“Barcelona hotels have gotten ridiculously expensive,” said Rich, thumbing through his hotel-finding app as we planned the final night of our three-month railway journey. “But I have one that’s near the train station and quite reasonable.”
Hmmm. Convenient and cheap? What were the odds?
“Can I take a look?” I asked suspiciously. I was still trying to shake grisly memories of the Hotel due Mondi in Torino, Italy, which featured 1970s furniture dotted with cigarette burns, floor space approximately one foot larger than the bed, and an air conditioning system that had been turned off for the year despite daytime temperatures hovering near 90 degrees.
But when Rich showed me the online photos, the Ciutat del Prat Hotel appeared spacious, attractive and comfortable, for a price that was about half what others were charging. “Book it!” I said.
Our first inkling that something was wrong came when we arrived at the Barcelona Sans station and Googled the route to this “nearby” hotel. “Fifteen minutes by taxi!” Rich exclaimed. “Wait a minute. This thing’s out at the airport!” In fact, it turned out to be well past the airport, and as the cabby turned off the freeway, we found ourselves in an industrial zone full of auto dealerships, car part retailers, and a massive cement factory. The Ciutat del Prat was surrounded by empty sidewalks and silent streets; a few blocks away we could see a lone café umbrella with nobody sitting under it.
It’s easy to feel dejected on the last night of any trip, but this looked like a profoundly new low for us. The hotel was perfectly comfortable and even nicer than appeared online, but the location wasn't exactly inspiring. We checked in and decided without much enthusiasm that we might as well take a walk and see whatever meager sights the area had to offer. Rounding a corner, we found a few pedestrians, and soon we were surrounded by small clusters of people. Curiously, they were all walking in the same direction. Zombies? Stepford residents? Aliens pulled by a tractor beam? Obviously we had to investigate. We fell in among them, trying to blend.
Ten minutes later we found ourselves at the entrance of a spectacular fun fair, with bouncy castles, bumper cars, games of chance, death-defying rides, cotton candy, blaring music, and screams of laughter. The place was jammed, the air sizzling with excitement.
“So not quite as boring as we thought,” I said to Rich, grinning. And we plunged in.
It was a rousing finish to an amazing trip. We arrived back in Seville the next afternoon and immediately indulged our taste for dive bars by visiting one of our local favorites, Taberna Águilas, raising a glass and rejoicing in our safe arrival home.
That was Sunday, and now that we’ve had a few days to catch our breath, Rich has gotten busy tabulating the details of our trip.
One of the surprises was that we saved a lot of money by not using Eurail passes. Shortly before we set out, Rich sharpened his pencil and did the math. A Global Pass, which allows unlimited use (with occasional additional fees for overnight or high-speed trains) runs $1814 a month for two people. We figured we could do better, and as it turned out, we bought tickets individually and spent almost exactly that same amount, $1803, for our entire three months of train travel.
OUR TRIP BY THE NUMBERS
Days on the road: 91
Countries visited: 15
Cities/towns visited: 35
Distance walked: 500 miles / 805 km
Trains taken: 30
Buses taken: 4
Ferries taken: 3
Uber cars taken: 2
Taxis taken: 1
Distance covered by vehicles: 4409 miles / 7096 km
Total distance traveled (all vehicles plus walking): 4909 miles / 7596 km
Number of adventures: countless
So what’s next? Today is my 65th birthday, and I am taking a couple of weeks off to celebrate that milestone and the successful completion of our journey. After that I’ll be back to share some of the lessons we learned, describe adventures that I didn’t have room to include in the posts written on the road, and answer any questions you may have about travel, the expat experience, or the American obsession with dive bars and duct tape.
In the meantime, thanks for following along on the journey!
I'm an American travel writer currently living in California.
My weekly updates contain tips for keeping our mental equilibrium and living more authentically during these turbulent times.