Every two years or so, my organization holds a World Staff Conference (WSC), bringing together staff from all of our 15 offices that are located around the world. Our most recent WSC was this year in late August in Barcelona, Spain! For this trip, I also brought along my mom for a vacation after the conference was done and my friend Jodi, who was also attending the conference as a consultant, also joined us for a few extra days. As usual with my travel journals I have split up my blog posts in a way that made most sense to this particular trip. Enjoy!
Since we decided that we were flying in and out of Barcelona and had plenty on our to-do list there, we decided to not travel elsewhere in Spain or Europe overnight. But I knew I wanted to get out of the city at least once and booking this day trip allowed us to do that! I have used Viator for booking tours/excursions in three countries now and highly recommend utilizing it when trip planning! This full-day trip included being picked up and dropped off right at the front door of our VRBO, transportation in a passenger van, a personal tour guide for our small group (the three of us plus five other people) and a meal at a restaurant where reservations were made for us in advance. Going this route allowed us to pack a lot more in to a single day and not deal with the stress of figuring out all of the logistics, meaning we probably did things that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Plus our tour guide was very knowledgeable and you could tell that he genuinely enjoyed his job. I unfortunately had a head cold forming on this day, so I thought our tour guide was a little annoying and over the top, but Jodi and Mom thought that he was great.
Our first stop for the day was in Girona, which was a little over an hour drive from Barcelona in the Catalonia region. Personally, I was really invested in getting to Girona on our trip because several scenes throughout Game of Thrones Season 6 were filmed here, including the exteriors of the Sept of Baelor, and parts of Kings Landing, Old Town and Bravos. When I was looking up tour options, there were several that focused exclusively on Game of Thrones, but since Mom and Jodi hadn’t watched it and I wanted more than just that, this was a great option for us.
It was a beautiful morning there for us and relatively pretty quiet and not crowded.
The River Onyar
Right as you cross the river and into the historic part of the city, there is this pillar with a lioness at the top (if you ask me it looks like a sloth). The legend is that if you visit Girona, you have to kiss the bottom if you what to visit again. No one who knows me should be surprised that I was not a fan of playing along, but Mom took one for the team.
The Girona Cathedral was used for the closeup exteriors for the Sept of Baelor in Season 6. So think about when Margery is about to do her walk of atonement and Jamie rides his horse up the stairs. I’ve always been super interested in behind the scenes stuff from television and movies that I watch so this was pretty cool.
This is the view looking the other direction from the steps. In Game of Thrones it is not a a small enclosed court yard but instead opens up to space for a large crowd and a view of the sea. Technology is pretty cool.
Girona Cathedral facade
Side entrance of the Girona Cathedral.
Backside of the Girona Cathedral.
The Passeig de la Muralla is a medieval wall with walkways along the eastern border of the city that also has amazing views. We didn’t walk along the walk but we did pop up on top one of the towers to catch the view.
The Girona Cathedral was the only specific set from Game of Thrones that the tour guide pointed out and spent time talking about. Before the tour I looked up what some of the other specific locations were and I am pretty sure that this staircase above is from the opening scene in Season 6 where Arya is blind and begging. Other than that I don’t think we walked by any others that were distinct enough to spot without the dressings of a set.
Its Jewish Quarter, is known as one of the best preserved in the world. The area, “El Call,” is a maze of several narrow, cobblestone walkways and staircases.
Neoclassical building facade in the Placa de la Independencia, a 19th century square in the Mercadal district.
OK, that’s a wrap for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with Part Two of this fun day trip.
And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:
Oh hey there blog, my old friend. It’s been a while. I’ve been focused on other things in 2019, but after an amazing trip to Spain for both work and vacation, I decided it was time to dust things off and share. Never mind that its three months after the trip took place… hey, its been a full season for me!
Every two years or so, my organization holds a World Staff Conference (WSC), bringing together staff from all of our 15 offices that are located around the world. Our most recent WSC was this year in late August in Barcelona, Spain! For this trip, I also brought along my mom for a vacation after the conference was done. As usual with my travel journals I have split up my blog posts in a way that made most sense to this particular trip. Enjoy!
For my first post, I just want to share a little about the trip overall and my work conference, which also gives me the opportunity to share some of my “random” photos, meaning those that don’t really fall into their own specific post 🙂
Overall, we loved Barcelona! It was a great location for a conference, which went really well. With so many colleagues around the world that I connect with frequently over email, I always love reconnecting with everyone all together in-person. The opportunity to regroup and refocus is extremely important for us, as is just getting to know each other better and enjoy each other’s company. In the Communications Department we are working on a really fun campaign for our 40th anniversary in 2020, so we also brought along some friends from our creative agency so they could meet more of our staff and get a closer look at what USW is all about. This included my friend Jodi, who is a consultant for the agency. I first met Jodi when I worked for Kansas Pork right out of college and am so happy that we have been able to reconnect recently. Jodi also joined my Mom and I for a few days of vacation.
A few thoughts and memories about our overall experience…
Leading up to the trip, I don’t think anyone I spoke to had anything bad to say about their own experiences in Barcelona. From things we read online there was some concern about pick-pocketing, theft, etc. We witnessed the aftermath of someone realizing they had been pick-pocketed once and there was one time that we felt a little uneasy while we were sitting for a long time waiting for an outdoor show, but overall we followed all of the standard safety tips and tricks, and felt really safe.
Neither my Mom or I speak Spanish, just a few common phrases here and there, but we did not have any trouble overall with the language barrier.
