Editor’s note: no, we are not calling our readers dummies. We are just trying to borrow some of the brilliance of the popular books. I am so excited for this post, as it’s nice to get two different views on Barcelona – mine and this one from Madeleine. Full disclosure, while I may have accomplished a bit more, hers makes a better story. For all of Madeleine’s articles here on The Royal Tour, visit her index here.
One of the most daunting things about planning a trip can be the timing itself – how long is long enough to spend in one city? You want to make sure you have time to see all the sights, eat all the food, and take advantage of the best nightlife. Most importantly, your trip will need some scheduled downtime – you want to sip coffee on whatever café terrace, glance up from your local newspaper that you can barely read, make eye contact with a passing stranger, and scream I’m from here! (with your eyes, not actually out loud like a maniac).
For my trip to Barcelona several years ago, I was worried about not being able to cram in all those essentials – after all, I was only going for one weekend. To make sure I really nailed this trip, I divided my time into four categories so that I could tick them off as I went: trip prep, sights, nightlife, and downtime. Feel free to use this same method on your next weekend trip to maximize your experience in whatever city you’re visiting.
For obvious reasons, trip prep comes first. Even though advance preparation sounds boring (and also is boring), it’s really important to make sure you’ve covered all your bases before you set off. Do any of the sights you plan to visit have entry fees? If so, do you need tickets in advance? What type of clothing and shoes should you bring?
Here’s how I prepared for my weekend in Barcelona: instead of doing any of the things I just listed, I went out for drinks the night before my flight with two other Americans who were staying at my hostel in Milan. One of them had just contracted a respiratory infection, so I decided it would be ok to drink from the same bottle of wine as him instead of grabbing plastic cups from a store. By the time I got to my hostel in Barcelona the next afternoon, I had a rattling chest cough. I understand that not everyone will have the means to prepare this thoroughly before a trip, so don’t feel bad if all you end up doing is packing the correct clothing and downloading an offline map (neither of which I did).
Here’s where you’ll really get to see your trip preparation in action. Do you know how to get where you’re going? Have you planned the best time of day to visit each attraction?
My entire weekend would be spent with my friend Ann, who was working as an au pair in rural Catalonia that summer. Because she had spent so much time in Barcelona already, neither of us needed to do any research at all. Park Güell was only a 20-minute bus ride away, so there was almost no room for error. We did manage to get on the wrong bus, but after realizing our mistake, it only took us three hours of walking up and down dirt roads through the hills in the full heat of Spanish summer to finally reach Park Güell, our first destination.
Nice view from Park Güell
Upon entering the park, I learned that the famous, wavy mosaic bench with a panoramic view of the city was in a separate section that you had to wait in line and pay for. This was the main reason I’d wanted to visit the park, so it was pretty disappointing to learn that by absolutely no fault of my own and no lack of research on my part, that wouldn’t be happening. I only had the strength left in me for one long line, and I chose the line for the bathroom, which ended up being 45 minutes. After a quick lunch of bread and fuet (cured pork sausage – a Catalan classic), and an even quicker breeze-through of the park, we were ready for our next stop.
La Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s unfinished basilica that has been under construction for over 100 years, was something I wasn’t willing to miss – even if I could now barely swallow and was starting to get tunnel vision. I don’t remember much from the church itself, but apparently I was impressed by this carving of a bassoon player on the Nativity façade.
Not sure why this was such an appeal, but hey.
Our last bit of sight-seeing was supposed to be Gaudí’s houses. Instead, we went to a pharmacy and got a thermometer to see if I had a fever (I did), then walked back to the hostel. Don’t be afraid to make similar compromises during your travels – I may not have gone into any of Gaudí’s houses, but I did Google them later, and that is almost the same thing.
Even if you don’t want to spoil the improvisational flow of your trip by researching specific bars or clubs in advance, it can be helpful to look up good nightlife areas so you don’t wander around all night trying to find a party in the financial district.
After a nap and a shower, I was ready to take my medicine and hit the town (‘medicine’ here being eyeliner, a skirt and top I borrowed from Ann, and a bag of cough drops). A few blocks away at one of Ann’s favorite spots for cocktails and tapas, we met a group of local guys who invited us to go with them to a nightclub. Between the fever, the few rounds of drinks we’d had, and the fact that I had been socializing in Spanish for over an hour, I could feel all my cognitive functions clocking out for the day. Fortunately, bobbing around on a dance floor requires minimal brain activity, so I was in.
After a brief attempt at pretending to dance, I retreated to a corner to observe the scene from the shadows, like a sequined Quasimodo. I eventually spotted Ann standing at the bar across the dance floor, and decided it was time to rejoin society. Carefully picking my way across the room, turning sideways to squeeze past the more exuberant dancers, I had nearly made it to the bar when someone hurrying past in the other direction kicked my toenail off. I looked down to see my big toenail hanging on by a shred. I hobbled the rest of the way to Ann and pointed to my foot, where blood had already begun soaking into my sandal. She dragged me to the bathroom, wrapped my foot in paper towels, and helped me limp back to the hostel. We laughed the whole way home, probably talking about how young and fun we were.
No matter where you’re traveling, or for how long, it’s important to incorporate some downtime in to reward yourself for how great a job you’ve already done at the previous three things. Since we had obviously crushed trip prep, sights, and nightlife, Ann and I had earned a relaxing day at the beach.
The morning after the nightclub, we packed ourselves a picnic lunch and headed to the store to buy me a bathing suit (because I’d decided to get the plague instead of a bathing suit during my trip preparation, remember?). At the beach, I was reminded of my recent foot wound within seconds of walking across the sand. The bandage I had sloppily wrapped around my toe was already filled with sand by the time we chose a spot and set up our picnic – it felt like I had dipped my foot into a wasp nest, and then into lava. Luckily, there was a medical tent not far down the beach (this is the only public beach in the world I’ve seen medical tents like this set up – if you’re going to get a beach injury, do it in Barcelona). One last stumbling trip across the sand, a relaxing foot bath from a Spanish nurse, and a foot expertly wrapped in gauze later, and I was ready to celebrate the close of a flawless weekend in Barcelona.
Happy times at the beach
I am ashamed to recount a tale, especially during a global health crisis, that seems to encourage and applaud behaving like a biohazard. I was infuriated watching all the ignorant 20-somethings on the news justify their decision to go on spring break despite the CDC safety guidelines, and I’m not less infuriated with myself for wearing the exact same brand of stupidity several years ago. Young people can be selfish idiots, and I was young people once. I apologize on behalf of not only myself, but all the other idiots out there who in ten years will look back and say “Whoa, I sucked back then.”
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