On January 9th, 2017, I celebrated my 21st birthday aboard a British Airlines boeing en route to Barcelona. It was a considerably anticlimactic celebration, as I ventured to a foreign country where the drinking age is already 18… but the flight attendant gave me a complimentary bottle of wine, and the celebratory nature of the gesture was enjoyable nonetheless. Following 12 hours of airtime and our eventual arrival at 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, reflecting the headlights of passing cars and producing the rather hypnotizing effect of candles flickering in the moonlight.
I had previously vacationed here in March–falling in love with the culture, architecture, and laidback lifestyle–before deciding to return for the spring semester of my junior year. After settling into my dorm room in the Poble Sec arts district, I treated myself to dinner at Cera 23 located nearby in El Raval. The risotto (one of my favorite meals from my past stay) was even better than I’d remembered, perhaps in part due to my ravenous appetite by dinnertime. My friend, Olivia, told our waiter that we were celebrating my birthday, and the entire restaurant sang “Happy Birthday” to me over dimmed lights, a Catalan style créme brûlée, and a generous pour of sangria. 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 commenced, yet it 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 ambiance 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. I’m sure it goes without saying that the food is absolutely incredible. Tapas-style dining encourages shared plates and meals, fostering a more communal culinary experience that’s particularly salient in 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 providing incentive to explore this place I’ll call home these next four months.