At the beginning of September I headed to the Spanish capital. I only spent one day in Madrid, but somehow, it was enough. Because I lucked out big time with my Couchsurfing host. An avid learner and sharer of knowledge, Nico showed me around Madrid, all in one day. Couchsurfing saves you so much time and energy. You don’t have to read through Tripadvisor or lug Lonely Planet books in your backpack, as you can so easily get the best pieces of advice from a local!
After lunch, we walked around the city before visiting two famous museums in Madrid.
As we managed to cram all the main sights of Madrid into one day, I headed to Toledo the next morning. The old Spanish capital is situated approximately 70 km from Madrid. A round trip with the bus costs around 10 €. Trains also run to Toledo but are more expensive. Toledo makes for a good day trip from Madrid.
It was nice to combine a visit to the busy capital of Madrid with a visit to the smaller city of Toledo. Most importantly, my trip to Spain allowed me to practice my Spanish.
Even though Spaniards love their jamón, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of vegetarian restaurants found in Barcelona. Barcelona is quite a big city, so it’s easy to find food for every taste. Below is a list of some of the restaurants I encountered during my time in Barcelona.
El Café Blueproject(Carrer Princesa 57)
A vegetarian café connected to an art gallery, its menu being a mix of warm vegetarian food and raw food. A meal costs around 15 €.
Teresa Carles (Carrer Jovellanos 2)
Very cosy interior, tasty food and refreshing juices! Mains are around 10 €, juices around 4 €.
Amrit (Carrer Verdi 18)
Syrian restaurant in Gràcia that we stumbled upon by accident. Super friendly staff and amazing food. Huge menu and bustling ambiance. We ate here twice!
Juicy Jones (Carrer Hospital 74)
Like the name suggests, this is mainly a juice bar. They do have a short vegetarian menu, but nothing on the menu sounded appealing (think vegetarian junk food) so we only grabbed some juices and headed back to Amrit for the second time.
Biocenter (Pintor Fortuny 25)
Just off La Rambla, Biocenter offers vegetarian, mostly organic food. Meals cost 7-13 €.
Govinda (Plaça de la Vila de Madrid 4)
Hare krishna restaurant with set lunch menu, salad buffet and a la carte. Much fancier than other hare krishna restaurants I’ve visited (this is seen in the prices as well).
Esmaca (Rambla de Catalunya 8)
Macrobiotic school near Plaça de Catalunya. You’re handed a piece of paper (in Spanish) on which the day’s foods are listed. You then tick the boxes for first course, main course and dessert. Open on weekdays during lunch. Fish is served once a week.
Miquetes Màgicues (Carrer del Trobador 20)
Another great macrobiotic restaurant, close to Hospital de Sant Pau. Run by two lovely ladies, who look like the epitome of health. Only open on weekdays during lunch. There’s an option of including fish in the meal. Three course menu 14,50 €.
After spending a weekend in Tarragona, it was time to travel further south. I had booked a five night stay at a yoga retreat in Southern Catalonia. I took a train from Tarragona to L’ampolla which took about an hour.
At 5 pm I met Sarah at the train station and we drove about 20 minutes to reach the yoga retreat. When I arrived, there was only one other guest, Marion, and two volunteers, Trent and Scotty. And not to mention the cutest cats and dogs!
The first day I walked with Marion and Scotty to visit Sarah’s mum, Cherry, who lives close by. She is an ayurvedic doctor and has such interesting stories to share. On her property there is labyrinth, which is used as a healing tool.
At the yoga retreat, guests can sleep in different sized tents or old stables converted into dwellings. You can also bring your own tent! I slept in a one-person tent. The price was 30 €/night which included a 90 minute yoga class plus breakfast.
There was a yoga class every morning from 8 am to 9.30 am. Most days we practised in the sun on the beautiful outdoor yoga deck, but once we had to be inside due to strong winds. The style of yoga is Sivananda Fusion and I truly enjoyed it. And Sarah is such a positive and patient teacher!
Yoga was followed by a massive breakfast, consisting of porridge, yoghurt, jams, honey, croissants, cheese, eggs, fruit and cereal. Every morning you could also drink the delicious tea made out of leaves from one of the many organic olive trees on the property.
After yoga and breakfast, you could do whatever you wanted. Most days I did nothing. It was so good for my soul, I mean how often does that happen? I even read an entire 600-page book in five days, which would normally probably take me at least a month!
I had no idea what day it was, I had no internet or cell reception. I ate when I was hungry and slept when I was tired. This was exactly how I wanted to spend my holiday.
In addition to yoga, Casa de Carrasco organizes canoe trips, paella cooking workshops, ayurvedic workshops, wine tastings, spa treatments etc. Since there were not many guest during my time there, I didn’t get a chance to join in any activities, since they usually only go through if there are enough participants.
Besides doing nothing and feeling damn good about it, I did get a chance to visit the nearby town of Miravet with Marion and Trent. Marion had a rental car and she was so kind to drive us to the little ferry crossing River Ebro. From the other side of the river we walked all the way to Miravet.
My stay at Casa de Carrasco exceeded all my expectations. The yoga was refreshing, the tent was cosy, the breakfast was delicious, the area was beautiful and the people were so kind hearted and open minded. I felt really sad to leave Casa de Carrasco. After only five days there, it had made a massive impact on me and I really wish to return one day.
On my way from Barcelona to L’ampolla, I wanted to stop along the way for a couple of nights. What I basically did, was just to look at a map and choose the biggest city in between the two, which turned out to be the old Roman town of Tarragona. The train from Barcelona to Tarragona takes about an hour and costs 5,60 € one way.
