June 19, 2013


El Día Primera
¡Bienvenidos a Barcelona!  Hopped on a plane in Sevilla, and here I am!  My first apartment (for the first week) is on the "main drag" of el barrio Sarría.  After dropping off my suitcases and a quick change of clothes, I set out to explore my new neighborhood.  Before I even shut the apartment door, my new next door neighbor, standing in her doorway, greeted me and immediately invited me to una fiesta happening that very evening!  A barbacoa on the roof of our apartment building!  La gente de España, se quiero!!  I excitedly accepted the kind invitation, and set out on my way.  Note to self: pick up bottle of wine to bring to BBQ tonight.  Little did I know what was in store for me that evening!

As I was strolling along (have perfected the art), learning and exploring the streets of my new neighborhood, I came to a lovely plaza (Placa de Sarría) which also had a quaint, "little" church (giant by our standards in the U.S), where a wedding had just finished. I lingered to watch the bride & groom emerge, all the guests cheering and throwing rose petals. I was thrilled and honored to witness it.

After satisfying my initial curiosity about the neighborhood, and gathering a few staples for the house (coffee and snacks!), I returned to my apartment and prepared for the party.  Soon enough I heard footsteps going upstairs to the roof, and festive voices, indicating the party had begun.  So I walked up the two flights of stairs and emerged on the roof.  My neighbor's entire family was there - her husband, her three adult children with their spouses and children, and a few more friends.  They were cooking on the barbeque, playing guitar and singing, the kids were playing...  One of the friends quickly became my "escort" and he introduced me to everyone, explaining who was who and how they were all connected.  It turned out that one of the brothers along with two of the friends were in a local band.  

Soon we all sat down to a large feast.  My newest BFF hands me a plate full of unfamiliar, yet delicious looking food and says, with a wink, "Barbecoa de Barcelona!  I don't think you've eaten this before."  And he was right.  He kindly named and described each delicacy on my plate. I listened intently and then quickly forgot (ha!) as I indulged in the yummy feast.  Seated at a table full of amigos nuevos, conversation flowed easily, but for the language barrier.  Ah!  Now that my Spanish was flowing fast and fluently, I had come to Barcelona, where the majority of the population speak Catalan!  Surely it must be very similar to Spanish, you say?  Uh.... not even close!  Ha ha!  Thankfully, these worldly folks are all trilingual, if not more, and they understood my Spanish! 

After eating and drinking until I thought I might have to foll myself home, I was surprised to learn that the now the evening's festivities would truly begin. 

What a lovely first night in Sarría, Barcelona.

During my stay in Barcelona, my bestie Michelle joined me for 10 lovely days, and we surely made every moment count.  We ambled along La Rambla, drank cervezas and enjoyed tapas at many tapas bars, and giggled endlessly as we "learned to navigate" the Barcelona Metro (that's my nice way of saying we got on the wrong train more than once!).

But we took that Metro all over and saw some amazing sights.  Our first big adventure was La Sagrada Familia.  This is an absolutely, must-see, no question about it.  As I think about all the different personalities of people I know, I can't imagine any of them not fully enjoying what might be considered Gauti's most significant work.  As with everything Gauti, it's over-the-top, beyond strangely weird, brilliant, and this one includes the whole religious bent.  The detail of the carvings, and the amount of work it took just to get people in place to carve them, is staggering.  Cathedrals and churches played a big role in this trip.  I was, for unknown reasons, continually, consistently drawn to them.  I think part of the reason is that Catholicism is as much a part of the culture, and way of life in Spain, as it is a religion.  It is, by far, the predominant religion in Spain, and it seeps gracefully and beautifully into everything.  Mother Mary, Christ, crosses, are everywhere.  Delicately adorning every building, fountain, bench, street sign…  Rather than feeling oppressive, it just feels natural somehow.  Perhaps because it's such an ingrained way of life.  The Spanish people are devoted, perhaps more to the history, and long standing traditions, than the actual practice of the religion.  And that's not true for everyone.  Whenever I wandered into a church, on any given day of the week, there were always at least a handful of locals there praying, paying respects, or simply seeking some peace and solace.  I paid attention and noticed that every man wears a necklace or rosary with a crucifix or cross.  They tuck them under their business suits throughout the week, but they fly freely on the weekends.  This is also true in California, where there is also a heavy Catholic influence, devotion and tradition among the hispanic cultures.  

La Sagrada Familia is the Mother (Mary) of all churches.  It simply silenced me.  We spent hours walking all around its outside permitter, which was more like being at an outside museum, went up to the top of the towers where the views of Barcelona were breathtaking, then inside the great sanctuary, which was truly and simply a great work of art, combining mosaic, stone carvings, modern and ancient religious icons and figures.  Finally, because we asked if the sanctuary was ever actually used for mass (it is, only on special occasions), we went down to the crypt, a separate church built on the grounds, underneath the main building, where a full mass was underway.  That was my very favorite part!  A full church hiding underground, with stone walls and cobblestone floors.  There are confessionals surrounding the perimeter and intricately carved statues…  And oh, by the way, Antonio Gaudi is buried down there!!!  

