So you’re planning a trip through Spain and trying to decide which destinations to slot into your already tapas-packed, flamenco-filled, sun-worshiping itinerary. Here are four reasons why a trip to the bubble-like city of Barcelona should definitely be on your agenda.
1) The Bubble Vision
As you amble down the streets of Barcelona, in that just-arrived tourist haze, the first sight that will have you frozen on the pavement, eyes turned upwards, selfie-stick at the ready, are the buildings. Turning down a wee Calle behind the Catedral you are almost instantaneously met with “bubble vision”. Meandering colours whirl up walls, dizzying patterns roll down columns, and irregular shapes of all descriptions pop out from the colour. This is of course largely the work of the Catalan modernist movement and the city’s former “creative decorator”, Antoni Gaudi i Cornet, or as he is more commonly known, Gaudi.
Contrary to Holland’s Van Gogh or France’s Monet, Gaudi’s preferred medium of architecture ensures the “in-your-face”, free accessibility of his work. From the melted-icing cake roof of La Pedrera to the skeletal window frames of Casa Batlló, and the effervescent shades running up Palau de la Música Catalana, modernist art meets the eye around each corner of Barcelona’s cityscape, a free bubble vision experience you can’t, and won’t want to miss.
2) The Emotion
Not only will the Barcelona bubble tease your eyes, it’ll toy with your emotions. Spot a bubble anywhere in the world and you will no doubt find a pack of eager, young whipper snappers somewhere nearby in pursuit. The detergent-filled dreams provoke childish enchantment and ecstasy, so too does the city of Barcelona. Not only is the city brimming with actual youth, but the whole town appears to float on a spirit of youthful bohemia. Alternative clubs, bars, cafes and boutiques, satisfactory to the most ardent hipsters abound, however, the real bohemia drifts through the parks.
The first time I exited my hostel and meandered in true-backpacker fashion aimlessly through the city, I ended up in one of Barcelona’s bohemian hives. On entering Parc de la Ciutadella I was instantaneously entranced. Catalans and tourists alike lay, sat, danced, meditated, slack-lined and “human pyramided”, if you will, in clusters and open circles as others filled the park with music. In the distance young couples and families rowed boats on the duck pond as children chased bubbles under the fountain. The vibe was “communal living sanctuary from the sixties” crossed with “future, child-friendly Glastonbury”. I was alone, yet I felt completely included, caught up in the youthful spirit of fun and freedom that Barcelona exudes.
3) The Detail
While the atmosphere of Barcelona will initially have you floating, stepping back to study the city’s intricacies can also be rewarding. By the time I enlisted myself on a walking tour I had already been in Barcelona for four days. I was well acquainted with all the tourist stops and the winding streets you took to get there. What I hadn’t noticed were the subtle but significant sites dotted throughout the streets. While refashioned palaces and remnants of the Spanish inquisition can be discovered across the city, the most intriguing site I discovered was tucked away in a small residential building.
On Carrer de Marlet 5, an uneventful street in “El Call”, the city’s historic Jewish quarter, one of the oldest synagogues in Europe hides. Barely noticeable to the passer-by and located in what you could easily mistake as another apartment block, the original structure is thought to date back to around the fourth century. Subterranean and disguised, you wouldn’t be blamed for missing the historic site. In fact, the importance of the site was officially “missed” by the whole town up until 1995 when it was first discovered by an intuitive historian. Tracing an old route taken by the 16th century tax collector, the historian became suspicious when he noted a then-warehouse that fitted all the architectural dimensions of a Jewish temple. Staying true to its modest history, the now visitable site doesn’t sport a large ticket booth or tourist line, no signs will guide you to its whereabouts but it certainly warrants the search. Hiding in the shadows of the more proclaimed traveler checkpoints, the synagogue is an underrated detail of the Barcelona bubble worth magnifying.
4) The Uniqueness
While looking at Barcelona is like peering through a bubble, entering the city is equivalent to stepping inside. Gone are the white and blue cave houses of Granada, the rocky coastline of Murcia, and the expansive plains of Andalusia, suddenly the traveler is met with a sprawling metropolis. High-rise apartments, boulevards of boutiques and a well-connected subway system consume the arid landscape. As the second largest city in Spain, this however can all be expected. What one may not expect are the striking differences in language and culture that greet you in Barcelona and the surrounding region, Catalonia.
Sitting in a bar sipping on your cold brew as you eye up your next tapa you may be amused by some local’s idea of Spanish. You’ve got your “Perdón” and “gracias” down and they’re just not doing it right. Before you pop over to give them a quick language lesson, check they’re not speaking Catalan, the native and second official language of the region. Derived from vulgar latin, and estimated to date back to the 9th century, today Catalan resembles more of Italian and French than modern day Spanish. The use of “merci” might be a give-away sign when you do start listening.
After you’ve stopped eavesdropping on the locals and their interesting language, you may notice the city dwellers’ strange fascination with human pyramids. While bull fighting is a notorious Spanish pastime, Catalans (citizens of Catalonia) have traditionally shown more interest in seeing what they can create with the human form. Taking a weekend stroll through one of Barcelona’s many parks you are bound to stumble across a group of castellers or “castle builders” constructing a human-filled masterpiece.
Not only do Catalans act differently, they are different, and they know it. Continue your stroll through some of Barcelona’s residential areas and you will be drawn to the yellow and red-stripped flags tumbling over balconies and dressing the streets in colour. While you may initially mistake these political pieces for nationalistic pride, at closer inspection you will find that this is not the Spanish flag, but rather the flag of Catalonia. For a considerable time, some would argue since the 12th century, and the marriage of the Count of Barcelona and the Queen of neighbouring Aragon, a group of Catalans have been fighting to reclaim complete territorial independence. For before the unification of modern day Spain, Catalonia was a self-sufficient entity with its own customs, language and traditions.
It is no wonder then that the Barcelona of today feels unique. Like the Catalonia of the High Middle Ages, Barcelona is a land of human towers and latin tongues within a country of bull fighting and bravado, an enchanting Spanish bubble well worth the visit.