Travel. Friends. Spain. Solo Trip.
A Solo Trip to Barcelona Made me Friends with a Korean Couple
Having landed in ‘Barcelona’, I stepped out of the airport along with the other travellers and noticed something strange… I was in the middle of nowhere!
There were no cars, no shops; there was just an empty road. I quickly went back inside and asked how to best get to my destination (which my trusty Airbnb host gave directions to). A few others came to ask the same question, and the clerk suggested we share a taxi to get to Reus station.
I looked back, and there was a Korean couple who also seemed lost. They agreed that we should go together as we headed in the same direction, but little did I know that conversation would spark a long-lasting friendship that would last throughout the holiday.
Stepping back outside, we found a taxi, and I had my first test of speaking Spanish.
Tu sabes donde estation? Vosotros ciudad Barcelona.
The driver gave me a confused look (was it that bad?) and muttered a few words which I didn’t understand. He then shook his head and promptly drove off.
Luckily, there was a bus approaching that would take us to the station. We got on, and the journey would take around 15 minutes, giving me enough time to get to know my new friends. I learned that they were a married couple and with one partner having a name that even Koreans themselves couldn’t pronounce correctly; Donghwi.
Donghwi had moved to Cambridge five months earlier with his wife to do a PhD in plant biology, and this was their first major European holiday. I also found out his wife was the decision-maker which was nice to see given how Korean culture always seemed pretty patriarchal.
All of a sudden, though, my brother's voice popped into my head. Korean equals pro gamer, right?
Not all Koreans are gaming fanatics, but the vital question had to be asked to let my brother know. And the response was.. no, he doesn’t play but does know some other Koreans who are into esports. Bingo!
We finally arrived at the station, and who would’ve thought? We had just missed the train to Barcelona city, and the next one was due in two hours. It was at this moment that I realised why my flight was only £20.
Reus airport is just over 100km away from Barcelona!
No wonder Ryanair was so cheap if they couldn’t even be bothered to fly to the city itself. We decided to have lunch, and as the train journey would be an hour-long, I had a lot of time to interact with my Korean friends. I learned an important fact: Kim Jong Un was the same age as Dongwhi, although I can confidently say that they’re polar opposites.
By late afternoon we had got on the train and learned that we probably wouldn’t be able to do much, so we arranged to meet the following day to visit Sagrada Familia, a famous church built by Gaudi. We exchanged numbers and emails, and after a long talk about British and Korean politics, education and workplace habits, we parted ways.
Solo once again, the next trick was finding the house itself. However, my Spanish skills were working in my favour as I could recall directions in Spanish. The place was segundo a la izquierda cerca hotel sagrada familia. For those unfamiliar, I had to take the second left, and it would be near a hotel.
Five hours past my check-in, I had arrived, and Jorge (the host) welcomed me in and showed me around. He was learning English like I was learning Spanish, so we managed to communicate reasonably well. He suggested some places and gave me a map outlining both the city and the metro.
The trip was not only exhausting but made me hungry too. After a few minutes of searching for a restaurant, I stumbled across a small kebab shop. This would do for now, though. I would definitely be trying Spanish food next.
Having eaten and confirmed our meeting point the next morning by WhatsApp, I collapsed in bed after a tiring day but at least knowing I had companions from the very first day.
The second day was the main touristy day. I also forgot to mention I had brought some breakfast supplies the previous night, so with hunger resolved, I set out into a chilly January morning. Luckily, I had a thick coat which made it bearable, and I walked to the first site on the list, Sagrada Familia.
To shorten the phrase, I’ll use the term KC (Korean couple). KC waved at me, and we started taking some pictures. The church was very finely detailed and almost seemed new. In fact, the construction began in 1882 and wasn’t due to finish until 2026.
Now that has got to be a first, a building project that started over a hundred years ago and is still ongoing.
We went inside, and memories of the cathedral at Granada swept my mind. The design was similar, the ceilings high and the pillars wide. But while that was built on gothic designs several centuries ago, this one was constructed with the creativity of a born architect (and it’s not considered a cathedral either).
Our next destination was doing a long walk across Gaudi’s architecture, past Passeig Gracia (the most expensive street) and onto Las Ramblas, which I’d say is the equivalent of Oxford Street in London. Gaudi was a fellow with a very odd architectural sense.
Some of his casa modernas were built with varying patterns and colours. It’s also why they’re so popular with tourists. Gaudi made many of the eccentric styled buildings in Barcelona, and it was quite humorous seeing them as not many cities have buildings like these.
If I had to remember one thing from today, it’s the mysterious green man sign syndrome. Every time KC and I approached a road; the green man always came on. Not that I’m complaining, of course, but some drivers were crazy as quite a few cars zoom past after making a turn even when the green man is there. Surely that’s illegal?
