Basking in Beautiful GraysIt is a testament to any city, or any noun for that matter, to be found breathtaking on an off day--smeared makeup and wild hair, rain, clouds and a color absorbing hue apt to tango with the aperture. Through all of this, the first rainy days in months, Catalonia's capital city was an unquantifiable treat; for if marvelous on an overcast stage, what must a strong sun reveal? Oasis. Barcelona is yet another European gemstone I will return to down the road. The world capital of architectural art nouveau, ever present smell of the sea in the air, paellas, chocolate, palm trees, fruit markets, a new language (Catalunian), ham--what else could a human want? Benvinguts a Barcelona.
Traveling in the European Union can be quite easy; rarely does a customs agent ask to see a passport, flights from country to country are relatively short--as is flying from Seattle to Portland, and if booked correctly, can be inexpensive. For example, Ryanair draws patrons with ticket deals for 0.01euros--no way! Yes you were correct, no way. Add 15euro tax, check in fee, 16euro luggage fee, and then factor in the 50euro transportation from Paris to the Beauvais airport, and from Girona airport to Barcelona, and you've saved no money, and lost 6 hours to buses. Pas grave--the Girona to Barcelona highway stretch is a wonderful sight indeed. It is worth, however, comparing the overall costs to direct flight into the city of destination itself. Thats all for travel advice. Later we will touch on the importance of choosing compatible traveling companions--perhaps it is you who can help me on this one. On y va!
Once off the bus in barcelona, a quick look at the map shows the way to the hostel leads us through a park. Excellent--parks are my heroine. With our mini-rolling suitcases (as I have no patience to wait to return after luggage check in) I lead my comrade through the Parc de la Ciutadella and begin my traveling (I travel, I do not tour). Palm trees. The only palm trees I am experienced to have been in glass houses and along greasy boulevards in San Fransisco and Orange County.
Humid, windy, gray, though warm--the surreal aura solidified the notion that I indeed came to the right city. Barcelona was exotic for me, yet curiously I felt in place, and began to consider the fact that if this is exotic, then what will the rest of the world will be like. How does one feel in place if in complete incommunicado? I don't know. Though it was hard to tear my eyes from the Mediterranean beach on which the hostel sat, we set the first stop as the arc de triomf--smaller than its Parisian sister, though richer in its pigmented terra hue. Next stop: Gaudi.
Officially the the architectural capital of modern art or not--wait I thought that was Brasilia? Barcelona is antique with a rounded artistic charm. I just completed a modern art class in an attempt to try and ameliorate my aversion to the genre. Though I wary from plain sentences, here it is: I hate modern art. I will clarify, I do not hate Gaudi, his work is quite beautiful and has instilled Barcelona with an unrivaled uniqueness. Antoni Gaudi is of the art nouveau movement, and though the movement is much more practical in jewelry and furniture, it transformed the city into a fairytale village with vibrant colors, intricate tiles, glass, and swooping curves.
My first contact with Gaudi was paying 13euros to enter his house, which, I am sure, was also home at one point to Bilbo Baggins. His other namesakes--the Park Guel and La Sagrada Família Church were enjoyed from the non-financially binding outsides. La Sagrada Família (an architectural equivalent to the microsoft word font type comic sans) is not a Spanish equivalent of the cornea-burning boil known as Centre Pompidou, but actually is under continual construction. Its construction began in 1882 and remained under the supervision of Gaudi for 40 years until his death. The church is therefore an organic part of the city, continuing off of the blue prints of Gaudi (and modern adaptations), it continues to grow and in a way defines Catalunias 20th century character to this day. Religious scenes line the cathedrals outer walls--according to Gaudi Jesus was a sudoku addict.
Guide books are useful for maps and street indexes. Thats about it. Traveling without extensive research into the destination--make sure there is a hookup or friend telling you where to go, else the tourist track will be at the end of ever ally turn. Me--I had my Gonzaga friend C to show me the "real" sights of Barcelona, and Nuria from Spanish Recipes to direct me to the the "real" tastes. Result: Comfort of familiarity that nearly brought me to tears, and the food--coconuts haves forever replaced my love for the apple, and the ham quest gave me a purpose--though a small accomplishment, an accomplishment none the less. Yes Nuria, I quested your ham; and I thought fois gras tasted like candy.
