Barcelona, Spain

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A heavily edited photo of Barcelona, but my favorite of the trip.

 

The most important fútbol game in Spain, El Clásico pits Spain’s two largest cities against each other for the ultimate rivalry.  Each year, Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona fight for national bragging rights as the best Spanish fútbol team.  Because Barcelona hosted this year’s match, 16 people in my program and I made the trip to the opposing team’s city to see its attractions and experience its liveliest weekend of the year.

 

Day 1

With an airline delay, we landed an hour behind schedule for our first evening in Barcelona.  Though the flight was a disappointment, my friends and I took the quick and convenient 5,90€ Aerobus airport transfer to the city’s Gothic Quarter, arriving at the Sun and Moon Hostel, our residence for the weekend.  With limited hostel experience, I was not prepared for the lodging’s atmosphere.  We entered the building to loud music and were introduced to a bartender shortly after arrival.  Unsure of what I had gotten myself into, I soon learned that there are two types of hostels: the quiet, keep to yourself establishments, or the community-oriented, party hostels.  Though we were staying in the latter, it did not pose a problem, considering our exchange of quality for location and price, even with the many small, unexpected fees we came upon during our stay.

Friday night was the best night to go to Barcelona’s most popular club, Opium.  Contrary to its severe name, the beach-access disco had a diverse customer base and relaxed atmosphere.  With party-goes aged from early twenties to late forties, there was a place for everyone, be it on the dance floor, at the bar, or on the patio overlooking the sea.  Though we ended the night early in preparation for our busy next day, I could have spent hours listening to the rumble of the waves mix with the beat of the music from the club.

Wanting to make the most of our weekend in Barcelona, a few friends and I had preordered tickets for the Sagrada Familia, one of the greatest religious structures of all time.  I had heard about and seen images of the incredible work that architect Antoni Gaudí had done, but nothing could have prepared me for the first-hand experience.  The church towers over you, so much so that the views of the entire facade are better seen off-site.  The intricacy of the facade was impressive, but the interior blew me away.  Tall, geometric columns glowed in all colors from the dream-like luminosity of the stained glass windows. Though the great number of visitors made the structure seem less like a place of worship and more like a circus, it made the religious house that much more of an dramatic offer to Catholicism.  It’s partial completion adds to its grandeur, making me wonder what the experience will be like when it is finished.  Plans anticipate that 2026  will be the end of major construction, so I hope to get the opportunity to one day return and see Gaudi’s vision complete.

Continuing with the morning’s Gaudí theme (not difficult to do when in Barcelona), my friends and I walked from the Sagrada Familia to two famous Gaudí-designed houses: Casa Batlló and Casa Milà.  We did not have the time (or money) to enter the buildings, so we admired them from the outside.  The colors of Casa Batlló radiated down the street, with gentle turquoise and bright green glass making the facade dance like crystal-clear water.  Casa Milà was more understated, but equally as curious.  Though at first it blended in with the surrounding structures, standing below the skeleton-like building revealed more geometric intricacy, similar to that in the Sagrada Familia.

On route back to our hostel for an afternoon rest, we traveled down Las Ramblas, one of the busiest streets in Barcelona, lined with souvenir shops, food vendors, as well as formal stores and restaurants.  We had been warned of the excessive pickpocketing on this popular street, but I never once felt targeted or suspicious.

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Located on Las Ramblas is another one of Barcelona’s must-see specialties, La Boqueria.  This half outside/half inside marketplace is comparable to but bigger and better than the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid.  La Boqueria boasts sweet snacks, fishy dishes, meaty meals, and fresh, fresh fruit, all available to eat in or take out.  Over the course of our two hours wandering the market, we gnoshed on chocolate covered strawberries, samples of gourmet cheese, and, our favorite, fruit juice smoothies.  Feeling adventurous, I first tried a dragonfruit, or pitahaya, juice, that went down sweet but left a terrible, sour aftertaste.  My second try, a juice mix of strawberry and pineapple, was a success.

After a quick rest at the hostel, we were ready for the game!  General public tickets for El Clásico went on sale at 11 a.m. on the day of the match.  Thinking I had a chance, I logged on to the website hoping to secure admittance to the game.  At 11:02 a.m., I was a customer in a queue of over 5,000 fútbol fans, or in other words, never getting a ticket.  Accepting the inevitable of viewing the game from outside of the Camp Nou stadium, I wore my Real Madrid scarf with pride through the streets of Barcelona as our entire group took on the ambitious task of finding a bar in which all of us could watch.  The size of the group ended up being a non-issue, because the pub that we waited in line for for over an hour reached full capacity before we even got to the door.  Slightly panicked, with only a half hour until kickoff, we rushed to find another place to watch, leaving all hopes of comfort behind and sights set only on finding a screen.

