I’m not really sure the best way to put this all down. We just got back from Spain and I’m entirely exhausted and missing the Iberian Peninsula and my compatriots, alike. We drove each other crazy at times, but it was a memorable adventure and I was really glad to have them with me.
We arrived on Tuesday morning at 9am local time fairly defeated by the United flight that had brought us there. It was an overnight flight and I’ve never met a person who sleeps well on airplanes. We met a man named Ramon at about 11:30 in front of our apartment next to the Burgertime restaurant near El Raval. He was a great person to welcome us to this strange country. The bus ride had been a bit gruff and we missed our stop to reach our destination, so the weary travelers (who had just spent an hour waiting in a snake-like line waiting to be grunted at by a Catalan customs agent) had to trudge a little further to reach their not-quite-ready AirBnB.
After dropping off our luggage and taking a quick bathroom break in the dirty apartment, we set off to have our first Spanish meal. It was a rocky start, to be sure. We found a restaurant called Can Vilaró and settled down for lunch. They had just opened and hadn’t quite readied the kitchen by the time we sat. We were all a little overwhelmed by the menu being in Catalan and having basically no common language with the servers. None of us were particularly thrilled with our meal, though I didn’t think it was all that bad.
After satiating ourselves we started to try taking stock of our surroundings. At some point that afternoon we walked through our first Spanish market, completely overwhelmed, once more. After successfully wasting a couple of hours, we headed back to the apartment, gleeful to find that it had, indeed, been cleaned, and we took part in our first (much-needed) Spanish Siesta™.
After we started to come to, we began to formulate a plan for the evening. As per the instructions of our friends Paul and Vi, we were to visit Carrer de Blai – a street in Barcelona famous for its many cheap tapas restaurants. Again we were trepidatious but eventually we settled on a place called Zodiaco, with a man who bluntly told us that there was no menu but if we sat he would bring us Sangria and feed us; we did as we were told.
After this first experience, we started to become a little braver. We tried another place called Blai Stop and we were just as pleased as we were the first time. We realized that trying to split the check every time was going to be a splitting-nightmare, so we got into the habit of rotating turns to (have David) front the bill and Venmo (him) the difference.
At that point in the evening it was starting to get dark and we decided to regroup at the apartment to figure out what we would do for the rest of the evening. David and Rachel needed to get chargers for their phones that would actually charge their phones so we stopped at the local electronics store and shortly thereafter headed out to Foxy Bar. Foxy Bar had a fun atmosphere and very friendly bar staff. We hung out for a while and watched FC Barcelona get trounced by Liverpool 4-0. As ever, though, sitting at the bar itself isn’t great for socializing. Not that it probably would have mattered, we were all super tired.
After departing Foxy Bar we walked down to Rambla de Raval. We took note of the giant bronze cat (El Gat De Botero) on the premises and proceeded to a place called Madame Jasmine. It was a curious place. Perhaps the best word for it is queer (which makes sense because it was). I think by that point in the night we were all pretty much wiped out and even though it probably would have been a very fun place on any other night, we opted to just turn in.
Settling into my dad jeans early on in the vacation, I rose early the following morning and showered before the others rousted. I made a cup of coffee and sat down with my book while I waited for the rest of my cohort. We had a big day ahead of us: we had plans to visit La Sagrada Familía and Park Güell. We didn’t know it then but we had timed it out perfectly with our reservations. I don’t know who to bestow honors on for that one, but kudos to you. We took a taxi to Sagrada Familía, had a small breakfast from a shop whose keep was less than pleased to serve us that morning and proceeded to the basilica.
La Sagrada Familía is an absolutely stunning building and I was really glad that I was able to put my idiot pride aside for the day and use the stupid audio tour. I learned so much about the history of the building and the significance of every detail of its construction. It’s no small wonder that it will have taken 140 years to go from breaking ground to its completion. There were a few jests about the Spanish people’s love for Jesus, but if you set aside the religious component of it, it’s still an incredible building that stands as a testament of human achievement. I’m still without words to describe how I felt in that place.
I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to recognize the hero that was working in the security line at La Sagrada Familía. The fair gentleman that was informing everyone of what they needed to remember as they were going through the line was singing, “WALLET…BELT…JACKET — EMPTY YOUR POCKETS.” It was a very small thing but it was just silly enough that it became a running
joke endearment throughout the rest of the trip.
