This weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity of being able to visit the city of Barcelona, Spain. There are a lot of amazing sites I saw as well as some things I learned about the city while I was there. ¡A ver!
Barcelona is part of the region of Spain known as Catalonia, or Cataluña. It is located in the northeast of Spain near the Balearic Sea and Pyrenees Mountains. The region of Cataluña is currently striving for independence from the country of Spain itself, and many citizens want to have their own country. In fact, many of the people of Catalonia don’t even call themselves Spanish, but rather Catalonian. Spanish is NOT the primary language here, but rather it is Catalan (pronounced “Kah-tah-lahn”), Catalá. This language looks like a mixture of French and Spanish when it is written out.
The government of Catalonia spends a part of its annual budget every year in promoting the use of the Catalan language in advertising, signs, media, etc. They understand that once a people are united under a common language, secession from the rest of Spain will be much easier. Almost 36% of the Catalonian people speak Catalan as their first language, 85% of the population can speak it altogether (as a first or second language).
When I was looking at signs and reading subtitles and advertisements in Catalan, I understood about 85% of what they were talking about based on my strong Spanish background. For example, “street” in Spanish is “calle”, and it Catalan it was “carrer”. Very similar.
Catalonians have A LOT of national pride. They DO NOT see themselves as part of Spain, and many are insulted when someone calls them Spanish. As much as they want to be their own country, it’s harder than it seems. If they secede, they will no longer be a part of the European Union, which is a huge deal. That means that they will not be allowed to use the Euro, and they have to come up with their own form of currency as well as back it up—because as we all know, if you don’t have something of value to back up your money, it is worthless. So they are kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place right now.
Dat national pride.
With that little background information about Barcelona, let’s see what I did while I was there!
As soon as we arrived, we were for the most part pretty tired. We had traveled 8 hours on a bus overnight and I for one could not get a wink of sleep. It was SOO uncomfortable! When we got to Barcelona we spent some time in the station with some sandwiches we brought with us figured out how to get to our hostel. It was a 40 minute walk from the bus station, so we headed out. On the way, the sun was rising, and it was so beautiful out!
The shore of the beach where we stayed.
We even stopped at the “playa” to dip our feet in the cold but refreshing sea (el mar)!
My footprints in the sand.
Me and my friend Katie, enjoying the crisp beachy breeze!
I had to get one of these pictures. It was just too perfect.
After our little side track, we finished our walk to the hostel. On the way as we stopped to look at the map, a strange old man came by and talked to us a little bit in Spanish. I don’t think everything in his head was screwed in just right though. He had a maddened look in his eye, some missing and some gold teeth, and a crazy looking smile. He reminded me of a character in a book. He told us that Germans are thieves, but that’s all I really remember from the conversation.
We got to our hostel and checked in before going on a free tour at 2:00pm in downtown Barcelona. The hostel we were staying at on Calle Amistat was relatively new and very clean. The staff was pretty friendly and the price was awesome. We stayed in a 10-person suite, and there were 7 of us altogether. In our suite, we met a really outgoing and funny British guy and a more reserved girl from Costa Rica. Yay for new friends!
The orange tree outside our hostel. My friend tried to pick an orange but got yelled at by a Spanish man. “No se puede comer!” he said.
So we made our way to the starting spot for the tour and did the 3-hour walking tour in Spanish. I was in heaven, except for the fact I was super tired from the lack of sleep the previous night. We saw a lot of great sites!
We returned to the hostel and took a brief siesta before venturing out that evening. As it turns out, the Argentinian girls I met in London (previous post: “Keep Calm and Travel On”) were there at the same time! We arranged when and where to meet over Facebook (thank God for technology!) and met for some tapas.
Variety platter of patatas bravas, tortilla and fishies.
It was nice to see my Argentinian friends once again and catch up a little bit! After tapas, we indulged in some gelato!
In Barcelona, the tapas are separate from the drink that is ordered, which was kind of a shame. I’m used to Alcalá, where you order a cheap drink and a tapa comes with it for free! We did find one place though where the price was decent—each tapa was €1, and the drinks weren’t a bad price either. In most bars however, the prices were pretty outrageous, being the city and all. We visited 2 tapas bars, the first one I just described and at the second one we split a paella/tapa dish, where there was a deal where everything was included. (Picture above)
Walking back to the hostel, we got a little lost and didn’t end up getting back until very late. I think I walked a total of 8 hours that day—not even exaggerating!