For the conference we were obviously at a hotel, but for the vacation part of the trip we booked rental through VRBO, and other than an early morning that involved me yelling at the washer and dryer that we couldn’t figure out… we were so happy with our choice! I did a lot of research on location and rental options and chose an adorable little studio apartment that was very central to a lot of what we wanted to visit, including the La Sagrada Familia, which was just two blocks away. In my opinion, VRBO and AirBnb is the way to go, at least in Europe. It was very affordable for what we got and just gave us the space to spread out and relax a bit more than a standard hotel allows.
Barcelona was very walk-able (granted we really like to walk) and really easy to navigate. At first I used a paper map of the city that I snagged from my conference hotel and then just used Google Maps on my phone once I go the general idea of the city’s layout. Before leaving I had done my research on using the city’s Metro but we never ended up feeling like we needed it. There are also taxis on virtually EVERY corner, so whenever we were in a time crunch or tired of walking we hopped in one for pretty cheap.
This might be an unpopular opinion, or maybe I just didn’t go to the right places (I promise we mostly ate at non-tourist trap places), but I was a little underwhelmed by the food, especially how excited I was for all the tapas. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still probably give it a B+ overall, but I felt like our choices quickly became repetitive and I only had 3 or 4 meals that I was still thinking about well after the fact.
I think we were there at a good time of year. The weather was great and we felt like the crowds weren’t too bad most of the time.
I had read quite a bit about the fact that before the Summer Olympics came to Barcelona in 1992, the city wasn’t a huge tourist destination. But then afterward it became one of the top European destinations and there has been influxes of anti-tourism movements over the years. Obviously I can’t speak to a local’s perspective of the impact of tourism but I thought Barcelona was a very clean and friendly city that is very proud of its history and culture. I loved learning that because of Barcelona’s unique location, the area’s specific micro-culture, including religion, food, architecture and more, is the result of a variety of influences from other parts Western Europe and North Africa.
This last comment will be very specific to my mom and I, but last year around this same time we were on a family vacation to Italy where we were hopping from city to city every 1 to 3 days. For OBVIOUS reasons, staying in one city for 11 days creates a much different experience because we had more time to relax and really get to know Barcelona. I don’t know that either of us would say that we prefer one experience over the other, because they were both amazing trips and different in other ways besides timing. For me, I think it just made me appreciate both experiences a bit more… and definitely makes me want to go back to Italy and take more time on some of my favorite parts of that trip.
This was our best meal! Ciudad Condal came highly recommended by many so we decided to let the waiter to bring out what he thought was best for the group. I definitely tried some strange things that I wasn’t a fan of but this was such a fun evening together.
Las Ramblas is Barcelona’s main strip through the city. A lot of my research told me to just avoid it since it is tourist central, but we actually really enjoyed it.
So many of the streets in Barcelona are split down the middle with a center island, which definitely helps with foot traffic congestion. Most of the restaurants on those type of streets actually have the majority of their seating out on these islands which I really enjoyed because it made people watching super easy.
Since the conference had people coming in from all parts of the world, some of us arrived a day or so earlier than others. For those early arrivals, we had the opportunity to take a half-day trip out of the city to the Jean Leon Winery where we learned about its history, experienced Spanish wine country and of course did a tasting!
At the main building they had a small plot that featured a different type of grape in each row and we were allowed to go through and pick and eat them. As a wine lover and an ag kid, it was fun to compare each one with what I know the final product to taste like and apply some of what I learned in a class in college about viticulture.
This indoor, food court of sorts, El Nacional, was just two blocks from where we stayed for the conference. We went here with a large group for lunch one day, but thought it was so pretty that we returned later for a snack and more time to just walk around.
“Pan con tomate” is frequently served with meals here or included as an appetizer on the menu, which I was a big fan of. However, this was the one and only time that it was served to us not prepped and ready to eat. So of course I was THAT TOURIST that did it wrong… I started slicing up one of the tomatoes (with a butter knife haha) so I could eat pieces of it with the bread, but the waiter quickly came over and kind of scolded me before he explained that you cut the tomato in half and then squeeze and scrape the tomato across the bread, and finish with drizzling oil and salt over the top. Lesson learned, be better than me friends 🙂
I try to visit local markets in every country I travel to, and after visiting an amazing flower market in Thailand, I’ve tried to visit markets with flowers if I can find one. (Note: in case you are new or somehow don’t know this about me — my family has owned a flower shop for 30+ years.) So for this trip I did some research and really thought I found one with flowers, but instead it was just a really large flower shop that was a block away from the actual market. Regardless, my mom loved it, and it was both fun and slightly embarrassing to watch her observe the differences to floral arrangements in the United States and then proceed to take pictures of everything when we really probably weren’t supposed to.
I didn’t include any of the photos because they all were pretty dark, but my mom and I also spent a few hours at the Aquarium Barcelona. It was on our last afternoon and we were pretty tired and decided that a visit there would be a bit more relaxed than some of our other options. It might seem like a super typical tourist thing to do or more for families with small children, but we really enjoyed it. It has the only Oceanarium and the largest collection Mediterranean sea life in Europe. It also randomly has a penguin exhibit which I made my Mom sit and watch with me for way longer than a 28 year old should probably want to 🙂
Ok, that’s it for my random intro post, though I am sure as I work my way through the rest of my planned post I am going to think of other notes to add to this post about our overall trip. I’ll be back tomorrow with Part One of a fun day trip we took out of the city and up the Costa Brava.
And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts: