My first month in Valencia has mostly been spent exploring the city, finding a more permanent place to live, enrolling in Spanish school, and just getting on solid ground. With that (more or less) accomplished, its time to turn my eyes to the future. That means job hunting and getting my papers in order.
Happily, I could put that daunting prospect off for a week, and escape to Barcelona. Entirely coincidentally, my parents booked a cruise that landed in Barcelona long before I had made the decision to move to Valencia. Realizing that they would be nearby just 5 weeks after I landed in Spain, they kindly offered to bring over one of my suitcases. It was an especially nice offer, as I had to change airports in London, and dragging two 50-pound rolling suitcases and carrying another 35 on my back in a large travel backpack sounded horrible.
Unsurprisingly, doing it with just the one large suitcase and backpack was also awful, but luckily, I’ll never have to do that specific journey again. Hopefully. Although typing that seems an awful lot like tempting fate. Well, if it happens again, I know who to blame. You all, for making me write this.
Anyway, last week I had the chance to explore Barcelona for five days. Simply booking the ticket was exciting… In America, and especially in Texas, you have to drive for countless hours to get to anything even slightly interesting. I have always believed that America is too damn big. In Spain, three hours in a train will take you from Valencia north up the coast to Barcelona, at a very reasonable cost; €30 outbound, €45 returning. It’s pretty likely that the return journey only cost so much because I was booking one-way each time and might have done a teeny bit of last minute booking. Going by plane would have been cheaper, if I hadn’t have been carrying that huge suitcase on the way back. Ultimately, I decided that the train seemed a much easier trip, and more scenic.
The journey there was pleasant, although extremely early on a Sunday morning. Most of the passengers snoozed the whole time, including a few members of a biker gang sitting the row in front of me. They were members of the Pawnee Motorcycle Club of España, according to their leather vests, which also featured an offensive as hell caricature of a Native American chief. I wanted to tell them that Pawnee is the fictional city in one of my favorite shows, Parks & Rec, but didn’t think they wanted to be woken up for that tidbit of trivia. One of the guys was a very impressive snorer, though. He sounded exactly like a bear. I wonder if they give out patches for stuff like that, like in the girl scouts. I mean, that’s one of the only other organizations that requires vest wearing that I can think of. I hope so. A bear snoring patch sounds adorable.
Landing at Barcelona Sants (the railway station, not to be confused with the nearby Metro station, Sants Estació) I made my way to the aforementioned Metro station, and within 15 minutes was walking up to my Parents’ AirBnB rental in El Poble-Sec.
My parents, when they booked their trip to Barcelona, did not know that their first weekend there would coincide with the Spanish grand prix and Mother’s Day, nor did they know that I would be living in Spain. With Dad happily watching the Formula 1 race, Mum and I celebrate Mother’s Day together for the first time in ten years. After a big hug and cheerful catchup, we decide to grab a light lunch at a nearby tapas restaurant and make a plan for the day.
The restaurant, La Esquinita De Blai, is located on Carrer de Blai. It’s a lovely pedestrian street a short walk from the apartment we’re staying in, populated by many cafes with outdoor tables under cheery umbrellas. Most of the bars have pintxos, which instantly became my new favorite style of food. Pintxos, a Basque tradition, are appetizers, pieces of bread with various ingredients layered on top and held there with a toothpick. This is what gives them the name, which translates as ‘spike’. It’s a great idea, and means that you can try a variety of small bites, rather than one big dish. Bars in America, with their big, greasy appetizers, could take note of this! Cleverly, the toothpicks double as an accounting function, so the servers can see what to charge you. After some extremely tasty shrimp, cod (which is my current favorite Spanish word: bacalao) and a great sausage, we decided to take a walk down Avinguda del Paral·lel.
One of my favorite parts of Spain is that each region has its own language, separate from Spanish. Most Spaniards speak both Spanish, the national language, and the regional language, such as Valenciano in Valencia or Catalan in Barcelona. Signs tend to be in the regional language first, then Spanish, and sometimes in English third. With my limited (but growing!) Spanish skills, it’s fun to see the differences between Catalan and Spanish, such as avinguda (Catalan) and avenida (Spanish). Anyway, off we strolled down the avinguda to check out some Gaudí.
The fact that you can be casually strolling down a street and come across a building as beautiful as La Pedrera (or any other Gaudí building) is astonishing. It seems both otherworldly and incredibly natural in its form, the curves and lines, the obvious care and genius that went into the design and creation. I love that Barcelona has put so much care into keeping the masterpieces that are Gaudí’s buildings, the justified pride the city and its people take in them.
We purchase tickets to tour the building, which are not exactly cheap at €22 each, and grab our audio guides. I need to start remembering to bring my own headphones to these things, because those cheap one use headphones they give out are bad for the earth and hurt my ears. I think I must have strangely shaped ear canals for the amount of grief those things give me. Anyway, off we went on the tour. Casa Milá, the actual name of the building, is better known as La Pedrera, which means ‘stone quarry’, was the nickname given to the building by newspapers in Barcelona while it was being built. Apparently, the undulating grey façade reminded journalists of a quarry, but the name has long since changed from a mocking tone to one of fondness.
nature inspired gate, as seen from main courtyard
The construction of the building finished in 1912, which makes its enduringly astonishing quality even more remarkable. It’s an extraordinary building today, over 100 years ago it was so much more so. It’s weird, really, to think that something so amazing could have been built back then, and celebrated since, and yet so few other architects have taken pages from Gaudí’s book. I want entire cities populated with buildings so inspired by geometry and nature! The thoughtfulness of each aspect of the building, apartments with no load bearing walls, so tenants could open up the space in whatever way they saw fit, courtyards designed to allow light to stream through even the inner spaces of the apartments’ servants quarters, so many details of daily life considered.
A model of the building, showing the apartments inside
Incredibly, private citizens still live in La Pedrera, which has now become a life goal of mine, at least for about 6 months. I imagine the crowds of tourists might get old after a while. Even just a little peek around someone’s apartment there would be fun! Although I am dying of curiosity to know how much one of these beauties goes for, my internet sleuthing has thus far turned up nada. I’m sure I can figure it out one of these days, and start fencing artwork or something to finance my dreams of living fancy.
The roof of La Pedrera is my favorite part, with views stretching over Barcelona. In the distance we can see Tibidabo, Sagrada Família, and the Mediterranean. Gaudí hated the thoughtlessness of plopping chimneys, antennae, and other necessities on a roof without care to aesthetics. Instead, he built sculptures and shapes around each, turning the roof into another artwork for tenants to enjoy. It is lit up at night, and the foundation which runs La Pedrera often does concerts, audiovisual experiences, and other fun tours.
I absolutely fell in love with Barcelona the minute I stepped inside La Pedrera. Any city that fosters and celebrates beauty like that deserves a spot in my heart. And I wholeheartedly encourage anyone in Spain to make their way to Barcelona.
Our architectural curiosity sated for the day, we left to meet up with my dad. The race had proved to be a very good one, probably helped along by the liquor he had snuck into the race in a flask designed as a set of binoculars. I have to give my dad props for ingenuity when it comes to taking drinks into events.
Taking a stroll through Rambla del Raval, a lovely, tree-lined pedestrian street, we came across what might be the best Indian restaurant in Barcelona, and believe me, as British folk, we have high standards for Indian! At Maharaja, we sat outside in the dusk, enjoyed some amazing food, and enjoyed the atmosphere.
the view from Maharaja
With day one in Barcelona coming to a close, I enjoyed an Estrella beer and made plans for the next day. I would be going to Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s masterpiece.