Parc Guell
My suggestion: go with the thought that you're going to a Park (after all, that is the name of it, yes?), rather than a museum or a major tourist-site.  While the Gaudi museum does sit on the grounds, it's Gaudi's former home, and so, it's not a huge museum.  But the park itself is quite beautiful, and certainly unique and different from most parks we frequent. The famous mosaic serpentine wall surrounds a lovely plaza and provides a perfect perch for beautiful views of Barcelona.  Paths leading away from the plaza meander along greenery, flowers and trees.  There are benches in quiet spots (perfect for a picnic of bocadillos and cava), and a full outdoor cafe serving yummy ice cream treats, and - of course - cervezas, perfect thirst quenching on a hot day.

La Playa
We only spent one day on the beach, but it was an easy and glorious day in the sun.  Barcelona offers many beaches, each different from the others, so whatever type of day you're looking for, you will likely be able to find the beach to match.  Barceloneta, the first area of beach from the Port, is the most popular, especially among the younger crowd, but also among the tourists.  Restaurants and cafes provide the backdrop all along the Barceloneta beach, making it convenient for midday eats or apré-playa refreshments.  The further away from the port you go, the quieter and less populated the beaches become.  

Montserrat is a monk monastery and a very famous pilgrimage for many.  For Michelle and I, getting to the monastery was a pilgrimage in and of itself.  It's not difficult (as is true for all of public transportation in Spain -- it's quite easy and convenient), but a bit of planning is necessary.  Mainly it requires locating the right Metro train to the right station to get to the right FSG train, which then, finally, goes to Montserrat.  The train ride out of Barcelona and into the countryside was pretty, and as we were approaching the mountain, Michelle spotted the monastery built right into the mountain.  It's not really that obvious.  I wouldn't have seen it.  But as we approached I was struck by how creatively it had been built, and how much work it must have taken.  Once we arrived, we rode a cable car from the base of the mountain up to the monastery.  Way cool!!

I was really glad to be with Michelle especially at this particular place, because she knew some history about it and was able to explain some Catholic traditions and customs as we wandered the grounds.  We first went to the large sanctuary and I think we might have spent close to an hour in there, just wandering around.  There were TONS of people inside, yet, there remained an air of respect and spirituality.  People spoke in hushed voices and certain areas were completely silent.  Once of which was the shroud of Christ, a separate, small sanctuary along the side of the sanctuary. At the front, hanging on the wall was an amazing rendition of the shroud.  Attempting to describe it will only lessen its excellence.  

Another central piece of interest at Montserrat is the Black Madonna.  Again, thanks to Michelle, I learned a lot about the history of this sacred statute found thousands of years ago in a cave on Montserrat, and restored and maintained sacredly inside the sanctuary ever since.

Barri Gotic y El Born
When it was time for Michelle to return to the states, we sadly bid farewell, and I set off to continue my exploration of yet unseen parts of Barcelona.  I was as happy as a pig in you-know-what wandering around the Barrio Gótic (Gothic Quarter) and El Born, two very cool barrios of Barcelona. I visited the National Arts Museum (Palacio Nacional) which is situated way up on a hill (requiring no less than 3 escalators and even more stair climbing on top of that), and provides stunning 360 views of all of Barcelona.  Walking down the back side of the hill took me through _____ Garden and then into yet another eclectic neighborhood, full of cafes and local hang-outs.  My favorite!  By this time, I had officially mastered the Metro as well, which is no small feat, but once understood, proves to be a most efficient, clean and well-planned subway system.  Good job Barcelona!

La Fiesta de Sant Joan 
Topping off and rounding out my stay in Barcelona, was La Fiesta de Sant Joan (that's Catalan for St John), celebrated passionately (and exclusively) in Barcelona. It's one of the biggest fiestas of the year celebrated by all of Barcelona, but not other parts of Spain. It's a huge party with food, music, fireworks, bonfires on the beach, and it goes all night, and then folks watch the sunrise in the morning. The primary ingredient is fire (bonfires, fireworks, you name it),  Parties in all the neighborhoods, on terraces, rooftops, in the plazas etc. Costumes too, the central figure being el diablo!! There is a ceremonial parade with a drum line and el diablo which kicks off the evening's events.  

La fiesta in my barrio took place exactly 200 meters from my house (that's less than a 2 min walk), maintaining the consistent, magical serendipity and buena suerte I've been enjoying these past 2 months. The neighborhood civic center plaza was transformed into a festive venue with no shortage of decorations and fanfare.  A full bar and stage were constructed.  There were tons of people - young and old, families, kids, everyone!!!  After mucha comida (y cervezas, sangrias...) the late-night crowd kicked into high gear, and we were treated to the cool beats of a local Barcelona band. Um, how happy was I? My favorite!!!  I was ecstaticly dancing the night away to the tunes of the band that kinda reminded me of my very favorite local SF band, who shall remain anonymous, but todo la gente know who I'm talking about!  ;)

The next day, it was time to say adiós to Barcelona, but not before a quick Metro jaunt, returning to Barceloneta, and specifically to La Xampanyeria, a wine bar that is famous for its delicious cava (something like Spanish champaign) and mouth-watering bocadillos.  The scene is rather like a typical deli counter in Brooklyn or Manhattan, where you have to navigate your way through the sea of people, and gracefully nudge your way toward the counter, so that you can scream your order to the guys making the sandwiches and pouring the copas of cava.  But once you've done so, you can hang at the counter, eat, drink and be merry to your heart's content.  As I mentioned, this was a return trip for me, because once was simply not enough.  And this time, I left with a few bottles of cava to bring home with me!  ;) 

Thank you Barcelona, for a fun, delicious, multi-cultural and memorable experience!!  And now, onto Madrid!!

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