In case you didn’t know, I’m actually a Cheetah Girl.
At least that’s what my roommates Shelbi, Natalie, Maddie and I refer to ourselves as after trying to come up with the perfect name for our apartment last year. One night of spontaneous dancing on the coaches when “Cheetah Sisters” came on someone’s iPod turned into an ongoing joke at P202.
Being a Cheetah Girl, Barcelona, the setting of The Cheetah Girls 2, was at the top of my list for places I needed to visit while staying in Florence.
I wish I had a more philosophical reason for wanting to go to Barcelona. But really, I wanted to do it because of this idea the singing foursome got into my head when the movie premiered on Disney Channel in 2006: Barcelona was magical.
My sorority sister, Kyla, and I started planning our trip to Barcelona during Florence Orientation spring semester. We had our flight booked by the first week of July, the first trip planned of my entire semester abroad. We would be staying with her friend, Hanna, who lived in the city, making the cost of the plane ticket totally worth the free room and board for the weekend.
We arrived in Barcelona a little before midnight on Thursday after a layover in Rome from Florence (which is, no joke, a 35 minute flight). Kyla and I ran off the plane… to McDonald’s. Nothing says Spain like some French fries after a long night of traveling.
Hanna met us at the terminal, and I was swept into the midst of the two friends reuniting after a few years apart. After introductions we made way to a cab, and onwards to Hanna’s apartment, a three bedroom she shares with her mom and brother that sits high atop a steep hill that overlooks the entire city and onwards to the sea.
I think that everyone needs to city a city twice to really get a feel for it. One time to do all the touristy stuff, and another to wander around and act like a local. Luckily, I got my trip to Barcelona as a two-for-one deal, as Hanna is a Barcelona native. She graciously accommodated all the of the must-see tourist attractions that I had requested, and mixed it to a perfect balance with local flare and tidbits about the city.
To start the trip Kyla and I requested that we watch The Cheetah Girls 2 so Hanna would know exactly what she was in for that weekend. She pointed out everything that was and was not in Barcelona, and promised to make sure to take us to their locations (eeeek!). Even though my mom had told me no dancing or singing in the streets, the three of us practiced our choreography for the next day before heading to bed.
Hanna guided Kyla and I through the Metro station the next morning, the two of us buying a ten-trip ticket to split for 9.80€ to get us around the city. Living right outside the city center, the train ride was less than ten minutes.
I appreciate Florence for what it is: a monument of Renaissance history. But Barcelona is a city. A real city with big sidewalks and paved roads and Starbucks. And with that, it was already the best trip ever.
A living museum of the famous Spanish architect Gaudi, our first stop was to Casa Batlló. Although it was mentioned to have the best views of the city, us poor college girls on a budget opted to forgo the entrance fee and take in the waving structure made of bright tiles from the sidewalk.
Barcelona is a pretty casual city, which I was surprised to find. Everyone was in jeans and sandals with simple hair and makeup. Which makes no sense because they have the best shopping I have seen (another post to come about the Zara takeover).
We took some time to shop before heading to lunch. Hanna explained that it’s pretty hard to find cheap Spanish food in Barcelona, and Italian and Chinese are the most popular cuisines. We ate lunch at one of her favorite spots, Montello, a delicious Italian restaurant that stuffed us with sangria, salad, pizza, and cheesecake for only 7.50€, a total steal.
After lunch we walked Las Ramblas, a boulevard lined with trees that houses artisans, vendors, and restaurants and leads to the marina. We hung out on the boardwalk and looked for hot Spanish men to ask us aboard their giant yachts before walking through the park and heading back to Hanna’s for an afternoon siesta.
In Europe people do everything late. At 11:30 Hanna’s friends from Uni (we learned not to call it school) joined us to take us to their favorite bars.
We took our Metro passes and went back to the city center to La Taberna del Espit, a casual pub that sells drinks by the pitcher. A tasty concoction to split cost each of us only 2.50€ before we were on to our next stop.
