My unexpected love affair

I had a love affair last week. It was sudden, unexpected, and completely unlike me. It briefly turned me into the kind of person I wish I could be on a daily basis.

I had myself a love affair with Barcelona.

Usually whenever I arrive in a new city, I am initially overwhelmed by everything – the language, navigating around, finding food – everything feels so difficult when I’m already beaten down by travel. I usually check into hotels with tears clouding my eyes. This pattern is so predictable that I braced myself for it to hit… but then it just never did. I would like to say this is because I’ve gotten better at travel – and I will say that, because I probably have – but I think the reality is that Barcelona is simply easy. It is easy to get around, it is easy to find good food, and it is easy to find beautiful things to see.

That first ‘morning’ (I hadn’t actually seen a bed since Vancouver so I use that term loosely), after dropping off my luggage at the front-counter of the hotel, I took the metro to Guell Park. It is, in a word, mesmerizing. I love mosaics, and once upon a time used to make them, and this was a magical, Dr. Seuss-like park made of them.  I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

I continued on, following whatever whims struck me, and soon found myself on a hilltop patio overlooking the entirety of Barcelona, drinking a glass of white wine and savouring a huge plate of olives and hummus. It was glorious; I was fully smitten and I had only been in the city for 5 hours.

My days of sightseeing in Barcelona turned into some of the best days of the summer. No, of the year.

I was a different version of myself, a more relaxed one. I followed my gut rather than my head. I let myself get lost among the narrow streets. I didn’t set foot in one museum or gallery – places I rarely enjoy but force myself to go to because I feel like I’m supposed to. I skipped entirely over buying useless gifts for other people that would just end up in a donation pile eventually, and instead splurged on a couple of nice things for John and myself.* I ate when I was hungry and whatever I was hungry for – be it ice cream or a giant chocolate croissant. One day my lunch was just a big glass of sangria on the beach, because it seemed like exactly the right thing at the time. And it was.

Every night of the week, I ate a long, wine-filled meal at some restaurant I stumbled onto. Though I was alone, I was never once tempted to take out a book or a phone like I normally would; I just enjoyed my food and my surroundings. I ordered without much concern over the prices or even the ingredients; most times I would sit up at the bar of tapas and just point to things that looked good. Often they were not at all what I expected – they were better. Like the “potato” that turned out to be goat cheese. Amazing goat cheese. Sent from heaven. I would say that everything I put into my mouth in Barcelona is in the top 20% of things I’ve eaten in my life (granted I’m from Finland, so I got a slow start in the culinary department).

I want to credit my entire sublime experience to the loveliness of the city, but as I sat there savouring a glass of cava on my last night, it dawned on me that it wasn’t just Barcelona I enjoyed – it was Barcelona by myself. It has been an intense summer and I don’t think I quite realized how badly I needed time to myself until I had it. No one to please, no one to make conversation with, no one to compromise with. Not even John.

And to top it off, I actually started to feel a bit like the 30 year old (minus 6 weeks) that I supposedly am.

* Including a leather purse and this skirt from Desigual (a clothing line from Barcelona).


Posted on September 21, 2011, in Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Oh, wow. This really makes me want to go to Barcelona. On my own. It’s such a short hop away from the UK, in fact so many amazing places are, it would be rude not to take advantage of it…

    • I’m SO JEALOUS of all of you in Europe who can hop over to so many amazing places within a few hours. We don’t have a lot of options for that over here. You should totally take advantage, and I highly recommend Barcelona.

  2. I went to Barcelona once, on my own, and it was a huge bust. I got robbed in Pamplona first. I will say though that this makes me want to go to Spain again, so well done eh?

    • Oh I’m so sorry – that would definitely ruin a trip pretty damn fast. Sounds like it happens there a lot so I was definitely worried about it, but thankfully I lucked out and all my belongings made it home.

  3. You go, introvert lone-traveler! I worship you, a little.

  4. I am SO happy to hear that you had such an awesome time! That sounds amazing, I wish I could be more like that, too – travelling alone sounds terrifying, and I am definitely that girl who can’t eat alone without pulling out a book or my phone (even though my phone doesn’t even have internet – I just pretend to be using it, how sad is that!?). So SO happy for you :) It sounds like just what you needed.

    • Hah! I’ve totally done that – bring out my non-smart phone just because. I think it helped that I was sitting up at the bar and there was lots going on right in front of me – sitting at a table by yourself is harder.

  5. Oh yes, Barcelona does that to you and it’s immediate. And the effect stays. The first time I went there to re-meet a girl I had met a year earlier while staying at a youth hostel in Venice, and just because I could get a flight back to Switzerland where I was studying. It was at the time that low cost flight companies were starting so it was a cheap option. And the city did that to me, I was 21 and I knew I had to live there. So I arranged and I went there for my Erasmus exchange year. Then, later I came back for another 4 years, to study again. Still in love with the city, the magic doesn’t fade away. Mark also went there, and the first time he didn’t like it but he went with friends and all he did was going to the Camp Nou. Now he also loves it, we want to live there sometime in the future.

    • Yeah it definitely seems like a city that is not just nice to visit but actually would also be great to live in. And you’re also very lucky to be able to visit so easily!

  6. I want to do this RIGHT NOW. Really envious of the travel alone skills. Really, really.

    • It’s definitely not something I’d choose as my first option but somehow I’ve ended up traveling by myself a decent amount (on short trips) and it definitely has its low points… quite a few low points. This was the first time I felt truly comfortable – so either it takes time or a truly great city.

  7. Oh. I am so glad that it ended up being fabulous. Barcelona is one of my favorite trips as well and I was with a gaggle of people.

  8. Oh holy hell! I am amazed by you, and I am amazed by this city. What a glorious experience to have. Now I want to go, too.

    • You should! It is your “last year” after all! I decided that our big trip before we start down that freaky road has to be to somewhere around the Mediterranean.

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