After the guided tour and walking through the museum beneath, we started our trek towards Park Güell. We stopped at a small restaurant whose wait staff was standing outside trying to lure us in (the first of many in this country). David and I took a leap of faith despite little understanding of the handwritten menu and it paid off. He had fried broccoli and cauliflower and I had a delicious fish bisque, which we each followed with a thin steak and fries. As we had learned the day before, the Spanish eat their lunch with wine and so did we. Since Rachel and Jamie weren’t as willing to dive blindly into the Spanish cuisine deep end, we stopped at another market and they each picked up a small meal to tide them over. Since it was looking tight, we went ahead and took a taxi the rest of the way to the park. We were thankful that we did, too, because it was at the top of a hill that made “Stamp Mountain” look like a speed bump.
Park Güell was another incredible place. It was a relatively small park but the photo opportunities were abound and the art that it sported was a sight to behold. Not to mention that you could basically see the entire city from there. It was a great overlook point and a great place for us to survey our adopted city. There were some shenanigans to boot, which we were sure to document in our photographs. We had also paid for a shuttle that was supposed to take us…somewhere…but we didn’t know where – nor did we know where we were supposed to catch this mysterious shuttle – so we didn’t. After a quick stop at the gift shop, we made our leave. We rewarded all of our walking with some delicious ice cream from a nearby shop. After walking down the hill a bit, we caught a cab back to our apartment for a well-deserved siesta.
During break time, David and Rachel headed out and picked up some new clothes. David got a new denim jacket that he sported the entire rest of the trip and Rachel got some clothes that apparently didn’t end up fitting her. Hopefully she’ll be able to slyly re-gift that and tell the recipient that it had always been for them. While they were out doing that, Jamie was scheming up our evening plans. He found a place near the El Born that he was able to buy tickets for a Flamenco Show, something he had been really hoping to do during this trip. For only 25€ and very little convincing, that was the plan.
That evening, we walked down to a restaurant called Taller de Tapas on La Rambla. We had amazing gambas al ajillo and delicious (albeit a little bit expensive) paella that was presented in typical Spanish fashion, i.e. with the heads still on the shrimp and the mussels still in their shells. It was a bit of work to get the the prize, but we did it and it was delicious. As per usual, this came with Sangria, which never disappointed.
After dinner, we walked down to the marina for another photo op and amazing views. It was a lovely evening and we were all dressed our best. I donned my white polo that I tried my hardest to ruin at dinner and the rest dressed to the nines. With a little convincing, the group walked over to the part of town where we would be watching our flamenco show. Jamie and I took a small detour while we were waiting, expecting the other two to use the restroom and get settled in (we forgot that Jamie held the tickets) and discovered that this would be the part of town where we would be living in the latter half of the week. We even walked by and photographed what would later be our homestead.
The flamenco show was incredible. I didn’t know what I was in for because I’m uncultured swine, but it was traditional acoustic guitar and dancing in long colorful gowns and even a singer. Everyone on stage was very talented in their various arts and I was very pleased with the show.
Following the flamenco show, we went onto the town to find a place for drinks. Rachel found a place called “No Sé” that had very good drinks and was playing a late-90s-early-2000s playlist that made each of our hearts sing. We were there for a drink or two and then went over to Pizza del Born for some late-night snacks. By this point in the evening, we were all pretty beat and we decided to head back. Tomorrow was a travel day, after all!
Day 3 was a travel day, as I mentioned. We were en route to Ibiza and we had to vacate our apartment by 11am. We went to a place called La Desayuneria, where we had a nice little pretty American-style breakfast (if I’m honest) and then headed back to get out and head to the airport.
