Back in June I spent just under a week exploring the city of Barcelona (inc. a day trip to Girona). This was to be my first ever solo travel experience—not including the few film fests I’ve been to—and a nifty way of seeing whether I actually enjoyed travelling before venturing onto some more adventurous, uh, ventures. And reader, I’m happy to report: I do indeed enjoy travelling. Here are my thoughts and observations on solo travelling in the Catalan capital—or, in other words, being a Barca-loner! Haha! No, but really, I’m so desperately lonely, please give me company.
(1) A good paella along the Barcelona seafront is the shit. A bad paella along the Barcelona seafront gives you the shits.
(2) It’s always a good idea to try the local, traditional cuisine – such as the ‘Xuixo’ in Girona: a deep-fried, sugary, creamy croissant concoction that I munched on for breakfast. I hated it, but hey, the point still stands.
(3) I know that I should really be talking about all the incredibly interesting ways in which Barcelona is unlike what I’m used to back in the UK but honestly the most shocking difference was the busy four-way intersections with…parking spots? Like you’re parking on a roundabout? And if you pull out when there’s oncoming traffic you’ll crash? Madness? Madness.
(4) Tapas is basically Western dim sum.
(5) And speaking of tapas, the pinchos bar Txapela is the best combination of incredible affordability and incredible-er flavour.
(6) Pickpocketing is a massive problem in the city. Half of the peeps I met at my hostel had had their wallet stolen, and barely any of them were because of me (it’s how I afford to travel).
(7) Not to get all philosophical, but when wandering through the city during my first night, I saw a bunch of teenagers socialising in the square and thought about how every single childhood is different. We grow up with a certain, limited surrounding, in a certain, limited era. I never had the opportunity to talk to friends under a Catalan sun in this specific atmosphere, with this specific feeling. These teenagers won’t ever have the opportunity to experience the specifics of my British childhood either. What we can do and experience with our life is finite. I travel to at least have as many of those experiences as possible.
(8) Ending my first night by being tricked into walking into a brothel by a worker at the hostel is…one of those experiences.
(9) Starting my first night by downing copious shots of straight vodka with a couple of lovely Americans (and one also-lovely Mexican) is…how I got there.
(10) Spain’s hot chocolate (or ‘chocolate caliente’ for all you budding hispanophiles out there!) is consistently excellent. Rather than the UK’s watery slop, the Spanish version is a thick glop of chocolately goodness with a thin layer of choco-skin; like curdled milk but actually tasty. Promise.
(11) Half of every conversation you’re going to have at a hostel will be how people from different countries pronounce stuff. You’d think it would get old. And you’d be right.
(12) Hostels give you insane dreams. Case in point: I dreamt that I was having sleep paralysis, so woke up from that dream bawling my eyes out and waking everyone in the dorm room up. Only that was also a dream! Wild!
(13) Speaking of dreams, retelling your dreams is like retelling your drug trips – it’s only interesting to the person who experienced it, Greg. (Greg doesn’t exist, he’s a hypothetical person meant to embody a certain subtype of traveller. Sorry to anyone actually called Greg.)
(14) One of the best ways of exploring a city is to get completely lost. Was walking in Parc del Guinardo (pleasant enough), took a wrong turn, stumbled up a hill and boom! Bunkers del Carmel! Best view in Barcelona! (It was a ridiculously good panorama, would recommend to anyone visiting Barca).
(15) Cycling mapless by yourself in a city is also an amazing, cathartic way of exploring…
(16) …Until you cycle the wrong way down a one-way road. Whoops.
(17) When hostels advertise ‘free dinners’ and ‘free walking tours’ what they really mean is ‘free stuff until we pressure you into tipping heavily’. I chose the hostel to save money goddammit!
(18) I’ve been to Barcelona 4 times now (though this is the first time without my family). Other than Hong Kong, Barcelona is the only city I’ve visited where I don’t think I’ll ever run out of things to do.
(19) And one of the reasons why is because of all of the amazing day trips you can take. I only had time to visit Girona (lovely and Game-of-Thrones-y) but there’s also the mountainous Montserrat and the architectural haven of Figueres.
(20) Another reason why is because of how varied Barcelona is as a city. There’s the lush greenery of the north, the bustling beach and seafront of the south, the rustic funk of Las Ramblas (and the Gothic quarter in general), the grid-like cityscape of the centre, and Barcelona Sants has, uh, a train station I guess?
(21) Getting to know travellers is like the first days of University, but instead of ‘What course are you studying?’ it’s ‘Where are you from?’ and instead of ‘What halls are you in?’ it’s ‘Oh, you don’t speak English? My bad.’
(22) The hostel I stayed at was called Bed & Bike. It’s a nifty little venue in a fantastic location right at the heart of the city centre, and perfect for solo travellers. Not so perfect for light sleepers though (noisy beds, next to a sort-of-main road, there was a guy furiously masturbating in the bunk next to mine on the first night).
(23) This was my first ever proper solo-travel and I couldn’t be happier with how it went. I met some lovely people, ate a lot, explored a city on my own for the first time and nothing really went wrong! I can’t wait to continue my travels – Barcelona was the perfect stepping stone into a bigger expedition. This is one of the greatest cities on Earth and there’s no doubt I’ll be back at some point down the road.