Since arriving in Spain in mid-September, I am ashamed to say I haven’t done too much traveling outside of Madrid. I’ve been quite busy with my teaching schedule (which I promise to write about soon – haha). I’ve really been enjoying Madrid, but when I finally had a long weekend at the end of October, I had to use the opportunity to travel outside of this wonderful city! Initially, my roommates and I had plans to rent a car and travel up along Spain’s northern coast. Unfortunately, they backed out on me (rather last minute *eyeroll*) and I was forced to scramble to make other plans. Luckily, one of the girls I worked with was also making plans for the long weekend. I [rather awkwardly] asked her if it would be okay to tag along and she said yes! So, it was off to Barcelona for the weekend!
We went to Barcelona from Madrid via Bla Bla Car, which is a ride sharing service for longer distances. It was quite enjoyable! Usually the driver sets a pick up and drop off point ahead of time and you agree to it before you use the service. On the way to Barcelona, we met at my coworker’s friend’s apartment in the La Latina area. Our driver actually agreed to pick us up right in front of her place, which was very kind. Our driver spoke no English, but luckily we picked up a fourth passenger who spoke Spanish so they could speak to one another. The Bla Bla Car from Madrid cost about €30 per person each way. We left at about 6pm on Friday night and got to Barcelona at about 12am. The ride took a bit over 6 hours because we stopped in Zaragoza for a quick ~20 minutes. Honestly, the car ride was a bit awkward for me because my coworker and her friend had known each other for a bit longer and had more mutual friends that they talked about basically the whole ride. I had nothing to contribute to their conversation so I mostly read my Kindle (1Q84 – a good book if you like fantastical mystery novels) or sang along to the songs in the car. It was a pretty long ride, haha.
Our Bla Bla Car driver was once again amazing and took us right to the front steps of our hostel — which was a Godsend because we were exhausted and just wanted to get in and sleep! We stayed at the Urbany Hostel in Barcelona, a tall rather odd looking building that was easy to spot from a distance. I was a bit hesitant because this was my first hostel experience and we were staying in a mixed dorm. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m a fairly light sleeper and the idea of having three random guys staying in my bedroom made me a bit nervous… Luckily, we had great roommates – they basically stayed out all night which made it easy for me to sleep! Seriously, these guys didn’t return until 7am most nights – haha.
There were certainly no frills to my little bunk bed, but I can’t complain! It was comfortable enough and I had my own charging station.
Since this was my first time staying at a hostel, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. Because it was Halloween weekend, there was a lot of stuff going on! Costume contests, karaoke nights, board game parties – you name it! The hostel was also great because it could book tickets for tourism/local events for you if you wanted.
Day One in Barcelona: A Walk Around the City
After arriving late to our hostel the night before, we decided to take the first day to walk around and see some sites. Our first walk was to the Arc de Triomf, about a 10-15 minute walk from our hostel. The day was sunny and gorgeous, perfect for walking around the city to gain our barrings.
They have a pretty standard operation here where people blow giant bubbles for the kids – and the kids love it!
We walked around the Arc de Triomf for a while and then stumbled across a nearby park. The park was beautiful. There, you could go for a boat ride in a pond, visit a small church, ride your bike, or simply stroll around if your heart desired.
After the park, we wandered in the direction of the beach, toward the Gothic District – an area of Barcelona known for its beautiful architecture. On our walk there, I really grew to appreciate how beautiful Barcelona is. I found that the streets there were so large and wide! In contrast, I feel like Madrid streets are much narrower and buildings are much taller. To me, Barcelona seems more “breathable” and open.
As we made our way down to the beach, there were a lot of little vendors selling goods. I found some watercolor prints that I really liked for only €3. They had all sorts of famous Barcelona views and I really wanted Sagrada Familia! I talked to my travel companions and they said we could come back later so I didn’t have to haul around the print with me all day as we walked around.
We continued walking and found the Gothic District. It’s a fairly central barrio in Barcelona, just north of the beach. The area here is a bit older and the streets reminded me more of Madrid – tall buildings with narrow passageways – but the sights were beautiful.
The tall buildings and old style architecture really drive home the European vibe for me.
We continued exploring this area and stopped for some ice cream as we continued our journey. I mentioned to my travel companions that I would like to head back to the beach vendors to pick up that print, but they said we were too far away and could come back to it another time since we still had three days… Reluctantly, I agreed and we continued on.
