¡Hola! Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but I do have a good excuse: I was on fall break! Because the University of Minnesota doesn’t have fall break, this was my first fall break ever. I’m pretty sure it will also go down in history as my best fall break ever. After a stressful week of midterms, I traveled to 3 cities in northern Spain… by myself! Keep reading to hear all about my adventures.
Day 1: Barcelona
My first stop on the trip was Barcelona. After taking a flight to Barcelona-El Prat airport and taking a bus to the city center, I stopped by my hostel to drop off my backpack. Then, off to explore! The main goal for the day was to go to Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, a famous market in Barcelona better known simply as La Boqueria. As an avid farmers market fan (and someone who hadn’t had lunch yet!), this seemed like a great place to go first. The market is right off of La Rambla, the main pedestrian street in Barcelona. I’ve listened to Ed Sheeran’s song “Barcelona” with the lyrics “Las ramblas, I’ll meet you” approximately 1,000,000 times, so already this day was turning into a dream come true! The dream continued once I arrived at La Boqueria, which I can confidently say is the best market I have ever been to. There were hundreds of vendors selling all kinds of Spanish food, and my senses were overwhelmed in the best way possible. I spent so long wandering through the stalls and tasting whatever looked good. In the end, my lunch consisted of a cone of jamón/cheese/breadsticks, fried seafood, and mango-coconut juice.
Full from the market, I made my way back to La Rambla and took my time walking the entire length of the street. There are so many souvenir huts along the sidewalk, as well as outdoor seating for almost every restaurant. This was a great way to soak in the Spanish culture and get a sense for how lively of a city Barcelona really is.
La Rambla dead ends into the Columbus Monument, a 60 meter tall monument dedicated to Christopher Columbus (because Columbus was sent by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain). I wasn’t a huge fan due to, you know, Columbus being so problematic, but at least I can say I went to this large tourist attraction.
Just past the Columbus Monument is a large marina. This was my first sight of the water in Barcelona, but it still wasn’t a beach – so off I went in search of a beach. I walked along the marina for about half an hour, taking in the sights and stopping to look at more souvenirs being sold along the street. Finally, I was there! At the beach! This was the moment when it hit me that I was really in Barcelona. I took off my shoes and walked down to the waters edge, and for the first time put my feet into the Balearic Sea. The water was freezing and my pants got wet, but it was so worth it. I then sat in the sand and relaxed until the sun set, at which point it was time to go back to my hostel and settle in for the night.
Day 2: Sitges
The next morning I woke up and made my way to a train station to travel to Sitges, a small beach town south of Barcelona. The train ride itself was great, as we rode along the shore with views of the sea the entire time. Even though the prediction for a 100% chance of rain was accurate, I still fell in love with this town! There aren’t a lot of tourist attractions there, but after a crazy few weeks it felt great to have a day where all I had to do was walk along the beach and eat yummy food. I spent hours walking on a path along the beach and exploring the rocks jutting out into the sea.
Day 3: Barcelona
My second day back in Barcelona was my “I am a tourist!” day. I started off by going to Park Güell, a park on a hill overlooking Barcelona designed by Antoni Gaudí for Eusebi Güell. Güell was a Spanish entrepreneur who had a dream to create a housing site overlooking the city (which eventually failed, causing the park to open to the public in 1926) and Gaudí was a Catalan Modernist architect. The two worked together on many projects. It rained the entire time I was there, but it was honestly kind of magical with everyone in rain coats and using umbrellas. Even in the rain, it was easy to see the genius architect that Gaudí was.
After walking through the park, I made my way back to the city center. I wandered around for a few hours, eating lunch and stopping to browse in little shops, before I ended up back on La Rambla. The iconic-ness of the street couldn’t keep me away! Off of La Rambla is Palau Güell, a mansion once again designed by Antoní Guadí for Eusebi Güell. The same unique architecture on display at Park Güell could be seen at Palau Güell, and I was starting to really get a feel for the style of Gaudí’s work.
To finish off my visits to Gaudí’s most famous sites, I went to perhaps the most famous one of them all: La Sagrada Familia. (*Cue Ed Sheeran’s “Barcelona” once again*). Oh. My. Goodness. This was hands down my favorite part of Barcelona. When I got to the metro stop for La Sagrada Familia, I climbed the steps to street level and BAM! There it was! After hearing about the grandeur of this church for so long, it was absolutely magical to see it in person. I took my time making a full lap around the outside before picking up my audioguide and starting my tour of the inside. I learned SO MUCH! La Sagrada Familia means ‘the sacred family’, referring to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Gaudí was extremely religious, and this is so obvious through every detail of his work. (I won’t go into specifics right now, but let me know if you want to hear more about it!). I could have stayed inside the church for hours, taking in the beauty.
Sadly, my touristy day – which really turned out to be my Gaudí day! – came to an end. I went back to my hostel and got ready for my flight the next morning.
Day 4: San Sebastián
I took a flight from Barcelona-El Prat to the Bilbao airport, then took a bus from Bilbao to San Sebastián. San Sebastián is in País Vasco, an autonomous region of Spain. The coolest part about being in País Vasco was the language! Though everyone speaks Spanish, the other official language is Basque. Basque is unrelated to any other living language, and it definitely looks that way! Walking through the streets of San Sebastián and seeing so much Basque was most the fascinating thing ever.
San Sebastián is also on the shore (can you tell I was going through beach withdrawals?). It was raining again – the common theme of this trip – so I didn’t actually go down to the water, but I walked on a path along the beach up to La Parte Vieja, the old part of town. I wandered the streets until I found a good place for lunch, then spent more time getting lost in the old streets among the shops.
Next, I hiked up to the top of Mont Urgull, one of two small mountains on either side of the bay. This hike was a real fall hike! In Spain! I didn’t think that was possible! It intermittently rained the entire time I was on the mountain, but that didn’t stop me from seeing some of the best views in all of San Sebastián. I could have stayed there forever, but alas as the sun started to set I made my way to the last attraction of the day: Buen Pastor, the city’s main cathedral. Dusk made the inside full of shadows and created an extra air of magic. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being amazed at the amount of detail that is put into so many European churches.
At this point in the day, I was FREEZING. Literally colder than I have ever been. I went back to my hostel to warm up, and was actually considering skipping dinner in order to stay under my blankets. But I forced myself to get up and find food, and I am so glad I did! I went to a pinxtos restaurant around the corner, which is País Vasco’s version of tapas. I sat at the bar, which was covered in pinxtos, and after asking the bartender how this kind of restaurant works, he handed me a plate and told me to pick what I wanted. I asked him for his favorites, then added a few more yummy-looking bites to my plate. Everything was delicious! Perhaps just as good as the food was watching the bartender work. He was working alone, and seemed to always be doing two things at once. So many Spaniards came in and out while I enjoyed my dinner, and the bartender treated each and every one like a friend – including me. It was a great end to a great last full day of fall break.
Day 5: San Sebastián
On the final day of my fall break, I reunited with one of my good friends from La Fund. Her sister lives in San Sebastián, so she is an expert! We went to an adorable cafe for breakfast, then walked up to a viewpoint before walking down to the beach. There was finally sun in the sky, so for the second time in less than a week I took off my shoes and put my feet into new water – this time, Bay of La Concha. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. Beaches truly are good for the soul.