Barcelona y Cadaqués

My first impression of Spain was the warmth. At the end of February it wasn’t hot, just a comfortable 15-16 degrees C (60 F).

I got to go outside with bare arms, got to lay on a beach all day, and got to use F-stop 22 on my camera. No complaints here.
I got to go outside with bare arms, got to lay on a beach all day, and got to use F-stop 22 on my camera. No complaints here.

My second impression was the mopeds. They darted through traffic like a person with a deathwish. They drove on the lines between lanes when traffic was slow, dodging cars and narrowly avoiding rearview mirrors and swerving bumpers.

Mopeds in Spain are like bicycles in Denmark - they're everywhere (though they don't obey the traffic laws half as well as Danish cyclists). I'm told this is true of Italy as well.
Mopeds in Spain are like bicycles in Denmark – they’re everywhere (though they don’t obey the traffic laws half as well as Danish cyclists). I’m told this is true of Italy as well.

My third impression was the palm trees. I’d seen palm trees before in California and Florida, but somehow it didn’t occur to me that they’d grow in Spain as well.

Palm trees were street trees, and cacti instead of shrubs.
Palm trees were street trees, and cacti instead of shrubs.

Tired of the Danish winter and aching to see the sun, shortly after returning from England I started getting itchy feet again and began planning a trip to Spain. The lovely Edwin (or should I say Eduardo) is busy doing his Ph.D field research in the Bolivian wilderness right now, so I invited my other British friend, Dan, who, being half-Mexican, happens to possess an excellent command of Spanish.

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roses-cadaques-and-the-catalan-coast-2013Dan, as it turns out, went to school with a girl who now lives in Spain. She got together with a very affluent, young-at-heart man after high school and now lives with him in a beautiful fishing village on the northwest coast of Spain about two hours northwest of Barcelona. When they offered to let us stay with them for free, it made the decision easy where to go.

Buses, ferries, and 737s

I took a bus, which got on a ferry, to travel to Copenhagen Airport. As there are bridges connecting Jutland to Zealand, I was quite surprised when we drove onto a boat. The journey was pleasant, however, with the ferry ride lasting just an hour and giving me the opportunity to stretch my legs and buy some (horribly overpriced) sandwiches.

Leaving the Aarhus harbor, I could see Isbjerget, one of the famous pieces of modern architecture in the city.
Leaving the Aarhus harbor, I could see Isbjerget (The Iceberg), Aarhus’s most iconic apartment complex.

The flight went without hitch, other than perhaps wandering aimlessly around Copenhagen Airport for nearly two hours waiting for my gate to be announced, though even that had a silver lining as it allowed me some time to buy host gifts.

That special feeling

There’s nothing quite like that feeling when you arrive in a foreign country (or city), don’t speak the language, have no idea what to expect or where to go. It’s a love-hate feeling for me, and I was quite nervous about finding our host’s flat on my own, especially as my phone battery started to die and I realized I’d forgotten the charger, but I forced myself to remain calm and get on the bus routes I’d written down on a scrap of paper, and made it to the flat.

Swanky seafood and sand eels

After the welcome and introductions, Pete (my friend of a friend’s partner) took us out to what he told us was one of the hottest, hippest new restaurants in Barca: El Nacional.

fromlahraThe large building was actually a host to several different bars and restaurants that you could walk between as you pleased. We drank cocktails and nibbled on cheese while we waited for a table to open up at Lahra’s favorite seafood place.

Lahra and Peter, our wonderful hosts
Lahra and Peter, our wonderful hosts

Pete turned out to be a very pretentious, arrogant man with a penchant for showing off and making a scene. The big event of the night was him shouting and arguing with a water, in broken Spanish and mostly English, about a perceived mistranslation of the menu: What was advertised as “sand eels”on the menu turned out to actually be tiny fried fish. (Later, Wikipedia confirmed for us that sonsos in Catalan are actually called sand eels in English, although they are not actually eels at all.) I was hugely embarrassed and mortified, Dan found the whole thing hilarious, and Lahra was seriously pissed.

