My trip to Barcelona was taken somewhat on a whim. After plans to go to Norway to try and see the Northern Lights failed, the hubs encouraged me to enjoy a weekend in Spain instead. I had long talked about going to Spain and was itching for a visit to somewhere warm. Knowing that Jacob couldn’t travel anytime soon, I happily took him up on his suggestion and started researching my options. A few hours later I had purchased my plane tickets, and not long after that, I was on my way.
Having never been to Spain before, and having never taken an international trip alone, I wasn’t really sure what to expect for my long weekend away. I wasn’t nervous about traveling by myself, more so just anxious about whether I would get lonely or bored, and if I am being totally honest, concerned about just how many tapas I could realistically consume on my own. 😉
I am happy to report that I never found myself longing for company, and I had absolutely no trouble at all putting away countless plates of food. My time alone was exhilarating and refreshing, and Barcelona had a certain charm that made me never want to leave.
My trip started with a visit to La Boqueria, a massive covered food market which is truly any foodie’s dream. I spent a few minutes wandering through a maze of cured meats, colorful juices, and fresh fruits and vegetables, before grabbing a spot at the bar at El Quim de la Boquería for my first round of tapas.
Struggling to keep my Spanish and French (and English for that matter…) straight, I ended up with a plate of patatas bravas that I didn’t mean to order (this wasn’t the only time that I would order incorrectly), but in the end, this was totally okay. I ate quite a few spuds that weekend, and those were certainly the best I had, so good in fact, that I can’t even remember what it was I was trying to order initially.
Alongside my patatas bravas were a plate of fried artichoke hearts, which are easily one of the best things i’ve eaten since moving abroad. I nearly cried tears of joy after my first bite. As I washed them down with a €3 glass of local cava, I couldn’t help but to think how coming to Spain was definitely a really great idea.
After picking up a bright pink juice from one of the stalls nearby, I rushed off to the next stop of my journey where I toured Antoni Gaudí’s eccentric and unfinished church, the Sagrada Família.
There is a lot that I can say about Gaudí’s unique masterpiece, but i’ll just leave it at this: Sagrada Família is an interesting church, and indeed beautiful in many ways. However, in short, it’s not my cup of tea. There’s something about Romanesque and Gothic churches that really inspire me, and I just couldn’t find that same sense of awe in Gaudí’s modern design. The construction probably had something to do with it, as well as being asked more than once to move for someone’s selfie, but hey, that’s not Gaudí’s fault…
I found it slightly ironic that I left for this trip same day as International Women’s Day. To me, International Women’s Day represents many different things, but this year, it was a time to celebrate aloneness. So often I think women associate being alone as being a bad thing. We’re not complete without a significant other, we’re not capable of exploring a new place without a companion by our side, we’re not as strong of a leader or an influence on our own, etc.
As I wandered around Barcelona, a city of 1.6 million people, in a country where I don’t speak the language, and in a town where I knew no one, I didn’t feel alone. In fact, I felt very much in the warm company of the 1.6 million Catalonians who surrounded me. I didn’t pity myself as I sat alone at a bar with enough tapas to feed three, or as I drank half pitcher of sangria on my own (the second occasion where my Spanish ordering abilities failed me). Instead, I felt exhilarated. I was visiting a place I had always wanted to visit, and enjoying something I truly loved. Why should being alone prevent me from doing that?
As I walked back to my hostel from the Sagrada Familia, I stumbled across thousands of other women as they celebrated all that International Women’s Day means to them. With the march taking place right in front of where I was staying, I first watched for a while from the street, and then spent my evening, alone, in the hostel, celebrating from the window. Again, something was telling me that coming to Barcelona was a really great idea…
I started the following day with a visit to Park Güell, another Gaudí project. Though I enjoyed the main part of the park (the paid area), I loved the free trails and natural gardens that surrounded this area even more. Much of Gaudí’s work takes a naturalist approach, and what better way is there to experience nature in a large city than with time spent in a park? Being a perfect 70 degree day, I found a secluded bench with a great view of the city and relaxed in the sun until my next appointment.
