After my trip to Madrid, I made a stop in Barcelona before heading to Valencia. Being a ‘must’ city to go to in Spain (at least for now – don’t know what’s happening politically), I was looking forward to see what the fuss was all about… Yet, I only had 2 days to cover the basics.
It was July 14, 2017. Leaving the Far Home Hostel, with my luggage rolling by my side, I walked the dimly lit calle of Atocha, which eventually led me to Madrid’s Puerta Atocha Terminal Station. The place was not that busy and booking the ticket in advance online was a huge pro since I headed straight for the queue ahead of everyone else. One might think that there wouldn’t be a lot of people in the station at this time, but do not underestimate the willpower of the Spaniards – they can party until dawn and get up for work a few hours later!
I got on the Renfe train bound for Barcelona and was one of the first passengers in my assigned coach. Having difficulty mounting my not-so-small luggage in the storage compartment, my seatmate – who I later learned his name was Fernando – helped me put it into place. I settled into my seat, which was positioned next to the window (you can choose your preferred seat through the online booking as well!), and immediately dozed off.
Waking up after a few hours of on-and-off slumber, we were 30 minutes away from our destination. Fernando was really friendly and quite articulate in English making it easy to have a quick conversation – he was going to Barcelona for business, while I told him that Barcelona was just a pit stop. He went on giving me recommendations to try the beaches and paella there – in which I eventually did, and he was definitely spot-on.
Not long after, we made it to the Barcelona Sants Terminal Station. Fernando and I bid our farewells and headed out of the platform.
Barcelona Sants was one busy train terminal. People from different backgrounds were all there – groups of families, friends, travellers, strangers with their trolleys in hand, walking up and down the main hall. Figuring that Barcelona was known for its tourist scene, I couldn’t help but think about the possibility of this being an everyday scenario – did this place ever experience a quiet day?
Before heading to my hostel, I went to collect my Barcelona Card (that I also booked online) at its distribution booth. The card was a good deal since it not only came with an unlimited credit public transport card for the days I’d be in the city but it also had a detailed map and a discount/freebies card & pamphlet.
Getting off at Diagonal Station, I walked a few blocks under the gloomy weather before I reached the quaint, Rodamón Hostel. At first, it didn’t look like a hostel from the outside hence the reluctance of me going in, though after seeing their sign on the wall and a bunch of “millenials” coming in and out of its doors, I entered with more assurance a few minutes after. The first floor had an old-fashioned elevator that brought me up to the hostel’s lobby. The staff greeted me with warm smiles and gave me a tour of the hostel after I paid for the two nights I’d be there. Being always ahead of check-in time, I left my luggage in their storage room and planned my first day itinerary at the Rodamón’s common area.
After listing down the places I could cover the day ahead, I realized that I needed fuel in my belly. Looking through the guide that the hostel’s staff gave me, I strongly gravitated towards this place called, ‘Pikio Taco’. I know…
Why have tacos in Barcelona – shouldn’t you be trying these in Mexico, Vera?
Well, the answer was simple – I love tacos. And I was really craving it for some reason. So I prepared my things and set off for the streets of Barcelona…
And what a lunch it was. ‘Pikio Taco’ had a great vibe – walls painted with graffiti cartoons, neon lighting, high stool seats, and the staff was really accommodating (it was actually just one guy manning the cashier and stove that day for some reason, bless his heart and taco-making hands). For the main event, I ordered the Pikio (of course) and the Aguascalientes, which did not disappoint.
Once I got my fill, I kicked-off my Barcelona itinerary by visiting Gaudí’s Casa Mila and Casa Batlló which was walking distance from where I ate. Again with the budget, I only saw them from the outside (tour tickets being around 25 Euros/99 AED/1400 PHP each), but they were picturesque even from afar so it didn’t matter that I didn’t get to go inside.
I went back to the Rodamón to check-in to my room and settle for a while before heading down to Plaça de Catalunya, one of the famous squares of Barcelona. Having taking footage of statues, fountains, and pigeons (lots of them), I strolled down the famous Las Ramblas strip and checked out the market scene at La Boqueria that was right beside it.
