In Barcelona, one need only look down to find amazing art.
I was pretty bummed to have to book into a hostel my first days in Barcelona but it turns out to have been beneficial in a few ways. First of all, it gave me a chance to wander around and get lost on my own; second, I made friends with a couple of great people, Andrew and Kata; and finally, it gave me a chance to sort of breath and not worry about anyone but myself, which I think is really essential sometimes. One of the great lessons I’ve learned is that it is essential when traveling for any length of time to once in a while find space that is your own, to have a personal home, if only for a day or two here and there.
The hostel I stayed in Hostel One Sants was like a palace. Marble floors, a lovely smoking deck on the top floor, couches in multiple places, free internet, free wifi, a great staff (several of whom are quite beautiful) and a great location away from the party center of La Rambla. This hostel was quiet and a good place to simply relax. I didn’t realize how much I needed that after my Amtrek and the flight into Barcelona.
While there I started looking at couch surfing info in Barcelona and found the profile of Chevales, the ambassador to Barcelona. They (because Chevales is a couple, Julian and Elena) had organized a huge number of activities in celebration of a bunch of couch surfers coming into Barcelona from Rome and dubbed the weekend events “The Roman Invasion”. I dropped Chevales a quick email thanking them for providing so much information on their city and expressed my regret at not having found them before arriving. I had also just gotten a simcard for spain (12 Euros) so I included my phone number and said if there were any cool happenings, it would be great to find out about them.
Not more than an hour after that Julian called and told me that he and his wife had space for me to couch surf with them and that the next day I should check out of the Hostel and move to their apartment. With the Roman Invasion, most couches in Barcelona had filled up and not only would they host me for three days, but also they had found me another host for the last three days of the Roman Invasion!
In terms of making the world a better place, this is one of the things that I think Couchsurfing.com enables that is just mind-blowing. I mean, here I am, a stranger in a strange and wonderful land and suddenly, I am invited, welcomed, and shown things that I would never have experienced without CS.com.
Julian and I met up at Cafe Zurich, a well known meeting place on La Rambla and then we took the train back to his flat. Arriving in his neighborhood, he took me to his local bar and we feasted on olives, sardines, bread and tomato, sausages, and a delicious dish called ‘bombs’ as Julian described it, ‘a bomb of flavor’. It was made up of meat, potatoes, and then covered with an incredible salsa brava. Julian told me as we started to eat, “This is the great contribution of Catalan culture to the world, our food.” I have to agree.
This treasure of a place, which I will keep as a closely guarded secret since I’m not a huge fan of lonely planet style destruction of hidden gems, makes every bit of their food from scratch. Fantastico!
We were joined by Julian’s wife Elena after a little while and in minutes I was no longer in the company of strangers, but instead spending time with close and valued friends. These guys are really an extraordinary couple that travels the world, opens their hearts and home to other travelers, and really go the distance to share the treasures of their beautiful city with those who are willing to see them.
I will admit that the 300 beers Julian and I drank that night were a bit excessive, but there is certainly no denying the value of enjoying food and drink in excess on occasion with friends. I’ve always liked the phrase “All things in moderation, including a little excess”.
The next day, Julian had arranged for me to meet up and hang out with another couch surfer. Laura from Kansas City, Missouri. After waking up and getting my head back on straight, I set out to enjoy the day. I left the flat and headed to Place Espanya where there was a huge fashion expo going on titled “The United Nations of Bread and Butter”.
While I did enjoy all of the beautiful people, I wasn’t actually there for the fashion show, instead, I was interested in clearing my head with some fresh air and doing some walking through Parc de Montjuic. I did a bit of a hike and explored the stadium, found some wonderful views, and then I found the greatest garden in the world. It’s a botanical garden filled with sculpture, ropes courses, and interactive musical sculpture that is designed to be played on.
At this point Laura called and we met up in the Placa Espanya and then went back to the musical park. We walked and talked and took the tramway up the mountain to the beautiful castle on the top.
Laura is kindred spirit on a journey to find love, joy, meaning, and a place in this world without falling prey to the money chase and wage slavery. Not at all what you would expect from Kansas City, but then, I’m obviously giving away my own bias there. So we wandered and snapped pictures everywhere, played on the musical sculpture, and then it was time to go meet Julian at the Cathedral of Barcelona.
This is not intentional art. It’s an old building that is probably going to be torn down. And yet, can there be much more beautiful than finding this on a random wander through narrow streets?
He took us to another hidden gem of a bar where we ate a tapas of bread and goat cheese. He also toured us around in the neighborhood he grew up in. We went to a shop where the woman makes marionettes by hand and has been doing so for as long as anyone remembers. She is probably one of the last puppet makers in Europe who does things in the old style way.
Next, Julian took us to Quatre Gatos, a bar famous for bread and Chocolate where Miro, Picasso, Dali, Gaudi, and Hemingway all used to hang out. This place had original paintings by Picasso hanging on the walls for decades and the menu and street signs also were done by the great artist.
I snapped this picture because of the scrawled dick on what appears to be quite an old piece of art next to a closed shop. Only later did I find out that the shop was actually Julians family shop when he was a child. I find this type of coincidence to be one of the great joys in life.
We went to yet another bar for incredible Tapas and were joined by Elena for a while. Then Julian and Elena went to say goodbye to a friend who was leaving while Laura and I proceeded up to the top floor of a mall to get cappuccino and enjoy the view of La Placa Catalonya from above. The giant star in the center of a circle below framed an amazing dance as lovers, friends, and strangers all engaged in an impromptu cotillion (Catalan?) of multiple comings and goings.
I took this picture simply because there was something I liked about the lights. Later Julian saw the picture and told me that these particular iron lamps had been created by Gaudi.
We then intended to go back to Quatros Gatos for chocolate, but by the time we found our way there, it was nearly time to meet up with Julian and Elena and so we put it off for another time.
As always, you can find all my photos on my flickr page.
Originally published 22January2009