I studied abroad in Grantham, England for a semester in the spring of 2010. Start from the first blog post to follow my adventures throughout Europe!

Barcelona, Spain.

Let me just begin this blog with a list of things that went wrong on this trip but made it that much more epic and memorable: the rail ticket price was wrong, Clay’s ticket failed to print, our cab was late, Clay had no idea what time it was, we missed the train, Mariela was late picking us up from the airport, we forgot about the time difference, we lost communication with Mariela after turning off the phone she gave us, we forgot about the time change…again, Barcelona Airport was not available for online check in, we didn’t wake up on time…again, Chelsea busted her knee at the train station, and the train stopped before we needed it to. I will fill in all the details as I go along, so be prepared for a laugh.

First I’ll set the stage for the story of our departure. Our train was to leave the Grantham train station at 12:09 on Wednesday afternoon. Chelsea and I had class until 12 and Clay had class until 12:30 but we all arranged to leave at 11:45, which is when our cab was to pick us up at Harlaxton. The time rolled around and I left class early, where I ran into a frantic Chelsea downstairs. Apparently she had set her luggage in the Schroeder Lounge for safekeeping while she was in class; unfortunately, all the students going on the school Paris trip put their luggage in there too. Her suitcase was put in the van to go on the school trip and was nowhere to be found—not to mention our cab and Clay were MIA too.

I ran (literally) back to the Carriage House to put away my books and sprinted back to the manor to find that Chelsea had gotten the van unlocked and possessed her luggage once more. I told her to call Street Cars and see where the heck our cab was and I set off to locate Clay. I had no idea what classroom he was in, so I was just flying through the manor, poking my head in random classrooms and looking through windows. Finally I spotted Clay (who was, might I add, stretching and paying absolutely zero attention to what time it was) and I could hardly make words come out I was so stressed, so I just flapped my arms around crazily, causing the entire class to turn and look at me, and screamed, “We have to GO!” P.Sherman consented and Clay followed me out as we ran back downstairs.

Chelsea informed us that Street Cars did not even have us written down to pick up, but they were on their way. The cab arrived at 12:01 so we had eight minutes to make it to the train station, where we still had to print off our tickets—and that’s pushing it. Once we pulled up to the station Chelsea and I sprinted out of the cab leaving Clay to grab our luggage, and we ran inside—only to watch the tail end of our 12:09 train leave the station. So we talked to the train station guy and discovered that all the trains to London would have made us miss our flight, so we turned to our only option—call a cab. So we rang Street Cars (the same Ds who had just made us miss our train!) and Tattoo Man (as we like to call him) picked us up right away. It was kind of a fun cab ride because we talked to him a lot of the time (and he told us about a couple he took to the airport getting blown up in Egypt—literally) and reflected on the fact that although we missed our train we were going to make it to the airport in plenty of time.

Once in the airport, we grabbed some Burger King and observed this group of interestingly gross Spanish kids until we left. Finally we arrived in Barcelona Airport where we were so excited to be picked up my Chelsea’s family friend, Mariela, and be taken care of all weekend and not have to worry about a thing. While she did take care of us, that didn’t happen right away because, problematically, she was not at the airport. So we waited around for her to arrive but had no success finding her, so Chelsea paid for Wifi and we attempted to reach her through Skype—we ended up talking to her daughter and husband who told us she had gone to the wrong terminal, so she arrived late, but we were so relieved to see her!

I have to mention that beforehand, Chelsea bought train tickets for 17 pounds or so (that ended up being useless as we missed our train), but Clay and I tried to purchase the exact same tickets and they were over 30 pounds each, yet still 17 pounds when Chelsea looked online. She had to buy our tickets for us and we paid her back. Not to exclude the fact that EasyJet simply refused to allow Clay to check in online and print his boarding pass until an hour or so before we had to leave. The trip gets better, don’t worry. And by better I mean more ridiculous.

