In the long list of places I dreamed of visiting Spain was one of the firsts. I remember being in school and seeing Sagrada Familia in one of the traveling shows, back then in my tiny hometown in a far, remote and snow covered part of Russia, Spain and Barcelona and Gaudí creations seemed so impossible and unreachable, so the desire to see it all with my own eyes existed inside of me, but in a very faint way… like the thing that might never happen, something you are hoping for, but never truly allow yourself to give into.
Later on, when I was already living in NYC and after traveling for a while, world no longer felt like a stranger to me, many things that seemed impossible before were now a reality to me, yet Spain, although no longer an unattainable dream, still would not come thru, even tho most of my model friends ended up traveling there for work, it just never happened to me that way and it still was a tiny dream, carefully tacked away in my heart.
Years passed by “Vicky, Christina, Barcelona” came on the big screen and this might be cheesy, but it gave me a new wave of desire to visit the city that was always there on a back of my mind. I could feel the warm breeze of a lazy evening on my skin, I could practically hear the Spanish guitar, I already loved the city I have never been too.
Few more years passed by and finally I made it to Spain.
Now in a frenzy of excitement I totally ignored doing my research before going to Barcelona and just assumed that Uber or Lyft or some kind of similar service would be available there, years of living in NYC spoiled me into believing that everything will be accessible everywhere 24/7. So upon arrival I was greeted with the unpleasant surprise, none of the car services I am trained to relay on were at my disposal. So I scattered and downloaded myTaxi app, which was a challenge in itself, with the unreliable airport wifi, some 30 min later, I finally managed to call a car, only to realize when it finally arrived, that it was from the same taxi company, cars from which were lining outside of Arrivals exit this whole time … Big mistake, don’t be like me. Later I learned about buses that run from airport to Plaça Espanya and Plaça Catalunya, which provide much cheaper alternative - https://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/airport/transport/barcelona-airport-bus-aerobus.html
The thing about Barcelona is that there’s so much to see and do that you find yourself constantly on a run, walking and walking around and then walking some more, so comfortable shoes are a must. My phone was alerting me with “new steps record” notifications nearly every day, which came in handy considering tones of carbs I consumed that week. May be I was doing something wrong, but somehow I found it that in Barcelona you are constantly surrounded by one or other form of carbs, weather freshly backed bread paired with amazing olive oil, or toasted bread with some kind of topping, which makes tapas for 5 euros a pop, or bread sticks or pasta or pizza or rice in paella … Somehow I couldn’t escape the festival of cabs and cured meats … and well, I guess I didn’t mind it … but the 25 000 + steps a day gave me comfort and eased my guilt. I don’t want to say that all the restaurants are carb oriented, I’ve heard of a popular health restaurant “Flax and Kale” for example, I just never made it there.
And there was one more place that stood out to me, the sea food place - La Paradeta http://www.laparadeta.com/en/. It is simply amazing, the freshest sea food possible, it’s arranged in a market style, you chose the sea food you like, choose the way you want it to be prepared and pay for the weight of things. Everything is heavenly delicious… everything is grilled, sautéed, steamed to perfection to crisp, bold, flavors… One of the best meals I had in Spain and one of the best sea food experiences ever, the place is quite popular and line start forming half an hour before opening and although it moves pretty quickly, line never stops, theres always people outside, so I would suggest coming early, also check the website or google for opening times, it works only certain hours a day and it is usually closed on Mondays - FYI.
Speaking of things being closed - all the grocery shops are closed on Sunday, that’s the way Europe is and its something to keep in mind, although worst comes to worst there’s lots of small bodega shops with bare essentials open late and 7 days a week.
Many museums are closed on Mondays as well, something to pay attention to. Another thing to watch out when considering visit to a museum - lines, standing in line turned out to be inevitable - weather in line for a popular tapas place on a saturday eve, or hip restaurant or a museum, somehow you always find yourself standing in line. If you want to cut down line standing to a minimum I would suggest booking a ticket on line. Most of the activities you can book a ticket to with designated time, which makes visit pleasant and hassle free.
In high demand things like:
Park Güell - https://www.parkguell.cat/en/. Ticket 7 euro
I walked for oven an hour, most of the time uphill, only to find out that tickets were sold out for that day, pretty disappointed I was happy to learn that there was a free of charge part of the park, where you can roam around freely, which I ended up doing and enjoying thoroughly. So consider getting tickets on line, to avoid disappointment, it is worth noting that at the moment Nature Square in park is under construction, so there’s a big hole right in a middle of admission covered part of the park.
Sagrada Familia - http://www.sagradafamilia.org/en/. Ticket 15 euro
Do book tickets on line for this one, you would not regret it. It is the same price, as if you were doing it on a spot, but you won’t have to stay in line, tickets are timed, so you will know exactly when to come there plus, I think they monitor the amount of people allowed inside so do not worry about feeling crammed.