The experience at the airport was surprisingly smooth, that is, until we got to the departure gate. After a minor delay in boarding, they finally let us onto the plane about 20 minutes late. We then spent over an hour sitting on the tarmac with no aircon in a metal tube. We were properly discomforted and it turned out to be because there was a labor strike in France that was holding up the airlines that were destined for there, thus holding up production, even in Spain and for planes that weren’t even leaving the country. I clearly wasn’t mad about it…
After about an hour in the air and basically just flying up and then back down again, we were in Ibiza. After settling in, we made for the pool (and a light meal) and then the beach shortly thereafter. We quickly found that the beach basically doesn’t exist in Ibiza – at least not where we were – but we were able to make the best of the situation. We found a little spot near the water and camped out on some rocks and just soaked in the view. It was tremendously beautiful – I could have sat there for hours. After a while, we decided it was about time we head back to the hotel and get ready for the night ahead. We weren’t really sure what laid ahead – Ibiza has quite the reputation – but with the level of uncertainty in tow, we decided to once again pretty much play it by ear.
That night we went first to a restaurant called Bar Garage 68, where we started to notice our uncanny ability to end up at the american themed restaurants by accident, but we had good drinks and excellent food – special mention to the berenjenas con miel, which rocked my socks. After we supped, we moved on to a place called La Taberna – this restaurant was situated in a small area with several others and there was a lot going on around us. There was live music and appeared to be some kind of medieval festival going on when we arrived. After a few drinks and a snack we departed looking for someplace a little warmer to seek libations. We walked up to a local gay bar hoping it might be a lively crowd, but it was really pretty quiet. As we walked up, though, Rachel and I were offered some cocaine by a local drug dealer, so that was fun (we did not partake).
After some continued wandering, we happened upon a place with a cat on the sign and the promise of a rooftop bar – this was Tira Palla and it lived up to its promises. The atmosphere was beyond compare and the drinks were no slouch either. We didn’t end up going to a wild club in Ibiza, but I don’t think any of us really wanted to. We were out until about 3am that night and had a good time, so I think it was perfect. I woke a little hungover the next day, but nothing I hadn’t suffered before and there wasn’t enough time for me to be sorry for myself, as today would be another travel day!
We (myself a bit hungover) had to leave the hotel by noon so I got up as early as I could bear and started getting ready. I joined Rachel at about 11:30 to head out to the pool and drop our bags with the front desk. I had a sorely needed coffee and hung out behind her in the shade while she sunbathed and I enjoyed my coffee and read my book (A Clash of Kings). David and Jamie later joined us, and David kindly brought down my shampoo and body wash that I had left in the shower. We would later learn that Rachel had accidentally left her loofah ball in there too.
We took a taxi to the airport at about 12:30 and made our way to Madrid via RyanAir, which was a significantly better experience than the previous day’s flight with Vueling. We met our host at the apartment as early as we could, put our stuff down in the apartment, and quickly headed out to get food. We went to a restaurant that was a stone’s throw from the apartment called Restaurante Potiño III. I had some delicious calamari and the others had various veggies and egg-mixed meals. The experience felt a little awkward because the man who served us didn’t seem to speak any English and didn’t care for the fact that we weren’t able to speak any Spanish. We were all pretty exhausted by this point as well. All of the traveling had really taken it out of us.
After we finished eating we hoofed it over to see Templo de Debod, which is an ancient Egyptian Temple that was donated to Spain by the Egyptian government in the 1960s for reasons. We actually didn’t spend much time with ye olde templo, however, because we stumbled upon the most incredible park in the process of finding el templo. This was Parque del Oeste, which is a park that overlooks the city and the vast Casa de Campo. The views were amazing and it was really nice sitting in the park and just watching the kids play fúbol and the old couples walk through the park together.
After the park went back to the apartment and had a late siesta. It was very strange taking a nap that ended at 9pm. David and Rachel attempted to take showers but it didn’t take us long to figure out that we didn’t have any hot water. We were also struggling to get the A/C working, but that seemed to just be an issue of tracking down the power cables to plug in the various units throughout the apartment. We texted the host and he sort of guided us towards how to get the water heater working. Jamie was able to get it running and I was able to confirm hot water coming out of the faucets. At some point while we were getting ready to go out for the night, however, David discovered that the water heater was leaking water all over the kitchen. After we found a receptacle for all of the water (random bucket) I tightened the knob that Jamie had loosened to get the thing working. The whole experience was insane and we couldn’t believe that an AirBnB would leave it to their guests to figure this all out on their own.