As lunchtime approached, my companions really wanted to check out the Barcelona market. Since it was supposedly near the Gothic District, we decided to search for a place to get some fresh food. It took us a while and we had to go through some twists and turns, but eventually we made it! The market was packed and there were people everywhere. There were tons of food options, but my coworker is a bit picky (she basically only eats chicken), so we settled on a fairly simple vendor. I was more than ok with this because they had the best selection of juices I’d ever seen! I’m a fruit fiend (let’s be honest, I’m a sugar fiend) so the sweet juices looked delicious to me.
Fresh squeezed juice – I could have tried every flavor if my pride didn’t prevent me from embarrassment.
After the market, we continued on our journey. One of the things I really wanted to do was ride the cable cars to see some views from above the city. Because we didn’t know where we were going, we ended up walking a lot. We typed in “cable cars” and directions on Google Maps and tried to follow the directions it gave us. Needless to say, we got a little turned around. Somehow we ended up walking up Montjuïc, a fairly tall hill southwest of the center of Barcelona to get to the cable cars… Only to find that they were different than the ones we wanted – haha. Still, it was a good hike!
The walk was long, but up on the hill you could see just how amazing Sagrada Familia looked!
At the top of the cable car rides, there was a castle and a view overlooking Barcelona’s harbor. The cable cars were a bit expensive at about €12, I’ll admit that. But I enjoyed the views from Montjuïc, even if it wasn’t what we initially planned. My companions, on the other hand, were in a bad mood after hiking up the hill and taking the cable car rides. While I went to explore and view the harbor from up above, they sat on a bench, waiting to go back down.
This was where I really started feeling frustrated with them. I had gotten along so well with my coworker at school that I figured a trip would be an extension of that. Instead, she seemed a lot more annoyed and uninterested in me, which was a bummer. All I could hear them talking about was what a waste of money that “stupid cable car ride” was and I felt bad. It was something I wanted to do and they just bashed it. I tried to remain optimistic though. Maybe they were just tired from our long walk around the city… I figured we could go back to our hostel, grab a bite to eat, and call it a night.
Once we went back to our hostel, we decided to wait a bit before heading to dinner (in Spain, they eat dinner crazy late – not before 9pm or so). Another of our coworkers had recommended a place she liked called Llamber, so we again set our GPS to that direction. It was about a 20 minute walk and when we arrived it was packed! We were all hungry and the wait was going to be more than an hour and a half. The hostess asked us if we wanted to wait. I suggested we put our names on reservation for the next day, but my suggestion fell upon deaf ears – another thing I was frustrated with. I definitely felt like my opinions weren’t worthwhile with these girls, which was a bummer. So we ate a a less busy restaurant before heading back to the hostel and calling it a night.
Day Two in Barcelona: Sagrada Familia
One of the things I was most excited for in Barcelona was Sagrada Familia. This is a basilica built by Antoni Gaudí, a famous Catalan architect. He has a lot of famous masterpieces in Barcelona, but his most famous is definitely Sagrada Familia – a massive basilica depicting the life of Jesus Christ through art and architecture. The basilica began construction in 1882 and is still being worked on to this day. The project is estimated to be completed in 2026, 100 years after Gaudí’s death. Our tour for the basilica didn’t begin until 5:30pm, so we decided to start the day with a brunch place my coworker found.
This was at a restaurant called Granja Petitbo and it was great! Fresh squeezed juice and a homemade waffle with fruit!
I tried to write the previous day’s annoyance as a one time fluke, but definitely still felt some tension with my companions. We had to put our names on a list and I went with my coworker’s friend to get a cup of coffee while we waited. All of my attempts at small talk were completely ignored so I finally just went outside to wait. Maybe she was just tired and hangry? Who knows. All I knew was that I wasn’t in the mood to be treated poorly for trying to be friendly. Luckily, brunch was amazing and everyone seemed to be in a better mood after eating.
Since we still had a few hours to kill before Sagrada Familia, we went to Park Güell, the location where Gaudí lived before his death. As we began walking there, I still felt a bit of iciness from the girls. They basically always walked ahead of me and all but refused to wait for me if I wanted to take any pictures. It was frustrating and I began feeling more and more like a loner on this trip.
