24 hours in the city that never sleeps. How do Catalans live for real? Who are they? Is home of Gaudi as it is shown on postcards? You are about to find out…
Monday, 7 a.m., wakey, wakey, lazy people! I open my windows wide to make sure if the city is awake already. Stupid me, what was I thinking?! It never went to sleep! So pretending that I am not sleepy at all, from my second floor balcony on La Rambla, I instantly get lost in the early heart beats of the streets. As I go downstairs, the first thing catching my eye, is the weird move of the people. Some of them moving fast, opening their boutiques, full of energy, ready to start a brand new day. On the other hand, I notice people barely moving with an empty bottle or a pair of high heels in their hands, trying to make their way home after a memorable party down in Shoko or Catwalk.
Instead of having a typical Catalunian breakfast, esmorzars de forquilla, a.k.a. fork breakfast, I head straight to a bakery for some bocadillo with jamon iberico, followed by a visit to the market Mercat de la Bouqueria and to my favorite, one and only Spanish Mercadona, do get some real orange juice. As I approach the metro station, La Rambla is already overcrowded. Overcrowded, but in a lovely way. Why? Because I see people going to work, to school, opening shops, running after a taxi, getting on a bus…and all of them locals. This is one of the few moments of the day, when you can be absolutely sure, that finally, the streets of Barcelona are filled with locals. Why so sure? It`s too early for tourists. No museums are opened yet, and they are still sleeping after yesterday`s long and tiring tour. So, with a giant smile on my face, I continue my way to the metro. You know, just a simple ride with the metro, is a charming journey you can have, on your way of discovering the real Catalans.
Metro is full, but since it is huge, you can always spot a free seat. But if not… then feel free to sit on the floor. Whaaaaat?! Yes, as you heard! Without someone staring or pointing at you, people do sit on the floor in the metro. Regardless if a kid, a teenager in ripped jeans, a mother or a businessman in suit , they do! How is that even possible? Well, in the first instance, the floor is so clean, that you could even eat on it. And people don`t care. They don`t care of others, they are not afraid doing things… Nothing is weird or outrageous here! And the best part? Screw phones! Almost everyone has a book and reading. Regardless on metro, bus,train, on the streets, people do read. Both young and older generations.
An other thing you spot is how good people look. A- mazing!! Again, regardless age or gender, people are fabulous. But don`t get me wrong! This is the place where awesome means taste! They have good taste and style. And that is called class! I am not talking about 3 layers of foundation, NIKE shoes all the way, or Prada everywhere…I am not talking about how expensive that outfit is (well, let`s face it, lots of them are, indeed), but about the fact that even if you would give a piece of ripped material from the good will, spaniards would still look good in it! They just know how to do it! Screw Paris and Milan, they are outdated already!
While admiring locals, I reach my destination, Les Corts. The neighborhood I used to live in. So after shopping, I will have the chance to visit my dear, old barrio. It`s awesome to get my fav juice and bunch of mediterranean fresh fruits in the middle of the "winter". Yes, November 25, and 24 degrees. Lovely! I continue my little journey to Travessera de Les Corts, crossing in front of Camp Nou Stadium, the amazing view I had in front of my room for five amazing months. Who needs tickets to El Classico, when I can enjoy it from my own room! …It is getting close to 9 a.m., and the sun is shinning like it does in Romania…in July or August.
I spot a "second round of people" with maps and cameras. Snap! Tourists woke up and the invasion begins. Ohh dear God, they stop and stare at every corner. Silly, but, well, as expected, since they paid a lot of money to be here. I decide to take a walk behind Camp Nou, in direction of Avinguda Diagonal. What is so special about? Thing you must know about the city: almost every street goes straight, crossed by other similar streets, forming rectangular spots on the map. But among all of them, there are 2 huge streets, literally slicing up the city: Avinguda Diagonal and Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes. When I cross them I feel like it takes minutes to reach from left to right side. You can`t spot the ending of the street, it seems like it fades somewhere in the blur of the distance. Wide and straight like a ruler. Breathtaking.
