My first solo trip for 2017 saw me venture to Spain’s Catalonian capital of Barcelona. This short getaway marked my flagship adventure to mainland Europe.
By lunchtime I was lining up for the Aerobus from the airport to Placa de Catalunya in the heart of the Gothic Quarter and just off La Rambla, the buzzing tourist area. From here I walked down to the street where my guesthouse was located. The guesthouse had no signage and I passed by it twice before noticing the tiny hand scribbled note on a doorbell. The door buzzed open and after climbing 2 flights of stairs I came to the reception. After check in and climbing another flight of stairs I had settled into my tiny comfortable room.
I dared venture out immediately and found myself a focaccia and ice cold coke while I watched tourists practice their best Spanish. I myself had mastered ‘No de le entiendo de nada’. The irony of saying you don’t understand Spanish, in Spanish.
It was mid afternoon by this time so any hopes of joining a tour or hopping on a bus were useless. Instead I decided to walk around the Gothic Quarter. I noticed the top of a beautiful gothic church, and as I followed the narrow streets towards it realised it was the Catedral de Barcelona. This is truly an amazing piece of architecture by Antoni Gaudi. I had to sit down for a while to allow myself to take it in.
From the cathedral I traced my footsteps back to La Rambla in search of La Boqueria Market. Most of the stalls had closed up for the day but I still had 2 more days to come back.
I headed back to the guesthouse for an early evening, this time only walking past it once.
I was spoiled for breakfast. The owner had set up a platter of cold meats and spanish omelette at my table which left me barely able to move once I was done. I waddled back up to Placa de Catalunya and bought a 2 day ticket on the hop on/hop off bus. I decided to have a day for each route (red and blue), which I’m glad for as there is a lot to see.
The red route took me past Casa Batllo, a Gaudi design. This building is a masterpiece. The colours, the art, the quirkiness. The balconies reminded me of masquerade masks. On the opposite side stood another of Gaudi’s designs, the Casa Mila with stone knights on the roof top.
The bus snaked its way to Sants train station then on to Placa d’Espanya which is home to the Arenas de Barcelona; a former bullring arena now converted into a shopping mall. The 4 columns and Venetian Towers are found in this buzzing tourist square as well. My first stop was at the top of the National Museum of Art which allowed me to capture the square.
I wandered through the gardens weaving my way through the illegal street vendors ready to bag their goods at the slightest hint of police. From here I hopped back onto the bus bound for Port Vell passing Anella Olimpica; the olympic ring which is one of the sports facilities in this city. The descent to the harbour offered beautiful views. I made sure this was my next stop. I sat down for lunch at a restaurant overlooking the beach and ordered white wine with a creamy prawn linguine. There’s something about having a chilled glass at 1pm on a Wednesday while everyone rushes back to work.
I took a stroll along the man made beach and sat on the edge of the pier while watching kite surfers in the distance. It was a while before I headed back to Barri Gotic (the Gothic Quarter). Once we were back at Placa de Catalunya I secured a seat on the top deck right at the front, determined to stay on the entire time and capture some shots as the sun set over Barcelona.
2 hours later and I was back in the Quarter. A few days prior I had read about a fairy cocktail garden which I was determined to find. After a shower, quick change into a floral dress with some pink lipstick I was walking down La Rambla in search of the alley that led to El bosc de les Fades. As I wandered down the alley I found myself skeptical as to whether this place actually existed, but then I saw the lanterns lighting up the entrance, and I knew I’d fallen down the right rabbit hole.
The tables and chairs are all wooden and there are flowers and foliage draped over pillars climbing up and covering the ceiling to give it a forest feel. The entire bar is dimly lit with small ponds and there is a butterfly collection too. There’s an air of mischief in the El bosc de les Fades. I ordered a strawberry daiquiri, I thought this an appropriate drink for the last night of my twenties. I watched young lovers get lost in the mischief, groups of ladies feel like little girls on Christmas morning and grown men slowly ease into being in a fairy garden. I took one last walk around the bar before heading back to my room.
There was another platter of cold meats and Spanish omelette waiting for me the next morning. After breakfast I headed back to the bus stop to catch the blue route.
We went past a couple of familiar places from yesterday but then the bus headed north and before long there stood the absolutely magnificent (and unfinished) La Sagrada de familia. Seeing pictures of this architectural wonder is breathtaking but finally seeing it in person rendered me speechless. I stared at the front of this church for a long time before collecting my ticket to explore it. The tour began at the rear of the cathedral which is the foundation of Gaudi’s work. It was clear to see this part of the church was quite old and yet still remarkable. I took in the sculptures and odd designs while tourists around me took out their selfie sticks to try and get in a picture with (arguably) Antoni’s ultimate masterpiece.
I made sure I put my camera away as I wanted to remember the moment I walked through the doors in my memory and not on a photograph. The beauty in the detail knocked the wind out of me. The bone white columns, the light pushing through the stained glass windows, the reminder of how small I was. No picture will ever capture that moment the way my memory has. I spent the next 30 minutes walking up and down the aisles and columns taking in the stained glass colours, the way the columns looked like trees reaching for the sky, the spiralling staircases that didn’t seem to end. It was only then that I pulled out my bridging camera to attempt capturing the spirit of the Sagrada. I was eventually able to tear myself away and walk through to the front of the church where I had stepped off the bus. The front of the cathedral is the newer part of the build. I’d like to think they’ve kept it true to Gaudi’s original design. I wonder if he’d be proud to see his still unfinished work of art.
It was hard to leave but I still had a few more stops on my route. My next hop off was Parc Guell, the community designed by, you guessed it, Antoni Gaudi. I climbed all the way to the top of the hill for remarkable views of Barcelona. As I made my way down through the gardens I came across a set of columns where a violinst and cellist were serenading passers by. The classical composition was beautiful and hypnotising. I managed to tear myself away to find some lunch and head back to the blue route.
My next stop would’ve been Tibidabo Mountain however it was closed on this day so onwards I went to the FC Barcelona Musuem. There were vendors selling Barcelona team paraphernalia; from scarves to jerseys to signed pictures. I carried on back to the start of the route and again stayed on for one final round. Passing by the Sagrada Familia again was still breathtaking. I’m glad to have this memory attached to my 30th birthday.
After another shower and make up I was back down La Rambla watching the night come alive. An observation of the women in Barcelona is that they love their bodies and flaunt their natural beauty and curves. It is always so refreshing to see this. It has a strange ripple effect on making you feel comfortable in your own skin. Thank you Barca ladies!
My feet led me into a tapas restaurant where I ordered prawns, meatballs, croquettes and white wine. I watched as a young man bought his lady a red rose, a group of women order sangria and smoke cigarettes, and another lady dining alone raise her glass to me.
I took a slow stroll back to my bed as I settled in for my final night in Barcelona.
I woke up early the next morning determined to see the La Boqueria Market. The market was already humming away by 9am. I went down every aisle taking in the fresh meat, fish, cheese, sweets, baked goods, fruits and vegetables. The stalls were colourful. I bought myself a fruit smoothy and stood aside people watching. Some buying weekend groceries, others stocking up for their businesses and others being tourists. I headed back to the guesthouse for my final breakfast before signing the guestbook and heading to the airport.
Here I was travelling alone on my 30th birthday but not once did I feel lonely or fear I was missing out on a celebration. I was glad to be an African female solo adventurer, a thousand miles away from her home in Australia, in a buzzing Spanish city.