This is a couple days late in coming because upon returning to Brighton, I promptly came down with a cold. So, in my phlegmy stupor it took me an entire day to sort through the photos I’d taken, and a second day to upload the best ones onto flickr. What can I say about Barcelona? I wasn’t really sure what to expect, really. I’d read the Lonely Planet guidebook and taken note of some particular places I wanted to explore. Lots of people have raved to me about how cool it is, how much fun. The week before we went they were having beautiful sunny 60 degree weather. I was fantasizing about five days without long underwear or scarves. The day we got there it turned 40-45 and cloudy with occasional drizzle. Murphy’s Law. Well, Marianna, the lovely lady who hosted us in her flat is a Master’s student at University of Barcelona, and she was very busy with her final papers because we were there during her last week before holiday break. No matter, she has four flatmates and two of them were nice enough to take us out the first night, along with another girl who was also surfing the couch. (In case you want to check your math: 5 flatmates+us+other couch surfer=8 people in a 4 bedroom flat which I would estimate to be less than 850 square feet.) We went to three bars and a kebab place, which happens to be in the sketchy part of old town. Why is the food in the sketchy section always the best? We were back at the flat at about 12:30am, about the time most Barcelonians (Barcelonites? Barcelonos?) typically start their Saturday night. The second day we basically just wandered around the areas that made up medieval Barcelona, went to the Picasso Museum (free on Sundays after 3pm!) and had a couple snacks along the way. I can’t even remember where we ate dinner that night, it was very laid back. Monday: a whirlwind tour with Susana, the other couch surfer, involving three metro rides, two buses, a tram and a long walk up a steep hill. We saw Sagrada Familia, Sant-Pau Hospital, Parc Güell, Tibidabo, the soccer stadium (Susana is from Brazil, this was like the Holy Grail to her), La Pedrera, and Casa Batllo. We literally cross-crossed the city. I think we pretty much set a record. Tuesday: Marianna and a flatmate took us for lunch to the champagneria. I have no idea if I’m spelling this right, but basically it’s a restaurant that sells food and cava, the Spanish version of champagne. (For those non-foodie readers, champagne is sparkling wine made specifically in the Champagne region of France. By law, sparkling wine can only be called champagne if it comes from this region, so all other sparkling wines from other places have different names, big whoop.) Alas, there are no photos of this outing because nearly everyone in this place was Spanish (Catalan, no less!) and they come across as a bit standoffish and unfriendly, and I did not want to be THAT AMERICAN taking photos at their obviously beloved lunch spot. To illustrate their general temperament, Marianna (she’s from Brazil and speaks good Spanish but is obviously not a native speaker) asked the guy behind the counter if they had small plates of meat that we could order to nibble. His response: “yes.” Not exactly what you’d call helpful. Since there are no pics, here’s the lowdown on the setup. There are basically no tables. There’s a long bar and behind that bar are four or five men and one very big grill. In a case on the bar are plates of small sandwiches (called bocadillos) and hanging from all the rafter are big pieces of meat. MEAT. Specifically, serrano ham, chorizo, etc. You go up to the counter and try to catch someone’s attention and tell him what you want. You can order a glass of cava, or an entire bottle, but if you order a bottle you will be asked “for how many people?” because you cannot order a whole bottle unless there are at least two people drinking it. And at this point I realized something that I think is really great: here people do not drink to get drunk. Sure, they drink ALL THE TIME. Barcelona appears to have invented the pub crawl, but they seem to be much better at the concept of moderation than, say, the English, who are known to routinely throw up on the sidewalk (in Brighton, at least). In fact, for every bottle you order at the restaurant, you are required to order a minimum of two plates/sandwiches. Here, food and drink are meant to go together. So all around you are people and bottles and champagne glasses and sandwiches, and everyone is having a good time (maybe even the guy behind the counter, who was rather amused by our vague confusion and mishmash of Spanish abilities). In the back of the restaurant you can buy cava and meat and cheese to go, and so we bought a bottle for the road and walked a few blocks to the small and quiet Plaça del Rei next to the cathedral and sat on the steps and drank it. This is my fondest memory of Barcelona: drinking cava from paper cups on the stone steps of a 700 year old building. Thanks, Marianna.
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