This is the honest truth.
As I write this, I am replaying in my head what occurred over those seventy-two hours. I can’t quite tell if it was a fever dream or a glimpse of paradise, but I seem to recall that I visited Barcelona. There is no time for artistry; I must simply give you the whole story. You might want to have a seat. Oh, and before you even ask, no, I did not go clubbing. That would have sent me over the deep end. Certain death of my soul.
I hope you can feel the gravity of the chaos that is Barcelona.
Friday started off just fine. I woke up in my residence around nine in the morning, which is respectable but still pretty much sleeping in. I didn’t go out on Thursday night—as I normally would—knowing that I would need all of my remaining brain cells to deal with a nine-hour train ride the next day. Brilliant.
The train was scheduled to leave at 12:48, and the station is about a twenty-minute walk from my residence. Perfect; I had time to shave and shower, pack my bag, and triple check I had everything I would need for the weekend. Passport… yes. Wallet… yes. Phone… yes. Fantastic. So satisfied I was that I decided I wouldn’t need an additional pair of pants… this pair is clean, I’m clean, I will shower, we’re not doing anything crazy. We’ll return to this subject later.
I walked to the train station without any sense of urgency, as I was due to arrive thirty minutes early. So good are my legs that I arrived forty minutes early. A coffee and tomato-ham-olive oil toast… don’t mind if I do. The girls arrived, and the four of us prepared to board; this was the best part of the day, getting on the train with time to spare. Keep that in mind.
Was I mentally prepared for a nine-hour train ride? I like to think I was. I’ve been on Amtrak in America and that sucks, and my flight to Europe in the first place was twelve hours if you include that unfortunate layover in JFK. How bad could it be? Well, let’s just say the girls said I was a drama queen, but I would have been perfectly satisfied never having to meet the people who sat all around me for the last hours of the ride. I was fine at every stop until Pamplona: apparently the whole city decided to go to Barcelona for the weekend. Zaragoza wasn’t any better.
The espresso at the eighth hour helped me immensely. We were running late; why were we sitting in Vitoria-Gasteiz for so long? At least arrival forty minutes late gets you a 50% refund from Renfe. And so, after having my ears explode in the tunnels toward Tarragona, we arrived at the Barcelona-Sants train station at 10:15.
Half-an-hour walk to the hostel. Why couldn’t we just take a cab, like I suggested? I was outvoted, plain and simple; my motion went down in flames when it got to the floor. So I joyfully skipped all the way there, excited to see the girl that was meeting us from Madrid; she and I vibe. I wish she was on our train.
We made it… just shy of 11. The girls checked into their room, and I stepped up to the desk to check into mine. How hard could that be? I booked last week, I reserved the room, I put my credit card up as collateral for a no-show. Well, as it turns out, there are two Urbany hostels in Barcelona, and I booked the wrong one. How far was my hostel from theirs? One-hour walk, twenty-minute drive. Yeah, I’ll hail a taxi, thank you very much. So fried and so hungry, I just left my bag in the girls’ room so we could get food and worry about my accommodations later.
The leader insisted we go to the restaurant she saw on TripAdvisor. I’m not trying to be rude or anything, but who are the people who have the worst taste and most amount of time on their hands? People who write TripAdvisor reviews, that’s who. Alas—yet again—I was outvoted… actually I don’t think there was a vote, just an executive order. So we set off into probably one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Barcelona. Fun! I knew something was off when I saw the human waste on the ground and the guy strapped with a six-inch stiletto. Those are illegal even in America. I can’t imagine how illegal they are in Spain. Nevertheless, she persisted, and after five minutes we’d all had enough. Stop speaking loudly in English, we’re turning around.
Back to a main avenue. Phew. I was then instructed to find a restaurant within three minutes or else there might be deaths in the group, not from going into a slum but from low blood sugar. Noted. Hey, there’s one over there and I see a guy in a suit eating there; there’s even an open table on the terrace! Score. Good job, Joe. Or so I thought. Apparently most places stop serving food at midnight. We only found out after ordering the bottle of wine and pitcher of sangria; all I’d had to eat for the entire day was that toast and likely fewer than thirty cashews. Bad news. The check, please.
