Friday I put in a normal morning at the office, surrounded by vineyards and the sleepy village, and left an hour earlier than the normal friday quittin’ time of 3pm. Instead of going home or towards the city, I met Saori at one of the Sbahn stations and we were in our way to the airport. No passport control, no check-in, just breezed through to our flight, 90 minutes direct to Barcelona, and fifteen minutes after wheels down we were sliding into a taxi bathed the mediterranean air and warm late afternoon sun. Yo voy a Casa Milá, por favor.
Stuttgart is a city of dark greens and grays. Barcelona is lit in golds and dusty sepia. The canopy of our hotel, Hotel Praktik Bakery, was also yellow. And it was, in fact, a trendy bakery, with a long line of peope queuing to buy some of the fresh bread and pastries before the weekend. Push past the temping display and windows looking in to the bread prep area, and at the end of the bakery counter is a reception desk, as though you might order a standard room with your matcha muffin.
Location wasn’t bad. Almost next door to Gaudí’s Casa Mila and close to Diagonal metro station. Room was small but comfortable and nicely designed. Nice tile everywhere, giant rain shower, big comfortable bed. We were on the same floor as the internet.
We were of course dying to get out, so we left our valuables in the room and started walking. We strolled past Casa Mila, Casa Batlló, and along the Passig de Gracia, a boulevard of luxury stores and Hôtel Exorbiant. Tourists thronged the town: jammed with Japanese, groaning with Germans, bursting with British, choked with Chinese, awash with Americans. We crossed the giant Plaza Catalunya and walked down las Ramblas.
Las Ramblas is a massive pedestrian street with two small lanes on either side. The street is like many other “high streets” in Euope: quick fashion stores like H&M and Zara every block, chinsey souvenier shops, American burger franchises, tabacco shops, pharmacies, and local restaraunts for the tourists marked by giant menu boards on the street reproducing the dishes at life size. There were less street peformers than I remember and more gelato stands. But still, what a street! As always, I am surprised by how much in the end I value the energy of the crowds and the architecture over the content. Ramblas stitiches together two ancient city core neighborhoods, Reval and the gothic quarter, and all along its length, narrow streets open up to reveal tantalizing views of the baroque neighborhood beyond, inviting us to dive in and explore each of them.
We walked past the pilar of Christopher Columbus, and continued to the Mediterranian. We left the throngs of people headed to the big island mall and walked along the port to the corner of the gothic quarter where we dived back in searching for food.
We picked the first place that didnt look too seedy since I have a tendency to be too picky about where we eat. Not normally a bad thing, but one of the rules of happy travel is “eat when people are hungry.” Although I may modify our rule to “pick the second passable place.” It was a basic tourist trap, behind us had some Bostonians and the table in the corner was full of Germans. Tapas were ok, but the chorizo was good and the beer was cold. Not the kind of place we would have ordered paella anyway.
We wandered our way through the gothic quarter at night, working our way by feel out and back towards the hotel. Bought a beer and some water from a convenience store but then realized that you can’t drink in the street. Technically. The immigrants quietly selling cold cans of Estrella Damm in the alley intersections suggest the enforcement is not too rigorous. We crossed the city once more, back to the hotel, where we collapsed in an exhausted heap on the bed.