We once watched a short film at work on a top-secret project to revolutionize the way the world travels. It was a before-and-after video, a transformative journey that a traveler takes. In the first part of the film, this guy is in San Francisco and doesn’t know what to do so he hangs out at his hotel, walks around Pier 39 to stare at the seals, tries to take photos of the Golden Gate bridge on a foggy day, has a clam chowder bowl…ugh it was painful to watch and seemed like such a pitiful way to waste time and money on a city that had so, so much more to offer.
I felt like that guy while I was in Barcelona. The shitty thing is that I never got to the really good part, but I know it’s there.
My first mistake was checking into an infamous party hostel, Kabul. WHY do I think I’m 22 when I’m on holidays? I’m not, and this was a wake-up call to travel my age. While waiting to check in, we were starving so my friend Max and I had our first Spanish meal at an overpriced, touristy place in the center of Plaza Reale. It was great seeing him after so many years apart from our adventures in Taiwan! We had both heard so many good things about Barcelona that neither of us had bothered to do any research and figured we would completely wing the 4 days we had here. We both justified our dismal tapas (soggy deep-fried eggplant and bland paella) with the fact that it’ll only get better once we figure out the city.
Barcelona is filled up to the brim with tourists. I have never in my life ever been to a city with more tourists than in Barcelona. We stayed in Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) the first two days simply because we got lost trying to find our way out! I wanted to desperately to fall in love with this city, but nothing seemed authentic.
The best day was when Max, my new friend Ann-Marie and I bought tickets for those big red double-decker buses that take you around to all notable sites within the city. We went to the Sagrada Familia by Gaudi (his masterpiece and legend) and it was the most beautiful church I’ve ever stepped into. Unlike most European churches, this one felt modern and bright even though it was started in 1882, it was to be so grand that it still isn’t finished yet. Gleaming white marble beams soared up into the domed, stain glass decorated ceilings and a soft choir could be hear floating down the massive hall. Even with the crowds of tourists, everyone was relatively quiet, in awe, soaking in the beauty surrounding us. My photos don’t do it any justice. I’m not sure if I felt the presence of God himself, but if I were Him I’d be pretty happy hanging out there.
As soon as we got outside to hop on to our red bus, a guy selling tickets came up to me (OMG a real local talked to me!) and asked if I wanted to go to a soccer (football) game that night, Barcelona vs. Leverkusen. I could not believe that tickets weren’t sold out yet, and they were only $80 USD! At THE Barcelona stadium and the team w Messi and Neymar! Max wasn’t into it, but Ann-Marie and I were thrilled. So that night we went. Our seats were unbelievably close to the action and it was everything we could have imagined. Oh wait, except for one thing: you can’t buy booze in the stadium…who would have thought?
Max and I eventually moved to a lovely Airbnb in El Born, and I wish we had started there from the beginning. It’s a charming neighborhood just a few minutes walk away from the center of the city with lots of cafes, boutique shops and tapas restaurants tucked away in their narrow alleyways. We finally had good tapas there, and discovered some cool little bars.
So upon reflecting as I wrote this, my experience in Barcelona got better the longer I stayed. Now I know without a doubt that I absolutely must go back and next time, I’ll be more ready to fall in love.