I was grateful for my camera and the beautiful views, however! On our way to the park, we walked past Casa Battló, another of Gaudí’s works. Unfortunately we didn’t have tickets for inside this location, but it was still beautiful.
Gaudí’s work was fairly controversial at the time! He used a lot more curves and colors than what was considered “standard” back then.
After observing Battló, we continued to Park Güell. We did a pretty standard tour of Gaudí’s house and I bought a couple of postcards as mementos. The park was nice and completely overrun with people trying to sell you little trinkets as you walked through – haha. Here, I decided to barter for a selfie-stick, something which I previously was opposed to. However, this trip made me realize that I would rather travel alone than with the wrong people and I don’t want to miss out on any photo opportunities if I’m solo! So €3 later, I was ready for self taken portraits!
As our time for Sagrada Familia approached, we left the park and walked towards the basilica. We arrived a bit early so we decided to test out my new selfie stick:
My coworker, her friend, and me. Is it just me or do they look a lot closer? Haha.
Not bad for €3, right? Think about all that selfie potential! As we waited, I asked them if they wanted me to take their photo in front of Sagrada Familia considering it was a pretty famous landmark (the most visited monument in Spain, in fact). They looked at me like I had grown a second head. Was my question really that weird? They declined so I asked if one of them would mind taking a photo of me in front of it. Hey – I have a nice camera and wasn’t about to pass up this opportunity. Selfie sticks can only do so much. Thankfully, my coworker agreed. After seeing the quality of my photo, she suddenly had a change of heart and asked if I could get her picture in front of Sagrada Familia too. (Guess I’m not so crazy for wanting a picture, am I?)
After taking a few photos out front, 5:30 eventually rolled around and we began our audio tour of the basilica. It was absolutely beautiful inside and not at all what I pictured. The inside was like walking through a forest. As the audio tour explained, Gaudí believed that God was the greatest architect and wanted to create his work to honor God. For this reason, the inside looks sort of like a forest, with massive trees all around you.
Left: Me outside the landmark. Right: Inside the basilica.
It was very peaceful inside and I’m so so so glad we decided to do the audio tour. While you can definitely appreciate the architecture without the tour, I found it so much more impressive as I listened and learned. The audio tour guides you around and directs you where to look as it explains the significance about what you’re seeing. To me, the experience was very spiritual and I learned a lot about Gaudí and his creations. We happened to go on a weekend where youth tickets (anyone under 30) were half off, so the audio tour and Park Güell combo tickets were only €12 – definitely worth it. If you’re interested, you can buy your tickets here. This was my favorite site to have visited in Barcelona.
After we left Sagrada Familia, it was dark and my travel companions wanted to take the metro back to our hostel (I would have preferred walking, but it was too cold for them so we paid to ride the metro). They wanted to go out and party that night so I told them to go ahead without me. Honestly, I’m not much of a dancer. I much prefer to go to house parties or have small gatherings where we can drink and talk, so clubbing didn’t sound too appealing to me. This was especially the case because I already felt like a loner with them. I didn’t want to also become an uncomfortable loner, so I stayed back at the hostel and enjoyed reading and went to bed early. They insisted they wanted to go out the next night, since it was Halloween and I knew I couldn’t do two nights in a row. I promised to go out the next night and opted for an early night here. It was actually really nice to have some quiet, alone time.
Day Three: Bla Bla Chaos and Bike Tours
That morning, I heard my coworker come back around 5am, so I knew they were going to be exhausted that day. I, on the other hand, felt great. I got up and decided to leave the hostel and explore on my own for a bit before spending more time with them. Honestly, I loved it! I went to a little café and had a pastry and café con leche to myself. I then decided to explore the town a little bit on my own. I went into various shops and even purchased a pair of mouse ears for Halloween. I had agreed that I would go out because a lot was sure to be going on. Since I didn’t have a costume, I figured some ears could work. They were only €0.50, so it wasn’t like I broke the bank… I also went to a make up shop and practiced my Spanish with an employee as I tried to figure out how to ask for makeup primer in Spanish (“prebase” if you were wondering).
