After Madrid, I hopped on the first leg of my Rail-pass route, headed for Barcelona. My cousin already had plans to meet up with her friends (from the states) there and then they had a whole trip planned for Italy and Greece, but since I had already been to Italy, I was headed north to do a more Western Europe route, but I still wanted to go to Barcelona. Once I arrived in Barcelona, I headed to check into my hostel. Even though I had technically stayed in a hostel in Guatemala, this was my first European hostel experience, and it was a great one! Albareda Youth Hostel was a couple minutes walk from one of the more central Metro stations, a short walk from the wharf, and a block set back from the main street of Par-allel, so it was in a nice, quiet neighborhood. Later, I met up with Brooke and her friends, whose hotel was just a couple blocks away from me, and we headed to the wharf for a delicious lunch of Tapas and Sangria in the sunshine!

That night, my hostel had a paella and sangria making night, so the girls came over and joined our group of about 15 where we had the chance to somewhat learn how to make true Spanish seafood paella, and also sangria. For our evening plans, another “activity” at the hostel took a group of people to this “shot bar,” but because we were meeting another group from a hostel we had to wait around for a while so we could get free entrance. While the group waited, Brooke and the other 2 girls, and an Australian we had met at Paella night all went next door for a drink in this cool, very hipster little bar. Then, once inside the shot bar, Chupitas, we were able to order 1 of their 300+ shots. They had a large menu on the wall with just names of shots (not knowing what kind of alcohol is inside) and you order whatever sounds fun or crazy, for only 2€ each! After hanging out there for a while, we all decided to call it a night, as we were all pretty tired.

The next morning, the girls had a tour planned out, so I was on my own for the day to explore! I bought my online ticket for the Sagrada Familia, with a timed ticket entrance, and arrived a little after 9:30. Just walking up the church is an absolutely stunning view. The incredibly unique style of the church is nothing like you’ve ever seen. Constantly under construction since 1882, the church is following Gaudi’s vision and style of architecture, which can be viewed all over the city in many of his buildings; the most famous of course being the Sagrada Familia. Although the church is attributed to Gaudi, less than 25% of the church was finished when Gaudi suffered a tragic death after being hit by a streetcar in a poor neighborhood, where no one recognized him. Since then, many architects and designers have stepped up to fill his shoes. The construction is expected to be finished in 2026, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. But until then you’re going to see a lot of cranes when you go to visit, so don’t be surprised!

And if you think the outside is impressive, just wait until you step INSIDE! The design and color inside is absolutely breathtaking. Rainbows of color from the stained-glass windows reflect onto the red-marble pillars, which essentially spin into a unique geometric pattern on the ceiling of the church. The designs, again, are nothing like I have ever seen, and even without the color bouncing off the walls; it truly is a work of art! Every last detail, down to the shapes of the columns, and the tippy-top points of the spires (each decorated with colored, mosaic-decorated “fruit” bunches), was carefully thought out by Gaudi himself, and is being realized by the equally extravagant dreams of other local artists. Inside the church, above the pews, is the choir area, which can fit 1,000 singers sending their voices to the heavens. Absolutely breathtaking! Trying to describe the magnitude of this amazing work, and showing photos absolutely does not do it justice, you have to see this in person! Funny enough, even with the sheer size of the church, with included basement exhibit containing Gaudi’s workroom, sketches, designs, and even models of the church, I happened to run into Brooke and Lauren and Bridget while they were on their tour. We really do live in a small world! One thing that really stood out to me from my tour was, even though the church is obviously an absolute showcase and maybe a little over-the-top, Gaudi was a devout Catholic and wanted to design and build this church in celebration to God. He stated that, although he wanted the church to stand out in the busy city of Barcelona, even at its tallest peak, it could not surpass the surrounding mountains, as he believed no work of man should outdo the work of God. Pretty cool J

After Sagrada Familia, I took myself on the Rick Steve’s Self-Guided walking tour through Barrio Gotique (Gothic Quarter), which was a fun way to see the city and its hidden gems (Rick just knows all the best spots…Good ol’ Rick!). There was a big shopping district, with stores like H&M, Zara, and even Nike, all tucked into beautiful old buildings. Then I walked past the Cathedral and through the Jewish quarter, before rounding back by the Parliament buildings we had walked by the previous afternoon. Then it was time to meet up with the girls, and as I was walking along, I ran into their tour (mostly old people) and had a short history lesson from their guide as their tour finished in front of St. Mary’s church. Then it was time for lunch where we enjoyed the most creative and delicious tapas place I had experienced! We walked up to the counter, which was covered in all kinds of tapas; everything from olives & anchovies, to mini soups, fish and cheeses, to chicken skewers, and even little dessert plates! Each dish had a large toothpick stuck into it, and you placed the used ones in a little cup on the table. At the end of the meal, when you were ready to pay, the waiter counted up each toothpick and that’s what you owed! Each item was 1,70€, with drinks and larger menu items costing more, but for the variety and decent size, I was happy as a clam when lunch was over!

Next, we headed back through the streets to find the steps where Christopher Columbus met with the King and Queen of Spain after returning from America. Then we did a bit of shopping on a few different popular streets before embarking on a bus adventure to find Park Güell, Gaudi’s famous park. I had a ticket, combined with the Sagrada Familia, to enter Gaudi’s home that he designed and lived in, and was a template for the housing development he had hoped to build in Park Güell. However, we were unaware of the reservation/ticket needed in order to enter the actual park and see all of his crazy park designs. So instead we walked up to tres cruces, where we had an amazing lookout over the city. We also encountered one of the weirdest street performers I’ve ever encountered, which provided for some great entertainment after our little hike. Then the girls headed back to the hotel to relax, while I did my best to try and get into the park before my tour, but since only around 400 people are let in every 30 minutes, tickets are snatched up quickly, and the next entrance time was 2 hours later. So I toured through the elaborate and quirky home, and then walked down a very long hill and a very long street to find the “closest” metro station, about a 25-minute walk. The place really is quite out of the way!

Once I got back to the hotel and got ready for dinner, the girls and I met up and wandered around looking for a good place to eat. We settled on a sort of tapas restaurant, and while their 8€ mojitos were very generous in size and strength, we were pretty disappointed with the food quality. After dinner, it was back to the hostel to gather a crowd, and have a drink before heading back to the shot bar!  At the shot bar the night before, as we were leaving, a Canadian had told us when we came back the next night that we had to order the Boy Scout shot; good call. The “Boy Scout” was a shot of some type of alcohol, and you are given a little marshmallow on a stick before the shot is lit on fire, and you roast the marshmallow, then take the shot (after the fire burns out of course), and then chase the shot with a marshmallow. SO much fun! That night we had wanted to find a fun club to go to and ended up at Terrace club, but we hadn’t been told about the entrance fee, and a bad impression from the extremely rude front desk staff, left us not wanting to go in. So instead we headed back to the shot bar, but the fun had somewhat been sucked out of the evening, and the group headed back to the hostel to keep drinking, but I chose to call it a night and get some sleep.

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