First of all, I want to wish a very happy birthday to my mother. Although I can’t be with you today, you are always in my thoughts. I hope this blog post will suit as a birthday present until I return home. I love you, and happy birthday.
Our trip to Barcelona came about mainly out of convenience. It was much less expensive to fly through Barcelona to London than directly from Rome. It turned out as a perfect end to a truly fantastic trip. In Rome, there were so many things that Hannah and I wanted to see, and we never stopped running about to pack it all into three days. Barcelona was a relief because there were not a lot of sights we were obliged to see there. We actually had the opportunity to relax, move at our own pace, and enjoy our vacation.
After another 6:00 AM flight from Rome to Barcelona, our first priority was finding our hostel and taking a nap. As usual, finding the hostel was easier said than done. We must have looked exceptionally dazed and confused when we stepped out of the train station, because a Spanish couple actually stopped us to give us directions, for which we were truly grateful. The Aubergine Youth Hostel was outside the touristy city center, a fact which we would appreciate at night when we desired quiet. After a quick nap, we followed the front desk’s recommendation for food. We dined on nachos (yes, I realize they are a Mexican dish, something we had trouble distinguishing on this trip) and paella, a traditional rice stir fry. Refreshed and revitalized, we took the metro into the city center (unlike Rome, we took full advantage of the metro system in Barcelona).
One of the few sights on our list to see in Barcelona was la Sagrada Familia, a Catholic basilica. Whenever we asked friends and fellow travelers what we should see in Barcelona, they all mentioned la Sagrada Familia. This church, designed by Antoni Gaudi, is the paragon of modernist architecture. Construction started in 1882, and is projected to be completed in 2026. The basilica is truly a marvel to behold, both on the outside and the inside. When we first approached the church, it reminded me of the dribble castles Dad and I used to make on the beach. The exterior is elaborately curved, with multiple slender towers rising above the structure. We were able to keep ourselves entertained waiting in the sizable line to enter just staring at the walls. The inside, however, is what really blew me away. Gaudi said he wanted the inside to resemble a forest. I completely understood his concept when we stepped inside. Columns rose from the ground all the way up to the vaulted ceiling, as is typical of cathedrals. What set la Sagrada Familia apart was that the columns split near the top, literally branching out to support the roof. The sheer size of the interior was breathtaking, but unlike other monumentally large churches we have visited (e.g. Cologne Cathedral and St. Peter’s Basilica), la Sagrada Familia maintained a lightness and softness that others lose to cavernous darkness. It still commanded solemnity as a place of worship, but the entire interior was filled with a buoyant light. Personally, my favorite feature was the stained glass. Rather than depicting religious figures or events, the stained glass windows created a mosaic effect in a rainbow of colors. As we spent more time in Barcelona, we discovered that the colorful mosaic pattern recurred throughout the city. Gaudi’s borderline gaudy use of color is so quintessentially Barcelona, and distinguishes it from other cities in Europe.
After leaving la Sagrada Familia, we headed over to the next suggested stop; the Picasso Museum. Apparently Picasso spent a good deal of his youth in Barcelona developing his craft. The museum contained examples from all different points in his life, including his blue period (my favorite). I don’t always have much patience for art museums, but this one was the perfect size, and had helpful information printed on the walls narrating Picasso’s life and the evolution of his work. I learned a lot about Picasso, and that he is much more than abstract doodles on canvas.
The next day, we awakened to discover a sunny, 80 degree day outside. We took advantage of the beautiful weather and went to the beach. The sheer bliss of sunning ourselves after two months in London is indescribable. My only regret is that we did not bring bathing suits, so we couldn’t go swimming in the Mediterranean. I went in up to my knees, and the Mediterranean in late October is far warmer than the Atlantic in August. After a few hours, we tore ourselves away and walked along the Los Ramblas, a pedestrian street lined with shops and restaurants. We then set out for Park Guell, a well-known park featuring many buildings designed by Gaudi. We did not anticipate the climb it would take to get there. The park is located on the top of a very steep hill, and our sore quads were feeling it when we began the ascent. Thankfully, the Europeans have fully embraced the concept of outdoor escalators, and were able to glide part of the way up. The view once we reached the top was completely worth the sore feet. We could see all of Barcelona laid out below us, including la Sagrada Familia. The fact that I am actually in Europe always strikes me when I am looking out over a spectacular view, and I was blown away that I was actually in Barcelona.
After leaving Park Guell, we headed back to the hostel to rinse off the sand and get ready for dinner. We decided to try an authentic Spanish dinner, so we didn’t leave until 8:00 to start bar hopping in search of tapas (appetizers). As I’ve said earlier, our hostel was located outside the touristy area of the city, which was great for our wallets, but it also meant that not as many people spoke English. The bar we went into for dinner had one waitress who spoke English, and she was not very fluent. We ended up staring at a menu in Spanish with no idea of what anything was, or anyone to ask to translate. Eventually, we just ordered two sampler plates with no idea what we would receive. Thankfully, neither of us has any allergies, and Europe has efficiently cured me of any picky-eating habits. We somehow communicated to our waitress our order, and ordered a pitcher of sangria for the two of us. When we received our tapas, we were pleased to find that everything was delicious. My plate included garlic grilled peppers (which petrified me until Hannah assured me that they weren’t spicy), potato omelette, fried eggplant, meatballs, and pieces of spicy sausage. We had a great night, trying each other’s tapas, getting fairly tipsy off of sangria (it was a very big pitcher, but we couldn’t let it go to waste), and just enjoying our last night in Barcelona. I wish we could have stayed out later, but we had to catch a 3:00 am bus to the airport. We raised many a glass to Barcelona to say “gracias” for a great trip.
Even though Barcelona was just a bonus to our trip, it became a whole lot more. The city has a fantastic rhythm and beat to it that sets it apart other places we’ve visited. We saw a dance party break out on the Los Ramblas, with locals and tourists joining together to dance to the music being played by a street band. I was hesitant to jump right in the middle, as we were warned about pickpockets in Barcelona, but Hannah and I danced by ourselves on the outside and watched the insanity in the middle. Any city that has random dance parties in the street is my kind of city. Although I’ve only been able to get a taste of many places, it has only whetted my appetite more to return one day and get the full experience. The people take so much pride in their city, which is always a pleasure to see. God forbid you imply that Barcelona is in Spain instead of Catalunya, or mispronounce a word in Catalan (hence the “c” sound being pronounced as “th”). Seeing all the people taking such pride in their heritage makes me proud of my own homeland, as well as my European roots. Adios for now, and happy birthday again, Mom!