Barcelona was a whirlwind, to say the least.
I had originally booked us for three nights on a classic Menorquina (Spanish fishing boat) at a marina in Badalona, Spain, just up the coast from Barcelona. When we arrived at the airport, we were picked up by our host. For the purposes of this post, we’ll call him ‘Q’. I was a little anxious about our stay here in the days leading up to it, but in the good ‘what an experience this will be!’ kind of way.
Q picked us up in a beat up old minivan that looked like it had been his home for the last few days. Just as I noticed the empty beer bottles rolling around on the floor, he asked Pat to roll him a cigarette to take the edge off his hangover from the night before.
‘Keep an open mind, keep an open mind, keep an open mind.’
I mean, he’s a sailor. This seems appropriate, right? Sure, we’ll go with that.
When we got to the marina, I was relieved to see it was actually in pretty good shape. I’ve stayed at a lot of marinas and this one was pretty standard.
Since Q lost his cell phone and wallet the night before, he wasn’t able to check in with the girl who was cleaning our boat before we got there. It looked like she had just woken up (from sleeping inside our boat) when she came out and told us she wasn’t done cleaning yet. Not sure what she was doing in there, but I doubted it was cleaning.
So, Q gave us a grand tour.
Remember how I said this marina was pretty standard? That ended right about here. Q showed us to the bathroom/shower facilities, but said to look out for which one we pick because sometimes people get stuck inside. I guess there was water damage on some of the door frames, and the doors would stick.
I’m sorry, WHAT!?
It got better, though. There was a gorgeous beach right by the marina with a few small coffee shops and restaurants. That seemed promising.
Maybe we could do this after all.
When we came back the girl was no where to be found, so we assumed she was done cleaning. Q left us to get settled and told us to come join him and his friends at the bar nearby when we were ready.
We embarked down the A dock to our little boat. From (far) away, she looked cute.
To give myself a little bit of credit here, I am fully aware of all that comes with staying on a small boat, and was completely prepared to ‘rough it’. So you can get the ‘well, what did she expect!?’ thoughts out of your head now. I grew up on boats. I walked on a sailboat before I walked on land. My grandparents and my parents have both lived on boats for extended periods of time, and you won’t last five minutes in my family if you don’t know the difference between Eastbay and Sabre.
The closer we got, the worse she was. Q forgot to take the tarps off, but he’d come get those later. Along with a lantern for some light. Perfect.
The outside wasn’t awful. She could have used a solid pressure washing (or a decent rain storm), but otherwise, pretty standard. There was a little seating area and table on the stern, so I figured we could throw some towels down and have a nice place for cocktail hour.
Maybe we could do this after all!
Then we went inside.
ABORT, ABORT, SOS, WE CANNOT DO THIS.
I’m just kidding. Well, I’m not kidding, but I didn’t outwardly freak out as much as I was inside. I tried not to look around too much, but what I saw, and smelled, was horrifying. There were cigarette butts in the cupholder of the table, mismatched (stained) sheets and pillows, some leftover Rice-A-Roni packets in the kitchen, and the whole smelled like wet towels and mold.
Pat and I made a few “well, this is different” remarks and kept glancing at each other with that, “I really don’t want to do this, but I’m going to remain calm because I don’t want to be the first one to admit it,” look in our eyes.
We decided to go meet Q and his friends for a drink. I wasn’t sure what we were going to do, but I knew wine would help. Maybe if I just had enough wine, this wouldn’t be so bad.
One of Q’s friends owned a restaurant near the marina. He was an interesting guy who, SHOCKINGLY, was a chef at a Michelin restaurant in Paris. Yeah, I know, we’re not sure what happened there either. I’m not going to get into descriptions of the rest of the gang, but remember my description of the boat? Well, some of them live on it when it’s not being rented. So that’s that.
The chef guy somehow had the keys to a really nice 40’ Beneteau sailboat, so he grabbed a bottle of wine and suggested that we all go to that boat and make plans for sailing over the weekend. We followed along, thanks to the wine. It was actually a beautiful boat and the best hour of the whole day. In hindsight, we should have just asked the guy if we could pay him to let us stay on that boat instead. Oh well.
Since it had been a few hours and bottles of wine since we were last on the boat, the situation seemed borderline enjoyable at this point. We walked along the beach, which was gorgeous, and went to a great little tapas restaurant on the water.
We sat down, and at basically the exact same time, both blurted out “I really don’t want to do this.” The horror of the boat overcame the terror of wasting the money we had already spent to stay on it. We booked a four-star hotel nearby for the next two nights instead (for $80 per night – Thanks, HotelTonight!).
Pat and I aren’t great at confrontation, so we were really nervous that Q would see us leaving and be upset with us. I realize that makes no sense at all, but we couldn’t help it. Once it was dark out, we went back to the boat (which turns out, has no lights) and quickly grabbed all our stuff and made a run for it.
