Today, I unfortunately had to leave my first hostel in Barcelona to check into the one I had booked for my last four nights in Europe. Before leaving the hostel, I chatted with a guy from Chicago and an English dude that has been living in Spain for two years after finishing university. Besides telling me about the life of travel and how he always wanted to leave England for the warm, sunny beaches of Spain, he told me I had to run with the bulls in Pamplona. The plan all along was for me to run with the bulls but with all the hoops I had to jump through to book a bus as well as the seemingly steep costs, the odds were looking less likely; plus the whole getting gored by a bull wasn’t too appealing. Anyways, I asked him to break the whole race down for me so that I knew what I was getting myself into. According to him, I had to stay to the sides of the street and start off after dead man’s corner. The last tidbit he told me I had already read about but his further advice let it sink in. In the event that I were to fall down during the run, I should staying down and protect my head rather than get up as bulls and people rushed onward (so when is the next bus to Pamplona!). Easier said than done but he had me convinced I must do it. As crazy as this dude seemed, he said he has never had a greater adrenaline rush than during that run; he continued to tell me he still gets chills whenever he tells people about the run. I told the guy from Chicago we had to do it. He seemed up for the task but I planned on buying the tickets regardless. Since Camp Nou (the stadium for FC Barcelona) is so close to the hostel, I had to go pay my respects to one of the most famed clubs in the world. The ticket wasn’t cheap but for a splurge sight I could have done worse. I have gotten tired of museums and churches so this was definitely a change of pace from the usual sights. The ticket gave me access to the locker rooms, trophy room, press box, and museum as well as the pitch itself. FC Barcelona has an incredible amount of history, including the number of top players that have worn the hallowed kit. Also, as I learned, the region of Catalonia associates itself quite closely to the club; this part of the museum gave me a better understanding as to why Catalonia sees itself as a separate principality from the entire country of Spain. Even though watching a match would have been the ideal, I still got goosebumps touring the largest stadium in Europe. Once outside the stadium, I walked over to La Masia, the famous academy that taught Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, and some of the other current senior team members. After running around clueless as usual, I finally found the hostel to pick up my luggage and transfer it to the new one I would be staying at. Before getting to the new hostel, I walked by the main train station where off to the side I found a central bus station. Like I have said earlier, I had been planning and considering the whole side trip to Pamplona including booking bus or train tickets but they seemed kind of expensive online, plus the whole website for purchase was ultra confusing. Since I was in the area I decided to check out the bus station and see what I could pull together. After hearing a girl in front of me in line say she got her bag stolen right before her eyes just outside the bus station ticket office (talk about a scary moment), I inquired about the times and prices. Quickly making a decision, I bought a round trip ticket that would have me leaving Barcelona at 10:15 p.m. tomorrow and then departing Pamplona at 1:45 a.m. two days after that. This meant that I would be spending 2 nights on a bus while trying to make the most of my day trip to Pamplona. Knowing that the bus would take close to six hours to get to and from the cities each way, you may ask what on earth was I thinking to book those times. The answer would be that I wasn’t thinking, I was taking everything as it came, plus why not? After realizing I was now fully committed to Pamplona, I got rid of my bags at the Dream Cube Hostel and made the all too long walk to Parc Guell. This park was designed by Anton Gaudi and, from my understanding, has some of his unique tripped-on-acid, hallucinatory architecture within the park. I knew the distance to the park would be a chore but after walking around circles to the hostel with my 50 pound bag on my back I didn’t have much stamina left. To finish off the hike to the park, I climbed a steady hill in the blazing heat. After 45 days on my feet over untold kilometers, my knees began to creak as my bones felt as brittle as an old, depleted man. At the summit, I saw a good majority of the city from this northern post. In the distance standing tall amongst the rest of the buildings that blended together was the Sagrada Familia. On every postcard of Barcelona, this church will be on it. From afar, the church did not dazzle as I had hoped, with many construction cranes hovering above this yet to be completed basilica. Further down the way was the entrance to the main part of the park that everyone comes to see. In my year-old backpackers guidebook, I read that the park was free but found out at that info desk that this year was the first year visitors had to pay to enter. I did not want to pay the entrance fee out of stubborn refusal, so I walked around the exterior to peer in. Despite not paying and entering, I saw a good deal of the monuments within its confines. I’m not sure if Gaudi was on LSD, shrooms, acid, or some lethal combination of the three but this architect had an inspirational trip. The entrance has a gate squeezed in between two buildings that look like gingerbread houses (seriously, even the roof has the white frosting look on top) which gets you scratching your head at first but then your glance turns frozen by the overpowering beauty that lay before you. Around the corner is a walk path through an open tunnel of rock that can only be described as what you might see from sand castles on a beach (you know, when you drop crumbles of sand and sea water on top of one another to form a ripply, almost sloppy creation). Before I go any further, I should mention that the park was not designed as a park to begin with. By decree from his close friend and wealthy businessman, Guell, he was asked to design a complex for the rich families of Barcelona on the outskirts of town. Since no one wanted to relocate away from the city center, all that was built were the Guell household and the monuments that were turned into the park. I saw some of the features that make Gaudi well-known immediately to the untrained eye. Mosaics made from loosely shaped and