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Barcelona - Monday, April 8, 2019
Priscilla and I took a vacation to Barcelona from February 23 to March 6. Why there? Mainly because she wanted to go somewhere international, and non-stop flights to Barcelona were pretty cheap ($350/person round trip on Google Flights with Iberia Airlines, contracted out to Level). So on Saturday, we boarded an 11-hour flight from SFO en route to BCN.

Day 1:
It was Sunday when we arrived. We took Aerobús to Plaça de Catalunya (the city centre), then walked to our Airbnb, a 6th floor apartment in a neighborhood close to La Rambla. Markets in the city are closed every Sunday, but restaurants are open. We ate dinner at a tapas place near our Airbnb, La Viena Blanca, which included patatas bravas (these are pretty common in Barcelona) and bombas picantes, the latter which we liked the most.

Day 2:
We first stopped by La Boqueria, the outdoor market, and bought zumo (fruit juice), an empanada, and a dish with potato and cheese. We bought groceries from Carrefour Market (we would end up visiting several times during our trip). We then joined five others at Foodie Experience Barcelona and learned how to make paella, sangria, and crema catalana from our welcoming host, Carmen. Each of us was given a different task, and mine was to make the sangria. We all got to cook our own crema catalana dish with a blowtorch. And then we got to eat everything! This was so fun and educational and was one of the highlights of our trip. We walked to Plaça de Catalunya for a free Gothic Quarter walking tour, but we were the only tourists there because it was not peak-season, so the guide canceled the tour. So we spent the rest of the day back at our Airbnb taking it easy.

Day 3:
We elected to start using our 3-day Barcelona Pass on this day and used it to visit 5 museums: Casa Batlló, Egyptian Museum of Barcelona, Casa de Les Punxes, Casa Milà, and the Museum of Modernism. So tiring! My favorites were Casa Batlló and Casa Milà, both designed by famed Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. His works are so creative and inspired, yet also thoughtfully functional.

Day 4:
We used our pass to see the city via the hop-on, hop-off bus (Barcelona BusTurístic). The first stop we got off at was Parc Güell, a park designed by Gaudí. We decided not to pay to see the buildings there, but walking around the park and admiring the viaducts was enjoyable and relaxing. Our next stop was Camp Nou (the home stadium of Futbol Club Barcelona), where we toured the stadium from the locker room inside to the press boxes up top. Very cool. Then we got off at Poble Espanyol, where we walked around the quaint village, saw a film about how people in different regions of Spain hold celebrations, and visited a modern art museum. The village was pretty quiet and a third of the shops were closed, not that we minded. Finally we walked over to the nearby Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC), which was closed for the day but had a really photogenic exterior.

Day 5:
The morning began with a 2.5-hour walking tour of the Old Town (I learned quite a bit about architecture), followed by L'Aquàrium Barcelona (they had a cool oceanarium but everything else was meh), Las Golondrinas for a boat tour of the city shoreline, and Museu de Cera (wax museum). All these were included with our Barcelona Pass. We definitely got our money's worth from that pass (it cost €116 and we used €226 worth of benefits).

Day 6:
We had originally planned to do a day trip to Sitges (a coastal town) on this day, but instead decided to take a rest day. And Priscilla's idea of a rest day is to eat, so we got tapas from Quimet & Quimet, pinchos from La Tasqueta de Blai and Blai 9, and finally chocolate con churros from La Churre. Each place was good in its own way, but we liked the quality of the food at Quimet & Quimet the most. Their signature dishes were the most enjoyable: mussels and caviar, and salmon with yogurt and truffled honey.

Day 7:
This was our day trip to Girona, another highlight. From Plaça de Catalunya, we rode a bus for a little over an hour to Girona, a city that feels like a mini Barcelona. Our guide Guillermo gave us a tour of the old part of the city including the outside of the Girona Cathedral and old Roman fortifications. Priscilla and I had time to explore on our own while most of the group headed out to another town (Figueres) on the optional part of the tour. We had seafood paella at Via Augusta (was ok) and explored everything from the city's distinctive bridges to walking atop the Roman wall. There's much to enjoy in the old part of the city, but the sweeping views from atop towers along the walls were probably my favorite. We ended our day trip by strolling through Parc de la Devesa before reuniting with the tour bus.

Day 8:
The day started with a couples photoshoot in the Gothic Quarter, from which we got some nice, professional-looking photos. Many museums in Barcelona are free to visit on the first Sunday of the month, and since this day was that, we visited MUHBA and enjoyed seeing the underground remains of the ancient Roman city of Barcino. Next, we tried to visit the Picasso Museum but found that tickets were sold out (they need to be reserved online ahead of time). So we consigned ourselves to finding lunch and settled on Taperia Princesa, where we had some decent tapas.

