Barcelona TGIF: Tapas, Gaudi, Internationalism, Finally!

Arc de Triomf - Barcelona, Spain
Arc de Triomf – Barcelona, Spain

IMG_1543Ask someone who’s visited Spain which city is their favorite, and you will get a multitude of answers. However, you will also get one fairly consistent response: Barcelona. In my mind, Barcelona seemed like a city about to erupt from strong hues of red and yellow and mixed with a gentle white, lacy trim. I imagined women in fancy dresses and men spinning them around while bands play flamenco on red-hued stages. I imagined the sky-high Sagrada Familia looming over the city, it’s baroque architecture seen from every which way. There would be tasty tapas served on street corners and I would get to partake in the well known afternoon siesta just because I was to be in the right place at the right time: why not?!

Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona, Spain

In reality, Barcelona is as much a melting pot as several larger American cities. In a few days there, I was able to meet handfuls of people who’d moved there from other countries to take advantage of all the city has to offer: Neighboring mountains, mazes of shop-laden streets, historical buildings, parks decorated in sculptures, beaches, live music, bikers, walkers, bus-takers, and my favorite: elderly couples enjoying the day by people-watching on benches throughout town. And yes, there were tapas on street corners. Very delicious ones at that.

After a trans-Atlantic flight, I landed in Barcelona around 8am local time. The luggage carousal went round and round and each time became more and more empty. Realizing my bag wasn’t one of the few left, I chased down an unwilling guard meanwhile calling out, “Perdón! Perdón!” Come on, help me lady! She kept walking with her nose sky high, but another guard came sauntering by, shaking his head and chuckling.
“Ella no le ayudará“ he said under his breath. She won’t help me? Why? “Sólo asiste a las personas que no son tan bonitas como ella” At that I laughed. Loud enough for her upward nose to turn in my direction.
“She only helps people that aren’t prettier than she is” Yes of course. Especially after a red eye flight, I had to be rocking those good looks. Matted hair, makeup-less face and wrinkled clothes. Straight off the runway.
For that, we will call him: Suavecito. Suave, smooth, and a warm welcome into Spanish culture.

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Suavecito helped me track down my bags to Atlanta. Atlanta is not even close to where they should have been. In fact, it’s quite far from Barcelona if you ask me. Yet, they were still in Atlanta and I was supposed to begin my journey through Barcelona’s 35 degree streets in pants and a sweater (planes are cold!).
“We’ll deliver them as soon as they arrive” Suavecito reassured me.
“Mañana, al mismo tiempo.”
Really, Suave? Really? At the same time tomorrow?
Yes.- No way to get them here faster? – No. Flights are once per day.
In its truest form, together we sighed “Hasta Mañana” and “Adios” to the upturned nose.

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A wifi-equipped bus transported me and several other travelers (and their bags!) to downtown Barcelona.
Scenes unfolded before me as I hiked north from the central bus stop toward Sagrada Familia, the large Roman Catholic Church designed by the city’s most famous architect. Young couples whizzed by on bicycles, boys peddling furiously and girls riding on the rear fender, sitting sideways with ankles crossed and toes pointed upward to prevent scraping the pavement. Parents chased children as children chased pigeons across a central park. Red ‘Hop on Hop Off’ buses blazed past with smiling tourists catching great views and lots of sun as they comfortably sat on the buses’ top decks. Buildings pressed tightly against each other like books on a shelf, each with a different cover on the outside and an equally unique story on the inside.

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Breaking Bad in Barcelona
Breaking Bad in Barcelona

Sagrada Familia came into view, its towering spires looming above surrounding trees and shops. Each spire represents a different persona from the Catholic Bible, and is decorated in association with each figure’s specific traits. There are several scenes carved deeply into the facade, depicting familiar scenes from the Bible. To many, Sagrada Familia is a landmark representative of Barcelona’s past, present and future.

Construction has been ever-present since the project began in 1826Pausing only in times of war, the task spanning nearly two centuries is set to end in 2028. What a site that will be, 202 years in the making! For now, you’ll be hard pressed to find an image of Sagrada Familia without either cranes or heavy photoshop reconstruction. These hard-working cranes have simply become one with the structure: a symbol of the Spaniards’ determination to bring to life a Master’s vision.

Sagrada Familia - Barcelona, Spain
Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

Nearing Sagrada Familia, I turned right down a narrow road lined with shade trees and wrought iron street lamps. A Mexican restaurant marked my final destination: home! Or close enough, as my home was to be across the street. I rang the bell and a kind voice answered. “Hola! Soy Anika!” I rang. Simple enough.