Eventually, my coworker texted me and asked where I was. I told her I was out and about but would be back shortly. As I returned to the hostel, her friend still hadn’t come back. We had planned on doing a bike tour that morning, but since I knew they would be hungover, we looked for a later time instead. My coworker and I decided to go get some lunch as we formed a game-plan on what to do for the day. Even here, I tried to make small talk and it was either argued with or shut down very quickly. I really wanted to do the bike tour, but another part of me really wanted to just return to Madrid and have this weekend come to an end. As my coworker and I sat down for lunch, she got a text from the Bla Bla Car driver who was supposed to pick us up the following day to return home. He said he had to cancel because his mother was in the hospital (and when he later explained his cancellation he said it was due to car issues – gotta be careful with some of these drivers, they can cancel on you for any reason).
Panic began to set in. I couldn’t get stuck in Barcelona for one more uncomfortable second! I began looking for flights on Vueling because they frequently have cheap flights (as low as €40) from Madrid to Barcelona one way. Even better – an hour and a half flight compared to a six hour car journey. I was worried because when we initially booked the Bla Bla Car there were no other options for return that day. We returned to the hostel and decided to check out our options. Thankfully, a few more Bla Bla Cars had opened up for the day we wanted to return. I wanted to leave earlier (our original car wasn’t until 5:30pm), so I kindly suggested one of the most affordable (and early) cars on the list. He was leaving at 11am – much better. We booked him and were all set for our [earlier] departure.
We then heard back from my coworker’s friend and she said she wasn’t interested in doing the bike tour. As we got in the elevator, I asked my coworker if she still wanted to go and she snapped, “Yeah, that’s why we are going down to the front desk.” I was a bit taken aback and a little hurt. I knew she was still a bit hungover and annoyed with the Bla Bla Car Chaos, but still, I didn’t think I deserved to be spoken to like that. Mind you, this was only one small incident from the weekend. There are about 20 other things I could mention but I don’t want this post to be totally about that.
We booked our bike tour for 4pm with the gal at the front desk and had to head to the Hard Rock Café at that time. We had a couple of hours to kill before then so we went back to our room. She took a nap and I read. At that time, her friend returned and agreed to book us dinner reservations at the Llamber, the place we couldn’t get into a couple days prior. Our bike tour was set to be three hours and included the bike rental, a guide, and a drink at the beach. Our hostel booked the tour for us, but I think this was the tour that we booked.
We left her friend and made out for the Hard Rock Café. We were instructed to look for the bike tour people wearing red tee shirts, and we found just one lady waiting for us. We waited for a bit, but it turned out that my coworker and I were the only two to book the tour! Pretty awesome to have a private tour, especially considering we only paid €18 for a three hour (+drink) tour! Our tour guide spoke perfect English (as well as Spanish, Catalan, French, Italian, and a little bit of Chinese – wow). She was spectacular! At first, the tour was a little bit scary because we were weaving in the streets in and out of crowds of people. She had instructed us not to use the bell unless it was an emergency, haha, so we dodged and wove as best we could without ringing at people to get out of our way!
In Barcelona, many people fly this flag – the independence flag. It’s hung from tons of buildings everywhere.
Since she was from Barcelona, I had to ask her about the separatist movement that is currently a stronghold in the city. She explained that movement has a lot of potential and Barcelona leads the region of Catalonia in their efforts towards separation. There are a lot of reasons behind this, but from my understanding, the biggest is that Catalonia contributes a disproportionately high amount of finance to the rest of Spain. Along with that, they also have their own unique history and even language – most people in Barcelona prefer speaking Catalan to you. If you don’t speak Catalan, they’ll speak English, and some flat out refuse to speak Spanish (their passion to become independent is strong). Basically, Catalonia feels that they could separate and become their own country and be better off than being part of Spain. It was really interesting!
After she explained some of those details to us, we moved on and she showed us a lot of landmarks. Since we had already seen Sagrada Familia, we skipped that part of the tour. We’d basically been walking through the entire city for the past few days and we had actually seen quite a bit! Still though, having our tour guide was perfect because she was able to explain a lot of things to us that we previously hadn’t known.
For example, she told us that Casa Battló that we had seen the day before had a rich history behind it. As I mentioned, Gaudí believed that God was the greatest architect and wanted his work to reflect that belief. If you look back up at the picture, you can see that his architectural style has a lot of elements in it like bones. Seriously, go scroll up and take another look. I’ll wait…
Glad you’re back! Pretty interesting, right? She also explained that Barcelona has its own history of how a knight had to save a princess from a dragon and that’s the reason that you see a lot of dragons symbolized in the city art. If you want to read the full story behind the dragons, you can go to this website. It’s a pretty cool story!