We have never appreciated a hotel so much in our lives. We were thrilled with the decision we made, especially since it was pouring down rain the entire next day. Just as we sat down for breakfast at the hotel restaurant, laughing about how much the rain would have sucked on the S.S. Mold, we realized that in our mad dash out off the boat, we left my raincoat and Pat’s dress shoes. DAMNIT.
We weren’t willing to let them go, so we grabbed the metro back to Badalona. We were like a couple of scolded dogs walking up to the marina with our tails between our legs. We made up a story to tell Q about how we were staying with a friend who had flown into Barcelona last-minute, and he bought it so no hard feelings. He was probably relieved we were gone so he could sleep in his boat again. Glad that was over.
It was a bummer to lose the money we already spent on the boat, but it wasn’t irrecoverable. We figured we could just use HotelTonight and find a couple other reasonable places in Barcelona for the rest of our stay, since the first one worked out so great. That was the original plan anyway, since I didn’t make any reservations in advance because *for some reason* everything in Barcelona was really expensive on these dates.
My second mistake. That *reason* everything was so expensive was because we picked, quite possibly, the most expensive week of the year to stay in Barcelona. Not only was it the week of Carnival (basically Mardis Gras) but it was also the week of the Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest gathering for the mobile industry. So, what did we learn here? If you can’t figure out why you can’t find any reasonable accommodations in a city, you should probably look into it.
The second hotel we booked was slightly more expensive, but not yet panic-inducing. Since prices would be so high (nothing under $500…even $300/night for a HOSTEL) in the morning, our routine would be to leave our bags at the hotel while we explored the city and wait until late afternoon to book the really last-minute deals. That meant packing up and dragging our stuff around everyday, which wasn’t ideal, but doable.
The great part about HotelTonight is that we stayed in really nice hotels we probably wouldn’t splurge for normally, and it was a pretty cool way to see the city because we stayed in different neighborhoods each time.
We made the most of it for the first few days. We did another SANDEMANs walking tour in the Gothic Quarter and Born neighborhoods, which was great per usual.
We explored the Boqueria Market and had some of the best paella we’ve ever had.
But after four days of waking up and having to figure out where to stay, my frustration was overcoming my cheapness, and I was about ready to shell out an obnoxious amount of money to just stay in one place for multiple nights. I felt like we had been hemorrhaging money since we arrived, and I was over it. Pretty much having a full-blown adult temper tantrum.
So it was then that we decided we were breaking up with Barcelona and bumped up our flight to Amsterdam by three days.
Overall, a good story and multiple lessons learned. The biggest of which, about traveling in general. There is a huge difference between traveling and being on vacation. Yes, there are aspects of each that overlap, but if you are traveling long-term, you have to try to differentiate between the two. When you’re traveling long-term, shit goes wrong. Technology fails you. You get sick. You get lost. You blow your budget out of the water and spend the next month eating pasta and drinking $5 bottles of wine in your apartment.
Unless you have no budget. Then these discomforts don’t apply to you. We’ll wave at you in your comfy town car as we’re trekking with our luggage to the metro stop. Which is probably the wrong metro stop.
But where’s the good story in that?
It’s all about perspective. No, Barcelona didn’t go according to plan. But we were in Barcelona, for God’s sake. It was sunny, it was beautiful, we had wine and tapas a-plenty. And most importantly, we have several more months to look forward to of exploring new places.
It’s amazing what can become ‘routine’. Everything, eventually, becomes your normal. I am constantly reminding myself of that now that we’ve been on the road for a few months. In those small moments when things don’t go my way, I always have to just remember where we are, what we’re doing, and everything we did to get here.
Now that we’ve met other travelers, and especially other travel bloggers, we always talk about how travel isn’t always those beautiful moments you see all over Instagram. Sometimes, you’re exhausted, feel like everything is going wrong and spend the whole day pouting in a hotel room wishing you could find some damn mac n cheese.
If you’re reading this at work right now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Oh, yeah, poor you.” But that’s why this is so important to share.
I was adamant when we left on this trip that it wasn’t a glorified, open-ended vacation. We are learning about ourselves, each other, other cultures and our culture. Sure, there are days that feel like vacation, but there are also days where we spend 16 hours on the computer working on our projects.
So that’s my big takeaway from our little Barcelona saga. I had to really think about the difference between going on a trip to travel, and going on a trip for vacation. I’m a fan of both, but by not recognizing the difference between the two, I was setting myself up for disappointment. Vacation, to me, is about being pampered and life being easy. Traveling, to me, is about the glory you feel when you get from the airport to your apartment via public transportation and only screw up once, or going out of your way to have meaningful conversations with other people about the differences in your cultures. It’s making a point to be outside of your comfort zone (within reason).
But not the boat. The boat was too far out of our comfort zone and I draw the line at mold.
We can almost look back and laugh… we’re just waiting for our credit cards to stop shaking from abuse.
***Disclaimer: I never have and never will claim to be a backpacker. If you’re one of those types who are reading this and thinking we’re not ‘real’ travelers, send me a message. I know a guy with a boat you might like.