Trip Report: Barcelona

 Posts will be limited for the next 10 days due to finals, ski season and an upcoming trip to Poland/Japan.

I just came back from spending a week in Barcelona for my Thanksgiving Break.  For information on how I planned this trip, check out my post Getting Stoked on Gaudi: Introduction to Barcelona.

The Journey: To Barcelona

I don’t think any of you really care about reviewing economy class flights. Most of us fly coach, I don’t think I have to go in much detail, so i’ll just put some pictures up of the highlights from the journey.

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The classic MD-88.

20141120_123908Prosecco and Mojito in the Centurion DFW

My flight was delayed from Dallas to Philadelphia, which meant that I could spend more time in the lounge. Eventually the delay got to the point that I would only have 25 minutes in Philly, so I went and asked the Admirals Club in Terminal D if they had any alternative routes.  They promised that I would make my connection and not to worry about it, so I didn’t.

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Excellent Plane Spotting in the Admirals Club  

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My flight on US Airways was very pleasant. They might have had best domestic and international coach seat my cheeks have touched. Between DFW and PHL, I was sitting next to a freshly trained flight attendant, which I enjoyed talking to.

I was the last person to board my flight from Philly to Barcelona. Flying to Europe this time of the year is wonderful because the planes are not very full. I had an extra seat next to me, which makes it much easier to sleep. It’s too bad that they are retiring these planes next year. They seem like they have a lot more life left in them than most 767’s I have been on!

After takeof/f, the crew were very quick with the meal service, which was actually excellent. Honestly this might be the best transatlantic coach meal I have had on a plane. I was very impressed.

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Coming into Barcelona

Arriving in the EU is always  a great experience when it comes to immigration. I hand the immigration official my Polish passport, and they simply look at it for about 2 seconds, and then you are free to go. No scanning or stamping or questions or anything. I love it.

To get from the airport to the city center, I bought a T-10 pass for €10,80, which was good for ten rides on the metro. Not a bad deal at all for transport to/from the airport and then some other transport thrown in.

 

Generator Hostel

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I read an article earlier this year that was saying the hosteling world is changing. The article said that hostels are becoming more “all inclusive like,” meaning they have a pretty big party vibe and make it so that you don’t have to leave the building.  This hostel was exactly what the article was talking about. Everywhere you looked, there was some emphasis on the bar and the drink specials they were having for the night. I bet some people go to Barcelona and don’t really leave the hostel, which baffles me.

The hostel was REALLY nice. I would call it a boutique hostel. Some, like my friend Lilly, might call it posh.

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Apparently there was a rule of no drinking in the room. That is the most bull shit rule ever, so I broke it. Several times.

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The lounge or hang out.

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Terrible pictures of the “lobby.”

If you were going to come to Europe with friends, and don’t really care if you meet anyone else, this is an excellent place for you. For solo travelers (like me), these are not great hostels, because you are confined really to your room mates for any type of company. There is no common area, or kitchen to cook and meet people (unless you go to the bar), so you really are at the luck of the draw with roommates. I met a few good people, one from Hungary and another from Mexico, as well as some Germans that were, interesting 🙂 along with a Chinese couple who now worked for Apple (they were fun to talk to the little that we did!).

I have to say, I don’t really like hosteling in Europe. Everyone is really cliquey and does not  want to talk to you. No one wants to start a conversation with a random person about where they have been, where they are going, where they are from or if they want to go do something. They want to stay in their little group of friends and stay with their little groups, and nothing more. Maybe it is just me, but I find hostels in Europe to be not as awesome as everyone says they are. I met a lot more people in one trip of staying in Chilean hostels than a dozen or so trips to Europe. Shit I even met a lot more people in the one on Nantucket than in most European hostels! So please, when you go to Europe, or anywhere, don’t be inhibited to talk to someone else, and don’t hang out with your friends all the time.

I Digress.