Next came what was quite possibly my favorite experience of the trip – a paella cooking class in a lovely private garden just down the street from Park Güell. Originating from Valencia, a town about 200 miles south of Barcelona, paella is a regional dish that’s approached by Spaniards much the same way that Americans approach a backyard barbeque. It is meant to be leisurely prepared over a glass of wine or sweet vermouth, and enjoyed alongside family and friends.
This “class” was actually called a “cooking experience,” and appropriately so, as an experience was exactly what it was. There was no formal training, per se, just 10 or so strangers who quickly became new friends, enjoying wine and tapas together, and learning a bit about paella along the way.
Our wonderful host shared with us her grandmother’s recipe, and we all cooked together in the backyard of her childhood home. We ate tapas, shaved fresh slices of Ibérico and Serrano ham, and learned the art of drinking from a porron, all before enjoying the fruits of our labor with a large plate of paella. I look forward to taking what I learned from this experience and to one day enjoying a backyard, paella barbecue with family and friends back home.
Full and sleepy from so much delicious food, I enjoyed a leisurely walk down a lovely route recommended by my cooking experience host, and then spent the next couple of hours resting at my hostel before venturing out to the old Gothic Quarter of Barcelona to see what I could discover there.
Jacob and I have this thing when we travel in big cities where we will go out of our way to “get lost.” We intentionally take roads which aren’t the main route, and more often than not, our efforts pay off. Taking that same approach as I wandered around this historic part of town, I found myself in a number of quiet squares, and discovered many quaint streets. Eventually, I stumbled across the beautiful 14th-century Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, and settled in at a fantastic little wine bar across the square. Making friends with the bartender, I tried two fantastic Spanish wines, and jotted notes about my day on the back of a receipt while I let my phone charge behind the counter.
After a quick tour of the church, I stopped in for more tapas at a recommended spot down the street for yet another memorable meal. As I took a seat at the bar, the server’s first words were “I have just the perfect meal for one person.” After I made it clear that there aren’t really any foods I don’t like, the plates started coming…and it took a long while before they stopped. Some plates of tomato bread, clams, patatas bravas, fried squid, and a couple of other unidentified things later, I left overly full, but again, so happy for yet another great experience.
Gothic Quarter and Playa de la Barceloneta
The last day of my journey started with, you guessed it, more good food. Having read about a place known for their croissants, I figured I would give it a try. I had been outside of France for three days at that point, and had started missing my favorite breakfast pastry.
Having the bar set pretty high after seven months in Paris, I was skeptical and only purchased one pastry. However, after just one bite, I regretted not buying two. Glazed and filled with mascarpone cheese, my croissant from Hofmann Pastisseria was one of the best things I ate all weekend. Half way through my first one, I had already made up my mind to go back for a second…
To burn off my pastries, I spent the next couple of hours walking around a new area of the Gothic Quarter, and toured another beautiful gothic church, the Barcelona Cathedral. Though there was a short line to get in, this cathedral was quiet, and evoked that sense of awe I couldn’t find at the Sagrada Familia. A €3 elevator ride to the roof made me love it all the more. Offering a fantastic view of the city, and no crowds, I spent half an hour or more on the roof enjoying the views and sunshine, and thinking about how I wasn’t ready for my weekend in Barcelona to end.
Growing hungry, I left the roof with plans to head back to La Boqueria for another round of tapas, but ended up stumbling in to a very Austin-esque coffee shop and decided to enjoy lunch there instead. I don’t know exactly what it was that I ended up eating (story of my life that weekend in Spain), but it was some sort of Asian rice bowl that was utterly delicious, and the kombucha I washed it down with also wasn’t bad.
Energized and ready to finish my off my weekend strong, I made my way to the beach to dip my toes in the Mediterranean Sea. After half a pitcher of sangria (I swear I only ordered a single glass – and no, I did not drink the whole thing), I headed back to my hostel to get ready for one last memorable Spanish meal.
I think my first meal in Barcelona was probably my favorite, but what I loved about my last was the fact that many of the tapas served were actually meant for one person. Because of this, I was finally able to try a large variety of things without feeling like a total glutton (but really, what did I care?). After one more plate of fried artichoke hearts (which didn’t hold a candle to my first plate from El Quim de la Boquería), I toasted myself with one final glass of cava to commemorate a such great solo weekend away.