Now I know that many people, tourists and visitors have Sagrada as a kind of staple thing, run pass it, take a quick shot outside, cross it of the list and be done with that. I urge you to go inside. It is simply magnificent … I didn’t look at any pictures from inside the cathedral, so the impression was that much stronger when I walked in. Tickets we got were for 5 p.m. and I think it was the perfect time of the day to see it. The sun was at the angle that let the light in through red and orange side of the glass wall (vitrage), it looked like the whole place was bathed in this golden honey light, making you feel warm and comforted… Snow white beams, shooting up, joining at the celling in a intricate pattern, light pods, that looked like something out of space ship, the whole place is amazing and it is overwhelming to think that it was designed all this years ago and to think of a mind who conceived it… I even shed a secret tear of joy, luckily everyone was too busy taking pictures and staring at the phone, so none noticed it… I stood in bewilderment - I am finally here and it is better then I could ever imagine it to be.
Casa Batllo. - https://www.casabatllo.es/en/online-tickets/. Ticket 28 euro
This is an another must see. Granted the tickets are pricey, but if you book them on line you pay 23.50 euro plus you get an audio guide and a portable screen where you can see how each room looked like back in a day when Batllo family used to live there. The whole tour takes about an hour and it absolutely worth it both time and money, this house not only amazing to look at from the outside ( like many of Gaudí’s) buildings, it is also absolutely amazing to discover inside, and you get access to everything, every floor, outside patio and rooftop, the place is incerible … attention to details is immaculate, every little thing is in place and for a reason and If you want to feel what Gaudí creations are about - you should visit this house.
Casa Milà (La Pedrera) - https://www.lapedrera.com/en/home. Ticket 22 euro
The most stunning feature of this place is the rooftop it gives you a fairy tail feeling, and as far as I know they hold concerts on the rooftop sometimes and I can imagine this being a transporting experience.
Other then that - most of the building is not accessible, there is a bid with exposition at the mezzanine level, that tells you that Gaudí found his inspiration in nature, but honestly by your second day in Barcelona you know all that and you do not need a sea shell or honey comb in a glass box to convince you. There’s another level - Apartment where you can see how people used to live. You get an audio guide with your tickets and courtyard is really nice, but you should decide for yourself if this worth 22 euro… There’s a bit of confusion on a way in and I feel like most of the visit is you waiting in line for an elevator, if you want to skip the line, just ask where the stairs are - it is 8th floor and people will try to talk you out of it, but it is really easy and much faster then they make it out to be.
The beach. La Barceloneta. - https://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/attractions/barcelona-spain-beaches.html
One more nice thing about Barcelona is a close proximity to a number of beaches, Barceloneta, might be the most famous(read touristy) one, but really there’s a whole strip of beaches located along the coast. To my disappointment this September was unusually cold, according to locals, so I couldn’t swim … those 4 bikinis I packed never made it out of suitcase, and even if I would put them on all at once one on top of another one, still wouldn’t be warm enough to take a dip … nevertheless the sea is always beautiful and it is impossibly blue in Barcelona … Joining the blue sky - what a sign for a tired heart …
Be prepared to walk a lot. Walking in Barcelona is not a chore, it is in adventure in itself - you get to discover small streets and passage ways, beautiful buildings and cute lunch spots, do wear sensible shoes tho.I stayed at L'Eixample neighborhood, so I walked to every sight. It might make sense to invest into centered location, so everything is close by. El Born is popular, Gothic quarter is touristy, but you will be right in a heart of everything. If you do end up staying further away, I would probably recommend investing in Barcelona Pass - gives you an opportunity to use all types of public transport, which is really easy and reliable.
Book tickets on line, this way you will safe yourself lots of hassle, standing in line and disappointment of seeing a “sold out” sign. You might also save some money, since some places are cheeper to buy on line. Only use the official web sites while buying tickets, like the one I linked to in this post, other places often charge you ungodly commission.
Try to have an earlier dinner, most of the locals have dinner after 9 p.m. so thats when restaurants are busy and it is hard to get a seat at a popular place.
Most of the places people speak english, so it is easy to get around, but make effort of saying few things in Spanish, things like “hello" and "thank you", it is not much, but at least you tried.
Most of the places have free wi fi, they don’t always advertise it, but if you ask, you will get a password.
Cava is a kind sparkling wine and unlike champaign it would not upset your stomach ( or is it just me who have thing problem) Cava is great. Drink cava and be happy.
Be ready to eat good food, drink good 4 euro a bottle wine, be ready to smile a lot, keep your eyes wide open, on a lookout for the next gorgeous building, be ready to be floored by Gaudí’s masterpieces and magnitude of one persons creative ability, be ready not too see everything at once, to have the feeling that you are missing something, be ready to make a promise to come back.
