Barcelona is a city filled with tons of hidden gems. There are hundreds of places for you to explore down the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter, Raval, and even the quieter neighbourhoods like Eixample, so here are some of my favourite spots that couldn’t make it to the list of Cheapest Drinks. Sometimes you gotta treat yo’self!
My time in Spain is almost at its end, but I’ve got just enough time left to catch the San Fermin festival, which hosts the famous Running with the Bulls! My roommate David and our friends, Ed and Katherine, are renting a car and driving out to Pamplona for the weekend. Vamosssss!
What about my second half, Lindzee? Why isn’t she coming?, you might ask. It breaks my heart but she has tickets to a music festival, Benicassim, (South of Valencia) next weekend and can’t afford both trips on our meagre teachers salary. I COMPLETELY undertstand that. I can hardly afford to survive the next few days, yet I’m flying to Greece for the rest of the summer. Priorities.
So I couldn’t make it to Beni, and while I love a good music festival, I’m happier to be going to Pamplona.
We don’t have any hostels/hotels booked, and everything is definitely full by now due to San Fermin, but Lindzee and John just bought a tent for the music festival they said I can borrow. Between the car, the tent, and and some park benches we should be able to sort out a place for the 4 of us to sleep. We’ll see. At least we’ll be saving on accommodation costs!
David gets off work early which is perfect because the drive to Pamplona is 6 hours, and leaving at 6pm would have gotten us there a little late. In another attempt to save on expenses, we’ve arranged to pick up a guy from Bla Bla Car, which is a popular ride sharing app in Spain. We stop in a suburb outside Barcelona city to pick up Alex, our mystery ride share companion. He turns out to be the sweetest little thing. 19, from Pamplona originally, but spent a couple years in America to study, and is doing an internship in Barcelona. We all chat the whole car ride, and the 6 hours fly right by. Including stops for snacks, gas, and Alex, we still get to Pamplona quite late. Luckily, having this local with us gives us a great advantage. We learn that it’s illegal to camp outside, but he suggests we stay outside the city and try to camp in a more low key spot instead.
It’s well past midnight by the time we find a parking spot near a park, change into our red and white San Fermin attire, and catch a bus into town. We’re among the first few people on the bus and everything is chill. By the 3rd or 4th stop the bus is full of rowdy festival go-ers. The occupancy is 85% men; all drinking beers and singing songs, getting amped up for tonight’s party. Everyone is dressed from head to toe in white, with an accent red neck red scarf. Everyone. Even white pants. Who has white pants?! I feel silly in my black shorts; I didn’t know the dress code was so intense! We don’t really know where we are but it’s clear as soon as we hit the centre of town, because the streets are just absolutely flooded with people.
We move with the crowds to a square where there’s a live dancing band. We follow it, dancing through the streets behind a tuba and some drummers. Then we find a much bigger square with a live music performance on a stage. The band is playing some covers (despacito, naturally) and some music which I believe is typical Basque. I don’t know much about the history/geography of this region, but while Pamplona is not actually in the province of Basque Country, it’s close by and everyone speaks Basque regardless. In the car, Alex was explaining to us that there is a specific genre of music in the region and didn’t think we’d like it. I was so determined that he’d be wrong because I like allllll music, but yeah. He was right. It’s not my taste.
Side note: If you ever get the chance, do some reading on the Basque language. It’s absolutely fascinating. No one knows where it came from. It just showed up. It doesn’t have any similarities to any language of its surrounding countries, or ANY country, for that matter. Blows my mind.
The square is fun, full of enthusiastic partiers, dancing and having a good time…but everything smells like piss and vomit. Legit. There’s garbage and glass all over the streets. This poor city, which I’m sure is absolutely beautiful the other 355 days of the year, has been destroyed by visitors for this festival. Even more unfortunately, due to incidents in years past, the festival has become synonymous with sexual assault. I attribute it to the crowd it draws for the running – amped up thrill seekers full of testosterone and alcohol. Not a great combination. Katherine and I stick close to the boys and have no issues.
