It is incredible to drive just a few hours in any direction and be in a different country, speaking a different language, with unique new flavors, and new vistas. Europe is incredible in that we can just get in our car and drive into a completely new country with ease. We had big plans for Barcelona. Our kids did not! After an incredibly active two+ weeks in Provence, everyone was tired and feeling a bit uprooted when we arrived in the bustling capital of Catalonia. Barcelona has all of the “Spanish” tourist flare from paella to flamenco but it has a distinctly complex and colorful proud Catalan past.
To understand it requires moving through Barcelona at a slower pace that allows the average visitor to catch the Catalan character. A local man told us there are two sides to the Catalan spirit, ‘el seny’ and ‘la rauxa.’ These two terms mean ‘common sense’ and ‘outburst’ respectively. On one hand, hard work, diligence and common sense are rewarded here in contrast to the more ‘mañana’ approach of other parts of Spain. On the other, you can see signs of ‘la rauxa’ in Barcelona’s unbeatable reputation as a cultural capital and a city of festivals and public art. The kids, in their rebellious exhaustion revealed a side of Barcelona my original itinerary would not have allowed.
The 74 acre Parc de la Ciutadella forms a green oasis close to the always crowded historic center of Barcelona. We sat on almost every bench, contemplated life along almost every promenade and had the joy of listening to Catalan, the official tongue of Barcelona, while lounging underneath many palm shaded stretches of grass. It is a romance language spoken by nearly 9 million people and it is unlike anything we have heard before. We knew from the beginning, it wasn’t Spanish or Spanish dialect, it was a language of its own with a history that has been making international headlines for quite some time.
While wandering through the maze of the historic center of Barcelona tracing Picasso’s early years, we were treated to a dance group practicing the steps of the Sardana, the Catalan national folk dance. Like the language, we knew it was not flamenco. We knew it had a connection to the pulse of this city that was deep and rooted, as dancers locked arms with strength and purpose as we watched unnoticed from outside the circle something we may have missed had I booked the “Flamenco Experience.”
While walking in search of hot chocolate and churros we passed many fairytale buildings by Antoni Gaudí. He was Catalan and facilitated the rise of Catalan architecture to worldwide fame and reputation. Gaudí was also an architect and designer with a special ability to synthesize his Catalan tradition with new technical solutions. The kids were so impressed by Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló, and La Pedrera that they requested a visit to Park Guell where we spent lazy hours picnicking on the longest park bench in the world.
I can’t imagine understanding Barcelona the way we do if the kids hadn’t staged a protest! Their demonstration of independence and freedom from my itinerary was so very Catalonian in spirit!