Leaving the bucket to catch any of the remaining dripping, we headed out for the night to Teatro Kapital. Before the club, though, we stopped at the very-obviously necessary 100 Montaditos for another bit of sustenance. We all missed having the restaurant in the states and were overjoyed by being able to experience it again in Madrid. It was just as good as we had all remembered, but truth be told, I didn’t think it really compared to the other tapas joints we had visited since our trip began.
Teatro Kapital is an enormous nightclub – 6 stories tall with even more rooms, each with its own theme/vibe. The main floor on the ground level was where we spent the most of our time. Highlights included Grumpy Cat (RIP) being part of the graphics during one of the acts, drunken catastrophes with broken glass, and giant blasts of mist that came down from the ceiling during the evening that helped to cool off the crowd on the sweaty dance floor. At a certain point in the evening Rachel and Jamie were making plays at the local talent – myself not feeling much of a need for that – and David started getting a little emotional during this set of transactions, so I did my best to be there for him and help him to have a better night (he later told me that I succeeded). Eventually we all gathered on the sidewalk at 4am (I forgot to mention that this place didn’t even open until midnight) to make our way home. The following day was another travel day so there was no rest for the weary. Thank goodness for siestas.
We awoke at roughly 10am the following morning, myself surprisingly not hungover. I vaguely recall chugging an entire water bottle before going to bed…I went ahead and hopped in the shower, doing my best not to disturb the others. When I was done cleaning and packing I headed to the kitchen to see if there was coffee to be had. By this time I had passed David who was heading toward the shower himself and Rachel was starting to stir. As is apparently obligatory in Rachel Land, she started playing Weezy to get herself motivated to start the day. At a certain point when we had tired of Jamie not responding to our attempts to rouse him, we played Lil Wayne through my Bluetooth speaker in the middle of the hallway and we danced like fools in the living room. Jamie was none too pleased when he finally came out of his room. We had to go, though. Our checkout was at noon and by now it was at least 11:15.
We were sort of dreading today because of the whole checking out at noon thing but our train not leaving Madrid until 4:30. We still had things that we wanted to see, but we didn’t want to see them while dragging around our luggage. In a somewhat desperate effort to avoid this awful situation I started doing some Googling that morning to see what options we had. After not long, I came across a service called BagBnB. Basically, you can drop your stuff with a local shop-keep and they would hold on to them for 5€/bag/day. We found a vespa rental shop that was nearby the train station that participates in the program and it worked out great – it allowed us to have our lunch and visit the nearby Parque de El Retiro without the burden of luggage. We didn’t get much time to enjoy all of those things but it was still a joy.
Before moving on, I’d like to take a moment to step back and remember what happened at 12:01pm on this day. Rachel was the last to leave the apartment and met the rest of us waiting on the sidewalk ready to head toward the train station, but when she arrived outside she declared, “I’m pretty sure I left my phone in there.” As it turned out, she had, and we had to wait for the cleaning lady to come and let us in so she could retrieve it. But she did come, only about a half an hour later, so it wasn’t too much of a loss. During the wait, we hung out at a nearby park. Spain == Parks and it’s glorious. America could stand to take note.
Taking the train today instead of a plane was the best decision we made in our lives. It was so refreshing to not have to deal with all of the tedium and stress of flying and stay on the ground. We had a nice ride taking us back to Barcelona, where it was about 10° C and we took a taxi to get us back to El Born – our final home in this journey.
We met with our host, Will, who was a Duke grad and has a cousin that goes to high school in Howard County – the world is too small. He was a little bit quirky but he was a good Airbnb host and he gave us a lot of good tips and recommendations for the time we would be spending there. After we got settled, we went out to find grub. We went to a Basque restaurant called Txirimiri. I had a delicious duck meal, Jamie had sardines, and I believe David and Rachel each had meals of some kind of pork. By the time we wrapped up our meal it was after 10pm and we decided to try to find a place to go get drinks. We tried to get into Paradiso – a bar according to Will that is one of the top 10 cocktail bars in the world – but by the time we got over there there was a line going back to the end of the block and it didn’t seem to be moving so we decided to go elsewhere.
