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Day 1 and it's Hola Barcelona
"Pardona, sabes que blablabla blablabla plaça d'Espanya?"
I turn around at the touch on my elbow to find a little old lady firing questions at me in rapid spanish. Do I know where Plaza d'Espana is? I do, technically, and I'm nearly sure that's what she is asking. But I'm having trouble keeping up with her and I'm very sure there is, in any case, no way I could direct her with my pidgin, half remembered college Spanish.
"Soy turista señora, no sabes.." I don't know..
"Ah si si" she interrupts me, patting me on the arm and chattering on. "Bla es un poco blabla bla bra d'Espana"
She's staring at me as if I know the answers to the questions of the universe as well as hers and I try again, staring back at her in a way that I hope conveys how much I cannot help her, I'm just a tourist.
"Lo siento", I say, "no sabes donde es el plaça d'Espanya."
We both stop talking then in mutual incomprehension and at that point the bemused man sitting on a bench nearby comes to my rescue. Actually, it is more likely he is coming to hers, and as he starts explaining to her I mumble another lo siento and hurry off.
It is my second day in Barcelona and I'm starting to settle in.
Coming to Barcelona had been a spur-of-the-moment decision. I had booked some leave from work and my initial plans weren't going through but I still wanted to get away, even if only for a couple of days. A search for cheap flights and accommodation and half an hour later, I had booked three days in Gaudi's city.
As soon as I stepped out of the plane I got that same feeling I always get when I go to Spain. A feeling I can't really explain, a settling, a familiarity. Perhaps I have a drop of Spanish blood from centuries past somewhere in my family tree - not wholly implausible, seeing as my Dutch ancestors had to deal with that Spanish invasion back in the day. Or maybe it's pure fancy on my part. In any case, it was good to be back on Spanish soil.
I arrive early in the day and check-in at my accommodation isn't until after two, so I store my bag at the Sants station and decide to wander around for a few hours and grab a bite to eat. I get off the metro at the Plaça Sagrada Familia but I am unprepared by the sight that greets me as I travel on the escalator into a sunny morning on the plaza. The majestic and intriguing towers of the Sagrada Familia tower above me. Although I am not planning to visit the inside until my last morning, I am glad of this first glimpse of Barcelona's most famous building.
Barcelona is an enchanting, dreamy, colourful and bohemian city. Its vibrant and relaxed vibe, under the mediterranean sun, beguiles and invites me. With every turn I take as I wonder the streets I fall more in love. Gaudi's influence is felt everywhere, and his fantastical architectural buildings draw great crowds, even in February. Colourful and charming, I realise straight away I need more time and will want to plan a second visit, but first I'm going to make the most of this one and soon it is time to find my guesthouse so I can settle in, freshen up and head out again.
I've walked up and down, checked Google maps, I know I'm in the right street, but I can't find any sign of the budget guesthouse I've booked. Uh oh. Eventually I find the correct street number, but it seems to be part of a series of apartments in one of the towering old buildings on the street. No name. I am beginning to think I've been bamboozled and that I've booked a room in a guesthouse that is no longer there. I ring the number of the guesthouse. "Yes, yes" comes the friendly assurance of the man who answers the phone, "it is the right address, are you there now? I'll come down and open the door."
As he leads me into the apartment building and up the stairs of the old building, he explains in quite good English that the other tenants complained about the sign on the door so he took it down. Then he talks about Chinese ladies and numerous gentleman callers as we make our way deeper into the dilapidated but tidy and solid building and I'm beginning to think oh god, I've booked myself into a brothel, that's what you get for trying to find the cheapest good deal, the good reviews were probably fake. I take a deep breath and remind myself that I can always leave and find somewhere else to stay.
A small, discreet door sign proclaims an apartment as my chosen guesthouse. After inviting me in, showing me around and explaining how everything works, my host, Alvaro, excuses himself - it is siesta time after all, he explains - and disappears somewhere further into the building. And that is the last I see of him for the rest of my stay. I look around my small, spartan but extremely clean single room, check out the bed - which is very comfortable - and decide to stay. There are only four rooms, a couple in one and another girl in another, there is a little kitchen, and the place has a quiet, restful air. This will do just fine for the next couple of days.
After settling in and freshening up I head back out; it is a fine and sunny day, I am starving and there is way too much to see!
This place is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, with stalls full of all kinds of colourful, glorious food. By now, all the little tapas bars are crowded with people, so I stock up on fruit, tortilla de patata a delicious smoothie and other goodies to take away with me, and head back out into the sun. I find a nice place to sit and settle in for some people watching. Then it's more exploring.
I love getting to know a new city by walking. There is something about that slow perambulation, surrounded by the sounds, the smells, the buildings and the people, that feels intimate and immediate. I never mind getting a little lost, but eventually, with the sun setting soon, I make my way up to Montjuic. Unfortunately both the cable car and the funicular are closed for annual maintenance, so I settle for taking the bus to the top and strolling my way back down, taking in the elevated views over the city as I go.
Wandering down the hill back into the city, without a clear idea of exactly where I am going, I take any likely path and road that takes my fancy and eventually find myself at the edge of the gothic quarter as dusk settles in.
Barcelona comes alive again at night time and I wander back towards La Rambla where everything is still in full, if touristy, swing. I'm getting tired now, so I settle for some tapas and a drink and some more people watching on Plaça Reial.
Day 2, and it's All About Gaudi.
A bit of a dandy in his younger years, Gaudi took so little care of his appearance in later life that when he was struck down by a tram while on his way to the little Sant Felip Neri church for his daily prayer and confession, he was mistaken for a tramp and beggar. Consequently, he was given very little medical care, and by the time someone finally recognised him, it was too late. The man famous for his marvellous and fantastical architectural expressions of the Modernista movement, dubbed God's Architect for his work on the Sagrada Familia, was dead.
