Remembering: Day 1 of 28

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DAY 1 in Barcelona, Spain:

10.02am: It was about a year since we saw each other last and after so long of only relying on WhatsApp messages and e-mails to keep in touch and  grow our friendship, seeing Miriam again in person felt too good to be true. One word: Retrouvaille.

It stayed at a constant, unapologetic 31°C as we bought our T10 Metro tickets, checked into our hostel, changed into a thinner attire and took a metro to Plaça Catalunya. I remember walking up the stairs of one of the Plaça Catalunya metro station’s exits and finding myself in one of the most vibrant cityscapes I’ve ever seen. I gasped as I made sense of all that was around me — two grand water fountains, an abundance of public water coolers, a big circular space where tourists were roaming, kids were running, performers were juggling and blowing bubbles, and the flowers, oh the red red flowers. Oh my goodness, we really were in Barcelona.

11:53am: We walked down the 2-kilometre long Las Ramblas boulevard, which is, by the way, the heart of Barcelona, made up of five different avenues/ streets, and located in the old Gothic Quarter. There were pretty palm trees, beautiful balconies, persistent stall owners trying to sell us souvenirs, many many push-cart florists and… Marilyn Monroe?! We exchanged wide-eyed glances and laughed, realising that ‘she’ was merely an act of publicity for the erotic museum in the area. Behind us, there stood Mercat de La Bocqueria (pronounced “La BOW-KAY-REE-YA”)! It was huge, bright-coloured with the abundance of fresh fruits and fruit juices, lined with rows of toasty baked bread and we even spotted a little gem: a falafel stand!

We got delightful, naturally sweetened juices and went on with our day. Right around a corner we went when Miriam suddenly exclaimed, “Maoz!!!” She said she read about it online, about how it served amazing falafel pita pockets, so we made sure we didn’t give it a miss!

2.30pm: We met Andy, our tour guide for Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour — Andy, who studied art and history, Andy, who moved to Barcelona because of love, and Andy, who used to be a contemporary artist but realised that a career as a tour guide went more accurately in line with his passion. He loved Barcelona so much, knew so much, cared so much and shared so much. Pray that You land in Andy’s hands if ever on a Barcelona Sandeman Free Walking Tour, because he simply was the best. A funny lad!

Barcelona is a very elegant city, famous for its impressive history, culture, monuments, fantastic architecture, museums, cathedrals, galleries and interesting people. Here are a few things I managed to catch during the tour:

  • Its founding origins are still in dispute. There are two Spanish legends concerning the establishment of Barcelona. One legend says that it was founded by Hercules, 400 years before the building of Rome.  But, according to the other legend, the city was founded in the 3rd century BC by the Carthaginian Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal.  He named the city Barcino after his family, the Barca family of Carthage.
  • Barceloneta Beach is artificial. There were no beaches in Barcelona until 1992. The seaside of Barcelona was full of local industries up until the city decided to host the 1992 Summer Olympic Games.
  • La Sagrada Familia is going to take longer to build than the Great Pyramids. It is due for completion on the 9th of September 2026, which is going to be Antoní Gaudí’s 100th Death Anniversary. The great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt only took 20 years to build with ancient tools, and so far, la Sagrada Familia has taken around 200 hundred years to be constructed with modern tecnology.
  • The FC Barcelona Museum is the most visited museum in Barcelona. FC Barcelona, also known as Barça, is the most famous sport club in Barcelona. The Spaniards have a strong football culture, and there is a high fee to be paid to gain entry into their official football club (that is, if there even is an opening!). Membership is so cherished and is passed down from generation to generation, i.e. it is virtually impossible to gain entry into the club.
  • Barcelona is the first and only city that received a RIBA Royal Gold Medal for architecture in 1999.
  • Fiestas de la Mercè is the most important festival in Barcelona.
  • Flamenco is not well known in Barcelona. Catalans prefer the more contemporary rock-n-roll scene.
  • Each year, 8 million tourists visit Barcelona, making it Europe’s third most-visited city after London and Paris.
  • Valentine’s Day in Barcelona is Sant Jordi’s Day. People buy flowers and books for the one they love.
  • The Eiffel Tower was first intended for Barcelona, but the project was rejected.

