Barcelona was easily one of my favorite stops in this adventure, from the beach to strange cathedrals, hiking in the mountains to a vibrant night life. It was difficult to only stay here for three days, but we went with the flow of things, and had an amazing time!
We flew from Rome to Barcelona on our cheapest flight yet, dropping only $25 for the one way ticket. I'm still astounded by this, and that you can just hop on over to another county for the cost of ordering take out.
Our accommodations this time were provided by Center Ramblas, a hostel centrally located just off of the popular pedestrian street La Rambla, as well a minutes walk to one of my favorite markets of the whole trip. For $25 per person per night we got to share a co-ed room and bathroom with about 10 other travelers. Annnnd about 8 of those people were fine, well mannered people who considered the fact that they were in a shared space with other humans. But that's just a risk of hostel stays, there's the chance of some obnoxiously loud people who barge in and turn on the lights in the middle of the night.
We actually didn't spend much time in the hostel itself, and it was truly just a bed to sleep in at night. I believe they had a small kitchen/breakfast bar in the back were they served a free breakfast, but with the market next door we didn't make to much use of their facilities.
Overall it was a great location for us, though I would select a more private room next time.
Since we arrived late in the afternoon we decided to take an evening walk down to the beach, which was only a 10 minute stroll. Beaches and swimming honestly didn't even cross my mind for the entire trip (especially since I hadn't packed a swim suit). Therefore my beach time was spent in jeans and hiking boots haha. I do wish we took time to be some beach bums, as it was a beautiful coastline. It wasn't too crowded and there were a bunch of beachside restaurants and bars, which we found were a relaxing place to catch that night's world cup game.
Today was a walking day. We walked everywhere, but first we walked straight into the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, or just la Boqueria. As you probably have picked up on by now, I love food markets. They are colorful, smell amazing, full of life, and are usually a great deal for what you find. We came back here both days and swapped eating at a restaurant for some market fresh finds, and were never disappointed.
But the best deal, and the one food that we STILL TO THIS DAY, YEARS LATER can't stop talking about and keep hoping to find anything on par with back here in the states, were the two-for-€4 empanadas at a massive empanada stand within the market. I think we had these empanadas at least twice a day. And they had so many different flavors and variations!
With food in our bellies we began to venture out and roam La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter nearby. La Rambla simply is a pedestrian street with quaint little trees and souvenir vendors lining both sides. I've got to say there was definitely an "older crowd" swarming through here, stopping at each vendor getting keychains and what-not, but after I got my two cheesy gifts to send home, there wasn't much to see. Luckily we found our way through the narrow, wrought iron embellished, street lamp lined alleys of the Gothic Quarter and made it to our next destination.
Mount Montjuic was farther south along the coast and you could walk up the switchback-ing roads, take a funicular, or ride a cable car to get to its peak. We opted for funicular (which I found out was a train-like car that goes up an angled rail) to get up the mountain and the cable car (which was actually kind of terrifying when you start swaying) to take us back down.
Along the way there are tons of gardens and parks overlooking the city, and the Castell de Montjuic. There was a small admission fee to the castle, so instead we wandered around the outside of it.
Next up on our sight seeing list for the day was the ever intriguing and (still unfinished) Sagrada Familia, designed by Antoni Gaudí. We were quite a ways out and saved our feet a bit by hopping on the nearest metro stop and making out way to the basilica.
I really don't have words for the view once we arrive at Sagrada, it was loud, crowded, and covered in construction equipment and workers. Behind all that though, was an extremely strange building that I don't believe I could have ever imagined. Admission into the unfinished basilica is by scheduled tickets, and we had a while before our ticket's time slot. We walked all around the building and took in its distinctly different sides.
Once inside there was so much to look at, that it was almost a sensory overload. Geometric shapes and designs came out of nowhere, there were spiral staircases and elevators and visual effects such as the rainbow walk ways created by the stained glass windows. It was hard to get much of a religious feel for the space with so much going on, and I wish I had researched the history behind the architecture before jumping right in.
As much as I did not understand what I was seeing, I'm so thankful that we didn't skip this. I'll never get to see anything else like it, and it's truly a unique feature to Barcelona. I hope that it will be completed within my lifetime and I can return and take it all in fully (with a knowledgeable tour guide).
Another tourist favorite work of Gaudí, Park Güell, was next on the agenda. And we did not anticipate how far away it really was. Park Güell was about a 40 minute, up-hill walk for us, since the metro stops were not close enough to cut the time down. I would 100% take a cab next time.
Double check travel times with google directions (make sure you have the correct mode of transportation selected). A 10-15 minute drive could easily be a 40-60 minute walk, or 30 minute ride on public transportation. Just do some double checking to see if you can save time (or your feet)!
While part of Park Güell is free to wander around, the colorful and lively section (the part that you always see online) does have an admission fee. We didn't know that, so after our hike over here our penny pinching butts skipped that. Oh well. If you have a nice zoom on your camera you might be able to get sorta insta worthy shots, but you probably should just pay the nominal fee to get in and actually be next to it.
We deserved a name after all that, and thats exactly what we did. Back to the hostel we went to replenish our energy and let our feet stop throbbing, before a night out. Post nap, we made some new friends at the hostel and took them out for drinks at our beach bar from the night before. We must have been there for quite some time, since the empty sangria pitchers were beginning to stack up and the waiter began bringing us free fries. Finally departing the beach we found another bar that sounded like it was hopping and eventually made it back to our bunk beds. This was one of our few non-pub crawl stops in the journey and it was perfectly casual and just as entertaining with a small group of good company.
After introducing our new friends to our favorite empanada joint we parted ways and set off for the mountains! With an hour long train ride we had made it to the base of Montserrat. We had a much more exhilarating cable car ride up the side of the mountain to reach the monastery tucked in between its peaks. And I have to say... these were some of the most impressive views we were blessed with in Spain.
The monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey, is known for the Virgin of Montserrat, a madonna and child figure placed on display within the basilica. The entire site was not busy or crowded and had an overall calm and tranquil sense as we walked through the grounds. There is a small general store and gift shop on site if you wanted a small trinket, or in our case, some strange flavored potato chips to munch on during our next hike.
The abbey and its site are surrounded by many hiking trails of varying difficulties. We wanted to trek up and over to a cross on a peak we saw in the distance when we arrived. It was a mild hike though all at an incline. But our chips kept us going. The weather was truly perfect with cooling breezes and pockets of warm sunlight between the trees, and eventually made it up to the cross.
Again, the views were spectacular and you could actually see Barcelona off in the distance. For our last day in the Barcelona area, we didn't pick a bad location to spend it. We were out and away from the city surrounded by the mountain, I mean who could pick a better winding down and relaxing spot? We took our time getting back, headed to the beach one more time and nabbed a pizza. What a day. What a city. I really did love being in Barcelona.
An early flight in the morning would then take us to Madrid.