We ended up going to a bar called Bar el Born. We initially thought to go to a place called Bar Savage, but they had a 10€ cover, to which we said “fuck that” and went across the street. Bar el Born had excellent drinks, but the highlight for me was that they served the best old fashioned I’ve ever had. They even had a little gadget for pumping smoke into the glass to help add that flavor to the drink. It was served with a wood coaster on top that trapped the smoke inside so that you could release the smoke from the glass when it was delivered. We were there until 2am and headed back to the apartment. Finally without a travel day the following day, I decided to go without an alarm tonight.
The following morning when I woke up and looked at my phone it was 11:30. I was bewildered when I saw the time – for a moment I thought it must be 11:30pm because there was no way I had slept until 11:30am, but that obviously didn’t make any sense either (considering I have my phone set to 24-hour time). I had slept nine hours and it was glorious. It was sorely needed after all of those days in a row of travel and lack of sleep.
It was decided that today would be a shopping day. We went out and grabbed a late breakfast at Alsur Cafe el Born – it was a bit of a touristy place, but the banana bread french toast that I had was stupendous. It was here that the waiter informed us that we should be tipping our wait staff and I know I felt super guilty for half the day. My experience with Europe has always been that you don’t tip at restaurants, but this guy got under my skin and made me feel like an asshole. We had to review this whole thing again and found that in Spain/Barca in particular things are a little different than the rest of Europe. It’s expected that you tip 10% or so at restaurants and your pocket change at various other venues (cocktail bars, taxi drivers, etc.), so for the last couple of days we did what we could to adhere to these newly-discovered rules.
After brunch we explored El Born a little bit and found some places to spend our money. We found an art gallery called Galería Maxò where I bought a couple of pieces to bring home for myself and a few important people in my life. I also found a place with affordable clothes that had a great shirt that I eventually found in my size once I figured out what my size was in European sizes. The others also picked up a few things from various other stores: David got a new backpack and shoes, Jamie a new belt and cologne, and Rachel various accessories.
On our walk home we came across a lot of picturesque scenes, which added to the value of our journey. We weren’t sure what to do when getting back to the house so I suggested going to the Picasso Museum, which was received very positively, so within a few minutes we were on our way.
The Picasso Museum was really something. It was incredibly interesting seeing his art evolve over the course of his life and change over time to become more abstract. I can find art interesting for a variety of reasons but I don’t think it had ever really moved me before. I enjoyed a lot of the cubist pieces and particularly the exhibit for love, which often depicted Picasso as his alter ego, the Minotaur. None of these pieces were particularly in-depth in terms of spending extended periods of time with them making them heavily detailed and colorful, but there was an emotional depth that was palpable with each drawing. My compatriots all picked up some things from the gift store but none of the things in the gift shop spoke to me like the love pieces had, so I forwent the opportunity. Perhaps next time.
After the museum we went back to the apartment to prepare for another evening out. This was one of our last days in Spain and we wanted to do it right. For dinner we went to a place called Caliu Restaurant and had a few delicious tapas and lots of sangria, which was delicious, as always. The highlight for me was the chorizo that we got there – it was Chorizo al la su Abuela and damned if it wasn’t something my Spanish grandmother would have made if she existed. After dinner we were on a mission tonight – not being able to get into Paradiso the previous day, it was imperative that we get there early tonight and get into this mysterious place and find out what all the hubbub was about.
We arrived at Paradiso at about 9pm. There wasn’t a line yet so we walked right inside. The place is meant to be a speakeasy so there’s a small counter for the front restaurant when you first walk in and then a large industrial-looking door to the left. Behind this door is truly paradise. The ceiling is decorated with things inspired by nature – leaves, fruits, etc. It’s like walking into a jungle. We took a booth in the corner and proceeded to review the menu. It was backlit and had maybe two dozen drinks on it – all of them some kind of gourmet and all of them designed to impress in some way. Jamie and I seemed to take to this whole experience the most enthusiastically. For my first drink I got the Super Cool Martini, which it turned out was actually one of their more popular drinks, but I would have gotten anyway because it me.
