15.08.2014 - 22.08.2014 31 °C
Ah, Barcelona is a lurid and showy mistress. She demands your attention and awe, she refuses to sleep until she's had her fill. And such an enormous appetite this city has once she's poked in the side.
Barcelona snoozes while the sun is full, and rolls out of bed at 8pm. But then she wants you wide-eyed, she demands that you're dancing, forces drinks down your throat and music into your eardrums. We spent a wonderful week in Barca feeling like a mixed bag- locals in our sleeping and eating habits (both sloth-like), tourists in our rushing off to the city's killer list of attractions. It's much too difficult to detail the week in full so I've compiled my highlights! In no particular order (indicative of the Catalan culture, which has no real general order):
1) Our paella cooking class! We probably ate more than we learnt but I loved hearing about the history of paella from the chef. He told us that the word paella means 'cooking for her' because it is the dish traditionally made by local men at community events and public holidays. It absolutely blew mine out of the water and I can't wait to test the recipe when I get home. Except for the multitude of prawn heads.
2) The neighbourhood of Gracia. This is where we stayed and we were lucky enough to be there right in the middle of their annual festival. Each street has a nominated day to put on entertainment and decorations, and being crowned the winning street is a big honour for them. We went to watch a traditional Spanish band one night down our street. The locals LOVE to dance, it is definitely not just for girls. I really enjoyed the drumming troupes, until it was 4am and I wanted to sleep. It was really cool to go to sleep with the adjoining streets decorated one way, and waking to a new paper-mâché world the next morning.
3) La Barceloneta. This is the old fishing district which has been transformed into this seaside hub of bars, museums and a man-made beach. I loved laying on the albeit cigarette-littered sand and watching tourists base themselves in tanning oil and having seedy hawkers prowl past, muttering 'Mojito, cerveza, one euro, one euro mojito, cerveza'. I was also struck by the similarity to Bali when I offered hair-braiding and a massage about three times per hour. While it is definitely not a beach you'd visit for its natural accolades, it is a fascinating melting pot of hung-over tourists, Spanish institutions and all the good and bad that comes with being a global city.
4) The Nou Camp, and FC Barcelona in general. If there is ever a city that loves its team, it's Barca. Kids shriek and point at signs featuring Messi, wearing a FCB jersey is considered formal wear and the merchandise stores are teeming with people from morning till night. Supporting Barcelona has a this deep political context because of the oppression of Catalan culture during Franco's reign, and the club puts great effort and pride into bolstering the solidarity and independence of the Catalan people. I was really touched by their investment in educational initiatives and social inclusion programs when we visited the stadium. When I wasn't having to take 3,000 photos of Hodge.
5) The Sagrada Familia. It is daunting, unfinished but still ridiculous in size and detail, and looks like it has been melted by a laser beam. Put short, it is the most ludicrous and amazing building I have ever seen. Our photos will do it no justice but I really urge everyone to have a look online at its design and progress. It is scheduled for completion by 2026 but the local proclivity for siestas makes me doubt it.
6) Parque Guell. Another of Gaudi's bizarre masterpieces. This park was meant to be a housing estate but struggled with commercial viability, so Gaudi was commissioned to do what he liked with it. He essentially turned it into a huge public space for the people to use for events, socialising and recreation. But it is so much more than that. The Parque is like a demented fairytale, lined with gothic gingerbread houses and home to a very unique mosaic lizard. Gaudi based his work on nature, and never incorporated a straight line into his structures. Everything feels wonky, like you've stepped in front of a magic mirror at a circus.
7) We didn't get pickpocketed! Fifty points to Gryffindor! But seriously, Barca is the pickpocketing capital of Europe. There are more scams than you could come up with in a lifetime, ranging from 'how could you fall for that?' to 'wow that's genius'. But we were smart and live to fight another day (fist bumps all round).
8) The Magic Fountain. The fountain outside of the major arts and sports district goes haywire every night, putting on a spectacular show of colours and water projections. It's hard not to coo along with the kids in the crowd.
There's so much more I could say about Barcelona, but to put it simply: I would go back in a second.