When I was younger, I hated having time to myself. I wanted to be with my people. I’m not so sure if it was insecurity or my feeling like if I wasn’t with a group, I was missing out.
In university I took a summer course in Salamanca, Spain. I wanted to do a little traveling around after the course was over and I thought I had selected a good travel mate in which to travel to Barcelona. Of course I wouldn’t travel on my own, but not sure if traveling with her was any safer or more fun.
So there we were. Barrrrrrrthelona! My travel mate didn’t want to do anything or see anything. She just wanted to go to the beach, which in 1989 was covered in garbage and hypodermic needles. I was a student of art and history. Why would I waste my time on a beach? I could go to the beach anywhere, anytime!
I left her in the dank hostel and saw the city, the history, and the art on my own. I even saw a ballet at the Liceu!
Flash forward to 2015. I arrived in Barcelona for ELMLE 2016 and had an entire afternoon to myself. I threw my bags down, turned around, and ran back out to see as many of my favorite spots in under 4 hours.
Being a busy mom, wife, and teacher, I rarely have time on my own. I relished in the moment of getting to do what ever I wanted.
Plaça Espanya: The view from here-in one direction Montjuïc, the other direction the giant columns. Walking past the fountains, I descended into the Metro next to the restored bullring.
Plaça Catalunya: Ascending the staircase I catch my first view of the Plaça. I pause a moment to reminisce about the time I was covered in pigeons. It was a stupid idea to put a potato chip on my shoulder to see if one bird would sit on me for a picture. It was more like a Hitchcock film than a travel photo. I spied others having the same experience.
What also hits me here is the weight of history. The Apple Store was once communist headquarters at the beginning of the Civil War. This plaça had seen victory, defeat, and rebirth. Today we just see it as a place to be reenact a scene from Birds.
Las Ramblas: I beeline through the crowd and decide to walk the path in the center of the street. Stalls selling ice cream, toffee, flowers, and football tickets line the path like a levee keeping in the floods.
Again I am reminded of my trip in ’89. Pets used to be sold on the Rambles. The bird woman scared me. Her eyes looked a little crazed, her hair blew wild in the breeze, and the only sound she made was with her plastic water-filled bird whistle. I used to cross the street so I could avoid her medusa-like stare.
The Market: At the market I crossed back over the street to get a fresh fruit juice-Pineapple and Coconut. I took in the view of ham, ham, and more ham. Because really, Spain=Ham. If you don’t enjoy Ham why do you come to this place?
I wandered in and around the stalls of fruits, nuts, and spices and decided I was starving. I found a seat at a tapas bar to eat my afternoon meal. Noticing the people sitting next to me were eating something that wasn’t on the menu, I told the waiter I wanted what they were having. Trying to speak Spanish to the waiter was a chore. I realized I was thinking in Spanish, but German was coming out of my mouth.
Gothic Quarter: After lunch I dived into labyrinth of the quarter with no particular destination in mind. I wandered the maze and let it spit me out where it chose. And when I saw something interesting in a store window, I did a little shopping.
The Cathedral: This stop holds a special place in my heart. It is such an amazing example of gothic architecture. In most parts of Europe, cathedrals are pristine, glowing examples of wealth, ornamentation, and religion. But this cathedral almost seems more gritty, mystical. People still pray and light candles in their favorite side chapel. In ’89 I remember one side chapel in particular had a long line where people were waiting to kiss the foot of a statue of Jesus.
The best part of the Cathedral is the remains of the Visigoth church on which the cathedral was built. Very little natural light seeps through the clerestory windows. It is cool, silent, and sacred. Hard to imagine what Barcelona looked like during the time of the Visigoths.
When you exit the cloister you are spit out onto my favorite street in Barcelona. An ornate pathway in the sky bridges a long skinny street. The one side of the street is lined with windows. Each window is decorated with grim faces glaring down at passersby.
Las Rambles: After one last walk down the Rambles I descended back into the metro for the short ride back to the hotel. It was time to share my other favorite places in Barcelona with my colleagues.
Have you ever been to La Xampanyeria? I guess that will have to be the subject of another blog post.
Do you have a favorite city you like to explore alone? What is your favorite spot in Barcelona?