The smoke of a hand-rolled cigarette tinged the air as I sat and clumsily ordered my final espresso before catching the metro to the Barcelona airport. “Yo quero uno espresso…bitte”. I knew my mistake as soon as the words left my mouth. Now that German is my second language I found it required all my concentration to recall the Spanish which used to be my (albeit rudimentary) second language. It’s funny how that goes with languages, whichever one I’m currently studying is always the first second word I think of when I run through the vocabulary Rolodex in my brain.
I’m at the airport waiting to catch my flight to Dusseldorf, which is delayed (as it was on the way here)… from Barcelona back to my German home. This trip was spontaneously planned and just as spontaneously executed and that is just what I needed. It’s summer in Germany but the German version of summer is not quite what I’m used to experiencing… Preferences in life are often influenced by our upbringing, and mine was in the sun-kissed San Joaquin Valley of California. A land of perpetual sun in the summertime and warm, sometimes scalding days. I loved every minute. When it was 110F my sister and I would station ourselves in front of the air conditioner and watch cartoons – Garfield was a favorite. We’d suck on flavored ice sticks (what were they called???) and then every once in a while run outside to jump through a sprinkler or slide down our metal slide that was slightly cooled by the water pumped from our well and through the water hose that I snaked through the monkey bars to keep in position. As you can tell, I love a nice hot summer.
My love for summer only grew when I moved to Texas, where the climate was similar, although with the added benefit of cooling down at night in our hill country home. In Louisiana I reveled in the heat and humidity that many find oppressive and unbearable. I was happy to be drenched in sweat from head to toe after walking a rice field or getting in a good hard run. North Carolina is more mild than Louisiana and also lovely with the summer thunderstorms that put on quite a show.
Now, Germany enters the scene and I’m having a hard time considering that what I’ve experienced in the month of June should be called summer? Frankly, most of the days feel like Louisiana wintertime it with lower humidity. One chilly day a couple of weeks ago, I pulled out my blizzard parka because the Mercury made such a quick drop. I’m a big advocate for change, but I learned a long time ago to accept the things I cannot change and weather (unfortunately) is one of those things.
One thing I can change is where I spend my weekend. So, one night I pulled out my iPad and booked a trip to Barcelona. My life needed a little Latin flair, spicy food, architecture (I heard the city had some cool stuff) and sun, Sun, SUN!!!!! And sweat, if I could work up a sweat I’d be in seventh heaven. My 48 hour ramble through Barcelona met these expectations and then more.
When I landed in Barcelona, I caught the metro (L9) to my hotel. This required one transfer on the way, but it’s no trouble on the metro, it’s a great system and the longest time I ever waited for a train was 5 minutes. My first day I walked 30 K! A new record for me. Around 20 K my leg started to bother me (I’m still recovering from my flying kick mishap – 2 months into recovery and one to go until I’m good as new), so I started to ride the metro. I bought a ten pack of tickets for 10 euros, not a bad deal and similar to what I found in Paris.
On the first night my flight was delayed (I learned from a fellow expat traveler who spends his weekends in Barcelona and his weeks in Dusseldorf that this is the norm). This isn’t a big deal because the Barcelonians don’t begin dinner until about 8. I checked in and then inquired in the lobby about a good place to find tapas. The desk clerk recommended two places – one nearby and one that was one of the best places in the city. You can imagine where I landed – of course – I found myself on the not so famous version of a smaller more quaint Le Rambla, which was perfect in every way. I tried to get a table on the main square and was informed the wait was an hour so I should inquire inside. I started to wait in line and then I spied one lone bar stool and I thought, that’s my spot. I asked the fellow perched on the neighboring bar stool and he confirmed that I could claim the bar stool as my own.
