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Region: Europe, Spain Travel time: 2009, October 12th to October 15th
My journey to Spain marked the beginning of a new era: Couchsurfing. I joined the community two weeks before my trip to Barcelona and Mallorca in October 2009 and got addicted to it ever since. This post will not only cover my experiences in Spain, but also give some general insights into Couchsurfing.
I was very glad to be jetting off to the south, as it was a very rainy period of the year in Frankfurt and the weather forecast for Barcelona looked much better. Prior to the trip, I got in touch with a few couchsurfers and asked them if I could crash in for a couple of nights. As my profile was brand new and I only had 2 references, it was not easy to find a proper place. But in the end I found a host: Mabel from Peru. She just moved to Barcelona to start her studies and I was her first guest - perfect timing! :-)
I believe empty profiles can sometimes deter potential hosts as they would prefer to host someone who has already received positive feedback. I personally do not follow this procedure and as long as the surfer seems to be a nice human being, I’ll give them a chance to start their couchsurfer career, even if they don’t have any references at the time. At the end of the day, everyone has to start from scratch.Sitting, Waiting, Wishing..
I arrived pretty late at the Main train station in Barcelona without any plans, waiting for Mabel to pick me up. As the minutes passed by, I asked myself if it was right to visit a foreign city and meet up with someone you don't even know? I couldn't reach her on the number she provided and after 45 minutes of waiting, I started to formulate alternative plans... should I wait longer or start looking for a cheap hostel?
I decided to get going 15 minutes later and it was then when Mabel finally reached me. I was very relieved and we decided to meet up at a Metro station close to her place. Since it was not so far away, I decided to walk there, crossing the Arc de Triomf which apparently served as the location for a Couchsurfing meeting with a lot of young people dancing in the dark.
Eventually I met Mabel and we walked back to her place which she shared with a bunch of guys. I can still remember Mario very well, a nice guy who always had a smile on this face, even though he only understood about 10% of what I said :-) But aside from all the language barriers, you somehow manage to communicate with another person through reading their emotions and reactions.
We kept on talking deep into the night until it was finally time to sleep on my first couch at a stranger's place - located in the kitchen! Even though it might not look that comfortable, I had a very good sleep that night!
Using Couchsurfing for your trips requires that you don't expect a 5-star hotel room. Over the years, I’ve experienced sleeping on a lot of different couches and beds and though they may not look very nice sometimes, I always had a good nights sleep. You don't have to pay anything for it, so you should not be very demanding and you will also have a picture or at least a good description of the couch before you actually get there.
October 13th in Barcelona
I woke up with an incredibly good feeling, as the first thing my eyes could catch was the sun shining in through a tiny gap in the window. The boys headed to their universities and since Mabel had the following days off, she kindly offered me to show me the city. As we walked though the streets of Barcelona, we came by a group of people celebrating one of the typical Catalan Festes.
The next destination was Parc de la Ciutadella, an 70 acres wide green spot in the city and a very nice location to hang out for a while. The park also hosts the Zoo which we didn't visit though. Getting closer to the nice harbor of Barcelona, we decided to drop by at the Aquarium. I payed for Mabel's Entry Fee since I didn't bring any gifts from home but it turned out that the money was not well spend - missing the Aquarium is definitely something you can do.
Getting to the top of the Columbus Monument however is a must-do as it provides a good overview of the city. It is also the starting point of the 1.2km long street La Rambla, which is known for it's pickpocketing, so you should always take care of your belongings while walking the crowdy mall. Mabel had to leave at this point and I met up with Katrin, a German Couchsurfer living in Barcelona. She was also one of the people to deny my request as she only accepted females ;-)
We spent the following hours talking at the beach with the sun setting behind us. She told me a lot about her previous Couchsurfing experiences, which is always a fun thing to do with other Couchsurfers as most of them have some very funny stories to tell. As we were talking, we didn't realize that the waves were getting stronger and eventually a big one surprised us and caught Katrin's shoes :-)
Did you know? You can specify to only host males or females. This is especially useful for young ladies starting off on the site as most of them are afraid of "bad guys" who try to end up in bed with them. Even though I never had a "Couchsurfing-Affair", I can image that some people try to use the site as an easy way to date people. So far, only one female couchsurfer told me about a story where she felt harassed by a guy - you could image that it happens a lot more!
October 14th in Barcelona
Today was the day to see all the major tourist spots created by Antoni Gaudí. Everything he created looks so unique and special and seeing those sites live is one of the highlights in Barcelona. Using the Subway, you can directly head to Casa Milà & Casa Batlló, two houses created by the great architect. They already look really cool but once you start walking around, you'll soon discover the church Sagrada Família, which is the best known attraction of the city for a reason. Parc Güell comes in pretty close though in the ranking as it is also full of Gaudi-typical buildings and structures, plus it provides some very awesome view points to see the complete city and the beach behind it. I highly recommend to check out those!
Mario joined Mabel & me to spend the afternoon at the beach. We had some beers and met a guy who just caught an apparently highly venomous fish. He was pretty proud and posed for my picture :-) We hiked up the hill Montjuïc, which offers a fantastic sight over the city from it's fortress. It was already dark when we reached the top and the reflected lights of the city made the clouds look yellow - pretty cool sight!
As we walked back, my nose began to bleed again due to a small cold. This seems to happen to me quite often during vacations... It wasn't bad though and we could go on after a couple of minutes, passing the Olympic park and the 136m Communication tower which was build in 1992 to transmit television coverage of the 1992 Summer Olympics Games in Barcelona.
October 15th in Barcelona
We used the last day to check out the mountain Tibidabo (512m). Unfortunately it was very rainy and windy that day and we couldn't really enjoy the view up there. The amusement park located at the top of the mountain was also abandoned and only a few other people were walking around. We took some pictures, checked out the church and then headed back - it must be very beautiful up there during sunshine though!
Mabel had to leave me until the evening and I met up with Katrin again, who worked down in the city in a juice bar. On my way there, I checked out the market La Boqueria which offers everything you could ever imagine. After a short stop in the Pablo Picasso museum, I headed to Katrins' to drink some delicious fruit juices and say goodbye to her.
I finally got back to Mabel's place to have my last night in Barcelona - it has been a great way to spend the first half of my vacation and to have my first Couchsurfing experience!
Check out Part 2 for the rest of the trip on the Island Mallorca.