From the crowded market, I crossed Las Ramblas and entered one of the many streets that led me to the Gothic Quarter. A must in the list of tourist things-to-do, the Gothic Quarter is a reflection of Barcelona’s past and they sure as hell did their job in maintaining it at this part of the city. Its medieval and opaque passageways and architecture reminded me of the Hunchback of Notre Dame (minus all the tourists) with local musicians that played at the sides completing the mood.
At the center of the Gothic Quarter, I used my Barcelona Card to get a free ticket to the Barcelona City History Museum (a.k.a. MUHBA), which had an underground excavation of the city from the Roman Age. They provided each visitor with an audio guide, so I was able to pace myself throughout the museum for a good 2 hours (for future reference, do not judge the size of it from the outside, it has a vast layout that I still don’t understand how it became that way ‘til this day).
Heading for Berklee’s Summer Performance Program a few days later, Livi, Diego, and I (see Valencia article here) got together in Barcelona first. So after my visit to MUHBA, I took a bus to La Barceloneta and met up with Diego – we were supposed to meet Livi on this day as well, but she got lost around the area and had no access to wi-fi for her to find a way to get to us… So we went ahead.
Diego and I got to know each other more over dinner at this restaurant in Mercat de la Barceloneta where I had the best tapas of my life – the Galician Style Octopus (if you are ever in Spain and have a hanker for potatoes and octopus, this is THE must-try).
We wanted to find some gelato to bring down the food that we ate so we walked to La Barceloneta Beach to find some. Though, we couldn’t find any vendors, which we found very ironic… Instead, we caught the sunset while taking in the lively convergence of locals and tourists along the boardwalk.
Once it started to get dark, Diego and I decided to go back where we came from, but got lost (of course) in the process. Alas, after checking our map numerously, trusting our gut, and following where the people were going, we got back to the area; and with an extra stroke of luck, also found a gelato parlor! We capped off our Barcelona adventure with some creamy goodness!
On my way back to the Rodamón, I got out the wrong exit from the metro, yet I was unbothered being able to pass by and see the Casa Batlló at night. With its enchanting lights tracing its unorthodox, yet artistic structure, the Batlló reminded me right then-and-there that sometimes these small coincidences are the moments that bring the most magic into our lives…
I walked a few more blocks back to my hostel and called it a day.
Frustrated at myself for waking up later than I usually do, I quickly prepared for my second day in this lively city. Aside from other things in today’s itinerary, I knew it wasn’t going to be ordinary because of one main reason – the La Sagrada Familia. She was why I wanted to go to Barcelona in the first place; to visit the church that Gaudí started over 130 years ago and has yet to be finished; a stop for my faith that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.
I quickly had breakfast at the hostel and headed for the church via the metro’s blue line.
Walking up the stairs, my heart was not prepared for what I was about to see. I didn’t see her at first coming out of the metro’s exit, but when I turned around I was astonished. She, the La Sagrada Familia, was finally right in front of my eyes.
Having booked online a 10:30 A.M. slot (they fill up quick, so my tip is you book a few weeks in advance), I asked the staff where I should fall in line. The lady at the queue told me to come back at 10:20 A.M. since there were other slots before me that haven’t been admitted yet. With time to spare and feeling a bit sticky from the humid morning, I decided to take a look inside their official souvenir shop (that moreover had a good air-conditioning system).
Not long enough, it was my time to enter the church.
I was able to book the Top Views ticket (29 Euros/125 AED/1720 PHP) that came with an audio guide and a tour of one of the two La Sagrada Familia’s famous towers, Nativity or Passion. The best part about booking any ticket package from the website was that all proceeds went to the construction of the church – by visiting, you were also contributing to its completion!
The lady at the audio guide collection counter told me to do the tower tour first since this was more time-sensitive. So I headed to the Passion Façade, dropped my bag in a security locker, and boarded the elevator that took me 65 meters up.
From getting a birds-eye view of Barcelona’s worldly recognized urban planning to see the tourists lining up from below, it was remarkable. Even though the towers were going through massive renovations – cranes, scaffolding, and all – the detail that you see at this level was like no other.