I grabbed the stool and began to take in my surroundings. The top of the bar was lined with plates loaded with tapas – toasted bread loaded with grilled meals, meat salads, cold meats with peppers, cheese creations – you name it, if it’s delicioiso it’s probably on a tapas. Below the bar was an area that looked a lot like a sushi bar. It was a place reserved for raw prawns, trays of olives, sardines, and never-ending variations on seafood salads.
I ordered my usual which is whatever the waiter recommends. It hasn’t led me astray yet, except for that one time in Altenberg when I was persuaded to try a special cured ham which was basically SPAM (I’m convinced that the GI’s stole this concept from Germany and I’ll need some hard evidence to convince me otherwise). This time I was pleased with the offering – grilled beef for the first round and grilled shrimp for the second – both served on a nice piece of toasted baguette.
Slowly, over time, I started to chat with my fellow patrons at the tapas bar – it turned out they were from Mexico City and friendly folk. They provided some recommendations, which I halfway followed up on. It was nice to start the trip with some friendly exchanges.
On my second day in Barcelona I was feeling a little slow in the morning, yeah, that’s what eating at 10 pm will cause… I finally rolled out around 9 am. With so much to see I started out feeling a little behind. Also, when I checked in on Friday night I overhead a couple asking the desk clerk if they could print out their ticket for Sagrada Familia, which caused me to think I better get a ticket too! I started to worry it might be like the Eifel Tour which can be booked up for weeks in advance. Fortunately this is not the case and I had no trouble booking an entry to the Basilica at 17:45 and a tour to the top at 18:15. This gave me a very scary thing, a concrete schedule! I couldn’t miss my date with the family…
I looked at the map and took my usual strategy which is to go to the farthest point first and the work my way back. I threw on a dress, lightened up my bag to just the essentials, laced up my new pair of Nike Free shoes (my favorite travel accessory, pulled on some sunglasses, set my sights for Park Guelph and began walking.
One of my primary goals this trip was to avoid looking like a tourist. I had heard that pick-pocketing is terrible in Barcelona, the local economy is quit depressed so it’s not very surprising. While I do have some self defense skills, I didn’t want to need to use them, so I decided to avoid attention. I left my Nikon SLR at home and packed light. It worked for me, the only strange encounter I had was accidentally running full on into a kid when I was walking by a cool tapas bar. My breath was knocked out of me, but nothing was stolen!
Overall this city was great and I never felt unsafe. I also had many moments that I consider gems. As I walked toward Park Guelph I walked through a great old neighborhood and encountered a worker starting his day. He looked at me, paused, and then his face lit up with the most authentic, genuine grin. By reflex I grinned back and then I remembered where I was! Such a great feeling! This was book- ended about 24 hours later as I walked along La Playa and a guy rolling by on his skate board offered his hand for a slap. These moments of random human connection cannot be measured.
My trip was interesting timing. As I departed I heard the results of Brexit – the UK is out of the EU. I honestly don’t know what to think of the conclusion. Is it good, is it bad? As an American, I can understand the desire to be free. To create your own rules and decide the structure of your society. But, another part of me, I guess this is the new European side, is concerned this will lead to more dissent, separation and emphasis of the differences between cultures, economies and societies. Are societies different than cultures? I need to do some research on this point.
When I entered Sagrada Familia, these thoughts were in my mind. This church is being built (it will be finished in 2026) by the people and for the people. This is for all people (as long as you can pay the admission I suppose). As I entered the Basilica I was mesmerized by the glowing red and orange stained glass on the western walls. I looked up and admired the towering columns that were designed to replicate trees in a forest, even down to the filtered light. Gaudi really hit it this time. I have never been so moved by a building.
I rode the elevator to the top of the passion tower and then made my way down the spiral staircase. This staircase is the singular most impressive piece of architecture I have experienced. Gaudi’s ambitious was to recreate the shape of a snail shell and he did it! I took my time descending the stairs, admiring the architecture out the window on the way.
To be continued… Now I gotta grab dinner with some expats who are heading back stateside and then take the cat for a walk in the courtyard.