While I sit in a cute place, loosing my sight in the magic of Av. Diagonal, and the incredible size of it, life does not stop around me. I see people going to the bank, bus drivers enjoying their break at the end of the line. Come on, for them it`s already late, they are working since 5 a.m. Also, Starbucks is getting crowded… locals already grabbed their coffees, but tired tourists just started the day. Since I can`t get enough of the view, I decide to walk along the street for a while. Such a lovely place. You constantly hear the cars, the tram, the bus and people coming and going. You might think this is like an endless inferno, moving in circles, but in my case, somehow this kind of rush makes me actually relaxed, heading to the inner peace. Just stop and stare from time to time, while people walk by me…and I am still amazed by the power of this street has on me. It never ends. It is like an infinite road you have to walk your entire life while chasing dreams. You can`t see the end of it if it fades in the sea or takes you up to the mountains. The only thing you are aware of, is that somewhere it will lead, eventually. You walk it, and the more you advance you feel like reaching….reaching not destination, but divinity. This street is just like my love for Barcelona: eternal.
I planned a short walk, but suddenly I realize, I have been walking for 2 hours! … felt like 10 minutes! At a certain point I turn right. Here am I, on Passeig de Gracia. If something is fancy, than this is it! I am not actually sure what is this street doing here?! It is like a piece ripped out of the most expensive and luxurious neighborhood, Pedralbes… which is by the way, pretty far from where I am now. Ahh… Center! That explains a lot. Every center is fancy and fab, so is this. First stop: Starbucks! It is nothing local, I know, but is one of my traditions. Starbucks on Gracia. Since I am not a patient type, I can`t even sit like a decent human being and drink my coffee, so I rather grab it and drink it on my way to Placa Catalunya. While walking down the fancy street of Passeig de Gracia, I fall in love again and again with the windows of Chanel, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Escada & Co. Alice in Wonderland! ( I would say paradise, but the only place I call like that is the jelly store). But this street is not only about the most exclusivist brands of the fashion industry, but also about the man of Barcelona & the entire Catalunya, and Espanya. Antoni Gaudi. It is funny how among the fancy boutiques you spot a building… which is also fancy, but in a different way, dating back to around 1880. So this is how I reach Casa Batllo and Casa Mila, both belonging to the art nouveau master, Gaudi. Incredible. I know that those "pieces" of art do not belong between those shops, but in the mean time, I must admit that they actually fit perfect, and I wouldn`t be able to imagine a better placement for them!
Few minutes after,I reach the biggest shopping mall, El Corte Ingles, on Plaza Catalunya, next to Portal D`el Angel. The heart of the city! As you noticed, I used "heart", rather than "center" . There is no such thing in Barcelona "let`s go to the center". Indeed, there are some extremely important places, such as Placa Catalunya or Placa Espanya, but every place itself is equal, since all of them have something important, something monumental, or something famous. So, as I was saying, Pl. Catalunya is at the meeting point of Passeig de Gracia, La Rambla and Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes. Banks, shopping mall, awesome parks & fountains, billions of buses… and uncountable number of tourists. It`s big, it`s giant, it`s enormous. Well, how about eating, since it`s already 14:00. Friendly advice: if you know the value of your money, you don`t eat on Pl. Catalunya. So I go back home to eat something mmmmm… Spanish! Tortilla de patatas. Delisssh!!! Afterwards, I was thinking to respect the Spanish "saint" tradition of siesta, but in Barcelona no one does that, so neither will I. How could someone sleep while in Barcelona?! So let`s get back to "moving mode" . I vote for visiting my old university! So, few minutes from Rambla, on Placa Universitat, I spot my old bus, 59, the one that used to take me to school. Nostalgia hit me right in that place. The university? Giant! A garden with orange trees, lake with fishes… feels like a huge castle from the Loire`s valley. Then, our building of enthusiastic future geographers, the house that taught us Spanish and Catalan. Eight levels. Impressive. Separate offices for every single teacher, with differently colored walls on every floor. Huge windows and fancy classrooms. Maybe an additional motivation to go to university. And you know what? Students don`t go to university because they payed a lot of money, or because parents are forcing them. They go, because they want to, they are eager to study and develop themselves….hmm…quiet distant from the Romanian attitude. Never mind. As reaching the teachers` offices, sad news are welcoming me. Some of my teachers are not working here anymore. Sad. It made me hesitate while leaving the building. So many 8:30s in the morning, so many meteorology classes from 17:00. So many students sitting outside, just as we did two years ago, talking about exams and stuff. And imagine, all of them decent ones! No one in high heels, not even a single teacher, no one is driving daddy`s car, no one trying to impress, everyone just watching their own business. … Ahh, such a distant universe from Romania.
