España Part 1: Barcelona
Around the World
23 July 2017
On the 16th of June, I flew from Stuttgart to Hamburg to Toulouse for a noon arrival. I waited two hours until my friend Sumit arrived from London. The only plans I made were to arrive before him, in that I was successful.
It’s now the 11th of July. I’ve been in France for almost a month, only briefly having Sumit around as a companion to get the French adventure started. I’m in the same city, in the same airport, awaiting yet another flight, destination: Barcelona.
• • •
The extent to which wifi has covered the earth in the last few years is truly astounding. Every airport will offer free wifi in some form or another. The nice airports will offer a flat out free service, but smaller airports tend to give you an hour free with options to purchase additional time.
Still, when you’re trying to contact your destination’s contact, it’s awfully helpful. As a friend and I discussed yesterday, it’s a far cry from the 19th century, where hopping on a steamboat across the Atlantic equated to falling off the face of the earth to your friends and family.
Couchsurfing came through again for me. Originally I intended to spend a night in a small town outside Barcelona with a friend I made in Toulouse, and the second night would be spent with a local in the city. The second night with my CS host was all set, but my night with Javier outside the city wasn’t going to work out. The busses only ran at certain times and it was a six-hour round trip. Time was short, so we nixed the idea and I hoped my CS host would offer an additional night. Es no una problema!
When it comes to food and drink, Spain is incredibly fair priced if not right out cheap. When it comes to transport, I dropped twenty-four euros with an hour. This would cover me for the next two days: a round-trip express bus to and from the airport redeemable within 15 days (10 euros), and a 48-hour metro pass (14 euros). It was a lot to spend on getting around, but my host lived about 30 minutes outside the city center on the northern edge of Barcelona.
• • •
I walk up to the apartment and buzz the intercom. “Hola, Christopher!” I love Couchsurfing. I take the lift up to the tenth floor and find the door open to their flat. I’m greeted by Natalia and her roommate, Anna. Their third roommate was out of town during my visit so I upgraded from the couch to a bedroom!
Their apartment offered great views of the neighborhood of high rises and highways. Upon my arrival, Anna had to run to work, but Natalia and I talk for about an hour before we leave for the city center.
Cathedral of the Holy Cross
and Saint Eulalia
After wandering the Gothic Quarter for a few hours, Natalia and I meet back up with Anna to continue our wanderings and enjoy a picnic near the harbor. It was a beautiful evening in the city.
• • •
These girls are fellow travelers, each with their fair share of adventures from around Europe and abroad. To me, the greatest benefit of Couchsurfing is being immediately connected to a group of people who share a common interest, travel. You can relate to the highs and excitement of seeing new places, but also with all the hardships and anxieties that come with going it alone and trying to fit into a culture so different from your own.
Friends make travel worth it, even friends as new as this. I looked up Alexander Supertramp the other day just because, and found this quote of his, “Happiness is only real when shared.”
This may be an extreme take on the feeling, but I certainly understand the sentiment. I’ve always thought that our greatest joys come from sharing the simplest pleasures, like sharing a meal or walking with a friend, but especially when seeing something beautiful. I’m often sad I can’t share these beautiful sights with anyone in the moment. Instagram and Facebook are great at boasting the beautiful but do nothing to create joy.
That’s why I’m all the more thankful for the friends I find in Couchsurfing. While these girls aren’t doing the trip with me, they are very much a part of my experience in this city. I have all these memories and beautiful sights to share with them. It was the same in Toulouse and in the Mas de Jammes.
• • •
The next morning I had a few hours to myself. I spend them largely in the same parts of town, enjoying the Catalan gothic architecture and seeing the main attractions of Gaudi and the Sagrada Familia. What a mad house. I don’t go inside due to the outrageous ticket price of 15 euros, so I occupy myself with quiet strolls through sunlit alleys.
I regroup with the girls in the evening, and the three of us drive to a nearby town to meet another friend of theirs. The plan is to spend the evening at a castle to watch a movie in an open-air theater, “Romeo and Juliet” (the DiCaprio one), but we reroute the evening to spend over drinks and a picnic on the beach.
• • •
Their friend Sara, has a pretty crazy story. She traveled the world for eight months on 4,000 euros. That’s a tight budget. She spent most of her time in Europe and Asia, hitchhiking, Couchsurfing, and using available work exchange programs. Talk about an adventurous spirit. She recently moved back to Barcelona and now she’s working again until she’s ready to take off for the next big hurrah.
That evening over drinks we were sharing the different rewards and learning experiences that come with travel. Gratitude was a big one. For example, after living on an island in the Pacific for a year and only having bucket showers, every time I take a hot shower I enjoy it with untold amounts of gratitude. Every time I lay down in a bed that isn’t a three-inch, sweat-stained foam mat, I lay down with overwhelming joy. Simple joys.
And yet when we were sharing the hardships it made me think about some of the posts I had written about leaving the States and arriving in Europe. I felt I was walking a fine line between boasting of my travels and complaining of the difficulties along the trip. No one wants to hear that. But I want to give an accurate account of my trip, and just this morning (07.22), I realized so many people see this only through the lens I offer, beautiful pictures and curated words.
If my experience came in these single-framed snapshots of the most beautiful cities in the world, well yeah, how lovely. But that isn’t reality, and the reality is just as ugly and routine and frightening as the one you’re living back home. You worry about bills, I worry about ticket prices (and bills as well); you worry about what to wear at the party this weekend, I worry about having anyone to spend the weekend with; you worry about the upcoming dentist appointment, I worry about not having health insurance while traveling the world – hello. This ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. For every beautiful Spanish sunset I’ve seen there’s been a faint and flickering desire to pack everything up and go back home to the comfortable.
So by all means, please, enjoy my photographs and experiences as they come to you through the various mediums of the internet, but don’t throw my life on a pedestal as some grand lifestyle to be achieved. You can have this too after all. Quit your job, paint some houses, get a credit card and sacrifice the comforts of an apartment and the joys of an intimate relationship – and this too could be yours for the low price of future manageable debt!
Adios Barcelona. Onward to the next picture-perfect IG post.
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