The countdown to Nashville has officially begun…but we had 1 more country to cross off the list before we head home: Barcelona here we come!
We had a late flight out of Zurich, so we had a whole day to kill. It was absolutely pissing it down, so we stashed our bags in a train station locker and headed to the Oliver Twist pub for some pints. As we were packing up our hotel room, we caught some highlights of the previous day’s World Cup match, so our plan was attempt to grind through an entire match to see what the fuss is all about. Thankfully, all that was on the telly was an Australian football match, so we weren’t subjected to 2.5 hours of boredom. Nothing says that you are really into the World Cup more than fabricating a public-viewing beach in the middle of your train station.I tell ya, the Swiss have more money than they know what to do with.
After drinking an outrageous amount of Murphy’s Red, we wobbled back to the station and caught the train to the airport. Zurich airport, much like the central train station, is massive and contains a multi-level mall. After purchasing the requisite amount of toblerone (arm-length) in the duty free shop, we settled into our gate and took turns bemoaning the fact that we had drunk way too much to be getting on a plane. The Gods must have took pity on us, as the flight was delayed 1.5 hours. There was nothing much left to do other than take short power naps (me), suck up the free wifi (John) and stare out onto the rain-soaked runway.We had booked a hotel close to the airport for our first night’s stay in BCN, as our flight was scheduled to arrive around 10:30pm and neither John or I felt confident about navigating around pick-pocket heaven with three backpacks in the middle of the night. Seeing as we actually landed around 12:30am, we definitely made the right decision. Free hotel shuttle? Why, yes please!
Like the majority of places we’ve stayed recently, our room was swelteringly hot; the air-conditioning controls on the wall were some sadist’s idea of a joke. We busted open the windows, hitched up the curtains and realigned ourselves backwards on our twin beds so our heads were as close to the breeze as possible. This was a genius move at the time as it allowed us to fall into a coolish sleep…come 6:30am, the sun had risen and was centered in our window-frame and we were being boiled like ants under a microscope. There was a lot of squinty, curse-riddled fumbling with the curtains, after which we slept for a couple more hours in relative comfort. Not having to meet our host until 1pm, we treated ourselves to a leisurely morning, stuffing our faces full of croissants, watermelon and strong coffee at the breakfast bar.
We killed some time waiting for our cab by wandering around the mall next door. God Bless ‘Merica!Barcelona is by far the most exotic place we’ve visited so far…we felt as though we had been whisked away to a whole other continent in the night. It’s loud, messy and bustling with activity. Our house is on a narrow street, Carrer de les Carretes, lined with 5 story buildings that crowd out all but a sliver of the sky and there’s laundry hanging from every balcony. I love it.It’s an entirely different solar system compared to straight-laced Switzerland. The neighborhood is called El Raval, and Rough Guides says “the once notorious red-light district is now one of the most authentic areas of the city.” Even though it may not be considered ‘notorious’, the ladies of the night are still working some of the corners…in a charming, friendly way. Prostitution was de-criminalized in 1995, and most of the ladies we saw will likely be celebrating their 20th anniversary on the job next year too. It’s like being salaciously winked at by your aunt, if your aunt was into platform shoes and cheetah print leggings.
I’m sorry to say that we’ve been wearing the same socks for 3 days now, which is perfectly suitable behavior when you work at home, but when you’ve been stomping around outside in them for 72 hours you are definitely pushing the hygiene envelope a bit. Fortunately, our flat has a washer and a dryer (unheard of on this continent) so we sat around in our skivvies for 4 hours waiting for some clean clothes.
I must say, I was very intimidated by all the horror stories regarding pick-pockets and muggings in Barcelona, so I was tempted to stay holed up in the flat until our flight out…obviously, that’s a ridiculous thing to consider, but I had gotten fairly worked up about it. It’s like when you have an odd pain in your toe and you look it up on WebMD and end up being convinced you have tuberculosis…there are so many horror stories out there, and having made it almost 3 months without an unfortunate event, I was having visions of us losing everything the day before we flew home. John finally pried me out of the flat around 4pm. Hands shoved deep into pockets, face locked in a grimace, I marched through the streets of Barcelona with barely a glance at my surroundings, steeled and ready to be stripped down to my underwear by a gaggle of children, one item at a time, like a petty-crime strip-poker game. That’s how out of touch I had become. After about 45 minutes, I loosened up and started to take in this vibrant city…the tapas and beer might have helped.
