After unexpected weather derailed our original weekend plans, my friend and I set out to forge a new travel itinerary in less than a day, and within our limited student budget. Eager to explore a new European city, we decided to head south. For about 20€, we boarded a bus the very next evening, and began our nine hour journey from Lyon to Barcelona.
Leaving chilly France for sunny Barcelona was like being home in Southern California. The boulevards lined with palm trees alone were enough to bring a nostalgic smile to my face. However, I didn’t have time to feel homesick; I was to excited to wander the beautiful Catalan city. The first order of business was breakfast. I devoured an assortment of fresh bread, ripe avocado, brie cheese, and green apples at a downtown joint. I promise you that I’m kicking myself now for not writing down the name of the cafe because I loved the youthful and artistic vibes, as well as the food.
Gelato quickly followed breakfast in a way that is only permissible during spontaneous weekend trips. Personally, I think post-breakfast gelato is essential to the study abroad experience. If not because hazelnut gelato is a rare find stateside, then simply on the grounds that a lighthearted and flexible approach to life is absolutely necessary for any journey.
With full bellies and rapidly melting gelato cones in hand, we began our walking tour of the city. Barcelona is teeming with beautiful and unique architecture, most notable are the works of Antoni Gaudí. A visionary artist, Gaudí is the best known Catalan Modernist, and his buildings reflect the vibrant nature of the city. I enjoyed being able to admire Gaudí’s Casa Batlló in person. Locals refer to the building as the “house of bones” because of its skeletal exterior. I strolled down La Rambla, the first boulevard in Spain and the second in Europe, and pushed our way through the crowded La Boqueria, Barcelona’s busiest marketplace.
It was nice to slow down a bit in Barcelona. I spent at least an hour soaking up the rays on the Rambla de Mar, and cherishing the sight of the sparkling sea. However, our trek around the city would not have been complete without a a visit to the Gothic Quarter, and so on we went. The aperitivos and Clara con limón at Txirimiri were to die for. Clara con limón, a refreshing mix of beer and lemon juice, is a local favorite and a treat for any visitor to the city. It was early October, but I felt like I was getting an extra few days of summer in Barcelona.
I spent the rest of the evening traversing old streets and snacking on churros and chocolate. As the last few streams of sunlight cast their mysterious shadows across the city, I found myself looking up at the beautiful Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece. Construction on the church began in 1882, and won’t be completed for another ten years. That’s 145 years! With its towering spires and intricate sculptures, the Sagrada Família is without equal, and one of my personal favorite churches. While I was bummed that I wasn’t able to tour the inside of the church (due to the last minute nature of the trip), I learned an important travel lesson: you can’t see it all. But that’s okay! The view from the outside can be just as stunning.
My friend and I ended the night with dinner and drinks at La Pepita. I’m glad that my first glass of sangria was in Barcelona following a wonderful day of adventure. The next morning there was just enough time to journey across the city to catch a glimpse of Park Güell, another of Gaudí’s Catalan landmarks. The park sits atop of a hill, and boasts one of the best views in the city. Be aware that entry is ticketed, and the park will be crowded.
Just like that, our spontaneous trip to Barcelona was over. Another nine hour bus ride and we were back in Lyon. When I set out on my study abroad adventure, Spain wasn’t at the top of my to do list. In fact, if things had gone according to my original plans, I wouldn’t have visited the country at all. But the universe is funny and has a way of sending you exactly where you need to be. Evidently, I needed to stroll down Barcelona’s spacious, sunny boulevards, and be inspired by the magnificent architecture. And perhaps most of all, I needed to be humbled by the free-spirited Catalans that make Barcelona feel like home to everyone. Even the weekend visitors.