In January of 2020, before the whole world fell to pieces, I interned in Barcelona, Spain for a month. Living in Europe was every bit as magical as I imagined it would be, working in Europe… not so much (but i’ll save that story for another time!).
It might sound like a pipe dream right now, but if you ever find yourself living in Barcelona don’t miss these three experiences.
The food – don’t just stick to the American-style fast food joints
When in Barcelona, one can’t travel more than a few metres without being hit by heady wafts of fresh-cooked Catalan (Northeastern Spanish) cuisine. On every corner is a tapas bar serving up small plates of crispy potatas bravas, deeply blushing fuet or crusty pan con tamate. What surprised me most, however, was the spectacular Italian fare one can find dotted around the city. As an Italian myself I might be a little biased. But, a stand out memory from my time away were the flaky, orange cream-filled sfogliatella and the rich gelato I would frequently treat myself to. One shocking thing to note though, Spaniards don’t always serve their pizza pre-sliced. So if you ever find yourself ordering a pizza in Spain, expect to put in a bit of elbow grease with a knife and fork.
The sights – treat each spare moment like a vacation
Barcelona has a rich culture embedded within it’s most popular attractions. I loved exploring the unique structures of the city’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi. I have never seen any building as imaginative as la Sagrada Familia. A photograph could not capture the wonder of its four peculiarly stylised façades nor the majesty of its brightly rainbowed stained glass windows.
My favourite place to visit whenever I could was the Old Town, the early Barcelona before it expanded into the vast city that it is today. Each narrow alley is brimming with history from the time of long-lost kings and queens. Some of the remaining buildings tell quiet stories of the Black Plague, of the Jewish history in the area, and of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. These details intermingle with the artisanal shops, luxury restaurants and commercial clothing stores that occupy the space now.
The travel – take advantage of every opportunity to leave the city
Known as the ‘gateway to Europe’, Barcelona is in the perfect position to get pretty much anywhere in mainland Europe, the United Kingdom and Northern Africa. I’m warning you now though, plane tickets are not as cheap as everyone makes them out to be.
For my second weekend abroad, I travelled last-minute to London, England. It was a strange experience to all of a sudden be thrust back into an English-speaking country that was similar to (but not quite the same as) my hometown of Sydney, which was 17 000 kilometres away. Whilst I could only eat ramen and McDonalds for dinner – lest I spend $50 on a single pizza for one (exchange rates, man) – most everything else I could do was free. From exploring many of the world’s greatest (but also sadly stolen) treasures at the British Museum, to marvelling at the artistry of Van Gogh and Monet at The National Gallery. In addition to hitting up the classic attractions of Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Centre and Westminster Abbey, I also scored a ticket to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford. These days, I do not support author J.K. Rowling but I would be lying to say that this was not an absolutely amazing experience. I spent hours here, slowly absorbing all of the details about this story that I treasured as a child.
Some other places that I travelled to in my time away include:
- Girona, Spain – a medieval city that featured a number of times in Game of Thrones because of its beautiful architecture.
- Copenhagen, Denmark – a city that mixes its visible history with ultra-modern technology and design. My favourite part of the weekend I spent here was visiting the statue of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid and watching the changing of the palace guard at Amelienborg palace.
- Northern Morocco – I spent two weeks here at the start of February, after my month in Spain ended. I toured from Casablanca to Marrakech. My favourite stops were: the coastal town of Essaouira where I had an authentic Moroccan bathhouse experience; and the locale of Mergouza at the edge of the Sahara Dessert where I danced under a sea of stars and snowboarded down a sand dune.
Feeling stir crazy yet? Whilst it’s unfortunate that visiting Barcelona is off the cards for now, I highly recommend it be added to anyone’s bucket list of travels for the future.