J. Sam Williams
Back in January, my wife, I, and two friends—husband and wife—took a trip to Spain. The trip had been a long time coming. Having spent a summer living in Ireland with my wife, we both missed the travel (we also went to England, France, Germany and northern Italy that summer) and the feeling of living abroad. Getting away from the United States, getting a perspective as to how others live, the mental vibe of cities, and towns—it’s something that we’ve found to be important.
We flew from the west coast of the United States—our friends out of the east coast—and we met up in the Tryp Barcelona Apolo Hotel lobby in, you guessed it, Barcelona. It was 9 o’clock in the evening. It was in the 40s, and coming from California, I wasn’t ready for the cold the way I would’ve been seven years ago when I was growing up in New Hampshire. I remember clutching a scarf to my neck, as I adjusted my backpack filled with all my possessions.
I’d read about how late Spaniards and Catalonian’s ate. And I must admit I was grateful for this. After 17 hours of travel (though we did have a nice breakfast in Gatwick) I was ready to eat as much as I could possibly stuff into my stomach.
Of course, after dropping off our things in the hotel, we went and ate Tapas. Americans, we do Tapas wrong, being crammed into the small space, surrounded by locals, ordering the small detectible pieces of bread with tomato, or shrimp, or what have you—that was the way to do it. Eating big portions of whatever the “tapas” bar is serving in Minnesota, or St. Louis—that’s not Tapas.
The little tapas place —called Guell Tapas, on Carrerr Nou de La Rambla—was crammed—as I said. Woodend stools, chairs, counters—took up the whole room. I was amazed that people managed to fit in it as well. And how the waiters navigated through the area with such grace is beyond me.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have any space for four people to sit, so we ate outside, in the middle of winter. Thank goodness we started in Barcelona and not Madrid. The Mediterranean sea being right out off the porch, creates a much warmer climate—even though Barcelona is a tad bit more north than Madrid.
By eating outside, we also got an up-close look at a giant cat statue called Fernando Botero. Our table was maybe ten feet from the statue, and so I tore into my plate of tapas with a fully sculpted scat scrotum within eyesight.
That’s something about the US I think could be better—not the cat scrotum itself—but the amount of public art we have. While I find our cities easier to navigate than Europe’s (exceptions being Paris and London, which are the easiest places to travel), and obviously the language barrier is non-existent here in the States, I find these cities much more beautiful.
Barcelona is famous for its art, specifically it’s architecture from a man named Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi has created numerous buildings and architectural experiences in Barcelona: Casa Vicens, La Pedrera, Guell, Palau Guell, Casa Calvet. Then there is the Sagrada Familia—the most incredible building in Barcelona’s cityscape.
At first glance it seems as if Gaudi was never introduced to the concept of minimalism. Everything about the cathedral is busy, filled with color and creates both interesting lines, and whatever the opposite of an eyesore is.
While Gaudi died in 1926, the Sagrada Familia is not yet finished. Many people today won’t see it’s completion, and when it is done, it will be 50 feet taller than it already is (it currently stands at 566’). It costs to tour inside, and even in the slow season, the lines for the Sagrada Familia were rather long.
Parc Guell is another famous location in Barcelona, and another Gaudi treat. The most famous photographs of Barcelona are taking on a long overlook that you must wait in line to enter. It’s worth it though. Locals run here, walk their dogs; one enthusiastically told us in broken English that if we hiked but a bit farther, we’d see one of the most gorgeous views of the city. He wasn’t wrong.
If you’re planning on going to Barcelona read this: Hike to the top of Parc Guell, it’s amazing.
Traveling with friends in Barcelona was amazing. And it was especially fun to go with fellow Americans. For example, we all got to uncomfortably realize that prostitution is legal in the region. Well, that’s technically not true. Women can sell their bodies, but they cannot be pimped or become licensed prostitute. In other words, if a woman is prostituting herself of her own free will, she cannot be prosecuted.
Around the corner from our hotel, was a place called Bagdad. Looking on google maps, my wife and I both wondered what the place was. Did it have to do with the middle east? Or was it a gyros place? Not in the slightest. As we walked by it to get tapas on that first night, the store front clearly showed (video included) that it was sex show and prostitution establishment. The four of us discussed the matter, those uncomfortable laughs escaping as we did so.
If there’s one thing I can encourage, is that everyone see a Barcelona game while you are in Barcelona. FC Barcelona (that’s the Barcelona Football Club, for you non La Liga fans) is one of the premier teams in the whole world, if not the premier team. People from the States, to Brazil, Australia, to India, watch this team, follow them in the standings, and root for their players. If FC Barcelona happens to be playing in Barcelona—they were not when we went—buy a ticket and experience soccer at its highest level. If not, I recommend going and eating Tapas while Barcelona plays, and watch, listen to the locals, hear them scream—this is what we did, and it was one of my favorite experiences. Not just because I love soccer, but because experiencing it on a local level gives you an insight to the life of normal everyday joe’s that live there.
My favorite part of Barcelona though was the Gothic Quarter. The buildings are old, and beautiful, and it’s the first taste of old Spain I really felt. There is a glorious chocolate shop called Granja Dulcinea. It’s off a small stone path, and has both downstairs and upstairs eating areas. The shop is white with dark wood floors, and dark wood tables and chairs. I had the best hot chocolate of my life there, and waffles with a chocolate sauce. It was both an excellent and an unhealthy breakfast.
The Gothic Quarter is a tourist destination and an off the beaten path area, depending on where you walk. Full of tiny streets, un-drivable, you can get lost in there, listen to street musicians and stumble onto enormous courtyards and markets you’d have no idea were there otherwise.
The Gothic Quarter is also east of La Rambla, the main shopping street in Barcelona. So it’s an excellent place to walk around, get some shopping done, have seafood, take photos and immerse yourself in the culture.
None of this would have been nearly as enjoyable had my wife, and our two friends been with us. Having people to enjoy Barcelona with, to talk with, and eat with—that’s what made Barcelona special. The city is beautiful, the sea is wonderful, and even in the winter the coastal beaches were nice. But discovering a location with family—that was the best.