Today I decided that it was about time I took the leap and went into the city to explore on my own. So, armed with my map of the city, plenty of water, an extra battery for my phone and some emergency money stuffed into my bra (good idea in theory, awkward when you want to pay for something), I went.My host mother dropped me off in the centre, on Passeig de Gracia (where all the expensive shops are, as well as Casa Batlló and La Pedrera), pointed me in the direction of Las Ramblas, and asked me to send her a message later so she knew I’d found my way all right. I didn’t see how I could get lost – all I had to do was walk down La Rambla Catalunya to La Plaza Catalunya, then walk down Las Ramblas (a really long street full of tourist shops which goes all the way to sea) and I’d be at the port in no time. Simple enough, right?
…Wrong. One thing which will become evident about me as you read this is that my sense of direction is not particularly brilliant. I walked across La Passeig de Gracia onto the parallel street as I’d been instructed, looked around, and was absolutely sure that the sea was to my right. Right? Well, I’d barely been walking two minutes and I didn’t think I could have gone wrong already, nor did I want to have to brave asking anyone or getting out my map and looking like the lost tourist I was, so I turned right and started walking. Thus far, everything seemed pretty good. I just had to keep walking down this straight street…
Except, to my surprise, the street ended. This, you are probably thinking, should have had alarm bells ringing in my head. Any normal person would think ‘hang on, what happened to just walking straight on?’. Except this new street was called Diagonal (a very long street that cuts, you guessed it, diagonally across the city) and my host mother had mentioned it in the car so I thought maybe I’d remembered the directions wrong and this was the street that went to the sea. So turned right again and kept walking.
Enjoying my surroundings as I walked down the street, it was some time later that I began to wonder if perhaps this wasn’t the right route after all… a feeling that was reinforced when I began to see signs for La Sagrada Familia, which is nowhere near La Plaza Cataluña and is in the entirely opposite direction!
I tried walking down a couple of streets off Diagonal but they looked much less well-travelled and even more easy to get lost in, so I turned back. It was around this point that two tourists clutching a map came up to me and asked me where they could find a particular shop – I think they were disappointed when all I could do was spread my hands out helplessly and admit I had no idea where I was, let alone any shops.
It was time to break out google maps. Other generations might like to complain about how much we rely on technology, but really, what would we do without it? A few google searches later and I realised I was a few kilometres away from La Plaza Catalunya and what was supposed to be a ten minute walk from my starting point was now going to take me half an hour! Refusing to walk back the way I’d come, I set off down the much quieter less-touristy streets back towards the centre.
I expected to be scared if I got lost, but actually I found it was a bit of an adventure. I’d definitely have been scared if I didn’t have my phone and the internet, but as it was, I quite enjoyed the opportunity to see a bit more of the city and I even stopped off at this little park in the middle of a roundabout to drink some water and get my bearings a bit more. If I hadn’t got lost, I wouldn’t have been able to do that, so that was nice.
An hour and ten minutes after being dropped off, I finally arrived at La Plaza Catalunya, tired but very proud of myself. Now the real adventures could begin!
I set off down the Ramblas, and halfway down decided that in 30 degree heat after an hour of walking around, I deserved a reward for my endeavors. And what better way to rest in Barcelona than to stop off at a little café and try some real Spanish churros and chocolate? Sitting down on my own in a café was another new experience for me, and one I thought would be lonely and weird, but I’ve come to realise it’s not so bad. Sometimes it’s nice just to do things the way you want to do them and not have to compromise for anyone else. Besides, who else was going to take me out for a treat in the middle of the day if not myself?
Refreshed and finally a bit cooler, I carried on walking until I got to El Mirador del Colón, phoned home to tell my sister how pleased I was to have found my way, and then walked along the seafront. By this point I wasn’t so scared of exploring alone any more and was properly enjoying the opportunity to see a new city, taking lots of pictures and planning a new route on google maps.
This new route took me up to the Gothic quarter, where I saw the old cathedral from the outside and wandered around the gorgeous narrow streets there for me, then walked to the Arc de Triunfo de Barcelona. Unfortunately I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to explore these two places, as before long it was time to try and find the bus stop and work out how to get home. To my relief, it was the first one I came across and the bus was already waiting for me there… perhaps a little proof that good luck balances out the bad sometimes. 🙂
Exhausted and more than a little fried in the sun, I got back home and understood completely why Spain is known for its siestas – a nap would have been very welcome today! Thankfully a chilled afternoon of games and reading with the kids followed, and I think next time I venture into the city, I might even brave public transport… who knows?