Split between a small café and an even smaller bar, my group of friends slid in where we could and watched Barcelona dominate the first half.  They started strong, had greater possession of the ball, and took more shots… but they didn’t score.  The second half brought Barcelona luck with a goal in the 56th minute.  Real Madrid, however, responded with an incredible scizzor-kick goal by Benzema in the 63rd minute, followed by a tag-team play by Bale and Ronaldo in the 85th minute to clench the lead.  As the Barcelona fans (just about everyone besides my friends and I) grumbled in disgust, we cheered in victory to our final stop for the night.

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My view of the game…

Recommended to us by other students studying abroad in Barcelona, the Dow Jones Bar was unlike any establishment I’d ever visited.  Sure, it was dark, played bad music, and was outfitted in wooden decor like most other bars, but, as the name implies, the Dow Jones Bar had a schtick; it was a stock market bar.  Screens hung above the bar sharing the how much a drink was currently worth with its corresponding percent increase or decrease— Fireball up 1.3%, Guinness down 3.8%.  You paid based on the fluctuation of the worth of the drink, so you had to watch carefully when to buy.  To add to the fun, there would be an occasional stock market crash (“crack”, in Barcelona), when all drinks were sold as originally priced, but just for a few seconds.  Though the bar itself is a relatively quiet way to spend an evening, the concept is definitely worth checking out.

 

Day 2

The next morning, following more suggestions from Barcelona study abroad students, my friends and I went to Brunch & Cake for brunch and cake.  We chose to dine at their waterfront location, Brunch & Cake by the sea, to later visit the beach.  Though the menu options were limited, I got scrambled eggs on a massive sunflower seed bagel and, paired with a strawberry smoothie, enjoyed every bite.  Falling into the trap of the restaurant’s tempting name, I split a piece of red velvet cake with a friend.  With just a hint of cream cheese flavor, the icing made the treat, and it was some of the best red velvet cake I’ve ever had.

We walked off our meal at the Platja de Sant Sebastià, a beach full of sunbathers and surfers enjoying the sunny day.  This was also the base of the Port Cable Car, a gondola ride providing views of Barcelona and transportation to the Montjuïc hill.

A few friends and I had tickets to the monitored Monumental Zone of Park Güell (the park itself is free) two hours from the time we got in line for the cable car.  We hoped that the process would be quick enough to do both.  It wasn’t.  After waiting way too long for what ended up being a tourist trap (seriously, it’s so bad, do not go on the ride and save the 11€), we were late for our Park Güell time slot.  Because some of Gaudí’s work in the park has been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status, a section of the park receives a limited amount of people at a time.  My electronic ticket would not scan past our time slot, so being late was going to be a problem.

We took a taxi from Montjuïc to Park Güell and ran to the first worker we could find, my arm extended with the ticket.  Over there, the worker directed.  So we ran towards the area where she gestured and waited in a short line to speak with another worker.  That window, the next attendant said, and we approached our third worker.  Holding my breath in anticipation, I presented my ticket.

“What do you want me to do with this?” the park employee asked.

“Scan it?” I replied, confused.

“What time was your ticket for?” he requested.

“2 o’clock….” I reluctantly responded.

“40 minutes ago!?” he confirmed, as if I were crazy for even trying to enter. “This is the exit,” he finally clarified.

My friends and I explained to him that this is where we were directed, not knowing that our first direction of “over there” meant the overlooked entrance around the corner.

“So you were waiting in this line the whole time?” he half asked, half declared, developing his own understanding of what happened. “I apologize for the misdirection and will notify my colleagues at the entrance to let you in.”

Fortunately, they accepted us into the park, even though we were late and it wasn’t really their fault.  I know that this was my one “Overly Ambitious (read: Stupid) Traveler Forgiveness” pass, so I will try to avoid the close calls from now on.

Park Güell was beautiful, and it was worth paying for access to the iconic Gaudí monuments and designs.  Less intellectual than the Sagrada Familia, the park was simply pretty, serving to aesthetically please.  Gaudí knew how to make things that people like to look at!

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After rushing around that morning and pacing through the park all afternoon, my friends and I rewarded ourselves with Chök treats.  Usually donuts aren’t my thing, but I was willing to make an exception for the Chök concoctions.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to, for the little sweets shop served many options.  Settling on a kronut, it wasn’t the best dessert I’ve ever had, but I didn’t run away from this member of the donut family.

