My knees quickly gave up on carrying the weight of my body, and the next thing I knew, I was falling. An enormous weight tumbled on top of me, and I could feel the eyes of the witnesses staring with such immense passion, but no one dared to laugh. This was the most entertaininment we have witnessed in the last 12 hours and it unfortunately came at my expense. I hastily pushed my backpack up off of me, then got to my feet, slung my heavy pack on my shoulders, and exited the train with the little dignity I had left. The person that was snoring in my left ear for half the trip gave me a piteous glance as I walked by, but I ignored his unwanted stare as well as the watchful eyes of the rest of the passengers. My embarrassment was soon forgotten as I walked out of the station, instead replaced by a satisfaction that I had survived the extremely long and monotonous train ride to Santiago de Compostela. I was excited to explore the city and to finally experience Galician culture! My built-up excitement would have to wait until the morrow though since I had arrived late in the night. My youthful mind had harbored the idea that I would walk everywhere, but my exhaustion defied my thoughts. Once my weary eyes gazed upon a flock of taxis huddled outside the train station, my conviction to walk to the hostel withered to dust.
Check-in had already come and passed by the time that I got to Roots & Boots Hostel, but thankfully, ________ had given me the code to get in and settled in my room. After locating the only empty bed in room 24, I hoisted my bag off my shoulders and on to the top bunk, which woke the entire room. Ashamed, I decided that I was awake enough to not want to go to bed since I had slept sparsely on the train. I fished for my unfinished book in the dark and snuck away to the downstairs lobby. Once there, I read the final few chapters and called it a night, in the silence of the surprisingly vacant room. On the way upstairs, I contemplated why there wasn’t a single soul up at 12AM, especially in such an allegedly gregarious place reputed as a hostel. I got my answer the next day.
I woke up rather late to an empty room. Where there were seven sleeping bodies lay seven beds ruffled with unkempt blankets. Looking around, I noticed that all the backpacks were gone, minus mine, thankfully. Groggily, I hopped down from the bed and retrieved shampoo and a towel from my backpack. There was a lone girl in the hallway, so I was able to have a guide pinpoint the location of the showers. I proceeded through my morning ritual, dressed myself in one of my few outfits, and then walked downstairs to meet the receptionists.
I was greeted with toothy smiles and warm voices, internally deciding that I was really going to enjoy my stay. I ordered a cafe con leche and stole a seat in the hostel’s garden, basking in the noontime sun and listening to the serene sounds of silence. The receptionists had gifted me with a map of the town, so I divided the city into sections that I would explore each day until I left. Satisfied, I finished the foamy remnants of my drink and retreated upstairs to gather my necessities for the day: my trusty camera, an additional lens, a book, and my treasured moleskine notebook are the only items I need for an adventure! After stuffing the items into my tiny daypack, I set off at once.
The Roman crenelations tower above the surrounding buildings, so it is only natural that I head towards their direction. I crossed various streets, walked up numerous stairs, all with my eyes to the sky. The crenelations were my fixed point and I was bound to wind up in front of them eventually. Surely enough, I finally made it to the famed Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Massive and looming above all else, the Cathedral stood alone on every corner. Cathedral walls met a flat plaza before any buildings reached to grasp the magnificent structure. I stood in awe of the building… with fifty-sum other visitors who all bore hiking backpacks and wielded walking sticks. I felt the odd one out, almost missing my heavy pack that would allow me to blend in with the crowd. Perplexed, I asked a slouched stranger why everyone was carrying their packs with them.
“I just finished the Camino, or at least, 100 kilometers of the Camino.” The Camino de Santiago stretches all over Europe, creating an interconnected web of historic trails. All the trails go through Santiago de Compostela to meet at the very Cathedral that I was at. Small wonder so many hikers still had their packs. Aspirants from all over the globe walk one of the many paths, not due to difficulty, but because of the extreme length of the journey. 100 kilometers is a substantial distance, but pales in comparison to the near 900-kilometer sojourn from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France. Originating as a holy walk for Christian pilgrims, in honor of St. James, the Apostle, it has become a journey walked by many for a multitude of reasons. Having been ignorant of all this history and knowledge upon entering this holy city, I felt extremely embarrassed. It finally made sense why people were asking me, “How far did you walk?” My once proud response of, “Oh, I was on a train for 12 & a half hours” seemed paltry in comparison to the weeks people have devoted to this walk. Learn from my ignorance, walk the Camino de Santiago if you are planning on visiting Santiago de Compostela!
After the history lesson in front of the Cathedral, I bid my temporary teacher farewell and walked past the structure, aimlessly. Past souvenir shops and restaurants, I was in search of something that I ran out of in Barcelona: toothpaste. I searched for a length of time that I care not to share, for it took me longer to find a farmacia than it should have. After what felt like a millennium, I squinted in the mid-afternoon sun to gaze upon the iconic green cross. Finally! I found the farmacia!
