Growing up, Roger Federer was always my favorite tennis player and celebrity. His rival Rafael Nadal consistently beat Roger in head-to-head matches, and, understandably, Rafa became the target of a lot of my anger. Rafa is from Spain.
Other than him though, there’s not much that I dislike about Spain. For the final leg of our trip, we visited Barcelona and Madrid, and these cities were colorful in every sense of the word. From the great food to the breathtaking architecture to the relaxed atmosphere1 to the literal colorfulness of the cities, Barcelona and Madrid had a lot of everything.
We arrived in Barcelona fairly late in the evening, so all we did on the first night was find our hostel and sleep. On our way there we learned that people in Barcelona primarily speak in Catalan, a language that feels like a hybrid of Spanish and French. Madrid is the capital of Spain, but Barcelona is the capital of the Catalan region and culture. We had some trouble communicating with our Catalan-speaking bus driver, but a nice local person helped us find our way to our hostel.
The Spanish Lifestyle
People in Spain have a very laid-back lifestyle that is quite different from the American lifestyle. On an average day people wake up fairly late and eat a small breakfast. After working a bit, they eat a huge lunch, which is the main meal of a Spanish person’s day. This large meal is followed up by a siesta, or an afternoon nap, and sometime in the afternoon they might have a snack. Dinner doesn’t start until very late in the evening, usually around 9PM. Late at night people will still be out casually eating food or enjoying life.
Having reached the tail end of our journey, we were fairly tired. We gladly welcomed this lifestyle with open arms.
We left the hostel around noon for brunch and made our way to La Sagrada Familia, one of the most stunning buildings in the world. The church, which covers an entire block in the middle of the city, is still under construction and it towers high above its surroundings. It’s large enough that it is visible from almost any reasonably high point in the city. The line to get inside was about 2 hours long, so we decided that we’d book tickets for the next day instead. We took a few photos from the outside though.
Afterwards we walked down the Passieg de Gracia, where we passed by some modernist architecture like the Casa Battlo and the Pedrera. In Barcelona you can sense the overwhelming influence of architect Antoni Gaudí, the best known practitioner of Catalan Modernism. Many of the most popular tourist attractions in Barcelona, including La Sagrada Familia, are architectural masterpieces designed by Gaudí or heavily influenced by his style.
We continued down the road as it turned into Las Ramblas, the primary shopping road that runs through the old Barcelona city center.
The Colorful Market
We eventually came upon La Boqueria, a covered food market. This was the first place where we really saw all the amazing colors of Barcelona.
The food market had everything, from classic Spanish dishes like Empanadas to Iberian meats to nuts to extremely colorful smoothies and fruit. It even had tapas bars and a steak restaurant that Helen recommended. Having eaten a large brunch just a few hours earlier, we ate a little bit at the market and decided that we’d come back for more food in the next few days.
We continued down Las Ramblas and then doubled back through the Gothic quarter of Barcelona. In many ways the Gothic quarter felt like Rome. The narrow alleyways and the beige-colored churches harkened back to our time in the Eternal City.
At around 5PM, we were feeling slightly hungry again, so we had a few small dishes at a tapas bar. We then made our way to the Park Ciutadella. In the park people sunbathed on its grassy fields, rowed boats in a lake, and admired a nice fountain palace.
Near the lake we spotted a kid dumping multiple bottles of yellow Powerade into the lake. His actions seemed inexplicable to me, so I took a picture of him. He proceeded to yell at me in Catalan as I walked away.
Around sunset we made it past some fancy buildings to the beach, which was both long and empty.
On our way back to the hostel, we had some issues entering the metro. I tried to communicate with a metro staff member about it, but she was not confident in her English and asked if I could speak in French. I happily obliged. While trying to explain our situation to her, I struggled mightily. She ultimately decided that her English was much better than my French, and we ended up speaking in English instead. This moment definitely made me wish even more than before that I had tried harder in French class.
At night we tried paella and sangria for the first time, but the restaurant we ate at was not very good. That 11PM dinner was probably the only bad meal we had in Spain.
The Colorful Church
As is customary in Spain, we woke up quite late and took our time getting out of the hostel. We started the day off again at La Sagrada Familia, except this time we got to go inside. As amazing as La Sagrada Familia is on the outside, it’s probably ten times as amazing on the inside.
Oh my god. This combination of extravagance and modernism just blew my mind. Light filtered in through the beautiful and elaborate stained-glass windows, and the arches supporting the ceiling seemed to extend unfathomably high upwards. An elevator contained in a tube of glass stood next to a set of spiral stairs. Combined with the faint angelic sounds emanating from the altar area, just barely audible above the din of awestruck tourists, these features made the church seem like it came straight out of a video game creator’s mind. It reminded me of the Ark of the Covenant from Halo 3. Except it was real.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, David’s comment that the opulence of churches made him more atheist rang out, but I couldn’t help but think that La Sagrada Familia was worth every penny.
For lunch we ate at Morrysom at around 3:30PM. Morrysom was an authentic Spanish restaurant that served “Menu Del Dia,” a 3-course lunch for a relatively low price. Here we had good paealla and good tapas.
The Colorful Park
Afterwards we made our way to Park Güell, another one of Gaudí’s masterpieces. The park itself was fairly nice and had incredible panoramic views of the city of Barcelona. We could see the ocean in the distance, La Sagrada Familia and various other famous buildings in the heart of the city, and Tibidabo (a ferris wheel) on the mountaintop.
The main attraction at Park Güell was the Monumental Zone, which housed Gaudí’s famous ceramic pieces.
Seeing these colors were definitely worth the two hour wait at the park.
