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There comes a time in every woman’s life when she realizes she must leave behind the foolish ways of her youth and fully embrace adulthood – and this might be it for me. Well, at least when it comes to hostels. As I sit writing this blog post at 4 in the morning (Barcelona time), the irony is not lost on me that, as a full-time editor for a sleep wellness website, I may be too old to deal with the lack of sleep that can come with sharing a room with a bunch of strangers.
While I may be slightly envious of the 20-something girls who still have the stamina to be out until the wee hours of the morning, those feelings quickly evolve into frustration as they barge into the dorm room in the middle of the night – their sounds of movement eventually transitioning to loud snores, which brings me to my 4:00 a.m. writing. I figure if the girl below me will snore to the point that I can’t go back to sleep, I might as well use the time to start to document my experience in Spain – my first European adventure since before the Covid-19 pandemic.
My trip began at LAX International Airport, where I took a flight with Level Airlines (also sometimes known as Vueling – sort of confusing during the reservation process). Level is a budget airline, which means you have to pay for everything, including any seating preferences, drinks (alcoholic or non-alcoholic), and food. While I’m glad I sprung for the extra $100 to pick my seats going to and from Spain, the additional $100 for food (round trip) didn’t feel as appetizing. As expensive as airport sandwiches can be, they’re going to be cheaper if you’re on a budget.
I was able to take a nonstop flight from LA to Barcelona. It’s a long flight - roughly 11-12 hours - but convenient if you want to avoid dealing with layovers. While Level makes you pay for nearly everything under the sun, they do offer free inflight entertainment that includes a mix of movies, tv shows, and music. They also offer inflight wifi for an additional fee, which I purchased to help pass the time and get some work done, but it’s so slow that I wouldn’t recommend it.
Try to book a window seat on the right side if you plan to fly to Barcelona. During our descent, we got beautiful views of Barcelona’s coastline, and the process of getting off the plane was equally as enjoyable. As mentioned, I paid extra to select a preferred seat, and mine was at the front of the plane, which meant I got to de-board almost immediately. From there, we had to go to immigration – no paperwork needed. They didn’t even check my Covid-19 vaccine card. After immigration, I exited the airport. There was no station for customs either. I was probably off the plane and out of the airport in 15 minutes tops. Now, that might be different in summer seasons when travel is busier in Europe, but for April, it was refreshingly quick.
After exiting the airport, I took the A1 Bus to the Las Ramblas neighborhood, getting out at the Placa Catalunya stop. This area is a bustling neighborhood full of shops and people. I was shocked at how busy it was. I live in Los Angeles, and even though LA is a major city, people don’t really walk there, so you kind of get used to not milling through crowds.
I got in around dinner time, but most of the food in the area included fast food chains I could get back home. So instead, I just walked around the area, looked at a few stores, and turned in for an early night – and, eventually, a very early morning.
First Full Day
My first full day in Barcelona started with a coffee and croissant at Café Florida. The coffee and croissant only cost me about 4 euros. At home, I imagine it would been double that. In general, food prices are much cheaper here. For example, I’ve found lots of tapas dishes for around 5 or 6 euros, and many seafood paella dishes for 20 euros at most, with some closer to 16. I’ve also noticed that café culture, specifically places with lots of pastries and bread, is big here.
My first official tourist spot for the day was Sagrada Familia, a famous basilica in Barcelona. I bought tickets ahead of time for almost all my excursions so I had that ready to go. A basic ticket gets you in the church, but you have to pay extra to go up into the tower. I just did the basic ticket, but it was cool to actually see the church from the inside. That being said, if you’re looking to save money, I might skip going inside the basilica unless you opt for the tower because I imagine that would be cool to see. The inside of the church is pretty, but it’s really the exterior that shines.
That only downside was the construction outside and at the top of the church, which I feel like has been going on for a while since I’ve mostly seen images of that basilica with a crane around the towers. To be honest, though, much of Barcelona in general seems to be under construction, particularly road work. Despite the construction, Barcelona is absolutely gorgeous; event the apartment buildings are beautiful. It’s also incredibly clean, a welcome reprieve from the trash-covered streets of Los Angeles.
After the Sagrada Familia, I attempted to see Park Güell, which has a famous view of the city. Unfortunately, you need tickets to get in, and they were sold out for the day. While Park Güell was a last-minute idea, I was mostly bummed I made the 40-minute walk over to it. Good exercise though! If you plan to see it, though, just be sure to book a ticket ahead of time.
Rather than just heading straight back to my hostel, I decided to take a short visit to the Gothic Quarter, which features narrow medieval streets. It’s a really cool area and honestly one of my top recommendations to see when you’re here.
After all that walking, I built up an appetite and made my way back to the Las Ramblas neighborhood for lunch. I ate at a bar/restaurant called Tapa Tapa on La Rambla de Catalunya. The service was fantastic. I had one of the best seats in the place: outside where I could people watch but not directly on the street. I ordered sangria with red wine and a fish and seafood paella. It was absolutely delicious! The seafood was so fresh, I had trouble trying to take the shell off of the shrimp! I imagine there’s a proper way to do it that I have yet to learn. That or I’m severely uncultured. Probably both.
My day started with a trip to Barceloneta Beach but not before I stopped for a coffee and a croissant on the way there. This time, I tried a cream croissant. It was, well, not my favorite. I probably should have known that since I never liked those cream-filled donuts, but it was something new, and I wanted to be adventurous.
I made it to the beach around 9:00 a.m. It’s cold in Barcelona right now (well, too cold for swimming at least), so I just sat on the beach and watched the waves. It was my first time on the Mediterranean coast. I think their beach is worth seeing, but I have to say, it didn’t blow me away. Probably because I’ve seen some really great beaches in other places, but it was nice to relax there for a bit.
Afterward, I didn’t really have any official plans for the rest of the day, so I figured I’d let myself get a bit ‘lost’ in the city. I made my way back into the Gothic Quarter, and I’m glad I did. I got to see much more of this area, even venturing into Barcelona’s History Museum and the Archives of the Kingdom of Aragon. Lots of cool history in these places, and I recommend checking them out if you’re also into history.
Eventually, I found my way back to the Las Ramblas neighborhood where I’m staying. Let me just say, if you’re interested in giving yourself an anxiety attack, go to Barcelona’s prime shopping district on a Saturday. There are people everywhere. Europeans love to shop, and it makes sense. They are so fashionable here, even when they’re not trying to be. I thought I looked pretty cute, but out here, I look like Adam Sandler dressed in an over-sized t-shirt and basketball shorts.
I returned to my hostel to grab my laptop, where I found a bunch of people shouting. Assuming there was a fight, I walked over to see what was going on, only to discover it was a bunch of men gathered to watch a soccer match.
Rather than take my chances trying to write at the hostel, I headed to a nearby restaurant called La Laietana for some tapas and wine, which is also where I’m writing the remainder of this post right now. I love the prices here. I got a glass of white wine for just 3.50 euros. As I look out the window, with my glass of wine and tapas, I’m filled with so much gratitude that travel is truly back. Tomorrow, I leave for my next destination here in Spain, ready for some warmer weather and new adventures.
About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer and comedian who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Sleep Advisor, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com