"You want to do what today?" Search for a ham store, I don't fault you if you choose to not accompany me. Rather in fact I believe I am a diseased person, for I find greater pleasure in solo adventures. No--I just have not found my Sam, thats all (Tolkien, it's my theory, passed many a vacance in Barcelona, in Gaudi's house.) Ham--I was told to search for this ham, Anthony would do it, I am doing it. So I walked. Three days in a city--every minute underground is a waste of it. I was given a name, an address, and a product: once there my plan ended. Hola, erm, pas de espagnol, parlez vous francais ou anglais? "Er, a little." After confusing the poor ham man beyond belief with my sordid attempt at recounting my story for why the hell I was there, we just ended it and decided to HAM yes try the ham.
Ooh, damn, damn that is really good. Yes you're amazing! I guess I will purchase the smallest piece. 78euros! ok thats slightly humorous, yes, its good enough to be worth 78euros I'll give it that, but thats my entire food budget. 35euros? No still no good, but it was fun anyways. I'm a poor student. The manager arrives: I have his name, yes I do. English. Excellent. The story--I came from Paris just to see you yes, yes indeed. Already sliced for 8.50euros--sold! You will tell my friend I was here? Gracias! Small conversation ensues--that is how a food traveler would handle things, laissez-faire. Laissez-faire. Iberian Acorn ham: without a doubt the best pig product available for human consumption. What should I cook with it? Screw that I'm eating it as it is--touch it and it melts. Gracias Nuria. Gracias.
Aside from the ham--whose history is incredible, as C informed me that its Spanish importance stems from periods of Jewish expulsion--fruits of the sea reign supreme, one word: Paella. Twice did I try, twice did I love. The more variation to the ingredients the better--shrimp and mussels are basic, but the addition of other mollusks and squid is a now necessary must. Cod salad for a tapas could not be avoided. Barcelona gelato is fabled to rival that of Italy, mine can and will only be compared to Mora: Mora wins dulce de leche, Mora wins Cinnamon, Mora wins mango, Barcelona wins Crema Catalana, perhaps because Mora does not serve said flavor. Can this be true? Can it? Anna, Jerry, I am plugging for you. Give my sister a raise.
It is coming--you can feel it--Mallory poetically comments on food markets in every city she visits: behold la Boqueria, yes it is famous enough to have a website. Located off of La Rambla, the market is a garden of Eden housing dozens of fruit, vegetable, cheese, chocolate, candy meat, fish, and myriad gastronomic stalls. What can be said? Tears. Though I bought three apples one was perfect, the snack size containers of cut coconut for 1euro--ecstasy. Hola, hola, yada yada, whether they are shouting Spanish or Catalunian at me I know not. I point and use fingers to aid my "Uno, doce, treis quatro." The chocolate--2.50euro for a small chocolate mousse in a fondant ganache topped with an easter spring chic--mmmmm. worth it.
If it were truly possible to expound on all the magnificences of Barcelona, you would be reading for hours. The history, atmosphere, people--a city of charm and warmth, even in the rain. My day is made by the young man in the truck stopped at the traffic light, windows down, music blaring--but rather than the old Kanye West, I receive Ella Fitzgerald. What more--Dragons, history tour with C, Franco and the civil war--I could go on forever. Football, Football is Europe, Europe is football. Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry--even I knew that. Time passes in small cafes, coffee houses, and wine bars; pure pleasure. The Spanish grind a good espresso.
Two evenings on the beach spent with--two Quebecois, a Frenchman, a pack of Brazilians, and a couple of Alaskans? Welcome to hostel traveling. Though to compare the Mediterranean and Pacific ocean would be folly, any salty sea coast reminds me of home, makes me feel at ease. Ports, boats docked, fishing town--paradise. I was shown not but kindness, Barcelonians are used to gaggles of tourists. Although--a city of pickpockets is an understatement, witnessed firsthand an attempted purse snatching, though the champion ring fighter C is, the tug of war and shouts ended in her favor. Zip and hook.
But a scratch, but a scratch is three days. I will be back some day. Barcelona je t'aime. Foreign is beginning to become less foreign in my mind, the world does indeed get smaller the more one departs and arrives. Differences, many differences, but in the end I only see the similarities. And the ham. Oh boy that ham.