There is no such thing as being over-prepared! I think to myself as I scour “Best Things to Do in Barcelona” lists, read restaurant reviews, and print tickets. My family is going to Barcelona for the first time, and my parents have left it up to me to plan our adventure. Though we still have a couple of months before the three-day trip, I am determined to leave no stone unturned in the research process. Our trip won’t be perfect, but it will definitely be as busy and enriching as possible.
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On our first day in Barcelona, we take a tour of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí’s works. Our guide, Arthur, is middle-aged and Irish, with sharp blue eyes and a nondescript outfit. Apparently, a trip to Barcelona years back got him hooked: Arthur soon returned to Barcelona to become an English tutor and tour guide. I find his enthusiasm for Barcelona almost as inspiring as the spookily beautiful structures that surround us. As Arthur points out various buildings and architectural peculiarities, he pads along like an amiable bear—never hurrying, but always getting to each new site on time.
We take the metro to the crown jewel of Gaudí’s creations: La Sagrada Família, one of the world’s most renowned basilicas. The first thing that I notice about the structure is its scale: it’s massive. It’s crazy to me that something so huge can be so elaborate. The sand-colored walls teem with detailed carvings, some of which are just so tiny and hairy-looking from afar that they make my skin crawl. Inside the basilica, there are leafy stone carvings and branches at the top of each of pillar. Who thought that the inside of a church could be designed like a forest? Gaudí clearly didn’t care about convention.
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On our second day, we explore Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. We are given a fantastic tour of its winding cobblestone streets by a cheery, knowledgeable Ed Sheeran look-alike named Felix. Felix’s story is similar to Arthur’s: born and raised in South Africa, he visited Barcelona once and now works fulltime as a tour guide here. According to Felix, Catalonia used to be a great maritime power but was absorbed by Spain centuries ago. Its culture, however, thrives today: ten million people still speak Catalan, and most of Barcelona’s people identify as Catalan. Felix tells us that the Catalans are famously thrifty and points to Barcelona’s Gothic Cathedral as an example. (It was purposely built remarkably close to another building so it wouldn’t have to be completed).
After the tour, we go to Petrixol Xocoa, a cafe that previously sparked our interest. Our hotel concierge told us that after siesta hour, people gather in cafes to drink hot chocolate with one another and voilà: in front of us, a gorgeous middle-aged woman celebrates her birthday with her mother and daughter. To our left, a gaggle of grandmothers chitchats over churros. As much as I enjoy the hot chocolate—rich and thick and strong—I love the feeling of being surrounded by Catalan families more. I finally feel like a part of Barcelona, rather than a spectator from another world.
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A few days ago, I simply wanted to have a good time and take some pretty pictures. Now, I am entranced by Barcelona and hunger for more. When I return, I will stay for longer, meet more people, and roam Barcelona’s streets until it feels like my hometown. Perhaps this is the way Arthur and Felix felt when they first visited.
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