Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually have to travel all of Europe in the small timeframe you’re studying abroad in Europe. In fact, if you’re on a budget, staying around your host city is probably a good idea. Flights are cheaper here, but they’re still not cheap. And if you’re overspending on Spanish food as much as I am, you could probably use an extra €75.
Like most geography nerds, I do spend a lot of time indoors, doing geography things. However, I’ve found a couple creative ways to build an extensive navigation system of Barcelona, which is how I usually spend my weekends. For one, it helps to keep a Google Maps collection of places you want to come back to. I like to split saved locations into categories: “Food”, “Clothes<3”, “Just Nice Places in General”, “Dérive Away”, and “Stop Eating Out” (marketplaces). This wasn’t particularly useful at the beginning of the semester — just satisfying. The effort really paid off when an old friend visited me from Temple Rome and asked what there is to see around the city.
Earlier in the year, when it wasn’t as chilly outside, my favorite single-player geography game was boarding a train to a random destination, anywhere the TMB is capable of transporting me. A couple weeks ago, I ended up in a suburban municipality called Sant Boi de Llobregat. With its tiny cobblestone pathways, it almost reminded me of Seville. There was an air of tranquility, and the autumn breeze was fresh, a world apart from the secondhand smoke of Barcelona.
The best part about wandering the outskirts of town is that you become more familiar with what life is like for most locals. There’s a good number of people who reside in the city center, but rent is on the rise. Most Spaniards don’t move out of family homes until their early to late 30’s, so plenty of college students commute long distances to attend classes. Over the past few months, I’ve often wondered where all the young adults are here. But getting out of Eixample and Ciutat Vella has opened my eyes.
After my cellphone and Metro card were stolen by a runaway thief, I’ve resorted to walking wherever my feet will take me. Gràcia is an all-time favorite neighborhood. It’s mostly pedestrian, and from Carrer d’Asturies to Carrer de Verdi, there’s no shortage of vintage stores to spend hours rifling through. You might even run into a Gats de Gràcia stand and pick up a few adorable pins that help out Barcelona’s stray cats. Then there’s TuuuLibrería, a cozy nonprofit bookstore in which you can purchase any item for whatever price you decide. If you’re around on a warmer evening, there are plenty of plazas to sit around, chat with your friends, and forget you have no phone to check the time.
Another interesting place to stroll around is Sants. It has gained attention recently, not only for its quirky, artsy atmosphere, but also for its thriving cooperatives. One of my planning classes took a narrated trip through Sants to learn about its revolutionary history and how it regenerated from a decaying industrial center to a tight-knit community. We toured Can Batlló, a former factory that was seized and appropriated by local residents. Together, they transformed it into a shared space for artists, activists, and neighbors of Sants. It’s worth checking out to get a feel of Barcelona’s lesser-known rebellious nature.
Though I enjoy using Barcelona’s Metro system, taking mental notes on the city while walking is a completely different mode of observation. Interactions of daily urban life are unique based on whether you’re on the streets or underground. That said, spending the extra time to travel by foot can be worth it. I wasn’t planning on losing my Metro card, but there is a silver lining to the situation. My weekends have transformed from planned adventures to spontaneous ones, and that’s always something to look forward to.