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18 August 2015

dear barcelona

Dear Barcelona,

It was in the mild month of March that I came to visit you. I'd decided to book flights on a whim a couple of weeks before - a chance to see my twin brother, and to get away from everything for a little while. 

It just so happened that the cheapest way to fly to you was from Liverpool, and back into Leeds, which suited me perfectly. 

On the Thursday night I bounded out of work and onto a train, newspaper in one hand, backpack in the other, and headed straight to my Dad's house in Aintree. We spent the evening catching up, drinking, eating and laughing. This is why, beautiful B, I greeted you for the first time sleepy and a little hungover. The taste of red wine still clinging to my teeth.

From El-Prat, your airport, I wandered to the train which would bring me into the heart of you. Thankfully I remembered my Mum's advice that I could buy a ticket for 10 euros which would grant me 10 Metro journeys. I wrestled with the ticket machine for what seemed like an hour, eyes criss-crossing as I absorbed the flared Spanish letters in front of me. Finally, success! I flew onto a carriage and we trotted along, the train and I. Simon & Garfunkel whispered into my ears as I saw my first proper sights of you - long grass and derelict graffiti. I disembarked the train, already lost in the haze of your magic. 

There's something about train stations themselves that enchant me. Maybe it's the the to-ing and fro-ing of the tidal wave of faces, each on their own journey. Some going home, some going somewhere unknown, some (like myself) feigning the expression of knowledge, attempting to fool others that they know where they're off to, that they've been here before, that this is intuitive... this is simple.

But, I didn't know where I was going. My brother had told me which line to take to meet him. Our plans had been hastily arranged over Whatsapp before I soared into the sky, and I no longer had WiFi meaning I couldn't clarify which ' Placa' he meant. I spent several minutes deciphering the text his freckled fingers had conjured, eventually figuring it out upon seeing the sign flutter into view. Sants Rail Station.

I came out of the station doors, surrounded by a throng of humans. Finally, I saw tousled red Henna dyed hair and the wide toothy grin of my brother.

I met him in the area that he works. We walked your streets, and even in the delicate mist of light rain, your tall regal buildings shone incandescently. Drenched washing folded over balconies, and umbrellas covering denim jackets and trainers. We sheltered from the rain off the beaten track in a bar. I forget its name now. The owner was watching some game show and roaring in throaty laughter. He paused his entertainment to serve us each a glass of wine and some bar snacks. 

We sat here for a while, revelling in conversation. The wine eased my headache and left me feeling revived. I felt pretty damn good. I couldn't help but think to myself that that this exactly what I really needed. Some time away from the routine of everyday. Some time in a place so foreign to me and yet so familiar. Some time with family. 

We headed back, through more of your alleyway streets, to my brother's flat in Raval. He and his girlfriend were residing there with two cats, Samba and Harri. Harri used to be a streetcat, only had one eye, and spent every waking moment mewing with tenacity. Samba consistently ran up and down the hallway, bounded off of walls, and also loved licking plastic bags. They were just wonderful.

I wasn't so keen on Harri however when she woke me up at 5am the next morning, padding on my chest and shouting loudly at me. "DESPERTA!" I imagined her saying. "Wake up!"

After drinking coffee leaning slightly off the balcony, and spying the cutest little doggie peering out curiously from behind the curtain of the flat opposite, my brother and I spent five hours walking. You're such a beautifully walkable city. With new parts and old parts and everything inbetween.

Gaudi's gothic gnashers smiled triumphantly at us.

In the evening, we went for dinner at a cheap, jolly bar in the centre of Raval. This area was brimming with students, as well as people from all over the world. Everything here was a lot cheaper than it would be on Las Ramblas, the main strip which was about 5 minutes away, but there were also a lot of shady characters. Before my trip, I'd heard a lot of stories of muggings and harassment. I think, like in any other major city, that as long as you're street smart with your possessions and you avoid certain eye contact, you will be absolutely fine. Raval was referred to me as your equivalent of Brick Lane, which seemed like an apt description. 

Drunk off of 2 euro wine, my brother and I strolled out into your night. He told me he had to show me Bar Marsella, an absinthe bar which Salvadore Dali used to frequent and looked like it hadn't been decorated since the 1920's.  We were served two glasses of the elixir, along with tiny forks and sugar cubes. I looked to my sibling to demonstrate what we should be doing. He spent about fifteen minutes trying to set the sweet on fire with his lighter, before being motioned to by a surly waiter that you needed to put the sugar in the alcohol first. I'm sure a lot of people in there were laughing at us.

