“Nature and man are opposed in Spain.”
― Gertrude Stein,
I am bad at holidays and relaxing in general. Most of our big holidays in recent years have been to visit family which, while always good, can still have stresses–trying to see and catch up with as many people as possible, major family gatherings, road trips, running practical errands like renewing drivers licenses, etc. It matters not that its been a couple blissful years since I had to brave the DMV, a visit always returns old angst with fresh horror. Even the one pure pleasure trip of recent memory (our visit to New York) was too short to be a real switch off.
Spain was the perfect learning experience. Having never been before, we were largely in the hands of our fabulous friends (who we love traveling with) and to say they didn’t lead us astray is an understatement. Spain is a delight! For a solid week we did what we wanted, explored where we wished, and were as busy or a lazy as we wanted. As always, food and wandering were the priorities.
Barcelona is a crossroads city: Moorish, Mediterranean, and Northern European culture, art, architecture, and food all clash wonderfully. Having never been and therefore having no specifically Spanish frame of reference, I kept seeing traces of buildings and colors that reminded me alternatively of Italy and Paris, while Jeff kept getting flashes of California. It was an amazing combination.
All credit in the world goes to our pal Kelsey who found an amazing place to stay near the Mercat de Sant Antoni. We were in a residential neighborhood rather than the typical tourist centers and so got to enjoy all the local tapas joints, bodegas, bakeries, shops, and streets. We were a reasonable walk away from the Gothic quarter containing the medieval heart of the city and near a metro station for the handful of excursions that required it. It was also Kelsey’s idea to do a bike tour of the city, which turned out to be a brilliant way to get the lay of the land. The girl knows how to travel!
There’s a least two other posts coming so let me just summarize the overall experience by saying we had perfect weather all week–summer in November–and managed to really get around. We spent a day climbing over and around Montjuic (site of the Olympic park), another day taking a trip out to olive oil and cava country, and then made sure we did the required Gaudi pilgrimages and paid homage to paella.
It was great getting a sense of the dual (and sometimes dueling) Catalan and Spanish identities. From an ethnically diverse modern population to a controversial statue of Columbus, an Italian who opened up the New World and flooded Spain with riches that eventually resulted in crippling instability, to 20th century upheavals, Barcelona really wears its history on its sleeve.
It’s hard to convey how pretty this city is. Even the medieval streets of dark and heavy stone were typically festooned with street art, intricate architectural design, flowers, and decorations.
Good bit of Gothic–fake as it turns out! Stay tuned…
Color was everywhere and not subtle. I imagine this is how many ancient Mediterranean cities once looked, as we know that white marble was not how the Romans and Greeks rolled. They liked bright and vivid shades, sometimes the more garish the better. I loved it.
There’s quite a tale to tell about the beach later as well, but we all of course had to spend some time on it.
More posts coming but trust me on this: bump Barcelona up on your list of places to see. It’s worth it.