Before we know it, it’s 7:00am and time to get to the arena. I really wanted to run, but everyone I speak to advised me against it. I can’t pretend that didn’t make me want to do it even moreeeee but… I also value my life. No one has actually died since 2009, but lots of people get stabbed and trampled and stuff. I still haven’t decided if I’ll do it or not, but if I DO run I don’t want to be even a little drunk (those are the idiots that get gored, dontcha think?), so I plan to be a spectator today, feel out the situation, and make my decision to run or not tomorrow.
Katherine and I somehow lose the boys before getting our tickets into the arena, and by the time we’ve contacted them to let them know we’re inside, the tickets are sold out. That definitely sucks……but I’m happy I made it in.
I doubt this is part of the 400 year old tradition, but some weird cheerleader show takes place while everyone finds their seats. I can’t explain why it’s weird, it just is.
At 8:00am sharp a gun shot goes off, music plays, the bulls are released, and the runners scramble. A giant screen hangs from the centre of the empty arena with drone footage of what’s going on in the streets outside. We see one guy get dragged like 50 meters, and one guy’s calf is impaled with a horn. Gnarly. In a few short minutes the runners are entering the arena and jumping over the barriers to safety. Everyone is screaming and cheering, while with pink matador capes lead the bulls out of the ring. I assume it’s over, but no. Now, a bunch of men (and I really do mean men, I haven’t noticed ANY women; another reason for me to run tomorrow) have stayed in the arena and are waiting around, looking anxious.
BAM. A single bull is released and everyone is going mad. It’s the strangest scene. Men running towards the bull to get as close as possible, then diving out of its way. Basically playing chicken. Some people lose, and get tossed aside by the horns, but no one gets impaled. This little dance goes on for a while, switching bulls every 10 minutes or so until the runners get their thrills and spectators lose interest. What I do find really interesting is that the bulls are visibly more attracted to people who’ve been …brave? stupid? enough to wear red tops instead of white. They’re like targets. I feel like that’s how it’s always represented on Bugs Bunny, but I didn’t know it was so accurate in real life.
My father was here in the 80s (when he was touring around Europe in a hippie van with his buddies, yeah, he’s cooler than I am) and said it doesn’t sound like much has changed.
Worn out and tired, we find the boys and catch the bus home. Turns out David was actually standing on the sideline right in front of where that guy got gored through his calf, and suggests I don’t run tomorrow.
It’s so hot out that we don’t even need the tent, and just bring our sleeping bags to the park to sleep under the shade of a tree. Except for David, who sleeps in an apartment building doorway like a true homeless person.
We wake up, recover, find a gym where we can pay 6€ to use the shower, and do it all again. Honestly, one night of San Fermin is probably more than enough, but we’re here so we get involvedddd. I choose not to run in the morning, feeling slightly like I’m missing out on an experience, but also confident that I can make it to Greece without any major injuries.
Maybe you just found an irresistible flight for a weekend trip to sunny Barcelona, booked it, then remembered the cost of accommodation, food, and sight-seeing. Maybe you’ve just moved here, and finding more than a few hours a week of work has been harder than you expected. Maybe you’re just a generally frugal person and like to find the cheapest price for everything no matter what.
Apart from the trip I made to Madrid and Valencia when my parents were visiting, I haven’t left Barcelona. Not once in the 6 months I’ve lived here. So this weekend we’ve decided to switch it up and go to Sitges! The town is an easy 30 minute train ride south of Barcelona, and is known for hosting a boss ass Carnivale parade.
Carnivale is totally different in Spain. It’s more like our Halloween, actually. Kids dress up and wear their costumes to school on Friday afternoon where they have a little party. Then, parades are held both Sunday and Tuesday to celebrate the beginning of lent. Never having thought too much about it, I always assumed Carnivale was a Brazilian thing. Clearly they throw the coolest party, but I’ve learned Carnivale actually originates from Venice, Italy. Somehow the tradition went from opera masks in Venice to dancing half naked in what seems to me like the most random locations around the world. What places can you think of that throw the most rad carnival parties? New Orleans, Rio, Trinidad and Tobago…even Toronto has a super fun Carnivale inspired week that we call Carabana…but it’s also in June and doesn’t seem to have much to do with lent so now I’m just hella confused. Point is, I’m going to a cool parade this weekend.
