Thursday, November 29, 2012

One Couple Finds Reckless Abandon in Spain

Jason and I with Gaudi Architecture in Barcelona, Spain

Right now, my friend Lynn is in Spain with her sweetie and I couldn’t be more envious. 

Back in 2002, my hubby and I had our last solo European sojourn before our son was born. We spent two glorious weeks in Barcelona.

A few days before Lynn departed; I gave her some recommendations while staying in the second largest city in Spain, besides Madrid, and found myself longing for the cobblestone courtyards of Catalonia.

My menagerie of European countries is not as vast as my husband’s but, out of all the countries which I have visited to date; there was something absolutely magical about our vacation in Barcelona.

Right off the bat, it looks like every other European city and, by viewing photos, I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between a café in France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark or even London.  However, I think it was our state-of-mind at that period of our lives which made this trip such anadventure.

At 33-years-old, I was grown enough to know that Jason and I were coming to the end of an era.  We had been married 4 years and together for almost a decade; we knew that trying to start a family and the sacrifices that came with that commitment were just around the corner but they were not with us when we arrived in Spain.

Some might say we had a reckless abandon – our journey took us to private parties in abandoned buildings (think Eyes Wide Shut but not quite as risqué), drinking “real” absinthe, dancing at raves in deserted castles until the sun came up, and visiting one of the oldest Amusement Parks in Europe.

From the moment we arrived, we broke our normal travel pattern.  Jason booked us a hotel in the touristy La Rambla district of Barcelona, but only for two nights. 

La Rambla is a tree-lined pedestrian mall located in the center of the city – which houses many shops, restaurants, and boutiques – and is popular with tourists and locals. Despite being fun and hip, it is not where we wanted to stay for thenext two weeks.

Right away, we set off to explore and find apart of the city where we did want to plant our roots.  We traveled up and down the narrow cobblestone paths, but had no luck.  In desperation, we stopped at one hotel located in a very artsy area with lots of cafes and shops.  The lodging was small but very clean and the price was right, but the man at the front desk would not even give us the time of day.

We left discouraged and headed back to the main drag to drown our sorrows in Sangria.
The next day, we had to check out of our temporary digs and we went back again. The same desk man was there and Jason was very persuasive – aka – gave him a bribe and we got ourselves a room.
We weren’t expecting much so when we opened the door and realized that we had a small balcony that overlooked a cobblestone alley running right into the Plaça de Sant Jaume (where the main roads of the Roman colony Barcino crossed), we were stoked.

We soon realized that we were super lucky to have even found a hotel because we had arrived during La Merce Festival, which is the largest street festival honoring the Patron Saint of Barcelona and celebrates the end of the summer.

To say it was a scene is an understatement.

For a whole week, there were concerts at Plaçade Sant Jaume or human towers being built and – from our balcony we got to watch up close and personal the “Parade of Giants.” 
The best event – which we were not privy to until it was literally right upon us – was the fire run. 

Spaniards dressed up like devils and dragons would spray the crowd with flames from sparklers while low flying fireworks were shot up into the sky.  Well we did not get the memo about the danger of this celebration until we were literally getting burned from the sparklers and fireworks.
The smell of burnt flesh was pungent in our noses and the line to the Pharmacia wrapped around the building.  At first, I thought “these people are crazy”but then I realized that they are the same people who drown themselves intomatoes and run with the bulls.
We had to escape the mayhem and ended our evening watching a concert in the Plaça de Sant Jaume from our balcony.

We spent the next few days exploring and acclimating ourselves to our new neighborhood. One afternoon, we ambled into the Picasso Museum which houses more than 3,500 works of art from the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, co-founder of the cubist movement.

While there, we saw this eclectic tapas restaurant located within the ruins of an old structure that seemed like a castle.  Jason and I made plans to walk back that evening to have dinner. 

We were not disappointed.  The outdoor restaurant had muted electric lights but it was the hundreds of candles placed among the ruins that truly brought out the ambiance of that establishment. While there, we asked our waiter for recommendations on what to do after our dinner.  He told us that he knew about a secret club and would give us the password so we could attend the party.

Being the paranoid person who I am, I had pretty much made up my mind that I was not going to that party.  All I could think was that it was a set up to rob or mug us.  Luckily, my adventurous husband sent me straight and, after our dinner, we were off on our escapade.

The address our waiter had given us was in one of the courtyards off La Rambla.  We found the address and did a double-take. Could this possibly be the correct place? 

The author with the impressive skyline of Barcelona in the background

As we looked up at the five-story dilapidated building which – no joke – was probably built about the 16th or 17th century, I could not believe that there was a secret party taking place inside.

We did the secret knock and one of those little windows from the days of prohibition slid open.  We said the secret word, “Pipa,” and this massive 10 foot door slowly opened.

Since we didn’t really speak Spanish, we couldn’t really communication, so we just followed the muted sounds of music and voices up several shaky flights of stairs. I thought for sure I was going to fall through at any moment but, of course, we arrived on the top floor safe and sound.

As we pushed open the door into the club, the first thing I noticed was all the hip, chic people who were perfectly placed through the rooms of a gigantic apartment in this abandoned building. 
It had no electricity and all the light was coming from hundreds and hundreds of candles placed throughout the club just like at our dinner.  In retrospect: what a cra-zy fire hazard in an ancient abandoned building!  Once again, thank you God for allowing me to survive.

The bar had a line that was mobbed and, when Jason finally got my Tanqueray and tonic (in honor of my first NYC supper club Nell’s), I was disappointed.  Since the club had no electricity, there was no ice. Not to mention that most Europeans seem to have an aversion to ice anyway.

I have chills just thinking about myself choking down that drink.  However, as we explored the various rooms of the club, another (fricken pardon my French) danger that was glaringly obvious…everyone was smoking. 

That’s right, cigars, cigarettes,cigarillos…if you could puff it; it was puffing.  Come to find out pipa in Spanish – not French this time – technically means pipe but that was just the code word for a “smoking club.”

Well, Jason and I – especially Jason – is not fond of smoking of any kind, so we high-tailed it down all 10 flights of stairs and found ourselves safely outside gulping in the clean night air. 

With one adventure of the night behind us, we set off for our next.

…Stay tuned for Part II: One Couple Finds Reckless Abandon in Spain

1 comment:

  1. Wow T! I don't know if we even visited the same country after reading of your exploits! We were there during a big holiday trifecta: National Day, Columbus day and a religious holiday. All week long the streets around our hotel were fitted out with grandstands and sound and satellite centers. The security was intense, with the police using our front courtyard area for a staging center. On the day of the parade, our hotel and the surrounding area were on lockdown. All the computer and cell systems were scrambled to prevent any terrorist acts and the only thing on the tv was the parade. We had to show our hotel key to armed guards to get onto the street and then back to our room after. I would have loved to seen the opposite side of the Spaniards with their crazy abandon during that festival you saw.