16 December 2018 – Diary entry: a week in Barcelona during winter (in December)

Coming to Spain has been a life long dream of mine ~ it was always on my bucket list and I was sad when I didn’t make it when I first visited Europe about two years ago (due to my break-up with my ex-boyfriend and uni commitments). When I first stepped off the plane, I couldn’t stop smiling. I couldn’t believe I was finally living out another one of my dreams (unfortunately it’s winter at the moment… I want to explore this country during summer which is why I intend on coming back after South America).

Whatever…

I was FINALLY in Spain! And in Barcelona ~ the city which most of my friends and other fellow travelers spoke so highly of. The city I longed to visit for so many years.

I had a good feeling about this country and my expectations were high.

PANDA TIPS

I’ve actually only got 4 this time (hallelujah right!?)

 

13 December 2018: Barcelona Airport – Day 1

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When I just arrived ~ super excited!

I expected to cross paths with an Immigration officer but I could just walk through without anyone checking my passport… Strange! Then I remembered:

“Ah yes, I arrived in Zurich and got my stamp there and Switzerland is part of the European Union.”

Fun fact: As an Australian citizen, you get 90 days to travel around the Schengen Zone in Europe within a 6 month period (this covers most of the popular European countries with some exceptions).

I pre-organised to stay with my friend Miki (I met him in Melbourne when he stayed with me and my ex-boyfriend for two months while trying to set up his life there). Even though he lived in Terrassa which was 40 minutes from town, I didn’t mind that he lived so far from the centre because I love the more local experiences. Plus I was excited to catch up with him again ~ it had been almost three years since we last saw each other (how time flies)!

OK ~ first priority: connect to Wi-fi and message him.

“I’ve arrived in Barcelona Airport!!! BTW what’s your Spanish number?”

No response…

“Hmm…he must be sleeping or something. I guess I can wait at the airport until I get a response.”

After all, patience is a virtue and it’s something I’ve been trying to practice strongly on this trip (I am naturally impatient ~ maybe it’s because I live in a big city…)

I waited and waited…but the airport didn’t have much to keep me entertained and my battery was starting to get low. The only place available to charge my phone was being used (I walked around the airport for a while to see if any of the cafes had power points). I ended up at some random café and bought a pastry and coffee even though I wasn’t hungry (Swiss Airlines already fed us a pastry and lots of coffee). But at least it gave me time to sit down and think about what I was doing. I messaged another fellow traveler I met in Thailand to see if he was free to catch up while I was making my decision. He replied almost straight away and we organised to meet later in the afternoon/evening.

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The slightly overpriced coffee and pastry I bought at the airport

I asked the information desk how to get to the bus stop – it was simple enough, walk to the closest escalator and the bus stop was right outside of the building. Before I went to have a look, I withdrew some money from the ATM just for convenience (about 100 Euros) and almost died when I had to convert it into Australian dollars (Australia’s currency isn’t doing too well at the moment ~ just my luck). While I was sitting at the bus stop, I kept thinking about where I was to go ~ I was torn on what I should do ~ “should I book accommodation or should I just wait until Miki responds?”

The uncertainty was giving me anxiety because I wasn’t entirely sure what Miki was doing (I was also more anxious because I messaged him the day before to remind him I was coming).

I thought to myself: “I should have found out the route /transport and how we were to meet beforehand

I felt so lost.

I waited maybe 50 minutes or more before I made the executive decision to book accommodation. Besides, it would give me time to explore the city first anyway and meet some other fellow travelers, which is always great when you’re traveling alone.

I went onto booking.com and started the search for accommodation. At first, I was price shocked again ~ all the prices of hostels which came up first were about AUD$20.

“I could have sworn that I heard you could get it for cheaper than that.”

Then I added the filter to show me “lowest to highest” prices and the cheaper places came up.

*phew*

The one which appealed to me the most was Hipstel Hostel – it had a cool looking rooftop, nice looking rooms, good reviews and a reasonable price. They were asking for 7 Euros (AUD$10), which for me, was extremely good value (I’ve paid this price in South East Asia).

I waited for a bit longer for Miki’s reply…just in case…but…nothing.

“f@#$ it” – I clicked “confirm booking” and that was it ~ my day was decided.

I loaded the route to the hostel on Maps and made my way to the city centre (I was supposed to catch two buses). Luckily, I had some leftover Euros from my last trip so I could get my ticket on the bus because the bus was about to leave when I hopped on.

Tip #1 catching the airport shuttle bus: if you need to pay with card, you need to use the ticket machine located near the bus. You can’t buy a ticket on the bus.

