Holiday in Spain.

Sit down, pour yourself some cold sangria, and put on some Counting Crows. I’ll tell you about what we’ve been doing in the seaside city of Barcelona. When I started writing this entry this afternoon, Steve and I were sitting in our Airbnb apartment watching the sun set on the city. Our large window opens up onto a giant city-block sized courtyard space dotted with countless balconies, terraces, and laundry racks. Beyond that, the city of Barcelona slowly fades north into green hills and mountains. The air is a little dry but it has attained the perfect balance of being a warm and comfortable breeze.

The view from our window in Barcelona.

Barcelona is at once what I’ve expected from all those movies (I loved L’Auberge Espagnole but rather hated VCB) but also not quite. The subway felt warmer and stickier, at once more gritty and real of a place, but more earthy than grungy. The Eixample district we are staying in is fairly upscale, the neatly gridded streets meeting at diamond-shaped intersections that allow for parking in each corner. Spanish is not everywhere — this is the capital of Catalonia, and feels like a natural continuation from our time in Perpignan. Catalan is the language of choice and the language of state, from subway signs to top billing on restaurant menus. Thankfully, between the Catalan term for something, its Spanish (or Castellano) translation, and the French equivalent, we can almost always make out what items are on the menu.

The most delicious appetizer!

The first night we got here, we enjoyed a truly magnificent three-course meal at a restaurant in Gràcia. The village of Gràcia is a bit of an island in the metropolis of Barcelona, having developed as a separate area and been swallowed up by the city as it expanded. It is well known now for a much less touristy haunt with great restaurants, cafés, and little squares, and we had such a great time enjoy this meal for a set 17 euro including dessert. The prawns were absolutely amazing, and I had a delicious pork loin covered in whole-grain Dijon mustard sauce. Turns out that this was also a more accurate mirror of local Catalan cuisine, because Catalan meals are more multi-course like the French as opposed to small dishes of tapas and pinxos. We walked back to our apartment after midnight, admiring the fact that Barcelona was just getting started on its Saturday night at 1 am. Moreover, my impression has been that people love getting out and enjoying food and drink with their friends, not simply getting smashed or rowdy. There’s a real convivial atmosphere that makes Barcelona so much more than what I’ve experienced along Milwaukee Avenue on Chicago’s north side.

At midnight, things are just getting started in Barcelona.

The next day, we headed down for the castellers performance in the Plaça de Sant Jaume, a historical square in the center of the Old City. Thanks to my friend Sarah, who spent a year in Barcelona, I already knew all about the castellers of Catalan, who build incredible human towers with teams of hundreds of people. This was my first chance to see castellers in action! The place was filled with people, and began with some simple castels (or towers) of two or three people, a few of which moved halfway across the square! There were three different teams participating, with differently colored shirts.

The crowd at Plaça de Sant Jaume.

We stayed for about an hour in the square, watching the different teams assemble tiered towers of up to five levels. As towers entirely formed of people who stand on each other’s shoulders, the bottom is braced of a gigantic base of dozens and dozens who brace each other’s waists and stabilize the structure.

One of the many teams of castellers we watched.

It was an incredibly intense experience when we got close enough to watch these people’s faces as they gritted and concentrated on holding steady, as each successive layer of people climbed over them and took their spot on the tower. When the base is ready, the tower goes up as quickly as possible to make it as brief as possible for the people on the bottom bearing everyone’s weight, and the castellers higher up tend to be young women, with the ones on the very top being a few young girls who could not be more than 6 years old, wearing simple helmets and fearlessly clambering over the entire structure about 30-40 feet in the air without any nets or safety support! When they climb down, dissembling the structure, it can be intensely terrifying, watching the middle shake and tremble, as the castellers struggle to hold the entire thing together, but it is also an incredibly empowering experience, as you see the training and potential of a human body to adapt to and handle stress and pressure in a way that no building can emulate.

Watching these castellers was really intense!

To look at it from another side, as a proud Catalan tradition, the castellers build event was also a platform for Catalonians to speak in favor of seceding from Spain. We received plenty of handouts and also saw posters saying “Catalans want to vote”. By the end of this visit, I have certainly started to think about our trip less as of one to the south of France and then to Spain, and more of one to the region of Catalonia in general. I was hoping to write more about our trip in Barcelona, but I’ll have to finish it tomorrow. We’re getting on a plane in the morning and flying out into Paris for the last leg of our trip with our friend Lele, so I’ll probably get a bit more written on the plane about our visit to Park Guell, the Sagrada Familia, and the Barcelona Cathedral too! Until tomorrow.


2 thoughts on “Holiday in Spain.

  1. The castellers are amazing! I’d love to hear about the Sagrada Familia when you get a chance. The winery (and dogs) sounded lovely. Were y’all the only ones there?

    1. Yes! More to come very soon. We had an interesting time at the Sagrada Familia, and I’ll tell all about the winery too. We were indeed the only people there, but that was because this was more of a family business that is work-oriented, not based on tours and such. It certainly didn’t cost us anything to take a tour, and we gladly bought some of what we sampled. =) We’ll let you know what kind if you want to try too!

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