5.34pm: We had a little time on our hands between the end of the tour and the Flamenco Dance performance we booked to watch at 8.30pm at Los Tarantos, so we decided to go where the wind would take us (a head’s up: this will happen a lot during this trip). We found ourselves in Park De La Ciutadella, where we saw a cheeky sign that read “WE WERE ONCE STRANGERS, BUT NOW WE ARE JUST STRANGE” hung beside a gathering, and where we munched on a quarter of a watermelon as large as the size of both our heads combined! Miriam used a spoon and I? A fork, because I carelessly left my utensils back in the hostel and Miriam’s set of cutlery was all we had at our disposal.

Ten more minutes of walking led us to standing beneath one of the grandest structures in Barcelona, the Arc de Triomf. The arch presides over Passeig de Lluís Companys, a wide promenade leading to the Ciutadella Park. It was built as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair by architect Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas.

6.40pm: Soon enough, we were in front of the Catedral de Barcelona, one of the city’s largest tourist attractions, that stands majestically in the Gothic Quarter. The cathedral’s exterior is just matched in beauty by its interior, or so Andy told us. Because of the long period of 150 years worth of construction, three different periods of architecture are visible. Andy said that one could even climb to the rooftop to get fantastic views of the Gothic quarter. Instead of doing that, Miriam and I wandered around the temporary fete that had been set up at the expansive empty courtyard just in front of the cathedral before taking a seat along the pavement in front of Plaça Nova. Here, we fished out our newly bought postcards and began fervently writing about all of our experiences so far — the smells, the sounds and the sights. They were to be sent home.

Just then, a pair of performers set up their stage right in front of us. They danced with a hoolahoop — yes, a hoolahoop! — to the tune of To Build A Home by Cinematic Orchestra. Their performance was strong, fluid and flawless, except for that one time the guy fell off the hoop. He exhibited such a graceful save though, I must add.

They bowed, curtsied, smiled, and with “Miriam, flamenco! Flamenco!”, we packed our bags and were on our way to Los Tarantos, pausing to post our postcards along the way. We ended up 30 minutes early and just sat by the edge of the fountain in the middle of Plaça Reial, talking about how different Barcelona’s palms were and really, just how surreal everything was. Right then, I must have said “I can’t believe we’re in Barcelona” for the tenth time that day.

8.30pm: We took our seats at the back of the private performance area and all lights went dim except for the neon pink spotlights which remained switched on in the front where the stage was. Flamenco dance (baile) is a highly-expressive, solo Spanish dance form characterised by hand clapping (a lot of it), percussive footwork (a lot a lot of it), and intricate hand, arm and body movements (tons of them). It was hard to keep up with every movement for the dancers just moved too quickly! The performers were so good at what they did. I think I’m speaking for both of us when I say that the performance was jaw-dropping, show-stopping, heart-stopping. Besides all the spins and twirls and taps and claps, what caught our eyes ears was the incredibly strained singing by one of the men in the back row. His eyes were closed, his neck veins were showing and he was just really into it. I began giggling to myself but tried to hide it, only to find Miriam trying her very best to mask her own laughing self. We were helpless at this point.

9.57pm: We got back to the hostel a little late, but not too late to catch the two Texan girls, who were staying in 901 with us, before they left for a nearby club. They were the first of many great people who we were going to meet on the trip. Moments later, a pair of sisters with strong Australian accents walked in. “Hi I’m Amira…” “… and I am Najella,” to which I said, “Oh like Cooking With Nigella!” “Hahaha yea pretty much!” All four of us clicked really quickly, shared about what we did that day and what we planned for the next, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

I slept that night with a huge smile on my face.

I was over the moon about the fact that we were in the company of such friendly girls, AND also because I reallyyyyy couldn’t wait for Day 2.

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