I woke up on Sunday feeling a little tired but generally very excited for the day ahead. I was so happy to be back in a Spanish-speaking country after spending all of last year in Paris – I speak French, but my level of confidence and comfort in French is still drastically below what I feel in Spanish. I’ve still been trying to improve my French in the year since I left Paris, so it was actually a little hard for me to switch gears and get back to Spanish. (I actually happened to be in Madrid recently just for a day, and someone there told me I was speaking with a French accent – whoops.) I am happy to report that I spoke a LOT of Spanish with people with different accents, and I didn’t have any trouble at all (and I lost the French accent and reverted back to my more neutral Spanish one). Spain is always a little bit of an adventure linguistically because a) Spanish people speak with a deliberate lisp which is pretty hard to replicate and b) in Spain there is a separate verb form used that does not exist elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world, and we don’t really learn it in the US, so it’s always kind of funny for me when I hear people using it or when I have to fake-it-til-I-make-it myself.
Anyway, I grabbed a quick breakfast and then set off in search of the beach. The sun was shining, and now that I live in London, it’s even harder to pass up a chance to sit outside in the sun. Especially when this is the view you end up with:
Not bad, right?! I settled down onto the sand around 11, and already there were men walking around calling out “mojitos!” I have to give them credit for presentation – those drinks looked lovely on their tray, and the guys carried a bottle of rum in their other hand so you could see them spike it for you. Also on offer (by people who sometimes got quite in your face about it) were coconuts, dresses, henna tattoos, and massages.
After an hour, I walked back to my hotel, changed my clothes, and set off for a Gaudí-filled afternoon. I grabbed a ham and cheese sandwich (queso manchego and jamón serrano… so good) and made my way up to see the three most famous Gaudí buildings, starting with the Casa Amatller and the Casa Batlló, which are right next to each other.
Maybe someday I will be willing to shell out the admission price to see the inside of the Casa Batlló (on the right), but for now it was cool enough just to see them from the outside. I love the colors on the Casa Batlló; it strikes me as very beachy.
Just a bit further north along the same boulevard is the even more famous La Pedrera:
This also has quite a steep admission fee, but I’d probably be willing to pay it just to walk on the roof, which looks really cool.
Eventually I made it to Avenida Diagonal and stopped for a glass of cava at a cafe on a quiet corner. I perused through a copy of Spanish Vanity Fair and just savored the ability to sit in the sun, which was warm but not uncomfortable, and enjoy the feeling of being in a foreign city.
From there it was time for the big event: La Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s still-unfinished cathedral. It will truly be a marvel when finished. Right now I didn’t find the outside much to look at; a lot of it is still covered in scaffolding (though it is unclear to me why this is because there are pictures of it without scaffolding – so it’s like they’re already restoring some parts of it when other parts have yet to be constructed!). The following pictures do not even come closing to doing justice to the beauty inside the cathedral. Apparently Gaudí envisioned “a church of heavenly light”, and I think the people who have continued making his vision a reality have really created that effect.
(This last is the view we had coming down from the tower… a bit dizzying!)
All the colored light inside the church brought to mind my reaction to the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio. I love that statue because to me it reinforces the idea that God is about love. While I appreciate the stately beauty and grandeur of much older cathedrals (such as Notre Dame), they are often dark and cold on the inside and bring to mind the more guilt and punishment side of the Catholic church, which for me is not particularly conducive to worship. I can really see myself enjoying the Sagrada Familia as a place of worship and reflection.
After all my walking and then the descent from the tower on those spiral stairs, I was ready for a more extended break, so J and I settled into a plaza nearby and ordered a liter of sangria, which was of course very refreshing. J noted that it seemed a bit stronger than usual, and when we had finished, our waiter (who up until then had not been particularly friendly or attentive) asked us if we were feeling “happier” now. I said “yes, it was strong!” and he grinned and said “well, I made it myself, and I made it stronger because you’re both so pretty.” We popped into the restaurant to use the bathroom, and he made a serious attempt to get us to stick around. I told him we were heading back to Tapas 24, and he was like “bah, that place is so commercial; we have great food here.” (I will just note that we were one block from the Sagrada Familia, which is unquestionably the biggest tourist destination in Barcelona. Do with that what you will.) Anyway, when we finally left he made a big display of pretending his heart was breaking, etc. etc., which amused me greatly. See why I love Spain?!
Back at Tapas 24, we assumed our spot at the bar from the night before, had our friend Sam make us another of his special gin and tonics, and gradually ordered the tapas we’d been looking forward to all day. First (and later) we had some patatas bravas, which usually look more like chunks of potato or potato wedges but at Tapas 24 look more like regular fries, covered in the delicious aioli and bravas sauce.
Next we had the bikini (apparently a Barcelona term for a ham and cheese sandwhich). This was no ordinary ham and cheese, though: this was Spanish ham with buffalo mozzarella and truffle oil. Oh, my God.
We got two orders of these and could easily have eaten more!
Finally, the grand finale was the dessert we’d seen other people eating the previous night. Folks, in terms of presentation, it doesn’t get much better than this:
That is a baked pineapple with coconut whipped cream… otherwise known as a piña colada in solid form. It was every bit as good as it looks.
In the midst of enjoying all this food, we were having some fun with the men who’d come into our lives over the last 24 hours. I should note that J has a boyfriend, so this was all just in good fun for her. First, I texted Hot Paolo while we were waiting to get into the Sagrada Familia and learned that he was getting on a flight to Rome at 9:00 that night, so we weren’t able to meet up with him again, which of course made me very sad. He was kind enough, however, to send me a message later while he was at the airport that included both a picture of him looking pensively sad about his impending departure and a video of him singing in front of the Sagrada Familia earlier that afternoon. (It turns out he is a singer, and that video is never coming off my phone.) Closer at hand, we decided to try to connect with Rafa, the cute chef working just on the other side of the glass from us. J eventually decided that a note was the best strategy, so she grabbed a napkin and (with some translation assistance from me) scrawled “would you like to make us breakfast tomorrow?”. Rafa’s face when he finally noticed her pressing this against the glass was priceless; we could hear him say “of course; give me your phone number!!!” He even came over for a quick moment to introduce himself and ask our names. We followed up later with messages like “J has a boyfriend, but K doesn’t, and she speaks Spanish!”, but his interest was clearly for J (which was okay with me; I was still reveling in my messages from Hot Paolo).
We ended up being the last to leave the bar that night. Sam and Rafa told us that they were all going out at the Bar Obama (yes, that Obama) a couple blocks away and that we should meet them there, so we agreed and headed over to wait for them. We were immediately cornered by a group of Cubans who now lived in Barcelona, and I spent the next 20 minutes trying to have simultaneous conversations with one who was trying to get me to go on a date with him the next day and another who was telling me that it was my obligation as an educated American to help his people in Cuba. (Both were interesting conversations but also made me slightly uncomfortable.) J stepped out to make a call, and I eventually disengaged to try to find her. It turned out she had gone home, and given the late hour and my lack of certainty about when the Tapas 24 staff would appear, I followed suit. It was a rather anticlimactic end to the night, but if I have learned one thing in my travels, it is that great nights (such as the one I had the night before) rarely repeat themselves immediately, and there is no sense getting upset about it! J and I still had a really fun evening.