Paris, Prague, Athens and Vienna – these 4 cities make up only a fraction of places I hope to visit and experience one day. When? Only time will tell, but living abroad for the past 2 years has allowed me to cross off many desired destinations. From Tallin, Estonia to Venice, Italy - I’ve done my fair share of traveling and am constantly finding ways to plan future trips. This weekend I did just that and was able to put a line through another city, as I spent 3 fun filled, sleep-deprived days in Barcelona, Spain.
Warmed up and ready to go at practice last week, I was shocked to hear my regulated, routine induced coach announce that was giving us 3 days off rather than the customary 1. Taken aback, I took a moment to control my breathing while my heart thumped double time in my chest. After regaining composure, my mind started to mentally plan out realistic destinations. Eventually Barcelona won out, with London coming in a close second.
With flights booked and bags packed, Casey and I were too excited to sleep, chatting well into the night about the respective adventures we were about to embark on. Casey to Holland to see her husband and myself to Spain – a country friends have only raved about. Up a mere 4 hours later with ticket in hand, I was ready to experience yet another country. Tired from the lack of sleep the night before, Casey and I bid goodbye and headed our separate ways. Passed out the duration of the flight to Lisbon and repeating the same action from Lisbon to Barcelona, I felt revived when deplaning into the afternoon sun.
Grabbing my bag off the carousel, I headed towards the exit and immediately spotted my good friend (and former UW teammate) Jill Bell. After hugging and trading huge smiles, we picked up right were we had left off 7 months ago. Hopping on the metro, we were off to take a walking tour of downtown - but not before stopping at Subway for lunch. You’re probably thinking Subway? While in Barcelona? Since Madeira doesn’t have any of the comforts of home, (i.e. Starbucks, Subway, Olive Garden etc) I ended up breaking one of my European rules and allowed myself to eat at the American restaurant. The thought of passing on foot long sweet chicken teriyaki inches from my grasp was too much to bear.
Satisfied after a great sandwich, we decided to walk around the city centurm. I can’t believe how Americanized Barcelona is. From the Hard Rock Café and McDonalds, to Starbucks on every other corner, (you should be proud – I didn’t drink there once!) the Nike Store and a massive department store that was essentially Nordstrom in disguise - I almost felt as though I was walking around downtown Seattle. Weird. I was also surprised by the amount of people out in the street – again struck by the thought of “does anyone work in Europe?” Jill informed me it was siesta time (a 3-hour lunch break from 2-5 pm) and that everyone was either at home napping or out socializing with friends. During this break most stores close, with the exception of the city center, where most tourists and many Barcelonians can be found.
After wandering down the main streets, enjoying the local farmers market, taking pictures at Casa Batlló and seeing too much PDA in the park, Jill and I took a much needed café break. Here were 2 former coffee haters drinking coffee like it was going out of style. It was hilarious! Chatting about the irony, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see us drinking designer drinks again. I was pleasantly surprised with the coffee quality in Barca, ranking it a close second to my Madeira Chinesa! Walking around a little longer, we eventually jumped on the metro and headed to Jill’s flat to rest our feet before her practice.
Watching Jill’s practice as an outsider, I found myself noticing the obvious differences of our respective situations. European basketball is such a business and you have to fight for everything you’re promised. Seeing her situation in Spain makes me appreciate what I have and where I’m at.
After practice (where no one on her team speaks a word of English - not even the coach) Jill and I walked towards her place, stopping to eat dinner at a local restaurant she frequents. I was surprised when we entered a hole in the wall called La Cava. Walking inside, I was intrigued by how small and packed the place was. Here was a restaurant that held a maximum of 20 people, jam packed with locals to the point you could barely maneuver to the bathroom. As we sat down, Jill chatted with the owner and ordered dinner. La Cava had a great atmosphere, giving me a taste of Spanish culture. Most tables were filled with 6 people or more, drinking wine and laughing the night away. There was food galore and the air was heavy with a thick smog of smoke (after leaving I felt like I had smoked a pack – ugh.) People took their time to eat and were more concerned with telling stories than devouring their food. It was a complete 360° compared to what I’ve seen at home. The food was fabulous and our 2-hour dinner concluded after midnight. Tired and full, it was back to the flat for the night to recharge for the next full day of sight seeing.