When I showed my destination to the driver, he told me that I had to get off at the first stop to catch the next bus.

Tickets were 5.90 Euros (AUD $9.29)wow, expensive for one stop (compared to South East Asia)…ouch.

I sat at the very front seat to the left (out of laziness) and then started observing the bus. It was so nice, clean and had wi-fi (woohoo). While I was catching up on social media and observing the city out the window, I finally got a message from Miki.

Miki: “Woo Mei! My phone number is XXXX. Where are you?”

Me: “Excellent, I’m still at the airport but I’ve booked a hostel tonight cos I wasn’t sure if you were busy”

Dammit! I already pre-paid for the room at the hostel and couldn’t cancel the booking for free. I basically had no choice but to stay there unless I wanted to lose the money. We agreed to meet the following day and Miki gave me detailed instructions on how to catch the train to his place. I had to arrive before 3PM (when he went to work) or go to his workplace to get the keys to his place (of course I’d plan to get there before he started work because I wanted to see him but for the time being).

Every time I looked outside the window, the landscape and buildings kept getting more and more beautiful. Even though I was sleep deprived, I felt like I was high on coffee (due to excitement).

Arriving in Barcelona City

The bus dropped me off at an intersection with beautiful buildings everywhere. As soon as I hopped off, I couldn’t help but take pictures. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the city was. ]

I was so excited to be able to finally walk through and explore the streets of Barcelona.

 

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What I saw as soon as I stepped off the bus

 

I started looking for my second bus stop but it looked a bit confusing (it was a busy intersection)…the hostel was only three stops away from where I was standing.

I decided to walk instead of looking for the bus stop.

The walk actually took longer than I thought but luckily, the sun was out and there were so many beautiful things along the way for me to enjoy. I followed the route on Maps and was led into a cute little alleyway with cool art hung between the buildings, and different restaurants and cafes with chairs in the middle of the alley.

I got a little bit lost on the street the hostel was on (walking too far past it) but got there in the end…

As soon as I stepped in, the receptionist greeted me in Spanish. The hostel looked really cool, artistic and modern.

Receptionist: “Hola!”

Me: “Hola! I have a reservation.”

I was too early to check-in but the receptionist was kind enough to let me use their locker for free while I explored the city. My first priority was to charge my almost dying phone. I went up to the rooftop to relax, try to charge my phone and soak in the sun and the view. The terrace had such a nice view of the sky together with the beautifully designed old Spanish buildings in the terraces.

Snaps of the hostel I stayed in Barcelona

There were only a few people around and most were in their own little groups ~ everybody didn’t look too overly excited to interact with each other. Even though I said hello to everyone I walked past, not much conversation grew from there. I ended up sitting with a guy because he was using a table which was closest to the only available power point on the terrace.

We started talking.

The guy was from somewhere in Northern Europe (I can’t remember sadly), he was about 25 years old, had mousey-brown hair up to his chin and a hat. He was very tall and slim. I also forgot his name but I remember that he was a sea-man who was looking for work in another country because he was getting sick of working on the ocean (he had to deal with long journeys with very little human interaction). He firmly believed that getting great pay was not worth it if you didn’t get to enjoy your life.

I kept trying to plug my phone in but the power points weren’t working. Luckily, Mr North-Europe offered his power bank for me to use (woohoo!). He also offered me some fruit.

We talked for a little bit longer until I went down to the kitchen/chillout area to blow dry my sneakers because they got wet somehow during my commute from Vietnam to Spain and I desperately needed to change from my sandals to closed shoes (it was about 11 degrees celcius outside and my feet were getting really cold). I couldn’t believe it, the hairdryer actually did a great job and dried my shoes within 10-15 minutes. I definitely was expecting to be holding that blow-dryer to my shoes for maybe 30 minutes to an hour.

This meant that I could go and get lunch faster… but I was SO exhausted by this point and ready to pass out.

I don’t know how…but I managed to build motivation to find food…

I asked the receptionist to recommend me something local to eat around the area.

Receptionist: “if you go around this side in the alley way, you can find a lot of pintxos for 1 Euro each. It won’t fill you up but they’re really good.” (Pintxos: a bar snack with different toppings on a slice of bread).

She also mentioned that there were commercial places on the main road but I wanted local food, except I didn’t end up listening to her recommendation anyway (regrettably). I ended up strolling around in a different direction, chasing the sun and at a fancy looking cafe with a set menu for 11.90 Euros (AUD $18.73) ~ much more than my typical 15k banh mi in Vietnam (equivalent to AUD $0.89). I’d already sat down and made myself comfortable and felt it was too late to leave (I mean by European and Australian standards, the price was actually reasonable. It was less than AUD$20 for an entree, main course and a coffee).