The "eels" in question.
The “eels” in question.

After the meal Peter went to the restaurant owner to ask where he got the chairs in the restaurant, because he wanted similar chairs for his own restaurant chain in London and wanted to know where to buy them. Apparently this is his way of making friends. Go figure.

The biggest tourist trap in Barcelona

On our way out of Barca the next morning (well, afternoon) Pete and Lahra dropped Dan and I off at La Sagrada Familia, the most famous tourist attraction in Barcelona. La Sagrada Familia is a huge cathedral that has been under construction since the 1890s and is still not finished yet. It was designed by the famous architect Gaudi, whose works can be seen all over Barcelona. We were warned to mind our purses and pockets, as cathedrals attract tourists and tourists attract thieves.

La Sagrada Familia, a huge cathedral that's been under construction for over 100 years. Photo: Dan Fournier
La Sagrada Familia, a huge cathedral that’s been under construction for over 100 years. Photo: Dan Fournier

We didn’t go inside, but we had a fine time walking around in the sun, enjoying being bare-armed outdoors for the first time in months, and taking countless selfies trying to fit the towers into the background. It was lovely.

Since late February isn't exactly tourist season, the crowds weren't bad.
Since late February isn’t exactly tourist season, the crowds weren’t bad.
La Sagrada Familia has been under construction for over 100 years, and because it's not finished, much of the building is still inaccessible.
I never get tired of the way European cities juxtapose the old and the new. Though I suppose 120 years is still quite new, by cathedral standards.

Before we left Barca, we went to a beautiful cafe on the top of a hill with an incredible view overlooking the city. (Click photos to enlarge)

Bienvenido a Cadaqués

After the cathedral we made the two-hour drive to Cadaqués, the fishing village which is Peter and Lahra’s primary place of residence. The last half hour turned out to be a windy mountain road which Pete drove down like a maniac, taking sharp corners at way too high of speeds until I was certain we’d go hurtling through a guard rail plunging to our deaths at the bottom of the Mediterranean below. The last straw was when we actually passed another car, which was actually driving a reasonable speed, on this windy two-lane road. Dan had great fun laughing at my white-knuckled antics. I wanted to punch him.

Pete's saying "Look, you can see France across the water!" and Dan's laughing while I'm gripping my camera white-knuckled determined to get a picture and not vomit even as I'm picturing us crashing through the next guard rail.
Pete’s saying “Look, you can see France across the water!” and Dan’s laughing while I’m gripping my camera white-knuckled determined to get a picture and not vomit even as I’m picturing us crashing through the next guard rail.
Finally, almost there!
Finally, almost there!
Patatas bravas, one of the most typical Catalonian tapas and found at virtually every restaurant. It's just fried potatoes with a slightly spicy red sauce and a delicious garlic aoili.
Patatas bravas, one of the most typical Catalonian tapas and found at virtually every restaurant. It’s just fried potatoes with a slightly spicy red sauce and a delicious garlic aoili.

Pete told us about the colorful history of the town, which included a number of famous artists, many of whom Dan seemed to be familiar with but I’d never heard of before. In the evening, Dan and I wandered downtown to see the city and nibble on some tapas before going out to dinner with a large group of Lahra’s friends.

Downtown Cadaqués at night
Downtown Cadaqués at night

It was beautiful.

A random alley in downtown Cadaqués at night.
A random alley in downtown Cadaqués at night.

After dinner was a huge party, which started off at a local bar (Lahra’s favorite haunt) and progressed to different people’s apartments throughout the city. By 3 a.m. I was horizontal on a couch, though I’m told the party went on for another three hours after that.

