So the Easter holidays arrived and after yours truly suffering through a 24-hour celebration gin hangover, myself and Holly set off on the train to Barcelona at an ungodly hour on Friday morning. Watching the living dead stumbling out from the seafront Bataplan nighclub at 7 a.m. gave me some violent flashbacks of the night before when I had accidentally attended a teenage hip-hop gig and made me bite my lip a little in anticipation of the lengthy train journey ahead.
The train rocked through the difference phases of the Basque, Spanish and Catlaonian landscape as I alternated between ugly and open-mouthed sleeping and drinking dining car coffees. Eventually we stumbled blearily out of the carriage at Sants station and made our way to Plaza Catalunya on a crowded, humid Metro. We looped around this formidable square about four times before landing in our hostel, St. Christopher’s Inns.The hostel was cool, that basically sums it up. It had some good prices and a comfy bar where we sampled the Resurrection full -“English” breakfast on Easter Sunday and every bed had a little curtain, light and power socket. Every staff member had a quirky sense of humour.
I’m not going to lie to you, the first evening in Barcelona was a challenge. We were exhausted and unprepared for the dismal weather which was only forgotten about once we had decimated enchiladas at La Hacienda , a Mexican restaurant. No girl should’ve been without Mexican food and frozen margaritas for that long. It was touristy like 90% of Barcelona but we ate well and our waiter liked to dance. It fulfilled all our immediate needs and got us in the mood for a pitcher of Sangria when we got back to the hostel. We passed out and prepared to properly introduce ourselves to the city the following day.
Barcelona. Barcelona! How do I describe Barcelona? Can you write that teeming mass of passion and laughter and arguments and wine and food, music, architecture down? It’s first and foremost, huge. Everyone speaks English and you can find almost everything and everyone there. It’s violently tourist-centric and the thoughts of any Barca-converted hipster coming along to try and convince me that they know a really cheap, not so mainstream place would cause me to raise an eyebrow. At every turn there was a new, startlingly different quarter to explore and we racked up km after km wandering from place to place. Getting lost by accident and on purpose more than once.
One particularly winding path eventually led us to the unfinished Sagrada Familia, an ethereal construction and Gaudi’s incomplete dream and burial place. Throngs of people were trying to make their way in and I continue to wonder how big these throngs will become once construction eases in the near future. These crowds made us extra cautious about our personal safety. The impassioned warnings I had received about Barcelona’s pick-pocketing situation, the apparent competition about how many times everyone had been robbed really affected my gaze upon the city. I saw it through a carefully chosen lens, every action checked twice and methodical. I stored all my valuables in certain uncomfortable yet safe locations on my person and stuffed unimportant stuff in a satchel. It was intense in some parts like Las Ramblas and other touristic areas especially after coming from San Sebastian but generally I felt a lot more secure than I expected.
The highlight of my trip was probably Park Güel. I took two different trips there, using two different routes and had two different experiences on each occasion. Holly and I walked all the way there, uphill after the Sagrada Familia and bought an inexpensive picnic feast in a supermarket along the way. We managed to grab a picnic table with a fabulous view of the city and atmospheric Hang drums playing in the background and watched a couple of friends prepare a celebration lunch for their blindfolded friend. Corinne and I took the escalators from near Lesseps metro station because of time constraints and managed to find our way to the top, the cross that overlooks the city at sunset. I perched on some rocks on the mound whilst Corinne skipped around the top and tried to haul me up with her despite my vertigo issues winning the fight against climbing the crumbling steps. There is a breathtaking view from the top and Barcelona’s cityscape spread out before us on both occasions, an unmoving patterned rug except for the occasional airplane jetting in and out of El Prat.
Despite the enormity of it all , the city felt intimate, approachable and as if there was space for everyone who required it. It was hard to tear myself away from that view but a hungry Corinne is an insistent Corinne so we made our way back towards dinner.
That morning we had also explored another must see green space, Park de la Ciutadella which is comprised of the city zoo, a beautiful fountain erected by Josep Fontseré and a young Gaudi, the Museum of Natural Sciences, the Catalan Parliament and a bandstand dedicated to a transsexual murdered there in 1991.
In contrast to the peaceful green spaces, the port and beaches are quite chaotic. I imagine even moreso during the summer. Mojito and rug salesmen weave noisily through groups of settlers and the sea gently laps the shore. You can walk along the coastline and stop for a coffee by the ocean or to get an ice-cream by the port and imagine owning certain boats docked there. The restaurants by the port are a little more pricey but fairly worth it for the view and atmosphere.Our final stop in Barcelona we managed to squeeze in on our last day due to a six-hour flight delay. Take the lift up to the top of El Corte Inglés in Plaza Catalunya and enjoy a coffee and croissant with the city in the background. Go on a weekday at non-peak coffee time for the best table.
Putting Barcelona into words is a difficult task because it is undoubtedly somewhere that should be felt. I pulses with an energy which needs to be experienced. It’s a place you could disappear into only to be spat out months later. Different somehow. I look forward to returning `there in the near future to sample more of what it has to offer hopefully with a larger budget.