My Favorite City in Europe; Barcelona, Spain

After spending over a week in Europe, and not being able to speak the common language of the public, I was delighted to be heading to Barcelona for a weekend trip. I took countless years of Spanish in high school and actually was proficient enough in the language that I tested out of my college language requirement. For whatever reason, I just naturally picked up Spanish without even studying. I think it has to do with the fact that my family watched the movie La Bamba like 500 times when I was growing up, and the fact that I have a Mexican uncle. Or maybe I was just born to speak Spanish; who knows.

Anyway, after spending a week in Europe, and the only words that people said to me in public were “Speak English?” from the beggars in Paris and “Hey man, Coke” from the drug dealers in Amsterdam, I was totally pumped to use my Spanish while in Barcelona.

Fly Ryan Air... if you are dirt poor and don't care if you dieSince Barcelona was pretty far away from Brussels, taking a train was not an option. Fortunately, there is a discount airline that flies out of a town called Charleroi (which is south of Brussels), that offered flights to the Barcelona area for like 100 Euros (commercial airlines charged 400-500 for the same flight). The airline is called Ryan air, and it is pretty well known in Europe as the cheap way to travel. For those of you who haven’t traveled the airline, imagine flying on Sun Country airlines with the self seating arrangement of Southwest airlines. Throw in a dash of utter chaos, some rough landings, and a perfect 10 on the “there’s a good chance I’m going to shit my pants on this flight because I’m scared that we’re going to die” scale, and you have Ryan air.

They even let us get off the plane right on the runway! We got off the plane and found out that we weren’t really in Barcelona at all, but rather Girona, which is over an hour away from Barcelona. Luckily there was a shuttle bus that would take us to Barcelona, which was nice, but also pretty expensive. They also didn’t take credit cards, so I had to take out cash in order to buy the ticket. Thank god they have an English button on ATM’s, because my Spanish seemed a little rusty.

Our Hostel room was largeWe made it into Barcelona’s main station and found a map of the area. We learned that there was a metro stop very close to the bus station, and used the metro to get closer to our youth hostel. After some trial and error (and some bickering among travelers), we found the hostel (which was very poorly marked and nearly impossible to find). This was my first time staying in a youth hostel, and hopefully it’s my last! The place was totally cramped and smelled like a big toilet. It also wasn’t really much cheaper than regular hotel. Thankfully there were 4 of us in a 4 person room, so privacy wasn’t much of an issue (other than the common area showers that everyone in the hostel shared).

Luckily, the hostel was within walking distances of some cool parts of Barcelona, so things weren’t all that bad. The next time I am in Barcelona (and there WILL be a next time), I will be sure to stay closer to the Mediterranean. The small size of our hostel did not play a big role in our trip anyway, since we hardly were in the room at all. The weather in Barcelona was beautiful (in the high 70’s), so there was no reason to stay in the hotel.

Once we were settled into the hostel, we asked the person at the front desk where we could find a good place to eat. We were starving by this point, so we all wanted to find a place where we could eat some good traditional Spanish food. He told us to walk to La Rambla, and we would find all kinds of restaurants and fun places to hang out. He was correct, but what he didn’t tell us is that in order to get to La Rambla, we needed to traverse a very “ethnic” area of Barcelona.

Middle Eastern style building in the... Middle Eastern part of townYes, in order to get to La Rambla, we needed to go through the Arabic/Middle Eastern part of town. At first, we were a little intimidated that we were walking through this part of town without knowing our destination, and being very obvious tourists, but we made it through unscathed (and never had a problem on the street during the rest of our stay, even though we traveled through it 10 times). In fact, once I got over my initial nerves, the street was quite beautiful, with much of the architecture being uniquely Middle Eastern, and standing out beautifully along the street.

I drink large beersOnce we got to La Rambla, we looked around at the various shops and restaurant menus to see if we could find a place that was both affordable and authentic. We really didn’t find anything that met either criteria and eventually caved in and ate at a questionable joint that promised Tapas and Paella. Since I wanted to fully immerse myself in the culture, I decided to order some Tapas and Paella; to mixed levels of satisfaction. The spicy potatoes were very good, as well as the Caprese salad. The Paella was NASTY! I had already eaten seafood several times in this trip to Europe, so I was prepared to have to peel off the heads and shells on Shrimp/Crayfish, but the quality of the seafood and chicken that they put into my Paella was extremely low, and let’s just say it didn’t really go down well. Thankfully, it didn’t make me sick, but I still cringe at the thought. If it weren’t for the 1 Litre of San Miguel beer that I ordered, the restaurant would have been a complete waste!