So we met Mariela, whom I was able to tell right away was a sweet person. She is fluent in English and Spanish having studied in Canada and the United States many times—she and her husband both got their Masters from WKU, and that’s how she met Chelsea’s grandma and they have been friends for many years. We rode with her back to her little town called La Garriga, about 45 minutes from Barcelona in a car, and we ate at a delicious real Italian place that was literally right next to her apartment building. The pizza was wonderful and I tried tiramisu, which I thought I didn’t like, but I actually loved it! Looks like Olive Garden will be getting some more of my money…

We got settled in Mariela’s flat, which was quite tiny, as she is normally there by herself because her children are all in college and her husband is a professor in Madrid. Chelsea and I had our own room and Clay had his own and it was so nice to not have to worry about our belongings and come and go as we pleased. We also lived with Romeo, Mariela’s “handsome gato” as she called her cat, for the duration of our stay. The three of us stayed up and talked a while before we called it a night and set our alarms in order to go into Barcelona with Mariela the next morning.

Unfortunately for us, our iPhones didn’t recognize the time change into Spain, and we woke up an hour late. Mariela insisted that we eat breakfast and take the train into town, so we had a lovely Spanish breakfast on a Spanish balcony overlooking the little Spanish town. It was so neat, besides the fact Romeo (pronounced Roh-may-oh in Espanol) might have licked all over our ham. No big deal. After breakfast we walked two blocks to the train station and bought tickets to the center of Barcelona. We had to wait a bit for the train and then it was about an hour ride into town. We arrived at La Placa de Catalunya and when straight into El Corte Ingles as Mariela had instructed and located a map of the city after a good 30 minutes of searching. The map was absolutely massive so I’m sure we fit right in with the crowd as we were searching all over it.

The city center was very pretty with two huge circular fountains and a grassy area in the middle. We ate lunch beside one of the monuments and continued to La Rambla, a wide street full of shops of all kinds. There were souvenir places, a section of shops with all sorts of cute and cuddly animals such as baby chicks and rabbits, and a garden section with flowers, cacti and cute little orange trees. We also stumbled upon a HUGE fruit and vegetable market so we checked the whole thing out and were disturbed to find that not only were there rows after rows of colorful fruits and vegetables, but there were meat stands with whole heads (eyes and teeth included) of what I think was a goat. Needless to say, I didn’t purchase any goat heads and we continued down the street until we reached a statue of Christopher Columbus, who was pointing the way to the Americas. He was commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain to explore west in the 15th century, in case you were wondering.

We crossed a bridge over water that was covered in pretty sailboats and explored the mall we passed and of course I couldn’t resist the most amazing looking ice cream ever known to man. We finally found the beach and while Clay and Chelsea searched the shore for neat rocks (which they found), I just kind of took everything in and listened to the waves. We took some pictures and were lucky enough to get a few shots of the naked man who was walking the beach, which is apparently completely normal in Spain. We headed back to the main area and saw Barcelona’s Cathedral as well as another market, which had a lot of neat antique stuff but it was super expensive. Mariela picked us up at El Corte Ingles (we were able to communicate because she gave us one of her three phones for the weekend) and we bought the ingredients to make cheese quesadillas once we arrived in La Garriga. We then picked up Mariela’s son, Rodrigo and his enormous dog, Tesca. It was interesting to chat with him, and after scarfing down quesadillas at Mariela’s, we called it a night.

The next morning I was thrilled to find the sun beaming down on Mariela’s rooftop terrace, so we donned our bathing suits and laid out in the warm sun for a few hours. It felt so weird to be outside in anything less than two layers and a winter coat, but I loved it! I got some much needed sun and relaxation. We decided we had plenty of daylight left, so we took the train into town again and then, after much confusion and translation, figured out how the work the Spanish Metro and went to a cathedral Mariela absolutely insisted that we see. It’s called La Sagrada Familia (the sacred family) and was designed by Gaudi, a very famous Spanish architect. It is one of the most organic cathedrals ever built, based on nature and free-form shapes. We went to the ticket office to get inside the cathedral and they informed us it were closing in 25 minutes and the towers were closed, but we wanted to go through it since we were already there. So we paid our 10 Euros each, and walked into what looked like a construction sight. Scaffolding was built to the ceiling, the entire center of the cathedral was roped off because workbenches cluttered with tools took up all the space, and little slivers of stained glass windows could be seen through gaps here and there. It was very beautiful and different from any other cathedral we had seen, but it looked like they were rebuilding the thing! When we told Mariela the whole place was under construction, she said, “Yes. They’re building it.” Turns out, this structure has been being built since the 1800s and we witnessed the construction, which is pretty cool if you think about it, just not what we were expecting!