Since I had three nights in Tarragona, I decided to couchsurf. From my experience minimum three nights is ideal for both surfing and hosting. Anything shorter and you don’t have enough time to get to know each other very well! I was also staying from Friday to Monday, so I knew I’d have more time to spend with my potential host since people are usually busy working during weekdays.
I created an open couch request on Couchsurfing and received a handful of invitations, so it was super easy to find a host in Tarragona! I stayed in an apartment right in the city centre with my friendly host Elly and his lovely room mates Luca and Sara.
After settling down in my home for the weekend, Elly, his friends and I went walking around the city, sat in cafés and ate some tapas. The next day I walked around exploring the city.
In the evening I caught up with Elly and we spent the evening watching Eurovision at his apartment. I love that with Couchsurfing you can just live an everyday life somewhere else in the world!
On Sunday, Elly, his friends and I walked all the way to Pont del Diable, a massive aqueduct about 4 km from the city.
Tarragona is a good city for anyone interested in history. But since I had recently visited Rome, I might not have been so amazed by Tarragona. Still, it was a great place to visit for one weekend.
My list of places to visit is incredibly long, but Barcelona has always been quite high on that list. My mother Eila has also had it on her (much shorter) list so I invited her to come along when I headed to Barcelona in early May.
The biggest department store in Finland, Stockmann, has a huge sale twice a year. While I don’t enjoy the mass hysteria regarding the things they sell, I appreciate the cheap flights on offer. They’re direct flights with Finnair, and for European flights the prices are usually 100-200 euros cheaper than regular prices. This spring, a round trip flight from Helsinki to Barcelona cost 199 €.
I don’t like staying in hotels because they are usually impersonal and not good value for money. There are many websites where people offer their own apartments as holiday rentals, such as Airbnb, Wimdu, Homeaway, Housetrip and Roomorama. For our stay in Barcelona, we booked an apartment through Housetrip. A huge apartment with three bedrooms and two bathrooms cost 480 € for six nights.
The apartment was amazing and the location the best. The apartment was situated in Sant Andreu, a 20 minute metro ride from the city centre. I really enjoyed this neighbourhood, it had a true Catalan feel to it. I love staying in suburbs because there are no tourists around and you get a more authentic feel of the city. I can warmly recommend this neighbourhood – it’s full of orange trees, colourful houses, vivid people, small shops and cafés. Literally no-one speaks English, which is refreshing in a touristy city like Barcelona.
Day 1 – A day full of Gaudí
Barcelona is renowned for the buildings designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. On our first full day in Barcelona we headed to Casa Batlló, one of Gaudís most famous buildings.
After getting our fair share of Gaudí we took the metro to Ciutadella Park.
Day 2 – Beaches and parks
Barcelona lies right on the Spanish coast, so on our second day we went to Barceloneta Beach to marvel at the Mediterranean Sea.
Day 3 – Barcelona by bike and Parc Güell
There are more than 200 kilometres of bikeways in Barcelona, and as you would imagine, a ton of bicycle rental shops around the city. While Eila visited MNAC, I headed to Barcelona Rent A Bike. I rented a bike for 2 hours and it cost 6 €. Besides the bikeways, you’re allowed to bicycle on roads and sidewalks. Only the Ramblas are out of bounds for cyclists.
In the evening I caught up with Eila and we headed to Parc Güell, another one of Barcelona’s symbols as well as Gaudí’s masterpieces. The entry to Parc Güell is free, but to enter the monumental area you need to buy a ticket (7 €). The ticket allows you to enter the monumental area during a half an hour time slot. Once inside, you can spend as long as you want in the area. As we got to the park around 7 pm, there were no lines and we only needed to wait for half an hour to enter the monumental area. Before that we had time to visit the surrounding park.
Before calling it a night, we checked out Casa Vicens, one of Gaudí’s first important buildings, located near Parc Güell.
Day 4 – Daytrip to Montserrat
After a couple of days in bustling Barcelona, we ventured out of the city towards Montserrat, a monastery up in the Catalan mountains.
The train from Barcelona to Montserrat takes about one hour. After the train arrives in Montserrat, you can decide if you want to head up to the monastery with cable car or scenic train. A round trip from Barcelona to Montserrat costs 19 € (including cable car or scenic train).
After eating lunch, we visited La Boqueria, a massive market in the centre of the city.
Day 5 – Hospital de Sant Pau and Sagrada Familia
On our last day in Barcelona we went to Hospital de Sant Pau. A functioning hospital until 2009, it is now a major tourist attraction with its decorative details.
From the hospital we headed towards Sagrada Familia, probably Barcelona’s main attraction and a symbol of the city. We had walked past Sagrada Familia previously but the lines were so long that we had not went inside. Now, around 4 pm on a Thursday afternoon, the line was really short. There are severeal different tickets, with audioguides, entry to the highest tower etc. Regular entry costs 14,80 €. Similar to Parc Güell, you are given a time of entry to the Sagrada Familia.
Our last night was topped off with a stop at Gràcia Latina, a small bar in the Gràcia neighbourhood where they organize free flamenco shows every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The dancer had so much energy, you could sense the passion in her every movement and facial expression. This combined with live music and song made it an amazing experience!
I truly enjoyed Barcelona, it’s a big and varied city so every day was filled with new experiences. There are many tourists in La Rambla and around, so I recommend venturing a bit outside of the city centre for a more authentic experience.