Spain: Sun, Sand & Sangria

Pop quiz: what is the only thing that falls asleep during overnight bus rides?


Don’t feel bad if you don’t know, we didn’t know the answer either, until we took a 17 hour bus from Lisbon to Barcelona. Afterwards, we were PAINFULLY aware (pun intended) that the only thing that falls asleep when you take an overnight bus, is...your butt!


When you are travelling for a long period of time with limited financial resources, you need to make adjustments where you feel comfortable.


For us, after a very expensive first month in Europe, we thought we’d start saving money by taking buses instead of flights whenever we could. And beside it being a pain in the butt (that’s right I’m milking this theme) it was a very helpful and inexpensive way for us to get around.


Once our bus arrived in Barcelona, we were thankfully only about a 10 minute walk away from our hostel. We checked in around 2 PM and tried to have a quick nap, the key word here is *tried. This was a key lesson we took to heart during our time in Barcelona, NO ONE really sleeps in a 12 person dorm room.


I’ll spare you the details, but in short there were times the snoring was so loud we actually wondered if some of our roommates had brought chainsaws to bed with them.


Lounging area in our hostel

After our failed attempt at a nap, we got up and decided that we were going to cook as many meals as possible in Barcelona since we ate out so often in the UK. So we got our food then had a quiet night in.


The next morning, we had breakfast and happily made our way to do a classic Sandeman Free Walking Tour (I swear we aren’t sponsored by them).


On it, we learned about the lasting effects of Barcelona hosting the Olympics. Historically, a lot of waste can result from hosting the games, but the Spanish government thought about the potential lasting impact this money could have on the country, so the games actually built a lot of their infrastructure to account for future tourism and cleaned their beaches.


After studying the effects of the Olympics on different regions in our undergraduate classes, I was excited to hear about how much the games helped improve the city on a long term basis.


Nowadays tourists LOVE visiting Barcelona

We also learned that the Eiffel Tower was originally designed for Barcelona, and about the tradition of Castellers.


If you want a detailed explanation about Castellers, check out this quick video. In short, the Castellers are part of a giant human pyramid competition. However, this competition doesn’t end when you get 3-4 people high, the towers can reach heights of 45 feet (13,716m)!


It has been going on for hundreds of years and is still very popular in the Catalonia region of Spain. The most interesting fact we learned was that it is always an young girl chosen for the top of the pyramid, and it was only a few years ago that the competitors agreed that the child on top had to wear a helmet.


Photo courtesy of https://festival.si.edu/blog/human-towers-a-visual-history-of-a-catalan-tradition

We didn’t get to see this ourselves, but if you’re interested, you can visit their calendar of events for the next scheduled festival.


After our tour, we decided to take it easy and have some sangria with new friends in the hostel.


Our third day in Barcelona, we had planned on visiting Park Guell. Krystal had visited the park during her last stay in Europe and was excited to show me the whimsical works of Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi.


So we made the 45 minute walk up a hill (which only caused me to be a little bit drenched in sweat), and got to the park gate filled with excitement and anticipation that we were going to spend the day exploring kick-ass architecture in the beautiful weather.


Trying to take a picture of Park Guell from far away

But upon arrival, we discovered that sometime over the past 6 years, the park went from free to paid entry, and you have to get your tickets in advance!


Well...crud.


Thankfully we were still able to explore some other parts of the park at no cost, without a ticket.


Lots of live music in the free portion of the park

Once we finished up at the park, we made our way back down the hill to see the Sagrada Familia, a Roman Catholic Church that looks like the Disney Castle on steroids.


If I could go back and do something again in Barcelona, I would bring a chair and sit across the street and spend a couple of hours looking at each side of this building carefully. The details were immaculate, but it was also the strangest building to look at.


One side of Sagrada Familia

They began building Sagrada Familia in 1882, and its estimated to be completed in 2032. For those of you doing math in your head, I’ll save you some time. That’s a 450 year long construction project.


To say that the original building plans have changed over the years would be an understatement.


After exploring the building’s exterior, we could easily notice the array of differences based on the time it was built, and the architect in charge at the time. Every moment that you spend looking at the building you’ll notice something new, extraordinary, and a little bit... out of place.