We dined in the shadow of this beautiful lady, the Cathedral of Barcelona.It was too late to go inside, plus I’m saving all my church nerdery for the Sagrada Familia later in the week. Instead, we wandered down to the harbor as the sun set, realizing for the first time that we were on the Mediterranean.
Barcelona is on it’s own schedule…this city sleeps late, eats late and goes to bed…never. It was nearly 11pm and there were still masses of people wandering around. Our flat has two very small balconies, which overlook an intersection of three streets. Around midnight, John and I took a balcony each and watched the circus below, trading sights back and forth: “There’s a guys moving a fridge down here!” “I just saw a drug deal!” “A dwarf just went into that supermarket!” There’s a carnival atmosphere 24/7, which feels like a perfect way to end our trip through Europe…going out with a bang!
Sleep finally called to us around 1:00am, so we shoved in our ear plugs, turned up the fans and got some shut-eye. 9:00am came too early, so we treated ourselves to another hour before we finally emerged out of the bedroom and went about caffinating ourselves.
On the docket for today was a visit to Parc Güell, one of the many great Gaudí creations in the city. Güell was originally intended to be a residential ‘English’ garden estate with room for 60 houses within it’s network of paths, viaducts and steps on the hillside of Muntanya Pelada. Due to it’s exclusivity, terrain and lack of transportation to the area, the plan fell through and it was inherited by the Barcelona City Council. The BCC opened it as a free public park in 1926, a status it lost about 9 months ago; there is now a 8 Euro fee to go inside the ‘Monument Zone’ where Gaudí’s creations are located. We decided the walk the 2.5 miles to the Parc, and although it was very hot, I am glad we decided to take the walk as opposed to the metro. There’s some beautiful architecture along the way, including the famous Casa Batllo, which we stumbled upon rather suddenly…you gotta keep your head on a swivel in this town.
The city is packed to the brim with Art Nouveau buildings adorned with glamorous facades and stained glass windows. This beauty has a peacock themed set of windows on each corner, from the 1st floor to the top.
Since they have started to charge admission for Parc Güell, there is a limit to the amount of people that are let in at one time…which seems a little odd as you can stay inside for as long as you like. We had 1.5 hours before our scheduled entry, so we hunkered down in a restaurant just outside the park. Barcelona has many praise-worthy aspects, but at that precise moment, air-conditioning and drinks full of ice topped the list for me. I dined on tapas while John ate an extraordinary amount of paella full of sea-bugs. I have a rule: I don’t eat anything with legs and eyes still in it. John has no such rule.
The Monument Zone of Parc Güell was full of tourists, but I very quickly forgot about the people…the place is wonderful, unlike anything I have ever seen before. The Hypostyle Room was intended to be a covered space for markets and other outdoor events in the garden estate.86 columns support the ceiling, which is formed by small domes decorated with tile shards. The Nature Square lies on the roof of the Hypostyle room, the outer edge of which is lined with a colorful ceramic bench. There’s a pretty cracking view of the city as well.
On the stage left side of the Nature Square, are the Austria Gardens. The Gardens sit on a zone of the park originally intended for residences, but was turned into a nursery when the Parc opened to the public. It owes it’s name to a donation of trees from Austria. The garden was in full bloom, the flowers competing with the Porter’s Lodge in the background…I call it a tie.
The opposite side of the Parc is dominated by the Portico of the Washerwoman, which backs onto the retaining wall of the roadway above. It’s slightly hypnotic to walk through, the tension between the unhewn rock and the line of the curves is fabulous.
I am so glad we made time for the Parc, it’s really set the tone for Gaudí’s masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, which we are visiting tomorrow. In other news…who’s bored with being hot?
After all that culture, it was time to hit the beach. We took the metro down to the Barcelonata
district and waded into the Mediterranean.
The last beach we visited was in Latvia, and it was bloody freezing cold. This beach….oh, it was a whole different story. Although the sun had disappeared behind the clouds, it was perfect beach weather for little old British me. 76F and breezy. We dug our toes in the sand and relaxed.
What can I say? Even cats like the beach!There was magic in the air! John made two wishes: “this is perfect, except we don’t have any beer.” 3 minutes later, a man with a sack full of cold beer loafed up to us. John’s second wish was for boobies…not 5 minutes later, boobies were sighted.
God damn, Barcelona! You are pretty freaking awesome.
P.S. It’s 1:29am and there is still a sizable racket going on outside. There is a child blowing into a plastic whistle. Go to bed, people!