When I booked my trip to Spain, I originally intended to spend all 3 months in Madrid. It seemed like a good idea to save money by staying put, so I decided that a trip up north would run that idea to the ground. I figured since I was here to learn Spanish, it didn't matter where I went so long as I remained in the country. That mindset remained and didn't budge until a friend told me that missing Barcelona would be a big mistake; it didn't take long for my FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome to kick in.
Coincidently, my friend Paulina from uni (who I rendezvoused with in Ibiza,) had plans to go to Barcelona, San Sebastián, and Bilbao. After one conversation through skype, I decided to jump on board with her. Within a few days, we booked all the tickets for the hostels and buses to see the beautiful Catalonia and Basque Country regions, and it was absolutely the right decision.
I guess I'm just glad I caught the train before the last call!
Barcelona was absolutely wonderful. It was a vibrant city with vibrant architecture. Even better, I got to explore the city with incredible people we met through the hostel! For those who plan to visit Barcelona in the future, I highly recommend Hostel One Sants! In all honesty, the idea of hostels used to scare me, but now I wouldn't have it any other way. Maybe I just got lucky with the hostels and the incredible people I've met through them, but so far my experiences have been 10/10.
The Sagrada Familia created by Catalan architect Antoni gaudí is hands down the most beautiful cathedral I've ever had the pleasure of seeing. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and quite frankly has one of the most impressive architecture I've seen in general.
Crazy enough, we almost didn't go inside because we didn't want to spend the extra time and money but THANK GAUDÍ we chose to see it! (Excuse the pun, I couldn't help myself!)
Basque Country (San Sebastián)
San Sebastián....oh my PINXOS...
I can't dive too much into detail without salivating a little, but pinxos are like tiny little gastronomical delights. Most of them consist of a little sampling of Spanish food on a slice of baguette, but you can get other things as well like calamari or bocadillos. I wish I could say that I had a lot of pinxos, but within my fourth day in Basque Country I got really, really sick. As in, leave-me-alone-I'm-about-to-die, kind of sick. But since I'm such a trooper, I managed to tough it out and get out of the house to explore the city.
In San Sebastián, we really lucked out on our hostel and got a flat right by the beach (even though it was by entirely by accident since we unknowingly paid extra to be there...) holla at your rookies! Thankfully we made that mistake; it made things a lot easier since initially the hostel we thought we were supposed to be at was a good 20 minute walk away, and crappy.
When we first arrived to Barcelona, I warned Paulina that I would not be able to read or speak Catalan, and that it was a completely different language. So naturally when we were on our way to San Sebastián, I was really excited to be able to read Spanish again....oh how wrong I was. Little did I know that we were in Basque Country where the people spoke Basque, AKA, a language even harder to understand then Catalan...on the bright side, and luckily for us, the people there spoke Castilian Spanish as well.
On our third day, we hiked up a small mountain to see the statue of Jesus. It was a beautiful (if not short) hike to the top, but it rewarded us with a gorgeous view of the city. If this hike counts, it was my first and last hike of this entire trip. That says a lot about my physical activity these past 3 months, coming from someone who used to do a lot more outdoor activities in Canada...but let's not delve into the nitty gritty...
It's true what they say about not knowing what you have until it's gone. Spending most of my days in Madrid has had me realize how much living next to the ocean means to me, and having that again in Barcelona and later in San Sebastián makes me want that all the more. I've said this to my friends before, but if Madrid were next to a body of water, it truly would be one of the best cities for me.
Basque Country (Bilbao)
Although Madrid has an incredibly special place in my heart, and probably takes up most of it when it comes to Spain, Bilbao is the little city that I love. Maybe it's because I grew up in a small town, but something about the place makes me want to spend a lot more time there. Although Bilbao didn't have a beach, it had so much character that really, it compensated for it.
If I could only use thing to describe Bilbao, it would be this:
I knew going into Bilbao that the city had a lot of public art, but they really take it on a whole new level. In fact, it's almost as if the art has run amok....in a good way.
Upon arriving to Bilbao, we were so tired that we "splurged" on the taxi (5 euros) to get to our hostel. When we drove passed a large crane, I pointed it out to Paulina and shouted, "Look! Public art!" as a joke. Silly Justina, turns out it was a piece of public art. Well, what do you know...
I'll admit, I haven't been a prepared traveler here. Most (if not all) of the little trips within Spain had either been planned by friends or suggested by others. At one point, my friends were even apalled that I didn't do more research regarding what I wanted to see in Spain. I don't regret doing it the way I did it, but I'm also glad I made those last minute plans to see more. Bilbao was a place that if it weren't for Paulina and her determination to go, I would have completely missed. But I guess that's another pro for having an awesome traveling partner...afterall:
Sometimes, we just need a nudge in the right direction!