Barcelona is the last Spanish city that is going to be covered in the #ThrowBackThursday series. I came here during my study abroad in 2012, during which I lived in 313 miles inland, in Madrid. Why did I choose to study abroad in Madrid? The short answer is that I didn’t. Madrid was, incredibly, the only study abroad option in the entire world that would count towards both my major and my minor. So if I wanted to go abroad, the choice was already made for me.
I didn’t know much about Madrid before I actually arrived there. I think the most important thing that I DID know about Madrid was just that it wasn’t Barcelona. In my mind, Barcelona was “the place to be” in Spain. I had heard wonderful things from my better-traveled friends who had visited, and I even had a couple friends in college who were from here. So the prospect of living in Madrid felt like a compromise. Ideally, I would have lived in Barcelona.
When I pictured Madrid, I envisioned a sprawling dusty pueblo somewhere out in the scraggly Spanish desert. In the time that passed between committing to study abroad in Madrid and actually going there, I don’t recall so much as even Googling a picture of it. Even as I was stepping off the plane, Madrid was still a total mystery to me. However, what I found turned out to be pretty amazing. I loved Madrid, and it was totally different from the image I had of it in my head. If you want to know more about that, you can hope back to the #tbt article from Madrid.
When I finally made my way over to Barcelona, to say that I had high hopes would have been an understatement. Madrid had set the bar very high. And to be honest, Barcelona didn’t quite live up to the hype. It was a little less pretty. It was a little dirtier. And somehow, it just didn’t seem to have as strong an identity as Madrid. You see, Madrid is, above all, Spanish. But Barcelona, in addition to being much more diverse and cosmopolitan, is also caught in cultural limbo between being Spain vs. being Catalonia. Although I was a bit younger during this visit, these distinctions were not lost on me at the time. I remember having a passionate (albeit, drunken) conversation with a taxi driver, unpacking all of this. Putting my Spanish into action, I remember cathartically exclaiming to him, “Madrid es España, pero Barcelona es Europa!” (Translated: Madrid is Spain, but Barcelona is Europe). The taxi driver was so enthusiastic in his agreement with this statement, that this hazy exchange sealed my understanding of this city for good.
Here’s a map of the city for reference. Feel free to zoom in and do some exploring on your own!
A Weekend In Barcelona
This first trip to Barcelona is very fragmented in my mind. It started with a long walk through a dimly lit airport in the middle of the night, and a long cab ride into the city that cost WAY more than we were expecting. I was a college student traveling with a large group of friends, so much of what would follow centered around alcohol. In truth, it was actually a very fun trip. It produced a lot of hilarious stories, but none that I’m going to share with you here. I think they mostly fall into the category of “you just had to be there.” Instead, let me talk about Barcelona as it presented itself to me. And then, the next time I return to Barcelona, I’ll get down to business breaking this place down for you piece by piece.
Let’s start with the beach. Somewhere along the line, we thought that it would be fun to go to the beach. I know there are gorgeous beaches somewhere around Barcelona, but the 10 feet of sand separating Barcelona’s city center from the Mediterranean was probably not one of them. This might take the cake for the most crowded beach I’ve ever been on. Nevertheless, we found an area on unoccupied sand, and set up shop. And that was about when we started to notice all of the naked people around us. People joke about wearing speedos, going topless, or just being flat-out naked as being “European,” and I never really understood that until this moment. It all seemed very normal here, so our gawking didn’t last too long. However, our stay at this beach also didn’t last long.
A few blocks back into the city, the cool ocean breeze was replaced with exhaust. Of course, there are many areas of the city open only to foot traffic. If you ask me, these alleyways and open markets are where Barcelona is at its best. But on the larger roads that dominate the city scape, things were just a stone’s throw away from unpleasant. Especially in the middle of a hot Spanish summer. But it turns out that city officials were just about to hatch a plan to change that. Here’s a video from Vox that really got me to thinking — every city should do this! I LOVE this.
To walk around the streets of Barcelona, there’s a lot going on, but perhaps the most striking pieces of this metropolis are the designs of famous Catalan Architect, Antoni Gaudí. I’m willing to bet that 7/10 of you have seen a picture of Gaudí’s work somewhere before, though you may not have known it. He had a one-of-a-kind style that is impossible to mistake or overlook. Picture lots of curvy, shiny lines, like an artistic, cartoonish take on the distant future. His work is all over Barcelona, and has become defining to the city’s identity. His most notable work is the Sagrada Familia, which actually remains unfinished even to this day, almost 100 years after his death. They’re working on it though—this iconic church is still under construction today and is slated to be complete by 2030, give or take a few years. I remember standing outside the Sagrada Familia with a few friends questioning whether it was worth the entry fee. Apparently I was already very jaded in the arena of tourist attractions. The line was just so long and it was just so hot outside. Eventually I bit the bullet, waited in line, paid the fee, and I must say, it was actually super cool and very worth it. Next time I’m in Barcelona, I’m doing a Gaudí tour.
To cover everything that is covered in the gallery below, the last detail that I should share with you about my time in Barcelona is that I was there during gay pride. I was pretty drunk during this sub-chapter of the trip, but I do know that there was loud music and a foam pit. I ran into this foam pit with a little point-and-click digital camera, and came out the other side with a few pictures that I actually really like but can’t quite remember taking. Somewhere on that same card there are pictures of me and a couple friends posing with Spanish drag queens, but I will spare you those.
So here are a few of my favorite recovered shots from that weekend. This was before I even owned a DSLR, or cared much about photography beyond it being a fun hobby… but I think some of these shots are still actually pretty cool! (Okay to be honest, I actually had owned a DSLR like a month ago, but I was robbed in the Sevilla train station, but that’s a different story—the point is, I did not own one at this point in life.)
You have all sorts of different experiences when you are traveling from one city to another very quickly. In some places—actually, most places—you are an outsider. In other places, somebody opens the door and lets you in, which is always extremely meaningful. However, in Barcelona, I feel like nobody really needed to open the door for me. It was already open. Because over the course of the 72 hours (probably less) that I spent here, I feel like actually experienced a LOT, and most of it didn’t have much to do with Barcelona itself. It was just life that was happening here. And it was fun.
So this is the last stop in this #TBT as far as Spain is concerned, but we’re not quite done yet—there are still 3 more articles, on 3 more cities, in 3 different countries that I’m about to take you through. Ready for a lil Euro-trip?
Track of the day is from Catalan artist Joan Dausà. I discovered him through my Barcelona-transplant coworker at my day-job back in Madrid. At this point, Joan’s first album had just come out, and I was very interested in the fact that he sang in Catalan. For the record, that first album was really beautiful, he sort of fell off my radar for a period of years after leaving Spain. I dug him back up to write this article, and ended up stumbling onto one of his newer releases that I really love. Check him out!