15 December 2017

Spain 3.0: Revisiting Catalonia and the Basque Country

Two months ago, I was in Spain. Yet again. In fact, it was my third time to visit the country. The first time was when I spent 5 days in Barcelona and Figueres in 2013, which was for me a short holiday. The second time was when I went to Bilbao last year for work (when I attended my last academic conference). And two months ago, I was in the same area for a third time: I was on holiday for 9 days, first staying in Barcelona for 4 nights (with a day trip to Tarragona), then 2 nights in San Sebastian, wrapping it up with another 2 nights in Bilbao. As you may have noticed, most of the places I have visited are not new, having visited them already in the past. But I happen to be in a revisiting mode lately, so I am implementing it in my recent trips.

My trip was basically the whole week together with the two weekends before and after it. On Saturday, I flew from Berlin to Barcelona. This happened to be the Saturday the day after Catalonia declared independence. Of course I was watching the news, figuring out even exit strategies and alternative plans in case Barcelona would get chaotic. I didn't even know if I would be allowed to disembark. If the independence was indeed implemented, then who knows, they might not recognize the EU residence permit I have, since they might even disengage from the Schengen Agreement.

Anyway, when I landed, everything looked normal. It was quiet, I would even say. So I exited the airport, and took the train to Barcelona-Sants Station, where my accommodation was located. I decided to stay in a hostel in the neighborhood of La Nova Esquerra de l'Eixample, in the district of l'Eixample, close to where this district borders the districts of Les Corts and Sarria-Sant Gervasi. During my first visit to Barcelona 4 years ago, I stayed in the district of Gracia, but this time I wanted to be somewhere more quiet.

So when I arrived, I headed to my hostel, and since it was still too early to check in, I just dropped off my luggage and went sightseeing. I decided to visit not the highlights this time. I've already done the major sights during my first visit, such as the Sagrada Familia, or the Parc Guell. So I decided to explore places and neighborhoods of the city that typical first-time visitors do not go to. So I went north, in the hills. I first checked out the Monestir de Pedralbes, up north. I then had lunch in the Sarria neighborhood, and then I proceeded to the Parc del Laberint d'Horta. All of these areas are located by the hills of Barcelona, reachable by city buses (which I used a lot, thanks to phone apps), and far from the beach.

The next day, on Sunday, I decided to do a day trip to Tarragona (I first thought of doing a day trip to Girona, but there was supposed to be a football game in Girona between Girona FC and Real Madrid, and I didn't want to be caught in the middle of a potentially potent political football game, given the whole independence crisis). I got to Tarragona early, and explored the numerous Roman ruins that can be found all over the city. I returned to Barcelona in the mid-afternoon, and I still had time to visit a science museum, the CosmoCaixa.

On Monday, I went to Camp Nou. This is the home stadium of FC Barcelona, one of the most famous football teams in the world. I am not a football fan, but I wanted to do something different during my trip, so I reserved a ticket online before I left. It was an interesting experience, I must say. After that, I explored another neighborhood that I haven't been to before, the waterfront. I went and rode the tram, starting from Torre Agbar, all the way to the Forum. Then I had lunch in Barceloneta and then visited the Museu Maritim. Finally, I did a walking tour of Gracia, which is a hip neighborhood in the north.

Tuesday was my final full day in Barcelona, and I began by doing a tour of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, by Las Ramblas. It is a very impressive opera house. After the tour, I went to Parc de Pedralbes, and then to the Poble Espanyol. This was the first time I have visited the Montjuic area, and I continued on to the Castle above it.

On Wednesday, I checked out of my hostel, but before heading out, I went to Passeig de Gracia to visit La Pedrera. This is a building created by Antoni Gaudi, and I haven't had the chance to check it out during my first visit. After finishing the tour, I headed back to my hostel, picked up my luggage, and headed to the airport. I had a flight to San Sebastian, in northern Spain, right near the French border.

I landed an hour later, and found my way to my apartment. I stayed in San Sebastian for 2 nights, and I didn't really do much while I was in town. I did a lot of eating and relaxing. I did some sight-seeing, strolling along the stellar Playa de la Concha, as well as the Aquarium. But the thing I enjoyed the most in San Sebastian was the pintxos, or Basque tapas. I also booked a table at a Michelin-starred restaurant while I was in town, and of course I will expand on that later.

After two nights, I took the bus to Bilbao. Again, this is not my first visit to Bilbao, having been there just a year ago. Again, I just ate pintxos, though I did check out a museum. I also did a day trip to Bermeo, which is a sleepy fishing town. I wanted to see how a rural Basque village looks like, and it was definitely interesting to spend a couple hours there.

Two nights later, it was time to head back to Berlin. It was an interesting trip: the first half was full of sight-seeing, and the second half was full of eating and relaxing. It was a perfect holiday I must say. Anyway, it had to end somehow, so I flew from Bilbao to Berlin via Dusseldorf. By evening I was back at home.

Pictures of course will follow, so stay tuned.


  1. Interesting timing for this trip. I should catch up the news in Catalonia, actually, it dropped off the radar in North America.

    1. Zhu,

      The timing was quite tricky, indeed. Honestly, the day before I didn't know if I would have a good time or not. My spouse was even telling me that if he were on my shoes, he would already cancel the trip and not go. There was quite a bit of risk management during this weekend. :)