and We’re I’m From Barcelona

by mo on 03/6/2011

After 6 weeks of dreary, dark, just-at-the-freezing-point weather, I needed a break. So, inspired by the fact that the weather is 20℃ there instead of 0, and more importantly, this song, I headed to Barcelona last weekend:

I was traveling with one friend, and we stayed at Sant Jordi Alberg which was apparently the 6th best hostel in the world in 2009, which sets the bar pretty high. Indeed, it was quite nice, and small enough that you could meet people without feeling anonymous. Every night the hostelers go out and party together, and usually you don’t have to pay cover at the clubs if you go with the hostel group. More on clubs later.

Barcelona Attractions
We had 3 full days to explore, which was to see all the main things there are to see. Some were good, some were not so good.

1. El Gòtic, the Gothic Quarter, was nice. Lots of street musicians, narrow streets, lots of people walking around. Also, this was the only place in all of Barcelona that we found horchata, for some reason. Lack of horchata (especially when it was on the menu and then they claimed they didn’t have it) was a major source of angst this weekend.



2. Park Güell, the Gaudi Park, was actually a bit underwhelming, but it’s at the top of a hill on the very edge of the city, so you do get some good views from there:

I think after living in Kobe, I just get really excited about any mountain-city-ocean situation.

3. Magic Fountain of Montjuïc was probably the most epic thing in all of Barcelona. It is also surrounded by another row of epic fountains and a huge museum with beams of light behind it. This place is the best.
Row of fountains

And the actual fountain, in video form (coordinated with music):

4. The Sagrada Familia was cool, especially the inside (the outside is bizarre looking but not nearly as stunning as the inside):


Sadly, the towers were closed to visitors the day we went.



5. Las Ramblas, the big shopping street, was stupid. It was completely filled with slow-moving tourists and street vendors trying to rip them off. There wasn’t even anything cool to buy, either. Definitely can skip.

The Barcelona Metro
The metro was incredibly and unexpectedly good. Here’s what made it great:
– it’s well designed / easy to use
– the trains come very frequently (every 4-5 minutes maximum)
– the clocks on the platforms tell you when the next train is coming TO THE SECOND… not minute, but SECOND. I’ve never seen that before
– it’s clean
– in many of the stations there are little shops selling cheap yet really useful things. I bought a white circle scarf (see above photo) and a purse in two of these stops. My scarf is just like the ones everyone in Sweden has, and yet it was much easier to find one in a random Barcelona metro stop than in Sweden. Go figure. It felt really weird buying winter accessories when it was still warm there, but since it’s Barcelona, 20 degrees meant everyone was freezing and wearing winter coats and boots, etc. Hahaha.

Spanish Party Time
It was amazing how fast we assimilated to Spanish Party Time — everything in Spain starts and ends very late, and everything in Sweden starts and (sometimes) ends in Lund much earlier. The first night we were in Barcelona, we asked Duda, one of the staff at the hostel (with a really great name) what time to be around for that evening’s activities. He told us 11 PM as the meeting time, aka pre-party start time. So our daily routine was always something like:

explore the city during the day/evening
8:30~10 PMish – get dinner
11:00 PM – be at the hostel, get ready to go out
11:30 PM – leave hostel for first bar
2:00 AM – leave first bar to go to club
5:30 AM – leave club
and then sleep in until 12:30 or 1:30 PM

So we were first stepping foot in a club right when the clubs in Lund are closing. Jeez. This also meant I had significant “jet lag” coming back to Sweden, despite the fact that Barcelona and Sweden are in the same time zone. Oops.

People Don’t Dance in Barcelona Clubs
I was extremely surprised by this. I expected everywhere to be a massive rave all the time. Instead, what I got were a series of ENORMOUS clubs (all at least 4x the size of the largest club I’d ever been to before this) where there are one or more huge huge huge dancefloors that are incredibly crowded, but instead of dancing, everyone is just kind of standing and drinking and talking (yelling) at their friends. I don’t quite get the point of being in a club in that case…?

The queues for these clubs are also enormous — like 200+ people at a time, but it takes just 10 minutes or so to get into the club. SO fast! In the queue to Razzmatazz on Saturday night around 3:15 AM, one of the biggest clubs in Barcelona, we actually ran into our friend from Lund. We knew he was coming to Barcelona that weekend too, but it was quite odd that we ran into him in a queue at the same time and same club, and furthermore that I actually spotted him in that line. Crazy!

Spanish in Barcelona
I didn’t know any before this trip, and I still don’t really know any (and I definitely didn’t know Catalan!) You can really get by on just a couple of words. Everyone did seem to know English (especially in restaurants, etc.) but unlike in Sweden, where they just switch to English as soon as they figure out you’re foreign, they actually use Spanish with everyone here. If you need missing vocab though, saying it in English usually did the trick.

What you CANNOT do is ask them to speak in English. Everyone will say no to that and some people will take offense.

So Many Americans
For some reason, every single person in our hostel other than a Japanese brother/sister pair, was American, mostly students studying abroad elsewhere in Spain or in France. I forgot that I hadn’t been in a group of more than 3 Americans at a time in a month and a half, so it was strange to suddenly be meeting people from Minnesota instead of Munich.

There were lots of foreigners at the clubs too, and several times someone would come up to me attempting to make conversation, but then panicked at the last minute, as if they had just realized that they didn’t know any Spanish. Surprise! I don’t know Spanish either. I also managed to find a Japanese guy who appeared not to speak either Spanish or English. See how useful it is to just-so-happen to speak Japanese?

However, I did notice that Swedish is starting to interfere with my Japanese too — I would think in Japanese and sometimes Swedish words (that I use very commonly) would come into my head. So either this means I’m making progress on Swedish, or I’m just getting confused.

Other Upcoming Travels
I’ve soaked enough sunlight up in Barcelona to tide me over until real spring happens in Sweden (I’m still optimistic that it will, in fact, happen). So now, my travels will be motivated not by weather but by live music: Amsterdam for Robyn, Berlin for I Blame Coco, and Copenhagen once more just for kicks, should round out March. April and May are relatively wide open, and I hope to get some more serious Scandinavian adventures going on then.

The full set of Barcelona pictures here!