Wax lips.. but notAfter dinner we went to get some ice cream (I seriously ate more sugar on this 2 week trip than I did the previous 12 months in the US). Once we finished the ice cream, we went to a club/lounge and had some drinks. It was me, Ty, Aly (Ty’s girlfriend) and LeAnn (Aly’s friend from college/roommate in Brussels), and since I didn’t know LeAnn very well, we decided to play a little game of “I have never” in order to break the ice. For those of you who don’t know, “I have never” is a game where you say “I have never done ____” and everyone who HAS done act needs to drink their beer. You find out a lot about people by playing that game, and it is one of my favorites! I will not reveal the questions that were asked on this blog, but I will say that Tyler was definitely drinking the most!

Barcelona's response to Mannekin PisBeing travel weary from our fun filled Ryan air flight, we were all getting pretty tired, so we headed back in the direction of our hostel. At this point, I was several alcohol units into the night, so my nervousness about walking through the Arabic speaking part of town was completely nonexistent. In fact, I was at the point where I was probably high-fiving random people as I walked down the street. I learned that a “High Five” is international for totally awesome! I also managed to take the random picture on the right. Even achieved perfect symmetry in my inebriated state.

The next morning we decided to go to the beach. Barcelona has such a great metro system that getting to the beach was a breeze! All we needed to do was walk a block to the metro stop, take 2 subway lines to the seaside stations, and we were at the Mediterranean sea! (The thing I loved the most about Barcelona was its accessibility. You could get to ANYWHERE in the city by using the Metro system. Plus, it was dirt cheap at like 69 Euro cents a trip! That’s half the price of the Paris metro).

We got off the train and followed the seagulls to the water. It was amazing how easy it was to get to the water, and with the sun shining down, we were all excited to spend the day at the beach. We had breakfast at a beach cafe that had surprisingly good food, and discussed a plan for the day. That plan involved getting as much sun as possible and staying at the beach until we got sick of it. It was an excellent plan.

One of the many beaches right outside the cityWithin a 10 minute metro ride from any point in Barcelona, you have access to miles of beaches! They were well maintained, contained ample concessions, and were not even very busy. Plus, since we were in Spain, there was an inherent “tops optional” policy on bikinis… much to my delight (because I HATE tan lines). It is everything you could ask for in a beach, and then some! The weather by this point was 75 and sunny, and the day was perfect.

This is when I fell in love with Barcelona. As far as I am concerned, it is the perfect city. There’s tons of culture and history, a wonderful public transportation system, great architecture, excellent Internet connectivity, beautiful women, miles of sand beaches and there is little to no language barrier. The language barrier was even less than I had expected. While I was prepared to speak Spanish the entire weekend, I soon learned after my first interaction with the locals that it wasn’t even necessary to use Spanish, because they all spoke English to me! I must scream tourist to them, and as a result, I probably only had to say 5 words in Spanish the entire trip.

Barcelona is like all of my other favorite cities on steroids! Take the nice beaches of Florida, the constant warm weather and beautiful women of Los Angeles, the transportation infrastructure and accessibility of central Chicago, throw in awesome buildings and Internet connectivity, then subtract the crowdedness of normal large cities and you have Barcelona! It is truly a great place.

Back to the story. Being exposed to the sun for several hours proved too much for Aly, and she started to feel sick. Her and Tyler went back to the hostel to take a nap. That left LeAnn and I to fend for ourselves for the afternoon. We walked around La rambla for a while and then tried to find an area of town called the Gothic Quarter. Much like the Red Light District in Amsterdam, I didn’t really know what to look for, so we had no idea if we were in the Gothic Quarter or not. Perhaps it also gets crazy at night? I can only imagine what would happen in that scenario!

These Brits were on holiday...and they were a riot!After we were done exploring, we sat down in a cool little triangular opening in the middle of a part of the city at a sidewalk cafe and decided to have a beer. It was a really cool area, and sort of a diamond in the rough, as it didn’t seem very well known. After we were there for a while, we were joined by 3 British ladies on holiday. They were from Liverpool and they were hilarious! They were traveling with their husbands in celebration of Brian’s 50th birthday. The men were all watching team England play in a soccer match, so the ladies broke off from the pack and decided to have a drink in the same place as us.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on here before, but I love British people! They are so funny and witty, and with their accents, I laugh at just about everything. Plus, they are much more worldly and well traveled than American’s, so their stories can keep you entertained for hours. Brits never seem to have any social awkwardness, and can fit in pretty much anywhere they go. Perhaps it’s because they get 2-3 months vacation time each year, and they spend most of that time seeing the world? I’m not sure the reason, but I know that I always end up having a great time with the Brits!

Seafood PlatterUnfortunately, we couldn’t stay with the ladies forever (I would have loved my own Brian’s 50th birthday shirt), so we went back to the hostel to check on Ty and Aly. They were doing much better at this point, so we went out for another dinner. This time, we went to dinner near the sea, because Tyler wanted to eat more seafood. Since we couldn’t think of anywhere else to go, we all agreed and ended up at a pretty neat outdoor restaurant that was very close to the Mediterranean. It was a lot better than our previous meal, but still not my favorite. Of all of the places I visited on this trip, I probably liked the food in Barcelona the least.

