Danny's European Adventure's-Part One-Barca Bountiful Across the Map
It is not exactly surprising that the first few days that we have spent in Barcelona proved more than wonderful. After surviving the three-leg flight over that spanned close to twenty-four hours (I heartily advice spending a bit more money and simplifying the journey across the pond), we have had days only slightly planned, but plentiful in activity.
The first couple of days were themed by the late 19th, and early 20th century architect Antoni Gaudi. On what we believe will be the only rainy day of our two weeks in Spain and southern France it was a good time to explore the incredible La Sagrada Familia cathedral, a never completed but incredibly majestic and simplistically ornate structure that Gaudi spent the last forty years of his life designing and overseeing. It was such an ambitious enterprise that he was only to see less than a quarter of it completed by his death in 1926. It does not look incomplete now, with restoration efforts going in in first and starts to this day. A recently resurgent plan has its goal of completion by the centennial of his death in 2026.
The church has 130-foot high pillars on the inside designed to look like trees. Having them on the interior creates a clean setting for the exterior design in the structure which fills an entire city block. The stained-glass windows and other sculptures are also a part of the wonderful mix. I generally feel like any church might collapse due to my infrequent presence, but you definitely need not be a person of faith to enjoy historical treats like that.
The next day was sunshiny and beautiful on a Saturday and we made a long hike up the lovely streets to the home of Gaudi high in the hills above Barcelona. It was a nice little visit to a beautiful spot which was in the center of what is now an incredible, immense and spectacular city park. There were stunning views of the city below and mountains above, and amazing hiking trails.
Our base for the stay was a modern apartment in an area of Barcelona about three miles north of the city center. One of the charms here is that there are broad thoroughfares that are akin to a cross between Michigan Avenue in Chicago, and the Champs Elysee in Paris, with the added bonus of tall mature trees which the broad sidewalks are built around. But if you move just fifty feet away on a side street, as our apartment was, you are quickly in your own quiet neighborhood. The one-way streets have sidewalks on each side which are wider than the road, which is barely wide enough for one car. There is precious little auto traffic on these, and only the sporadic buzzing of the omnipresent small motorcycles.
At every major city intersection you see literally hundreds of them park side by side by side. The traffic is fairly intense on the big thoroughfares so these little autobugs flick in and out constantly. There are also racks and racks of bicycles that are available at almost no cost. The credit card is used to unlock them, and for identification if you don’t return them somewhere. I thought about using one, but it seemed a bit too dicey for a rube who didn’t know the lay of the land.
As a sports fan, it was interesting to arrive just 12 hours after Barcelona FC beat Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal, with Lionel Messi scoring two goals. About every inch of the sports section, as well as a banner on the front page. Forbes reported that in 2018 Messi hauled in 111 million dollars in salary and endorsement cash, and from being here, the dude earns every cent. He is making so much money for so many people it isn’t even funny. You can’t spit far enough to not see a number 10 Barca jersey or tee shirt. And this isn’t even the Argentinian’s native country.
And, of course, there is the food. You are reading the words of a man who has spent his entire adult life figuring out what not to eat. Well, since tapas is the staple here, I can win, win, win. In a group of four ordering a dozen or more small plates to share (or maybe hoard one to yourself), you get delicious treats in small doses. Some great beers, and or, Sangria, and, well, what can you say. When in Rome, figuratively, or in this case Barcelona, I always try different things, or things I have tried and loved before, but seldom experience. A revisit of known personal favorites like squid and octopus has already had a few incarnations. I also have eaten anchovies for the first time in my life, and the simplest of dishes, tomato bread, at our first brunch, was amazingly delightful. Like a tomato jam spread on artisan bread, with some secret spices on it. Yummm.
Sunday my wife and I just walked and walked, down to the ocean for lunch, having been sold out of the Picasso museum. We could hardly have cared. We went through countless courtyards filled with music and food, and interesting and lively people having a grand time on a beautiful spring day. No tapas for lunch, a standard regular one plate order. But I did indeed go for the octopus again, and it was the best I ever had. It was a great way to almost say goodbye to Barcelona as we head to the south of France a couple of hours away for a week of a much more quiet, but certainly as satisfying, adventure.
Simple or spectacular, quiet or bustling, it’s all good. Real good.