“Ah Anika! Bienvenido!” and with the welcome came a buzz of the door, which I quickly opened and sprang upstairs. The two-bedroom apartment I’d rented through AirBNB came fully stocked, British roommate and all. The rentee had waited all morning for me while I sorted out the baggage dilemma with Sauvecito. After a quick tour of the place, he handed over his keys and quickly ran to work. Luckily, bathroom, kitchen, living room and two bedrooms makes for a quick tour, and British Boy and I would have time to catch up with each other later.

Dropping off what few possessions that had made it to Spain with me was quite simple: laptop, electrical cords, and the complementary mess kit Delta provided me with for the inconvenience. (Anyone want a pair of airline socks? A 10-pack of Q tips?). After setting these belongings down, and a glance at the map I’d picked up at the airport and set off for a Barcelona hike-about.

The city sprawls far and wide, covered in shops, cafes, and historical sites. One could wander the streets for days and never cross the same intersection twice. The map provided a list of must-sees in the city. Sites included the city’s own Arc de Triomf, the bullet shaped skyscraper Torre Agbar, the historical Market del Born, and of course: Gaudi’s structures scattered throughout. Around every corner is a new treasure to be seen.

Market del Born, a tribute to Barcelona's original market of the same name and local, operating from 1878-1971
Market del Born, a tribute to Barcelona’s original market of the same name and local, operating from 1878-1971
Interior of Market del Born - Barcelona, Spain
Interior of Market del Born – Barcelona, Spain

As shops began to close, I realized perhaps a change of clothes would be helpful for a good night’s rest and fresh start the next morning. I quickly ducked into one with a large sign “Rebaja” and found a pair of shorts and t-shirt for the next day and a romper to use as pajamas. While there, I stopped to look at some locally-made postcards and found amongst them a photograph of a unique building. It appeared to be composed of several large iron blocks, stacked on top of one another, and swirled into chaos by strong winds. A quick exchange with the shop owner taught me that the building, named L’Estel Ferit (The Wounded Shooting Star) was in a beach side spot known as Barcelonita. She gave me directions and off I went.

Formally decor at a local seafood restaurant, this Lobster smiles down at Barcelona's corniche
Formally decor at a local seafood restaurant, this Lobster smiles down at Barcelona’s corniche

Barcelonita was buzzing with activity: rollerblades and bikes shared the corniche, groups grazed on tapas, and a glistening bronze sculpture of a lobster smiled down at passerby’s. Next to a yacht-filled bay sits the building block structure I’d seen in the postcard. Beach-goers lined the soft sand, squeezing into a space with the skills of a Master Tetris player. Above the seas, para sailers drifted freely as boats wove in and out of waves. I glanced at the building and at that point remembered I was no longer in the suburban beaches of Minneapolis. Besides the obvious differences between the two, these places were far different from one another in the beach regulations. Here in Barcelonita, tops were not required for anyone. And it wasn’t any big deal.
There we go, first I was taking photos of some wacky building I’d seen on a postcard (in the postcard, the beach was entirely free of people). Then I felt a bit ashamed of taken pictures which no doubt had topless women in them. I don’t believe it’s anything to fuss over, as this idea is merely a cultural difference; but it was the first time I’d been in a situation like that, and the pant-and-sweater wearing American in me felt a wee bit out of place.

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L’Estel Ferit, Barcelonita – Barcelona, Spain

Focusing instead on a game of beach volleyball and cute little kids on bicycles decorated in streamers, I walked toward a restaurant just off the main street. Instead of the traditional table and chair service, I was directed to sit perched on a windowsill, restaurant to my front, street to my back. It was a unique way to enjoy some legendary Spanish Tapas: Fresh bread spread with a light tomato paste, sardines, and my favorite in all its simplicity: olives. A mother-daughter duo sat next to me, and we spoke with the waiter about the wonders of Barcelona: city, nature, mountains and waves. What more could you ask for? Afterward I went home and had a similar conversation with British Boy. He too had fallen in love with Barcelona, and felt honored to call it a temporary home, spending the summer there while on holiday from University.

Casa Milà, built 1906-1910 by Antoni Gaudi
Casa Milà, built 1906-1910 by Antoni Gaudi
Gaudi's Casa Batllo - Barcelona, Spain
Gaudi’s Casa Batllo – Barcelona, Spain

A bedroom balcony allowed the smells of fresh corn tortillas and sounds of tequila-intensified chatter to waft from across the street, up through the opened doors.  The next morning I awoke, got ready, and prepared for the arrival of the wandering bags. Over 24 hours had passed, so they should have been set out for delivery by the time I woke up. Skype allowed me to call the airport and remind Suavecito of yesterday’s situation. Using a tracking code, he looked up their location and cheerfully assured me they were on there way. Wonderful! Perfect!
“When will they be here?” I asked, as I needed to be at home to greet the delivery person. “You should get them today.”
Isn’t that implied if they’re on their way? Nope. Because they were not on their way from the airport to my apartment; They were still on their way from Atlanta to Barcelona. The day’s solo flight had been delayed several hours, and Sauvecito unfortunately couldn’t provide me with any more reassurance than “You should get them today.”