Reflecting on my first day in Spain, I found I was genuinely impressed with Jill’s Spanish - as all day she conversed almost fluently with locals and understood everything being said to her. I’m so proud! She has really gained independence in Spain and gets around with ease – which I learned is no easy feat. People here DO NOT want to speak English, even if they know how. It’s almost rude. Most people refuse and pretend they don’t know a word of what you’re saying. I’m all about assimilating to new cultures and respecting peoples traditions, but when I’m trying to speak Spanish and you show no patience or look at me like I’m stupid – I don’t appreciate it. As someone with absolutely no Spanish background, (French is my second language) I found myself mixing Portuguese, French and English into one language I decided to call Portu-Franglish. Jill understood it, but the Spanish people did not. ☺
Out the door the next morning at 11am, we again hopped on the metro and were off to tour Gaudi Park (Park Güell.) This is one of the sites I was most excited to see. It didn’t disappoint, as it was everything and more than I expected it to be. Being a Saturday, the place was packed and getting a good photo was a tough feat, however, I managed to get some great shots while appreciating the architecture, walking through the cavernous open areas, weaving through the columns and enjoying the unique tiled details of Antoni Gaudi's work. My favorite part of the park was at the top where you are able to look out on the city. It was a beautiful day with the Mediterranean shining bright blue in the distance. Wow – what a view! After appreciating Antoni Gaudi’s work and enjoying the moment, we left to grab lunch and stop at the Nordstrom replica store where I could buy some Mac blush. Wandering around downtown, I was about to take in the picturesque buildings, street protests and note the culture differences. I couldn’t help but think – am I really here? This is what I love most about traveling. The differences and similarities that make you appreciate the beauty of the country you live in and the country you are a visitor in.
Tired and in need of some rest, it was back to Jill’s flat. While she was grabbing some Z’s before her evening game, I went online to check my bracket and watch some NCAA games. Oh, how I love March madness – too bad I was a Wake Forest fan this year. They completely destroyed my bracket! With Jill revived, her ride picked us up and we were off to the game. A close second half unfortunately ended in a 1-point loss for Jill’s team. Though the girls were dejected, I was impressed their fan support. It was an away game – about 30 minutes from Barcelona and Lima Horta (Jill’s team) had more fans than the opposing team did in their home gym. They were loud the whole game singing cheers, blowing horns and whistling (which is Europe is a boo) at the refs. Even after the loss the fans were quick to console the girls and pat them on their backs.
Finally home, Jill and I ate at a local diner before turning on the Internet to follow our UW men in the round of 32. The game didn’t start until 11pm Barcelona time, so we cheered on the purple and gold while getting ready to go out for the evening. A close game with a heartbreaking finish ended just in time for Jill and I to catch the metro down to the water at 1:15am. I know what you’re thinking, 1:15am? Well apparently that’s early. Most people don’t head out until after 2am. No wonder they have 3-hour siestas in the middle of the day! We ended up meeting a friend at Catwalk, one of the popular nightclubs known for its hip-hop music. A late night turned into an early morning, as we didn’t arrive home until 5am.
A mere 5 hours later we were up at 10:30am, ready to tackle the last couple of tourist sites on my list. Tired, we quickly downed 2 coffees each and were off to the Sagrada Familia Church – one of the most famous sites in this well-known city. After stepping off the metro we rounded the corner and boom! There it was. I was shocked by its sheer size - the monument is monstrous! I was overwhelmed with the detail and beauty of this enormous structure. To think that it started being built in 1882 and is still under construction to this very day is mind blowing. The projected completion date is 2026. Once inside, the two of us wandered around to view the stained glass windows, massive columns and detailed architecture. It was an amazing site, something to see if you ever visit Barcelona. There is only so much to view on the ground floor, which is why they make you pay more if you’re willing to wait in line for an hour to take an elevator to the top. When in Rome…of course I had to get the full experience so Jill and I chatted in line until it was our turn to go up. It was well worth the wait, as the view from the top was breathtaking. I could see the whole city and places we had visited days before. What a great experience, one I won’t forget.
After a quick lunch, we spent the rest of the day by the water people watching until it was time to head back home to get ready for the FC Barcelona Futebol match. You read that correctly. Jill and I managed to score one of the toughest tickets in European sports. FC Barcelona is considered one of the top 3 futebol clubs in the world and employ the likes of the Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o. I could barely contain my excitement as we headed toward the stadium. The atmosphere was electric and fans rowdy. Sitting down in my seat, I found myself hardly watching the match, as I couldn’t believe how large the stadium was and how a 99,000 seat arena (largest in Europe) was completely sold out. It was loud, full of songs, chants and cheers. Prying myself away from watching the fans I was able to enjoy the match and was up on my feat 6 times for Barca goals. A blowout made for an impressive display of offense. It was great. Walking out of the stadium I was taken aback by the sheer joy and happiness of fans. Thousands of people were out in the streets blowing horns, singing and cheering. What an experience!
Upon conclusion of the game, Jill and I met up with some of her friends and spent the rest of the evening at a local bar. It was a great way to end my trip. Saying our goodbyes and thanking Jill for a great weekend, I grabbed a cab to the airport, reflecting on my Barcelona experience.
Sidenote: Be sure to read this article my good friend Lindsey Wilson wrote for the NEW YORK TIMES! Nice! You can also read about her European adventures by clicking here.