Genevieve and I each arrived late Thursday night, and after wandering around the El Prat airport trying to find each other for about 30 minutes, we finally met up and headed off to meet Cooper and our gracious Spaniard of a host, Guillermo, whom Cooper had met during his summer in Barcelona. Not to waste any time, we changed and headed out into the center of the city to meet Guille's friends at a bar with a crowd that was just as eclectic as the mismatched furniture and bar menu. What was the most surprising, besides the fact that a large beer cost only 3 euros as opposed to the 8 or 9 that I was used to paying in Rome, was that all around us, people were smoking cigarettes...indoors! Although in Rome, it's officially a law that you can't smoke inside, it tends to be merely a suggestion, and I thought it was wild to find one or two people sticking it to the man in train stations or bars, puffing away on a perfectly hand-rolled cigarette. In Barcelona, though, we seemed to be in the minority for not smoking and by the end of the night, by which point we had moved to a club that I don't think I would have agreed to going to had the beers not been so cheap and delicious at the first bar, I was so desparate for a breath of smoke-free air that I found myself dancing on my tippy toes, hoping to rise just one quarter-inch above the smoke. Turns out, it's hard to do.
The next day, we set out to see the sights! First Cooper took to us to an enormous food market which put my little ethnic market down the street in Rome to shame. Although as I get older I tend to like sweets and candy less and less I couldn't help but drool at the candy kiosks at this market:
We made sure to do some shopping too, considering the Spanish-brand stores were much cheaper than anywhere else. We spent most of the afternoon and evening walking around, perhaps somewhat aimlessly, but we saw most of the major sights, including the Palau de la Musica, which impressed me the most. The outside of the building is so ornate that I wondered how anyone's brain could think up so many twists, arches, and balconies. I also appreciated it because it was quite different than the building fronts I find here in Rome - often ornate, yes, but never so colorful or playful.
I bought a coloring book from the gift shop so I could have my own fun designing building facades!
We ate dinner at chef Guillermo's apartment that night, and I'm sure we ate better than we would have at most restaurants in the vicinity. Guille's mom is a chef, so he grew up cooking and even prefers it to eating out. We had a great tapas-like meal, each getting a little taste of an omelet with onions and fresh cheese, roasted red peppers with tuna and pickled sardines, a plate of five different cheeses, salad with carmelized onions, apples, and parmesan, and little toasts to sop everything up with. Then it was off to another bar for mojitos and another night of dancing. I didn't think I had it in me, but somehow I survived!
Sunday we toured the Sagrada Familia, which is right down the street from Guille's apartment. It was the most interesting piece of architecture I saw, if only for the story behind it. Construction began in 1882, and Gaudì, the famous Spanish architect, took over in 1883. He worked on it until his death by tram accident in 1926, and the church is unfinished to this day. For a while, they continued according to Gaudì's original plans, but once they were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, they've been building off of pictures and sketches. They had absolutely no plans or pictures of the back of the church, so they've designed a whole new facade for it which is very different from the rest of the church. We were able to go inside, which wasn't actually that impressive, since it's just a cavernous empty stone cathedral. All the building is funded by private donations and entrance fees, though, so we thought we'd pitch in our 8 euros worth towards the completion of Gaudì's creation.
After much more touring, walking, and shopping, we went home to nap before dinner and what was going to be another late night of bars and dancing. I woke up from my nap with a cold and fever that I certainly hadn't seen coming, so after another home-cooked meal of a typical Catalan dish that is very similar to pizza, but with a lighter, more crumbly crust, I stayed in and tried to sleep off my cold.
Sunday, just hours before we sadly had to leave Barcelona, we headed to Barceloneta (little Barcelona) for a traditional Spanish meal of fried fish, meatballs, and other kinds of unidentifiable fish, which I surprisingly enjoyed. Then we walked to the beautiful beach where people were stretched out tanning on the unusually warm day and had a cafe con leche to bid farewell to the beautiful cosmopolitan city with a beach.
What I really loved about Barcelona was that it was a combination of all the things I love about New York (eclectic, cosmopolitan, modern) with the things I really appreciate about Rome (ancient, cobblestone streets, chipping stucco buildings). And I especially loved being able to see a new city where I didn't speak the language and was completely as someone else's mercy, not having to worry for a minute about which street we were on, where we should eat, or which sight to head to next. Relinquishing control is fun once in a while! Must try that more often...