wildly colored ceramic tiles adorn much of his work. At the park, I saw this mind-blowing art form displayed on a large open terrace which was thoroughly covered in these tiles that overlooked the main part of the park. I left the park confused and impressed. Despite a growing appetite for tapas, I walked closer to the city center and passed some of Gaudi’s famous architecture displayed in the homes that are embedded into neighborhoods filled with mostly common everyday houses. My eyes were first struck by the exterior of the homes which were decorated by his iconic brightly colored ceramic tiles. As I looked further up, I saw a ceramic tiled dragon swerving along the roof serving almost as a railing for those that paid the hefty fee to enter. I entered downward into a restaurant below the street level to eat what was supposed to good cheap tapas. To kick the meal off, I had a sangria, which is a drink made from wine and liquor along with a mixer. This drink that tasted like a fruitier wine went down quite smoothly. Before looking at the menu, I knew tapas weren’t an actual type of dish but I didn’t realize tapas could be practically anything as long as it could be served appetizer style on a small dish. I ordered a fried ball of potato and meat with a dollop of a spicy mayo sauce to start, followed by a plate of patatas bravas (basically french fries) covered by two fried eggs and chorizo. Everything was delicious except for the sight of the bill. For not being a lot of food (speaking as an American here), I still felt truly satisfied. No wonder these Europeans around the Mediterranean are so healthy; besides all the walking they complete, they eat small portions. Afterwards, I walked down the famous avenue of Las Ramblas, which is the most touristy street in Barcelona. Just off to the side is a food market with the most foot traffic of the city markets called St. Josep La Boqueria. The market has all the typical food items of fruits and vegetables and whatnot but it also has some funky meat/seafood that looked so foreign (no pun intended) and legs of ham called Jamon Iberico hanging from the shop roofs. As a side note, the pigs that make up Jamon Iberico are treated like gods on the farm as they season themselves over the years with a relaxed lifestyle then go through a ridiculous aging process (after being killed obviously, sorry PETA for the news update!) before ending up being one of the most expensive cuts of meat on earth. After further satisfying my foodie personality with sights of the rest of the colorful, mouth watering foods in the market, I left the Las Ramblas area to go to Barcelona’s first appointed cathedral. The church was closed by this point but I still enjoyed the beauty of the exterior as the sun set on this holy place. Besides seeing the church, I lucked into watching a band perform Spanish music while groups of people performed an authentic Spanish dance. People both young and old formed circles and held up their joined hands in unison as they shuffled their feet while revolving as one. The famous monuments that everyone knows and has heard of have been great to see and explore but witnessing something so true to a country that won’t be found in any travel guide is what has really made my trip. Continuing my random trail through the city, I stumbled across some other bands playing music as part of what I found out to be many venues for free public entertainment. After that detour, I kept moving towards my main destination for the night, Poble Espanyol, which is a village filled with architecturally accurate representations of homes that can be found throughout Spain. The plan of the village was to represent a unified Spain but with the many divides between the regions of Spain from culture to language, unification seems to be a lofty vision. Unfortunately, the village costs money to enter so I wanted to arrive late at night for their half priced night time hours. Along the way, I stopped at Arc de Triompf, which is similar to the one in Paris but is less crowded and far more beautiful with its clay-style red brick exterior. Between the Arc de Triompf and Parc de la Ciutadella is a pedestrian zone filled with lively Spaniards (sorry Catalans, they wouldn’t want to be confused) showing bystanders how they know how to have a good time. People were rollerblading through coned obstacles and dancing funky dances and not asking for a cent for this perfect people watching entertainment. Further on, a park had both locals and tourists alike relaxing under the cooling setting sun. Poble Espanyol still laid a good distance away so I took the metro to the closest stop possible and upon exiting the stop I entered tourist Mecca. Everyone was walking about passing the many street dealers nearby. I kept walking in the direction of everyone else but did not understand what was causing this mass movement of people. At the end of the avenue before I needed to turn for Poble Espanyol I saw a magic fountain. This fountain is beyond huge but that is not what made it magical. The fountain changed through a multitude of colors while rotating directions and shooting streams both high and low all while being serenaded by popular music like the Beatles and theme music from Star Wars. For having stumbled across this sight by pure accident, I lucked out with quite a bit of entertainment. Afterwards, I walked to the village and found it lit up but figured I would be better off seeing it in the daylight so I traveled back to the hostel. After getting off at the last stop, I had no choice but to walk a fair distance to the Dream Cube Hostel. The whole day I had been walking in my soccer shoes since the hiking shoes I had worn all trip were smelling all kinds of awful. Since it was the first time that I had really worn these shoes, I did not realize how squeaky they were. When I walked, bystanders knew I was coming. Luckily, during the day the busy streets of Barcelona masked this obnoxious noise for the most part. As I walked late at night down side streets with infrequent foot traffic, I could not stand out any more thoroughly. At one point I kept following this one girl who happened to be going in the same direction. She walked swiftly with frequent glances over her shoulder to make sure she would escape the creepiness of my creaky shoes on these vacant streets. After frightening everyone in sight, I got back to the hostel to get some sleep. The hostel beds were extremely unique; all of the beds were seemingly carved into the walls so that each person had their own little nook in which to sleep. Tomorrow brings another beautiful day in Barcelona before leaving for Pamplona.
Day 45: Camp Nou