Bon Nadal Barcelona (Merry Christmas Barcelona!)

BARCELONA = AWESOME

The past 3 days (think 2 days and 2 halves) Vi and I have spent in this marvelous Catalan city, soaking in as much as we could.

Barcelona Christmas Market

Vi and I decided a while ago that we wanted to go to Barcelona for this puente in December. (I’m not sure if I already explained this, but puente means bridge and in this case is referring to a holiday that is on a Thursday and you take the Friday off too). Basically the internet/bus companies seemed to be conspiring against us when we first tried to book tickets, but through perseverance and luck we were able to book a flight. We flew on Wednesday from Valladolid, a town an hour and half away from Salamanca to beautiful Barcelona. I just want to state that the Valladolid airport is THE SMALLEST airport I have ever been to. It was a bit surreal when I’m used to the craziness that is Pearson International. We flew Ryanair to El Prat. I don’t find Ryanair all that bad. I mean I wish they would stop trying to sell me products (smokeless cigarettes? honestly, it’s like an hour flight…), but if you have a book and some music you’re good to go.

He has a musical?????

At first, I don’t think we were too sure about about our hostel. Compared to the really nice, really new hostel we stayed at in Madrid, this one was a lot older. But it turns out that it was actually really awesome, but more on that later.

The first day we got there, we just went to the hostel, chilled out for a bit and relaxed. We had only slept about 3-4 hours each the night before. Later we decided to have a bit of a walk around, eat (kebabs!) and see some of Barcelona. The hostel was only about 10 minutes away from La Rambla, the famous street. It was very pretty Christmas lights in the streets and on the trees. I enjoyed being in a big, bustling city again – reminds me of the hectic-ness that is Toronto.

Later we bought bocadillos (baguette sandwiches) and went back to the hostel to eat. While we were eating and playing Battleship and Connect Four (flashback to elementary school anyone?), we met a lovely Dutch girl knitting in the common room. And that was the start of this very different, but awesome trip.

The next morning we went on a free walking tour of the city, in the Gothic area. We were joined by said Dutch girl, whom I shall name Holly (if you haven’t noticed, I tend not to use people’s actual names). It was really good, informative and a great way to get an introduction to Barcelona. Our guide’s name was Chris, from Australia. When it was done, we had lunch at the bar where the tour ended and had a good chat with Chris, Nat, a girl from Colombia, and Juan, a man from Ecuador.

Next, at around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, we decided to head up to Mont Juic, the mountain in Barcelona. At this point, my battery for my camera was more or less dead, as was Holly’s. 😦 Sooo sad. But the view was marvelous. From the castle at the top you can see over all of Barcelona and over the Mediterranean. It was quite stunning.

Being tourists
Climbing up Mont Juic

The walk back was long but also very nice as we got to see different areas and learned a lot about Amsterdam and the Netherlands and the differences and similarities between Canadian, German, Irish and Dutch cultures. Back at the hostel, some of the other guests there wanted to have an apéritif, which basically turned into a big meal of pasta, baguettes, ham, cheese and of course wine. It was actually really awesome. There were people from all over the world and we had conversations in what ever language you could understand, mainly Spanish, French and English. There were people from Vancouver (yay Canadians!), Oregon, Mexico, China, Korea, France, Amsterdam, Germany, Argentina, Switzerland and more, coming and going. The girl from Vancouver and myself had to explain Canada’s relation with the Queen – it was entertaining, seeing it from another perspective.

Day 3 started off with a 3 hour bike tour of the city. Vi, Holly and I met up with Nat from the day before and went on this tour with about 10 other people, from the US, China, Japan and England. Our tour guide this time was Duncan from Ireland. Honestly, I was TERRIFIED to go on this tour. I love to bike but I never do in big cities. It had been about 4 years since I rode I bike and that was in the hills of Quebec. But recently I’ve been doing this thing were I say yes to things I wouldn’t normally do, trying to get out of my comfort zone. And it was worth it. The tour was a lot of fun and the bike lanes in the city are great. I felt really safe most of the time (some intersections are hard to cross).

