On January 9th, 2017, I celebrated my 21st birthday aboard a British Airlines boeing en route to Barcelona. Not sure how many people can say that their first legal drink was somewhere over the Atlantic, let alone headed to a foreign country where the drinking age is 18… The flight attendants gave me a complimentary bottle of wine, a South African Chenin Blanc, boasting “fresh flavours of crisp apples and citrus fruits; a very refreshing style with a soft, lingering finish.” Needless to say, my palate is not nearly mature enough to detect such nuanced character, but the celebratory nature of the gesture was enjoyable regardless. Following 12 hours of airtime and our eventual arrival to Barcelona’s El Prat airport, I was considerably sleep-deprived (in spite of a wine-induced slumber) and hungry for something more substantial than airplane fare. The taxi ride from the airport passed by Montjuïc Cemetery, an elaborate monument that opened in 1883 and now memorializes over 1 million lives. Despite my exhaustion, I recalled the same sense of awe I’d experienced when driving past the cemetery during my first stay in Barcelona. The nameplates and grave markers line terraced walls and steep steps cut into the hillside, reflecting the headlights of passing cars and producing a rather hypnotizing effect of candles flickering in the moonlight. I’ve never seen death look so beautiful. I had previously vacationed here in March–falling in love with the culture, architecture, and food–before deciding to return for the Spring semester of my junior year. After settling into my dorm room, I treated myself to dinner at Cera 23, one of my favorite restaurants from my past stay, located nearby in El Raval. The risotto (the sole reason I returned) was even better than I’d remembered, perhaps in part due to my ravenous appetite by dinnertime. My friend, Olivia, made sure to alert the staff that we were celebrating my birthday, and the entire restaurant sang “Happy Birthday” to me over dimmed lights, a Catalan style créme brûlée, and complimentary drinks. Olivia was the first of my Barcelona-bound friends to leave the states, so I’m lucky that she was there by the time I arrived and very thankful to have celebrated in good company.
After the arrival of my best friend and college roommate, Sydney, our indulgent midmorning brunch at Flax & Kale and a drawn out walk along La Rambla quickly revealed why Barcelona maintained such a captivating presence in my memory. This promenade, one of Barcelona’s most popular (and touristy), exhibits all manner of markets, including the famed La Boqueria. The colorfully-lined shelves and stalls within are a complete sensory overload. Nicknamed “The City of Gaudí,” Antoni Gaudí’s works of art and prominent influence permeate the city. His ultimate chef d’oeuvre, La Sagrada Familia, remains unfinished centuries after its construction first began yet endures as the pinnacle of his distinguished career. He dedicated 43 years of his life to this project, and his commitment shows through each meticulous detail and the ornate extravagance that the basilica exudes. This reason, among many others, to marvel at art within the city characterizes the ambience of Barcelona’s crowded streets.
As the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona maintains a strong presence in the Spanish economy (I’m learning all about this in my “Highlights of the Spanish Economy” class at the Universitat de Barcelona). Spain is a leading European exporter of produce and wine, which is a testament to the fertility of the region. As a result, the food is incredible. Many of the local restaurants pride themselves on their incorporation of fresh produce. They regard dining as an experience and something that should be thoroughly enjoyed. Similarly to other European countries, you have to ask for the check even after all of your dishes are cleared to signify that your culinary outing is coming to a close. I appreciate that waiters don’t feel the need to rush their patrons and are instead dedicated to fostering and encouraging a positive experience. Tapas-style dining also encourages shared plates and meals, a subtle but salient staple of Barcelona’s dining culture. The Mediterranean climate here means that there are few days of rain throughout the year and the weather is generally temperate. All the better for admiring the different landmarks and sights throughout the city, not to mention incentive for escaping the confines of the place I’ll call home these next four months.