The hostel was nicer than most I have been to, and for the “high” price of night, I couldn’t complain. The location was excellent, being only a ten minute walk from Sagrada Família, La Pedrera and the foodie friendly restaurants of Gràcia

The only thing that was not close was the beach. So if I come back to Barcelona, I might stay 2-3 nights near Gràcia and another 2-3 nights closer to the beach, because that is where some good nightlife is.

The Day by Day

I like to walk when I go places. When you take the metro you see black tunnels. When you are above ground you see the world. One thing to note about Barcelona is student discounts. They are not huge there, being only a few Euros, but better than nothing. What I am trying to say is a few Euros is not much when you are paying ~€18,00 per entry. With this in mind, I went to only one place a day, and enjoyed for a few hours. This was by no means a fast paced trip, but more of a break to hang out and see some stuff along the way.

Day #1 (Arrival):

On the first day, my goal was simple. Walk around to get my bearings, and kick jet lag. There is only one way to kick jet lag, and that is drink Espresso all day then down a bottle of wine, or many beers, and pass out. Tomorrow, you wake up well rested (if you drank some water with that wine, then you will feel great!) and acclimated to your new time zone. My wine for the evening was a mere $1.50, and was surprisingly delicious. Wish I remembered the name. Oh well.

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Some random pictures from walking around my neighborhood.

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Your average moped towing service.

Day #2: After waking up and indulging in some churros (this was a daily, common routine) and walking around some more, I went to Park Güell.

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Churros con Crema.

This park was designed by Gaudí to be a neighborhood of 60 homes. Only two homes were built due to financial reasons.  In the park, there are some cool architectural elements, as well as some cool sculptures and such. Gaudí seemed to be very environmentally friendly in the way he used simple building materials, broken tiles for mosaics, and the conservation of lighting, heating and cooling in his designs, as I saw in many of the houses I visited.

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I probably took too many pictures of this guy, but without tourist competition I could not resist.

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One of the two houses completed in the park. Today’s light wasn’t very good, but whatever.

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Under the terrace, which looks over the city.

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Gaudí loved his curves

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Balcony of the terrace. Curved benches= more seating.

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Mosaics from the benches of the terrace.

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The park is great, and getting there early, especially in November, means you have to deal with zero tourists, which is much better than July, which was the last time I was here. Also, if you book your ticket online and screenshot it on your smartphone, you save a Euro on the entry fee.

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Ceiling of the house in Park Güell

In the evening, I went to the FC Barcelona vs Sevilla game, which was a great experience. Messi scored his 252 league goal, which beat the previous record, and Barcelona won 5-1. Camp Nou is a great place to watch a match. I only brought my phone to the match, so I did not take many photos.

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The crowd had a fun “Mess-ie” chant. As a suggestion, I found that I was seated near a lot of tourists. My seats were in the very top of the stadium (where they were the cheapest), but if you were willing to splurge a bit more, you might get a bit more of a “locals” experience. Regardless, my seats were great and I could see the entire field. Also, a Madrid game might be amazing…next time.

Day #3: Once again, churros and walking around, I went to another Gaudí masterpiece, this time the apartment of La Pedrera. I have never been to this one, so it was a nice treat, and the roof is stunning.  The audio guide (included in the price) pointed out some fascinating things, like the arches that frames La Sagrada Família, as well as another church on the hill, whose name I forgot.

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In the courtyard, looking up. Gaudí designed buildings so that all rooms had access to natural light, there were two of these open areas inside the apartment.

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 Looking down into the courtyard.

I really liked the roof with all the chimneys, so went a bit overboard with pictures (250+ overboard), here are a few of the okay ones (I don’t put really good photos online).

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Chimneys with broken champagne bottles glued on.

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The roof.

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Chimneys.

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La Sagrada Família, another Gaudí work.

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Inside was nice, and the attic was very unique. Gaudí said that humans have two layers: a hat for their head and an umbrella for the rain.  With this in mind, he said houses should as well, and thus, there was an attic. The attic was made of arches, and had a single support tieing them all together at their peaks, similar to a python’s skeleton.

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Arches in the attic followed by a python’s skeleton.

