After being back from my trip for over a month, it is finally time for me to reveal some details about my trip, starting with Spain!
After my one-week stay in Italy, I travelled to Spain and spent three days in Barcelona on my own. Believe it or not, I was super excited to be travelling solo again. I haven’t been on a solo trip since my three-week trip in 2016 around Europe and the UK (if you missed the details, you can check them out here). I have to say, it is nice to be on your own and choose the activities you want to do and the sites you want to see.
Coming from Italy, Barcelona was a bit of a shock for me. First of all, it had been really cold in Romano d’Ezzelino, and when I arrived in Barcelona, it was HOT. It was nice to be in the heat but it also gave me a bit of a shock to my system. Secondly, Barcelona was very busy with many tourists and families. The streets were dirty and it smelled a bit weird, but that’s just my personal opinion. However, Barcelona does have a lot to offer visitors, and at the end of my time there, I was glad I went.
My first couple of days were spent exploring the city. I wandered around La Rambla, the Gothic Quarter, El Raval, and the seaside. I saw many churches, including the Barcelona Cathedral. I visited a museum dedicated to the works of Gaudi, the famous Barcelonian architect who designed many avant garde buildings and parks. The museum described his life and many of his works, featuring many pieces of his works as well. I also walked by many of the Casas he designed, such as Casa Calvet, Casa Mila, and Casa Batllo. Barcelona really does have everything! Good shopping, architecture, parks, the sea, so many different cuisine options, and more. It is worth it to wander around and check everything out. Also, I am pretty sure I had the best risotto of my life at this patio restaurant near the seaside. Yummm.
On my final day, I did a lot of walking around the city (that tends to happen anytime I go to Europe. It truly is the best form of transportation, in my opinion). I explored Montjuic, a large park near the sea that has great views of the city and plenty of things to explore inside the park. The park has a variety of art galleries, museums, and more. I visited Poble Espanyol, a ‘village’ that highlighted what the different regions of Spain offered. It was okay. Much more interesting was the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), or the National Museum of Catalan Art. The artwork was incredible and provided history about Catalonia and Barcelona. It was really interesting to see the strong Catalan influence in Barcelona.
Later on, I went to La Sagrada Familia, the immaculate church designed by Gaudi. I had tried to visit the previous day but tickets were all sold out. I bought mine ahead of time online for the following day, and I am so glad I did! Oh. My. God. What an incredible place. I was in awe the entire time and I would have happily stayed for longer if I didn’t have somewhere else I had to be. The architecture is incredible, featuring so many different styles and stained glass windows, sculptures and more. It definitely felt like a holy place to me. Tickets were decently expensive and as I said, it is extremely busy there, but it was definitely worth it. If there are any of Gaudi’s works that you want to visit, make sure this one tops your list!
After being awe-struck by La Sagrada Familia, I headed to Park Guell, also designed by Gaudi. The Park is huge and you could easily spend many hours there. Though not as stunning as La Sagrada Familia, the Park is still really interesting to check out. It features many of the tile designs that Gaudi is famous for, plus admission to the Park also lets you explore one of the Casas that Gaudi designed, which is pretty neat. I would highly recommend visiting Park Guell. That concluded my time in Barcelona, and I was off to Madrid!
While in Madrid, we took a day trip to Toledo to explore the historic city, famed for its intersection of culture. Toledo is a UNESCO world heritage site, where Christians, Muslims, and Jews have all resided in the past. Originally, Muslims and Jews lived in Toledo, but they were forced to convert to Christianity. Thus, many of the buildings have a clear Muslim or Jewish influence, but have been ‘claimed’ as Christian. Nowadays, these communities are practically non-existent. Toledo works hard to preserve the Muslim and Jewish quarters of the city. It definitely has a unique atmosphere and an interesting history. It also kind of felt like a small Italian village in the midst of Spain. I would highly recommend visiting Toledo as a day trip if you are interested in learning more about different religions and their interaction with one another! It is easily accessible from Madrid by train or bus/car.
Madrid was the first destination as part of the Global Seminar I was attending through UBCO. I joined a group of twenty students and a professor to learn about migration in three different countries. I was excited to be travelling and learning in a new way. I had no idea how much the Seminar would impact me and my plans for the future.
Our first few days were spent getting to know each other and the city. I was lucky to room with two amazing roommates who winded up becoming incredible friends! We listened to many lectures and shared many laughs. While exploring the city, we saw a sign near the Town Hall reading ‘Refugees Welcome’ on our first day, which set a cool vibe for the rest of the trip. Mercado de San Miguel was one of the places we visited on our City Tour (it was one of the highlights in this tour-gone-wrong where we got soaked from the rain). It is a mini-market in a large glass room and has many vendors selling super cheap tapas and sangria (among other drinks). We winded up going back to the Mercado at least three more times. It is an awesome place that has a great vibe and good value, I would highly recommend checking it out if you are in Madrid!
We got the entire weekend free to do our own thing, which was awesome! We spent time exploring Gran Via, one of the main roads in Madrid that features lots of shopping and restaurants. We also spent time in Sol and Plaza Mayor, two of the major squares and points of reference for us if we ever got lost. Both squares feature lots of restaurants, shopping, and activities. We visited El Retiro park, a large green space that also had a small pond where you could go in rowboats, fountains, a museum, and a palace. We also visited the El Rastro market, held weekly on Sundays in the La Latina area of Madrid, featuring many vendors and different items. Museo del Prado is one of the museums we visited that houses mostly classical art, that I would recommend checking out if that is your thing. Madrid has a variety of other top-rated museums and art galleries as well.
We saw a protest about 15M, which was super neat! It was near the Town Hall and the ‘Refugees Welcome’ sign. 15M refers to the 15th of May, the national time when protests about the economy, wages, government, political corruption, and so forth are legal. It was super neat to be in that atmosphere. That night, we went to a rooftop bar near Sol. It was called The Hat, on top of a hostel. I would highly recommend checking it out! Even though it is a bit difficult to get to, the drinks were delicious and it had a great vibe. We drank lots of sangria and had a blast hanging out with new friends. Such a great end to the weekend.
Next week, we had many lectures, plenty of sangria at the Mercado, lots of laughs and tons of food. I went to see a flamenco show with my friend, which was super fun and a great experience that I would recommend. Unfortunately, to conclude my experience in Madrid, I had a very bad allergic reaction on our last day. It was pretty scary, but I had some great friends helping me out, which I am so grateful for. Despite this scare, I was determined to still have a bit of fun on our last day, so my lovely friends and I went to another rooftop bar in the city that had great views of Gran Via. It was a nice end to a rough day, and before we knew it, we were off to a new country!!
Top Five Must-Do’s in Spain
Here’s what I think you should make sure you do if you visit Spain:
Eat lots of tapas and drink lots of sangria
Go to a flamenco show
Visit a rooftop bar
Admire the architecture
Explore both nature and the city life
Overall, I would personally recommend Barcelona over Madrid due to the variety it offers. Do you have any other must-sees in Spain? Let me know in the comments below!