Startling weekend in Barcelona

I am just getting back from my weekend in Barcelona and Girona and, man, what a weekend it was. Chris and I flew from Madrid to Girona on Thursday, spending the first night in Girona, as it is an hour away from Barcelona. We couldn’t find cheap flights to an airport closer to the center, like El Prat, and the high-speed train Ave is insanely expensive to take from Ciudad Real.

In Girona, we didn’t really see much; it was unfortunately cold for the beach in Catalonia and where we stayed for the night was kind of far from everything. But at least Girona airport is small and easy to figure out. It was an in-and-out experience. That’s always good.

Friday morning, we toughed it out and hopped on an hour-and-half long Regional train to Barcelona. The ride was a bit uncomfortable as these Regionales tend to get too crowded, with no assigned seat numbers, and make way too many stops. (Sort of like the subway, except that here you have hours to go.) Our hotel was in L’Hospitalet, a city to the southwest of Barcelona. It was not the most centrally located place, but it was the most affordable close-to-center area. Besides, moving around in Barcelona is very easy. By the way, Barcelona has been the most expensive city we’ve visited in Spain thus far. Madre mía…

We started out by hanging out around Plaza de Cataluña and Las Ramblas—sadly the only place I remember from my first visit in 2003. I had also forgotten how overhyped Las Ramblas is. I mean, it’s just a long pedestrian mall that connects Plaça Catalunya and the seaport (about 0.8 mile long between these two spots).

There are sweets and flower shops, street performers, cultural gatherings, among many other activities going on there. It’s fun and there’s a lot of energy, but it’s just so touristy…not my thing.

Now the little streets perpendicular to Las Ramblas, I’m more interested in. There are a few “hidden” gems back there (restaurants, bars and cute little stores). Worth checking out.

Also, while at Las Ramblas, we visited the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, a market with an incredible selection of meats, fruits, vegetables and everything edible you can think of.

The fish selection looked amazing (too bad we were days away from home to buy some). But everything there looked really good. If I ever book an apartment by the beach in Barcelona, I’m hitting this market again and I’ll be sure to get all sorts of veggies and seafood to cook. Yum. They even had big, healthy-looking green plátanos! In Barcelona! Talk about variety…

The next day we divided the afternoon in two to visit two crucial spots in Barcelona; Gaudí’s park and Camp Nou, Barcelona’s FC Barcelona soccer team’s stadium.

At Camp Nou, we visited the museum, the stadium and other spots within the building, like the conference room, the locker rooms and the showers. We also got our picture taken with Gerard Piqué. 😀

The FC Barcelona team is a bigger deal than what I thought; they have achieved so many incredible wins and have received so many awards and they have so much history…great team. It was very interesting to see. Glad we visited.

Then, we took a taxi to spend the rest of the afternoon at Park Güell, designed by the eminent Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. It is Patrimonio (Heritage) of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). I have studied Gaudí’s art; I have heard of his work almost my entire life, and just the other day I had to help my second graders paint a picture of one of Gaudí’s works. So it was pretty cool to see his architecture and mosaic work finally in person. It is…unique.

The architecture at the entrance is impressive, of course. There are the two famous buildings at the entrance, as well, which to me look like something from a story book, casas de muñeca (doll houses), but they’re real.

That’s Gaudí’s architecture.

Park Güell is big. It’s not just about his architecture, but there are also trails that you can walk to exercise and benches and green grass for a picnic, maybe? We walked almost all of it (very proud of how easily we can go for super long walks now). Some performers play music with their special guitars (and we also saw a man with what looked like a piano) at different spots in the park and the melodious music turns the whole thing into a romantic affair. It was a great relaxing time at the park.

Barcelona is even much more fun at night! To summarize our Saturday evening, we had dinner somewhere in Ciutat Vella, the neighborhood of La Barceloneta, a district by the sea—beach, boardwalk, restaurants and nightclubs. Fun, fun, fun! The lights, the mood in the air…it could be perfect.

Something that—sort of—stunned me was how openly dealers were selling their illegal stuff on the boardwalk, and how openly people also smoked in the parks. I’ve been to most Spanish cities and this is the first time I (personally) noticed this going around. The dealers were everywhere, like a swarm of ants, walking by us in a slick shady way. Almost whispering. Hard to ignore what it was they were selling. Combined, they might’ve offered about three different kinds of drugs—or more. Might’ve been Spanish names, I wouldn’t have known the difference. I heard one of the guys ask us if we were looking for “something fun.” I was not expecting that…

Actually, this is something that happens to us more often than we know, and not just while here. Chris has this presence to him (he carries himself well) and he stands out in Spain—maybe because of his height or his perfectly “clean cut,” or his obvious American ways—and that makes him a major target for drug dealers. Shouldn’t it be the opposite? I don’t know. But it’s part of the whole experience and we’ll proceed with caution.

So that was one of the sellers. Another man was a little more direct. I guess he figured; oh what the heck, competition is tough out here, might as well just go for it. And he went for it: ¿Buscas ecstasy?—and his voice faded away as he mentioned something else, perhaps another drug. We kept walking.

Say what?! Ha Ha! Have got to be very careful around those weird characters. You don’t want to end up on an episode of Locked Up Abroad!

But all in all, we had fun. Barcelona is beautiful. It is so multicultural and multilingual; it’d be such a joy to wake up in this cosmopolitan city every day. I hope I can go back soon. A weekend is not even close to being enough to discover and take in Barcelona; you need months!

Anyway, I have more stories and pictures about our weekend in Barcelona, but that’ll be on another session because this one is getting longgg and it’s bed time for this Miss! 🙂