Visiting Barcelona: Enjoying the City As a Traveler In Spite of the Touists

Barcelona2009

I have fully left the Middle East, fully left Asia and am now smack dab in Tourist Europe. I have visited Barcelona twice before – once in January and once in May, never in such an apex of tourism as right now. I’ve only been here about 20 hours, and still am happy to have arrived, but it just doesn’t have the same uniqueness, rawness as the cities I have visited. Cairo, Istanbul and Amman have all had tourists, but they don’t have the same artificial, expensive layer of non-residents. And to be honest, like all transitions on my trip sans Jordan to Turkey, I miss the country I was just in and am getting used to the new city. It’s a transition period…hopefully one that doesn’t last too long as I am only in my once favorite city for five days.

I arrived at night to the hostel, tucked away in a neighborhood off to the east of Las Ramblas the main pedestrian thoroughfare of Barcelona. My bed is one of six in a mixed dorm meaning that it’s me and two dudes. Every one is very nice here and very young, average age about 22. In various conversations, I have found that they are all relatively new travelers, mostly covering Europe or just starting out in their international travels. I feel like the travel graduate and take a little pleasure in the fact my travel pedigree is impressive to all that I’ve talked to. It’s also funny when several people, in conversation, have paused with awkwardness to ask if I just graduated, not really believing it themselves and not wanting to be rude.

At the computer bays, I noticed a blonde girl had opened her browser window to some University of Minnesota web site – I said, sorry to peep, but do you go to the University of Minnesota? I shared that I went there, her name is Miranda and then she introduced me to Kayla, who is from Madison! They both go to the U and both were very easy to talk to. They speak fluent Spanish and I told them about a couch surfing event – a language exchange – for the next night. They were into it and also wanted to walk around Barcelona the next day as it was there first days here too.

A group of guests were going out for dinner and drinks, but I declined I was exhausted. Instead, I got a reco for dinner place – La Fonda and walked to Las Ramblas for a fixed price meal to begin my Spanish eating experience. For 18 Euros, I got a flavorful goat cheese salad with pine nuts and light vinnagrete, a white fish baked in a tomato sauce on a bed of spicy potatoes, and then Catalan custard for desert, which was a very sweet creme brulee. There was also a quarter carafe of the house white and an espresso to finish off the delicious meal. Walking back, I noticed how many tourists were out on the main drag, all women were in loose cotton clothing and carried their purses diagonally across their chest, protectively holding their bags.

The hostel experience is like an MTV Real World episode. At 2:30 I was awoke by a couple talking loudly, they were in the room next door and their voices carried like a bad vapor to my room. It was just me and an English dude in the room at that time. They were arguing about incredibly banal bs and their conversation included lines like, “You think I’m just a whore (girl)…I do not, If I did, I would be incredibly jealous that you were with all those guys (boy).” Really. If had been interesting, I might have withheld going to the front desk and getting the guy to go up and give them the Shush. Through the walls, my roomie and I heard attitude from the girl and the desk guy get upset and threaten to kick them out if they didn’t shut up. Bravo.

The second time I awoke was to my roommate Adam, who had originally invited me out with the group, come home. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, had a large belt buckle over jeans, and was carrying his drink. He quickly passed out. The third time (and fourth and finally fifty) was when a blonde with a dress came in and asked the British guy, who had been sleeping as well as I had been, “Where’d you go? You left with out us…” There was whispering. She left, hopefully understanding his disinterest. But she didn’t and she came back, twice, finally climbing into his bunk. I’m thinking oh no…not hostel sex. Not now, I haven’t the stomach and I’ve only heard of it happening at Australian hostels…but they were polite, just talking and then she left at daylight.

\Barcelona2009

Today I woke up at nine, met up with the Midwestern ladies and we walked to the market. This is my favorite market in the world. Already crowded at 10, the tourists pushed through to take pictures and taste the gorgeous wares. The goods were stacked like fans at a football game and calling out just as loudly, not to cheer, but to be purchased. I bought a beautiful mango orange juice and some soft black licorice. Fish stands, fruit stands, ham stands, meat cases, oils, spices and olives.

After, we walked in the Barri Gothic area, discovering new, less crowded streets, finding a church that I had never been to. The ceiling was under construction and the darkness created low, solid feeling. The Jesus behind the alter was not on a cross, odd I thought for a Catholic church. I walked towards him and stood there, saying my usual prayer of gratitude and hope for world peace. I felt something, I felt a pull through my heart, leading from Him down the aisle in a straight line down the main aisle of the church. It was a pulsing energy, all concentrated around the place of God in my body – my heart – and the feeling was addicting. I stayed there as long as I could.

There was a little antiques market oustide the main cathedral. I waited for the girls outside, I had been there twice before and was more interested in the beautiful goods on the tables outside. After, we went for a beer on Las Ramblas, I spied an open table at an outdoor cafe and we sat with two locals. The girls communicated with Spanish, different than Catalan, but still workable. We ordered beer and some flavorful croquettes – almost bruschetta but instead of tomatoes and basil, creative mixes of meat, cheese, and vegetables. Pork, fish, beef, and chicken all had proper representation. The meal was expensive, but a great taste in the middle of day.

That night, the girls and I went out and our intentions were to find the couch surfing language exchange, but I hadn’t written the address, just the name of the bar. Of course, in Barcelona there are million bars and all on tiny streets, so we never did find it. Instead, we sangria-ed our way from cafe to cafe, each in a lovely square nestled into the labyrinth of Barcelona’s Barri Gotic and Old City area. At 11:30 we went back to the youth hostel, intending to meet up with a group that was going out at 12:30. They arrived, but we were tired and went to bed. I felt lame making excuses, but the truth was, I wasn’t feeling it. I had the thought that I wish there was a hostel where I could just meet people to have a good dinner and conversation…then I remembered, oh yes, in one’s 30s those are called, “hotels,” and the person you go out to dinner is your, “husband.” Everyone else is about 22 and their goal in Barcelona is to party all night long…and they do, but that’s not me anymore, or infrequently so. And that’s OK.

As a note: I revisited this article and reminded myself how awesome Barcelona is – it’s vibrant and artsy and should be on every Spanish itinerary. And then there’s the food. I had my own little Eat, Pray, Love experience in Barcelona

Here’s my ¬†AFAR wanderlist of some recommended restaurants available at all hours.

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