Barefoot in Barcelona

My handy-dandy map of Barcelona, which guided us all weekend!

I have always loved airports: they are a hub of people seeking change, adventure, and spontaneity, and are the transition between the old and the new, the familiar and the undiscovered. I was reminded of this odd affinity last weekend, when Shaun and I departed from Paris Beauvais airport and headed to Barcelona, Spain, home of famous architect Antoni Gaudi and many, many soccer fans. We hadn’t even departed when I realized that I left one of the most important tools of a blogger at home: my camera. I moped for ten minutes, letting myself wallow in my misery as I realized how absent-minded I had been in packing, then realized that it might actually be refreshing to observe the city without snapping a photo every five seconds. I was right.

Barcelona itself is a refreshing city: nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains, it is contained geographically but worldly in its character. Gaudi’s architecture is incredible: over-the-top, whimsical, detailed, and incredibly progressive, it is from his name that we get the English word “gaudy: extravagantly bright or showy”. To me, however, his work is not extravagant in the sense that we think of – “extravagant” to me conjures up images of the Playboy mansion and Paris Hilton – but is instead beautiful and intricate. “Colorful” and “vibrant” are two words that I have always thought described Spain accurately, and Gaudi embodies this spirit: he was designing in the late 1800’s, not too long after Napoleon’s makeover of Paris that gave it structure and uniformity, and yet made things that are worlds away from what other architects were making at the time. I have to imagine that Gaudi and Haussmann probably hated each other: Gaudi the creative boundaries-pusher not afraid to take risks in design, and Haussmann the cold, structure fanatic that kept everything organized and familiar. I would have sided with Gaudi.

Casa Batillo on La Rambla is a prime example of Gaudi's style: unique, whimsical, detailed, and unapologetically gaudy.

On the other side of Barcelona, you’ll find – GASP! – the ocean! I hadn’t seen the ocean in about 4 months until Friday morning, when Shaun and I made it our first stop on our trip (both of us have never lived more than a hop, skip, and a jump away from the ocean). I was floored: before me was the blue water of the Mediterranean, the soft sand, palm trees, and sunny, 60 degree weather. Who could ask for more? The impressive marina (hahaha) was stocked with big, expensive boats – some for cruising, and some clearly for racing. The masts floated before me, a chaos of white that immediately restored my spirit and made me feel at home. I was giddy. Even standing on the shore, we had no need for jackets – the weather was beautiful, and I didn’t take my Ray Ban’s off all weekend.

Port Vell on Barcelona's waterfront is a beautiful way to enjoy the sun...and the sangria.

One of my favorite moments of Barcelona happened not with Shaun, but with a free-spirited Australian backpacker we met staying at our hostel. Walking home from a club that we decided not to go on Saturday night, I pulled off my heels and stood in the sand, letting the soft grains massage my weary feet. Despite the cold night, the sand felt magical – I felt liberated in a way that seemed impossible in Paris, and as I walked the beach clutching my heels in my hand, I felt an uncanny happiness that had nothing to do with anyone other than me, and anything other than the freedom that suddenly overwhelmed me like a great big Mediterranean wave. Aah.

The appeal of Barcelona seems to be in its character: if Paris were to have a word, it would be “structure” or “nostalgia” – it wants to be the city it was a century ago, the center of the world. It is stuck in its rigid ways and seems stuck in a world that no longer exists. On the opposite end, Barcelona would be “chaos” and “progress”. There is no structure to the city, and it seems that they almost invite desordre. Gaudi’s buildings are stuck in between other quotidian houses on La Rambla (Barcelona’s Champs-Elysees), and his famous Sagrada Familia stands out among an otherwise dirty and seemingly impoverished neighborhood. The church itself has not even been finished, but rather than stopping and letting it be admired by tourists as is, they are plowing ahead with construction a century after Gaudi’s accidental death. The chaos of Barcelona was a welcome escape from the tired structure of Paris, which is beautiful but exhausting. Barcelona’s beauty is in its disarray, and it is as refreshing as a cold glass of sangria.

 

I’ll cut this off for now, and do separate posts for different parts of Barcelona. There’s just so much to say!

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