Did I find success at the next bar? Of course not. The bartender looked at me like I had three heads when I asked if they were still serving food. Christ… in petition, not vain. At long last, I reached my moment: I broke down and decided we were going to an American fast food chain. Time for an inventory: this girl still thinks that neighborhood wasn’t dangerous; this girl is minutes from passing out; this girl drank on an empty stomach. That left the one I mentioned before: we looked at each other, and without saying a word, agreed that this was the only option left. Five Guys it is. At least Five Guys in Barcelona sells beer. All said and done, I have no regrets about my decision to get a disgustingly large cheeseburger. Don’t judge me, you weren’t there.
Back at their hostel, I collected my bag. I walked out to the main drag, hailed a taxi, and went for the ride to my hostel. Nine euros? Not bad. All taxi drivers are heroes. We’ll return to this subject later.
At long last, my accommodations. Here’s the key card, here’s the WiFi password, here’s the voucher to the nightclub down the street. Very kind of you, but I won’t be needing that last item. I went up the elevator to the eighth floor. Where is room 810? There it is. Thank God. Oh, wait. The key card doesn’t work.
I eventually got into the room. I showered. I brushed my teeth. I crashed.
Wow, I’m in Barcelona! How cool. It’s going to be a great day. I’m certain.
For the most part, it was a great day. We started on La Rambla at a café at 9:30; the cream croissant was excellent but too much sugar for me, but the star of the show was the fresh-squeezed Valencian orange juice. Nectar of the gods. We finished, paid, and walked up to the Boqueria Market. That’s a sight in and of itself: you can find anything in there, with dozens upon dozens of vendors selling ham, cheeses, fresh seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, made-to-order cuts of beef, oils, spices, nuts, wines, beers… you name it. I indulged in the octopus sitting on the side of a seafood vendor’s stall. It was nothing more than raw octopus with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and parsley, and yet it was the best octopus I’ve ever had. They nailed it.
We walked around a bit, strolling by the Cathedral and one of the castles of the Kings of Aragon. The Cathedral was beautiful, but I found it strange that it was covered in billboards promoting the Samsung Galaxy. Oh, well. The castle featured probably the finest works of wood I’ve ever seen: the early-16th Century ceiling in the main staircase leading out of the courtyard. My brain nearly exploded trying to figure out how it was done. Was it completed on the ground and then lifted into position? How would it not crack? Was it carved while already installed? How would a human being even do that? I suppose Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
We split up into two taxis to head over to the Sagrada Familia for our 12:45 entrance. I was not about to wait forever for a large-enough taxi to happen upon us, so I issued the proclamation without holding a vote. After Friday night, I figured it was better to just make decisions before another catastrophe came barreling our way.
Now, you might be asking: Joe, how do you feel about the Sagrada Familia? This is a question I have been asked before, and my position did not change by seeing it in person. In my humble opinion—and it is just that, an opinion—the exterior is vulgar. It seems to me like a parody of a house of worship, a cross between something at Disneyland and a poorly executed Orthodox structure that had to scale back because of the Soviet persecution. Is that too uncharitable? I don’t know. I do, however, think the interior has promise. Hopefully it will be finished before I die so that I can return and reassess. I wouldn’t want to give it a first reading when only partially complete. But how on earth are they going to salvage that eastern façade?
Lunchtime. We decided to wander and pick something that looks good, and we were convinced by the owner of a restaurant several blocks away to come inside; his street promotion game is on point. The food was good. I did, however, give the Catalan cabernet only two stars on the Vivino app.
Next item on the agenda: the Picasso Museum. I appreciated that entrance was only seven euros with the student discount, and despite my general distaste for the bulk of Picasso’s work, it was certainly worth it. I just can’t understand the cubism, but I know lots of people like it, so good for them. The gift shop was full of all sorts of things I could have bought, but gift shops are never what get me to spill the contents of my wallet—it’s always the tapas bars instead.
With that done, it was time for the pilgrimage: the long walk to the Mediterranean Sea. There’s something special about the mare nostrum; this was by far the best part of the day. We walked along the promenade beside the marina, beholding the absurdity of the superyachts; one of them had two helicopter pads. I’m guessing it belongs to either a Russian oligarch or a Saudi prince. Why do they even need that? It sits in the marina for forty-five or forty-eight weeks of the year. Couldn’t they spend that on something more productive?