The view from Lahra and Peter's place, overlooking the city at night
The view from Lahra and Peter’s place, overlooking the city at night

Hair of the dog and beautiful mermaids

Afternoon came all too soon for those who’d been out all night (I, however, was feeling relatively chipper by 1 p.m.). I woke up to this beautiful view from Lahra and Pete’s house. Lahra had made Dan and I fruit smoothies, and we hung out in the front yard for a bit sunning ourselves.

I could get used to waking up to this every morning.
I could get used to waking up to this every morning.

_MG_2314We walked into town to a centrally-located cafe, which seemed to be everyone’s hangout of choice, where Dan and Lahra indulged in a bit of “hair of the dog” and had Bloody Marys for breakfast.

Cadaqués in daylight. This is the town church.
Cadaqués in daylight. This is the town church.
On the path to the beach
On the path to the beach
People taking a siesta on a beach. Oh yeah... life is tough.
People taking a siesta on a beach. Oh yeah… life is tough.
Panorama from one of the beaches at the edge of town. Photo: Dan Fournier
Panorama from one of the beaches at the edge of town. Photo: Dan Fournier
Dan being silly as we walked to the beach.
Dan being silly as we walked to the beach.
Walking on the seaside path to the beach
Bara and Lahra walking on the seaside path to the beach

We spent the afternoon on a beautiful little secluded beach snacking on cheese and crackers and drinking beer and wine. Lahra and her friend Bahra, still drunk from the night before, were keen on going for a swim, even though the air temperature was only around 15 C (60 F) and the water was much colder. They stripped down to their underwear and hit the water feet first, screeching because it was so cold. After just a minute or two in the ocean, the sirens of the sea crawled back out and clothed themselves again, Bara leaving her underwear to dry on a rock. I sat tranquilly, sipping wine and watching the waves crash on the rocks, listening to Lahra’s hysterical giggles and contemplating the beauty of life on the seaside. What more could you ask for?

Spending the afternoon having a picnic on the beach. Photo: Lahra Van Wedel
Spending the afternoon having a picnic on the beach. Photo: Lahra Van Wedel

Back to Barca

On Sunday Dan and I returned to Barcelona for a final night before catching our respective flights the following day. We took a train there and wound up in a part of the city we’d never been in before, with some very unhelpful information desk workers and very unhelpful and poorly-labeled maps. Eventually Google Maps led us to Placa d’Espanya, where I knew we could catch a bus back to the flat.

We were in no hurry to return to the apartment, so when a palm tree park caught our eyes, we dawdled through it, enjoying the sun and taking photos. Our best spontaneous decision, when we reached Placa d’Espanya, was deciding to go up the viewing platform to get a beautiful 360-degree view of the city. We took lots of pictures and had a light sushi snack at one of the restaurants at the top.

The view of Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya from the viewing platform at Placa de Espanya.
The view of Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya from the viewing platform at Placa de Espanya.

As the sun went down we made our way back to the flat, figuring out the details of our flights before going out for one last meal of tapas and wine.

A very typical Catalonian tapa - bred drizzled in olive oil and tomatoes. It's kind of like pizza without the cheese, I very profoundly observed.
A very typical Catalonian tapa – bred drizzled in olive oil and tomatoes. It’s kind of like pizza without the cheese, I very profoundly observed.
I captured this moment on a street in Barcelona at night.
I captured this moment between two people on a street in Barcelona at night.

Overall, it was an amazing trip, and it was once again such a buzzkill returning to Denmark. But while the weather was nice and the food was good, I had to remind myself that I was on holiday and that people don’t actually live like that – Scandinavia, while the weather sucks, is sort of a socialist paradise, whereas in countries like Spain youth unemployment and corruption are rampant. Still, it made me question what had ever possessed people to inhabit the Earth so far north from the equator.

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One thought on “Barcelona y Cadaqués

  1. Lynda

    Ali
    Looks like your getting to see a lot of real cool places, nice pics,
    Hope your studies are going well to.
    @’t Lynda (take care, have fun)

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