We went to the beach (finally!) as the sun started to set. It was beautiful.
We continued on our journey and eventually came to the beach for our drink. Daylight Savings Time had just taken effect so the sun set a bit earlier, but I didn’t mind. The weather definitely cooled and the bike ride was chilly, but I was moving enough not to notice too much. As we sat and drank, my coworker was still a bit hungover, so I did most of the talking. I got to know our tour guide and she was a fascinating human! She had a lot to say about Spain, traveling, Barcelona, and the world in general. After enjoying our drinks, we moved on and continued our tour.
Another one of Gaudí’s famous works – Casa Mila, commonly referred to as La Pedrera because of its appearance.
Again we saw more beautiful work by Gaudí. While its official name is Casa Mila, most refer to it as La Pedrera which roughly means “the stone quarry” due to its rough appearance. We can see more of Gaudí’s original work, how he chose to round out the sides of the buildings rather than leave them as hard, jutting angles. Our tour guide explained that up at the top of the building, you can see those weird shapes… Those were actually used as inspiration for the Storm Trooper helmets in Star Wars! Now you’ve learned something interesting today.
After three hours of more riding through the city, our tour came to an end. It was definitely my favorite outing in Barcelona. As I mentioned, I really liked our tour guide and it was great to have a private tour at such a low rate! I also loved riding the bike – that used to be how I went to work in Montana when the weather allowed! I missed it. Even if I was sore from the bike seat the next day.
My coworker and I headed back to the hostel to meet her friend. We had about an hour until we went to dinner so we did a bit more relaxing. I read as they talked and eventually we headed back to Llamber for dinner. Upon arrival, it was fairly quiet. Our reservation was for 8pm and nobody was out eating yet. We sat down and took a look at the menu. We ordered some wine as we browsed. Our waiter was pretty slow considering the restaurant was basically empty, and my coworker refused to eat anything off of the menu. I wish I could say I couldn’t believe it, but considering the place served mostly sea food (remember, she only eats chicken), I wasn’t surprised. So we finished our wine and we left to look for a place with more “variety”.
After settling in on our restaurant, I mentioned that it was Halloween and asked if they wanted to go out (they were adamant that they wanted to go out both nights the previous day). They kind of sighed and said they were tired and didn’t really want to. I wasn’t too heartbroken, though I was looking forward to Halloween in Barcelona. So I suggested maybe we go check out the Dow Jones Bar, a cute little bar my roommate had told me about. Apparently as the stock market fluctuates, so do the prices of drinks and shots. If the market starts to drop, shots are cheaper! If it starts improving, prices can go up! It seemed kind of fun, so I suggested we head there for a drink or two instead of going out. My coworker kind of sighed and said, “Well, do you want to go there?” Again, I said I thought it might be fun, to which she responded, “Well do you want to go there or not?! Because if you want to go there, we can go there.” To me, that was immediately off-putting. It was going to be the cable cars all over again… I pick a place and it’s going to be lame because it’s my pick and they’re tired and hungover and didn’t want to go out anyway, but they did for me. “It’s fine, we don’t have to go,” I said. My coworker retorted, “If you want to go, we can go!” And did one of those condescending little laughs like I was the one being ridiculous. I told her I was actually pretty tired (which I was – it’s exhausting being made to feel unimportant all weekend) and we could just head back.
Honestly, I was just so tired and ready to head back to Madrid. I was sick of being the third wheel… being treated like all of my ideas were lame and being mostly ignored. More than half of my views were their backs as we walked around the weekend and I was sick of it. I think that’s part of the reason I liked the bike tour so much. Finally, I was having some human interaction with someone who cared about what I was saying! Pity that couldn’t be my coworker, but you live and you learn. I was ready to just go back to bed and leave the following morning.
Day Four: Back to Madrid
It was our final day in Barcelona, and honestly I was ready for the weekend to come to an end. It was a long weekend in every sense of the word. I was actually quite relieved that our late Bla Bla Car had cancelled and we were able to get an earlier one. We packed up our stuff and checked out of the hostel by 10am. We were meeting at the Arc de Triomf, our first real destination in Barcelona. It felt like an appropriate book end to the trip – one that I was happy to close the chapter on.