After school visit, I go to the metro station, to pick up a good friend I made in Ibiza. We went to Port Well, admiring the winter sunset, the cute boats, and by the time the lights of the city turned on, we were already at Maremagnum, the mall built on the sea. No worries guys, no shopping. We got such into discussion, that the next second all we noticed was the beach. We ended up at La Barceloneta. The most famous and popular beach of the city. I`m telling you, it is! Even Shakira was filming here. We had so many updates to share, but in the second we saw the waves we went speechless. Deep silence! Just the sound of the waves. They are so close to us, almost reaching our feet, and we would love to jump in, but the next thought crossing our minds, is that we are happy that the land is protecting us against the power of the wild waves. We feel safe, and untouchables, but still so tiny and meaningless. Am I getting to much into melancholic mood? Okay, than how about a drink? At a local place. Deeply hidden from the eyes of the tourists.
La Champaneria. That is how the place is called. A cute little bar, where you can pick up a bocadillo and taste your favorite vine, in a cozy atmosphere, while chilling music is playing in the background. And it`s even cheap, and all you got around you, are Catalans. After a short while, I had the idea of going to the church. We were wandering on the hidden streets of Barcelona, so close to the sea, but streets and atmosphere felt so cozy that we had the impression of being in the beating heart of this amazing land. We just walked from Calle Princesa to random direction, than reached Iglesia Santa Maria del Mar. Not an imposing building by its grandoir, but a modest one with class, just perfect to match the definition of a church. It was closed, but I promised, I would return later for "una misa". As we were walking around, felt like a rediscovery of the city, from a different perspective. I know by heart every place, neighborhood, building, shop and corner, but Barcelona will never stop surprising me. After the long walk we both went home. Ahh, no worries, no one goes to sleep at 9 p.m. in Barca! I went out with Mathias, my Slovenian new friend. Right next door to the apartment, to Placa Reial. Big fountain in the middle, with people around, shinning, or fading in the lights of the Christmas decoration. Lots of tourist among them, drinking their "before the party" drink, but also, meeting point of lots of locals. We just went for a bit of fresh air, talking about random stuff. Since lots of clubs are surrounding the area, you can find every accessory of a good party. Promoters, bars, cigars, even dealers. Hmm… must admit, I was surprised, since 2 years when I`ve been here, they were selling mostly cocaine, in the disguise of "do you want some coco", giving you a slice of coconut, but as far as I notice now, they updated the market, and on tonight`s offer we have hashish and marijuana. So funny, that people just approach you on every corner, with no shame or risk, trying to sell you something. And they are not even scary. Little imigrants, asking randomly, no prob if you refuse. Even dealers are open minded and classy here :D!
Short after, I went for a bit of walk by my own. Time to get lost again in the amazing world of the Catalans! I lost the tracking of the city after crossing Via Laetana and Placa Urquinaona. First, I reached Palau de la Musica Catalana, hidden between tiny grey streets, where only locals wander on their way home. I could not even decide which angle to take photo of, since it was impressive. The more I walked, the most I felt like getting closer to the locals. I couldn`t hear anymore the uncountable amount of foreign languages, neither see the rush and crowd from the main tourist attractions. It was getting less noisy and fancy… but more charming and absolutely incredible. Few people crossed my way, with a pale smile, or a random wink, as greeting me in their real world. One secret about Catalans: they are proud and cold people. Cold as they never show their feelings, and the road to their heart might be as long as walking by foot from Budapest to Barcelona! So, I went straight ahead, than left, than right, than left again, than 2 times right, than stopped caring where am I heading to, or where exactly am I . All I knew, I was never before there. Everything was new, unknown, untouched. But in the mean time felt like I was born there. I was made for those places. On my way further, I discovered a charming library, Libreria Pompeia, a cute place to read and explore the world of literature. Few steps away, I ran into a pasteleria, with great hot chocolate and atmosphere. I don`t get it. How can they do this? So fancy, but still so modest and classy! It makes you return….or never leave again
Talking of classy…hmmm I think that`s the 856756098605th time I just used that word. But if there is one thing Catalans are good at, that is being classy! And allow me to use it one more time, in order to describe the vintage and exclusivist gallery I just discovered on Carrer de Sant Sever. Felt like Karl Lagerfeld`s old fashion atelier. Eccentric as much as it leaves you speechless, than you decide that it`s rather futuristic than vintage, and by the end, you actually conclude that you have no idea what you just saw, but you are amazed and mesmerized. And how could I end my fascinating exploring walk, if not by going to Catedral de Barcelona, right at the "corner" of El Barri Gotic. Not to take photos, neither to stare at candles and paintings on the wall of the church, but to pray. To pray with locals. To pray as they do, to live as they do. Not to be as they are, but to be them….