Another angle of Sagrada Familia

After we did all of our sightseeing for the day, we joined a Sandeman’s Tapas Tour for the evening.

For anyone unfamiliar with the origins of tapas, it literally translates to “cover” and there are about 20 different explanations of how the term came to be, but the only consistent detail of each origin is that a small plate was always served on top of a wine glass, hence the term “tapas” or cover.


The explanation we got from our guide was that Felipe III passed a law that said all alcoholic drinks had to be served with a bit of food. He wanted to combat the drunken behaviour that was a daily occurrence in Spain at the time. Soldiers, sailors and tradesmen of the day typically only had enough money for alcohol or food at lunch time, and you can take a stab at what they were ordering.


The thought behind the law was that the bits of food would slow down the drinking, and at least give patrons something to help soak up the alcohol.


We got to try some traditional tapas food at four different restaurants, which included delicacies such as La Bomba (probably my favourite), Croquettes (not the same as what Krystal enjoys in the Netherlands) and of course the Porron.


La Bomba-- looks delicious, doesn't it?

For anyone that doesn’t know what a porron is, it looks like a glass vase or a bong depending on what you are used to (Grandma I swear I said it looked like a vase). It is used in the Catalonia region in Spain during social gatherings to allow many people to drink from the same container without spreading germs.


Basically you put cold red wine into the top and then try to pour the wine into your mouth through a spout from a distance, kind of like a watering can. You can check out a porron in action in our video of us on our Facebook page.


For the record: I got absolutely no wine on my clothes, it thankfully only got on my face (despite what Krystal claims she saw).


The tour was wonderful, and this was the first tour we went on where everyone actually socialized with each other. It was also the first tour where you got A LOT of alcohol, but I doubt those two things are related...


On our last day, we had planned on doing a hike just outside the city in Montserrat but, because of the "chainsaw snorers" in our room I slept a total of 12 minutes that night.


Instead of trying to push through the pain, for the first time in 6 countries, we took our own advice and actually relaxed by walking to the beach to enjoy some sun, sand, and gelato.


The next morning, we got up and flew out to Krystal’s second home away from home, the Netherlands!


Lessons Learned in Spain:
  • If you can afford it, avoid 12 person rooms. Your sleep is worth the extra cost!

  • Always double check tourist attractions before you arrive, a lot can change in 6 years

  • Make sure you have a steady hand, and a few napkins if you ever get to try a Porron

  • Be sure to schedule time to relax and be willing to adapt your schedule. I don’t think I would have enjoyed a hike at all after being up for 30 hours. I was glad we could relax on the beach instead

Recommendations:
  • Flixbus can be great to get you around, but make sure you have a neck pillow, earplugs, do some glute stretches and carry a massage ball with you.

  • Check out the Sandeman’s Tapas tour for some traditional food and drink-- it was fantastic!

  • If you plan on visiting Sagrada Familia, book some tickets to go inside and try to arrive in the morning to check out the outside. We were there around 4 PM and it was crazy busy, but still beautiful!

  • Always carry a water bottle with you, Barcelona was a very walk-able city but it worked up a lot of thirst for us!

  • The free part of Park Guell is still awesome, and at the time we were there (Oct. 2018) there were A LOT of pieces under construction inside the main part of the park. So if you want to save money and still explore, check out the free area

Cost Breakdown for 4 nights in Spain (in CDN$):
  • Transportation: $129.30 (Bus from Lisbon to Barcelona via Flixbus)

  • Accommodations: $341.18 (Bed and Bike Hostel for 4 nights)

  • Attractions: $77.77 (Cost for two tickets on the Tapas tour + tip on walking tour )

  • Food: $93.16 = $60.00 (Groceries + Gelato) + $33.16 (Restaurant)

TOTAL MONEY SPENT: $641.41

I found Spain to be a slower pace than what we had been used to, which was a welcome change.


The food was delicious, the people were pleasant, and the sights were zany but fun, if my explanations weren’t good enough, go look at pictures of Park Guell, Sagrada Familia, and pretty much anything Antoni Gaudi made.


Anyone looking for a vacation that is relaxing, sun filled, and provides amazing food and drink at a reasonable price, make your way to Barcelona!


Salud!

Greg


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