We landed in the Barcelona Airport on March 15 at 8:30PM, barely knowing what our next move was. All we knew is we were supposed to be sailing a 50′ Catamaran from Palma de Mallorca, Spain to Faro, Portugal and it was going to take five weeks. We knew that the boat was not seaworthy and so, three days after our arrival in Port d’Andratx, we flew from Palma to Barcelona with no money and no way to contact our families back in the states. Most importantly though, we knew we didn’t care that we had no plan, and we knew everything was going to work out just fine.
Arriving in Barcelona we knew two things: the address of the Youth Hostel where we were spending the night and that I had to see La Sagrada Familia or I would not be satisfied. Beyond those two things, anything and everything was fair game. I was remarkably calm considering this was my first time traveling in Europe. Perhaps this was because Barcelona had been my dream destination since I was twelve years old and the Cheetah Girls 2 had taken place there. Perhaps this is because in the face of true uncertainty, I can step up to the plate. Either way, I felt that the stars were aligning for the first time since we had flown out of Boston.
As we drove in the backseat of the taxi to Center Rambles Youth Hostel, the city was alive. It was a Saturday night, and — for the Spanish — it was still very early in the evening. People were everywhere, lights lit up the skinny streets of the Gothic Center in every direction you looked, and the energy of the city just felt free. In Spain, everything is manana. The people don’t seem to let small things bother them as much as we do in America — and you could feel that right away.
Arriving at the hostel, the guy at the desk was evidently stoned. His dirty-blond hair was flying in every direction, his shirt was unbuttoned half way down his chest, and his eyes were bloodshot and glazed. He spoke English fairly well it seemed, but every reaction was delayed; you could see the effort he had to put into paying attention to our words and his work.
Dragging our luggage up three flights of stairs, our room wasn’t as bad as we had anticipated. It was at the end of the hall, so remarkably quiet. It was meant to house 8 travelers, but only two other people were staying with us, a brother and a sister from Brazil. They spoke almost no English, and we almost never saw them except when we left the room in the mornings. We still wouldn’t dare use the bathrooms, though.
Luckily, the hostel which had claimed to be “very central,” really was right smack in the center of Barcelona. It was one block off from Las Ramblas, a 10-minute walk from Barceloneta Beach, a 30-minute walk to La Sagrada Familia, and a 30-minute walk from the National Palace. Everything was within walking distance, which was perfect because there’s no better way to see a city than to wander through it. Also luckily, the hostel had free Wi-Fi, which was immensely helpful as it was the only way to contact our families. After Facebook messaging them all night, we worked out that we would move our flight up to the following Friday, March 21. It cost way too much money, but there was no way we could survive for 5 weeks in Europe with the money we had.
So, Sunday morning we got up with the sun and headed out into the city streets. We knew we wanted to get to La Sagrada Familia, but none of the tourist maps were of any use as they didn’t show nearly all of the city streets. So, we went wandering in the direction of the sun in search of the masterpiece. Along the way we discovered a majestic fountain.
That’s one of the best parts of Europe; everywhere you turn there are monuments, statues, churches, and fountains that aren’t even of any remarkable value to tourists — they’re complete throw aways, but in any American city they would be the most prominent tourist attraction. This was by far the most beautiful fountain I’ve ever seen, and moreover it was by far the most impressive “throw-away” that Asa and I had the privilege of encountering while we were lost in Barcelona.
Another benefit of letting yourself get lost in a city is seeing all of the tiny pieces that give a city it’s own culture. From street art, to crossing the streets through marathon runners, and the city’s wildlife — it all creates the story of the city.
This section of the city evoked a sense of Paris. All of these buildings and streets were new — meaning the 18th century. The streets were wide, the sidewalks clean, and the architecture was grand, godly, and detailed. After much wandering, we finally found the highlight of our trip — La Sagrada Familia.
La Sagrada Familia is a building truly unlike any other. I would go as far to say that is the most beautiful building in the world. Designed by Gaudi, who I’m certain part of my soul once belonged to, the entire premise of the design was to evoke nature because the forest was the first church. Inside the Basilica are beams, high as a skyscraper, that instantly conjure images of trees. The ceiling is covered in shapes that are meant to be the leaves in the forest’s canopy, although I thought they were meant to be stars. Either way, the effect is the same.
As you can see, Gaudi left no detail out; he even added what are supposed to be knots on a tree about halfway up each pillar. However, the most incredible part of the entire design are undeniably the stained glass windows.
The stained glass had no images in it like at a traditional Cathedral, only blocks of color to create the perfect lighting. In fact, the entire Basilica contained almost no images. The only images were of Christ on the cross and the four symbols of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The outside of the church holds all the imagery. The backside displays the Nativity Facade, which is a very intricate design, more like what we have to come to expect of Cathedrals.