We hit up a costume store for something festive and affordable to wear. Apparently costumes are not really optional, they’re a must. We walk in without a plan or creative idea for a squad costume, which results in the boys buying old school sailor outfits, while Lindzee and I buy sequinned opera masks and feathery wrist cuffs.
Sitges is a famously gay-friendly town in Spain, which is probably why they throw such epic parties. I don’t think John and Adam understand how much they’ll be hit on and/or assumed to be a couple in their costumes. It’s going to be great.
After our Spanish lessons on Saturday morning we all meet up and head for the train. It’s pretty jam packed with people in costumes or covered in glitter, but we manage to find 4 seats together. I have a deck of cards on me at all times, and we’ve gotten into the habit of playing basically everywhere we go. We were told to stop by a manager at a bar the other night, which was weird. We make a little table out of our backpacks and play a few rounds of President to pass the time.
Our version of President is different from your version of President (or Asshole or whatever other names have been given to this game). I taught the game to Lindzee and John one night without really remembering the rules. When Adam got back from the rig he told us he played by a totally different set of rules. I assumed it was just a Kiwi thing, but we’ve since played with other people who’ve all said my rules are wrong…but what’s learned is learned. This is how we play now.
We arrive in Sitges and walk up to our Air BnB. It’s about 20 minutes from the centre, and all uphill. It may have been a slight mistake to have booked so far away, but it was way cheaper. We’re trying to keep our weekend as budgety as possible, and booked an Air BnB for 2 guests with the intention to cram all 4 of us in there. It’s just for one night.
I thought we were getting the whole flat to ourselves, but turns out the owners are home too. Whoops. Clearly they notice we are 4 humans, not 2, and charge us an extra 15€ but are super nice about it. Still cheaper than staying in the centre. Carnivale is the busiest weekend of the year in Sitges. Air BnB and hotel prices were going up well over 100€ per night, while this one outside the centre was just 45€. Okay, 60€ with our extra charge, but still significantly cheaper.
After making dinner we head down to where the party’s at! It’s still pretty early so we sit by the water and chill for a bit before hitting the main street. Sitges is your classic tiny beach town, so it’s easy to find the place to go for all the bars, we just follow the music and the people. Its legal to drink in the streets in Spain, and every bar is jam packed full of people, so the parties are literally pouring out into the street. It’s chaos but it’s good fun.
People’s costumes are hilarious. One group has dressed up as Donald Trump, a group of Mexicans, and the wall. Pure gold.
We all have a crazy time, and spend the next morning recounting the events of the night, and dying of laughter while laying on the beach in the sun. Spring is finally here and I’m so looking forward to more good weather!
Oh hey! I know it’s been two months. My day to day life doesn’t seem worth blogging about. Though I should do it anyway, for myself if no one else. You don’t have to read it if you don’t like it! …But you know you do.
Anyway, here, I’ll try to catch you up.
Last week I was invited to a Facebook event that looked kinda cool, though I wouldn’t know how to explain what it is. Music, art, some other stuff. I don’t really know, but it’s only 6€ and it’ll turn this lazy Sunday into something a little more interesting.
The bunkers. An activity listed pretty high up in all of Barcelona’s tourist guidebooks. No idea what they are, but today we’re going. I really haven’t done anything touristy in my time here. Sure, I’ve wandered around the city and looked at all the beautiful Gaudi buildings from the outside, have become pretty familiar with the beaches of Barceloneta and the winding side streets of El Born… but I have yet to enter a museum.
I heard the term “imposter syndrome” for the first time the other day, and it’s exactly how I feel here as an English teacher. The woman who said it was using it to describe her own feelings about her occupation as a travel blogger (which I ALSO relate to), and was saying that she basically feels she is winging it every step of the way. Sames, girl. Sames.