Postcard from Barcelona

Barcelona. I don’t even know where to begin. Have you been to this city before? It is vibrant and beautiful and unique, and whether you spend the whole time at the beach, tour all of Gaudi’s famous works, or just eat your way through the city, there are many ways to pass the time in Barcelona.

Barcelona view from Montjuic

Going in, I knew that Catalonia was a distinct region of Spain, and I’ve even heard it said that “Barcelona isn’t Spain.” Most storefronts are labeled in Catalan (I quickly figured out that “rebaixes” means “We’re having a sale!”) and public signs are usually written in Catalan and Spanish (or “Castellano” as I think we’re supposed to say, right?) and sometimes in English as well.

BBarcelona Rebaixes
Now can someone tell me how to pronounce rebaixes?

 

I had expected to hear mainly Catalan, which is the primary local language (so I thought), but in fact Spanish (erm, Castellano) was much more prevalent than I expected. I wish I had brushed up on my high school Spanish (my high school Castellano?) a little more instead of trying to memorize Catalan phrases!

[One weird thing I did notice – it seems the most common greeting was “Hola” but the most common way to say goodbye was “Adéu,” which is Catalan. What’s up with that?]

Barcelona Passatge Sert

Local pride is evident: Catalan flags hang off balconies on every street.

Wait, that’s not it…
This is the Catalan flag, along with a “welcome” message for tourists in La Barceloneta.

In some neighborhoods, political messages are pasted onto walls, proclaiming that Catalonia should be independent from Spain and the E.U. That’s a can of worms I’m not inclined to crack open.

Barcelona gothic quarter art

Tourism is thriving in Barcelona (to the chagrin of many locals – see above), and I loved hearing a swirl of languages everywhere I went. English, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, German, Danish, French – good lord were there a lot of French people in Barcelona! (Geographically, it makes sense – I suppose the French are the only people who can easily drive to Barcelona. Besides the Spanish, that is.)

Barcelona RENFE
This train station is even named Estació de França.

Not everyone’s a fan of Barcelona – have you heard that too? I didn’t know how I would like it, and it wasn’t even at the top of my European destinations list (Lisbon was, and then Italy. Yes, ALL OF ITALY.) But despite all these rumors about cheap European airfare (where? WHERE?!) the only place I could fly for under 100 euros with a couple weeks notice was Barcelona. So off I went.

Barcelona highway

And if you haven’t guessed by now, I loved it.

Barcelona port boats

I loved the beautiful streets and alleyways and the architecture…

Barcelona Passeig de Gracia

 

Barcelona outdoor arches


Barcelona Poble Sec street

Barcelona Pasage de la paz

I loved the street art…

BBarcelona street art

Barcelona street art Gracia

Barcelona Gracia street art

I loved the beach. Yes, it was crowded! Yes, everyone was half-naked (or all naked) and yes, you’d better not turn your back on your stuff if you want to keep it. But the Mediterranean – is there anything like it? The water was perfect.

Barcelona Barceloneta

Barcelona mediterranean

Barcelona beach 2

I loved Barcelona’s own Arc de Triomphe (how many cities have one of these things?)

Barcelona arc de triomphe

Barcelona arc de triomphe guitarist

Barcelona arc de triomphe mirror

And I looooved indulging in sweet treats.

Barcelona popsicles
La Boqueria 
Barcelona Chok
Chök

 

Barcelona cupcakes
Cup & Cake

 

Of course, you can’t go to Barcelona without seeing a little Gaudi… (Seriously, you can’t. Even if you don’t want to. He’s unavoidable.)

 

Barcelona Park Guell
Park Güell

 

Barcelona Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia
Barcelona Gaudi
Casa Batlló

And Montjuic and its nighttime fountain show were favorites of mine.

Barcelona MontjuicBarcelona Olympic view

Barcelona fountain silhouette

But as is often the case with me, my very favorite thing to do was just wander the streets.