The Super Cool Martini was just as cool as advertised. The vermouth came partially frozen so that when they poured it into the glass, it came out as a mountain of semi-frozen liquid, which was super cool. The drink also included oregano for some reason, which you can definitely taste and it was an interesting but welcome addition to the otherwise traditional drink. Jamie got a Troy Horse – I honestly don’t remember what the drink itself was, but it was presented in a wooden horse, so like, yes. We got a couple of other drinks but the one that was the best and most interesting was the sotobosque, which as its name would suggest is a very earthy drink with actual mushrooms in it. Jamie and I agreed: this one took the gold.
After Paradiso, Rachel and I decided to head back to the apartment for the night while the other two went to a gay bar called Ambar. Looking back I kind of wish I would have gone with them, but at the time I was ready for bed and didn’t need any more alcohol.
Day 7 was our final day in Spain and we had to make it count. We started our day around 10am – I headed out at some point and grabbed a coffee at the group’s favorite coffee spot, Coffee Casa. David and Jamie went to an ancient synagogue and Rachel and I opted to go get breakfast. We found a place called König and settled down for a very lengthy wait. We ended up being there for almost two hours but it wasn’t really that bad. We knew the wait staff was busy (they were literally running by us at times) and we found a lot to talk about while we waited. I had another great coffee and finally found out what a bikini was (a ham and cheese sandwich). I got a bikini complet, which also came with bacon and eggs.
For a good part of the rest of that day our schedules were unable to line up, so Rachel and I went to the beach without the boys. We got a little lost on the way there, taking a short detour through the park and near the zoo, but we eventually made it to a more northern part of the beach, which we had been assured was the less crowded part (I don’t think it really was). She purchased a shawl from one of the beach vendors and we spent a couple of hours sunbathing on the what we soon discovered was a nude beach. Gotta love Europe. During our time out there we also got mojitos from the beach bar to top off our nearly perfect afternoon.
Since we had to get to the evening sailing cruise at 4:15, we started walking at about 3:30. It was only a half-hour walk but it took us almost 15 minutes to find a place for Rachel to go to the restroom (this, as ever, was an emergency situation). After seeking refuge in a small McDonald’s that was concealed inside of a tent, we made our way along the beach to the Marina.
The evening sailing cruise was incredible – one of the highlights of the trip for me. Being out on the water with the sun shining bright, Spanish music playing in the background and a glass of sangria in my hand is the textbook definition of my happy place. We got almost two hours on the sailboat, even though were only really scheduled for an hour and a half – plenty of pictures were taken and memories made. There aren’t words that haven’t been overused by this point to describe the trip. It was wonderful.
After the cruise we took a ride back to El Born and I gave the taxi driver the last of my euros. We went up to the apartment to freshen up before going out to dinner – it had been decided that we would end the trip as we had started it – on Carrer de Blai.
We decided to walk to the street of tapas on this night and made it there while seeing lots of new sights along the way. We finally made a stop at Blai Tonight and then La Tasqueta de Blai to top off the evening. The sangria flowed, the tapas were delicious, and the people were happy. We took a long walk back to the apartment succumbing to hole madness somewhere along the way. I think we were all in denial that we had to go home at this point.
Travel Home + Final Thoughts
The next morning we had our flight leaving for Munich at 11:55am, so we had to make a pretty early exit from the apartment. I got up early and was ready to go by 8. Three of us went down and got coffee from Coffee Casa for the last time and brought it back up while we finished getting ready to go. We had agreed to be ready to go by 9:15 to give us a safe amount of time in the airport. Getting in and through security was fairly smooth but there were several layers of security throughout that day since we were returning back to the United States…
I know that we drove each other a little crazy at times, but I’m so thankful to have had David, Jamie, and Rachel to be on this trip with. They ensured that we kept going every day and did fun things and went to new places when I would have been just as happy to curl up with my book on the balcony and forget that I was in a foreign country rich with thousands of years of culture. I hope that I was able to bring some kind of addition to their trips as well. When asked whether we were all still friends at the end of the trip we responded that we would have to take a break from one another for a little bit, but there were never any major disagreements. And that didn’t even end up being the case – we’ve been talking and sharing our memories with each other nearly every day since. I’m so glad that I had made it to the end of this journal. If you’re reading this, I hope you enjoyed it too. Hopefully this will stand as a means of retaining of my memory of this wonderful trip. Hopefully it will be the first of many trips that I take to Spain and continue visiting more foreign lands and learning more about this vastly small world of ours.