It was on this tour that we saw the Gaudí buildings (Casa Mila and Casa Batllo) and the Sagrada Familia. We never went into any of them, but we did stop outside and look in awe while Duncan explained them. We had about 15 minutes at the Sagrada Familia, to walk around and see it all. It was stunning. It is actually quite baffling to try and consider how the architect Gaudí’s mind worked. It was phenomenal. In about 20 years when it is finished, it will be even more stunning. You can click here to read more about it.

La Sagrada Familia
Casa Batllo

We also went along the Barcelona beach, which had been created for the 1992 Olympics. The sand is from Egypt and the palm trees from Hawaii I believe. I felt like I was in the tropics (sort of).  We saw the Arc de Triomf. It is smaller than the one in Paris, but I think it is a lot prettier. Plus it leads to a gorgeous park next to the Barcelona Zoo.

The Arc de Triomf and I

Once the tour was over, the four of us had some Vietnamese food and then headed to the Christmas market in front of the Cathedral. According to Vi, it was very different that the very famous German markets, but it was still pretty cool and festive. I’ve been missing the Christmas spirit lately and I definitely found it there. The only thing I bought was a Tió de Nadal (a Christmas log) or Caga Tió (pooping log). It is a Catalan Christmas tradition where children hit the log with sticks while singing a song and the log will poop out presents, small ones like candy and treats. Next to the Christmas Market there was a giant Tió de Nadal on a stage and there were parent and children waiting in line to hit the log.

Caga Tiós in the Christmas Market
My Caga Tió. Ain’t he adorable!

Another thing we saw was the Caganer, which is “a figurine depicted in the act of defecation appearing in nativity scenes” (wikipedia). They were very popular, with all sorts like Barack Obama, Bart Simpson, The Queen, etc.
 

After the market, Vi, Nat and I headed up to Park Guell, Gaudí’s famous park. But by time we got there, it was dark. Nat decided to head but, but Vi and I went on, into the unlit, sketchiest park of life. Where we entered was not the main entrance and we basically had to climb a steep hill, with stairs and escalators just to get to the park. We met two Chinese girls studying in Paris and we all thought it safer to wander around together. My camera was dying AGAIN so I wasn’t able to get many photos. We managed to find our way to what I assume is the highest point in the park and we had a fantastic view of Barcelona at night. Then we ventured through the unlit paths until we made it to the main entrance, where all the famous pictures from the park are taken. From what we could tell by dying phone battery light, it was a beautiful place. Just the tile work on the benches was stunning and so detailed. It was great to get to go there, but I definitely DO NOT recommend going at night. You can barely see anything. But it was still and experience and we met some really nice girls.

What amazing signage

Once we eventually found our way back to the metro, (which was no where near the park btw), we headed back to the hostel for another communal dinner, our last one there. After, some of us went out to a local rumba themed bar for a beer or two (them, not me, because I still stand by the notion that beer is gross. Blehhh. Fanta Limon for me please.). A new member to the group was a guy from Brazil who was traveling around Europe while on break from school. It was fun 🙂

The next morning we said out goodbyes then headed (waaaaaaaaay too early) to the airport. The duty free shop had giant Toblerones on sale!!!! So naturally we bought them, with the intention of giving them to other people. Aahahaha how naive. Less than 24 hours later they were open and we were enjoying the chocolate, almond, nougaty goodness that those crazy Swiss created. This last day was basically a waiting game. We spent about 2 and a half hours waiting in Valladolid airport for the bus back to Salamanca. and then another 2 hours on the bus there. It was nice to finally be back home. But I miss Barcelona already!
There is so much we didn’t get to see, yet so much we did. And perhaps the best part of all was getting to meet so many different people. I don’t think either one of us expected it, but it’s nice to know that despite the fact that people come from all sorts of backgrounds and walks of life, you can find things in common. It seems that traveling takes you to new places and into new cultures, but it can also serve as a reflection on yourself and what you consider normal. And you learn to appreciate the things that make life interesting, whether they be crazy churches, sketchy parks, the smell of Christmas, or a little wine and cheese with some new friends.  (I know, I know, I just got all John Green there.)

Bon Nadal Barcelona, until we meet again.

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