Irish and Northern Irish accents were hard to understand. Even British accents in London were difficult at times. But Spanish is a whole different language (obvious, I know).
I flew into Barcelona airport from London on a whim and even though I didn’t have much time to brush up on my foreign language skills, my high school Spanish slowly came back to me and a fast-talking and helpful Catalan woman helped jolt it back into gear right away.
I arrived in Barcelona after the city had weeks of dry weather, so, logically, it poured my first day there.
All morning, I trudged through the rain, trying to hide under my umbrella to look at a map and find the metro or any nearby dry space.
After staring at my map and trying to remember my Spanish (only to learn the many people in Barcelona speak Catalan, the co-official language of the northeast region of Spain called Catalonia) I finally sought the help of a woman as she ran past me in the rain.
She didn’t speak English, but she was friendly and patient and I was wet and desperate so I tried my best.
She understood I wanted the metro and luckily, she was going there and took me by the hand, pulling me along through the puddles and the traffic.
She was talking faster than she was walking and her Catalan accent paired with my forgotten high school Spanish could have been disaster, but somehow we understood each other enough and I was able to answer most of her questions about my trip.
She was pleased with my feeble language attempts and made sure I knew where I was going before giving me a hug and wishing me ‘buena suerte’ – good luck.
While digging through my map in the dry haven of the metro, I found the driest touristy place nearest a metro exit was the Picasso Museum.
The museum is in a beautiful neighbourhood and would have provided stellar shots if I hadn’t felt the need to immediately stand in the 30-minute long queue already formed in the rain.
Yes, I had the same idea as the rest of the tourists in Barcelona and we all semi-patiently waited in the rain to buy our tickets. Great.
When I finally arrived inside, I ran into a guy who I met at a CouchSurfing event in London a few weeks earlier. We walked through the gallery together and then decided to see the Tour de France (Tour de França in Catalan) when the bikers went through the centre of Barcelona and conveniently near the Picasso Museum.
It’s exciting to see clusters of 60 bicyclists swooping past you in a matter of seconds.
This was the only stage of the Tour de France in Spain and I was very lucky to be in the city the day it happened and even luckier that it had stopped raining and the lovely Mediterranean sun had come out to welcome me to continental Europe.
The rest of my time in Barcelona was perfect.
My CouchSurfing host lived in Barceloneta less than a 5 minute walk an enormous food market. Every day, I would go to the fruit section of the market and buy two nectarines and a half kilo (or a kilo if I was feeling greedy) of cherries. They were cheap, fresh and succulent. Cherries became my go-to snack and wherever I was in Spain or France, I would relentlessly search for cherries. They were my drug. My addiction. My muse. Without them, I was lost.
Cherries in hand, I would search for the best place to savour them. Usually a park with a great view or sitting in a square and people-watching. I’ve had many memorable summer moments with cherry-stained fingers. Deliciously sweet fruit from heaven, I miss you.
I fell in love in Barcelona. The amazing architecture of Antoni Gaudí is impossible not to appreciate.
I visited Sagrada Família and it proved to be the most beautiful basilica I’ve ever seen. It would be wonderful to go back to visit it after it is finished.
Still years from completion, it is amazing to see the artistry surrounded with scaffolding and sounds of machinery working away. After visiting hours, in-the-know tourists can go back into a part of the basilica for evening mass.
Parc Güell is a fairytale park high above Barcelona that feels like Disney-meets-architecture-meets-Alice-in-Wonderland.
All the structures, from buildings to fountains and walkways, are meant to blend in with the landscape but still manage to feel otherworldly.
I discovered Casa Milà and my love for Gaudí was cemented. The rooftop has phenomonal views of Passeig de Gràcia but it is also a sight to see from the street with its amazing rooftop sculptures and unique shapes from every angle.
Gaudí certainly had an eye for detail and didn’t allow anything to be ‘traditional’ in any sense.
Throughout my time in Spain, I found the Catalan woman’s luck was still with me.
A beautiful trip to Montserrat treated me with awesome vistas and just enough water to quench my thirst on my day hike through the hot mountain air.
An evening train north to Girona gave me enough time to soak in the afternoon sun with a new friend on one of the beaches in Barcelonetta.
When I decided I didn’t care for the bus schedule out of the small village of Besalú, I opted to hitchhike and was picked up by a friendly trio of Spaniards and swiftly delivered to the stunning Castellfollit de la Roca.
My CouchSurfing hosts were friendly, one treating me nightly to unique olive and white wine pairings and another taking me to a weekly city-wide party in the main park of Girona.
The luck she gave me was more than I could have ever expected from my time in Spain.
The only problem I found was that it was way too hot for me. Coming from temperate, cloudy and often times rainy Washington State, I longed for a warm summer. A Mediterranean summer. Hot. Humid. Beaches. Spain.
But as soon as I got it, I wanted my temperate weather back!
I didn’t want to be sunburned. I didn’t want to sweat. I didn’t want to be at the beach all day – ok, well, I did, but not at the price my skin was paying.
After two weeks just of touching the corner of Spain, I decided to head further north in search of cooler weather and maybe even some clouds.
It turned out that would be hard to do as Europe was having a warmer-than-normal summer. Even London, where I had just come from, had days over 30°C (about 90°F).
I hoped France would provide the relief I needed, so I headed north toward the land of wine and cheese.