As soon as I had my tickets booked to Belgium - and I do mean the minute I clicked the “Pay Now” button on the airline website back in May - I messaged my friend Sammy to ask her where we wanted to go. This has been a hard question for me to answer on my own because my list of places to travel only has the one destination: Everywhere. I deferred to Sammy, and four days after I arrived in Leuven, we jetted off to Barcelona (and Portugal, but we’ll get to that later).
First, a note: one of my goals for this trip has been to become more comfortable doing things on my own. If you know me, dear reader, this might come as a surprise. And if you know me well, you might be laughing out loud, but hear me out. I am a serious introvert. I like my alone time, and I don’t need anyone else to entertain me. However, I have come to learn that in allowing myself so much time alone, I shut other things out, including friends, personal responsibilities, and new experiences. The comfort I find at home, on my own, turns into a crutch. So, here we are, making moves to actually do things on my own.
With this in mind, I decided to fly into Barcelona one night ahead of Sammy and go it solo at a hostel (baby steps, right?). Navigating the airports was no biggie and finding the transfer shuttle was fine, but the whole ride to the hostel I spent briefing myself on what I would do when I inevitably met someone new in my 8-bed mixed dorm. “JUST SAY HI” was the obvious answer, but if it were that simple, the pep talk would not have been necessary in the first place. I thusly decided to treat the whole move as if it were my study abroad semester all over again. So, we’ve been “saying Yes to everything” these days.
I checked in to my hostel at 10:30 pm, and the guy at the front desk told me they take a group out every night at 11:00 to a bar and a club. Perfect time to put my newly minted motto to the test. I freshened up, headed downstairs, and walked to the back patio where the group was waiting. And what do you know, it really was as easy as, “Hi, is anyone sitting here?” Long story short, I chatted up the others, we did the round-robin “Where are you from and what are you doing here,” and I ultimately decided to forego the bar & club scene in favor of strolling to a much closer bar around the corner with three guys who also didn’t want to make the long trek via metro to a loud club until four in the morning.
I’m happy to report that night 1 of saying Yes landed in the books as a quiet success. The four of us - an Irishman traveling 30 days without an itinerary, a Greek on his annual motorcycle road trip, an Indian on holiday from his contract design job, and little ol’ me - wandered the back alleys of the Gràcia neighborhood, found a local brewery, and talked until almost 2 am. There was no grand adventure, no epic tale; I just said Yes, and it worked out. Imagine that.
Once Sammy arrived, we barely slowed down, which brings us to the real reason you’re here: to see pictures of us standing in front of things, long-winded descriptions of minutiae more for my posterity than your benefit, and actually find out what I've been up to in the past month and a half since I started the blog and then never wrote another entry.
Day One was made up of blind exploration (you’ll come to learn this is my favorite part of any trip). We started out loosely in the direction of Sagrada Familia, the Antoni Gaudí basilica he only completed 25% of before he died in 1926 (it is still under construction today); we walked down the Passieg de Gràcia, past the Pradas and the Fendis and the Louis Vuittons of Barcelona, places Sammy and Danielle might’ve visited in an alternate life; we stopped for coffee and people-watching; we got snacks and lunch and gelato - always gelato - and before dinner, we checked into our hotel, cranked up the A/C, and participated in the beloved tradition of an afternoon siesta. Dinner was at Gats (the Spanish word for “cat” is “gatto,” so you can imagine the decor), tapas, of course, followed by walking Las Ramblas before turning in for the night.
Day Two was my favorite and the most walking we would do all trip. My phone clocked in at 19,800 steps, which we all know is hardly accurate, but hefty nonetheless. We had early morning tickets to see Park Güell, another of Gaudi’s designs, a few miles away from our hotel and city center. We got there at 8:15 in the morning, and if you can arrive even earlier than opening at 8:00, you should. (Pro tip: a couple of girls got there so early they didn’t even ask for their tickets, so if you’re willing to risk it, it could have a nice payoff).
After we finished at the park, we unintentionally walked all the way back to our hotel. I say unintentionally because we both assumed we’d get an Uber, but wanted to see what the immediate neighborhood was like and found enough shade the whole way back that we never felt compelled to order a cab. Every trip I labor over bringing my Nikon, and every trip I’m glad I do, so I made Sammy stop at every intersection on the way back.
Gaudi morning turned into Gaudi afternoon as we had bought tickets to tour his most famous house, Casa Batlló. Do yourself a favor and read up on his architectural style and love of nature and while you do so, follow along on this Virtual Tour and notice how every bit of Batlló includes homages to nature: no right angles, tiles to mimic how the sun shimmers under the sea, stained glass to look like fish scales, and more. Read it and imagine me wide-eyed, grinning ear to ear, and muttering “Oh, wow” in each of the rooms, and you’ll have a pretty clear view of what that afternoon was like.
Our pre-dinner stop was at La Boqueria, a famous food market with fresh juice in every flavor you can imagine, raw fish, meat, produce, etc, and grab ‘n’ go hot bites. Dinner was at La Pepita’s next-door sister restaurant, La Cava (more tapas, could you guess?), followed by, say it with me now, gelato.
Day Three was our last full day and attempt #2 of the free walking tour (that we skipped our first day, whoops). I can’t recommend Francisca with Craft Tours enough. She took us around the Gothic Quarter, the previously-walled Roman city, and spewed so many facts I couldn’t keep up with her, let alone remember them all. We saw the Cathedral of Barcelona, were chatted up by strangers while trying to take casual street photos, visited a giant flea market, viewed wonderfully-preserved Roman columns from the year 1 AD (!), saw the Spanish Inquisition steps, and more that I've since absorbed and already forgotten. During a little break, she plugged a traveling flamenco troupe performing for three nights only at a local cafe, and I convinced Sammy that would be the perfect way to end the night and time in Barcelona. Between that, some shopping, and more walking, our time in Spain came to a close.