Me at lunch and trying my best not to be tired

By the time I finished my meal it was around 2.30PM and I agreed to meet my friend at 5.30PM so it gave me enough time to check in, have a shower and a nap. The receptionist gave me the key to the room with no further explanation. To be honest, I was a little startled because most hostels in Vietnam walked you to your room and gave some sort of a tour (ah that was a luxury). I couldn’t help but ask about lockers.

Me: “are there any lockers available in the room?”

Receptionist: “yeah you have a little locker by the door”

And that was that.

The room itself was really nice and cozy ~ there were two connected rooms but a dividing wall between them, a couch and huge windows with heaps of sunlight. I loved the view outside and the beds looked super clean and comfortable.

I was given bed number 409 (the number on the card).

First task- find my bed.

I walked around for about 5 minutes looking at all the bed numbers and couldn’t see 409 anywhere so I ended up claiming a bed with number 9 (we were room 4), which was in the middle of the room. I was happy to finally have a bottom bunk (I almost always get the top).

Next priority – store my valuables away. The hostel didn’t provide locks (another luxury in South East Asia) but luckily I had my own…

I always check to make sure my things are properly secured but this darn locker would still open even with my lock ~ I ended up having to borrow a larger one from the hostel.

Next task ~ shower!

The shower was barely even lukewarm ~ I was really looking forward to having a hot shower after being cold for so long. I had to use the hairdryer to warm myself up. Oh well, at least the bed was comfortable. There was another older gentleman on the bed across from mine. He couldn’t speak any English but we spoke a little with my limited Spanish. He was visiting Barcelona to spend time with his daughter and said he was a ‘gigolo’ (uhh what!?)

Once he left, I could finally try to napping.

Just as I was starting to doze off, someone came in and made a lot of noise. I had no idea who it was or what they were doing (so much for getting a good rest). I continued to try and sleep…but then, the guy moved my whole bed!

I took my eye cover off to see what was going on and then he noticed I was there after.

Guy: “Oh sorry! I didn’t realise you were there. Sorry! Sorry! Sorry!”

I couldn’t help but burst out in laughter.

He explained that he had to fix something, moved the bed back and rushed to leave the room.

I was still trying to warm my body from the cold but decided to focus on my breath instead of my cold feet…and then…the next thing I remember is my alarm going off.

I’d completely passed out.

It was 4.45pm and I had to leave to meet my friend in 15 minutes (the meeting spot was about a 30 minute walk). I could barely move by this point because I still felt so sleepy. I mean, according to Vietnam time it was almost 11pm which was close to my body’s adapted sleeping time so understandably, I didn’t want to get out of bed.

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When I just woke up ~ EXHAUSTED

I messaged my friend to ask to meet at 6pm instead and luckily, he agreed. That extra 30 minutes was just the time I needed to wake up and build the motivation to go back out to the cold.

The journey to meeting my friend

It was a really long but pleasant walk, I ended up seeing many beautiful streets, people, buildings, decorations and restaurants or food stores. I couldn’t believe how beautiful Barcelona was. My eyes and heart were hurting from its beauty and hearing people speak Spanish to each other added more to the city’s charm to me…

Admittedly…the city was much more developed than I anticipated – everything was so clean (we’re talking almost spotless), people follow the rules, cars move in an orderly fashion and restaurants, shops and stores are all so nicely designed. Just by looking around me, I could tell that this was a city where everyone took a lot of care of their appearance.

I couldn’t help but feel a little under-dressed myself and like I wasn’t taking care of my appearance in comparison to everyone around.

I was lost. I kept trying to find our meeting place…but no matter where I walked, I couldn’t find it…

I was starting to run late. It was extremely frustrating because I had no data or access to wifi to contact him to let him know (I’m living up to the challenge of not buying a sim card for this time in Europe).

The only thing I could think of doing was to ask for help.

I walked into a book store..

Salesperson: “Hola!”

Me: “Hola! Tu hablas ingles?” (hi can you speak English?)

Salesperson: “Yes”

Me: “Do you know where Desigual is?”

She knew where it was and gave me directions.

Me: “Do you have wifi that I could use?”

Salesperson: “Yes, its XXXX”

I put in the password, loaded the new location on Maps and messaged my friend to tell him I was lost and that I was about 5 minutes away.

Me: “Gracias!!!”

Without realising that it’s actually normal to be late in Spanish culture, I felt the need to rush and get to the meeting point as quickly as possible. I guess I felt bad for being late…but actually there wasn’t any problem because when I arrived, my friend was deep in conversation with one of his friends.