A few more calls to offices in Minneapolis and Atlanta and finally back to Barcelona, left me with the notion that I would receive them on that day, but I would need to be home at 18:00 to get them. Alright, I can handle that.
The issue, you see, is not my ‘stuff’. I can do without the stuff. The issue is that the next day I’d be leaving Barcelona on a bus headed North. Once leaving the city, I was fairly certain receiving those bags would become much more difficult once I had moved on to a new place, so it was of utmost importance that those bags really did come – pronto!

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The “Stuff” that made it in a timely fashion. Book, computer, water, electrical cords, camera, sweater and wallet. That’s all folks!

As it was still morning, much of the day laid ahead for me to conquer Barcelona’s most sought-after sites. My brother had suggested I make it a priority to trek farther north to Park Guell, so after an espresso and pan tostada glazed with fresh jam, I did just that.

Climbing the extensive hill that lies between one of Barcelona’s busy streets and the more tranquil street of Carerr D’Olot is well worth. Upon reaching the top, you’re greeted by mirrored mosaics displayed on a long brick wall. The wall is crafted in a straight line, though the top is varied to mimic a simple rollercoaster: up-down-up-down repeats the waving white layer marking the wall’s uppermost layer. Cutting the wall in half is the park’s entrance. Those who wish to explore an pompous open-air palace designed by none other than Gaudi himself. Others still have free access to the many paths and sties within Park Guell. I opted for the latter and began climbing step after step to reach the first of many open, inviting spaces.

Park Guell - Barcelona, Spain
Park Guell – Barcelona, Spain
Park Guell - Barcelona
Park Guell – Barcelona
Park Guell - Barcelona
Park Guell – Barcelona

Continuing up the path was like walking through a scene of Hansel and Gretel meets the Gingerbread Man. Forests mixed in with artistically crafted buildings in muted tones to create an exotic park. Street acts performed in shade-covered corners, delighting crowds with tap-dance ensembles, rap sessions, and acoustic sets. Throughout the park, men sat on sidewalk’s edge whilst playing with strange dolls. Set next to each man was a small speaker shouting out 90s pop music, sounding as if it’d been recorded off an ancient A-track player. On the far side of the park, a quick climb up hill allowed for a 360 view of Barcelona. Behind us stood a castle redolent of Cinderella’s dream home high atop a hill: Tibidabo Amusement Park sitting atop the city’s tallest coastal mountain range.  In front of me and to the left stood Sagrada Familia, towering over all surrounding buildings. When seen from such a distance, the 18 spires are still visible, but those ever-present cranes had seemed to disappear,no Photo Shop necessary, simply a greater separation. To the right of Sagrada Familia, the entire city of Barcelona can be seen with the beautiful waters of the Mediterranean Sea as a backdrop. Even with crowds swirling around, it is possible to find some tranquility while viewing this real-life postcard panorama.

Park Guell - Barcelona
Park Guell – Barcelona
Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona, Spain

Having seen many more beautiful sites in Barcelona, I returned home at 17:55, unsuccessfully called the airport several times, and began a drawn-out waiting session. British Boy was a good pal and helped time pass quickly, as he stayed in and chatted with me about an array of topics. Two hours into our Chatty Cathy phase, I still had not received the bags nor could I get ahold of the airport, so I did what anyone else would do: I went across the street and sat down with a view of our front door (in case someone stopped by to deliver the goods!) to enjoy some carnitas tacos with spicy salsas and a margarita con tamarindo. When in Spain do as the Spanish do. Or at least do as their Mexican decedents do. Whether or not enjoying Mexican food while in Spain is justifiable, it was delicious. I set long past the end of my meal, having joined a group of American and Spanish friends there for dinner. The restaurant was only two tables wide and five tables long with a counter in the back corner, creating an instantaneous community feeling.

View from my bedroom's balcony - Barcelona, Spain
View from my bedroom’s balcony – Barcelona, Spain
Home - Barcelona Spain
Home – Barcelona Spain

I finished my meal and said “Adios” to all the restaurant’s entertaining patrons and waiters, then opened the door and crossed the street to my apartment. Pausing at the door, I decided to first walk down the street for one final view of Sagrada Familia. I turned around at the end of the street, just as a van turned in. Right away, I knew who the driver was. No, not Suavecio. It was Suavecito’s coworker! With my bags! (Finally!!)

Quite late, but just in the nick of time to get some sleep and wake up ready for city number two. And best thing: all my belongings were already packed and ready to head to the bus station in the morning!

Barcelona Nord Bus Station

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5 Comments

  1. I absolutely love this post. I studied abroad in Barcelona and saw all of the best parts of my city in this post. So glad you enjoyed your time there!

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