I meticulously inspected each toothpaste, though, I had no idea what I was supposed to look for. My Spanish tongue is meager, and my reading comprehension even more lame, but nonetheless, I strained to pick the most suitable toothpaste for my dentures. In the end, it came down to the price. Selecting the cheapest toothpaste, I proceeded to checkout. The cashier greeted me pleasantly, so I decided to strike up a conversation, albeit, a short conversation with scant Spanish lexis. After exchanging polities, I dipped into one of the only topic starters that I knew. “Where do you recommend to eat?” I asked. Her reply was Mercado de Abastos, a short stroll from the farmacia. Graciously, I thanked her, paid, and left with my toothpaste, content that I was able to hold a conversation for two minutes. Only a few meters to walk, yet, a hundred miles from where my Spanish should be; improving my knowledge on the language is a must.
I walked in the direction that I thought she told me to go, but ended up getting lost. Confused as to where Mercado de Abastos was, I walked into the nearest shop for directions. It was a dire mistake. Inside the shop, racks of hoodies, sweaters, and t-shirts were strewn around the store. The clothing store was a local brand based in Santiago de Compostela. The logo was embellished on all the clothing, Slow Life (how cool!!!). After taking a moment to resonate with the clothing, I expressed to the owner how much I admired his clothing. The friendly conversation that followed thereafter did no favors for my wallet, especially since it was an amalgamation of Spanish and English. I ended up parting with a black hoodie and navy blue t-shirt, but not before I asked for directions to Mercado de Abastos. He complied without hesitation and even walked me there himself, abandoning the store for all 20 steps. It turns out, I had walked past the destination when I should have turned right. Count that for another embarrassment in Santiago. He gave me his recommendation of where to get chow, and he did not fail!
Pulpo a feira is a signature dish of Galicia, consisting of chopped, boiled octopus on a platter, peppered with paprika and salt, with drizzled olive oil to finish it off. A delectably chewy texture follows with each bite. At this particular vendor, they sell a massive plate of pulpo for €8, which you can take to a nearby bar and wash it down with a glass of cervesa.
The sun was beating down relentlessly by the time I found a vacant table in the shade. Ordering a cervesa, I hungrily dove into the pulpo a feira with such ferocity, the neighboring table halted their conversation to glance at me momentarily – I didn’t care this time. Shortly thereafter, my cervesa was presented to me. I sat back in the metal chair with my cold beverage in hand, satisfied with my meal. Looking around, I watched as pedestrians, some with bulky bags, some barebacked, meandered through the street in front of me. The heat was intense today, but no matter – the people of Santiago de Compostela still came out to navigate the winding streets, or laze under the shade of a gigantic tree in one of the many surrounding parks. Such a short amount of time had passed in this town, with plenty of embarrassments, but I already had the notion that I was going to enjoy my stay (and I surely did!).
Barça to misinformed tourists and vagabonds alike, Barcino to the Ancient Romans, BCN to the airplanes that alight on the landing strip, The City of B’s to myself in private; but now it has been shared for all to see and use. It would be intolerably presumptuous to believe that this nickname would be unquestioned and ingrained in any future rumination of Barcelona, at least not without justification.
Bars and restaurants are littered throughout the city. I don’t believe I walked more than two blocks without passing by (or stopping into) a bar. It would be unfair to state that all the bars were the same, but most seemed to have a similar menu. Similarity is nothing to complain about though – the food was surprisingly cheap, the alcohol even cheaper! Depending on which part of the city the bar is in, the price of a cervesa could reach as low as €1,10! On Carrer de Blai in Poble Sec, a spacious street that attracts a young, affable crowd, pinchos – small individual snacks of bread topped with a range of assorted meats, cheeses, fish, etc. – can be found for as low as €1. With a bit of searching throughout each bar, as well as deterring from the tourist haunts of the Gothic Quarter, a meal and a couple drinks in Barcelona can be extremely friendly to any wallet.
Bocadillos are my go-to meal in Barcelona. Like a sandwich, bocadillos consist of an array of meats from salchichon to chorizo, nestled in between two slices of a baguette. The secret to an authentic bocadillo is to rub a tomato on the soft interior of the baguette, until all that is left in hand is the skin and pulp. Lightly drizzle olive oil over the baguette slices if you please, but the important thing to keep in mind is to add only one type of meat per bocadillo! This is so that neither one meat or another overpowers, allowing the flavors to stand alone as they are. Bocadillos are priced from as low as €2,50 to the upper range of €4,50, relegating it as a very budget-friendly meal.
