Friday, June 24, 2005

Part 5: Hola Barthelona

12:30pm local time, Barcelona,


What a crazybeautiful place in Barcelona, Spain.

I arrived Monday evening quite terrifed about my first extended stay in a country where English is not the first language, but soon came to learn that this was a redundant fear. Spanish is a fun language to be spoken appallingly, and I feel the Spaniards appreciate you making the effort no matter how ridiculous you sound to their ear.

The people of Barcelona are every bit as beautiful as as the carrers, plaças and the plages. I´m currently writing in a square not far from my hostel and already there is a gorgeous dark-haired angel walking by with his dog. They´re definitely dog fags rather than cat fags in this city.

After a shaky start - arriving at airport, finding my way to the hostel then returning to the airport 4 hours later (midnight) to greet my Barcelona buddy, Stu, we finally crashed in our hostel room (which thankfully is of the quality and cleanliness of a hotel room) at 1am, desperately needing sleep from our respective London and Paris jaunts. (NB - Check out Stu´s site for a fairly dystopian vision of Paris.)

Tuesday was spent meandering down la Rambla, a stunning tree-lined boulevard of flower stalls, newsstands, cafes and markets - specifically, a thriving marketplace called the Mercat de la Bouqeria where we bought everything from mandarins to cognac-filled chocolate balls. At this point, both of our Spanish was very limited to pointing and extravagant mime, but we somehow got by. After giggling at the McDonald´s which sells, amongst other things, gazpacho and beer, we ended up being "chauffered" to the platja by the three-seat tourist pedal bike. The afternoon ended drinking cocktails by the Mediterranean. Truly, this was "the life".

We hopped around the various bars that evening and were a little disappointed with the small crowds. It was only later we were told places only became interesting from 1am onwards (which was when we left), even on Tuesday nights. Bercelona in summer is very behind schedule. With siesta and the sun not setting until at least 9pm, everything starts late. We arrived at a restaurant one evening at about 8:55pm and had to wait a few minutes until they actually opened!

Wednesday morning began with a sample of the work of Antoni Gaudi. In retrospect, I feel utterly ignorant that I replied "who?" when Stu first mentioned the name of the father of modernist architecture. Though we didn´t make it to the Gaudi museum, we did check out a residential house of a former (I think) surgeon who had commissioned Gaudi to re-model. Gaudi was big on the rejection of standard geometric lines and enjoyed integrating nature into his work, so there were lots of arches, rounded corners and even wavy ceilings. It was only when Stu pointed out all the Gaudi designs within the city that I fully appreciated the influence he had on Barcelona.

Wednesday afternoon, evening and early Thursday were spent in Sitges, which is technically part of Barcelona, but was so crazy it warrants its own posting. Click here to check out our misadventures there.

Sporting very strong hangovers on Thursday afternoon, well, when in Barcelona, so we treated ourselves to extended siestas. Then it was time for dinner. We tracked down a cute little bistro in the gay heartland (conveniently just around the corner) that did a three-course dinner and drinks for 12 Euros, and I embarassed myself with the (naturally) hunky waiter who giggled as I resorted to pointing at things on the menu, even though he spoke English, apparently quite well. I had become the odious Yank tourist who doesn´t bother to speak the country´s language and who assumes that just because a person does not speak English they must therefore be dense. We were told by other men in the restaurant to get out to the beach party that was on that night as part of the day´s Saint Joan celebrations. Apparently Saint Joan is a much revered treasure here, and she is commenorated with street fireworks, some set off literally inches from our faces. As with smoking, Spain is very relaxed about its pyrotechnic device laws.

Anyway, we didn´t make it to the beach as we were still precious from Sitges and planned to get up at 6am the next morning to catch a train to Montserrat and see the Benedictine Monastery there. However, missing the infrequent train and with Stu having to leave early, we instead went to the Parc Guell, the park in which Gaudi turned his hand to landscape gardening. A very strange and enchanting place - a "Doctor Seuss garden", as Stu called it.

From there, we raced to the other side of the city to Montjuic, the hill overlooking the city that was part of the main site for the 1992 Olympics. We had enough time to reach the Castell at the top of the mountain via a fernicular and some ruthless stairmastering. The magnificent 360 panorama by the end was worth it.

Stu has since left for Berlin and tonight is my last night in Barcelona. I have loved its history, colour and design. Every street you look down is worthy of a photo. Now it´s one last dip in the Mediterranean for me, before perhaps seafood and sangria for dinner followed by a final night indulging myself in other Spanish delicacies (not that I imagine I´ll be wanting for "nutrition" in Italy either).

One final observation: As a family of wailing people walk by I´m reminded of the passion of the Spanish people. It´s inescapable, whether it´s the ungodly shrieking of the infants, the yelling of the old men at each other, the carefree whistling of the cafe vendor as he sweeps the pavement or the flamboyant hand gestures of the (naturally) fashionably stunning ladies, the Spanish don´t hide from expression. I guess this explains the interminable blaring of car horns too, especially at the thousands of people on scooters, but it also explains why the smile from a Spaniard make me feel so warm. I know it´s coming from a true place. Adios.


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