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 didn’t quite make 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.
My seemingly friendly and helpful roommate Gary has become insane, so I’ve moved out. He’s doing everything in his power to keep my 400€ deposit, which I really can’t afford to lose. He’s also kicking Max out, even though they’re supposed to be besties. According to Max, Gary hasn’t been paying the rent to the owner, and just pocketing the money we’ve paid him. Poor little Max is on the lease too, but thank the heavens I’m not. I have escaped mostly unscathed. Though, Gary is now claiming I was the messy roommate, never cleaned the apartment, and now needs to “pay” someone to clean it, so instead I’m going over to clean it myself. Pathetic, I know, especially considering I was certainly NOT the messy one, but I’m determined not to lose that 400€.
On the bright side, I’ve found an absolutely beautiful apartment right in the heart of Barcelona. I’m on a classic vintage European fourth floor walk up, that has a view of a historic church from my living room, and am a mere 2 minute walk from Las Ramblas.
I also live much closer to Lindzee, John and Adam, who are still basically my only friends, so I guess not THAT much has changed. The new roommates in my flat are great though so that’s positive. I’m still settling in because I moved just before the holidays when my family came to visit and we did a little road trip to Madrid and Valencia.
Oh yah! My fam came to visit. I lived a temporary luxury lifestyle, staying in hotels and dining at real restaurants. I finally went to see Montserrat, and the inside of the Sagrada Familia. I saw some famous art work at the Prado in Madrid, and visited an epic “Oceanographic Museum” (glorified aquarium) in Valencia.
Here are some pics.
I didn’t say anything about being overly mature or culture-absorbing at the Prado.
Oh, and I’ve also started some Spanish lessons and am doing a 4 day mini-intensive course to really get a jump start. I’ve been here almost 4 months now and I still have a very limited vocabulary. Time to up my I’m-a-local game.
Alright, I think that about sums it up. Which brings us to the present day, as I try to get comfortable in my new flat.
All I’ve got in my kitchen is a bag of pasta, tomato sauce, rice, a block of cheese, and kraft dinner. Yes, kraft dinner. I had asked my parents to bring me a few boxes so I could show my students. They’d never heard of or seen it before, which surprised me. But guess what? I’m going to keep a box and make it for myself today.
Both of my roommates end up in the kitchen around the same time as me and we all cook our individual lunches. I am full of absolute horror and shame as my Egyptian roommate makes a wonderful and healthy looking octopus salad, and my Spanish roommate heats up her mothers home made soup… my neon noodles look offensive next to their real food.
I get ready and head over to my Spanish lessons, giving myself a little extra time because walking up Las Ramblas is a nightmare. Tourists. Everywhere. All of Barcelona is like this, but Las Ramblas is undoubtedly the most concentrated area. The only downside to such an otherwise fabulous location.
I think it goes without saying that Lindzee, John, and Adam are all taking these lessons with me. Our teacher for the mini-intensive is different from our normal once a week classes, and she seems a little nervous. She seems like she’s winging it a little, but I remind myself thats exactly what I do in my classes almost daily.
I’m not one for New Years resolutions, but I resolve to do a little more to organize and plan my lessons for each of my students.
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. I rally the troops (my standard 4 person squad) and we head over to the venue, which is in a kinda sketchy looking area, but also super close to the coast. It’s a warm November evening, sitting at about 15 degrees. We head down to the beach before going into the event and share a bottle of wine poured into plastic cups. I’m starting to drink, and even kinda like, red wine! This is huge news.
As we’re approaching the venue I can see a crowd of people standing outside. Even from a far I can tell everyone is so much cooler than I am. So hipster. So chic. So many dreadlocks and tattoos. I’m wearing a top with flared sleeves and floral embroidery…
we pay our 6€ and step inside a dimly lit space with a little bar in one corner and a small make-shift stage across the room. There’s a guy giving someone a stick-and-poke tattoo, and a woman with giant pink eyelashes and gold rhinestones dotted along her cheeks doing “fantasy” makeup. Like a cooler, more hipster face painting station.
Someone is spray painting a canvas straight on the wall, and we watch her create a beautiful piece of a woman’s face right in front of our eyes.
Different artists have their work displayed all over the gallery, where I find a super cool drawing that only costs 5€, and is now my brother’s Christmas present. Pretty sure he doesn’t read this, so I can post it.
Then a horrible thing happens, when a girl sitting on a couch has the painting directly above her fall off and hit her square on the head. She’s got vibrantly dyed red hair, but you can see blood streaking down at an alarming rate. Obviously, a ton of people rush to her aid, and an ambulance is called. I’m certain she’ll be okay, but it’s still a terrible freak accident.
We don’t hang around too long. The event is on for 12 hours and runs from 2pm to 2am, but unless I plan on sitting and getting a full body stick and poke tattoo, I can’t imagine I’ll need to stay that late.
We move on to a cool cocktail bar in El Born, that has a drink of the week for 4.50€. Much much cheaper than the majority of their other cocktails that cost 7€ or more. I feel like it’s impossible to go wrong in El Born. There is ALWAYS something cool to be found. Just another thing to add to the list of what I love about Barcelona.
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 can justify this by saying I’m waiting for my parents to visit at Christmas. They’ll want to do all the touristy things anyway, so there’s no point in seeing them twice!!