After a great time by myself, I was planning to go to the Magic Fountain on Placa Espanya. A little bit of walk, but not alone. Met with an other old friend, who is always late!!! (But cute 😀 ) And that fountain….unbelievable! We set down on the steps of Montjuic castle, and enjoy every second of the show. Priceless. As we sit for long how about a little walk. Keep in mind, that little walk in Catalunya means at least a few kilometers. So, "Tour de France" in Catalan way! We walked from Placa Espanya up to the Arena, for an amazing view, and then, across Avinguda Paralel to the Statue of Colombus, a slight break in the port, then to Barceloneta. Ohhh, come on, just about 5 kms, what a big deal! While realizing that the journey looked shorter on map, we got the idea of a nice party. If in Barcelona, let`s making it classy! So we went to W Hotel. For 2 years, we were admiring it, circling it, but this time, lets get in. Why so classy? Well, in case you didn`t know, W Hotel is the fanciest 5 star hotel of the city, 99 meters tall, situated right on the beach, with an extravagant shape. Let it be!
It felt like we were going to the Oscars. Really! Starting from the parking until the elevator… every single rock and brick was fancy, shinny, and sassy! Couldn`t stop loving it. Well, when you are fabulous, and you have fabulous friends, you end up in fabulous places. Concretely, in an elite club, on the 19th floor, with giant windows, having the entire city and sea at your knees. You now how incredibly fancy are things on TV? This was way more!!! Breathtaking. And the people…suits, high heels, expensive whiskey and billions of euros! …and the fanciest bathroom I have ever seen 😀 !
After an amazing time in Wonderland, my friend drove me home. But the night is not over, it is 3 a.m. The night energy of the city just started to raise. People everywhere you look! Not only party people heading to Catwalk or to the Casino, but all ages. Enjoying a night walk, a night swim. Even older generations catching up in the lights of the night! I started my walk in El Raval, a neighborhood not exactly famous for safety, but, never mind. Street by street had the feeling that I am switching countries as easy as I would just turn the pages of an atlas. From India, to China, through Pakistan and Senegal, to Japan and Dominican Republic, and even to an African village. I was trying to "act like cool" , but regardless your color or behavior, they just know, that you are an outsider and not one of them. From the smell of Indian spices and rice, the transition to baklava and fish was a matter of few steps. But this is part of the culture of the city, and you love it, regardless of bad reputation or mixes of smells. Than while searching my way out of the labyrinth of endless streets of the uncountable immigrants, the clock was pointing to 5 a.m., so in a glance, I found my self on my way to my apartment on La Rambla. But if not in the clubs, than where else can you hook up with someone? Yes, you know it! Rambla. Let`s have an experiment. Depending on the length of the dress, how many "boyfriends" can a girl get, in one night, more precisely, in a few hours on the streets of Barcelona. Let`s not be bitchy, get rid of lipstick and put even a jacket on. Result? 4-5 guys in 10 minutes. How? By simply walking on the street. They are all generous, at your services. They would take you for a walk, they would buy a drink, they would drive you home, they would take you for dinner, they would even marry you, just let`s hook up and party! Who are they? In my personal experience: UK, Senegal, Mexico, France and India. If I would have walked more, with a more sociable mood and shorter dress, I could gather even an army of guys for myself. Some of them decent, some of them, well, hot ones, but some of them so damn annoying, I would rather get drunk alone than in their company. Some of them understand the word "no", for some of them you have to explain in different languages and gestures. Some of them let you go, others will stick as glue. But, whatever, next day you will laugh while complaining about your giant hangover.
…and this is how the sun is almost rising again, above the city that never goes to sleep. It`s 6 a.m. How about I go to sleep now? Not much, just for a couple of hours, so afterwards I can keep falling in love with the most amazing thing I could ever have: Barcelona!