We left Barcelona to return to Madrid with Vueling Airlines.  Because we did not know the date and time of the soccer game before we booked our flight, we scheduled a 10:30 p.m. departure.  With Vueling, we took off an hour later than planned and had the least pleasant flight accommodations that I’ve encountered so far.  Though we did make it back to Madrid for the last metro train, I am extremely dissatisfied with my Vueling experience and will try to avoid flying with them in the future.

 

Destination Locations

 

Pau, Amor, Barcelona

A.J.H.

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Real Madrid v. Roma

If you know anything about Spain, you know that attending a fútbol game is a must.  High on my list of things to do while in Madrid, I made sure to pursue plans to watch the greatest in the game play.  If you know anything about my sister, you know she was incredibly jealous.  I have to admit, I felt a little guilty going to a Real Madrid Champions League game before the head of the U.S. Women’s National Team fan club did, but, with my sister’s soccer spirit with me, I truly appreciated and enjoyed the event.

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Because this was a UEFA Champions League game (tournament involving teams across Europe), tickets were sold differently than those for the Liga BBVA (seasonal play of teams within Spain).  For Real Madrid La Liga games, general public tickets go on sale five days before the match, and you have to go to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium to purchase them.  For the Champions League, tickets were slightly more expensive, and went on sale a month before the game, both in-person and online.  My friends and I could not purchase tickets digitally, however, because of problems with American cards in foreign transaction systems, so we had to make the trip to the stadium weeks before the game to secure our seats.

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On the night of the match, we took the metro to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium stop.  Even at 2 1/2 hours before the game, fans for both Real Madrid and Roma, that night’s opponent, packed the train cars.  Emerging from the tunnel with a sea of white versus maroon, we made our way into the stadium and up to our seats on the east side.

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After a last-minute surge of fans arriving in suits, directly from work, the stands filled and the teams prepared to play.  As each player was introduced, the announcer simply called out their first names, and let the crowd of dedicated followers shout the rest.  With the energy and excitement of thousands of madrileños, the stadium was ready for the match to begin.

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Without goals from either team in the entire first half, the game started off slow.  The playing, though, was anything but.  Though I my soccer I.Q. is greater than your average girl’s, I am no fútbol expert, and even I could recognize that this level of play was superior to any that I had ever seen.  From passing, to control, to ball handling, each player executed his skills at a master degree.  Even though they appeared a fraction of their size from my base-price seats, I knew I was watching some of the best players in the game.

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In the opening minutes, both teams seemed evenly matched, each with equal shots on goal and opportunities to score.  Slowly, though, Roma’s speed declined and the team struggled to maintain possession.  In the 63rd minute, Renaldo scored, and the stadium broke out into cheer and song with the canción de gol, or the Real Madrid Torhymne goal song.  Just a few minutes later, James Rodríguez scored, and the Real Madrid fans, after praising their players, breathed a sigh of relief at a solid lead.  The game ended 2-0, Madrid, guaranteeing us a spot in the next round of the Champions League tournament, the quarter-finals.

The Real Madrid game was one of my favorite experiences abroad so far.  I love the energy, camaraderie, and healthy competition that sporting events bring about.  Fútbol fan or not, watching a soccer game in Spain is a recommended excursion.

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The next time I will be rooting for Real Madrid will be on April 2, from outside of Barcelona’s Camp Nou for the game of all games, El Clásico!

 

Travel Tips

  • If you would like, bring food to the game.  Because the event started at 8:30 p.m., Spanish dinner time, we were curious if we could bring our own snacks, and how much stadium food would be.  As it turns out, you can bring your own food and drink into the venue.  The items sold there, like in all other stadiums, are overpriced.  Even if you’re willing to spend, I wouldn’t rely on the supply.  My friend and I spent halftime waiting in line for popcorn and hot chocolate, just to arrive at the counter and be told that they ran out of everything except potato chips.
  • The ladies are in luck!  The Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is one of the few places on this Earth where the line for the men’s bathroom is longer than the one for the women’s.  And when I say longer, I mean that the line for the ladies’ room was nonexistent, while the men’s line snaked down the hall.  Score one for the women!
  • Think it’s a little cold for an open-air stadium soccer game?  Real Madrid is one step ahead of you.  The Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is equipped with massive heat lamps to keep you warm all game.

 

Fun Facts

  • Players are not restricted to their last name as the identifier on their jersey.  Rather, they can propose to wear any name on the field.  Needless to say, we were confused to observe the inconsistency, seeing Marcelo Viera da Silva’s first name (though I understand why), Cristiano Renaldo’s last name, Sergio Ramos’ full name, and simply “Isco,” for Francisco Román Alarcón.

 

Destination Locations

 

 

Paz, Amor, Madrid

A.J.H.