We moved on quickly. He told me to trust him with our concluding destination. We walked up a very long wide road, linking arms, street beers in our free hands. People sell tourists cold beers outside bars for 1 euro a pop. My brother told me how you have to be careful, as because the police force so frequently terrorise these vendors, a lot of these beers have spent time hidden in bins, among rubbish, and even in sewage. We shrugged, took our chances, and continued chugging. 

Finally, we reached the escalators of Placa de Catalunya, the most amazing monument to the beautiful region you are nestled in. That night, there was no one around. We sat at the top and looked out. You were absolutely breath-taking, with twinkling lights stretching out as far as the eye can see. The mountains jutted beyond you just into the darkness. I remember getting a little freaked out by the silence up there in the hills, especially when we began to see figures roaming around us. So, we got up and wandered home, our bodies heavy with booze.

The next morning, with caffeine pulsing through us and our eyes crusted with sleep, we made our way back up the escalators in the daylight. It's safe to say I fell even more for you, Barcelona, in the crystal blue light of spring sunshine.

This place was my favourite part of you. It was so majestic, so beautiful, and such a terrific tribute to the blazing culture of Catalonia. My brother told me a lot about how he was learning Catalan for free in the city, and throughout our walking tour he educated me on the history and politics of the area. I listened intently, smiling with glee.

Beyond the Placa del Catalunya was the old Olympic stadium, vast and empty. Surrounding it were botanical gardens that gleamed with life.

We strolled amongst the undergrowth, taking in the sights and smells. The elated chorus of a huge group of young tourists. Cameras swinging buoyantly around their bare necks. Cats roaming the gardens. Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, we saw children playing football in front of an old bomb shelter.

As evening fell it was time to bid adieu to my brother. I was very sad to see him go - a blur of vivacious red curls. I was comforted in the knowledge I would be seeing my soul sister shortly. Before you welcomed me, Barcelona, I'd been speaking to a great friend of mine about potentially meeting up with you inside your city walls. She'd been studying in the South of France on her year abroad, and in the spirit of our favourite and most corny motto ('Carpe Diem', otherwise known as an un-ironic 'YOLO') she decided to come join me via Bla Bla Car. She found accommodation in an Airbnb on Las Ramblas with an amazing couple, who she'd drank lots of wine with the night before and agreed to au pair for in August.

We met late on Sunday, and headed out to get something to eat. We'd been recommended Punjab, an Pakistani/Indian restaurant on Carrer de Joaquin Costa, a long, narrow, thriving street. I wasn't expecting much, and was a little grumpy due to a throbbing head, as well as extremely tired thanks to my brother's talkative cats. But, the food was incredible! And very cheap. After we'd finished up and caught up, we crossed the street to go for a drink in Bar 33/45.

Over the course of my weekend I'd glanced into what it would be like to be a local living in you. Staying with my friend, we transplanted into the more touristy side. The bar was very hip, with bikes as seats - well, that's hip in my book. The drinks were 7-9 euros! A big shock after getting acclimatised to 2 euro wine. But it was a really lovely setting, and had a really nice atmosphere.

Neither of us were keen for a late night, so we wandered some more and then headed home to my friend's residence. The night's air was crisp, yet alive with activity despite it being out of season. The next day we awoke to the couple's cats (named John and Yoko) pawing us out of our slumbers. We headed almost immediately to the Metro, to get us over to La Sagrada Familia. 

We were lucky that we'd booked tickets to take us up the towers for 10am, otherwise we would've been queueing and queueing for hours. We ascended in a lift to the top of the Cathedral. I could write a whole entire post about the experience inside this modern wonder of the world, so I will try and keep it short and sweet. It was religious. The light pouring through the rainbow windows. The views from the top over your entire width and breadth. The out-of-this-world architecture Gaudi implemented to create this breath-taking bridge between our planet and the heavens. If you're going to see anything in your life, you MUST see this.

The rest of the day was spent how the rest of my weekend was spent. Wandering. Walking. Absorbing. Becoming acquainted with you.

There are a couple things I would change about my first visit to you. First of all, I'd have loved for the weather to be a little warmer. Second, I'd have loved to be less tired, less hungover, or even just a little more mentally clear. Yet, it was still exactly what I needed. What I wanted. What I was yearning for. A little slice of something different. A chance to get lost. For this I can only thank you.

Barcelona, don't forget me. I won't forget you.

Until next time.

Lots of love,



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