After dinner we went to an Irish pub that was also along the sea. This place was just like every other Irish pub I have ever been to in Europe; it was great! One thing I have noticed in my travels is that the single most consistent place you can visit is an Irish pub. They all have the same familiarity, the same beers, and the same rowdy fans who are yelling at the sporting events on television. No matter what time of day, or what the event, there’s always someone yelling at the TV!

On this particular night, we were in for a treat. It was the semi-final of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, and the match was between France and England. The pub was absolutely PACKED, and we soon learned that we were in the middle of a heated rivalry. You see, we were sitting in the middle of the pub, innocently drinking our Guinness and Shandy’s. On one side of were 30 or so very rowdy British fans. On the other side of us were 30 or so Frenchmen. We were the lowly Americans in the middle.

Before the match even started, we were treated to the national anthems of both England and France. Both factions proudly sang their national tunes, and beamed with pride the entire time. When the match finally started, we were entertained both by the Rugby on the screen and the national pride on display throughout the pub.  Every time something important happened, one side would cheer. Whenever a point was scored, an entire half of the pub erupted in cheer!  It was a great people watching opportunity, and our vantage point was top notch. In fact, even though we had only planned to stay for a few minutes, we ended up staying all the way to half time of the game. Even though I don’t understand anything about rugby, watching a match in that situation made me an immediate fan! Any sport that can excite entire population of people has to be a great sport!

Rowdy rugby proved to be one of the most entertaining experiences of the entire trip, but it also took a lot out of us, so we went back to the hostel and called it a night.

This will be completed in 30-90 years.  That's the same timeframe as the next time I get laid.The next morning, we tied up some Barcelona loose ends by visiting sights that were on our list that we had not yet visited. Â The major site we saw was La Sagrada Familia, which is a template that has been under construction since 1882, and won’t be done for another 30-90 years. Â It is a marvel in Spanish efficiency. Â Â Just kidding, but it is a pretty cool sight, and hopefully I’m alive when it gets done!

After that, we boarded our Ryan air flight back to Brussels, and the next day, it was back to the Good old USA.

Overall, I spent 10 days in Europe, 12 if you include travel. I was on 7 different airplanes, stayed overnight in 5 different cities/beds, spend about $3,000, and took hundreds of photos. It was a great experience, and the memories get better each time I look back at the photos. There were a lot of things that I’d do differently if I went back, but I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to travel to so many cool places.

Below are the rest of my Barcelona pictures. Click on one for an awesome slideshow. Enjoy!

Our Ghetto ass airlineSelf portrait in our youth hostel... no shave for 10 daysI have a nose for finding Dali museumsCool Tile WorkPoserSuggested career changeSerious FaceI want to throw up just looking at itMediterranean SeaHad to take this shot to go along with similar ones in other seasBig Metal FishTons of beautiful shore-line, and not many peopleHarborTwin Towers - Barcelona StyleDwarfed by a statueI am artAll kinds of cool buildings in BarcelonaWinding streets are very coolI don't even know what this is, but it's old, and that's coolEurope has art around every cornerEdward Scissorhands Part 1Edward Scissorhands Part 2: He itched my head, and it felt good.Every building is art in itself... you just don't see that statesideThis was particularly cool because I read Animal Farm on the airplaneThey really are bold with their colors in BarcaKing JesusLife goes by fast in SpainThis sums up our trip better than any words I can come up withEva Longoria eats chocolate bars all the time... and somehow her ass is tiny... I hate herBaguette's on a bikeArt in a buildingAmericans in Europe... at a Starbucks.  Way to diversifyHomeless in StarbucksCamera ShyI <3 Iced CoffeeI ate more Sugar in Europe than I did the previous 12 months combined!This will be sweet when it's done!Those dudes on the left are squaresSo much attention to detail

About Jeff Sauer

I started blogging in the year 2000, and go in spurts of inspiration followed by long dormancy. I love writing, and your comments keep me going, so comment!

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  1. I am majorly jealous! Barcelona is in my top 3 places to go in the world. Looks lke an awesome time!

  2. Leslie Collins says

    Hi Jeff~I am sure you have no clue who I am, but I keep in contact with your sister, Kristi and sister-in-law, Michelle. Kristi posted about your blog the other day on hers. I just wanted to say hello. I am very jealous of you excursion. I am a degree in Spanish and would love to be where you are right now. Hope you are having a great time.

  3. I love reading about all of the place that you travel too. I went to Ireland for St. Patrick’s day in 2004. Ever since then I have been dreaming about travel everywhere but I do not have the money.