One apartment was furnished in this apartment, where you could visit.  All the other units still had people living in them, which is kind of really cool. Photo’s inside did not turn out very good, so I only have a few.

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Iron work and glass inside the apartment.

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Ceiling of the courtyard, or entrance to the apartment. Cars were stored underneath the entry way ina  garage.

In the evening, I was having trouble sleeping. No one elses fault, but eventually this happened 🙂 :

Currently I can not sleep, and am accompanied by three hammered Germans, one of which is puking…I am amazed that they can do that. Like Germans don’t puke, I thought! I have missed the dorm life for far too long.

With a followup:

Update: I just went to the toilet, and it was immaculate.

Day #4: Can you guess the start of the day? Today was simple, I chilled and walked down towards the waterfront. Cruising around streets with no idea where you are is charming to me. That is where you find some cool, unique things off the tourist trail, so, that is what I did.

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Day #5: Looking at the long term weather forecast, today seemed like the best day to get out of town, and have a nice little break from the city. I decided to go to Montserrat, a monastery in the mountains about 90 minutes by train outside of Barcelona. The ticket to get to the monastery cost €20,00 round trip, and included the cable car. Taking the rack and pinion railway would have saved you about €1,50, but I always like to take cable cars instead.

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Cable car to Montserrat, built some 80+ years ago.

Once getting to the monastery, I walked around the grounds to check out the sights. They were quite nice, and worth a nice walk. If the weather was better, you can ride some funi’s to get to higher places where there is more hiking.

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View from the top of the tram.

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Instagram photo of the day.

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One of two photos that I have of me!

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Alcohol free beer vending machine.

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Wandering around the grounds.

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By the time I was finished wandering around outside, the clouds started to move in. Inside was very nice, and a nice place to sit for a while. On the premises is a cafeteria, with decently priced meals.

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A religious dude holding a feather.

Day #6: I slept in and went to Sagrada Família. Last time I was here I thought it was pretty cool, but liked the houses that Gaudí designed a lot more. Don’t get me wrong, Sagrada is really cool but I prefer the houses. It is cool to see that there was some progression in the building process (it is a work still in progress, and probably always will be), this time I really noticed the difference in the stained windows. Pictures were not great here, because of the light

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Door

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Some of the stained glass. Some is red and some is blue, with every shade in between.

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I love food, and until this point I was having some issues finding great restaurants to go to (not that eating serrano ham, olives, brie and bread with wine from the grocery store for about €5,00 was a bad thing!). I am picky when it comes to this. Very rarely do I go to ones that are in guide books. Never do you go to ones that are on main streets, near tourist attractions, or that have pictures of the food they offer. Another no-no is US flags, or places that flaunt they have English menus. These are just a few requirements, the list goes much longer. So with that, it is research, and walking around to find some place. Don’t let your food emotions take hold of your hungriness and demand to eat now.

I found some great places on the Time Out website (an entertainment guide in some cities, like Barca), that I thought would be good to check out. Romero was one of them. I had the Menu of the Day, which is great in Spain. For about €10,00 you get a starter, second plate, glass of wine and espresso or desert.

Romero was fabulous, and the best meal I had during my stay.

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Mushroom Ravioli with Tomato and Basil Sauce

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Fish of the day with green sauce.

20141126_083039 Something brownieish.

After lunch was walking time. Today, I wanted to find markets. I love markets because they are free entertainment and pretty darn close to the culture. You see what people eat, how they buy things and some beautiful displays. All of my pictures are from the massively touristy La Boqueria. I feel inhibited by taking pictures of people’s bounties when no one else is taking photos, especially with an SLR, so I don’t. (Props to you Nat Geo people that do, I want to learn your ways). I want to get better at pictures in markets, because they really are special places, and are beautiful.

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This evening, I met up with Prescott and his girlfriend Beth. We had dinner, then went to the beach. A little Med skinny dip was in order, and… 

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Not my best work, usually it is in front of something that you would recognize, but hey, what can you do when no one else would be able to take the picture.