*Phew*

Tip#2 when saying hello or goodbye to a friend or acquaintance in Spain, kiss them twice on the cheek (I awkwardly tried to shake my friend’s friends hand when he introduced us).

My friend gave me a two-hour walking tour of the city and showed me all the main sites, teaching me a little bit about Spanish history and culture.

He also bought me dinner (thank you Alex!) and then took me to a language-exchange at a nice bar. We were immediately welcomed by an older gentleman (probably the host). I spoke to a few people even though I wasn’t motivated to because I was so tired. After a while I needed to step outside to get some fresh air.

I met a Morrocan man who had lived in Spain since he was 15.

After he left, the host approached me and started asking me questions about myself…eventually getting to questions of dating and marriage. He ended up proposing that I move in with him, cancel my travel plans and explore the world with him (basically a sugar daddy 😂). He was 44, from Milan (Italy) and was a music producer. He tried to steal a kiss from me when I escaped but I managed to avoid it.

*Phew*

I spoke to a couple of other people after but realised very quickly that I really needed to get some sleep… It was almost 6AM in Vietnam (no wonder I was so tired!)

My night tour in Barcelona

I said my goodbyes and started making the long journey back to the hostel…

The hostel was busier and more lively. People were drinking in the chillout area and there were more foreigners around.

I went to the rooftop because I prefer outdoor areas. It was so dark so naturally, I started looking for a light switch to turn on.

I was welcomed by a guy sitting there.

Guy: “what are you looking for?”

Me: “the switch for the light”

Guy: “you are the light”

I laughed, gave up on trying to find the light switch and joined him.

He was from Berlin – half Persian, half Polish and traveling the world on the ideology of spontaneity and minimalism. We spoke until we were kicked off the balcony, went outside downstairs and then to get ready for bed.

During my quest to get ready for bed, I also met a Chinese girl who’d been studying in Melbourne who was on a holiday for her summer break. We spoke for a bit, exchanged details so we could possibly meet up in Melbourne when I returned from my trip.

After getting ready for bed, I went in my dorm and realised everyone I’d interacted with was in my room.

It’s always nice sharing a room with those you befriend.

The room was like a sauna so we spent some time discussing what temperature we would put the air conditioner on to suit everyone but eventually we came to some sort of consensus and one by one, went to bed.

Day 2 – Terrassa

I woke at around 5am. Nobody was awake and all the public areas in the hostel were closed off. I snuck into the kitchen and woke up one of the staff members.

Oops

I really wanted a coffee so helped myself to someone’s coffee probably with a classy make shift filter I made from toilet paper.

I decided to work on my blog until I my check-out time. Somehow I bumped into Mr Germany again and he decided to walk me to the train station, sharing some pastries on the way and disclosing more about ourselves. He had just over 10 euros to his name and was looking for work in Barcelona. He could only afford one more night of accommodation and after that, he’d be forced to sleep on the streets. I was amazed at how much faith that everything would work out (because I would freak out if I was in his position)He planned to meet his friend in Portugal and sail down to South America.

Once we finished our pastries and made it to the train station, we said our goodbyes, agreeing to catch up with each other again.

I caught the train down to Terrassa.

I won’t bore you with the details of my journey there but the ride took about 40 minutes plus another 10 minutes to walk to my friends place. The walk itself was pleasant because the city was cute, green and peaceful but it was starting to rain and it wasn’t getting any warmer.

When I finally found Miki’s apartment building, I had no idea which apartment number he was because he didn’t tell me and I didn’t ask. I contemplated ringing every single apartment but I thought I’d be a little more sensible and call him.

No answer

Hmmm…

The next second, I hear this guy yelling out from above me.

“Mei?”

It was Miki! (yeayyy)

Me: “yeah??”

We look at each other, said hello and then Miki ran back inside his apartment to let me in…

I thought he’d come down to bring me up but instead, he started talking through the intercom:

“Come through.”

Me: “Which apartment number or floor are you on?”

Miki: “On the first floor. Its the first place.”

For some reason I expected Miki to live with others but turns out, he lived alone in his grandma’s house. The place was old but really cozy. I didn’t expect it to be almost as big as a house!

I finally had the privilege of having my own private room again 😍 (thanks Miki!)

Sadly, he had to rush to work but he was there long enough to give me all the important info and the keys to the house.

As soon as I settled in, all I could be bothered doing was nothing. I just wanted to lie on the couch for the rest of the night but after relaxing for long enough I somehow convinced myself to go outside to buy groceries and cook dinner (of course with a pastry too). Somehow I ended up cooking three dishes ~ I really don’t know how I ended up having that much motivation… but sadly, it didn’t taste that good either (lol). I started getting post-South East Asia blues and really missed eating out because it was cheaper to buy food out than to cook yourself.

