“It’s like a dream”, a girl told me in Mexico prior to my highly anticipated sojourn to Barcelona city, in Spain. While I later understood what she meant, my initial impression of the city was how much faster the Spanish was than in Mexico.
In fact, the whole city is pulsating – an international, cultured hub thriving with travellers, artists, academics and anyone with a zest for life. There’s so much to see and do here it would be well-nigh impossible to cover in one post. But it wasn’t always this way.
As recently as 1939, the city fell to Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War, and many civilians fled to the French borders. An excellent account of this can be found in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, which is full of acute observations and provides a good read.
It wasn’t until after the 1992 Olympics that the city recovered substantially. Today, the place shows off its striking architecture, particularly that of Antoni Gaudí, whose work can be seen in the smurf-like structures that sing out in the middle of the city.
Perhaps Gaudí’s most distinguished work is the church of La Sagrada Familia, which has been in progress since 1882 and is not slated to be finished until 2026 (as it’s financed by private donations). However, it’s still a marvel to look at.
Another notable resident in his early days was Pablo Picasso, and there’s a museum in the city in his honour, along with a tour that takes you to his once favoured haunts. A number of excellent exhibitions of the artist’s work can be found throughout town.
Heading further back, Barcelona city was founded as a Roman city, and a visit to the city’s Gothic Quarter is a testament to these times. Marvellous ruins lie under the Placa del Rei (a must visit), and some have even been incorporated into the adjoining cathedral, built in 343.
For my part, I was lucky enough to spend three months in the city, as I’d made friends with a local couple while living in Sydney. One was a chef (pictured above) and the other’s father had his own wine cellar. They lent me a moped, which I thoroughly enjoyed zipping about town with.
However, my fondest memories were probably food related, visiting local cafes wedged inconspicuously between businesses on the water. Here regional specialties such as sardines, white bait, patatas bravas and Catalan bread presented themselves in ludicrously mouthwatering fashion.
Then there was Christmas, when my friend’s family spoke a delightful whir of Catalan and Spanish (for my sake), the groovy cafes with historic memorabilia and Cuban cigars, or the mornings I watched the world go by with a coffee and tortilla, listening to the boisterous banter of seasoned locals.
Then there were the bars that looked like a deserted garage in a dead quarter, before a combination of knocks revealed a subtly lit lair of revelry. Then, upon traipsing home just before sunrise, I’d find myself listening to the mellifluous voice of an Arabic woman in an intimate café, while men knocked out skilled rhythms with their fists on the table.
Ah Barcelona city, how I miss you.
I’ll see you soon.