I had the privilege and opportunity to attend a blogging workshop by 2014 National Geographic’s World Traveler of the Year Christine Gilbert. She is the genius behind We Create and Almost Fearless—by now one of the most successful travel blogs in the world. The cool thing about Christine’s workshops other than them being extremely informative, is that they are either self-paced online OR … you have to travel to where ever in the world she holds them. And, yay, the workshop closest to me was held in Barcelona!
I’m often asked if I’ve been to Spain, to which I have to admit, yes. I don’t admit it wholeheartedly for my only stint in Spain was a week-long visit to one of the concrete tourist traps along the Costa Del Sol—not something to really talk about. My fondest memory of that is going into the mountains for a donkey ride and a meal, and almost thirty years later, all I feel is sorry for the donkey.
At last I can reply a wholehearted, yes! I’ve been to Spain. I’ve been to Barcelona for one day. It’s all there was time for. The workshop took place in the Gracia neighborhood, and I also booked a room there through Airbnb. For an 8-night stay in a room in an apartment, I paid E213, and this included my wonderful host and new friend Nuria, an actress, staggering out of bed at 7am to fix me breakfast. Just to show you what booking a room in someone’s home can get you.
My first stop, actually a bucket-list item, was the Sagrada Familia, the architect Antoni Gaudi’s final and most glorious work. A Wow kind of moment! Groundbreaking happened in 1882, and completion is expected around 2026—sooner than was originally thought because obviously modern technology is helping to speed things up. It is my fiercest hope that they stick to Gaudi’s original design plan. There are four towers at the moment, and another is inching closer to being a fact, but the blueprints call for a total of 18 towers upon completion. In a documentary I saw recently, there was a bricklayer who said that he was third generation of men in his family who’d worked on erecting the same building! He said “history will not remember us, but our children and grandchildren will carry on the pride we feel for having been a part of this.”
Sculpted with mosaic, and covered with inscriptions, the basilica is every bit as psychedelic as any other one of Gaudi’s designs forever stitched in Barcelona’s quilt. I’m hard pressed to find a different description for his work. Is there a better word for architecture that seems as if it’s melting from the pages of a fairy tale where one pill makes you smaller, and where a slip down the rabbit hole not only blows your mind but fills you with true awe and respect for the magnitude of one loner’s brilliant imagination?
Really amazing stuff!
But Barcelona is more than Gaudi. It’s busy and noisy. It’s hot and sticky. It’s narrow streets where neighbors can practically shake hands between opposite balconies; it’s laundry racks laden with the so-many-eth load; it’s a multitude of restaurants and tourists with white fedoras; it’s beaches with wall-to-wall half-naked bodies; it’s designer shops and opulent yachts that pull into the harbor to frequent them; it’s the Latin Quarter with its quaint shops. It’s palm trees bursting with the squatter of wild parrots. It’s bougainvillea, hibiscus, and oleander. It’s staircases and steep hills. It’s cobble stones and gargoyles and buskers. It’s old blending with new.
Hop-on/hop-off tourist buses are typically not cheap, but they are an excellent way to see a lot in a short amount of time and they beat the price of blisters and taxis. In this case there are two or three different routes to choose from. I chose the green route (Gaudi) and a day ticket cost E25.
The rest of the time I just did what I normally do on a city trip: I walked and walked. I sat and observed. I enjoyed the many buskers. I sought little mom-and-pop restaurants where I observed the locals. I witnessed a formidable Catalan lady, dressed in black, put away a good meal and an entire bottle of wine for lunch. She did it slowly, moving between precise cut, a bite, thoughtful chewing, the dip of a napkin, and a sip of wine with the delicate touch of appreciation.
My favorite time of the day was to come back home to Nuria’s apartment and plant my arms firmly on the balcony railing with a glass of Rioja (red wine from the Spanish Rioja region) in hand, to watch the neighbors enjoy the beautiful courtyard. The hectic city noises didn’t penetrate here; in fact, even with the inner ring just 200 yards away, you could hardly hear the traffic. Fathers played with happy, rambunctious children while the mothers stayed indoors to prepare the evening’s meal. The elderly gathered to chat until dinner time. One sultry evening, a few little girls, dressed in their finest princess garb and angel wings, performed a courtyard play with elaborate gestures and passion. The benches filled quickly with willing spectators, and the budding actresses were wholeheartedly lauded for the impromptu drama.
It was cool to find that beyond the tourist attractions, Barcelona very much belongs to the locals … the Catalan people. Having just one free day to explore, my three hours on the bus and the long walks surrounded by beautiful art and sculpture, and street art and architecture, were enough to decide to return. I’m grateful to have seen as much as I did and frustrated to have missed an FC Barcelona home game because my flight came in too late to make it to the stadium. So the new goal is to visit again, with my husband, in cooler weather, and while Messi, Neymar, and Suarez still dominate the Barça football pitch, to explore and explore some more.
]If only we had a babysitter for the Traveling Quinpet! The fact that Stampson couldn’t join me because we don’t know anybody to watch our pets for a few days, is a problem we have to find a solution for. Maybe Gaudi will help. In the throng of tourists and mass-goers, I managed to light a few candles at the foot of his grave located in the crypt of Sagrada Familia. I asked for World Peace and requested a firm boost for all of the starving artists in the world, Stampson and myself among them. Should work. No?
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