Chilling in Terrassa

The rest of the evening was solely dedicated to Netflix…at least until Miki came home anyway. Even though I intended on sleeping early, we got carried away catching up on life (it was about 2am by the time I went to bed)

 

Day 3

Omg… I finally slept in and had 9 hours sleep!

Did I just overcome my jet-lag?!

First task of the day: coffee

I walked around Terrassa looking for a cafe that was open, picking the busiest looking cafe…but shit…how do I order a coffee in Spanish?

Google translate told me

Expreso doble

I tried my luck but the barista had no idea what I was asking for. Luckily there was a lady next to me who understood ans translated for me.

Fun fact: most locals in Terrassa can’t speak English 

After my coffee, my day unfolded something along the lines of procrastination, catching up with Miki, procrastinating a little more, eating breakfast and going to the city.

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I longed to eat this for three months!

Tip#3: if you’re commuting by train a lot get a T-10 pass. It’s about half the price of a standard ticket but you need to make sure you buy the right one with the right amount of zones ~ I had to ask locals some questions to figure out how many zones I needed to get to and from Terrassa.

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The T-10 pass. You get 10 rides in the one card. Worthy getting if you know yo’re going to use 1- rides

Tip#4: If you’re only traveling around the city, get a tourist pass.

Once I got to the city, Mr Germany met me at the hostel:

“I just booked my ticket to Lisbon, so I’m going there at 5.30 today.”

My heart sunk a little. I just found a person who I thought would be my buddy during my time in Barcelona.

Me: “I’m sad you’re leaving”

Mr Germany: “I got a bit stressed yesterday because I couldn’t find a job, nobody on Couchsurfing responded to me and I found out tickets to Lisbon were 20 euros. My friend is also waiting for me there. I feel it is calling me.”

He paused for a moment and then said to me:

“Are you coming with me?”

I was startled. I did not expect his question. As much as I wanted to say yes, I only brought a day bag with me. There probably wasn’t enough time for me to go back to Terrassa, get my stuff and rush back to Barcelona to catch the bus.

I explained this to him and added:

“I was also planning on going to Gran Canaria but I’m waiting for my friend to confirm I can stay with him. It’s actually cheaper to go to Portugal…Hmm.. Can you ask your friend if I can stay with him too? If he says yes then I’ll come.”

Mr Germany: “yeah sure I can ask him”

There was only about 3 hours before his bus was leaving. We had lunch and shared beer while making our way to the the bus station.

When it was time to to go, we hugged each other farewell, said our goodbyes and stared at each other just as we finished hugging.

Before I knew it, we kissed each other… but only for a split second.

The bus driver was telling everyone to hop on.

Once the bus left, I made my way towards the closest train station to meet Alex’s friend from Japan. He was kind enough to give me a tour around different parts of the city, and treated me to a lovely Spanish dinner (olives and paella) ~ Thank you Marti!

Sadly I ended the night early even though he wanted to continue drinking because I felt like passing out by the time we finished dinner.

The train ride home felt like forever. I fell into the deepest sleep but somehow managed to wake up before my stop

The walk home was equally painful. It was so SO cold…but after walking as fast as I could for about 15 minutes, I finally made it back ‘home’ to that comfortable apartment…in my comfortable bed.

Day 4 – The Weekend

If you’ve made it this far I bow to you!

I won’t bore you with details of the events on my uneventful weekend but I can say that I completely failed to site see in Barcelona for the whole day like I planned to because I got there so late and regrettably organized Couchsurfing Meetups which led me to spending more of my time on my phone trying to find wifi rather than just getting lost and soaking in the city but I did manage to catch an amazing sunset, have some amazing Mexican dinner and get to know a Russian guy from Siberia ❤️ I also dedicated all of Sunday to lounging around at home.

More importantly, my fate was decided – my Gran Canarian friend confirmed I couldn’t stay with him and Mr Germany said I could.

Now I’ve been lying on this bus for the past 13 hours on my way to Lisbon ~ only 30 minutes away now! (and I managed to successfully do some Gaudí-site seeing before hopping on the bus too!)

I know this isn’t the most eventful account of events in my travel but that’s traveling for you ~ it’s not always an adventure. There’s a lot of waiting, commuting and planning. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed my account of my week in Barcelona and maybe found out a useful thing or two 😉

Have a fabulous day, afternoon, night or weekend (whenever you’re reading this!)

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