Back from Barcelona: Part 1

I really wanted to avoid using the term “jam-packed” in a vacation summary post, but I can’t, so I might as well include it in the first sentence. On our past few trips, John and I have typically taken things on a day-by-day basis, and not really made checklists of places to see. Granted, the last few plane rides have been to Germany and Pennsylvania, and those places are more like secondary homes where we don’t need or want to do the tourist thing.

But this time, I did some research and made a custom Google map, and tried very hard not to be lazy. The map shows the final result of our trip– clearly, “jam-packed” best describes the 60 hours we spent in Spain.

Before I launch into a long-winded account of (nearly) everything we did, I want to share a new realization (to me, at least) about traveling. It sounds great and enlightening and exciting, but it’s also damned stressful. From airport hassles to overeating because everything looks appealing to debating whether to to X first or Y, and then Z– it’s not just some rosy picture of slapping on some sunglasses and coming home in a wiser, worldlier state. Your problems, from work stress to the thoughts that keep you up at night, follow you on vacation, too. There’s a lesson to be learned here about learning how to accept that and declare vacations a success in spite of the messy parts you’d rather leave behind. I’m not sure I’ve learned it yet, but at least I’m comfortable enough with the idea to put it out there.

After we landed in the Barcelona El Prat airport, we hopped on the Aerobus to the city center. We stayed at Spain House Apartments, a hostel that actually stays true to its namesake in that it’s in an apartment building with private rooms. I think I’m finally at a point in my life where I’ve outgrown shared-room hostels, because I have no patience for late-night partiers and gross showers. Yet I’m still too cheap to splurge for a hotel, so this was a good in-between. Our host was a really friendly guy who picked us up from the bus stop, and spoiled us with fresh sheets and towels every day. Apparently we were near the “bad” neighborhood (Raval?) but I didn’t notice. Then again, we lived in Kensington, Philadelphia for a year, where break-ins, crack pipes, and neighbors brawling in the streets was the norm.

On Saturday, we wandered around the block for some Spanish brunch at Rekons. John had a platter with empanadas and a salad that could have fed four. I had a dish of roasted potatoes, topped with serrano jam and brie cheese, that was amazingly delicious, especially considering how simple it was. I felt like I could go home and make this, and it was nice to get a little kitchen-related inspiration.

After digesting and recharging our rapidly draining phone battery (Google album coming soon!), we wandered to Casa Battlo and Sagrada Familia. Before this trip, I was completely unfamiliar with Gaudi’s work, but now I see what all the fuss is about. I felt like I was in a Tim Burton film, or a fantasy world– I’d never seen such dream-like buildings. 

We wandered back toward the hostel and happened to pass by a place that I’d bookmarked, so maybe we were subconsciously led here, to La Taqueria, a place that promised (and delivered) taco goodness. They were ridiculously pricey (compared to Veracruzana in Philly, one of the few restaurants I really miss), but worth every cent. Speaking of cents/pence, I was reminded over and over again during this trip just how expensive Oxford is by comparison, so it really did feel like everything (from food to transport to lodging and beyond) was a steal.

Somehow, we still had enough energy to wander to the Arc de Triomf, which was oddly packed with more skateboarders than tourists, and then onward to the Palau de la Musica Catalana, another architectural masterpiece that warranted prolonged gawking. Finally, our feet called it quits and we collapsed back at the hostel for a few minutes, before heading to Barceloneta to get some burgers and tapas at Negro Carbon. The food was tasty and the subway/metro ride there was a nice way to see another part of the city. On our way home, we stopped by a gelato place, Artisa Barcelona. The place was overcrowded and I almost had to beg them to take my money, since customers were getting served left and right but, seemingly, no one had really thought of how to manage the cash register. The chocolate hazelnut cone made up for the chaotic service, though, and we enjoyed the last licks while sitting on the steps of a nearby square, watching street performers balance soccer balls on various body parts. (Yes, it’s soccer, not football).

I couldn’t sleep at all that night, maybe due to the excitement or the uncomfortable bed (any bed that isn’t mine is by definition uncomfortable), or maybe just as an extension of the insomnia that’s plagued me for the last few weeks. But that’s another story, less interesting than the story of Barcelona, which I’ll pick up again later this week.




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