Last January, I finally decided to go on my first ever solo trip in Europe. Since I got ill during New Year’s, I wasn’t allowed to take any Bank shifts (overtime) at work for two weeks. This meant a lot of rest days from work because I only have 3 or 4 shifts in a week. It was quite difficult for me to choose which city to go to because I wanted it to be safe and tourist friendly – this means good transportation, delicious food and cheap flights.
My first choice was to go back to Tromso just because I was dying to see the northern lights again. However, I realised that if I will be travelling by myself then it would be more expensive than normal because I have no one to share the expenses with. So, nope. Tromso isn’t happening. The next on my list was Brussels since it’s very near London. To my surprise, the flight to Brussels during that time was more than 100GBP when normally it’s as cheap as 50-80GBP. Nope, I’m not biting it.
There are so many places in Europe I am dying to visit but it’s hard when a trip isn’t planned ahead of time. This trip was just spontaneous and on top of my head like “Hey, I have four days off next week. I should go somewhere!” When I told my spanish colleague about my plan on going on a solo trip, she (of course) definitely suggested for me to go to Barcelona.
“Go to BARH-TEH-LONA” as she would say it.
“What’s there to do in Barcelona?” I asked.
“Ahh, many many things. Sagrada Familia, Tapas, Sangria, go to La Rambla, take a walking tour and you know what…Tha-ra is so cheap!” (Apparently, Zara is a Spanish brand and is pronounced as THa-ra in Catalan. Ha! I bet you didn’t know that because I didn’t, lol).
Barcelona isn’t really on top of my radar but realising that the FC Barcelona stadium is there made me do it.
I had mixed feelings about this trip because, even though I like being on my own, I have never travelled alone in a city (that Berlin trip when I was by myself on the last day doesn’t count because it wasn’t a full solo adventure). Sometimes, I just can’t help being paranoid about things. I always think about the worst things that could happen. What if I lose my passport? A pick pocket steals my money? My flight gets delayed? Questions like these continuously creep into me like nightmares. This is even heightened by the fact that my friend’s wallet was stolen in Paris last year and she had to undergo that tedious processing of her papers in order to return to the UK.
But I know I have to do this! If I want to see the world, I need to learn how to travel alone and experience what it feels like to be out there. When I am scared of the world, I always try to think that there is something amazing waiting for me.
I didn’t really have an exact itinerary for Barcelona. I just wanted to see the major attractions, see FC barcelona’s football stadium, join a walking tour and eat Tapas. The best way to do this was to get a two day ticket for the hop on hop off bus tours. This always works because it brings you to all the tourist sites and it’s also a mean of transportation (if you’re not in a hurry).
My first agenda was to join a walking tour. My spanish colleague recommended Sandeman’s free walking tour because it was informative and fun. I took this suggestion and I joined the Barcelona free walking tour around the Gothic Quarter.
Our walking tour started at at 10pm and ended at 1pm. Our tour guide’s spanish name is Patricio. I say spanish because his real name is Patrick. He is an American from Chicago who flew to Barcelona to study until he fell in love with the city and decided to stay there for good. Patrick graduated from Barcelona university finishing a degree in Barcelona history (I can’t recall the exact course but it sounded more fancy, hehe). The way he presented the walking tour was very detailed and he knew what he was talking about. He was also very friendly and he emailed us a list of all the good restaurants to try in Barcelona (from paellas, tapas, sangria and even gelato).
He started the tour at the city hall and ended it at the post office. His topic wasn’t just about the gothic quarter history. Patrick shared with us a lot of things about culture, the life of the Catalans and their shout for independence. Also, he walked us through Carrer de la Pietat, showed us hidden remains of the roman temple and talked about the King’s Square where the king’s Watch tower is and the stairs where Christopher Columbus walked down as he came back from discovering the New World (Fun fact: according to Patrick, Columbus did not only bring spices he also brought syphillis to Barcelona). He also talked about the life of Gaudi, mentioned Picasso and brought us inside Santa Maria del Mar – where you can find a true evidence that traditional church stained glass can be mixed with modern culture (see picture below).
The Barcelona Cathedral
After the walking tour, I hopped on my bus tour to see the city of Barcelona. Initially, I thought 2 days would be enough to go around and see most of the attractions in the city. I was definitely wrong. I was only able to visit La Sagrada Familia, Casa batllo, Camp Nou, and Park Guell. The rest of my time was spent eating Paellas and patatas bravas (Can’t blame me! They’re so good!)
Sagrada Familia. What a big name! If not all then most of us would know that Sagrada Familia is the tallest church in the world and is designed by the famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. The church is still under construction and it will be finished by 2026. Did you know that the budget for building the church relies solely on visitor entrance fees and donations? According to my Spanish friend, the church is in Catalonia that’s why the government wont fund it but she’s sure that if it was in Madrid, Sagrada familia would’ve been fully built by now.
Gaudi, though, has long accepted the fact that he will never see the church completely constructed. He didn’t want it rushed either because his client (God) is not in a hurry. (Actually, Patrick mentioned that Spanish people do take time with their religious creations).
Before I flew in to Barcelona, I already bought my Sagrada Familia ticket online which you should as well because the line outside can get very long. However, my stupid self thought that my ticket was scheduled on the 15 (which was my second day) when the ticket was actually for the 14th. I didn’t realize this mistake until I showed my ticket at the Entrance and the lady there told me that the ticket was scheduled yesterday. The first ticket I bought was with an audio guide but since I was hesitant to pay another 22 euros for it, I bought the basic ticket instead which was only 15 euros (yes, I can be cheap like that, lol.)
There are structures in the world that would probably leave you with so many mixed emotions. Sagrada familia sort of made me feel extremely small and insignificant. It reminded me how small we all are; that in the grand scheme of things, we are all just individuals trying to play our part in a messed up society.
I stood outside Sagrada Familia and tried to study its architecture with the other tourists. It is not yet finished but the structure already looks so perfect. One cannot just stop staring at it. It was grand and the inside of Sagrada Familia is even more perplexingly fascinating.
They said you have not really been to Barcelona if you didn’t go inside Sagrada Familia. I wasn’t really planning on going inside but I’m glad I did. It was one of the most beautiful interiors my eyes have seen. The colorful lights from the stained glass windows were blindingly stunning. I wouldn’t even dare try to describe it in words because I know I will not give justice to it. I swear, I told myself that if heaven looked like this, Lord you can take me. Sagrada Familia is beautiful enough to make you faithful and religious again.
You should never miss an opportunity to go inside. NEVER.
(Gaudi said that Sagrada Familia would be the church for the poor. I wonder though if it would be open for everyone when its finished.)
One of places I also want to share with you is Casa Batllo. It is very famous and if you are to visit Barcelona, you should not miss out on seeing it. Like the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo is also a masterpiece by Antoni Gaudi. It is located in Passeig de Gràcia which is very famous not only for shopping but also for modernist buildings.
The design of Casa Batllo is straight out of a fairytale book. For some reason, it reminds me a lot of the candy house in the story of Hansel and Gretel (which is my all time favorite fairy tale!). The only sad bit is that I wasn’t able to go inside because they were about to close when I got there. However, admiring its beauty from the street was already satisfying. Just looooook at the colors!!! I wouldn’t mind having a house like that.
Next time, I’ll definitely go inside and hear about its story.