Chelsea had on a dress, I wore a skirt, and Clay sported shorts, which is apparently absolutely insane to the Spanish even in 70-degree weather. They’re so used to the hot that they were cold when we were warm. We got all sorts of looks and comments, which was interesting I suppose. We hopped back on the Metro and went to Parc Guel, a famous lookout point over the city, similar to Sacre Coure in Paris (I think it’s pretty cool I can casually compare the two…). The park was located in a somewhat shady section of town, but it was very pretty and offered a wonderful view of the city. The sun was shining down on the buildings, making them all orange and gold and yellow. We checked out the whole area and saw, what I learned after returning to the UK, what was used as a runway on an episode of American’s Next Top Model. Neato!

We got back to La Placa de Catalunya and broke down for some American food at the Hardrock Café. It was absolutely amazingly wonderfully tasty—I got a cold glass of sweet tea for the first time since I’ve been here, mashed potatoes and what was surely the best cheeseburger I have ever put in my mouth. It was nice to be in a recognizable atmosphere at least for a little bit. After dinner we went back to our cute little town (after waiting for a train for about an hour and a half—there is absolutely no time schedule for the trains!) and hit the hay.

Saturday morning we walked outside Mariela’s apartment into a full-fledged market full of fruit, vegetables, breads, clothes and shoes. We bought some breakfast donuts, all sorts of fruit and I bought some awesome white Spanish shoes for 6 Euros. We bought a baguette from the local bakery as well as some groceries for the rest of our stay, and took everything back to our rooms. We changed into our bathing suits once more and made our way into the city and planted ourselves on the beach. It was beautiful and sunny and I couldn’t have been happier to lie on a towel in the sand and get HOT. We met up with our friends Sarah, Molly, Russell and Susan who had been in Madrid for a few days and then came to Barcelona. We hung out with them on the beach for a while and traded stories about our trips thus far, and decided to get a nice dinner together. We went to a tapas (appetizer) bar where Clay and Russell dominated all sorts of all-you-can-eat tapas, while the rest of us ordered normal meals and shared pitches of sangria with super huge straws.

The plan we set up with Mariela was that she would call us that evening and let us know when she would be through Barcelona after she picked her husband up from the airport so we could ride home with her instead of taking the train. Chelsea checked the phone she had given us at dinner and noticed it didn’t have much battery life left, so she turned it off in a haste to save power. I told her she ought to just call her now and we could work out a plan in case the phone died. So Chelsea turned the phone back on to discover a four-digit pass code was needed to gain access to the phone. This was a problem, as we had no idea what the pass code was. We tried 1234 and 0000, when the phone told us we only had one more guess. We didn’t want to mess it up, so we gave up on the phone and decided to try and find Wifi somewhere to call Mariela via Skype with the phone numbers I happened to have saved in my phone, given to us by her daughter, when we were trying to reach her at the airport. We couldn’t find a place with free Wifi after trapsing around the city, so we decided to try our luck with a payphone. We knew one of the numbers belonged to Mariela’s husband, so we waited until we knew his plane had landed and attempted to reach him with what little change we had between us. We had no idea how to dial the number, if we needed a country code or an area code, or how to even purchase a call. So we waited about an hour for the last train to take us back to La Garriga, where Mariela was waiting for us—she must have been so worried after we basically disappeared! But she knew we knew the way home, and we got back just fine, but it was a hilarious situation to be in on top of all the other incidents of the trip.

Sunday morning we woke up an hour later than we had planned and finally decided to change our phones to Barcelona time, and took the train to the Arc de Triompf (like the one in Paris). We made our way to the Barcelona (or Barthelona, as we like to say now) Zoo after a lunch of microwaved pizza—actually pretty tasty. We walked through a pretty park to get to the entrance and enjoyed looking at all the animals at the zoo. We saw all the usuals—giraffes, lions, hippos, every kind of monkey ever, zebras, dolphins, tortoises, bears, gazelles, and we even saw a peacock try to mate with another peacock. He spread his feathers out, which were absolutely gorgeous, and then vibrated from head to toe. It was so cool! It seemed like half the animals we saw were lying on the ground, sprawled in awkward positions, so Clay came to the conclusion that someone darted all the animals half an hour before we got there, which seems pretty accurate to me. We had some time to kill, so we laid down in the grass in the park outside the zoo and soaked up the sun. I’ll admit I took a bit of a catnap before Mariela and her husband, who had arrived the night before from Madrid, picked us up and we went back to her place.

