The first thing to note about Barcelona is that I’m guilty of almost not even going, and I lived in Spain for four months. My roommate and I had two or three different weekends in mind to get ourselves to the other side of the country, but with no concrete plans made for any of them. Hannagh and I are the queens of last-minute travel decisions. When it came to visiting another country, it was a given that we would be traveling by plane; however, within the country of Spain, we had a few transport options to choose from. There was the possibility of a one hour plane ride which didn’t seem totally worth it, a shorter train journey but just as much money as the plane, or a horrendously long bus trip, all options ranging from just expensive to ridiculously expensive. We were pretty discouraged at a certain point, and it was about three days before the following weekend we decided that we were finally going – so what did we opt for, at last?
I was talking to a friend on campus about how Hannagh and I were planning on getting to Barcelona, and he just kind of paused for a moment, then said, “so… it’s basically like organized hitchhiking?” I realized that that was actually the perfect way to describe it. There is a website I was originally unsure about called BlaBlaCar (the name alone is sketchy, admittedly) where people who are traveling somewhere soon and have empty seats in their car can post about it and offer a ride; the affordable price you pay to tag along on the person’s journey goes toward their gas, most often, and you have the chance to chat with a local while you’re at it. Past passengers leave opinions, and the way to stay safe is to choose a driver with many reviews (and preferably all positive ones). Our host sister even recommended it to us, having done it before herself. You just choose where you’re traveling from and where you’d like to go, and you have an instant list of numerous people going there in the near future. BlaBlaCar is a lot more popular than I thought it was, since it operates in a lot of European countries, and even in India and Mexico.
Yeah, it’s an actual thing. It’s a cool concept because the drivers even provide useful information about themselves, such as considering themselves very conversational to being on the quiet side, playing music in the car vs. having it quiet, etc. It also made it a lot less scary being able to speak with the person beforehand and read nice things people said about them in reviews before deciding to meet them at 8 AM at the train station to set off across the country. So, that’s exactly what Hannagh and I ended up doing. I communicated the details of the journey with Emilio after making our reservations online, and all in Spanish, no less. Since we were messaging and I didn’t have to talk aloud I just thought it would be fun to not mention the fact that Hannagh and I speak English, so I went with it. Although, my plan backfired when I had to give him a call the morning of and ask him where the heck he was because we got lost at our meeting point, and I faltered after a few sentences and eventually blurted out “¿Habla Inglés?”
Not only did Emilio speak English well, but he was also easy to talk to and even had little pillows in the backseat (score) where Hannagh and I made ourselves comfortable for the next six hours as we set off from Madrid. He also had WiFi in his car which was unexpected but convenient – Hannagh, who had told her mother the night before that it might be the last time they ever speak (jokingly) assured her that she was alive and well with a friendly Spanish stranger. The trip flew by quickly, I slept most of the time since being awake before ten in the morning is still just as painful for me now as it was then, while Emilio and Hannagh got on the topic of Spain’s political and economic system and how it compares to America’s. Leave it to my Political Science major of a roommate to find someone in every country and from every walk of life to debate this stuff with.
I was grateful to Emilio for being so nice and to BlaBlaCar for making getting into a stranger’s car and driving 500 kilometers seem completely normal. Turned out to be a good choice on our part, and once again, budget-traveling got the job done. We arrived in the afternoon and our next hurdle presented itself when we tried to work around the headache of a language that is Catalan while navigating public transport. Barcelona is a self-governing community in Catalonia and although Spanish is still spoken, it is considered one of two official languages in the region, where Catalan happens to be dominant. It was possible to get by with comparing the two languages and asking questions in Spanish, but getting around took more time than usual. We eventually made it to our hostel, and from there we went to the grocery store for some picnic food and set off to eat in a little park where people were rollerblading, young people were playing music and hanging out, and a dude was making giant bubbles. It was chill.
After enjoying our quick meal and the last of the day’s sunlight we saw a bit of the city as evening started to fall. I loved seeing the distinct architecture of Barcelona’s buildings and monuments, as well as the colorful markets filled with fruits and vegetables, fresh seafood, and lovely flowers. Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí himself designed a lot of buildings scattered around the city, making them immediately recognizable for their characteristic, stunning mosaics. The Sagrada Familia church was unfortunately under construction, but Gaudí’s vibrant style was unmistakable and it was amazing to see it in person. The whole city had a really peaceful and unique vibe, and it was definitely a city of primarily young adults as most people I saw appeared to be students. Barcelona would definitely be the ideal place to go to college for a person that prefers more of an urban location, but also loves having the beach within walking distance. The air felt different than in Madrid because of the nearby water, as well, and I enjoyed walking the streets and exploring while Hannagh and I pretended we were Cheetah Girls. Never mind the fact that there were only two of us – we could dream. And sing the soundtrack off-key.
The next day we decided to stop by the grocery store once more and start the day with breakfast on the beach, which is something we could never do in Madrid. The beach was walking distance from where we were staying, and once we got there we set down a sheet we borrowed from one of the hostel beds and ate under the warm sun. I was so unused to it actually being warm and sunny, since this was back in March and it was still pretty chilly in Madrid most days, so after we ate I fell asleep almost instantly on the sand.
HOWEVER, this was the day reserved to see the top place on our list: Park Güell. Located outside the immediate city center, Park Güell is the result of many years of construction dating back to 1900, but the way the estate is known today is the result of Gaudí’s artistic vision. Eusebi Güell, the entrepreneur for whom the park is named after, was so infatuated with Gaudí’s distinctive and inventive style that he just brought him onboard full-time to design everything in the estate to his heart’s desire, and even design Güell’s house. They had a sort of artistic partnership that ended in a life-long friendship, which is just a great story in itself.
Also, the Cheetah Girls randomly appeared here during a musical number while that guy “Angel” with the guitar who always seemed to come out of nowhere sang about how much he loved Barcelona, so that was worth noting. Hannagh and I later watched the movie again but after seeing how quickly everybody danced around random parts of the city in the span of a three-minute song, we came to the conclusion that it was slightly unrealistic. Especially since our feet were just about falling off after walking from one end of the city to another and conquering the endless hills to get to Park Güell. It took coming to Barcelona ourselves to reveal the truth, but at least now it’s all cleared up.
Vibrant architecture, good vibes, and a refreshing breeze from the Mediterranean – seeing the beauty that is Barcelona was decidedly worth the impromptu trip.