Heaven. We reached Barceloneta beach in a state of childish excitement. There was an eight-second window in which I thought I might cry, but I held it together. We took off our shoes, rolled up our pant legs, and bolted towards the water. Here’s where we return to the subject of my pants. Does seawater stain? No. Does seawater smell bad? Not necessarily. Does seawater make your pants chalky and stiff the next day? Yes. Take note.
We walked the beach to the jetty and sat on the rocks while admiring the scene before us. A guy just a few meters over got down on one knee; the girl gave a look as if to say, “What took you so long?” He had four photographers with him, so I’m guessing that might have ruined the element of surprise for her. At least she said yes.
Sangria and rosado? We parked at a table in one of the many cantinas that line the beach and went all in on the Vinyes del Grau Rosat… I don’t normally go for anything but deep, dry reds, but this got a solid 3.8 stars from me. The sangria was a little watered-down, but they know they can charge whatever they want for whatever they serve. This takes us, at long last, to the final item of the day: dinner.
Dinner. We walked about five minutes toward a restaurant right on the promenade, a place with a huge terrace and very speedy waiters—and yes, oddly, only men—darting from the kitchen on one side of the building to the terrace tables on the other. We sat closer to the main building but still had a view of the sea, and proceeded to order everything we would need to be satisfied: a sweet Catalan white, calamar, roasted vegetables, and paella to share. We went for the 2021 Esmerelda… I was so pleasantly surprised I gave it 4.2 stars. The waiter—clearly enamored by one of my friends—was horrified when he accidentally spilled some of my glass on her while plating my paella. At least we got free almond cakes out of it.
The moment which I’m least proud of was the loud argument I had with one of my companions while walking back towards the marina. She thought the waiter overcharged us by eight euros, never mind the fact he saved us a full individual paella charge and brought more than just almond cakes to make up for his paella-related calamity. She was fully prepared to yell at him in English over this, and I nearly snapped while still sitting at the table; I was already irritated at her for leaving her dirty napkin right in the middle of the table throughout the meal, and for having insisted we go into that neighborhood on Friday night. The Karen moment was the last straw for me. I apologized for the sake of apologizing once we made our way past the marina, but she didn’t deserve an apology. She could be the demon of the weekend. Have some dignity, people.
We parted ways at an appropriate location. What time is the train tomorrow? 9:20. Café at 8:30. Perfect. I’ll be up and ready to go by 8; the taxi ride to the train station will be twenty minutes.
Snooze. Snooze. Snooze. 8:44. 8:44!
Hell. The gravity of the panic cannot be overstated. I can’t remember another instance in which I put myself together so quickly. Put on clothes. Brushed my teeth—not thoroughly enough to be proud of it. Threw everything in my bag. Passport… check. Wallet… check. Phone… check. Nothing else matters, I’ll suffer later. Joe, you idiot, why didn’t you pack another pair of pants?
I got in the elevator and made it to the desk. I practically threw the key card at the receptionist. She could tell I was late. There was a group of about forty—yes, forty—British teenagers clogging the entryway. I loudly announced myself, to no avail. I resorted to simply pushing through them. Have some awareness, people.
I ran—yes, ran—about a block up the main street to a main intersection. There must be a taxi. There must be a taxi, we’re on the main drag. It’s Sunday morning. There still must be a taxi, right?
After about a minute—which felt like ten—a taxi. I practically hurled myself into the street to hail it. I hopped in, put five euros in the driver’s hand in advance, and told him how late I was to Barcelona-Sants. He got the memo. This taxi driver was the angel of the weekend. I made it on the train.
I am glad for having experienced Barcelona, surely. Would I recommend it? Probably not. Too commercialized, too dirty, too hedonistic. It’s too much fun, I think that’s the problem.
I don’t understand the whole independence thing; to each his own. We received many frowns when speaking Castilian… better just stick to English. And why haven’t those yachts been seized for sanctions violations? Wild.
I can see the romantic allure of the city. It’s Barcelona. It’s young, it’s happy, it’s alive. Maybe I’d have had more fun if I had gone clubbing.