The first thing I noticed after landing, besides the marble floors in the airport, were the palm trees. 99% of the time, when you see palm trees, you know you’re at the right place. I hopped on the train to downtown; within 40 minutes, I was at the Para-lel metro stop rendezvousing with the group. With some time to kill, I stopped at a corner store to get my bearings and some fruit and beer. First impression: the streets were really busy, dry warm weather, and things cost 20% less than the Netherlands.
My friends left dinner early to meet me, and I switched from business clothes to shorts within seconds. We quickly proceeded to the nearest corner café to share pitchers of red sangria and eat some light tapas, trying hard to be Spaniards from the start. The group was not only Jon and Lindsay (who were on a 3 week tour of Europe and had been in Barcelona for a few days already) and Tiffany (fresh off her cruise from Greece) but Dave (coming from Iceland). We had a group to begin with, but it got even bigger. Jon and Lindsay ran into Duncan and Karen by chance, two old friends who now live in Seattle, when they were visiting a church in Barcelona. This city is bigger than one million people… what are the odds that they would be in the same city… let alone visiting a church at the same time?
The city of Barcelona is home to 1.7m people and sits on the north-east corner of Spain, only about an hour drive from France. It sits perfectly on the Mediterranean, modeling how it’s possible for a city to naturally harmonize with the water and feel so unforced. The people speak Spanish, but mostly Catalan, a language specific to the Catalonia provinces in Spain, that some people describe as a mix of French and Spanish. The Catalonia region has a very distinct culture and about 70% of the people who live there believe it is separate from Spain. They have even tried succeeding from Spain, a similar situation to Quebec. Many people say that the 1992 Olympics hosted by Barcelona helped revitalize the city, making it one of the most recommended places in Europe to visit.
We woke up the next morning dehydrated, but ready to get an early start. In our beach gear, the group went exploring in Park Guell. Before I go any further, let me talk about the legend Antoni Gaudí. He was a modernist architect who left behind an incredible amount of character to Barcelona through the buildings he designed. The park sits on the side of a hill near the edge of the city with impressive views and consists of several unique buildings, tunnels, arches, and elaborate tiling throughout. Every ‘t’ is crossed, every ‘I’ dotted. This is the park out of a Dr. Seuss book that you never though could exist in the real world. We covered impressive ground in 90 minutes; most guidebooks said you could spend a whole day here, but it was scorching hot and the beach needed us to visit.
The focal point of downtown, built right into the center of the city, is where you find the beach. As soon we picked a spot to call home for the next 4 hours, we were offered anything from cold mojitos to tattoos to massages, right from the comfort of our towels. What service. The great Mediterranean was colder than I imagined it to be, but refreshing on a hot day. After a few hours of my favorite activity in the world (beach napping) and swimming, we hopped over to the beach bar to cool off with some sangria and nachos. We then moved on to a tiny little place with retro green tablecloths for more sangria y tapas.
After all of that slogging around, we enjoyed another much needed nap then went to watch the EuroCup football match at an Irish pub that which served Budweiser (how Spanish). We found a tiny bar with only six outdoor stools built into the side of a building with and popped “in” for a round of
chipitos. After striking out at a restaurant closed for family reasons, we ended up at this tiny café at 11pm eating killer anchovies, iberica jamon (similar to prosciutto), croquettas, cheese, and obligatory sangria outside. It was still fairly early for a Spanish dinner, since restaurants generally open at 8pm. We stayed out late, visiting a little bar called Bootleg. We topped off the night with Dave uncovering the secret of where street vendors stored their €1 beers.
Want to know where? Under the sewer grates.
I shouldn’t have given the secret away. Come back for Part II… that’s when it gets exciting…