Our final stop of the day was Castle Montjuïc. On our bus ride up the hill we passed by the Olympic village where the 1992 Olympics were held. We caught the sunset at the castle and had another decent panoramic view from the top.
At around 9:00PM we made it back down the hill to La Font Magica, which is supposed to have sensational water shows on certain dates. Unfortunately, none of the days we had been in Barcelona included water shows. However, the area near the fountain was still quite beautiful.
Strangely, a huge crowd of tourists were gathered around the fountain, just standing and staring at it. For a moment Victor and I thought that we had received the wrong information about the water shows. After a few minutes of waiting around without anything happening, it became clear that the power of groupthink was all that compelled the tourists to stay there, waiting for water that would never spring forth.
For dinner we had more tapas. The clock read midnight on a Thursday as we ate, but plenty of regular people were eating at the same time as we were. Everything we heard about the laid-back lifestyle in Spain was true.
This was the final day of the trip for Victor. We went to La Boqueria again and had steak at Pinotxbo Bar for lunch, which turned out to be delicious.2 At that point I needed to leave to catch my train to Madrid. Victor and I shared a very emotional goodbye, as we wouldn’t see each other again for quite a long time.3 And just like that, I was on my way to Spain’s capital.
I took the high-speed Renfe train to Madrid and met Tim at the train station. We caught up and discussed our thoughts on studying abroad and European life in general. Overall, we reached many of the same conclusions about life as a student in Europe. Tim’s lifestyle in Spain did differ from mine at Oxford and David’s in Zurich though. Tim lives with a host family that cooks for him, so it’s even harder for him to meet people than it is for me. Still, Tim tries his best to be social and frequently goes to clubs, where he meets girls with varying degrees of success. He also has a few great stories about his nights out, but for his sake I won’t post them here.
We dropped our luggage off at my high-tech hostel room and wandered around the city. For dinner we went to a tapas bar where drinks came with huge plates of tapas on the side – for just 5 euros, we could buy a large glass of sangria and a large platter of bread, potatoes, and meat. After our huge dinner we went to a rooftop bar and discussed life from our vantage point overlooking the city. We watched the city light up as the sun set, and we capped off the night with a delicious snack of chocolate with churros.
Again, the Spanish lifestyle is quite laid-back, so I only left the hostel at lunchtime to meet up with Tim. We ate another “Menu Del Dia” and went to Madrid’s Central Park. The park was not incredible, but it was certainly pleasant.
Afterwards, we went to the Prado Museum, which was incredible. Inside the Prado we saw paintings from Raphael, Goya, Titian, and Velazquez, among many others. The most famous painting we saw was Velazquez’s Las Meninas, but we also saw other really interesting and famous works like Goya’s The Third of May, 1808 and Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights.
We had Spanish burritos for dinner together before Tim and I parted ways. Tim would be coming to visit Oxford and London the next week, so we had more adventuring to do together in the next few days. But this was the last day of my long adventure in Europe.
I left the hostel early in the morning to catch my flight back to London. My long Eurotrip was finally over.
We booked a 3-person private room in Barcelona because we expected that Eric would come to Barcelona with us. He didn’t show up, so we knew we’d have an extra bed. It turned out that we actually ended up having two extra beds.
Otherwise, the hostel in Barcelona was slightly more personable than average and well-located, but nothing special.
In Madrid, I booked the only hostel I could find, and it turned out to be of very technologically saavy. The hostel didn’t give out room keys – instead, they scanned my fingerprint and my thumb became my room key. The hostel was also centrally located in Madrid, so it was definitely worth the price.
In Barcelona there were buses, tram lines, and the metro. They all worked fairly well, and you could purchase tickets that worked for multiple modes of transportation. The only confusing part was that some tickets only worked for the tram and not the metro.
In Madrid, the metro system was also quite useful and efficient. Luckily, Tim had an extra metro pass from when his parents visited, so I didn’t have to pay anything for transportation.
The food in Spain is both delicious and cheap.
Barcelona has almost every type of tourist attraction – buildings, panoramic views, beaches, and food. It’s definitely a great place to visit, but it has a bit too much for me to want to live in Barcelona.
Madrid is a much more standard city, and a much better place to live. It doesn’t have any outstanding tourist attractions outside of the Prado Museum, but it is a good place to live and to enjoy the Spanish lifestyle.
This marks the conclusion of my Eurotrip. I would write a conclusion of sorts here, but then I would have nothing to write when my term at Oxford is over. I’ll save that for later. I only have so much writing ability in me.
As for Spain, it certainly was colorful. In addition to all of the actual colors present in the two cities, we were able to experience almost every positive aspect of the rest of our trip in these two cities, whether it was food, museums, parks, beaches, or friends. In this sense Spain was a fitting destination for the finale of our Eurotrip.
I’ll miss the freedom of this trip. The complete detachment from responsibility that I lived with for these 3.5 weeks. The willingness to spend more for better experiences because, in my opinion, this is probably one of the best ways to spend money. If I’m being pessimistic, I might think that I’ll never have the time and energy to do something like this again in my life. But if I’m being optimistic, I could always follow in Joe Trunzo’s footsteps and do this every year until I’m 30.
In all seriousness, this trip really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m sorry to everyone that I annoyed with my incessant Snapchat stories4. Of course, I cannot give a big enough shoutout to Victor for somehow putting up with me 24 hours a day for almost 25 days in a row. You’re the best. I’m grateful that I was able to go on this adventure with you. Luckily, there’s still a little bit of adventure left this semester – starting back at Oxford!
(1) Did I mention, the great food?
(2) Thanks, Helen!
(3) Almost 2 whole days
(4) But not really