Sunday, September 22nd, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: Bad Religion – Slumber
We made it to the airport with time to spare and were then loaded through a plastic tube, not unlike at the MacDonalz playplace, into a cozy little Vueling that doubled the leg room of Icelandair. I fell asleep sitting up almost instantly, as I tend to on red eyes. I wish I could fall asleep that easily under any other circumstances. It’d especially come in handy at hostels.
A nonstop from Reykjavik to Barcelona turned out to be 4 hours and 20 minutes. That’s as much sleep as I got that night. It was 5 AM in Barcelona, and check-in wasn’t for 10 hours.
I’d never seen the Arco de Triunfo in the dark. It was right next to my hostel, and I used to go there first thing in the morning, when no one was hovering around but the joggers, and stare at it until I wanted coffee.
Even the joggers weren’t out this early.
Well, there was nothing else to do. Even the chain sandwich shops weren’t open yet. It seemed as good at time for Park Güell as any.
Last time, I made the egregious error of hiking all the way up Park Güell. It’s a three mile climb, steeper as you get higher. I learned nothing, and made the exact same error this time.
On the way to my folly, we swung wide to look at La Sagrada Familia.
The Basilica de la Sagrada Familia is the brainchild of Antoni Gaudí, architectural golden boy and patron saint of Barcelona. His influence can be found on virtually everything, and it tends to be hard to miss, all bendy and emblazoned and vajazzled as it tends to be. The gods are cruel and his name is a pun on his style.
We made it to Park Güell with nothing in the tank, so we wound up doing a whole lot of resting.
It was well and fully morning, and the tourists were out in droves. With them came hockers and grifters, all desperate to move their bottled water or back-of-a-truck refrigerator magnets.
Park Güell was originally set to be a little neighborhood for the embarrassingly rich as a means of repurposing the barren hilltops, exploiting the access to fresh air, and making use of the spectacular vista. Count Eusebi Güell deicded this was a goldmine waiting to happen, and contracted everybody’s favorite Catalonian architect to design the citadel.
Gaudí was deep into his naturalistic period at the time, and wove together a gorgeous arboreal tapestry shot through with winding staircases and serpentine walkways, complete with plazas for taking a break, having a smoke, and appreciating the sprawl of Barcelona, stretching seaward beneath your feet.
Then they started building the villas proper. Count Güell moved into one to lend further legitimacy to the project. The second was a showhome to field all of their buyers.
Except there were no buyers.
Well, Count Güell didn’t take it too hard. He was an industrialist and a count, and the proud new owner of a Catalonian mountaintop dragon hoard. They pulled the plug on the villa. The count convinced Gaudí to move into the showhome, where he lived for the next twenty years with his family.
Güell sold the plot to the city, and it has since become a World Heritage Site.
We soaked up the ambiance of this monument to failed capitalism for about an hour, then toddled back down the mountain until we found a restaurant where we could gorge on tapas and morning beer.
Olives, fried bread, and brandy and rosemary chorizo. They gave us more olives than you could get at a grocery store.
Heartened and reinvigorated, we made our way to our hostel, Sant Jordi Gracia, and arrived with too much time to spare. We were sleepless and filthy. We sat in the common room in the corner, staring at the floor like catatonic refugees until the dude at the desk said, “Hey, do you guys wanna shower while you wait?”
We did. Oh, god, how we did.
Everything in Gracia cost half of what it costs in the real world. It was phenomenal. After I took a three-hour death nap, we went up to a swank Syrian restaurant and housed like $100 worth of food for twenty Euros.
I hadn’t seen chicken in a week. They haven’t discovered it in Iceland yet. I wept at our reunion.