Off to Europe: Barcelona

On Friday, I got on a plane to fly to Barcelona for the ICWSM-11 conference on weblogs and social media. In between the conference, I have been exploring the city. Barcelona is amazing, and definitely worth writing about. So I’ve decided to keep a (rough) diary of my visit, definitely to be gone over later with pictures (and maybe even video!). Enjoy, dear readers 🙂

Saturday, July 16.
I get into Barcelona after more than 24 hours of car, airport, plane, aaaairport, plane, bus, metro. Exhausted, but still want to explore. Ask for directions to “good food.” Go out of hotel, find broqueria with delicious bread, tomatoes, garlic, pork, wine… simple meal, nothing fancy (except the pig is in some sort of sauce that reminds me of oatmela except is extremely gentle and sweet), but so delicious. Stagger back, fall asleep with a big smile on my face 🙂

Sunday, July 17.
Wake up around 1pm, feeling much better than yesterday. Quickly check out the pre-conference events, then back and off explording. First – Sagrada Familia. Walk to it, searching for the spires and the construction cranes through a sea of roof. Emerge on plaza and stare, for a really long time. It’s incredible, the detail that went into this, and the scale… the beautifully ornamented facade does not let the eye rest until it travels up to the spires that dwarf the cathedral. It is like a scene out of a fantasy novel. It is like Barad-dur in Tolkien’s dreams. It is a long time before I think of finding a way inside.

I find the solo ticket booth, at long last, and discover tickets are cash only. Find an ATM, get cash, get ice cream just because it’s nice and warm and summer, and stand in line. Get in, and my jaw drops some more. What is heavy and dark on the outside, is full of light in all senses of the word on the inside, but no less incredible for it. The columns look like tree trunks branching, just as the guide book said, but they also look like papier-mache, delicate, totally incapable of supporting the crushing weight laid upon them. There is light everywhere, reflected and broken in bizarre geometric stained glass, and parts of the cathedral are full of such deep blue, such rich green, that I keep thinking of computer simulations. This just *couldn’t* be real. If I touch the walls, they will crumble, and the whole thing will collapse lighlty around me, like a castle of cards.

Walking up to the roof, I am greeted with an impressive view of Barcelona, with the Pyrenees in the background and the Mediterranean off to the side. I run into a Russian mother and daughter and they tell me to look at the fountains near Plaza Espanya. We almost get lost on the way down – there is a delightful lack of handrails and guides, not so much that you can fall and hurt yourself, but enough that we’re left wandering a little labyrinth of winding stairs, and convinced we walked out the wrong way, until the brave daughter pushes on a door (“don’t break it,” the mother remonstrates) and leads us back to the entrance.

I take a short breather and walk to the Plaza Espanya. First explore park Joan Miro near the metro station, skaters and folks frolicking on the grass and walking their dogs. The dogs look a bit wilder than in the States, but definitely happy to be out. I find no fountains, and head back, snapping pictures. Then they come into focus – beyond the Plaza, near a huge palace, row after row of them. A huge crowd is gathering as I walk up, and music starts playing. I approach the fountains at the Plaza Espanya to the New Hope soundtrack from Star Wars. Surreal is not quite the right word. Exhilarating, is.

I stay an watch a long time, through Spanish songs I don’t recognize, through a medley of Disney tracks in Catalan. The fountains flare and fade to the rhythm of the music, change to pale green and, later, pink that echoes glints of sunset on the clouds above. The crowd starts to leave several times, but then a new song draws it back in. I am the same way. At last, reluctantly, I make my way back to the Metro and to La Rambla.

La Rambla is filled to the brim with pedestrians, even though it’s eleven pm. I walk in search of a place to eat, and find a Plaza full of lights and conversation and restaurants on the outside. The center is dark and full of laughing people, mostly teenagers, a few older like myself. I grab dinner at what turns out to be a tourist trap (food-wise), but with excellent service, and read Pendergast while getting slowly drunk on an especially strong bottle of Sangria. The bottle finished, the dinner consumed, I realize that I have a conference to attend in a little over six hours, and stagger back to the Metro, somehow catching the last train (they’ve closed down the station near my hotel by the time I get there, and have to open it for me and the last few stragglers). Sleep is most welcome.


One Response to “Off to Europe: Barcelona”

  1. Miguel Garcia Says:

    Dude, I totally forgot about the Sagrada Familia. It’s so amazing. I can’t wait until it is finished.

    Keep in mind Barcelona is one of those towns where things get active REALLY late. Lots of night owls. Also, sorry I couldn’t get my cousins to show you around :(.

    PS – Pretty sure there are some other buildings by Gaudi in town if you go looking.

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