Barcelona, Barna to locals, or Barthelona as spoken in Catalonian variety of Spanish, is my favorite city in Spain. This beautiful charming seaside town, the Catalonian capital, second biggest city in Spain, filled with astounding architecture, rich history, vibrant parks, beautiful beaches, world-class museums and art, amazing food and night-life, a great Futbol Club, and world-class culture is sure to bedazzle you. With buildings abound from Antoni Gaudi and Lluis Domenech i Montaner, its ever-present art and stunning architecture will delight even the toughest critic. There is something for everyone in Barcelona. You are sure to be enchanted by her relaxed charm, impish modesty and unassuming sophistication.
Since I live in Amsterdam in summer, it was my first time experiencing intra-European Union (EU) travel. How nice to only have to fly a few hours to be in beautiful and sunny Espana. KLM, always the local airline of choice, especially since the only other choice is a regional discount airline that frequently is late or worse yet cancels. Checking in and entering security at Schiphol is fast and convenient. Like most airports, they have special lanes and people to tend to injured travelers. As far as world airports go, Schiphol is top for injured travelers. They have an Assisted Services Department and website with all relevant information. It was a short midday flight with wine, cheese and crackers. Bring on the sangria.
Upon arrival in Spain, after being escorted off the plane in an aisle-chair, also with adequate services at the ready to assist travelers in need, we quickly headed for the exit. Unless I just had a long trans-Ocean flight and am totally knackered, I choose to go the airport alone, denying all attempts at assistance once off the plane and in my own wheelchair. Solo travel has always been my M.O., teaching me to be a one-man travel show. I place my carry-on on my lap, leather bag on top of carry-on (when both packed, up to my chin) and wheel through the airport. Independence in life is refreshing, no matter if injured or not. Though this trip I was traveling with a friend, Joe from Philadelphia – who was visiting me in Amsterdam.
Within fifteen minutes of landing we were through immigration and straight on our way to fun in the sun. The airport is very clean, with accessible toilets. There is no immigration if arriving from another EU member country. When you exit, passport control imprints your passport with an exit-stamp. When I was a younger world traveler trying to fill as many passports as possible, it mattered. Now, it doesn’t. As I state in my book, Unbreakable Mind, life begins when the story ends. The taxi queue is just outside the exit. As there is no Uber in Barcelona you have no choice but to use local taxis. They really are not fans of ride-share services – just ask one. Thirty Euros later, we arrived at our hostel – let the fiesta begin.
For the record, the RENFE train system runs from the airport to city center. Trains run every thirty minutes – station located at Terminal 2. Metro line L9 Sud, Aerobus express service, as well as TMB Airport Bus (#46) and Airport Night Bus (N17) all take you to city center (info). FTC, Tram and buses are all accessible; Metro stations with “Y” have lift access (check map). Some beaches have accessible pathways. We decided on staying at the Generator Hostel. The hostel, with locations throughout Europe, is centrally located in the city, not a far stroll to the old city and beach. It has an elevator and accessible rooms – two bars and a restaurant. All safe, we reserved an accessible room beforehand.
As is the case with almost all injured travel, upon attempting check-in at the hostel, our room was taken. Hence what makes injured travel such an even bigger challenge than bipedal adventures. We had intentionally reserved an upgraded room with balcony and view of the sea. In the end, they gave us two choices: 1. a larger accessible room with no balcony or 2. smaller non-accessible room with a balcony and beautiful views of the city, La Sagrada and ocean. Easy choice – we opted for the vista. By this point of the summer Joe was used to carrying me places. On the way he had to carry me to the last row of the plane. The crew said they never had a wheelchair passenger – he saved them a lot of time and hassle.
Well, the room certainly had a beautiful balcony with a stunning panorama of the ocean but I could not access it. Nor could I access the bathroom in our upgraded ‘room with a view.’ I had to ask them to place an extra chair in the bathroom so I could transfer from the wheelchair to the chair to the toilet. A triple play! It is not fun, especially when tired or in a rush to get to the toilet, itself already a strenuous task. It would have to do. In life, it is always best when given lemons to buck-up and make lemonade. The exit to the balcony had a large lip which impeded the wheelchair. Joe had to lift me from my wheelchair to a balcony chair outside. Once there, I was in heaven. With the view, I could stay for hours. And I did.
