Unfortunately I won’t be beginning this blog entry on a positive note. Spain has one of the most expensive train networks I have ever used. To travel from Madrid to Barcelona costs around 140€ on the fastest line, which happens to be the only line available. Ryanair offers flights from Madrid to Girona airport in Barcelona for around 60€ AND it is much faster to fly. So guess which option I chose? The bus from the airport costs 15€ for one trip and 25€ for a return trip ticket, and it takes you directly to the main bus station in Barcelona. Unless you have a car, the only way to get to the city is by using this bus service. Gasoline prices must be the reason why the ride is so expensive. Maps of the city are available for free at the tourist desk where you get off the bus so I suggest picking one up.
Using my new map I began my walk to Placa de Catalunya which is the main square in Barcelona. Along my walk I stopped to get some cash from an ATM and this was the point at which I realized that I had lost my debit card in Madrid. I don’t know which day it happened or where, not good at all. It made me realize that anything can happen on a trip, good or bad. A phone call to the bank was now another task added to my to do list.
At Placa de Catalunya there is a tourist office underground in the southeast corner of the square. The line up was large, and I have a feeling it usually is, since a ridiculous number of tourists visit Barcelona every year. Here you can find all the information you need to enjoy the city. I had to leave my bags in a storage facility not far from Placa de Catalunya called Locker Barcelona at Carrer Estruc, 36. I was able to put my 80L backpacking bag and my carry on in a large size locker for 5,50€ per day, with unlimited access to the locker. The bags are secured by a pin number lock, so no need to worry about losing keys. The staff here were very helpful and willingly provide you with any information you might need. There is internet at this facility if needed, but internet cafes or “locutorios” are much cheaper.
I spent the day walking on La Rambla, the central tourist street in Barcelona. The street was filled with people of all ages and ethnicity. So many people from all over the world come to this beautiful city to enjoy the history and architecture. However, before I could enjoy it with everyone, I had to find a payphone and put a call through to my bank to report my debit card lost and request a new one. Finding a payphone that worked proved to be a much harder task than I anticipated. After four phones I finally found one that allowed me to make a collect call to TD Bank. If you want to make a collect call in Spain, or any country for that matter, I suggest going directly to a payphone instead of a hotel or an internet cafe. Hotels generally charge you to use their phones and internet cafes don’t allow collect calls to be made at all.
I had to kill some more time until I met my CouchSurfing host in the evening so I spent some time sitting in Placa de Catalunya. This square was built in the 19th century after the medieval walls of the city were removed. This is the place where all the protests in Catalunya take place, and also the place where many public transportation routes converge and where tourist buses wait for their passengers to board. It is essentially the centre of the city where almost all important functions occur. My alone time sitting on the bench here was interrupted by a middle aged Spanish man asking me if he could show me a magic trick. It is understandable why I would be a bit spooked by this question; a total stranger approaching me in an unfamiliar city. But I agreed and he showed me three tricks using a handkerchief and some cards and even taught me how to perform them as well. I obviously can’t divulge the secrets though, that would ruin magic for everyone else. It was a nice way to spend the evening and it put a smile on my face just in time to meet my host for the next few days in Barcelona.
Pedro was a really kind and generous person. After meeting at Placa Urquinaona we walked to his apartment close to MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona). Luckily he lived close to the centre and to all of the sights I would be interested in. He lived with his roommate Noe and his hamster Dylan. This was my first encounter with Portuguese people in Europe before my visit to Portugal in mid-October. My first impression of them was very positive. Pedro cooked an amazing dinner and I slept like a baby after a long day of travelling.
A new day arrived and I set out to explore Barcelona and get a feel for the city. I needed an umbrella since the weather was unsettled and cloudy. As usual, the rain started once I was outside and it began to pour heavily as I headed in the direction of La Rambla. Shelter was necessary and I found myself in a market called La Boqueria. This place was heaven under one roof. There were fruits and vegetables, chocolate, fresh fruit smoothies, fish, meat, tapas, beer, international cuisine, EVERYTHING. However it isn’t the cheapest market in Barcelona, that’s for sure. I enjoyed a calzone while walking through the aisles waiting for the rain to stop outside and it was delish! After a half hour or so I wandered back outside to La Rambla and walked south to the Mirador de Colon. This is a tower with a statue of Christopher Columbus at the top, built to remind the people that this explorer reported to the Spanish royalty when he set off for the Americas. South of this is the Rambla de Mar which extends into the water and then connects to Port Vell. I had wanted to walk along the boardwalk but there was a boat show that weekend in Barcelona so the boardwalk was closed for the event. Instead I walked along Passeig de Colom until I reached Via Laietana. This stretch of road has many buildings that actually remind me of Havana, Cuba. That colonial style architecture is prominent in many parts of the city. The palm trees really add to the look as well.
Many of the buildings on Via Laietana are large skyscrapers similar to what you would find in North American cities. But behind the scenes you have the neighbourhood called el Gotic. This aspect of the city is actually one of the things that makes Barcelona so famous. I walked north along this street to Placa del Rei which flanks the Palau Reial Major occupied in the past by the Kings of Aragon. Just west of this square and palace is the Catedral de Barcelona. The architecture of the church is absolutely gorgeous, and is truly unique and completely different from anything else I had seen on my trip up until this point. There are some stairs in front of the church leading to a square, and in this square some musicians were playing live for a delighted crowd of people who had come to check out the little market set up there selling glass crafts. On this afternoon I came upon an interesting shop that sells handmade leather shoes from Barcelona. I can’t remember the name for the life of me, but when I do I will update this post. This store had a huge collection of leather flats of all colours and sizes, from black to fluorescent green. The prices were decent as well, but the colours were the attention catcher.
Northwest of Placa de Catalunya is the University of Barcelona. The campus isn’t very large but there is a gorgeous garden at the back of the university on the other side of the main lobby. They have even posted information about some of the vegetation that can be found there. This garden leads to another courtyard containing another garden and benches to enjoy it from. There are a lot of international students studying here, so definitely a place to consider if you want to join an erasmus or exchange program. Who wouldn’t love to have temperatures above 15 C in the winter? Once I finished at the university and my feelings of nostalgia for school had evaporated, I headed to Rambla de Raval which is a street parallel to La Rambla on the west side. I somehow managed to get lost here after walking through some small roads and had trouble locating where I was on the map. I walked in circles for a while and then I decided to enter a store resembling Future Shop and pretended to show interest in some digital cameras. As I exited I asked for directions to Placa Catalunya and it turned out, miraculously, that I was not so far away after all. These old cities can be incredibly confusing. This area has many markets and little cafes to go check out. It may look dingy but the neighbourhood is going through a revitalization period.
As for night life, I am not a big party goer. We did go out for some fantastic icecream to try and cure the blues from all the rain that was falling. The place is called Belgious and has some really unusual flavours of icecream, such as hemp and wasabi. I would totally recommend checking it out and trying some of them for yourself. It is a real taste bud teaser. You can find them at Avinyo, 50, 08002 Barcelona. Then we had some fantastic food at a Pakistani restaurant southwest of MACBA, but I don’t remember the name, but so try to find it if you have some time, you won’t be disappointed I promise you. And finally we ended up at a bar called Bun Bo Vietnam (Calle de Angels 6, Barcelona) for some great mojitos. Definitely not stingy on the rum.
Barcelona is a beautiful city with too many tourists. I do plan to visit it again in the future and get a feel for it in the summer months, I am sure it is a very different place. I will then offer you guys a different perspective on the place. But for a now it is not my favourite place in Spain, but it is somewhere that shouldn’t be missed. Now off to Andalucia!
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