Last week we celebrated our 9 year wedding anniversary in Barcelona. It was Bell’s first time in the capital of Catalunya, and my first visit to Spain’s second city in twelve years. I was first inspired to visit Barcelona during the 1992 Summer Olympics, when I was 13 and an avid sports fan. The outdoor diving venue, atop Barcelona’s Montjuic mountain, was one of the most memorable venues of the modern Olympic Games. Seeing the city in the backdrop as divers leaped into the sky was an incredible selling point for the city, and along with the coverage of Barcelona’s famed architecture and food, I vowed I would visit one day. Being of Greek American decent, I wish the 2004 Athens Games had been as successful for that city as it was for Barcelona.
My first visit to Barcelona came eight years after the 92′ Summer Games, on a two-week winter break in college where I spent 3 days exploring the city’s famous sites and the places I watched on TV as a kid. I absolutely loved that visit, so much so that after college I decided I would attempt to move to Barcelona. Twelve years ago, before I arrived in Barcelona for my move from the USA, I stopped off in Amsterdam and traveled to Brugge, where I randomly met Bell for the first time in a hostel. She was on her way to Amsterdam too, and I needed to go back to catch my flight to Barcelona. We hung out one night in Amsterdam and she asked me if I wanted to join her in Rome for the end of her trip a few weeks later.
I arrived in Barcelona with a large backpack and a big suit case, enough stuff to get me by while I settled in. Unfortunately, my friend that was supposed to be there had moved away, and I felt isolated, alone in January, and a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of starting a life in a foreign city. So I decided to buy that plane ticket to Rome, to see Bell again, from an internet cafe in Barcelona. Ultimately, I decided to travel around Europe and never returned to Barcelona until last week, for a wonderful and memorable anniversary for us.
One of the funnest things we did on our anniversary was rent a row boat in the Parc de la Ciutadella. For just €6 ($9 USD) for half an hour, it was a heck of a lot cheaper than a hiring a gondolier in Venice (who would doubtfully let you touch his oars). While the park isn’t the canals of Venice, the lime green lake, palm trees, and the ornate fountain, Font De La Cascada, was gorgeous and I enjoyed rowing us around the picturesque setting. And the boat was just one activity among many in the day and our time in the city.
We enjoyed a lovely stroll along the long and sandy city beach, dotted with palm trees in Barceloneta. There are very few major European cities that boast such a lush beach right in town. Barcelona would be fantastic if the beach didn’t exist, but it’s an added notch on the belt of a wealth of activities to be found. The longer you spend in Barcelona, the more you realize there is to do.
We enjoyed so much great food in the city, at popular and exciting establishments such as Quimet y Quimet, Blai Tonight and lesser known places we stumbled into and which turned out to be fantastic, like Elisabets bar. Drinking in several hot spots along the multi-cultural Joaquim Costa street like Casa Amirall, introduced to us by a friend was lots of fun and filled with history and quirkiness. The El Raval district has inspired generations of artists like Orwell, Hemingway and Picasso and should not be missed during a trip to Barcelona.
In reality, Barcelona is a tapestry of many unique districts that merge to form a phenomenal city. From the sleek and trendy Eixample district, to the inspiring Gothic Quarter, to the wonderful squares in Gracia, to Gaudi’s stunning architecture, there is something for everyone in Barcelona. La Rambla is famous because it cuts through the heart of the old town, but don’t focus too much of your attention on this street (albeit the market, Mercat La Boqueria, just off La Rambla, is wonderful for indulging in jamon and other local delicacies). And while we’re sure there’s a few good places to eat on La Rambla, we didn’t try any of them as we instead focused on more local eateries for tapas, pinchos and mains.
Barcelona has been an inspiration in my life and I was thrilled we were able to spend our 9 year wedding anniversary in this beautifully diverse and romantic city. It was wonderful to take Bell to the popular Plaza Real square, filled with palm trees and lined with beautiful balconies. Twelve years ago I stayed at the Kabul hostel in Plaza Real, while Bell and I were exchanging emails about plans to reunite in Rome. I pointed the Kabul out to her and we noticed a restaurant called Alex (my name) just downstairs. While we didn’t eat there, I thought it was fitting serendipity in our story of Barcelona’s impact on us.