Growing up, my mom always made me aware that my Puerto Rican heritage meant that I had Spanish blood; although people constantly assumed we were Mexican, we always had pride in our Spanish roots, reflected in rich, savory food without the heat, our love for all things tropical, and a Caribbean flair. I’ve always known about my Spanish connection.
After visiting cities like London and Paris, the entirety of Spain fell to the backburner; glamorous places like Santorini and Milan grasped my attention with their promise of luxurious beaches and unrivaled ocean views. However, after actually confirming our return to Copenhagen and scouring Google Flights, Barcelona and Madrid surfaced as our additional destinations. I had a deep desire to go back to the Scandinavian city that holds my heart, but I also desperately wanted to visit somewhere new and feel adventurous.
We completed the first half of our trip, flying from cold, rainy Copenhagen to warmer, sunnier Barcelona. Our flight was short, a mere 2.5 hours, so we were able to hop off the plane right into a new adventure.
One train, one metro stop, several blocks and ten flights of stairs later, we were in our gorgeous Airbnb. Barcelona did not immediately appeal to me, although I did notice a much more laid-back atmosphere than the one that we’d just come from in Copenhagen. I have to admit: our Airbnb was stunning, but I was LIVID that we had to lug our bags up about 10 flights of stairs. And no, I am not exaggerating! It's a good thing there was a beautiful balcony...
Before I get into the wonderfully bohemian experience I had in Barcelona, I’d like to insert a particular situation here. I never claim to post reviews on jolenegoes; many of my regular readers know that what I promise is an authentic, honest recap of my own personal experience, and I always try to stay faithful to that.
When we arrived at our Airbnb, our host greeted us and immediately jumped into business, “Have you been watching the news?” This is never a question you want to hear from your host, in a country you’ve never been in. “There have been protests all over the city… but you will probably be fine. Just tell me where you are going and I’ll keep you updated if you shouldn’t be going there.”
I tried not to overthink, but I had to admit, I was nervous. I decided to let it all go and "cross that bridge when we got there." I didn't come all the way to Spain to sacrifice amazing experiences in the name of fear. So, once we settled in, we hit the ground running – we were off to eat, then headed to the Picasso Museum.
I’d experienced so much familiarity in Copenhagen that I was beyond refreshed to have some new experiences in Barcelona. Everything was foreign, from the streets to the metro stops to the signs in Catalan. I was so concerned about my first time in Spain (Siesta time? Late dinner? Mediterranean climate?) that it truly never occurred to me that I would love it.
For those of you who are not familiar with Spain, Barcelona is actually the capital of an autonomous community called Catalonia. Barcelona has a colorful history and it is no secret that Catalonian pride is not synonymous with Spanish pride. I’d done some research prior to visiting this beautiful city, so I had some reservations about it. Thankfully, on our walk to the Picasso Museum, my doubts drifted away and Barcelona began to lure me.
While I’m not the biggest fan of Picasso, the Picasso Museum was a wonderful introduction to his life and lesser known works. It was also located in a wonderful area full of shops and restaurants. I quickly fell in love with the narrow, winding streets and aging storefronts that had most likely seen decades of history.
We paid a little extra for the audio guide in the museum, which was helpful as neither of us is a Picasso expert. The museum layout was not particularly intuitive, but we made our way through all of its rooms. When we were done, we explored the museum's surrounding areas, grabbed a light dinner, then returned to our Airbnb early to prepare for our upcoming day of adventures.
A dark, early morning was waiting for us as we headed out on our one and only full day in Barcelona. The stars were still out, but the city was beginning to wake. We took a bus across town to our first destination: Park Guell, one of many masterpieces created by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí.
I’d read countless blogs and seen many, many photos of this beautiful place, so naturally I was excited to experience it myself. I timed our arrival so we would be able to catch the sunrise over Barcelona, and it was completely worth waking up early for!
Our pre-paid tickets were scanned and we joined the small crowd that had gathered on the very famous mosaic-laden overlook. Gaudi’s structures rose from the horizon, animatedly twisting and curving towards the sun-drenched sky. The warm light bathed his Tim Burton-esque architectural wonders, and suddenly I understood the charm of Barcelona.
