I landed in Barcelona first. Customs was a breeze – it was as simple as opening my passport and one second later I was stamped and heading to the metro platform. I had no idea of where I was going or what I was going to do. The only thing that I had planned ahead of time was that I was to stay at Kabul Backpacker hostel in Plaza Reial, near La Rambla. I jumped off a random stop near the Casa Batlló, where I wandered and wandered for hours. My initial thought of Barcelona was that it was alive and full of flavor, and full of architectural wonders. I made my way down La Rambla (the main street – full of tapas restaurants and tourist shops, with side alleyways leading to old Roman ruins and endless bars) and further down to the Port of Barcelona and then finally the manmade beach, and I recognized a feeling welling up inside of me – pure enjoyment. After months of anguish and fighting to get back out, out into the world, I was finally here.
I stayed at the Kabul Backpacker’s hostel for three days. The location was perfect, but the hostel had little available as far as the culture of Spain. It mainly ‘specialized’ in partying, with pub crawls and club hangouts every night. The staff typically only talked about drinking and clubbing – which I found out they are paid to do so from the clubs. The rooms were cramped and the beds were dirty with a lot of people complaining about bedbugs. While the experience and atmosphere was fun for a night or two and I met a lot of great fellow-travelers, I wouldn’t suggest staying at Kabul Backpackers for long.
The one good thing about staying at this hostel was that it was very easy to make friends. Just plop yourself down into a chair and you make friends. I went out each night, which ultimately made me come down with a bit of a cold, but either way, it was all good times. I made momentary friendships with people from all over the world – France, Greece, Russia, Australia, Brazil, Canada, etc. One of the nights, we ended up at a Hemingway rumored absinthe bar – I wrote a narrative about it here.
I did have the chance to try a lot of new foods at the Boqueria Market – some of the more interesting fruits were quite good, while some of the pork specialties of Spain threw me off a bit. One in particular was so strong tasting that I breathed the essence of the meat for hours – while I like most of what I’ve had in Spain, that was not one of my favorites.
Me and a French mate that I met at the hostel went and watched a live Flamenco show, which was spectacular. I was only left wanting more and more of the show – and the fabulous sangria that we indulged upon.
As with my entire trip, I’m winging the entire thing. So after my three days were up at the hostel, I took a train south 45 minutes to Vilanova i la Geltrú. A nice, little beach village with an impressive La Rambla – but this La Rambla was filled with locals, which gave me a strong insight into the people of Spain. I was there just in time to witness a Catalan tradition in Saint George’s Day, where the men and women exchange gifts – women gave books and men gave roses. The streets were lined with book and flower vendors and everyone was out celebrating all day and most of the night – what a wonderful tradition to witness. My only complaint is that I didn’t have a beautiful Spanish girl to give a rose to ;-).
In Vilanova i la Geltrú, I stayed with my CouchSurfing host, Xavier. He walked me around the old town district, made me a traditional Catalonian dinner and we had drinks with his English-speaking friends – I have to say that the conversations from these few days in Vilanova i la Geltrú were some of the best and most insightful that I’ve had in a long time. I spent a lot of my time walking around the town and trying the many delicacies of the La Rambla, and basking in the sun at the beach. The beach stretched far, with a boardwalk transitioning into the city, but most of the sand was empty, but for a few locals. Even though the water of the Mediterranean was ice cold, it’s quite a treat to nearly have an entire beach to myself in about 70 degree weather, complete with a light breeze.
After my three days in Vilanova i la Geltrú, I went back to the city and stayed with another couch host in the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona. Another beautiful day greeted me. Before meeting up with my host Daniel, I toured Montjuïc and the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (National Museum of Catalonian Art). Montjuïc had beautiful views from over 600 feet above the ground, but the wind was so strong that I thought I’d be carried right off the edge of the stone walls. After a short metro trip and mass-confusion of directions, I found Daniel. We watched a movie and then cheered on the Barcelona basketball team. The next day, the rain began. I spent one day in, recovering a bit from my cold. The next day, I let the rain calm and I set off to see the famous Sagrada Família and the wondrous Park Güell. Both places are the work of the wonderful Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. I will forever remember visiting both of these works of art – my God, they are beautiful and monumentally huge, yet terrible in the powerful influence and feeling they give off.
Other trip updates:
Travel update II – Madrid, Spain
Travel update III – Granada, Spain
Travel update IV – Ronda & Sevilla, Spain
Travel update V – Marrakech, Morocco
Travel update VI – Marseille & Nice, France