I currently have a 4 person squad. They are the only people I spend my time with, no lie. Lindzee (obviously), John (who we met a couple weeks ago and have seen almost every day since), and Adam (who was the first person I met here, but he disappears to work on the oil rigs in Angola every other month).
The four of us meet at our designated halfway-point metro station and make the journey up to the bunkers together.
We take a long city-bus ride to the bottom of the…hill? Mountain? I don’t know what to call it, it’s somewhere in between. Not an epic hike, but I’m out of shape af so it feels like a more painful journey to the top than it really is. It’s only about 10 minutes.
The bunker itself doesn’t seem so special (though it’s dark and I can’t see much of anything), but the view of Barcelona is incredible! I would argue that it’s even nicer than the view I experienced from El Tibidabo, because from here you can actually make out landmark buildings and main roads. It’s much closer. It’s a beautiful night so we sit with some cheap convenience store wine and enjoy the view.
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.
However, the “syndrome” part is key, as she pointed out that real imposters wouldn’t stress about it the way we do. That gave me a little bit of comfort, but still doesn’t actually say anything about my ability to be a GOOD teacher.
Each of my classes is different, I’ve received no training or even so much as a guideline…so I just show up to these people’s homes and try to teach them stuff. I have no idea what I’m doing. The first few weeks were fine, you play some games, build some vocabulary, get to know each other. I’ve basically been hanging out with these kids. Trying to be a “cool” teacher…but am I even a teacher? One parent referred to me as a professional once and I found it alarming. Me? Not me. Then realized that I’m an adult and that IS how they should see me…it just SO doesn’t feel that way. I’m hardly an adult let alone a professional anything.
I have a job interview with a company that provides online English lessons to business people in Vietnam. I would get paid in American dollars and work as many hours a week as I’d like. They provide lesson plans for me to follow, and I am given a random student for each 45 minute session. Seems pretty legit. I did a quick Google and found reviews of the company from other teachers. Apparently it’s super easy but I’ll hate my life in 4 months. That’s okay, though! I just need money now!
The interview is actually more of an info session, but I’m “hired” anyway. I have to go through some un-paid training first, but it’s not like I am low on spare time. Por qué no?
I also picked up another job as an “app tester”, but it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. My job is to walk around Barcelona and input shop information. Like a sad version of the Google Street-view guy. The game-to-be is called Forbidden City, and I think my job is to create something like the pokéstops in Pokémon Go. Any restaurant, bar, convenience store, fruit market, etc. that I find, I input the name, address, telephone number, then take a photo of the entrance, and categorize it. Super easy right? True, but I look like the biggest weirdo when I’m standing outside of a laundry mat, taking a photo of their sign, and can’t explain to the disgruntled employee/probably owner what I’m doing because I don’t speak any Spanish. On the bright side, I’ve learned to ask for a business card in Spanish, because phone numbers can be pretty hard to find for the smaller shops. Now I know the words for both card and business. On my way to full fluency, I tell ya.
Oh yeah and I get paid 0.15 per shop. Yup. If I log 500 shops in 2 weeks I am paid 0.30 for them all, but that seems extreme. I’m sitting at like 60 and I’ve been at it (kinda) for just 5 days. Whatever. Even if I make an extra 20€ a fortnight, I’m happy.
Salaries are paid monthly here, unlike what I’m used to at home where I’m paid every 2 weeks. Having to budget yourself (especially when you’re broke af) for an entire month is really really hard.
I am jumped by a man with a knife on my walk home from the bar. He grabs me by the arm and holds the knife up to my neck.
Turns out it’s a plastic knife, and just some kind of HORRIBLE Halloween prank, but terrifying all the same. Lindzee is with me and of course once we realize what is going on we erupt into a fit of laughter with my almost-murderer. Realistically though, that shit is not okay. In North America, especially right now as murderous clowns are roaming the streets of the USA, that’s a prank that could get you arrested. I love how relaxed Europe is when it comes to hosting things like the Correfoc, but not so much when it comes to making me feeling like I’m about to be stabbed. I need to learn how to swear in Spanish.
But of course this is only happening because Halloween is coming up! Spain doesn’t actually celebrate Halloween, they have another holiday called Castanyada. Stalls are set up along the streets, where people sell chestnuts or sweet potatoes roasted on open fires. Panallets (a dessert featuring pine nuts) are also a tradition of the occasion. I will be eating a lot of fun snacks this coming Monday…
The day after Castanyada, November 1st, is a public Holiday specifically for people to visit graveyards and the resting places of their loved ones. Children sometimes get the day off for Castanyada, but both schools and workplaces are cancelled on November 1st. Which means I won’t have classes. There are SO many holidays here in Spain.
Halloween has only become a thing here in the last few years. Globalization, am I right? I’ve spoken to a lot of my students about it and the degree of celebration varies. The rich kids with the yacht are wearing full on costumes and trick or treating around their neighbourhood. The really young ones have made some Halloween themed crafts at school but won’t be trick or treating, and some of my students barely know what I’m talking about. Best believe there are a ton of epic parties going on this weekend though. Clearly geared towards expats, every clubs and bar is going all out with decorations and prizes for the best costumes etc.
I can’t really afford a true costume, so I’m going to H&M or Pull and Bear to purchase as much cheap gold stuff as I can, and will go to a convenience store to find a toy shovel…making me… a gold digger! GET IT GUYS?!? If this doesn’t work I’ll just be extra lame and purchase a generic gala mask…but I’m trying not to be THAT boring.