We spent much time admiring the city from that overlook, analyzing the detailed mosaics covering the benches we sat on. I was even inspired enough to paint! Once we were satisfied with our plethora of photos, we decided to explore the rest of the park.
We walked down winding paths lined with leafy green trees and made our way through Gaudí’s wonderland. As the morning progressed, the crowds grew, and by 10AM we were ready to move onto our next destination.
After a quick brunch stop, we were on our way yet again, this time to a meeting point in the Gothic Quarter for a photo shoot. Through Airbnb Experiences, I booked a photo shoot with a small group of tourists and a photographer named Mike, in one of the most picturesque areas of Barcelona.
Mike, a UK-native, was warm, welcoming, and made everyone feel comfortable in front of the lens. We walked quite a bit and it was a perfect way to see this beautiful nook of the city in addition to coming away with some great photos.
After our shoot, we explored the surrounding area, ducking into boutique shops and finding some amazing coffee. However, we did finally encounter the protests we'd heard so much about. Our photo shoot group was full of tourists who had woken up to smoke and fires in their neighborhoods, so we'd heard the stories. As we came to a main street, we noticed quite a stir - we looked to our left and the entire street was full of people, marching behind a Catalan banner. It was an incredible scene; I myself had never witnessed a march or protest in person. The atmosphere was absolutely electrifying, even to me, a tourist who was not informed as to what was going on. Thankfully, our encounter was peaceful, albeit intimidating.
Our day then began to fade away, as the golden hour was approaching. We’d already had a busy day, but it was time to visit one of the most famous places in Barcelona: the Sagrada Familia.
The Sagrada Familia is a Catholic basilica whose construction began in 1882 and is not yet completed. It is an extravagant work of art, unlike anything I have ever seen before. Upon exiting the Sagrada Familia metro stop, I was immediately struck by the sheer size of the building!
I highly recommend spending a few extra dollars for the audio guide. It was recommended to me by a family member and I’m glad I took the advice to heart. Without the guide, I would have missed the majority of the architectural details, as well as the meaning of many of the choices Gaudí made.
While I am not a big fan of visiting cathedrals and traditional cathedral-type buildings, I was completely overwhelmed by the Sagrada Familia. Once we entered, I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. It was so beautiful, so unique, so incredible.
Sunlight poured through the gorgeous, colorful stained glass windows and filled the magnificent space with color and warmth. Every crevice, curve, pillar, and detail had been thought out so carefully, I was absolutely amazed.
I simply could not get enough of the light!
After we had exhausted every inch of the inside of the basilica, we ventured outside back into the sunlight to admire La Sagrada Familia in its entirety. I even stopped to paint it!
We were essentially finished with our one full day in Barcelona, and I’d realized that my reaction to the city was not what I expected it to be. When I first visited Paris, I anticipated some kind of artistic awakening like the artists I’d studied – I thought I’d succumb to the infamous draw of Parisian life and Bohemian temptation… However, that call came to me in Barcelona! The city inspired me so much, and sitting in front of La Sagrada Familia to paint it was a wonderful experience.
The sun was beginning to set, and night fell over the city that I’d grown to love in a mere 24 hours. The realization of our time ending also sunk in; we had one last dinner date before packing our things and bidding adieu to our gorgeous Airbnb.
We had a lovely dinner with my friend Taylor who had just moved to Barcelona... until we noticed a pair of police officers coming in to use the bathroom. And then another pair. And another pair... and another pair, and so on. Our waiter even approached our table and told us that we were out on a "very dangerous night," and he encouraged us to be safe on our way home. When we finished our meal, Jennifer and I walked home down the street we came - it was a straightforward way home, a 10-minute walk. We stayed calm despite seeing police officers and armored cars/vans on every cross street. Everything was peaceful, but it was not necessarily a welcome sight.
We got home safely, but I had received a text from our host letting us know that there would be a city-wide strike the next morning. We were planning on taking a train to Madrid the following morning, so we made sure to leave extra early, just in case some of the station employees decided to strike, leaving the station shorthanded.
The good news? We did not run into a single problem! However, I was reminded that travel brings all sorts of surprises, and not all of them are good ones. We should always be smart when we travel, and be prepared for anything!
Until next time,
Happy wandering, and always be prepared!