Spain should really be considered New Europe. Until recently, it spent centuries as a geopolitical backwater, pitied and mocked by such minds as Alexandre Dumas, who famously wrote “Africa begins at the Pyrenees.” Like the Eastern Bloc, it spent the bulk of the 20th century under a dictatorship, emerging to become a cheap vacation spot and plentiful source of immigrant labour throughout the continent. Overall, Spain just doesn’t feel like Western Europe.
But despite being attached to Spain in one way or another for 500 years, Barcelona does feel European; and aggressively so. Most of the city was planned from scratch in the 1870s by Ildefons Cerda, in the form of perfectly sculpted avenues, endless octagonal city blocks built in exuberant Art Nouveau by architects like Antoni Gaudí, and a smattering of parks. For this, my mom and I made two circuits of the city.
Unable to sleep, we began at La Boquería, the city’s main market, for breakfast. Before leaving, I made sure to buy some Manchego and Chorizo, the latter of which was shrink-wrapped.
“How are you going to get that open?” Asked my mom. “You don’t have your knife.”
“I’m sure we’ll figure something out,” I replied. “I only bought it to snack on the train.” Our ride to Madrid was not for another two days.
At the Sagrada Familia we took a break to watch the people and their dogs. Catalans seem to prefer big, fluffy dogs, though I can’t imagine where in those apartments they sleep. And everyone was incredibly well-dressed, not just because it was winter. Europe as a whole is way more formal than America, which was very pleasing. We took the Metro to the eastern section of the city, strolled through the Parc de Catalunya to França Station.
Although not as busy or important as the main station Sants, França is really beautiful; a gleaming Victorian masterpiece of marble and bronze linking two great nations. I looked around, considered that I could go to Paris today, and had some manchego. Hardly anyone takes trains out of França anymore, and it will probably be even more forgotten when Sagrera station is completed on the city’s northern outskirts, but it’s a damn shame.
Following a visit to the Picasso Museum, a sudden encounter with Roman ruins, and the discovery that Catalans put tomatoes on everything, we took a rest before heading out again. The Rambla erupted with the cries of protesters boycotting big banks. We continued towards the Metro station when a random man barked at my mom.
“I think that man barked at me,” she said. Instantly she realized she was the only woman in Spain wearing makeup. No man would ever have drawn that conclusion, but she was right. Well, almost, but we’ll get to that later.
North of the Old City is Gràcia, a small village that was enveloped when the Barcelona expanded in the 19th century. I had read that Gràcia was a quieter, more easygoing place than we had experienced, and both my mom and I desperately needed that. After struggling to find a restaurant, we settled on an old, fancy place whose name escapes me. The dinner consisted of yet more fish, but the dessert was excellent.