My coworker had scheduled the car so she texted him when we arrived a bit earlier. He said he couldn’t come any earlier but that he was on his way. He told us he was driving a small, blue Volkswagen and would be at the Arc soon. My coworker’s friend pointed out a small, blue car that was honking and waving and we headed over to it. My coworker went to passenger side door and I opened the trunk. The driver seemed to be in a hurry because he was honking and waving frantically. I assumed that he was parked illegally and wanted us to hurry and get in.
As we opened the doors, I noticed that the driver looked back at me with a really confused look on his face and asked me, “What are you doing?” I looked up, confused as well, and that’s when I realized… WE WERE GETTING INTO THE WRONG CAR. My coworker immediately slammed the door and I scrambled, apologizing, explaining that I thought he was our Bla Bla Car. He just started laughing, so at least he had good humor about the situation. His friends started walking up to the car, and that’s when we realized he was waving at them, not us. His friends were dying of laughter and shouted, “It’s ok, we just use him for a taxi too!”
We turned around, and sure enough, we saw our real Bla Bla Car driver (whom we should have recognized by his long, curly hair) and headed over to him, laughing at our embarrassing mistake. Luckily, our driver turned out to be a really cool, young guy with a comfy car. My two travel companions sat together in the back and I sat up front with our driver. The car ride was pretty quiet for the most part. We talked for a while and our driver stopped for gas. My coworker’s friend commented that the original cancellation might have been a blessing in disguise. My coworker commented, “Well, I don’t know.” And I said I agreed with her friend. “I’m just glad to be getting back before midnight!” And my coworker snapped back to me, “It wouldn’t have been midnight!” At that point, I was just done. I was so sick of being argued with and made to feel that nothing I said was right.
It was the longest weekend I’ve ever had and I was ready to just be done with it.
I vowed that I would no longer try to start conversations with those girls because clearly they didn’t want to talk to me. Fine. I spent the majority of the ride chatting with the driver and he was actually a really cool guy so that was fine. Eventually the girls fell asleep and the driver asked me where he would like us to be dropped off. We had agreed on the Moncloa bus station initially because his girlfriend was in Argüelles nearby. I also happened to live in Argüelles, so I told him he could just drop us off there and he agreed. Win!
After another long car ride, he dropped us off near my apartment and I said goodbye to my travel companions and finally made my way home.
Overall the trip was a learning experience for me. There were moments where I had a lot of fun and learned a lot! And there were moments when I wanted nothing more than to just be home, away from my travel companions. The fact of the matter is that I am in Spain to get some cool new life experiences. I can’t expect that 100% of them will be perfect (even if that is what I hope for). Learning what kinds of people you travel with is important. My decision to travel with them was impulsive and last minute and I didn’t make sure that we would travel together well before we left. I knew my coworker at school and assumed it would be fine – that was my mistake. I think had I also had a friend with me, the trip could have been a lot better and a lot different. You live and you learn, and you travel and you grow.
The fact of the matter is that I still see my coworker every workday and I want to get along with her. Since our trip, our relationship has been a bit different – she’s still prone to snapping for no reason and I’m more likely to go off by myself. But we are still friends. We will just be the type of friends who don’t necessarily travel together and that is fine. My biggest takeaway from this trip was this: it’s ok to be alone and enjoy my own company. I would rather spend time alone than in the company of people who bring me down.
And you know what? This trip has made me decide to take a solo trip somewhere! That way there’s no pressure to hang out with anybody and I have the potential to make new friends whom I might get to know a bit better and like a lot more. And if I don’t make friends on my solo trip, that will be ok too. I am allowed to enjoy me time. I’m here in Spain to find myself and that doesn’t require other people if I don’t want it to.
Would my trip have been better with different company? Probably. But there are takeaways from every experience both good and bad. It may have been a very long weekend, but it was an opportunity for me to find out more about myself and I did. In that sense, my weekend wasn’t wasted and it was actually a good learning experience. Lesson learned and now I can move on!
How about you? Have you ever had a similar travel experience? How did you deal with bad travel companions? Was it a good learning experience or are you still angry about it today? Let me know in the comments!