Somehow I don’t have a great deal to say about Barcelona which is a little strange in that it’s one of our favorite cities in the world. It’s got pretty much everything you could want in a city: great food at sometimes amazing prices, mind-blowing modernista architecture along with great 19th century buildings, vibrant culture, and an old town that’s almost eerie in its medieval feel along with more modern and hip places. Oh, and then there’s that whole Mediterranean beach thing that they opened up when they removed a bunch of old manufacturing hulls for the 1992 Olympics.
So yeah, a great city. In fact, part of our conversation during the five nights we spent there was a debate: if Paris is our favorite city, what’s #2? Barcelona is certainly in the running. Maybe New York City? Miami Beach? Puerto Vallarta? I keep trying to put Minneapolis on the list but somehow it never stays for long. Fortunately we have a couple years at least to keep doing our research.
This trip to Barcelona was mostly about visiting with old friends. Way, way back when Mark & I were young professionals, practically new to D.C., Mark volunteered on Tom Harkin’s 1992 presidential campaign. That was the start of, well, everything really, as he later got a paid position on the campaign and then – when that whole presidential thing didn’t work out so well – a position on Harkin’s Senate staff. Later, working on his 2002 reelection campaign Mark built some software tools that eventually became the VAN which is what allows us to travel like this.
At any rate, the guy who brought Mark into Harkin World, Dan Smith, wrote a few months ago that he and his wife Lorraine (another one-time Harkinista) were going to be in Barcelona before going on to a wedding in Seville. Any chance we could meet up?
And meet up we did. We haven’t spent a lot of time with Dan & Lorraine over the last 20 years or so but soon it was as though we hadn’t been apart a bit. Meeting up for dinner one night turned into museum tours, lunches, another dinner, and even a day trip out to Montserrat, home to a Benedictine abbey and a black Madonna that, along with St. George, is one of Catalonia’s two patron saints. To say we had a great time is an understatement; in fact, before we parted ways we started initial plans to travel next year in Africa. I’d call that a successful visit!
The big attraction in Barcelona these days is the Sagrada Familia, a big old church started in 1882 and scheduled for completion in 2026 (though with decorative elements continuing into the 2030s). It’s hard to imagine a more unusual or striking piece of architecture anywhere in the world, with original architect Antoni Gaudí blending Gothic spires with Art Nouveau/Modernista swoops and curves. Part of the fun of returning to Barcelona after a couple years is to try to identify the new pieces and figure out how far they’ve come. As much as the current status is stunning it’s remarkable to know that they are just now starting construction on the final six (six!) giant towers.
Then there was a nice Picasso museum to tour and – an important part of any Barcelona experience – sampling tapas bars. We went back to old favorites like Ciudad Condal, discovered a new favorite or two like Cor Caliu with its to-die-for chicken salad. And catching up with Dan & Lorraine.
But alas, all good things must end so they’re off to Seville and we’re headed to Mallorca, the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands. Stay tuned.