Barcelona palm trees four friends

In fact, on my first day, I walked about eight or nine kilometers, and on the second, I logged another six or seven. That’s between nine or ten miles in two days, in sandals (and not those fancy sandals with arch support. Mom was right – I need better shoes.) It may not sound like a lot to you athletic people, but for un-athletic me in improper footwear, it was a bad, bad idea. I was in pain for the rest of the week. I think Barcelona has exceptionally hard sidewalks or something. I don’t know why I didn’t just take the metro!

Here are a few more snapshots from my wanderings in this lovely city:


Barcelona outdoor tables

Barcelona mercado social

 

Barcelona by the beach

Barcelona family on port

BBarcelona amor

Barcelona bliss

Barcelona artists

Barcelona park fountain

Barcelona park joan miro

Barcelona green fountain

Barcelona bike

Watch out, Barcelona. I’ll be back.

Have you been to Barcelona? Did you love it or hate it? 

On solo travel & being alone

Not everyone understands traveling alone. When I announced I was going to Barcelona by myself, I ended up on the receiving end of some raised eyebrows and confused looks.

“So you’re just going… by yourself?”

Um… yeah! I am. I like being alone. Not in a recluse-I-hate-the-world I-hate-other-people kind of way. I like people! But there’s a certain calm about being alone. Not only does it not bother me to be alone, I need to be alone sometimes. I get cranky without my alone time.

Can you tell I’m an introvert?

Introversion aside, I love the freedom of traveling alone. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. Isn’t that nice sometimes? It’s so indulgent to do exactly what you want for an entire day (or week) and not have to worry about anyone else. (No, I don’t have kids.)

And in fact, if you aren’t able to go places by yourself, whether it’s taking a trip or just trying out a new restaurant or seeing a movie, that means you depend on others to do what you want to do. If you don’t go see a movie just because no one wants to see it with you? If you don’t eat at the restaurant you’re craving just because your friends already have plans? What do you do? Just stay home because you can’t go out by yourself?

When I was twenty, I moved to Chicago to finish music school. At the beginning of the school year, I wanted to go to the opera (the Chicago Lyric Opera is amazing) but I didn’t have anyone to go with. I thought about just staying home. But finally, I put on my favorite dress and went alone, and it was one of my all-time favorite nights at the opera. Through the Lyric’s student tickets program, I got a great seat in the dress circle (maybe because I was only buying one ticket?) and saw Deborah Voigt and Christine Brewer sing in a spectacular production of Die Frau Ohne Schatten. If you’re not an opera fan, that probably sounds like gibberish, but trust me, it was magical. And if I hadn’t had the guts to go by myself, I would have missed one of the best opera productions I’ve ever seen.

Anyway, from that time on, I’ve always done the things I really wanted to do, whether or not I had company. On my first trip to France, I rolled through the Côte d’Azur on my own and fell in love with Nice.

Nice woman with umbrella.jpg
I love Nice, even in the rain.

A few years later I moved to Paris, where I didn’t know anybody. I made friends quickly, but solo strolls in Paris are still one of my favorite things.

Paris Jardin de Luxembourg.jpg
Good luck finding two free chairs in Jardin du Luxembourg anyway. (Or rather, four, because you each need one to put your feet up!)

This summer, I spent a week solo in Barcelona. As I explained to skeptics, it seemed silly to not go just because there was no one to go with me. And as it turns out, I had an amazing time. All. By. My. Self.

Barcelona Chok.jpg
Also, you can eat whatever you want for breakfast and no one will judge you. (Pictured: Chök in Barcelona)

All that being said, there are some things that are just more fun in good company. Picnics in the park? Hitting the town for an evening out? Not so awesome when you’re alone, in my opinion. I don’t want to go to the Seine at sunset and open up a bottle of wine by myself. I go with my dog, of course. (Kidding, kidding.)

Do you like to do things alone, or do you find it boring? Would you judge me for eating cream-filled chocolate-covered doughnuts for breakfast?