"Massage, cinco Euros!"
"Cerveza? Beer? You want coca?"
This is the chorus you hear as you stroll along the Barcelona beach front at night. But, I am getting ahead of myself. How did we get there?
The subway to La Rambla, right. Let me begin here. La Rambla is an immensely crowded pedestrian street. It is lined with cafes and street performers in elaborate costumes and ten
thousand tourists at any given moment shoving in line to take pictures with them. There are lovers kissing and children running away from their parents and flashing lights and pictures of paella that no self respecting Spaniard would go near. It is the Times Square of Barcelona.
Our first priority upon setting foot in Barcelona was to hurl ourselves carelessly into the Mediterranean Sea as soon as we possibly could. We dropped our bags off at our hostel and marched straight towards the first bit of water we could see.
Unfortunately, this led us straight into a beachless marina well away from our intended destination. Still, while we wer
e there we stumbled across one of the boats from Whale Watchers, which must have been in port to raise money before whale season.
The boat had a sign that said, "We accept food donations. Vegan only."
That sign was probably the last sign of self-restraint we saw in Barcelona. Th rest of the city is fueled on raw hedonism.
After several kilometers further, our blistered feet finally reached the beach. I immediately stumbled, missing my footing on the boardwalk when I first realized that the unfathomably gorgeous women lining the oceanfront would be largely forgoing the tops of their beach attire as they baked their already golden bodies in the sun. Trying my best not to stare, I lamented that my sunglasses had been destroyed in Madrid.
Gathering some composure, we found a spot on the beach and took turns diving into the sea so that someone could stay with the bags. The water was blue and the sun was uninterrupted by clouds. Some Australians we would meet later lamented that the water and the sand weren't nearly as nice as they had back home on the "real" beaches, but it didn't matter. I was happy. We didn't have beach towels or dry clothes, so with salty, dripping bodies we walked the rest of the beach front and let the Spanish sun do its job.
We met so many amazing and possibly life changing people in Barcelona that I can't begin to explain it all. So, I won't. But, if you're reading this, you probably know who you are.
We had some of the best food ever here. I recognize how exaggerated that statement sounds, but I mean it quite factually. The best meal was from a tiny backstreet cafe called La Candela. We had fried plantains with fresh guacamole and hot chili oil, grilled manchego cheese with a sweet green sauce (who knows what magic went into that sauce) and pork-belly risotto with skewers of scallops and shrimp. I told the waitress, "Por Favor, esta un problema con mis comidas. They are so good that I will never be satisfied with another meal again." She laughed.
One afternoon, feeling that we were finally able to peel ourselves away from the beachfront, we walked across most of the city stopping along the way to look at the surreal architecture. The buildings by Gaudi have an almost dream-like quality to them. But, what appears at first glance to be childlike and cartoonish is almost always contrasted by visions of nightmares. The giant cathedral, La Segrada Familia, appears to be both melting and arising from some primordial waste of earth. Gateways to other buildings may appear as the twisted steel gates of hell or as archways of rainbow lollipops. Each structure pulses with the natural elements that inspired it. The hike to the top of Park Guell was long and steep. D and I were both thoroughly soaked in sweat by the time we reached the summit, but every blistered step was worth it.
We were supposed to leave Barcelona after three days for Majorca, but, after speaking to a number of locals and after having difficulty booking the ferry to the islands, we decided to do what everyone who comes to Barcelona seems to do: Not leave. We decided to stay three extra days. Or four. Or something like that. Time lost a lot of meaning while we were here.
On one of our extra nights in the city, we walked through a seedy red light district to have absinthe at a bar that was once frequented by Hemingway. We met a wonderful group of Parisiennes and tried to follow them to a discoteque, but, it was not in the cards for us that night, and we were highly opposed to queueing for an hour. (Queueing is not "Espana.")
Walking home, a young Spaniard came up to me asking for the time. I didn't really understand all of what he was saying, and my head was still quite light from the absinthe, but before I knew it he was congratulating me on my good Spanish and shaking my hand. As soon as he walked away I felt like something wasn't right. I reached for my wallet and it was missing. In that second I turned around and saw that the two guys who had stopped to talk to us were walking casually away. I ran straight for them.
They looked over their shoulders and started running. But somehow, despite the wet streets and my dress shoes, I was gaining ground on them. Adrenaline is a powerful thing. At this point, I suppose they decided that it wasn't worth finding out if I could throw a punch as well as I could run, so they tossed my wallet back at me.
My instinct was then to turn into a wide receiver and try to catch it in the air, but my sudden change of movement and the aforementioned wet streets finally caught up with me and I landed rib-first on the ground. Hard. However, my wallet was there and the only thing that was missing was a handful of receipts.
More happened in Barcelona after that; maybe one day I'll write a novel to cover it all. But, not now. For better or for worse, the city felt like raw passion every single hour of the day. It was intoxicating. Before we left, my exhausted body was cradled on the sand and I watched the sunrise from the beach to the fading echoes of "Cerveza? Beer?"