First it was the ancient city of Athens, then it was off to the paradise island of Santorini. Next: Paris, the City of Light and Love. Finally, one week, two countries, and three cities later, it was off to the last destination of my global journey: Barcelona, Spain.
Feeling like a competitor on The Amazing Race, I left Paris on a dreary and cold Friday morning feeling both tired and anxious. Yet despite the gloomy conditions, the outlook was bright: the weather forecast for Barcelona promised clear skies, plenty of sun, and temperatures nearing sixty degrees. After two amazing, but cold, days in Paris, it was fitting that I conclude my break in a city with sun and sand.
When I touched down in the Spanish city, my expectations were duly met. Squinting from the bright sunlight, my sunglasses remained a constant fixture on my face throughout the taxi ride to our hostel. The location of our accommodations was wonderful; plenty of shops and restaurants nearby and only a short ten-minute walk to the nearest metro station. The weather was also my first hint of spring while in Europe, thereby adding to the enjoyment of the trip’s final leg.
Unlike the antiquated setting of Greece and the old world feel of Paris, the atmosphere of Barcelona was a sharp contrast. The city is extraordinarily modern, hip, lively, and cultured. It is a diverse mix of architectural extravagance, high fashion, and spirituality. The people on the streets walk with an air of confidence that is neither arrogant nor high and mighty. The younger crowd speaks eloquently in the Catalonian language while wearing the latest trends in global fashion, while members of the older generation walk arm in arm with their partners and people-watch from local cafes as the sidewalks buzz with activity. A mix of young, old, modernity, and classicism, Barcelona has a character all its own.
Despite the fact that the time in Paris combined so much walking and multiple museums stops, there was no excuse not to do the same when in a city like Barcelona. On the first evening in Spain, my group and I took the metro, a funicular, and a cable car up to a castle overlooking the city. From there, we could see for miles. The blue of the Mediterranean Sea sparkled in the sunlight as sailboats and cruise ships docked along the ports, and a slight hint of salt permeated the air. Spires of the city’s cathedral and other architectural marvels, including the Olympic Stadium, peaked in the skyline. Palm trees lined the city streets as taxis and buses lined up in traffic. Had we not had a 7:15 reservation for a flamenco show, I could have spent hours perched on the grass marveling at the city.
Now, besides my Zumba classes in which I learned different dance moves like the samba, mambo, and cha-cha, my knowledge about dance is very limited. With the promise of guaranteed amusement and excitement, a flamenco performance became one of our must-sees on our Barcelona to-do list. Though we got slightly lost and nearly missed our reservation, we were not disappointed by the show. Flamenco is a centuries old dance tradition that was often performed in the palaces of the Spanish kings and queens. The rhythm is incredibly vivacious and spirited, and the choreography is quick to match the beats of the accompanying guitar and castanets. The performers we watched were incredible; every move made me want to get up and move my body to the music. Dancing in spectacular costumes and swinging their hips to the music, the women were especially engaging. For a two-hour show and a glass of Sangria, the price of admission made the first night in Barcelona an ideal introduction to the city.
On the final full day of our vacation, our itinerary was packed with things to see, mainly of which was based around seeing the creations of the famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí is renown in Barcelona for his unique art nouveau style of architecture. Upon viewing his works, one might wonder what exactly was going on in his mind during the creative process. Like other great artists and thinkers, such as Caravaggio, Einstein, and van Gogh, clearly there was something very different about Gaudí’s way of thinking. Moreover, like such revolutionaries, Gaudí was committed to his art. An example of his commitment can be observed in the majesty of La Segrada Famiglia, a Catholic church in the city. Begun in the 1880s, the church today remains unfinished because Gaudí was killed by a tram in 1896 before its completion. Mosaics and stained-glass windows brighten the interior of the church, and the various sized columns are consciously arranged to mimic the irregularity of trees in a forest. Outside, snakes, lizards, turtles, and other animals continue the theme of nature as symbolic of divinity’s relationship with both the human and natural worlds. Scaffolding also dominates the exterior as work today continues the execution of Gaudí’s original plans. Estimated completion: 2026.
Further evidence of Gaudí’s genius, or madness, can be seen by visiting different houses of his handiwork within in the city. No detail remained too small to warrant Gaudí’s attention. Everything from the handrails to the doorknobs garnered the architect’s focus during the construction process. The man was a true workaholic, but his works speak to his greatness.
Unfortunately after a week’s worth of extensive picture taking, my camera battery finally gave way mid-afternoon on my day in Barcelona. Although I have no pictures to show for it, my trip to a local park designed by Gaudí and my midnight stroll on the beach will forever stay in memory.
I could not conclude my experiences in Barcelona without mentioning the wonders that is the city’s cuisine. The gastronomic culture of the city is unique in that Starbucks (and Dunkin Donuts!) and McDonald’s compete for space with more traditional restaurants preparing Spanish fare. Most restaurants are tapas bars that offer diners a diverse array of dishes to choose from and share among the table. The city’s location also enhances many menus with fish caught locally from the sea. The Spanish dish of paella, referring not to the ingredients but the pot it is cooked in, is a traditional plate combining rice with various proteins, such as chicken, sausage or seafood. Selections of Spanish ham, cheeses, and other meats like kielbasa and chorizo remain menu staples.
Barcelona was unlike any of the other cities I visited during my spring break. In a city that does not eat dinner until ten o’clock at the earliest, one might wonder when its people ever sleep. Yet, at all times of the day, its citizenry remain just as warm as the temperature, revealing an energy and fervor that is intoxicating to visitors. I said before that I fell in love with Paris, but I might have also found a Spanish lover in the capital of Catalonia.