The Drive to Barcelona

March 4, 2011
safety, spain, study abroad
Drive to Barcelona.

Perhaps the most common question I got when I told people I drove from France to Barcelona was, “Don’t they drive on the wrong side of the road over there?”

Although only British drivers (and former British colonies like Australia) use the left side of the road, I was still nervous about driving in a foreign country. Were the laws the same as in the U.S.? What did the blue signs mean? Would my Colorado driver license be valid?

Barcelona was a six hour drive from Pau, France, my study abroad destination. After much Internet research and interviewing my French host family, I determined that driving in Europe would not be a wildly dangerous idea. And due to the massive strikes that froze nearly all public transportation in France, renting a car seemed like the only option.

There were two prerequisites for renting a car. First, being over 21. And second, the ability to drive a manual transmission. Out of the six Americans going on the trip, I was the only one who fit both criteria. But I was determined to see Barcelona, so I volunteered to take the wheel.

On our first night, we enjoyed tapas, paella and Spanish wine in a crowded restaurant on the main street, La Rambla. We spent the next day touring architect Antoni Gaudi’s famous buildings and park

My courage was rewarded when we reached the Pyrénées mountain range. During the last week of October, this area was simply stunning. Red and gold trees blanketed the mountains, leaves shimmering as they swept across the road and dotted the foggy lakes. I enjoyed the famous architecture in Barcelona, but the majesty of the Pyrénées was something else entirely.

To my surprise, driving in Europe was not much different than driving in the U.S. I drove through the mountains and small towns without any problems, even in the freezing rain that started when we reentered France. Still, I’m relieved we had a GPS navigator and left the car at the Barcelona airport instead of driving it in the city. We took the train into town.

The Drive to Barcelona

Barcelona is the #1 pickpocketing capital of the world. From the moment we got on the train, I was clutching my bags tightly to my chest and watching everyone around me. I even wore a money necklace to keep all my money and passport safe. Luckily, we left Barcelona without anything missing. I’m not sure whether theft isn’t quite as bad anymore, or if our vigilance really did make a difference.

On our first night, we enjoyed tapas, paella and Spanish wine in a crowded restaurant on the main street, La Rambla. We spent the next day touring architect Antoni Gaudi’s famous buildings and park. His work is pure eye candy–curvy, colorful buildings covered in intricate mosaics. Finding these buildings in random places throughout the city felt like going on a treasure hunt.

It’s hard to name just one of Gaudi’s works as my favorite, but I loved our walk through Park Guell because it reminded me of a life-size Candyland game. Flute and guitar players filled the crowded place with fairy tale-like music, and mosaic benches lined the main courtyard.

The Drive to Barcelona

Casa Mila earns a close second to the Park as my favorite Gaudi destination. In addition to a Gaudi museum, tourists can also access the roof to see even more bizarre, beautiful architecture and 360-degree views of Barcelona. We arrived at sunset, and the pink and purple sky captivated me as it illuminated the white roof sculptures (which, as my friend pointed out, looked vaguely like Storm Troopers)..

I never thought I would miss fast food, but when your dining choices along the autoroute consist of sparse, run-down Spanish restaurants, you start dreaming about anything besides gas station chips and cookies.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to see everything in Barcelona. As it was a three-day weekend trip, we only had one full day of touring before we climbed in the minivan and headed back to France. And, because our return journey happened to be on All Saint’s Day, most restaurants and grocery stores were closed. My feet ached and my stomach whined for food by the time we dropped off the car. I never thought I would miss fast food, but when your dining choices along the autoroute consist of sparse, run-down Spanish restaurants, you start dreaming about anything besides gas station chips and cookies.

 

The Drive to Barcelona

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