I’m digging into my travel stories and since I dream about sangria on a somewhat regular basis, I’m starting at the beginning: Barcelona!
I pretty much hated Spain, guys. Just keepin’ it real.
Looking back, it’s quite possible that my trip to Spain (first Barcelona, then to Madrid) was tainted by the loneliness of it being my first solo trip in Europe. That’s possible. When I say solo, I am not referring to the actual big move to London, which felt like going home even though I had never been there before, or the time I took MegaBus on my own from London to Paris to meet my Parisian boyfriend, who then picked me up in an actual car and I felt like SUCH.A.GROWN.UP. (Keep in mind, that at this point, I had been living amongst mice and cockroaches and was having full on meltdowns when a flatmate stole my 40p/80 cent can of corn because it was all I had to eat for two days. #TheStruggle #StillLoveYouEastLondon)
Spain was different, because it was the start of the ‘backpacker’s dream’ I’d held since I was young. I don’t need to go into detail because I’m pretty sure every mid-80’s baby growing up in North America at one point or another has thought about whether or not they could (or should)
shoulder bag it backpack through Europe. It’s just A THING. Side note: It’s also a really shocking THING to meet so many Europeans who have never traveled within Europe because backpacking through their own continent seems silly. WUT.
I had long declared that I wanted to experience Barcelona eventually, but only with a group of friends, because of course, when I think of Spain, I think of food and wine and long nights on the beach. But, I ended up going on my own, after being in Amsterdam with my guy, getting deathly ill and leaving my trip planning to the very last minute.
When I looked on SkyScanner (the only way I book travel), Barcelona was the cheapest city to fly into that day. So. That’s how I chose that city.
It didn’t start out all bad. I arrived in Barcelona early afternoon with my hostel address in my phone and next to no knowledge of how to get around. (This is how I arrived in every city after that, but with way less panic.)
I ended up chilling in the airport for a good 30 minutes before I figured out where to go because I learned SO QUICKLY that it’s more important for me to get my bearings and clear my head than it is to rush off anywhere. The entire point of me traveling was to simply explore what was around me, not to hit up every tourist spot and attraction. So. In an attempt to keep myself from not freaking out, I just hung out at the airport for awhile, repeating over in my mind, ‘You are here because you want to be. You can stay in this airport all damn day if you want. Just breathe.’
This didn’t work right away, mind you, but by the time I left Spain a week later, I was a new woman and travelling solo was a whole different game.
Life Tip #322: Talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend.
I managed to get from the airport to the train, bought my ticket in Spanish, read a map, and made it to my hostel all on my own. Spain took me so far out of my comfort zone, so at this point, I was feeling insanely proud of myself.
I had been pretty lucky with hostels up until this point, even living in one for months in London, but I checked into my hostel in Barcelona, went up to my room, dropped my bag and then immediately took the elevator right back down to reception and changed my stay to leave a day earlier.
I know now, after the fact, that if I don’t feel comfortable or safe in a hostel, I will not have a good trip. It’s worth it for me to get real with myself and risk losing a few bucks to switch places or ask for a different room. Travel literally teaches all the lessons.
Looking back, the hostel was probably fine. It should be said that nothing bad happened to me, but it was a really large place, similar to a university residence and I definitely would not use the words “comfortable” or “homey”. (“Homely” for all you Brits.) There was just a vibe and that vibe was that we do not care about you, but thanks so much for giving us your money.
(I am not going to link to the hostel here because I am not an asshole, but if you want to know where not to stay, just get in touch!)
The first and only person I met in my hostel (it is very rare to stay in dorms and only converse with one person) was an Australian who was traveling the world for an entire year. Australians live their lives. It’s amazing.
We chatted about our mutual love for France
which bonded us for life and then went out to explore and grab food. He had hitchhiked from Spain to France and the guy he’d gotten a ride with had told him about a great spot to hit up.
On the way, we passed the Arc de Triomf and stopped to take 4 million pictures. Somehow, neither of us had heard of the Arc and since then, I have read about it everywhere. #Newbies
We made it to the restaurant, which was actually more of a deli counter. The menu was of course in Spanish, so I did what every seasoned traveler does and I texted my Portuguese friend some words to translate so I could make sure I wasn’t ordering pigs feet. (No shame.)
We eventually made it to the waterfront and spent the rest of our evening walking around Barceloneta beach. The summer air was so warm and sticky, the beach was littered with people and the restaurant patios were full. Barcelona seems like the kind of place you go to when you really want to indulge yourself in happiness and company, which I think at that moment, was adding to the stress I was feeling.
We eventually made it back to our hostel and drank cheap sangria on the roof patio while we swapped travel stories. For all my friends reading this, this is about the time you started getting those crazy texts from me with things like, WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?
La Rambla/Las Ramblas
Barcelona is beautiful. It is. The architecture is gorgeous, the sun is glorious, there is a beach like, RIGHT THERE. It’s also easy to get around, and I never really had any instance where I didn’t feel safe. I even stopped and asked for directions from locals a few times, and people were SO friendly.
I spent all of my second day exploring the city. I say exploring, but it’s possible I only saw one tiny corner. I’m not sure. There was SO much to see. Looking at my pictures now, I still get happy about the palm trees. I wasn’t expecting palm trees in Barcelona for some reason and I just felt like I was someplace so exotic and not a two hour flight away from my London home.
Because this was my first stop on Brittany’s Eventual Permanent World Tour, I didn’t yet have my own little system down for the places I would explore and what was important for me to see. That came a few countries later. So, instead I just wandered and saw what I saw. Sometimes that way works just fine.
One thing I did appreciate about Barcelona, was that it looked like itself. There is no bigger letdown than travelling to a new city only to get there and think, Wow, this could be any city in the world. Barcelona set itself apart.
I was doing the best I could to manage at this point, while also berating myself for not being happier in such a gorgeous, sunny place. I booked a bus for the next day to take me to Madrid, which made me feel slightly better. Because I knew I was leaving, I was happier to explore and I eventually stumbled upon what I consider my greatest find of this trip: La Boqueria! I’m sure it was easily Google-able, but remember, this was new and scared Brittany! So, I bought a fruit smoothie for sustenance and took more photos of food than I ever have in my life. (This was the start of my quest to hit up food markets in every city I travel to!)
I didn’t buy much at the market, so I took myself out to dinner after for tapas and sangria, as one does. I could also write an entire blog post about my love for sangria, but I won’t. But I want to.
There is nothing wrong with Barcelona, and I’m sure when I go back eventually (and I will), I’ll probably have a better time. This particular city just happened to be the place that taught me all of the things.
My last morning in Barcelona before getting on the bus felt a lot lighter. I was less freaked out, and felt more myself. I found an adorable bakery while I was wandering around and got lots of writing done (the upside of having all the feelings).
If my first solo adventure was going to go like this, I’m glad it happened in Barcelona and not in a place that I had higher hopes for. Solo travel teaches you. It opens your mind, not just to other cultures and new ways of life, but to your own self. Traveling by yourself forces you to say, This is what I want and this is what I don’t want.
You get to shed the layers you wear on a daily basis, the version of yourself you might show at work (more professional, less swear-y) or the way you act around your family (Hi! I’m here to be whoever you want me to be!), or even the way you are with a partner (No, I don’t have dreams of my own, I swear! Being with you is enough!). You are left with just yourself and your thoughts and life whispering in your ear saying, Listen kid. This is all you’ve got. This moment right here, so shape up or ship out.
Stay tuned for all my thoughts on Madrid!
(I swear it gets better!)