. We met people from Amsterdam, Dublin, western Canada, and so many other places. It was a really fun night, and it’s true – Barcelona never really sleeps (only from 6-9am!).
The last day we woke up around 10:30am and headed to the same breakfast place as the day before. Again, a croissant-like pastry with powdered sugar and a café con leche was only 2.5 euros! What a steal – the cheap and delicious food was one of my favorite parts of Barcelona. We went to Monjuic for the day, and saw a beautiful view of the city as well as a castle and the site of the 1992 Olympic games. We walked around slowly and it was a nice, relaxed day. We wrapped it up with the Barcelona’s history museum. We also got in for free here, as it was after 3pm on Sundays – lucked out again!! Most things were only written in Spanish and Catalan, but once in awhile there would be a phrase or two in English J We FINALLY had paella on our last night, then hung out and waited until our 11:30pm back to Marseille/Aix! I definitely slept well on the way back – then took a 3 hour nap once I was back in my bed in Aix!! Viva la Barcelone!!! Can’t wait for the next adventure. I’ll post again soon about my daily adventures in Aix!