The first thing I did after booking my flight to Barcelona was buy a travel book. While searching for one, my mom forcibly suggested the DK Eyewitness book, which included several pull-out maps, sprawling panoramic pictures, and more lists than I could ever imagine. I did use it in my first few days of the program to get excited and mostly acquainted with the streets I would call home for one month. But I found walking around without a plan to be more exciting. So, I ditched the travel book, and after class during my first week, I found myself passing aimlessly through the city with no destination in mind. It’s an activity I would recommend if you have time to kill and lots of energy (I’ve been averaging 20,000 steps a day here). Of course, if you’re tired or need something to eat, there is practically a cafe or “supermercat” on every street corner.
What’s more special about exploring in this way, is that finding small gems, or even widely known tourist destinations, feels more rewarding. On my first day, I walked about two miles from the CIEE Center to a barrio in the neighborhood called Gràcia. I realized something was different once the large, square-like streets became more narrow and intimate. The city was no longer busy and moving, it was calm and inviting. Some streets were even too thin for cars, and I liked the inconsistent sizes of each street, as if the next was a surprise to uncover for myself.
After my trip to the neighborhood, I looked back at my Barcelona travel book to see what more there was to do in Gràcia. Yet, all I found was one page, highlighting its location on a map being, “beyond the centre.” It struck me as strange, designating a unique and popular neighborhood as someting considered "out of the way." Of course, it is not the Eixample neighborhood, which is the more commercial area of the city, but this is what I found most intriguing about Gràcia. The same could be said for my own neighborhood, Les Corts, as being “beyond the centre.” Yet, this is what I find most enjoyable about living in such a neighborhood. Staying in a place that is not central to certain “popular attractions” forces me to commute and experience more in the city, rather than remain in one neighborhood. My advice for wherever you stay in Barcelona is to go somewhere you don't know at all and find things to get to know!
Written by student blogger, Olivia Ballentine, July 2022