International travel for many years has felt unobtainable on my aging-millennial budget. Between rent, Navient, and groceries, I find myself tapped out every month and buying a roundtrip ticket abroad never seems to be in the cards. Well, thank goodness for manifestation because a significant opportunity came at the right time and I hit the ground running.
My best friend, Christina, who is the epitome of a world traveler, asked if I would join her and others in Barcelona, Spain for her birthday. I said, "Yes" and began connecting the dots of obtaining my passport, room & board, and other international travel necessities. Before I knew it, I was heading to the airport for my flight to Europe.
Traveling there was very interesting as I did not have a direct flight. I flew from Atlanta to Newark. When I arrive, I am told by staff since my trip was going across the border, and the 1st airline did not support the second, I have to exit the terminal and go through security again. I am mildly annoyed, but still grateful for the experience. Once entering the international terminal, I recognize a couple of things:
1. Where are the black folks?
There are a total of 4 other melanin sufficient individuals at the gate, and it is a full flight. Mind you, we are heading to Dublin. I am aware that international travel is a luxury and experience, that I am having for the first time, so it is no surprise that I do not see many other "me's" in the room. I would not care, regularly, but I was targeted at the TSA gate and given the additional search that includes the hand-sample, so I am a little sensitive to everything, especially race.
2. The Wire
While waiting for boarding time, I see two cops and what appears to be a drug-dog, walking around sniffing everybody. Now, this seems to make sense because we are crossing borders but once again, this is my first international trip. I am just ready to get on the flight and get out of the country.
Once boarding my flight, Aer Lingus made up for everything I experienced in the past few hours. Long trips are clutch for quite a few reasons: Meals, Snacks, Drinks, Free Movies, Games, Blankets, and Pillows. I landed in Dublin, Ireland in a great mood.
The Dublin airport is a traveler's dream. First, I am greeted by an agent, asking if I needed help finding my way. She directs me to the correct line to get to my gate. The infrastructure of the terminal is stunning and very modern, with automated facilities and accommodations. I an only in this airport for less than an hour but enamored by the customer service and how efficiently I am heading to my connecting flight. I want to visit Dublin on this experience alone.
My final connection leads me into Barcelona; I am exhausted and confident I will sleep during the two-hour duration. To my joy, the plane is empty, and I have an entire row to myself. Thank you, Ireland.
I wake up just before landing in Barcelona, and the overlook is gorgeous, snowcapped mountains just before the colorful Spanish architecture. In this very moment, I tap into the cheerful emotions that I am in Spain and this is no longer a dream but a reality. I eagerly grab my carry-on—I did not check any luggage— and head for the customs line.
I, admittedly, get lost for an hour in the airport trying to find the correct shuttle to take me to my Airbnb in Placå Catalunya. I arrive in front of H10 Cubik, the hotel where my friends are staying. My place is a 10-minute walk from there. The haste of the area on a Saturday afternoon is impressive; there is no lack of opportunities to shop and eat.
I find my Airbnb and greeted by Ana and Fran, the couple whom I am renting my room for my stay. I fall in love with the home that has the feel of Barcelona I was hoping to achieve. In their home, I have my wing with a bathroom, living room, and bedroom. I shower and nap for about an hour before hitting the city and learning about the surrounding culture of Barcelona.
Being vegan can undoubtedly be a challenge when traveling and even a source of anxiety, when looking for the next meal. Barcelona has excellent selections for vegetarian/dairy-free cuisines. My highlights are the Paella de Verduras (Vegetable Paella) from La Cuina De Laietana, Samosa Momo & Chilli Soya from Veggie Garden, and the Melanzane Pizza from Flax & Kale.
The Art of Antoni Gaudi is most significant in Barcelona. From the monuments of Park Guell to the Basilica Sagrada Familia, only the human eye can capture the detail, beauty, and grandness of his art and structures. One of my most significant challenges was taking photos that could reveal the merit of every item.
Another memorable attraction was the hour train ride into Girona, Spain. My friends and I went on a self-guided tour of places where "Game of Thrones" is filmed. We even met a fellow American, whom I shared the same birthday and photography interest.
Just walking the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona provided much for my tourist's eye. From the cathedrals, shops, restaurants, and hotels, one can take in the beauty and uniqueness of Spain.
After four full days in the city, I managed to do everything I could've imagined for my first time abroad. I was very adventurous and wasn't afraid to walk the streets, talk to natives, and take in the culture. I quickly learned that most locals mind their business unless you engage with him. Tipping also isn't customary in Europe, as many in the service industry make a living wage. It was quite the experience.
I also made it a point to frequently go to the highly populated gay area, Eixample, coined as "gayxample". I sat in several bars and held conversations to learn the best nightclubs to attend for the evening.
From my Airbnb, the local attractions, the locals, and the delicious cuisines, I fell in love with Europe and want to revisit and soon as I can. I think Amsterdam is next on my list!