Backpacking Stop 2: Barcelona

I spent the second leg of my backpacking trip in Barcelona, where I finally practiced my Spanish after 8 years of learning, drank a ton of sangria, and crammed in an unbelievable amount of sightseeing.

While the friends I was traveling with stayed in England a few days longer, I decided to go straight down to Spain for my first ever solo trip. It was relaxing getting to decide what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it, plus I made friends with a Canadian and Mexican staying in my hostel room so it wasn’t as lonely as it could’ve been. It was kind of strange, however, my first night when I went to a seafood restaurant and ate by myself. But the paella was so flavorful I could tell it was definitely authentic, and I was just so amused by how easily I could communicate with the waiter (unlike in Germany where it’s like pulling teeth until they finally just speak English to me).

My first solo adventure was a trip out of the city to Montserrat, which literally means “serrated mountain” and was named after the rock formations. I took an hour train ride and then a cable car to the top of the mountain where there were panoramic views of Catalunya and a little town built right into hillside. The rocks were so unique, unlike anything I’ve seen before. I mostly just walked around and took pictures, and I went inside the basilica. I could’ve seen more if I was willing to pay more, and there was a cool-looking hike going down the mountain but I stupidly didn’t bring proper walking shoes on this trip.

By the next day, I had become friendly with my hostel roommates, so we spent the whole day at the beach. It was more built-up than natural, reminding me of Miami, but it was still beautiful and I’ll appreciate any time I get to spend on the Mediterranean. It wasn’t too hot so all in all it was very enjoyable aside from the guys walking by every 30 seconds trying to illegally sell beer and water. We did buy some sangria in the afternoon because a guy was passing with a whole tray of cups decorated with fruit and we couldn’t not have sangria on the beach in Spain. That evening my roommates and I went to dinner together and I had seafood pasta—basically a fusion of Spanish and my favorite, Italian, cuisine.

The third day, while I waited for my friends to arrive, I walked around La Rambla, a famous street lined with restaurants and shops, but I would say it’s a tourist trap more than anything else. I did find a really cool market there where I ordered some tomato mozzarella crepes for lunch, and then I couldn’t resist a €1.50 fresh-squeezed juice, which reminded me of how juices in Australia cost three times that price. As a foodie, it was fun just walking around and seeing the different stalls, like the butcher stand with hanging pig’s legs from which they were cutting off slices of traditional Iberian ham.

When I met my friends, we walked around the Gothic Quarter using the handy Google Trips app. It planned us a route to see all the cool buildings and gave us little descriptions when we got to each one. At one of the churches, we climbed to the roof for a 360-degree view of the city. For dinner, we made the mistake of eating at a restaurant on La Rambla. We were drawn to the outdoor seating and a deal promising paella and three tapas for €11.50, but the food was so disappointing, especially when I compared the paella to the authentic version I had the first night. Reviews say La Rambla is overpriced, but they fail to mention that the food is sub-par. The next two nights, we tried to follow friends’ recommendations but the restaurants were either booked or closed, and we ended up taking chances that again did not pay off. One tapas place had all the bites sitting out on plates, but there was nothing heating them so they were lukewarm when we ate them. Also they called a chicken nugget on a slice of bread “tapas.” And our attempt for one more night of authentic Spanish cuisine ended with yet another disappointing pot of paella.

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While the food in Barcelona was a total strikeout, the sights made up for it. La Sagrada Familia was not just another European church, but a beautiful work of modern art. Antoni Gaudí’s vision had so much symbolism and thought put into it, and although the basilica is still under construction until about 2026, I could see his vision coming to life.

Park Güell was my favorite thing we did in Barcelona. It was another outstanding representation of Gaudí’s imagination built into a hill overlooking the city. It brought together nature and art in a whimsical design made from repurposed ceramic and other materials. It was so pleasant just walking around and it surprisingly didn’t feel as crowded as most of the other tourist attractions I’ve seen in Europe because they limit the number of people who can enter at one time.

Walking around the Eixample District, we were able to see more of Gaudí’s architectural designs at Casa Milà and Casa Battló.

I probably won’t return to Barcelona, but I’m glad I got to fit so many different activities into my six days there. For now I’ll just focus on seeing other parts of Spain!

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