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Day #8: For the final full day, I went to lunch at another little gem (not as good as Romero) and visited Casa Batlló.  This has always been my favorite house, because everything is so dynamic. Everything has a reason behind it’s design, which is really cool. Words don’t describe, so I will allow my bad pictures do the work (it is hard to take pics of the cool things inside houses with lighting and such).

Lunch was at El Casal, a nice restaurant in the older part of town, and slightly hidden. 

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Fishiness for lunch.

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Notice how everything is curved, and spunky, and different, and awesome. Everything has a reason, like in the bottom right photo, the tiles become darker the further up you go.

In the evening, Alfred from Mexico, and I went to the beach with a bottle of wine and a few tapas. Afterwards, we visited the bar in the hostel for a drink, then I was off to bed.

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The Journey: Home

Waking up (not hungover!) I headed to the airport, via train.

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Upon arriving I took the bus to Terminal 2 (the train goes to Terminal 1). I waited for check in at AA for a good 30 minutes, which was annoying. They did not have a priority line, and the self kiosks weren’t working for me. I didn’t have any bags to check, so check in for me should have been like 2 minutes.

At check in the lady asked me to weigh my carry on and place it in the sizing box, not unreasonable, but I was annoyed with waiting at this point. Eventually I got my ticket, which had the “SSSS” written on it, maybe because I was sassy, but it is “random.” SSSS is the sign for extra screening. Funny how the US trusts me with their Trusted Traveler Program, but, apparently Spain doesn’t haha.

Onwards to the lounge, where I had breakfast, and took some shit pictures. This was Priority Pass, through Amex.

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Mandatory lounge booze pic.

At the gate I was called for extra screening, which consisted of a pat down, unpack all bags, turning electronics on, and then being left in a holding pen until you could board.

Our Boeing 767 had a fresh coat of paint, but not a fresh interior. For some reason, AA’s planes always feel old and run down to me. They should fix these interiors.

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I had a bulkhead for the ~10 hour flight. This is why flying through Miami to/from Europe sucks, it takes a lot longer and more flying time.

Upon getting off the plane, it took me 20 minutes to get from tarmac to lounge, including immigration and security. Global Entry and Pre Check are truly amazing.

I hung out in both the AA lounges for a bit, finding the D15 lounge to have nicer staff. (They gave me a free premium drink for asking where the AAngels were, or customer service reps). Everyone else in the lounge was great as well. I ordered a chicken quesadilla for dinner.

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On my next flight to Denver, I just passed out, and arrived into Denver around midnight.

Summary:  Unfortunately, I did not find my future wife in Barcelona. This has nothing to do with love, but more so Paella. Paella is served to groups of two, and the fact that I did not find mi esposa futuro, means I did not have the wonderful dish of random sea  creatures combined with a starch and some vegetables served in a large metal skillet fresh from the fire. What a let down.

Barcelona is not Spain. It is Catalonia. You don’t see any Spanish flags draped over balconies, but instead Catalan flags. The language is not Spanish, but instead Catalan. Food? It’s not Spanish. Everywhere has something different. More seafood. Different tapas. Different gastronomic ideas that blend wonderfully well together. The wine? The bottles say Catalonia, not Spain, and walking through the supermarket you see the Catalan bottles are front in center, with the Spanish ones off to the sides, front or top of the shelf. The Futbol? It is not Spanish, they are Catalonian, and the players openly support revolution.

This is a region where they don’t think of themselves as Spain. They think they are Catalan, and they are. This little enclave in the northeast corner of Spain has nothing Spanish about it. It is different, not just in some ways, but in every way. This is what makes it authentic. Once you go back into the far away streets, in the small pubs and bars, you start to see that it is anything but Spanish, which makes it unique, and wonderful. You keep doing you Barcelona, and maybe one day, just maybe, you will be your own state of Catalonia. I hope to be around to see it, because that would be one hell of a party.

Good Sources For Information on Barcelona

Essential Barcelona

On a side note, I only wrote about the big things in this Trip Report. If I wrote about every small thing that I thought was awesome, I would bore you to death. Ironically, these are usually the best experiences from a trip!

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