Montpellier Erasmus students quickly come to realise that even if we’re not in one of the most exciting cities in Europe, it is extremely well situated to get to places which are. It only takes four to five hours to reach Barcelona by coach, so if you end up in Montpellier on your year abroad, the opportunity is unmissable. The coach booked in advance with Eurolines only cost us 62€ each. We also managed to find a four-bed room in a hostel for a mere 12€ per night. All of this combined with the fact that Spain is a lot cheaper than France in general meant that our jaunt was hardly going to break the bank.
After a pleasant coach journey through the majestic Pyrenees and even witnessing snow once over the border (even Spain didn’t manage to escape the European big freeze),We inevitably struggled to find our hostel, as our combined map reading abilities weren’t exactly award-winning (Duke of Edinburgh clearly did nothing for me). After failing miserably to negotiate the impossibly tangled network of miniscule streets, we ended up taking the Metro to La Rambla, and from there it was just five minutes’ walk to our hostel. Not only was our accommodation superbly located between the port and La Rambla, it also resembled some kind of imperial palace. The hallway was marble and spacious and the staircase was flanked with two golden urns. Seeing as this was supposed to be a budget hostel called ‘Barcelona4fun’ , we thought we’d walked into a Spanish lord’s penthouse by accident. But it turned out that we hadn’t, and that you really can get a spacious room with four beds, access to a computer with internet, two enormous, very clean bathrooms and a kitchen (shared) for a pittance. Who knew?
We started our exploring along the port and towards La Rambla, more than ready to sample some Spanish cuisine. We eventually gorged ourselves on tapas, paella and a huge tankard of beer each, which we could probably have got cheaper elsewhere but it wasn’t too bad considering we were in the biggest tourist trap in Barcelona. The rest of our afternoon was spent wandering aimlessly along quaint avenues lined with intriguing shop window displays, including one of the nicest vintage shops I’ve ever seen.
When night falls, the first place we Brits on Erasmus tend to head is a good old fashioned Irish bar. Perhaps it’s not the most cultural way to spend your limited time in a different country, but they often have really cheap deals, good beer, and are full of friendly people, locals and travellers alike. The universal cult of the Irish pub didn’t let us down; a free shot with our pints, a rather amusing group of British lads on a stag night and live acoustic music meant we went home happy girls.
Our real exploring began the next day, which can only be described as a Gaudi-fest. As one of Barcelona’s most celebrated artists and architects, you can’t turn a corner without seeing some of his distinctive designs. His most famous work is undoubtedly the impressive Sagrada Familia, his architecturally innovative yet incomplete cathedral. Unfortunately, due to building works we weren’t able to go to the top, but it was definitely still worth the 11€ entry fee; I’ve never been in a place of worship which is so stunningly unique. A lot of Gaudi’s work was based on nature; for example, the ceiling sort of resembles a forest canopy, and a lot of the intricate masonry is based on patterns such as honeycombs or exotic plants. My pictures definitely don’t do the place justice, but the vividness of the light and colours was made even more remarkable due to the fact that it doesn’t even have all its stained glass windows yet; it’ll be another thirty years until the cathedral is complete.
We also visited Park Guell, a lush green paradise with multicoloured Gaudi creations at every turn, such as quaint little houses, a seating area for enjoying the city view and even a gecko mosaic. We also visited a shopping centre at Placa d’Espana, which looked like a coliseum and offered panoramic views of the city at the top.
When night fell, we were ready to sample Barcelona’s well reputed nightlife. In true Spanish style, we didn’t leave our hostel until around 11 o’clock, after an extensive hunt for a rogue false eyelash, which later turned out to be pulverized and stuck to the bottom of my sock, much to my disappointment and everyone else’s amusement. We had planned to meet up with Claire, a Paul-Valéry Masters student on an internship in Barcelona, who had agreed to meet us a few metro stops away.
Despite having been warned about the notoriety of pickpockets in Barcelona, I let down my guard after a few pre-drinks in our room. For the first time all day, I let my bag hang behind me as opposed to clutching it in front of me as I had been doing all day. Within seconds, someone had half slipped his hand into my bag, but was chivvied away by one of my friends who had luckily seen him. Luckily everyone made it home with their belongings, but it makes me wonder how many unfortunate Erasmus students have been robbed from during their time in Barcelona.
Once we found Claire, she insisted we had to visit a particular spirits bar, which according to her served an impressive selection of mystery shots. And boy, she wasn’t kidding.
The only information available about each one aside from its name is a yellow dot, which means it’s relatively mild, or a red dot, meaning you’re probably going to chunder EVERYWHEEERE if you knock a few back in a row. Much to our delight, there was a ‘Harry Potter’ shot, which is impressively torched before going down the hatch. Such was the popularity of this shot, the entire length of the bar was dancing with flames all evening.
It took us another metro ride to get to the port. Apparently it’s an area frequented by Erasmus students, as they don’t charge astronomical entrance fees like many of the clubs in Barcelona. Much to our horror, the place was dodgier than Wayne Rooney’s new hair transplant. Being in a half-empty club occupied solely by half naked poledancing women being ogled by dribbling old men was not my idea of a good time. Even more terrifying was the promoters stationed along the quay every two meters who would physically try to drag you into their clubs. We decided to avoid further manhandling and headed back towards a Japanese themed club we’d seen on the way. A promoter had lured us there under the pretext of getting us free entry, but it turned out we were too late and had to pay 10€ to get in. However, it was definitely worth being in a safe environment, plus we had a free drink thrown into the bargain.
Amazingly, the Metro runs all night unlike the Montpellier trams which discourage many a student from a late weeknight out. So luckily when we were tottering home a little worse for wear at 5am, we didn’t have to face the prospect of walking home in the cold and almost definitely getting lost. One metro fail occurred, however, when we bought singles the next morning, entered the wrong side of the stop, only to walk straight out of the other side, making our tickets redundant and leaving us feeling sheepish and a few Euros poorer.
The brevity of our visit only left me wanting more; now that I’ve done all the obvious tourist-y things, I’d love to go back and carve out my own route through those labyrinthine streets, eating my way through all the varieties of tapas in existence as I go. Coming next: a very glamorous excursion to the French Riviera.