Updated: Sep 23, 2018
A trip centered around indulgence and the divine.
Barcelona, Spain was everything I asked for. It was trendy, it was historic, it was eccentric. I didn't have to be there long to feel like I fit right in, which was a unique experience for me. I've been to New York City about a thousand times and never felt as "at home" as I did on a whole other continent. I felt so relaxed in Barcelona, sitting at a table on the side of a busy street, drinking my sangria, munching on some paella, tapas, and gelato. In New York, there is always an agenda. Somewhere else to be, something else to do. Even if it's just going out for a night. "Ahh, we can't stay, we have to make our train!" Typical. New York's age old "go go go" has influenced me for nearly thirteen years and it becomes tiresome. Besides, the European way of life has been steadily calling to me since our trip to Greece in July 2017. My immediate love for Barcelona was a no brainer.
Now, New York is a magnificent city with a firm place in my heart, but there is definitely a colder vibe to it. Barcelona, on the other hand, was warm and energetic and bright and not so... metal. Nothing against the glorious skyscrapers of Manhattan, but I was much more impressed by the works of Antoni Gaudí . His quirkiness appalls some people, but not me. And certainly not Anthony. Gaudí is Anthony's favorite architect and his insistence to see the buildings in person is what led us there in the first place.
Like many other tourists, we threw Sagrada Família on our must-see list before anything else. I didn't know much about Gaudí prior to my trip, but I did know of Sagrada Família - thanks to several architect friends I made in undergrad. It was this glorious church, the centerpiece of Barcelona, that promised to dazzle any passerby with the intricate carvings on its facade. I was all about it. We booked our tickets for the third day of our trip (note to any future travelers to Barcelona: you must must must book your tickets in advance for Sagrada Família. They generally sell out two days prior and you need to be on-time for your slot, otherwise you risk missing your opportunity to get in.)
Let me preface my Sagrada Família experience with this: I am an emotional person. I tear up at movies, Facebook videos of dogs, and Super Bowl commercials. Trivial? I don't think so. I think it's important to process experiences (good and bad) with the full extent of our emotions. That said, I have never looked up at a building and started crying. Does that seem like it would make any sense? Not really. But honest to god - (pun intended) I was beside myself with emotion when we walked in the front door of Sagrada Família. To think that a human being could conceive such a beautiful structure, an unbelievable dedication to his god, was missed on me before that moment. I wept at the sight of its stained glass windows as they reflected red and orange, green and blue light down on top of me. And to realize that the church wasn't finished yet, wasn't even the largest it would eventually become. Anthony was so focused on his own experience that he didn't even notice I was crying. We were blown away. Not unlike my experience with the sisters in Tanzania, I really did feel an other-worldly, bigger presence through the entirety of our time in the building.
One of my favorite parts was the Nativity Tower tour. It was the only tower that had been completed at the time of Gaudí's untimely bus accident death (YIKES!) That particular tower was a favorite among tourists, be it because of the Gaudí history or simply because it had the best views. We ascended in a tiny little elevator and got to see Barcelona from above. Everything was so quiet up there. Even with all the echoes of other tourists gasping at the sights. The spiraling stairs were extremely narrow coming down (with no railing!) but I didn't mind. I was at peace. I wish we had stayed up there longer, but the New York in us kept us moving along. Besides, no amount of spiritual pulsating through my body could calm the hunger for lunch I'd begun to feel about two hours prior.
We left Sagrada Família, minds and bodies tingling. I am certain I won't have an another experience like that in my life. Humans are amazing sometimes. They are capable of such insane achievements in life and die with unforgettable legacies.
Another exceptional achievement Spain is known for is its food & drink. The great thing about food in Barcelona (besides the flavor of course) is: you really get what you pay for. Sure, there were places we ate at that were more expensive. Most places we went to were pretty affordable, though. Sangria is always on the menu and is delicious and cheap (3 Euros for a larger than average glass!!) I was drinking more sangria than water on most days. On La Rambla, they serve sangria in glasses that are literally the size of a human head. We did that only once, on the first full day. Not much else was done after downing a sangria that big at 2pm. Best part was, it had only cost me about twelve euros, which is about $14. I've paid at least that much for one tiny drink at a bar on the Lower East Side.
Tapas are economically efficient, too. Anthony disagrees with me. "Why am I paying FIVE EUROS for three little croquettes?" I think tapas are genius, but only if you're with at least one other person. Say you order three plates of tapas at five euros each. With another person, you split the meal down the middle and you have a decent sized lunch portion of food in your belly. Calculate it out, and it's really only a seven and a half euro lunch per person. That's cheaper than a steak burrito bowl with guac at Chipotle, people!! Another note for future Barcelona tourists: tapas are great for lunch, but go for the heavy hitters with dinner. I.e. PAELLA.
Black squid ink paella was by far the tastiest bite I enjoyed while I was in Barcelona. I would be disappointed if we went to a new restaurant and they didn't have black rice paella. The dish usually comes with shrimp and a medley of other seafood, topped with a squeeze or two of lemon. It's funny because I am usually the kind of person that tries something new every time I eat out in another country. But man oh man, I <3 squid ink, apparently. I probably feasted on black rice (or pasta) at least four times. If not for all the walking we did in Barcelona, I would have gained twenty pounds. Note: the REAL Spaniards know that the most authentic paella is cooked with rabbit, FYI.
Anthony and I had plenty of other fun experiences in the motherland (yep, according to Ancestry DNA, I am about 25% Spanish). From other works by Gaudí (Casa Batlló was my next favorite), to flamenco shows, to the Salvador Dalí museum on a day trip to Figueres. Barcelona was surreal, but its way of life seemed just out of reach, like I could go back at any time and never, ever leave. We jokingly looked at apartments, but weren't set on uprooting our lives quite yet. Besides, want to know one of the few things Barcelona has in common with New York? RENT PRICES :(