“Why are you doing this?” was the first question I got asked when I shared that I want to skip birthday presents and ask people to donate to a fundraising campaign instead. The question was valid and conversation that followed even made me a bit unsure of my decision … I wondered if people will be open to my ideas, if they would think that I am an attention seeker, trying to come across as all high and mighty,if they would be relentless to participate and then I talked to my Mum and as always she was supportive of my decisions, that took away any doubts I had, which proofs one more time, you should always speak to your mother first :)
Anyways, let me recap the story: with my birthday fast approaching I was feeling blue, I think many of us do, pre -birthday blues - you involuntarily start giving your life evaluation and let’s face it, more often then not you see that you are not where you’d want and/or thought you’d be. I also felt strongly that even tho my life was not as accomplished as I would want it to be, it was still a good life and I wanted to express how grateful I am for it. So I decided to use my birthday as an opportunity to raise money for a charitable cause. I’ve heard about this before and decided to give it a shot, being a bit of a nerd I did some research, I wanted to donate to a non-profit that would have a high score by charity watchdog - transparent, accountable etc, etc. I decided to go with charity.water - www.charitywater.org. This name came up in a number of lists, plus they had a 100% policy - which meant that 100% of funds they raise go towards helping people, no cuts for budgeting in day to day operations of non-profit itself, besides they promised detailed report at the end of the campaign so you can see exactly where your money is going, combined with he fact that water is essential to life itself and that so many countries still don’t have an access to clean drinking water it seamed like a no brainer, so I charged on and set up a campaign page -my.charitywater.org/dinara-chetyrova/birthday-wish.
What followed surprised me in many ways…
First of all turned out that it is really hard to motivate people to give money to you (even if it is not actually for you) although this must have been apparent I still was surprised how much harder it was to get a dollar then say “like” under a photo, people liked the pix on a post, or wrote how great the idea was, but none donated… My first donation had me broken into a happy dance, I have never been so happy to see virtual 25$ in my life…
Time went on - still no donations I was getting worried. My friends started coming through the closer it got to the big day and every donation made me super happy, even tho it didn’t go at all as I imagined, some even reached out to double check if this is really want I wanna do, because this no gift policy seamed a bit weird for them. This made me realize, that I might have not been fare to my friends, I was thinking I was releasing them from the agonizing pain of coming up with the gift ideas, providing them with quick and good for your soul option instead, but I failed to think that not everyone might feel the same way I do about certain things. I was in fact making them do something, they might not be comfortable with and I also secretly placed my own value on participation in my campaign, which you should never do, it is like wanting someone to love you and then expecting them to do it in the very specific way and getting upset if they didn’t, just because someone doesn’t show there love the way it is in your head doesn’t mean they don’t love you.
My birthday came and it was wonderful and I was showered with flowers and love from my friends donations or not. I saw how much I meant to them and it was amazing.
The birthday came and gone and I was still way under the campaign goal and a little upset, like I am bringing people down and then something amazing happened - one of my friends was passing on belated birthday wishes and she mentioned that donating to campaign made her feel so good, she decided to sign up for a monthly donations. This meant a world to me! To know what something I started made an effect on at least one person, made them motivated and got involved, that validated the whole experience to me, goal reached or not and this gave me an answer to the question I was faced with at the very beginning. “Why are you doing this?” - because if I can make a small difference in people’s lives I want to give it a shot and if I can make a small impact on someone’s heart, well this is just an icing on a cake. I know that in a grand scheme of things - one person is just a drop, but so many things starts with just one drop.
Week after my birthday another amazing thing happened - people I’ve only met in my life handful of times, and even relatively unknown people saw my many, probably annoying, FB/IG posts and pitched in, finally pushing me OVER my campaign goal and it felt amazing! Now thanks to my incredible friends, who handle me in my many states and go along with my many weird ideas, thanks to kindhearted acquaintances and even incredible strangers - 13 people will have an access to clean drinking water. This means 13 happy people plus super happy me.
Fundraising on any scale is hard and I have learned many things about myself doing this, I am so happy and grateful for every donation. I am sorry for such a long long post, but I wanted to explain my point of view and why I do, what I do and I hope it came across.
I also hope this might inspire you to get involved in any way you wish.
My charity water campaign is still active and will be for some time, I couldn’t figure out how to change campaign length for the life of me, but the more happy people - the better it is, so feel free to join in - my.charitywater.org/dinara-chetyrova/birthday-wish. No donation is small, you know my views on significance of drops.
If you wish to donate your time instead, you can join me in volunteering. More on how to volunteer in NYC here - www.dinarachetyrova.com/blog/it-is-the-season-for-caring
If you read this far - thank you and
Happy clean water drinking