Backpacks are ubiquitous in this crowded city, especially in August when the locals leave on vacation, rendering the city in the hands of tourists and expats alike. Bulging backpacks are bedecked with hanging shoes, water bottles, yoga mats, and just about anything else that couldn’t fit in the interior. In Plaza de España, not a day had passed that I didn’t see a backpacker waving down a taxi or resting in the shade of Centre Comercial Arenes, a looming commercial center that offers a spectacular panorama of the city. The beaten path still runs through The City of B’s, with tourists and alleged vagabonds marching along the broad walkway of Las Ramblas. Not without good reason too, the city has a thriving nightlife and cultured history, fortifying a premier destination for all. If ‘clubbing’ is not your forte, Barcelona offers kilometers of vast..
..Beaches! Barcelona has superb beaches, the most famous being, Barceloneta, located at the end of Las Ramblas. If you follow the sand and sea along the paved walkway, you will soon stumble upon a plethora of volleyball nets. If you want to play, I recommend going there on a weekday in the morning because the nets will fill up quickly. I was honored to witness a game of volleyball that is played nowhere else that I’ve seen before: using the regular rules of volleyball, the only body parts that are allowed are the head, chest, and both legs. I was bewildered as much as I was fascinated. If you continue past the volleyball nets, you will reach the entrance of Poble Nou, a hip neighborhood that harbors an extensive street lined with restaurants that are frequented by locals. Make sure to stop by El Tio Che and order a scoop of their delightful ice cream, perfect for a day in the sand! When moving forward along the path, there is one entrance to the beach that I recommend to avoid if you are not one to bask in the sun with naked bodies… I made that mistake once, never again. Continuing along the path, you will reach a small park that is usually packed with people eating their lunches. If you would continue further (why stop now?), you will reach a skate park and an outdoor, public gymnasium, though rather sparse in equipment. Continue on a few meters more and you will have reached the end of the beach, a splendid time to jump in the sea after a long walk under the sun!
Bare minimum clothing seems to be the approved dress code in this half beach town, half sprawling metropolis. Bikini clad women and shirtless men roam the streets. I feel apt to admit that ladies throw on low-cut shirts and gentlemen dress in tank tops further from the beach. Regardless, Barcelona is not for a prudish soul. The dress code is made difficult to discern between night and day, since partying attire is the same, if not, similar in the least. It has made this 2o year-old a very happy visitor to the city, as well as darkened my tan in the meantime. Little clothing is appropriate in this city though, with the strangling humidity and balmy climate, it is a wonder that people are able to withstand the tribulations of pants!
Bustling streets add to the metropolitan vibe of this city. With every crevasse of the city seemingly occupied by humans, don’t expect to go anywhere fast! An endless stream of large congregations of pedestrians, reckless city drivers, stubborn bicyclists, rollerbladers, skaters, long-boarders, dog walkers, and more, constantly flood the streets at all times. Weaving in and out of traffic, as well as a couple trials of jay-walking, all become annoying and tiresome. Instead, get swept into the laid-back, slow lifestyle that the natives have emulated. Embracing this slow lifestyle is a great fragment of the charm to Barcelona. If not embraced, anger and frustration will surely be adopted, for the narrow alleys of the Gothic Quarter will attest for this. The Gothic Quarter is always crowded no matter the time of day. The streets are packed with people shopping during the day, whilst nightfall, the streets are packed with people attending one of the many bars that are scattered throughout. The Gothic Quarter is not an exception though – all streets are crowded day and night. Pedestrians, such as myself, gaze longingly after the bicycles that effortlessly weave through the crowds.
Bicycles are the choice method of transportation due to the congestion of the city. The bike pathways in between the sidewalk and street are accurately marked, designating both oncoming directions their own respective lane. A recent addition, the city has also implemented a bike-sharing system called Bicing. With the swipe of a card, anyone is able to use a bicycle from any of the deep red bicycle stations. I have spent many a nights walking home after a few (too many) drinks, wishing that I was on a bike as riders whizzed past me. Next time that I have an elongated stay in Barcelona, I will make sure to participate in Bicing. Another option for those who do not wish to sign up for Bicing is to visit one of the many bicycle shops that rent bikes per hour. Biking around the city is highly recommended and these shops look to be a viable option for that action.
Buildings (and structures) constructed by the likes of Antoni Gaudí, Joan Miró, and even Pablo Picasso are the main attractions in Barcelona. On the second day of living in the city, I was shown a building constructed by Pablo Picasso that is unbeknownst to even some locals living in the city. Now, the information has washed away with the cervesas on the night I learned that the building was Picasso’s work, but I still recall the very placement of the structure. If you would like to learn the location of the building and the history, I recommend taking a free tour, courtesy of Donkey Tours (http://www.donkeytours.es). From the famed Sagrada Família to the spectacular Casa Batlló, Barcelona is rich in odd creations of Gaudí. A visit to Parc de Joan Miró will bestow the eponymous artist’s audacious, phallic creation, Woman & Bird. Famed buildings and statues, as well as the architects and artists who created them, have been left unsaid because alas, there are too many to name and recall!