The next day we had some breakfast at the hostel (Never book a hostel that doesn’t have free breakfast!!) and went out to Parque Güell and the Sagrada Familia, two very important landmarks of Barcelona. Both of these landmarks are centered around Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), artist and architect famous for his mosaics and intriguing, unique designs. Rather than incorporating rigid, squared lines into his works, he favored curves, in basically everything he did. He was inspired by nature, and this influence is seen throughout his works. Gaudí is the poster child for the modernism movement—now I can see why!
The sad thing about Gaudí is that one day as he was walking to church for his daily prayers and devotionals he was struck by a train and knocked unconscious. Because of his tattered, beggar-like appearance and shabby clothes, no one helped him. When someone finally brought him to the hospital, a doctor recognized him as THE famous Antoni Gaudí, the guy who was building THE Sagrada Familia. By then, it was too late to give him proper treatment, and he died at the age of 73.
Parque Güell is a park with two parts—one of them requires an admission fee, and that’s the part where you see the cool pictures of people overlooking the view with cool mosaic sculptures around them. Since my university is being VERY stubborn with my loan money, that’s where I was unable to visit. However, I got some nice pictures from the distance!
The Sagrada Familia under construction in the distance!
The park sign is even a work of art
The second part of the park is just as you’d expect a park to be, full of nature and landscapes as well as some wildlife (mostly plant wildlife for us though.) There was some interesting architecture along the way too, but not the mosaics that I wanted to see.
We scaled the hill and at the top we sat at the edge and had some lunch. PB&J time! Seriously though, we survived off of bread, peanut butter, Nutella and jelly for the entire weekend!
SO. MANY. SANDWICHES.
After making our way back down the hill we visited the Sagrada Familia, an extremely important attraction in Spain! The Sagrada Familia is a cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudí, who died before seeing it to completion. This building is still under construction today after many years. The reason it hasn’t been completed was because Gaudí’s blueprints weren’t very detailed. He liked to come up with things as he went along, drawing inspiration from whatever was around him at that time. Because of that tendency, artists and engineers working on the Sagrada Familia nowadays must guess what Gaudí would have wanted. Also, funding is an issue. Whenever funding runs out, they have to wait until more comes in to continue the construction. The design is very modern and almost abstract. It isn’t very ornate in regards to the stone figures carved into the sides, but in other ways it is very detailed. I hope I get to see it completed in my lifetime!
That night we got some tapas in downtown Barcelona, which means they were expensive and the portion sizes sucked. Our original plan was to go to a Flamenco Bar but when we arrived we found out we needed reservations. ¡Oy vey!
We ended up getting tapas (big surprise, huh?) at a restaurant in the Plaza de Espanya. Yes, I spelled that correctly. Since it was the main plaza, the prices were JACKED. I ordered a paella which cost €7 and I was expecting a large, meal sized portion but I got a tiny tapa-sized dish. What gives?! I prefer the little tapas bars down side alleys much more, especially those in Alcalá because those ones include the drink!
Don’t be fooled. This portion was about the size of a small plate.
Our last full day in Barcelona was spend at Montserrat, a range of “serrated” looking mountains (hence the name) that are reached by cable car or train. I took the cable car, despite my fear of heights.
I can’t believe I rode in that! (This is my favorite picture that I took on the whole trip!)
At the top of the mountain there is a monastery which was built around the eleventh century. Monks welcome visitors and it has become quite a tourist destination. Mass is still held every Sunday, and lucky me, I attended the one in Catalan! I had never gone to a Catholic Mass in my life (being a Protestant), but the first one I ever attend is in a language I don’t understand. Well, partially. I was picking up a few words thanks to Catalan’s strong ties to Spanish.
Monastery with giant mountains looming over it.
The church we attended
Pyrenees in the distance (My other favorite picture!)