Note that this tour took you up via elevator, but you had to take a spiral staircase going down which will take about 2 minutes of your time (definitely do not recommended this for those who are not physically fit, or have had cases of vertigo, etc.) – I got dizzy midway.
Finished with the tower tour, I collected my stuff and continued exploring the ins-and-outs of the La Sagrada with the handy audio guide.
I then asked the staff if there was a place where you could pray without all these tourists. They led me to the backside of the altar where there was a small chapel setup hidden by temporary walls covered in tarp material. I sat down, put my things aside, and prayed inside this magnificent church that had me leaving it with nothing but gratefulness and more love for God.
Gaudi’s Park Güell was next on my list.
I took the Bus 92 from the church and arrived there after 30 minutes. Hoping to get a ticket to see the tiled innards of Park Güell, the ticket counter was unfortunately closed. So rather than wasting my time (and money), I went around the free areas of the park and took photos of what I could – which wasn’t so shabby.
I left the park to meet-up with Diego and Livi at the Granja Mabel for lunch. They were already eating dessert when I got to the restaurant (took the wrong train line along the way, not surprised with myself). So I quickly ordered and ate to catch up with them on things music and life.
We were on our way to the Ciutadella Park and Arc de Triomf, while talking about our expectations for the summer performance program when we saw underrated parts of Barcelona’s culture in the form of graffiti art to pro-independence flags draped on tenants’ balconies.
We eventually took photos and videos at the attractions, interacting with locals and tourists along the way before moving to the Gothic Quarter.
I got to visit the Picasso Museum since it came free with the Barcelona Card, while Livi and Diego roamed around the Gothic Quarter. Since I had no Internet connection, we agreed to meet an hour and half later in front of the Barcelona Cathedral.
The collection showed Picasso’s work from his formative years, the blue period, and the years leading up to his death. I was amazed in how he started out so classical in his style and innovated himself constantly through his various life experiences, from family problems to love. The gallery was full of tourists but had enough space to cater everyone.
I waited in front of the Barcelona Cathedral for Livi and Diego when I realized that my phone’s battery was running out. So I decided to wait at a café nearby to get wi-fi connection and message them where I was.
Ordered an iced coffee and asked if I could charge my phone for awhile at the counter… I spoke in English at the beginning not realizing that the woman attending to me was a Filipino. Her name was Grace and it was nice to hear Tagalog after days of being away from home. She asked me about why I was in Spain; while I asked her how life was in Barcelona. After some nice conversation, I wished her all the best before leaving the café…
And that’s when I got a distress message from Livi saying that Diego’s phone got pickpocketed.
… And I thought I, the most clumsy one, would be the one to get pickpocketed in a place like Barcelona (they all say it is the pickpocketing capital of Europe and so I was already setting worst case scenarios). Stunned that it happened to a friend, I met up with the two at Diego’s hostel where he was already informing his parents of what had happened.
Diego was feeling really down, so Livi and I thought of ways to end this day for him on a good note. I suggested that we head to the Magic Fountain in Montjuic to watch their free evening show.
We made it out of Espanya Station to see the Palau Nacional and the Magic Fountain located right below it. Hungry from a tiring day, we looked for a café nearby to grab some dinner before watching the waterworks.
There were a lot of tourists surrounding the fountain that we decided to watch from across the street. The fountain was one of the largest I’ve ever seen and it still gave the same level of magic even from afar.
We all had our train ride to Valencia tomorrow: mine was at 10:00 A.M. while Livi and Diego had theirs after lunch. Wanting to prepare our stuff for the start of this new chapter of our lives, we said our goodnights to each other; and to Barcelona as well.
Barcelona is a city of energy – there’s always something going on from its attractions to its people. It’s a metropolis of history, culture, and modernization; and with its outstanding popularity comes its downsides – the politics, the petty crimes, and its overwhelming amount of tourists. However, amidst all this, I’d like to think of Barcelona as a living thing. I’d like to think of it like a human being – one who has its strengths and faults, which through challenges and victories becomes a better version of itself each day. In the end, it becomes a city that we can all relate to, a city that we learn to fall in love with… Even after only two days of introduction. 🙂
Check out the trip in a nutshell below: