Explore v. Sleep: Barcelona

Originally posted at Pho Across America.

Recently, I picked up a trip with a twenty-four hour layover in Barcelona. Trips like this are a great way to see new places, but are challenging because you just don’t have much time. You’re tired from working all night, so you want to sleep when you arrive…but you don’t want to waste your limited time in a new city! So you have to decide which is more important: sleeping or exploring?

barcelona cover

In my case, the main thing I wanted to see was La Sagrada Familia, and I was advised to go as early as possible to avoid the queue. Once we arrived at the hotel, I hit the ground running and headed out right after a quick rinse and change. Unfortunately, I took quite a few wrong turns on the way, so I got there later than I’d hoped.

La Sagrada Familia is the city’s famous perpetually unfinished church, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. Construction began in 1882 and continues to this day, as it was interrupted by Gaudi’s death in 1926, funding issues, and the Spanish Civil War. Even unfinished, it’s an incredible piece of Gothic architecture. Supposedly, it’ll finally be completed in 2026 – 100 years after Gaudi’s passing.

I highly recommend making a reservation on their website – it’s the same price you’d pay there, but you can pick the time you want to go and skip the wait. If you take your chances as I did and walk up, the next available entrance may be three hours later. Making a reservation is simply more efficient, especially if you’re short on time. I didn’t know too much about it, so I missed out on seeing the interior. Another crewmember showed me pictures though, and they were beautiful. The cathedral has ceilings 100 feet high, and remarkable stained glass that produces an ethereal light – it sounded amazing.

sagrada1 sagrada3

Without that nap, I quickly grew tired. It didn’t help that I kept getting lost, even though I was constantly looking at my map! Somehow Diagonal Avenue messed me up every time I crossed it – I’d look at my map and think, “okay, I do not want to be on Diagonal” and sure enough, five minutes later I’d realize I was once again following Diagonal. On the plus side, I saw some lovely buildings and treated myself to churros y chocolate in a cafe.

building1 building2 building3 churros y chocolate

When I finally returned to the hotel, I took a well-deserved nap. I set my alarm in the hopes of meeting some other crewmembers at 3, but still felt exhausted when it went rang. I went back to sleep. And then I woke up at 5! In the battle between sleep and exploration, sleep was dominating my whole layover. How much time did I lose? I rushed to get back out there and see more of Barcelona on this beautiful day.

building6 building5 building4 art statue torre agbar

I’d planned to meet up with more crew members at 6:30 for tapas on the hotel terrace, so I was determined to cram in a couple of sights before that time. With a few more wrong turns, I walked over to the Arc de Triomf and the beautiful Ciutadella Park behind it.


arc3arc2arc4ciutadella park

It took me so long to get over there (since I apparently have no sense of direction) that I decided to take the metro back to the hotel. But from that time on, it was party party party. One of the pilots bought me a glass of sangria, and we snacked on meat, cheese, and bread. Then we went for dinner at a nearby restaurant called 336, where they have a fixed price dinner for 27 euros, and it includes champagne to start, a variety of tapas, red wine, an entree per person, sangria, dessert, and even after-dinner drinks! It was an amazing dinner, and very Spanish. I drank a lot of sangria and feasted on things like good bread with fresh tomatoes and garlic, shrimp, octopus, and creme brulee.


It’s hard to get a lot done in a limited amount of time. I probably should have taken a nap right when I got in, should have made a reservation at La Sagrada Familia, and should have gotten a ticket for the hop-on, hop-off bus if I wanted to see as many things as possible. But I hate should haves. I don’t think I need to regret anything. I got a feel for the city, I got lost in the city, I saw the most important landmark at least from the outside, and I had an amazing free dinner (thanks pilots!). So what if I didn’t handle my layover perfectly?

There really is no room for regret, especially when you don’t know how things would have turned out otherwise. For example, I felt bad that I was too tired to walk around the city with a couple of crewmembers, but at the end of the trip, one of them told me I was really lucky that I wasn’t there. Apparently the other crewmember was yelling some strange things on the Barcelona streets…So you just never know, and I continue to hate “should have.” But next time, I’ll definitely get inside La Sagrada Familia, and finally check out Barcelona’s beautiful beach!

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