I could write an entire novel on what it was like to be inside the glorious Cathedral, and I could write another book on Gaudi’s creative process in designing it. What I will say here, however, is that being inside this building was like no experience that I’ve ever had. Asa and I sat silently inside the Basilica for 2 full hours. I found myself in a trance, mesmerized by the colorful light and columns that soared upwards. This Cathedral, although designated as Roman Catholic, is a sanctuary for a pantheist like myself. Christians everywhere have always struggled to balance the fine line between monotheism and pantheism that the religion promotes. God is one, but God is everywhere and is everything. Gaudi’s design underscores this dilemma. As someone who goes to church, was raised Lutheran, but considers herself pantheist in her actual ideology — I found La Sagrada Familia to be the perfect sanctuary. It was beautiful, it made me cry, you could hear the heavens silently ringing in it’s forest of stone. I still firmly believe that I could have sat in the Basilica for all eternity without experiencing boredom, hunger, thirst, or any want whatsoever. Although the unintelligent and insensitive alike will never be able to truly appreciate and understand the beauty and experience which is this building, it is a sight worth seeing for everyone. Just try and remember that you’re in a sacred place and that you shouldn’t be bickering with your family as you walk through it.
Another highlight of our Barcelonian adventure was our night at Bar Pastis. A hole-in-the-wall bar in Barcelona is a place that my soul feels completely at home. Absinth is on tap, the walls are covered head to toe in comics, paintings, newspapers, sculptures, and any old thing you could imagine. The whole bar is about the size of my dining room, which is about 200 square feet. When we arrived, the place was dead. We thought that at 9:30PM the Spanish would be at the bars already, but we were wrong. We sat drinking with the owner and bartender, who spoke no English, and watched futbol on the small television hanging high up on the wall — practically the ceiling. About an hour later, all at once a hoard of probably 20 people flooded into the tiny room. All of a sudden the place breathed. At first, I was uncomfortable with this. It felt sacrilege to the place — a place that I felt was only for the burdened souls of artists. It only took me about 15 minutes to get over this feeling. The energy of the place was refreshing, it was the only real cultural experience we had while in Barcelona. No one spoke English and everyone was there to see a concert of accordion and guitar, which was indeed magical.
Bar Pastis – Barcelona – Click for video of Musicians playing
After this truly mesmerizing performance, lots of lively conversation with the musicians and audience alike, and a few too many Cuba Libres, we headed back to the hotel. (Yes, we only stayed 3 nights in the hostel and then moved to Hotel Ramblas down the street for the last 3 nights. It was well worth it.)
The last major highlight of our time in Barcelona, at least for me personally, was going to see Park Guell. We had quite the adventure just getting there; we were confused about the stop we had to take on the metro, thinking we had to get off at the end of the line. We found ourselves in Trinitat Nova, wandering aimlessly up the hills trying to find the park. This neighborhood did not seem tourist-friendly and most people seemed to live in poverty. It was slightly nerve-wracking because we didn’t know where we were, we had no way to figure out where we were going, and no one spoke English. However, it was a refreshing experience to get to see a truer side to Barcelona. Eventually a nice woman pulled up a translator app on her phone to help us find our way.
Finally we came to the right metro stop. Still though, we could not find the Park for our lives. We knew we were only 1.3km from the Park, but we wandered for an hour unable to find it. So, we stopped in a hotel to get lunch and then took a taxi the 1.3km to the Park. I have to say it was worth it. As I mentioned earlier, Barcelona had been the city of my dreams since The Cheetah Girls 2 aired in 2006. This park is where one of the most iconic scenes in the film was shot, so it was the fulfillment of my Cheetah Girl dreams to see it. Beyond my childhood fantasies, though, the park was also designed by Gaudi, who has become one of my favorite people in history since this trip. The buildings in the park looked like gingerbread houses and it was practically a maze through it all. Every pathway you walked under could also be walked over, if you could find your way there. The park expanded far into the mountains beyond what Gaudi had designed, and every turn you took looked almost identical to the last. It was an adventure just walking around. Street vendors line every pathway, as do bubble-blowers, magicians, and musicians. Every moment was full of the joy of a new surprise.
Ultimately, getting to know the city of Barcelona was not hard. We spent 5 days wandering the city streets, which is the best way to get to know any place. In fact, the best way to get to know a place is not to plan your trip before you get there; you have to go with the flow, get lost in the streets, mingle with locals from all walks of life. In short, you have to see every side of the city, and you must be open to having adventures.
Some more of my personal highlights: