Spain passed by in a blur of sun, weary feet, and streets full of terracotta potted terraces. Barcelona has a life and colour the likes of which I’ve scarcely seen back home. My trip happened to coincide with a national holiday and so, along with my generous host, Alessandro, I embarked through the nighttime streets to watch the fireworks on the beach. As it turns out, fireworks in Vancouver mean something infinitely different than fireworks in Barcelona.
Fireworks in Barcelona means children on the streets throwing sound rockets at the ground and passerbyers. Fireworks in Barcelona means firecrackers in drunken hands lit with fumbling fingers. The ratio of fireworks to firecrackers is about 1:100. Fireworks in Barcelona were a bonafide warzone.
We walked the crowded streets dodging adrenaline-ridden children with hands full of noisemakers and then we heard the drums. The intoxicatingly rhythmic lure of a percussion group in the distance. In the square we found the group, all men in fluorescent green tanks, pounding away at dizzying speeds.
In each corner of the square stood a cluster of costumed daredevils ready for their choreographed fireworks show. In our corner were the ‘dragons’ and they jumped up and down to the drums, their faces a kind of crazed joy. Giant sun and moon sculptures were strung high above our heads, suddenly erupting light and sound as the fuse reached their mechanized bodies. The whole show couldn’t have been more than 20 minutes, but time seemed to disappear in the midst of all that sound, rhythm, and light.
In the day I wandered the winding streets of the Gothic quarter – content to people watch and window shop with a gelato in hand. The trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of the Antonin Gaudi wonders and so I settled on one of his earlier works, Palau Guell – a commissioned residence for one of the wealthiest families in Europe at the time.
I don’t usually go on tours – something about feeling restricted with a group of people, moving like photo-snapping cattle in cargo shorts and ill-fittings sun hats from room to room – and yet, I took the plunge and joined the English tour of the house with a big bright sticker plastered to my chest and everything. If I hadn’t done the tour I would have breezed through the house in half an hour and walked out satisfied into the sun. What a shame that would have been. So much of Gaudi’s genius has to do with the way he consistently marries purpose and beauty into all aspects of his design. Walking amongst his work gave me an immense respect for architecture and the importance of the spaces that we inhabit. The house had an almost Downton Abby feel in that there was a distinct separation between the staff and the family with numerous secret doors and passages for the staff to pass unnoticed. Downton Abby, Gaudi style.
(Gaudi’s mosaic rooftop chimneys)
In my Barcelona travels I found the people I met to be very friendly – maybe too friendly on a couple of occasions. I met a very interesting couple at a small pub where we were watching the Italy vs. Ireland football match (my first football match – embarrassing, considering I’m living in Italy). She being from Bulgaria and he from Australia, they made the most interesting combination, but a lovely one at that. Another outing to a burger joint on the beach had me at a communal table next to three Spaniards who educated me on Brexit and Catalan politics and left me with a phone number and an invitation to a restaurant opening later in the evening. I passed in typical old-soul fashion so I could read my book on the beach in the fading sun. Before my Barcelona trip ended I also met twins from Mexico, though Barcelona-raised, who helped me plan my day trip to Girona.
Girona, Girona, Girona. My favourite part of my Spain travels. This quaint medieval town was just the right dose of quiet street wandering that I needed after fighting through throngs of tourists in the city centre of Barcelona. Set against a wide canal, the historic town has a breathtaking castle with panoramic views from the top. It has been one of the best towns for walking around with a camera in hand because every street, alley, and corner had something new to see. I even passed a bride and groom walking down the middle of the street with their loved ones in tow. Girona is very much so a city frozen in time.
My trip back to Barcelona did not quite go as planned. While I have done quite well navigating public transit in my solo travels, my lack of directional sense finally caught up with me. I boarded the wrong train and, after realizing, ended up getting off in the driest ghost town of a spot about 20 minutes down the line. I’ve always had a vivid imagination, so whether they were or not is up to debate, but I swear I heard gunshots in the distance. The few people who got off at the same spot as me quickly disappeared down the tracks or through the brush behind the graffiti laden barrier. Neither option seemed ideal so I stayed put and tried to look like I knew what I was doing. There was no ticket counter, no train schedule, and no safe-looking humans around, so I sat on the bench and tried not to think of what my mother and father would say if they could see me.
(Thinking I’ve heard gunshots in the distance)
After an hour had passed, I was joined on my concrete bench by a raspy-voiced sixteen year old who told me in broken English that the next train was headed towards Barcelona. I took her word for it. The kindness of strangers in unexpected places and at unexpected times has been a spot of joy for me in my travels.
My trip ended with a heaping plate of paella back at the apartment and the unavoidable sprinkling of Spanish sand amongst my packed clothes.