My first excursion outside of Scotland began before sunrise. I awoke at 3 o’clock in the morning to go to Barcelona (in the middle of a school week, the best reason I have ever had for skipping class). The pre-packed suitcase and pre-drawn sky made me feel like I was about to embark on a secret mission as an expatriate spy. My pre-selected outfit was a vague homage to an old, beloved film — my white blouse and long blue striped skirt reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn’s touristy escapism in Roman Holiday. Wearing it made me felt ready for my Spanish Holiday. When my flight took off, I prayed by myself as I ascended into international airspace. (I had never done that alone before.)
One timezone and five hours later, I embarked onto the boulevards of Catalonia. My time living in Edinburgh has made me forget the typical size of European metropolises, and a lot of my time in Barcelona was spent simply getting from place to place. But, during my first stroll, I was at peace with this. I was greeted with a perfect sky of the purest blue—one that reminded me so precisely of my home. The blushing Mediterranean warmth, the nearness of the ocean could have fooled my Californian sensibilities into thinking I wasn’t thousands of miles away. This was a familiarity in this sunshine. Tall apartment buildings stretched into the sky on either side of me, with flowers hanging from the black balconies. Every block seemed to have a surplus local bakeries and vegetable markets, and I wish I had more time to venture in and try a little bit of everything. I only got the chance to go to one bakery to get a Spanish pastry — more importantly, to try to converse with he baker and let my two years of high school Spanish fail me (or rather, I was failing it).
I stumbled onto Plaça Sant Jaume, I saw banners of golden yellow and red drape across buildings, demanding a vote, calling for independence. The Catalan Independence Movement was underway by late October -- a struggle I still know too little about. The history of Catalonia's struggles within Spain were revealed to me through a cultural perspective, which you can read about here.
I spent the next few hours learning at the Museu Picasso—learning about the Blue Period, Rose Period, how Picasso considered Barcelona home and painting its rooftops bathed in moonlight. But what I remember and treasure the most from my first day in Barcelona was spent in the interiors of a church.
In La Sagrada Familia, you are overwhelmed with the space above your head. The ceiling seemed like it was inlaid with bursting suns and white light — a beauty constructed so meticulously at a height impossible for me to comprehend (it’s about 174 meters/571 feet). The light grey interior welcome so much light. The church’s stained glass was a kaleidoscope of colour. Have you ever seen a church that light up like a disco? I felt like the luckiest soul to be inside the cathedral at the right moment, which was about 5:30 PM that day. As the sun set, it precisely shone through Western wall’s stained glass— colouring the interiors of the church with orange and red. Beyond its visual impact, La Sagrada Familia is powerful even in its incompletion. Though the project began in the late 1800s, it is still in construction and is scheduled to be complete in about nine years from now (the hundred year anniversary of Antoni Gaudí’s death). The basilica is a extremely prolonged labor of love, a homage to Gaudí and his followers, and an incredible effort of loyalty to one man’s vision. Being there in 2017, just shy of a decade away from it completion, made me feel so blessed — to witness the building of the basilica, to have the possibility of returning again in nine year’s time.
As a champion of modernisme, Antoni Gaudí was the master of La Sagrada Familia, and so many other of Barcelona’s treasures. (including Parc Guell and Casa Battló, which I visited the next day). What is impeccable about his artwork is the simplicity of his vision — the universality of his inspiration is seen in the details of his work. He modelled the massive columns of La Sagrada Familia after tall trees, while the facade resembled a bed of grass and wildflowers. In Casa Battló, he looked no further than the curvature of an animal's spine in his design of the rooftop and interior. Gaudí didn’t need inspiration beyond the deep blues and purples of the ocean as he coloured stained glass, he required nothing beyond the crest of turtle shells for the shape of windows.
My final moments in Barcelona was spent at the foot of Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC). After getting lost, I ended up at the entrance of the museum at closing time. I took this as a sign to enjoy the spectacular view from the top of the hill, which allowed me the same sight of Picasso — rooftops bathed in light, beneath a sky that felt home. My thirty-six hours of exploration exhausted me, and I had the privilege of resting with a fishbowl-sized glass of Sangria and the music of a street performer. The pink sunset was a shadow of California, a reminder of home that I am not typically afforded in cloudy Edinburgh. My goals in traveling are typically some laundry list of museums and monuments, but I thank the eighteen miles I walked in Barcelona and its sunsets for reminding me to (every once in a while) sit down ad be still.
My brief journey in Barcelona was spent listening to Enrique Granados’ Goyescas — a romantic piano suite composed with the inspiration from Spain’s painting master, Francisco Goya (an artist I got to study in class too!). This was part of my goal to consume the culture of my destination in three ways — through literature, art, and music. Studying Goya and the Goyescas achieved my artistic and musical goals, but in my selection of literature, I searched high and low for Catalonian poetry rather than Spanish verse (I write about this extensively in a new part of my website, my Anthology). In the fifteen miles or so I walked, I recalled the poem “Insoles” (“Plantilles”). The final lines go like this:
travel as far as you can, climb right up to the summits. Drop
a coin or two in the forgiveness box. Every bit you give
will carry you that much further.”
Thanks for reading. Amsterdam is next.