No one seemed bothered, though, which probably explains why the locals were hesitant about crossing the road. Las Ramblas would’ve looked infinitely more beautiful, but even in winter, without the leaves, the tree-lined walkway was much better than Oxford Street. For a start, the middle of the road had a wide pedestrian walkway, and little pop-up restaurants dotted the 2km path.
Having reached the end of the walkway, we arrived at the Barcelona coast. No one was on the beach; obviously, it was far too cold, but something even better was that there was a floating island on the water linked by a bridge.
Dubai probably copied Barcelona because this entire section was floating, and yet it supported a multi-storey shopping centre, an aquarium and a skyscraper!
Throughout the day, KC took some snaps, and we couldn’t resist doing some funny jumping poses against the backdrop of the sea. When we finally finished, we ended our route with a large open park. I’ve noticed that the Spanish enjoy placing their parliamentary buildings inside parks. The Andalusian parliament was inside one, and now the Catalonian building was also inside a park.
I doubt it would work with the Houses of Parliament in Hyde park, though. It probably would’ve been a nightmare for joggers seeing Boris cycling into a park for work every day. Who wants to imagine that?
The last full day would be spent exploring Park Guell and the Garcia district of Barcelona. I’d say this is where the real Barcelona is, away from the tourist traps, and it’s no wonder because as soon as KC and I entered, we saw some scribbles on the rock face telling tourists to go away, British people not welcome in the park etc.
Well.. guess what? No one cares, crazy random stranger who scribbled the note. Contrary to the message, there were several people in the park, and yes, they were mostly tourists who couldn’t care less about a few scribbles. In fact, most of the locals in the park were very friendly.
Now, I call this a park, but it was more like a massive garden trail etched out on a mountain. It was originally created by… yes, Gaudi yet again, but this place was not a mere construction fallacy. It was amazing. The views of the city and the marina, the columns and stone arches that supported the plaza, and guess what? It was all created for a man called Guell. (Obviously, you’d call the park after yourself)
Of course, like all private parks and residences, it was eventually donated to the Barcelona city council by his descendants. I’m sure that’s what he would’ve wanted anyway after spending a fortune and waiting years for its completion. Did you also know that this park has the worlds longest chair?
Yes, that’s right, a long winding bench that curves in and out, because if you’re a wealthy industrialist who’s paying a famous architect, why not add in something to make your fellow neighbours jealous? Not that anyone else was living on that mountain…
We then explored the Gracia district and then decided to see a famous market called La Borique. After all that walking, a person gets hungry, so naturally, I ordered one of the most expensive dishes: a huge seafood platter.
You can’t go to Spain and not try paella or seafood. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see Barcelona stadium, colloquially known as Camp Nou, as it was closed by that point, but expensive seafood equals a happy stomach.
The final day can only be summarised by shopping and rushing. You do remember day one and how tedious it was to get to Barcelona city, right? Well, now I had to do it all over again, only this time, in reverse.
After saying goodbye to my host Jorge and becoming an absolute pro at navigating the metro, I set out to buy the items on my siblings wish list. Goats cheese, Spanish pastries and other things you can’t get back in the UK.
My tradition of always buying a little snow globe whenever I travel also did not get forgotten. I can already sense a long sigh from my sister as that’s usually the only souvenir I get from travelling.
Here’s the issue, though. The train to Reus comes at set times, and if we missed that, we’d have to wait an hour. The same applies to the bus from Reus city to the airport. I feel sorry for all those disorganised travellers who end up missing their flight because of a missed train. (Maybe slight sympathy for London commuters, but they’re not exactly catching a flight, are they)
Anyway, I say we, because KC was actually on the same return flight as me. Luckily, with a bit of British timing and Korean logistics (great international teamwork), we managed to secure a lunch takeaway from a reputable restaurant and get on the train.
Cruising along the eastern Spanish coast and eating fish is probably not your everyday thing, but it was comforting to know we would at least arrive ahead of schedule. We even had enough time to stop by a shop and pick up extra food/souvenirs before reaching the airport.
There you have it, the story that I wrote on a plane back in 2017. It was a fun adventure; I made many friends and spent more than planned (because who doesn’t?)
It’s worth noting that holidaying alone is a great way to test yourself on how open and confident you can be. I’ve met Americans, had lunch with Australians, conversed with Germans and even had rudimentary conversations with Spanish locals.
It all depends on you being social, so I would highly recommend experiencing a solo adventure to boost your conversational skills. As for where to go? Barcelona is the perfect beginner-friendly city to test your skills on.
While northern Spain has its charm, discover why the south became my parent’s favourite destination.
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