To bookend my BCL year (and delay my return to Australia and the realities of post-student life), I planned a month of travelling through Spain and Germany with my friend Kate. After graduation day, it was time to beeline for Barcelona!
My trip got off to a less than illustrious start. Having bid a teary farewell to Oxford not 12 hours earlier, I caught an early 3 hour bus to Stansted Airport (ugh) only to find that my flight had been delayed. After an interminable terminal wait (during which I saw, and was lightly splattered by, a kid throwing up into his hands), disconcerting RyanAir flight (involving hearty clapping and cheering on takeoff and landing), bus ride, and struggle to find the right train station, I finally arrived at my hotel. I immediately perked up; right next door was the bright beacon of a gelateria, mercifully open at 11pm. It’s a law of science that gelato always heralds good things and indeed, this marked the point at which things turned around.
Being a Barce-loner
In the couple of days that my travel buddy Kate was en route from Aus, I explored Barcelona solo. I stayed at Hotel Pol & Grace which had everything I could ask for – clean sheets, proximity to the city centre and a dulce de leche jug in the breakfast room.
‘No molestar’. Seems like a good ground rule.
I visited Palau Guell (my first addictive taste of Gaudi design), the National History Museum (exposing my shocking ignorance of Spanish history), and the National Art Museum (which had an even better art nouveau poster collection than a Francophilic yuppie couple). I spent one afternoon at the Joan Miro Foundation; enthralled by his Constellation series (with its starry scape and whimsical stick figures with characteristic rambutan vajajays) and Alexander Calder’s mercury fountain, which reminded me of the many hours I spent smashing thermometers and playing with mercury as a kid.
The Picasso Museum was also amazing; showcasing his juvenile works which progress from realism, to emulation of artists like Cézanne and Toulouse-Lautrec, to experimentation and growing confidence in his own distinctive style. It was overwhelmingly busy when I was there, as the entire North Carolina Bouncing Bulldogs team was also visiting, but I took my time to examine the paintings up close. And to come to grips with competitive jump rope being a thing.
Wines and Chees in Spain
I’ve written before about the benefits of travelling solo, but I have to say, Spain seems like a place best explored with friends or family. As a travel buddy, Kate (Wines) lives up to her name in the best sense (wining rather than whining; there was only belly-aching of the good kind during our Barca travels) as did I. So much sangria and goat cheese consumed!
We stayed just off Passeig de Gracia at Praktik Vinoteca, a cute, boutique-y hotel. I was thankful for our choice; not only was it wine-themed, but it sure beat some of the other hotels I spied:
Hotel Colon (could be shitty?), Hotel ‘Actual Suites’…
There seemed to be a cultural trail (marked by red Modernisme pavement dots), but we preferred to follow the breadcrumb trail of different bakeries. Our hotel was just next to La Pastisseria, home of the 2011 pastry world champion, who IMO does a much better version of the classic apple cake.
We also paid a few visits to La Bouqueria markets, where you can get exotic fruit juices for 1 Euro (like fuschia pitaya and coconut, or mango and custard-apple), bouquets of cured meat, silver dragées that you’d crack a filling on, ostrich eggs, pig trotters and blankets of tripe. We tried mixed tapas at a seafood place; a tray of live lobsters twitching inches from our noses, and our neighbours cracking open crabs and scooping out their milky flesh with glee. Though we were in the mood for cooked protein, we thankfully didn’t order the grilled mountain chicken (which, for future ref, is a giant frog. Yeeuch.)
And of course, we consumed a ball pit worth of gelati, which is dictionary definition ‘holiday food’ regardless of the weather, but especially necessary in Barca’s 33 degree heat. Even when eaten ignominiously among the plebs:
Architecture and Art
Of course the highlight of our Barcelona trip was the Sagrada Familia. From the outside, this Basilica looks like a towering cluster of rockets set in a hill of melted candles; from the inside, an ossified rainforest filled with rainbow light, or some kind of stunning osteoporitic disco. It’s honestly the most awe-inspiring structure I’ve ever seen (which half explains the tour guide near us describing it as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World…)
Regardless of your particular aesthetic sensibilities, Gaudi’s designs cannot fail to move you. From Casa Batllo’s froyo-swirl ceilings and shark rib attic space, to Casa Mila’s stunning roofline and Park Guell’s cheerful chameleon and catenary rock arches…exploring them had me in a state of hummingbird-hearted mouth-breathing.
We rounded off our Barca trip (and like, my eternal happiness) by visiting the Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres (2 hours north by train). Studded with bread and topped with eggs, this Surrealist meatloaf of a museum tipped me over the edge of my Gaudi-inspired giddiness. Honestly, it was like I was Jack Donaghy watching Liz Lemon’s phone sex ad in that 30 Rock episode ‘Apollo, Apollo’; puking with the happiness/excitement that is usually only associated with childhood. The works themselves, and the glimpse into Dali’s crazed genius, are absolutely incredible.