We toured the church area for a bit and grabbed a bite to eat before hiking up the mountain, which was themed around the Stations of the Cross. After every 2 minutes of walking or so, a monument representing one of these stages could be seen along the walk. My Catholic friend enthusiastically explained what each of these monuments meant. At the top of the mountain was a cross which overlooked the breathtaking view below. There, my friends and I thought it fitting to contemplate the meaning of happiness, as it appeared to be a good place to ponder philosophical notions.
The cross we hiked to!
At the top! 😀
It was getting cold and late so we headed back down the mountain to catch our train back to the city. Before we left, we sampled some homemade cheese at a makeshift farmer’s market. Local farmers had set up little stands selling honey, goat cheese and baked goods. By then I was out of money, otherwise I would have loved to buy some queso!
At the hostel we ate some cheese with baguettes and some Sangria, which our new friend Harry drank a little too much of. As our last night in Barcelona, we decided to have one last round of tapas at a restaurant down the road. There, I told regaled my travel companions with stories of when I worked at a diner a couple years ago. (Worst years of my life, let me tell you.) I had them in stitches when I told them about the Amish people we would get in! The night ended well, with a toast, a brindis to new friendships and on that note, we bid good-bye to the lovely Barcelona.
As I do every week, I highlight a couple differences between Spain and the U.S., no matter how small they may seem. This week, I have some silly little diferencias that caught me by surprise when I came here.
I have a couple things to mention about coffee:
First of all, as I mentioned in the last post, the serving size is MUCH smaller than I’m used to! This is because of the way it is made. Unlike in America, where coffee is brewed as its own drink and it’s much more diluted, here coffee is made as espresso—always. So what happens is that your server pours (“echa”) some espresso into your glass and then adds “leche caliente” to it—for me at least, since I like coffee with milk. They call it “café con leche”, coffee with milk.
If you desire coffee “Americano”, this is their take on it: The espresso shot is poured as usual, and then it is diluted with water. All coffee drinks here are based off of espresso though. I’m still trying to get used to the glasses they serve it in. No mugs! (Except at home)
One other thing that I kind of (Okay, REALLY) miss from the states is free refills. Yep, that’s the ‘Murica in me showing—we love anything free and anything in excess. When I order a coffee here, that’s what I get—one serving and no more. It’s rather disheartening to me as an avid coffee lover, but perhaps it will teach me restraint and moderation. Maybe.
The way coffee is made here is with a French Press, which is a metal-looking contraption that almost resembles a teapot. It has two parts, one for the water and one for the grounds. You fill it with water and grounds and then set it over the stove, turned-on of course. Once the coffee is brewed, the cafeteria (Spanish word for “coffee maker”) will whistle, much like a teapot. This too makes very strong, espresso style coffee that necessitates milk for some dilution.
My host mom’s “cafetera”, which is a little different than a french press. Actually, it’s called a Moka Pot. (Or something like that)
Since coffee is a hot topic for me (get it?) I thought it was about time I discussed it a little more. Don’t be surprised if I post again on coffee.
Okay, this isn’t the case for every door I encounter, but I was a little confused when I got to my host family’s apartment and saw the doorknob here:
Just thought I’d throw that out there.
Yeah, I’m talking about toilets now. The flusher is not like I am used to, on the side. They are ALWAYS at the top, resembling a button. So strange!
On the topic of bathrooms, I wondered what this thing was when I first entered the bathroom:
There’s a pretty interesting history behind these things. First of all, they are referred to as “bidet”. As you can probably guess, it is a French word. Soo…what is this thing that vaguely resembles a toilet?! Well, back in the day, they were used for cleaning…ummm…private parts of people after they did their business. They would also be used to clean feet. Nowadays, people do not use them for that at all. They are more ornamental now, and my host family just uses it to put random items inside (as you can see). Yep, now you know. Moving on!
TAPAS OF THE WEEK
Croqueta and stuffed potato on a sliced baguette.
Clams and mixed dishes on our last night
STUFFED TOMATO: SOOOO GOOD!
Tortilla tradicional and tortilla de espinacas (spinach)
Pulpo: aka. OCTOPUS. I ate it, and was pleasantly surprised.
This week, I will be going to Segovia! More updates coming soon—thanks for reading!