Day 9:
This was our day trip to Montserrat, which was my favorite part of the entire trip. Priscilla had purchased ToT Montserrat passes from Expedia which paid for everything: subway and train fare to get there, a cable car ride up the mountain, unlimited use of the funiculars, lunch (unfortunately the buffet place was closed, so we were only able to get selected items at the cafeteria), and admission to the Museo de Monserrat. Admission to the monastery is free, and there we enjoyed the grand architecture and saw the famous Virgin of Montserrat (La Moreneta) statue. We did the hardest hike up to the Sant Jeroni lookout point (and were rewarded with amazing panoramic views) and took a funicular back down to the village. We revisited the monastery towards the end of the day, after the tour busses had left, and were pleased to find the place almost empty. I enjoyed Montserrat for the hiking and architecture, both of which there are plenty of. If I could, I would stay overnight in a hostel here so that I could explore the area over the course of two days.

Day 10:
Priscilla liked Quimet & Quimet so much that we went back again for brunch. We had the two signature dishes again plus a few other things, but the signature dishes were still our favorites. Afterwards, we walked over to La Sagrada Familia for a pre-paid tour from a company called Visit Europa Today. Our guide Isaac had a deep knowledge of the place, but more importantly, his passion for the history and culture of La Sagrada Familia was evident. The tour was very helpful, as there's so much history that you would otherwise miss. My favorite part of the church was the polychromatic stained glass windows, which bathe the inside in a flood of multiple colors. The church was designed by Gaudí, who drew his inspiration from nature. Maybe that's why his works speak to me on a personal level. After La Sagrada Familia, we made an impromptu visit to the Arc de Triomf and Parc de la Ciutadella (I enjoyed the beautiful fountains at the latter) before eating at La Viena Blanca again.

Day 11:
This was the last day of our trip and consisted pretty much of walking to Plaça de Catalunya, taking Aerobús back to the airport, and a 12-hour flight back home. The end of the flight was pretty turbulent and made me nauseous, and I arrived home still dizzy on top of being extremely tired. There's no place like home!

Barcelona was really enjoyable; the fights there and back less so (I don't enjoy being cooped up on a plane). We went when it wasn't peak season, fearing that the weather would be a little chilly. But it turned out to be fairly comfortable. The city is unfortunately known for pickpockets, so Priscilla and I tried to travel light with our valuables in inner pockets. We left the suitcases at home and managed to fit everything inside of two backpacks, my laptop bag, and a tote bag for food. We brought a few day's worth of clothes, and Priscilla washed our clothes at the halfway point during the trip. It's surprising how much space you can save when you really try to avoid packing non-essentials.

Maybe more so than on past trips, we tried to incorporate rest time so that we wouldn't feel overwhelmed. I think that helped me enjoy the trip more. Also, Priscilla tirelessly cooked food almost every day (hence the reason we went to Carrefour so frequently), so that helped us save money. Our total cost for this trip was $2605, cheaper than our trips to Hawaii and Ireland. And after travel credits from credit cards, it was $2127. Which seems very reasonable, all things considered.

Barcelona is a polyglot city with Spanish, Catalan and English seeming to be the predominant languages. The people that we interacted with there generally seemed to understand English, but once we got out of the city, it seemed like a smaller percentage of people spoke it. Priscilla and I had tried to re-learn some Spanish leading up to the trip, but I felt that my vocabulary during the trip was pretty lacking. It was enough to get by, but only barely. Every day I would pick up a little bit more Spanish, and sometimes Catalan since some signs were only in Catalan. Trying to learn a new language is hard enough, let alone two new languages at the same time! Google Translate was an invaluable tool.

Would I want to live in Barcelona? Not really. The city is pretty dense (1.6 million within city limits, making it the second most populous city in Spain) and felt busy. I can only imagine that it would be even busier during the peak tourism season. There is also a lot of graffiti around the city, including on historic buildings. Apparently graffiti there is associated more with free expression and political dissent than gang activity, but it was still off-putting to see, especially on buildings of historical importance.

But would I want to live somewhere else in Spain? Somewhere smaller and quieter? Maybe for a short period of time. The weather during our trip was nice and the food was generally a little cheaper compared to back home. But the most appealing thing would be being immersed in a culture and having to pick up the language. I probably wouldn't want to live there long-term, but staying for a couple months learning to get by might be fun. It aligns with my desire to learn to do life better. I've been spending more time learning Spanish since the trip, and Priscilla is planning for us to take a cruise to Mexico early next year. Hopefully by then my vocabulary will extend past just the menu at a restaurant!
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