One of my favorite movies of all time is Vicky Christina Barcelona; the song here (I suppose it would be the “title track”) was running through my head the entire time I was there. Re-listening to it now as I write this entry, it feels even more fitting than it did at the time: the vocals are affectionately off-pitch at times, and the overall feel is a little bit mysterious and frankly, weird. Barcelona is certainly all of these things–it felt almost like what Ithaca might be thought to “aspire” to (head shops, lots of street art, great food and drink) but on speed, and in Spanish.
With that said, you could definitely feel the economic crunch there; everything was cheap, and from the stories I heard all weekend from Elsa, Chloé, and their friends, Barcelona was a much bigger party before things went south. There were riots in the streets shortly before we ended up arriving, and there was a certain malaise that pervaded the atmosphere of the city. Spain is a country changed by our times.
Chloé’s rooftop terrace, and the view. We spent a lot of time here hanging out in the morning with espresso.
The most exciting part about this leg of my trip was that I was able to vacation with my two darling host sisters, Pepita and Elsa. We stayed with their cousin Chloé and her boyfriend, as well as their “coloc,” an English girl named Kelly (so I didn’t entirely leave my beloved country behind! hah). Barcelona being my third city in 24 hours, (Bath-London-Barcelona) I was already pretty exhausted when I arrived and met up with Chloé to wait for the Pierrot girls to arrive (after some transportation issues with the Pierrot girls getting turned away at the gate for their flight because Pepita didn’t bring her passport!). When we were finally all together, we went out to lunch at a place called Oviso (pictured above). I had a 3-course meal for 6 euros, and it was delicious.
We spent the rest of the day just sort of walking around Barcelona with Chloé as our guide, and that night went to a tapas place called Fidel Bar for dinner, and afterwards a place called 23 (in Spanish, of course) to listen to some improv jazz.
I woke up the next day with a sore throat, and as the day wore on I realized I was having a really strong allergic reaction to something. It was like the usual springtime allergies (which I only just started to have last summer, by the way) except worse than I’d ever experienced. Luckily, we spent most of the day inside at the Museum of Catalan History, which talked about the history of Barcelona and the surrounding region, and the Picasso Museum. The first museum was my favorite, but we ended up leaving early as it started to get nice out as soon as we got into the museum–it had been cold with no sun–so we headed out and had another tapas meal at a place called La Bombetta (but we accidentally ordered WAY too much food, the servings were HUGE!). We laid around in a great park in the center city for awhile before it started to rain and we headed for Picasso.
On our way to visit the squat, we ended up playing a sort of funny 3 v. 1 soccer game with a bottle cap against an Indian kid living in Barcelona who I accidentally kicked the cap into. I had been kicking it up the street for some time, but accidentally hit him in the back of the leg. And somehow, it became some bizarre street soccer game that lasted about 10 minutes!
Eventually, we did make it to the squat after winning the game. And apparently, these squats are actually pretty numerous around Barcelona. They’re literally empty buildings that someone discovers, and then people flock to inhabit. We had walked by one the day before that was painted with crazy colors, reeked of marijuana and was effectively the answer to every cliché about squats. However, the one we visited was quite orderly. There were no crazy paintings, there was a manifesto with the rules of the squat, and it appeared that there was some kind of governing body associated with it as well. And the apartments were incredible! Elsa has two friends living there, both of whom have electricity and internet and have probably 2,000 sq. ft. apartments that they share with 1-3 other people. And they don’t pay a dime. I struggled to understand how it worked, but with Elsa’s friends speaking mostly Spanish (one also spoke French, and the other had some English) it was difficult to work out the logistics. And the most incredible part, beyond the electricity and internet? They’ve lived there for almost a year, undetected! We ended up spending a long time on the roof of the squat which is right in the center of the city with a great view of an old church. It was a clear night and I passed the time trying to remember the names of constellations that I recognized (Elsa and her friends mostly chatted in Spanish, with the occasional explanation given in French or English, so I was left to my own amusement a lot).
Elsa and Pepita get on a “horse” for the first time in the Museum of Catalan History. City girls!
The next day, I woke up really early (10am real time, 7am barcelona time) and made tea to try and stave off my bizarre sickness/allergies. I laid on the couch with my tea until about 11 or 12 when everyone started to get up, and I think we were out of the house by 1. That was pretty normal for Barcelona, it seemed. We stopped at a pharmacy and I bought anti-histamines first off, so that I could stop suffering (and really, stop dragging down the group, as by midnight I was dying and exhausted every day we were there, and that’s not even considered night time yet in Barcelona).
We took a long walk from Elsa’s university (She’d studied abroad for a year there the same way I am in Paris!) which was stunning, then down to Gracia, my favorite part of the city, by way of the “Champs Elysée” of Barcelona, to see all of the Gaudi buildings. We had another delicious-yet-simple tapas meal in Gracia at a place called Lorenzo. Afterwards we walked up to the Sagrada Familia, the famous Gaudi church that is still under construction (Gaudi was hit by a bus and never able to finish it himself). We didn’t go inside though because it was outrageously expensive (probably the only thing in Barcelona that is) and (the theme of this trip) I was really down and out. It’s a shame that the time spent in Barcelona was so defined by the ups and downs of my illness, but I’m referencing my notes every step of the way with this commentary, and I’m afraid that it just DID play that large of a role.
Tapas in Gracia.
Barcelona’s “Arc de Triomphe” right next to their “Gare du Nord.” We had a lot of fine making Paris-Barcelona cross-references.
However, the afternoon improved with our rapid succession of terraces–first, we met with a writer to whom Elsa had to deliver some books for her employers. After coffee/juice there, we headed back towards the center city from Gracia and hit another terrace where Elsa and Chloé had beer, and Pepita and I had the most phenomenal hot chocolate I’ve ever had outside of Angelina’s. Then, third and finally, we went to La Plata, one of Elsa’s favorite restaurants in Barcelona, and ate fried anchovies, tomato and onion salad, and sausages on bread with tomato, all washed down with classic Barcelona rosé. It was a funny succession of terraces–we literally just got up and walked from one to the other, no other goals in mind in between. We made plans to go to an absinthe bar later that night, but Chloé went to see a movie and Pepita, Elsa and I stopped by the squat again to pick up a scarf Pepita had left and hung out there for a bit, but eventually headed back to their apartment to relax until Chloé and Nico returned, and I, predictably, fell asleep. I felt guilty the next morning, my last morning, when I woke up and realized I’d missed my last night out in Barcelona, but I had really needed the sleep.
My last morning in Barcelona was relatively uneventful as I had to head to the airport at noon to catch my flight, and no body else woke up much before then. And it happened to be the warmest it had been the whole time there on the morning I left! I had a lot of fun though, despite being sick, and it was really great to get to spend time with my host sisters outside of Paris–to see Elsa’s abroad experience, 5 years later. It got me thinking about what it will be like to return to Paris after a few years away, perhaps bringing my sister around. I didn’t dwell long on this though, because as soon as I landed in London, I was too happy for words.