It would be uncanny to visit Barcelona for only a couple nights – there are just too many events going on! The city resides in it’s own galaxy; one wouldn’t journey all the way to the moon to leave a few days after! Stay for a week, embrace the city and it’s lifestyle, learn the culture, visit the attractions, drink with many of the tourists and locals alike, for there is no city like The City of B’s.
At this time on Friday evening, I will be in Baltimore-Washington International Airport awaiting the first leg of the flight to Barcelona, Spain. I have anticipated this final week for months, but now that it has crystalized into reality, the tingles from the concoction of excitement and fear have set in. I have been nonchalant about my upcoming travels whenever asked by a curious friend or family member. It may come off as indifference, or even as if I’m not excited at all, but it’s actually the complete opposite of that! I feel as if I am finally doing what I want in my life, not having to jump through hypothetical hoops to achieve my goals. My eagerness might not have been visible on the exterior, but the adrenaline from what’s about to come has been coursing through my bloodstream. I’m ready.
I realize now that it may come as a shock to whomever is reading this, knows me, but had no idea about this entire journey. This may come as a shock for whomever I told, but automatically assumed that it was tied to University, a study abroad program of sorts. To clarify, this is not affiliated with any college, this is my choice to travel alone. Six months ago I was still enrolled at Portland State University (sort of). I chose that college based on the city that it resided in, not on academics. I love PSU, I love Portland, Oregon even more. I lived there for six amazing months, none of which I’ve come to regret – minus the wasted college expenses. Upon reminiscing about Portland, I realize now that it may come as a shock to whomever I met in the city and had no idea about this entire journey. This may come as a shock for whomever I conversed with at any of the 3 jobs I was working at for the past 4 months. When I left college, I knew that I was leaving in pursuit of the seven continents. Money was an object not of desire, but of necessity for this endeavor. I quickly attained two new jobs on top of my old job as a barista. Days were long and repetitive, but I was truly humbled by the perpetual routine of work. On top of all the jobs that I worked, I was preparing for the CELTA course that I was hoping to enroll in. I had to apply, wait for my application to be accepted or rejected, then prepare for an interview via Skype, hope that the interview went successfully, then once accepted, allocate all of my free time to studying and completing all pre-course work. This has been my life for the past four months, substituting for my Associate’s degree. I could have stayed in uni since I’ve been affiliated with three different colleges in the past year and a half! From a prestigious songwriting major at Belmont University, to an unknown and unseen bout at Howard Community College, to finally end up as a Philosophy and English major at Portland State University, I can honestly admit that college was not my cup of tea. This earl-grey-connoseuir craved knowledge that came from empirical observations and a plethora of books related to whatever topic interested me that week. I was always a ghost in the classroom, reading all material given and completing all online classwork, but never a physical presence in the class. A quintessential student? I think not! I was too preoccupied with exploring the region that I was living in at the time. My fascination with exploration and the minutiae of all existence dictated my time. Upon reminiscing about skipping class and exploring the particular area that I occupied, I realize now that it may come as a shock to all the friends I made in Nashville, Tennessee and Columbia, Maryland and had no idea about this journey. This may come as a shock to all my peers that I went to high school with, to all my neighbors that grew up with me, even to the dedicated friends and family that supported my decision with their love and appraisal.
I have still been a bit vague in this first blog post, I hope it does not become a trend.
There are 196 countries in the world at this moment in time (I include Taiwan as a country) and I plan to live in every single one of them. A bold claim, but one that I will fulfill over my lifetime. Everything that I need, I will have with me and/or obtain on the road. My life fits inside my backpack now, subtracting my ever-so-kind-to-me guitar collection, and I plan to keep it that way until my backpack breaks down or gets stolen and the necessity to buy a new backpack materializes. I have a very tentative plan for the countries that I will first live in, more so improvising as I go. I covet the feeling of being lost, and I admire all past figures in history that have made a life in wandering. Every person that I have met up until this point has impacted my life to deepest depths and the furthest fault-lines; Gratitude is in my heart as compassion is in my actions.
“The return makes one love the farewell.” – Alfred de Musset
This website is a conglomeration of updates on my travels, random writings, a storage for my photography, a vessel for any videos uploaded, etcetera. I have as much of an idea for this website as I do for what I’m going to eat for breakfast tomorrow (no idea). Stay up to date with my life at your own discretion and willingness, I am sure I will see you again!