Today, the still-unfinished church of Sagrada Familia is his most famous work, and Barcelona is the city of Gaudi. His influence is everywhere and when I reemerge once again from a metro station on my way to a little Churreria I heard about, I'm delighted to find I am right beside the Palau de la Música. It isn't open yet, but I had no plan to go in in any case - entrance fees to nearly everything in Barcelona are quite high, so I have to pick and choose on my limited budget. It is still an amazing building on the outside, so I have a quick look around before heading of for what turns out to be the best Churros con Chocolate I have ever tasted. The Churrería Laietana is a small little place full of locals. They serve super fresh, warm churros and thick, velvety not-too-sweet chocolate that is easier finish off with a spoon than to drink - my day is off to a perfect start!
I walk and walk for hours, ticking off sights and buildings as I go. Casa Batllo, Casa Mìla - affectionately known as La Pedrera, the Quarry - there are masses of people and queues and I don't go inside either. By lunch time I am making my way up to Park Guell using the outdoor escalators, for more Gaudi and some stunning views.
I am in love. I am in love with the sun, the dry air, with palm trees in parks, with Gaudi and with Catalan sounds. I contemplate, not for the first, or hundredth, or thousandth time, upping sticks and moving to Spain altogether.
After spending a couple of hours in Parc Guell, I wander back down the mountain to explore the Gothic Quarter properly, and to see if I can find the little Plaça de Filip Neri. This hidden, atmospheric little plaza has a faded and romantic air and the little church still bears the visible scars of its history. This is where Gaudi would come for his daily prayers. This is where a bombing raid killed 42 people during the civil war, most of them children. This is where, when I get there, the echoes of those long ago children seem to mingle with the children who, just out of school, happily mill and play and chatter and hang about as their parents try and gather them all together.
The Gothic Quarter houses the medieval Jewish Quarter, and the charming warren of narrow little streets is easy to get lost in, but who cares. I find the old, medieval Jewish synagogue, with its more modern counterpart across the way and after several wrong turns find the Carre del Bisbe with its lovely little overhead bridge between the buildings.
I visit Barcelona cathedral too, a beautiful gothic building, with a real sense, still, of piety and tradition. You won't be allowed into this church if you are not appropriately and demurely dressed. It is named after Eulalia, one of Barcelona's patron saints who, legend has it, was martyred during Roman times by being rolled down a street (now also named after her) in a barrel stuck through with knives.
Eager for another chance to enjoy the sun before it sets, I make my way over to Parc de la Ciutadella. It is very much a local, public park, for a long time it was the only green space in the city, with groups of tourists mingling with groups of youths and young people chilling, making music or listening to music and generally just hanging out.
The zoo is located here too, and at one end nearby is the Arc de Triumph. I head in that direction, past the statue of Columbus and back towards the Rambla. I'm hungry and thirsty and I have heard of this interesting little cafe...
El Bosc de les Fades does not disappoint. It really is a magical forest fairy bar, and I happily sit down to a nice cold beer and tapas. Although I am enjoying myself I wish I wasn't on my own. I am feeling a little isolated and lonesome as I watch the crowds grow bigger and groups of friends settle in for the evening, all chatting merrily. It's not that easy for a solo woman, especially a happily solitary and kind of shy one, to strike up conversations with strangers. Still, I am happy enough sitting here in this quirky little bar, surrounded by fairies and magical beings, scribbling down my notes.
Day 3 and it's Adios again but first, the Sagrada Familia.
I have pre-booked my Sagrada ticket for half nine and I am very glad I went first thing in the morning because by the time I leave again an hour and a bit later it is already getting extremely busy.
Although I'd been humming and hawing over what to get tickets for and what to miss - next time, Picasso - this ticket was non negotiable and I am not sorry. Walking into the interior of this truly magnificent building is breath-taking and awe-inspiring. The entire interior is designed, it seems, to raise your gaze to the heavens. The towering columns, reminiscent of trees, branch out into the ornamentations of the ceiling, with its carvings and light. The central nave, with its skylight and the golden triangle representing god, the stunning stained windows, the symmetry the ornamentation, the space and the feel of it, beautiful sounds of the organ, the atmosphere, it is awe inspiring and overwhelming. I spend a happy hour wandering around.
I have a little time before heading back to the airport, so I decide to visit an underrated attraction: the Parc del Labyrint d'Horta. This historical garden has a neoclassical garden with a maze and a romantic garden, as well as a medieval watch tower and various neoclassical buildings.
It is nearly deserted and the visitors that are there are all Spanish speaking. It is restful and beautiful and I am glad I came here, even when, later, I realise I have not left myself any time for a quick visit to the beach. In the centre of the maze stands a statue of Eros. I'd read somewhere that if you find your way to Eros, you will be lucky in love, but if you end up at one of the exits, well then, tough luck, love's not for you. A lot of the people visiting seem to be in couples so I guess they must have been here before, but for me this means business and with some anticipation I head for the entrance to the maze.
In the end, I found Eros straight away and easily and it even felt a little anti-climactic. I thought it would last a little longer, but I guess that's typical of Love, isn't it.
The whole garden has an air of faded splendour and gentle neglect and it is very peaceful and quite charming, with subtle signs of exquisite and unobtrusive care of the flora.
And just like that, it was time to go home. I stop off at the Barcelona metro stop, thinking I just have time for a quick visit to the beach, La Barceloneta. I am half way down the long road there, checking out the many many fancy boats and yachts when I realise that if I don't turn around right now and head to the airport, I'll miss my flight. The beach, too, will have to wait.
Hasta luego, Barcelona, I'll be seeing you again.
Hi, I'm Misja.
I'm a writer, a mum, an (eek!) oma. ...
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