Our five days in Barcelona (for pictures, go here) have been wonderfully relaxing and stimulating as well as a revelation. Barcelona, which could be described as a Mediterranean Amsterdam by someone vainly striving to succinctly encapsulate its spirit in a tacky periphrasis, is a city for those who love city life, one of those cities where urban life can be savored at its purest. It’s got it all: civic pride, parks, amazing public spaces, tolerance, things to do, great transport, sexiness, landmarks and vantage points, buzz, great art and architecture, dynamism, variety, pedestrians and — finally — character of its own. It also features some easy-to-appreciate extras: sandy beaches, cheap but great food and drink, good shopping, unrealistically broad avenues and boulevards. Yes, accommodation and housing are horrendously expensive (my cousin pays €800 rent for a 30 square meter flat in Barceloneta — it would cost around €200,000 to buy). Yes, parts of it are dirty and nasty. Yes, its museums are principally glorious shells and spaces housing comparatively measly collections — especially the MACBA permanent collection, costing €6 to visit, is almost a fraud. Go buy a martini in Las Cuevas del Sorte with this money instead.
Still, like all those other favourite cities I have talked or hinted about, Barcelona is vibrant and beautiful. Its people are neither exactly cool nor exactly reclusive — but excitingly oscillating between the two, staying in the mid-ranges of the spectrum. I had been told all those things before but, once more, tasting for oneself is what does the trick.
Barcelona puts to shame places like London or Athens, especially the latter: it could have gone the way of Barna from crap city to star city but spectacularly deflated and sunk back into ugliness, chaos and utter contempt and disregard for urban culture and spaces after the end of the 2004 Olympics. Unlike Barcelona after 1992. You see, cities are not only made of history, or even of building materials, but, primarily, of their people.
Whatever. Now I know even more precisely the kind of daily life I would like to have and why I am not getting it any time soon.
Now, the narrative: We landed in the airport. We were taken to the hotel. We went out to eat and drink immediately afterwards, after midnight, as we were told that Barcelonins party all night long. They don’t, really. We walked back from the centre, dry and very hungry and collapsed at 3 am. The following day we walked a lot, see the pics. Then, on the following day, we walked even more (see the pics). We ignored locals’ suggestions (it had worked before, in New York) and we did go to Plaça Catalunya to witness the New Year coming to the relevant time zone, armed with grapes and cava. Unlike the filthy drunken mess of Trafalgar Square, and like Times Square, it was good-natured fun — except for the Square’s birds, who, terrorised by the fireworks, were fleeing in panic mainly towards the East. Then we were walking in town. Someone was wishing ‘Happy New Year’ to strangers in Compatridese in front of a bistrot. Jod wished him back. We ended up in this guy’s party inside the bistrot, which happened to be the legendary Els Quatre Gats! We partied until we dropped.
Then we walked more (see the pics). We also drank and ate plentifully (you know what to see by now). Then we flew back via Milan Malpensa, the ugliest airport I have been to and therefore an unfortunate place to be delayed in for eight hours with very little information. Ah, Alitalia: puts the ‘mal’ in Malpensa (or anywhere).
Happy New Year everyone!