Just next door was Espit Chupitos, a shot bar serving hundreds of impressive sips for only 2€ each. Our first was the Boy Scout. Each of us were handed a marshmallow on a skewer when the bartender poured a mixture and then LIT THE BAR ON FIRE. Caps intentional. We roasted our marshmallows in the flame before popping them in our mouths and swirling them with the drink to taste like a freshly made s’mores. Another coin given to the bartender, and we were watching hollowed out oranges filled with grenadine and rum being caramelized under the heat of the small torch before sipping from the fruit. A last round, our hands were filled with Pop Rocks while the bartender poured a blue drink into our glasses. Lighting the the trail of vodka on fire, she threw pepper on the flame to make it spark as we mixture our candy and shot and jumped up and down while covering our ears.
We left the bar to head down the street for some dancing. I had unfortunately found out that night that I am very allergic to cats, but despite my sniffles and gross goopy eyes, I could not wait to get my feet moving. A 10€ cover got us into the bar and plus a drink, and it was worth every penny. We danced the night away, literally, to a mix of popular American music and flirty Spanish numbers, with the bouncers even teaching the crowd some line dance-esk salsas. My inner Cheetah Girl officially came out, and I was loving every minute as we 1-2-3-ed and clapped along to the music.
I would like to note that people were ENTERING the club when we were leaving at 5:30 in the morning. We stayed at Hanna’s friends house instead of making our way to the Metro that early. A beautiful flat in the center of the city, it was like I had entered an episode of Spanish Gossip Girl.
Sniffle and tear-free, my healthier self, Kyla and Hanna went back to her house before starting our next day’s activities. A cloudy day with a chance of rain, we chose to walk along the beach instead of spending the day there. After stopping for some tasty rose gelato at Vioko, we roamed around the city with no plan at all, the perfect way to explore a new place.
That night we ventured to the Magic Fountain of Montjuic, a huge fountain with nightly water and light shows at the steps of the Palau Nacional. We stood at the fountain for over an hour watching the different shows, equally amazed by each of the spectacles. Choreographed to different sounds of classical, Spanish, and even 90s pop music, the three of us danced around and bought sequined fans for 1€ before heading in for the night.
Waking up cat-striken once again, the fight to put my contacts in was worth our Sunday itinerary. We walked from Hanna’s apartment to Park Guell, another Gaudi masterpiece (and site of a scene in The Cheetah Girls!). Originally intended to be a private garden, the municipal park fashioned in mosaics overlooks the entire city.
After spending some time in the gardens of the park, we decided to take the 20 minute walk to La Sagrada Familia. Started in 1882 and overtaken by Gaudi in 1883, the incomplete church is said to be done in the first third of this century. A 15€ entry fee, we enjoyed the masterpiece from outside before heading back to Florence.
My trip to Barcelona was everything I had hoped it to be, minus the cat issue. Even though I didn’t see every museum or step foot into some monuments I probably should have, I don’t feel that my trip was lacking in any sense. I had the perfect balance of tourist and local knowledge with the help of Hanna, who was such a great help in leading us throughout the city. Three days was not long enough, and I am eager to go back!
Some tips for Barcelona:
- The Metro system is the best way to get around the city, with very affordable prices. A pass can be used for both the train and the buses, and any trips taken within the same hour only count as one trip, perfect if you have to take the train to a bus to get somewhere.
- Make a list of must-sees before you go. I definitely did not see everything I could have, but I managed to get to everything on my list.
- Do your research beforehand, especially if you aren’t going on a tour. Hanna knew a lot about the city, but knowing the history of the spots I wanted to see before we went there made them that much more incising.
- Pay attention to restaurant “specials”. A chalkboard may say you get a what looks like a full meal for 10€, but it may not include a drink or a sitting charge.
- Don’t eat where the menu is in pictures.
- Although Catalan, a mixture of Spanish and French, is the co-official language of Barcelona, knowing a few key Spanish phrases will help get you around the city. Mine was “Yo tengo una mochila.”
- Pack a sweater, it gets pretty chilly at night!
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