They showed us around La Garriga, which is a very old, cute little Spanish town. The sun was setting and it was a great night to be outside. We had to wait around to eat dinner because it’s protocol to eat around 8:30 or 9 in Spain, which is late even for Americans, and especially for Britons. I had a traditional Spanish dish called paella, which is spicy rice with seafood like shrimp, squid and muscles. I tried all of it and I really liked it! We also all shared traditional Spanish bread, which was of course wonderful, and Clay, Chelsea and I each got a different dessert and tried each other’s. Mine was the best, if I do say so—warm chocolate brownie with gooey chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. Mariela and her husband insisted on paying for us (a trend of the trip) and it was really enjoyable to talk with them for the evening.

Once we got back home, Clay and I had to print off our boarding passes and check in online for our flight the next night, which we attempted to do. It became a problem, however, when Barcelona Airport was not an option on the list of departures, even though the site told us our flight was from Barcelona Airport to London. We tried to call the service desk but the lines were closed for the night, so we had no choice but to wait and call in the morning. We wanted to get going early the next morning, so I set my alarm for 8, and woke up at 9—what a complete fail. So I jumped in the shower and we all got ready, and we called EasyJet to see what the deal was. I explained our problem to the lady and she said, “Oh well you can’t check in online because Barcelona is the only airport that doesn’t allow online check-ins.” Wow, thanks, it would have been helpful to know that before we tried to check in! So we had nothing to worry about and began our day by going to the train station.

The trains only arrive every once in a while and there is no set schedule (I have no idea how anyone accomplishes anything in Spain) so you basically had to take your chances and hope you didn’t have to wait an hour. As we walked up the stairs to La Garriga’s train station, we saw our train approaching. In order to get to the ticket office, you have to actually cross the tracks, which Chelsea realized and said, “We have to beat the train!” So we took off running down the platform and across the tracks, up the stairs and—Cheslea was DOWN. Her shoe slipped on the uneven, wooden stairs and she fell down hard, laughing and in pain at the same time. I told Clay to buy the tickets as quickly as he could and I helped Chelsea up the stairs, hardly able to breathe I was laughing so hard. The train was stopped as Clay was trying to register our tickets (a kind of machine that validates your ticket) and Chelsea was slumping against the bench, clutching her knee. The doors to the train closed and it was about to take off when the ticket guy on the train must have taken mercy on our situation and opened a door for us, so I told Clay to come on whether he had registered our tickets or not and we ran (well, Chelsea limped) onto the silent train that was staring at us as we were laughing and crying and laughing some more. Chelsea’s knee had a huge purple bruise on it and was already swollen, but she said it was worth the sacrifice of making the train. It all just happened so fast and was seriously hilarious.

So we were safely on the train to the Arc de Triompf stop, when the train stopped at a station we were unfamiliar with. Apparently, as a nice Spanish boy kindly informed us in broken English, that the train stopped there and we had to get off. Perfect! We had to figure out where to go on the underground and finally made it to our stop after a long and eventful morning.

We went to this beautiful area we had seen in pictures and wanted to check out. A huge golden statue was on top of a stone structure with stairs leading up either side. A gorgeous waterfall covered in greenery cascaded down the front of the structure into a beautiful pool of water with several fountains and statues that popped up here and there. The pictures do it better justice, but it was seriously breathtaking. I loved it! Right next to that was a little pond with rowboats you could rent for only a few Euros, so of course we partook of that and rowed around the pond (I was a far better rower than Clay), and we ate lunch in the boat. We were surrounded by little turtles and tiny ducklings. It was so neat!

We went back to La Rambla to purchase a few last minute gifts and postcards, then went back to La Garriga for the last time. Mariela cooked us a wonderful dinner of chicken and four-cheese pasta with bread and tasty vanilla yogurt/pudding and we gathered everything for our journey home. Mariela and her husband took us to the airport and bid us farewell (we were so lucky to have them as hosts!) and questioned the legitimacy of BMI Baby, which was the airline we were flying with. It was amusing. We waited around in the airport and took “reaction pictures” which turned out to be quite hilarious, boarded our smooth flight, and were picked up by Tattoo Man at 1:30 am or so. It was nice to be back at Harlaxton despite the cold, but the long holiday (that’s what they call vacation here) I was able to take to Barcelona was relaxing, aside from the interesting situations we found ourselves in, and so much fun.

Katie Knecht2 Comments