The hostel, located in the electrifying section of Gracia, a bohemian refuge with old-city ambiance, close to tourist attractions, thrilling eclectic districts with muy delicioso tapas, cava, sangria and dance, and the beach, is the best deal for the money. It is situated on a main thoroughfare, allowing easy access to taxis or public transport. Even though most of the city is accessible, with Spain generally cheaper than most other big cities in Europe, I always opt for taxi transportation when practical. Gaudi’s iconic Casa Batllo apartments are a close walk. Mouthwatering artisan cafes and urban street food are located in the neighborhood. It is close to Las Ramblas, a great central location from which to explore the city.
There is a restaurant on the base level of the hostel; buffet breakfast and a la-carte lunch and dinner available from 07:00 to 22:00. Multiple other fine cuisine options exist within walking distance. The Fiesta Gracia Bar, also located on the base floor, has diverse craft beers and small bar bites and snacks. I recommend the bombas. As well, located atop the hostel, there is a bar. As there are stairs leading to the roof-top bar, it was not easily accessible to me. Joe could have carried me but we never needed a drink bad enough to venture there. Travel in Spain definitely is a clear example of Doing The Dirty Dishes in life. The food at the hostel, and across the street at Pikio Takio, is convenient, cheap and delectable.
We spent much time relaxing on the patio of our hostel room – with beautiful panoramic views of the ocean, Gothic quarter (known locally as El Barri) – part of the old town (Ciutat Vella), Basilica de la Sagrada Familia and neighboring districts – quickly becoming our refuge. There is a certain peace that overcomes a person when able to sit in beauty and calm whilst the chaos of the outside world continues on. There are many clubs and Catalan restaurants close-by. If you wish to partake in actividades verde in Barna, than you need to patronize a different type club. Membership is required (tourists can join one year), limits on amounts purchased and must spend fifteen minutes there first before leaving the club.
One day we decided to venture out into the city. Western Europe was in the middle of a bad heat wave, but thankfully the sea breeze and geographic location of Barthelona provided a respite from the extreme oppressive warmth. La Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gaudi’s unfinished Roman Catholic minor basilica masterpiece, was our first stop. Who let the tourists out?! It did not take long before this site was overrun by photo snapping sightseers, many almost getting seriously injured by passing cars while jockeying in the road for the perfect selfie. Obligatory basilica photograph out of the way, it was time to escape the insanity. The thought of some local Catalan sangria could not be ignored.
But that would have to wait. Just as we escaped the madness at the basilica we decided to take a quick city tour on a hop-on hop-off bus. The ticket was surprisingly more expensive in Barcelona than other cities in Europe but it is an easy and convenient way to see numerous sites of many cities. Our trip was short and so did not allow enough time to venture out on foot to every desired spot. And the bus is also convenient for the wheelchair. Plus it saves wear and tear on my shoulders and body – energy better left for the evening, when the city comes alive and it is most needed. They cover all the must-sees, with 31 stops – choice is yours. There are two interchangeable routes, East and West; passes are also available.
Later that day, unsure what to do as the afternoon sun shined bright, we decided to take a journey to the beach to see what it entailed. Other than ocean water filled with feces from the Barcelona city sewer system. Yes, you read that correctly: All the poop and pee from the residents of Barna dump right into the ocean, the same one you experience when swimming on Platja de La Barceloneta to Platja de la Mar Bella. There is a long cement strand along the beach where you can easily walk with astonishing views of the beach and ocean. There are beach clubs – entering at street level, descending one floor via elevator to beach level – where beautiful women serve you traditional style sangria. Five pitchers later….
Our last day was spent roaming the narrow medieval streets of the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic). During the day craftspeople pedal their wares, mostly hand-made, by the Cathedral of Barcelona (Catedral de Barcelona). The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (its official name) is a Gothic cathedral, constructed from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. At night the district’s trendy bars and Catalan restaurants come alive. No one ever accused the Spanish of bad food or an inability to have fun. If you are looking for a great time, night-life like no other, tapas that will leave indelible marks on your world ’best-of’ menu, an experience forever ingrained on your soul, save the poop, than Barthelona is for you.
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