“Who would have thought? You, me, Bella and Barcelona in the winter of 2019. Who would have thought?”
The three of us are nestled into the back of a taxi, en route from El Prat Airport Terminal 2 to Plaça de Catalunya. We’re driving northeast, parallel to the Mediterranean Sea coastline. It’s a Friday afternoon, circa 1 PM, forecast predicted at a peak of 16°C. The schedule is this: become well-acquainted with Antoni Gaudí, nearly faint from exhaustion whilst trekking up the Bunkers del Carmel, get severely lost in the Gothic Quarter and aimlessly stroll Las Ramblas at sunset. The only obligation? To expedite as much tapas, sangria and paella into our mouths as we go. Not one to brag, but I think we nailed it.
I remember when we were younger – fresh little teens – Lily and I would lie on her bedroom floor and converse the night away of what it would be like to grow up and travel together. “We’ll see the world, it will be great. And we’ll drink wine like our mother’s do too!” we would say. And yet it seemed so long away – a fantasy-land, a pipe dream. But eight years later and here we were, reunited after ten months apart, with Bella too, checking into our accommodation at Barcelona Apartment Aramunt. Located just a short ten minute walk to Exiample, our one-bedroom flat was a luxury, central, hell-hole hot water system bargain. (We had to flush the toilet with a steel pot full of water that we kept under the bathroom sink, and if you heard random screams and swearing, it would probably be somebody getting first-degree burns from over-heated showers).
Inundated of what to see and do first, we set our eyes and stomachs upon lunch at La Rubia: a brilliant tapas restaurant next to Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the cities most famous street skating spot. We devoured EVERYTHING and actually squealed (out loud) when glasses of sangria arrived to the table. Bellies full and jean buttons undone, we took to the infamous Casa Batlló where we stood in awe at the phenomenal scaffolding that covered the entire building! Beautiful. A little disappointed, we moved onto it’s neighbouring sister Casa Milà – a modernist building with an art nouveau style. An entire facade made of natural stone, it felt like a strange honour and bucket list moment to witness a Gaudi work in all it’s full glory. I think Lily may have peed a little.
From here we strolled into the large, lively city square at Plaça de Catalunya. Located between the old city (Ciutat Vella) and the nineteenth century Eixample district, it was here that I came face-to-face with my two greatest European fears: pigeons and gypsies. A terror of sorts, I used Lily as a human shield and performed a great comedic act to on-lookers and tourists alike. As the sun began to hang up it’s coat, we strolled along the La Rambla boulevard and stopped for gelato cones and tomorrow’s breakfast at the local La Boqueria market. An array of colour and meat, the stalls are filled with fresh fruits for the picking, haute cheese by the block and smells of freshly-baked sourdough and chocolate pastries. It was the perfect way to finish day uno off.
Nappuccino – the first siesta cafe in the world where one can buy a cup of coffee and a nap. Yes, you heard that right. We began here in the morning and refuelled with a good, proper cup of joe (sadly no nap) before taking a walk to see the Placa de Isidre Nonell. A mosaic mural made up of thousands of tiny ceramic tiles, each tile depicts an expression of ‘freedom’ to make up one, huge, intimate kiss. A short walk down from this and we found ourselves at the Barcelona Cathedral – a gothic, heritage site that was constructed from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries.
Delving deeper into the Gothic Quarter, we walked under the legendary and superstitious Pont del Bisbe bridge. Spooky. Maybe it was the bridge’s doing, but shortly after we were all hit with an intolerable curse of Hangriness. Everything was too expensive. Too big. Too small. Too ‘we don’t serve Paella-ish’. Finally, after 365 days, we stumbled upon an obscure Spanish restaurant that fulfilled our sangria and seafood desires. Fuelled up with life again, we toured down to the picturesque and bustling square of Plaça Reial. It has an ambiance made up soft music – a saxaphone and piano I think – accompanied by the clinking of glasses of rosé and romantics snogging. After a few moments of admiration and sun-filled rays, we trade in the royal fountains, streetlamps and palm trees for a bottle of vodka. On a mission to scout the cheapest booze, we take to the convenience stores to prepare for our “one” night of debauchery and dance in this cosmopolitan city. Crips? Check. Fruit? Check. Scissors for when one of us drunkenly suggests to cut the others hair? Check. Down the hatch and cheers to that.
All good things must come to an end. Unless you have one more day in Barcelona, then you’re off the hook. 24 hours left, how do you finish it off? Let’s start at Sagrada Familia. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an iconic Spanish masterpiece, and the creme de la creme of Barcelona if you will, Sagrada Familia exceeds all expectations. Under construction for over a century, this Roman Catholic church is an unforgettable part of Barcelona’s skyline. The second you step inside, you forget social etiquette and your jaw drops in the most ugliest, awed fashion. And you let it stay there. The entire Basilica is fitted with vibrant stained glass windows, which when the sunlight seeps through, resembles a dystopian forest. It’s oddly spiritual and feels like you’re having a conversation with Mother Nature herself. Taking a seat in the naves on one of the pews, we lean our heads back over the edge to analyse the ceiling. I think this tiny, brief talking moment where the three of us just sat and discussed childhood memories and the beauty of life would have to be one of the most memorable moments of this trip. We stayed like that for a while.
Following suit, we then explored the two sides of Gracia. When you start at the top, near Park Gruell you see the natural, preserved side of Spanish living. It’s children running in the streets, ripe oranges dangling off trees, political graffiti tagged onto walls, little town shops and chipped peach- coloured paint. We stopped for sandwiches and coffee (plus a Cornetto cone for Bella) and strolled past Casa Vincens – Gaudí’s first commissioned masterpiece. Continuing on down the slope, the clearing cuts out to a street of wealth. From established streets and palm trees to organic markets and high-end shops – the backdrop of chipped paint and orange trees fade off into the hills.
Time is ticking now. We’re all wary that tomorrow is an early departure, and so we come to a collective agreement that on our last few hours of relaxation and rejuvenation, we will climb a 50-minute steep incline to the Bunkers del Carmel – the top viewpoint at Turó de la Rovira. Of course Bella and I complained 55% of the time, but when you finally reach it’s summit you truly do have to just shut up and look. The whole city lies beneath you. We perch on a stone wall and quietly munch on our healthy picnic (a packet of onion-breath crisps and Oreos) as we watch the sun set. Ocean blue, pink fairy floss, orange sorbet. Darkness. It was that good of a show, you almost wanted to clap her off. As we started our descent down I looked up at the last hour of sunlight and felt full. Not from the onion-breath crisps and Oreos, but simply from life. Like all I ever needed to know and all I ever wanted to feel was written in that burning sky. Take a snapshot, I told myself. No, not on your iPhone. Here, with your built-in-camera. And whenever you need an answer, think of 6:50pm on the top a Spanish hill, surrounded by two friends and a soft, chilly breeze. And somehow, you will know, all will become well.