Welcome to the second chapter of my experience backpacking around Europe with my best friend, Brianna!
When Brianna and I were in high school, we had this amazing Spanish teacher, Dr. Gomez. He had a unique (and really cool) grading style, was passionate about teaching, and always told the best stories in class. He was one of the best teachers I have ever had.
After graduating, Brianna and I would visit Dr. Gomez in his classroom whenever we were home from college on winter break. He said that after retirement a few years down the road, he would be spending half the year in Spain and the other half in Vermont, where he resided. He suggested that if we ever found ourselves in Spain, that we should come and visit. We never thought that years later, that would become a reality…
Day 1 – The Meetup
After leaving Amsterdam, our first spot on the trip, we flew into Valencia and took a train north to Borriana. We met Dr. Gomez and his wife, Kristen, on the platform and it was a completely surreal moment.
They drove us to their house in the village of Alquerías del Niño Perdido. It was a small, quaint town with a pretty square. We had dinner with them, tried some Spanish wine and spent hours talking and catching up.
Day 2 – Beach Day in Borriana
The next day, we went for a walk to the local shop to buy bread and afterwards, visited Dr. Gomez’s cousin, who lived just a few blocks over. When we entered her home, I felt like all my Spanish education had been wiped from my memory. It had been three years since the two college classes I took and speaking to a native Spanish speaker was somewhat intimidating, given the speed at which she talked. I definitely let my former Spanish teacher down in front of his family, haha.
Later in the day after a relaxing afternoon inside, we drove to a trail in Borriana. The circular trail surrounded a stream and was next to beautiful foliage. You could even see striking mountains in the distance.
We then spent the next couple hours nearby at Malvarrosa Beach. The Mediterranean Sea was SO warm — being familiar with cold Upstate New York lakes, this was amazing. After grabbing gelato, we headed back to the house.
During this stay, we definitely got our fill of authentic Spanish cuisine. For dinner that night, we had tortillas de patata, also known as a Spanish omelette. It’s made with eggs and potatoes, sometimes with a mix of onion and/or chives or garlic. Patata is fried in oil and often served cold as an appetizer. We also had gaspacho, which is similar to a vegetable juice. So good!
Day 3 – Barcelona: Catalonia Square, Las Ramblas, Plaça Reial
Our visit with our Spanish teacher came to an end this morning. We said goodbye early in the morning at the train station as we prepared to continue our trip to Barcelona. It was just over a two hour trip and the ride was truly beautiful. The mountains were on my left and the ocean was to the right…talk about an amazing view.
Now I have to stop here and make a confession. I have wanted to visit Spain ever since taking my first Spanish class in 7th grade. But there’s a real, yet slightly embarrassing, reason why I was hell-bent on visiting Barcelona during my first visit to Europe. My inspiration was none other than The Cheetah Girls (don’t judge, I was 11!).
They filmed their second movie in Barcelona and I was so awestruck by its beauty, not to mention the scene of them strutting through Park Güell, that I knew I HAD to see it with my own eyes. Flash forward 11 years and here we are.
When we got to Barcelona, we made our way to Brianna’s friend’s father’s apartment building (yes, that’s a mouthful). Although her friend wasn’t there, it was very easy to communicate with her brother and father, as they spoke English very well. They lived on one of the top floors and shortly after arriving, they suggested that we go on the roof. I’m glad I had sunglasses on because the moment I saw the view, my eyes swelled with tears. Off in the distance, I could see the amazing city in all its glory, with La Sagrada Familia standing tall above the rest of the city and the ocean in the distance. Words can’t truly describe that moment — Barcelona was the city I was most excited to visit and the fact that I had gotten there and was treated to this amazing view upon my arrival was unreal. This whole trip was truly an emotional journey.
After settling in, we went exploring! We took a metro a few stops and stopped to admire one of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces – Casa Batlló, followed by La Pedrera. Gaudí was an architect who lived from 1852 to 1926 and is famous for his creative works, which are unmistakable throughout the city. Unfortunately, we decided to pass on tours of these two buildings due to money constraints, but I’m hoping to check them out in the future.
Then we walked to Catalonia Square – a beautiful area with two large fountains. There seemed to be preparation for a concert on the grassy area nearby, but we continued walking.
Close by we found the famous Las Ramblas, a .75 mi stretch of vendors, shops, restaurants, and more. The pedestrian walkway was packed with tourists and locals during our visit, but it didn’t stop us from going back the following day. Right in this area is where you’ll find the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, or more commonly known as La Boqueria, which is a large public market. To my surprise, it was much larger than I expected – every kind of food imaginable was here.
As we were nearing the end of Las Rambas, we ventured off some side streets. We ended up stumbling upon a place we wanted to see, but weren’t intentionally searching for in that moment in time. Plaça Reial, meaning “Royal Plaza,” is settled in the Gothic Quarter, or Barri Gòtic area, of Barcelona and is home to many popular nightclubs and restaurants. As we sat on the fountain’s edge, we saw people dining, musicians, singers and kids kicking a ball around. It was a hidden gem.
Day 4 – Park Güell, Arenas de Barcelona, Font Màgica
If you can’t enough of the famous artist, the Gaudí House Museum is also situated on the property.
After about four hours at Park Güell, we headed back into the city. We passed by the beautiful Catedral de Barcelona in the Gothic Quarter, which was built from the 13th to the 15th centuries and is notable for the gargoyles that are perched on its roof. We were not properly dressed to go inside, so we admired its beauty from outside.
Day 5 – Picasso, La Sagrada Familia
We got an early start to get to the Picasso Museum in the Gothic Quarter. We had tried to go the previous day to find the line more than a hundred people deep. This option turned out to be much better.
Our next and last stop before heading to the airport was seeing the beautiful and grand La Sagrada Familia. Unfortunately, similar to Park Güell, this is something you need to get tickets for in advance. They were sold out so we could only walk around the outside. It was completely immense and breathtaking. Some history behind the church – it’s the most famous of Gaudí’s works and has been under construction since 1892. It’s not expected to be completed until 2030 and has cost roughly €25 million a year for construction and maintenance. Three million people visit this historic landmark every year.
Throughout the rest of our trip, we traveled to London, Paris, Rome, and Florence and by far, Barcelona was my favorite. Not only was it easy to walk through and get around the city, but it was just full of life, culture and history. I visited in July and hearing of the attack on Las Ramblas just three weeks after my visit truly broke my heart; I’m sure the city is still recovering in the aftermath and will be for some time.
Have you been to Barcelona? What was your favorite spot?
Read more about my trip!
Author: Lauren Taylar
Lauren Taylar is a digital marketer and blogger. She is a graduate of the State University of New York at Oswego, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in public relations. When she’s not volunteering her time with Make-A-Wish, you can find her reading a travel magazine and sipping a glass of hard cider or wine.