Barcelona was a dream. Ever since I was younger, I had always wanted to visit Spain – whether Barcelona, Madrid, or even Malaga to see “El Caminito del Rey”, known as one of the most dangerous hikes in the entire world. Unfortunately, I had held myself back from this trip for a couple months upon hearing several mixed reviews from a couple different sources. Barcelona has garnered quite a negative reputation as being a thieves’ town, a pickpocket’s paradise…which had made me hesitant to visit. Of course, being victim to a burglary has the power to singlehandedly ruin a trip and the last thing I wanted to do was compromise my peace of mind, let alone my own safety. But, similar to all the other big cities I’ve visited so far, armed with a little common sense and some basic street smarts, I treaded forward and thankfully came back each day with my belongings safe and fully intact. Moving forward, I’m happy that I decided to visit a place I had always wanted to despite being warned otherwise. At the end of the day, possessions can be replaced, but memories and experiences – those are priceless.
As soon as I got on the plane, I was overcome with excitement. My brother and I had discussed earlier that this would be my so-called “birthday trip”, as I had just turned twenty-something years old a week prior. This feeling of excitement soon shifted to immense anxiety. Like the airbus we were sitting in as we glided somewhere over the Atlantic, our plans for when we actually arrived in Spain were very much up in the air. Luckily, we spent the better part of the following morning looking at hotels and found a reasonably priced one within walking distance of the metro, which proved to be essential. With that weight off of our shoulders and the fear of sleeping on a park bench or a deserted alley eliminated, we were free to relax and plan out the rest of our stay.
Spain was amazing, and Barcelona itself – simply unbelievable. To summarize, the food was incredible, the people were as friendly as the girls were beautiful, and the architecture was absolutely stunning. We spent a full day visiting some of the most famous sites in the city, ranging from Parc de la Ciuadella to the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. But none of these were quite as captivating as La Sagrada Familia (seen above). Sadly, my luck with these iconic landmarks seems to be wearing thinner and thinner, as they always seem to be under construction whenever I’m around. During my visit to Rome, the Colosseum was undergoing slight restoration and featured some amazing scaffolding, almost as wondrous as the cranes rising above Sagrada Familia or the plexiglass installed in front of the (dry) Trevi Fountain. Nonetheless, I was still taken back by the beauty of this gothic cathedral which I had come from so far away to see.
Unbeknownst to my brother and I before we arrived in Spain, FC Barcelona was competing in its annual Joan Gamper Trophy game during our stay there. The game, to be played against Italian side AS Roma, fell on a Wednesday night and immediately, we knew we had to get tickets and watch, regardless of what the price tag would be. The atmosphere in the highly regarded Camp Nou, located in the heart of Barcelona, was electric. I’ll never forget the moment when my brother and I turned around a corner and saw the stadium, in all its glory, standing right before our eyes – the fireworks beaming through the sky above certainly proved to be the cherry on top. I’ll never forget this experience because I was able to watch the great Lionel Messi play (and score) in person, in his home stadium.
We devoted the entirety of our final day in the city to be spent at the beach. Barceloneta beach was (apparently) the place to be during the summer; it was nearly impossible to find an empty spot in the sand to lay down on! There was something different about this beach though, something that I never found on either coast while in the United States. Every direction I turned, there was a soccer ball and some adaptation of the game being played – for me, it was heaven. I walked by a 5-a-side game of beach soccer with sneakers acting as goalposts, followed by a 2v2 game of soccer volleyball further down the beach, before settling into a juggling session with a couple friendly strangers. I’m constantly fascinated by the power behind a soccer ball, especially in its ability to unite absolute strangers behind a common passion, which was certainly evident on this day at the beach. I met two kids from Osaka, Japan and one from Algeria, all currently residing in Barcelona. I was intrigued by each of their stories, as they spoke about the sport and its development in their respective countries. One of the boys from Japan told me he was playing for an academy in Spain but aspired to play college soccer in the states in hopes of playing professionally in the MLS. He mentioned that one of his friends left Spain to play for UCSB out on the west coast, and that he wished to follow suit. Thirty minutes and several tricks later, we all went our separate ways, but as with every interaction I’ve ever had using soccer as a commonality, it was a moment that I will always hold near and dear to me.