My Hovercraft is Full of Eels

El meu aerolliscador està ple d’anguiles.


Gothic Quarter

Gothic Quarter

“That’s the most awesome thing I’ve heard in a long time,” he remarked as The Cure was playing over the bar’s stereo. “It’s going to be amazing!”

Three-plus years on from our last trip to Barcelona, I’d been pining for an excuse to return, and when The Cure announced European dates that included a night in the Catalan capital I purchased a ridiculously expensive pair of tickets before telling Kim where we’d be come late November. It had been over two years since our last proper holiday – at least, something more than a long weekend out of town, or time taken off to deal with dead and dying family. Properly getting away, and properly enjoying ourselves in a way that involved passports and foreign languages, was long overdue.

So when a Cure song crept out over the bar stereo, it was with great pleasure that I told my friend, “I’m taking my sweetie to see The Cure… in Barcelona!”

“Awesome” was what was playing in the back of my head when, early in the morning hours on our last full day in the city, I awoke to see Kim, ashen gray and sweating profusely, stumbling weakly down the hallway from our hotel bathroom. “Amazing” was what queued up next in my internal monologue as I tried to catch her as she collapsed next to the bed, holding her as I watched the nightstand get jostled by the commotion, in turn shaking the lamp on it, which, in an act of solidarity with everything else in motion that moment, decided to fall over onto Kim’s glasses, breaking them squarely down the middle.

It’s interesting that, for a couple who love to travel, how difficult it was to commit ourselves after so long to the next “big one.” But once we were in agreement on the idea of going back to Barca (non-refundable, ridiculously expensive concert tickets purchased through a third party site being a huge motivator in that decision), it was no way out but forward go! We booked the Alma Hotel, where we’d previously stayed, wanting to keep close again to people and places that we cozied up to last time. And we decided to stay long enough to really nestle down in the city. After so much time without a long vacation, we wanted to be somewhere for a long enough duration that made us forget where we came from and embrace where we were without hesitation or uncertainty.

Gaudi was, once again, close in heart and close at hand: La Pedrera (Casa Mila) a block away; Casa Battló a stone’s throw; Sagrada Familia looming large and beautiful in the near distance. Our favorite French bar, Les Gens que J´Aime, nestled through tiny doors in the basement next to the Barcelona Museum of Egyptology, welcomed us back like we’d never left. Even Dani, the street beggar whose Pente stone sits on my writing desk, occupied the location I last left him.

Along with the familiar, we explored some new we weren’t able to on our last trip, including the Picasso Museum and a cooking class. And with plenty of time to wander, we discovered a few new off-path places as well, including what is in my opinion probably Barcelona’s best coffee house: Wer-Haus. Twice we went down to the shores of the Mediterranean: once to enjoy a traditional Sunday paella; the second to share a little of the sea and setting sun with Outlaw Mom, wishing her bon voyage from one of the many places we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy. There was even an El Clasico at Camp Nou during our stay.

The excuse that made the trip happen – The Cure – well, it’s hard, really hard, to describe how it is that a band playing ostensibly downer, naval gazing music, could be so fun. Maybe it’s because Robert Smith is a true craftsman in his field. Maybe it’s because he and the band give their all for their audiences, oftentimes playing three-hour sets. Maybe – likely – it also had to do with the amazing crowd that turned out. Hands draped over the shoulders of strangers, beers raised high and spilling everywhere, singing loudly and joyously along with every verse and chorus, the Catalans this night were some of the funnest, most unabashedly genuine people I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy a show with.

The Cure in concert at Palau St. Jorid, 26-Nov-2016

The Cure in concert at Palau St. Jorid, 26-Nov-2016

We took day trips outside of the city. One was above the clouds and into the razor teeth of Montserrat to visit its Benedictine abbey, see the Black Virgin, and hear the Escolania; spending the late afternoon afterwards touring and sampling the delicious grapes of the Penedès wine region, and Descregut in particular. Our second day trip was to the Dali Museum and Girona. As much as I love Barcelona, I think Girona now occupies my most coveted spot for “where I want to retire to… now!” For both trips we hired Spanish Trails, and for both we were lucky enough to be the only people on that day’s tour and also have the same amazing guide, Alex, who at the end felt more friend than a paid Encyclopedia Touristsitter.  A globetrotting daughter of Barcelona, Alex was a perfect fit for the intellectual adventurism we do our best to seek out, and brought a welcome and engaging personality above and beyond simply being an anthropological narrator. All of which made her the perfect person to test how well my Catalan was coming along – a test I’m pretty sure I failed.

And, of course, there was the food. We returned to La Pepita, this time crammed in at their bar; also paying a visit to its sibling, La Cava. Bar Mut, around the corner from La Pepita, was a lovely little find near our hotel. Our best dining experience during our stay was Spoonik, where the atmosphere, attitude, and flavors excelled and then some. Continuing our exploration of all things Adria, Kim lined up numerous restaurants directly or indirectly related to the chefs and, for a variety of reasons, only Disfrutar surpassed our expectations. The service at Hoja Santa was rushed to meet the kitchen’s needs; the food delicious overall but the experience listless. Pakta’s service was similarly off-beat and pushy, but the food more than made up for it. Except, of course, Pakta was where we dined the night before Kim woke up to unexpectedly have food poltergeists exorcised by whatever means possible.

It’s quite possible that Pakta wasn’t the source of Kim’s food poisoning. That said, it’s unlikely where else it could have originated from. It’s the last meal we ate, approximately six hours before the hotel bathroom became her BFF. What is odd is that while we both had the same food at the restaurant, oftentimes eating from a shared plate, I didn’t get ill. The only differences were that we used separate bathrooms at the restaurant, and we each had a different drink at the hotel bar afterwards. (Kim a glass of cava; me a whisky.) That was it.

Cafe con leche during happier times on our trip

Cafe con leche during happier times on our trip

In a rare gesture of luck, a block from the hotel was a 24-hour pharmacy. Given that it was Sunday and most non-tourist related shops were buttoned up for the day, it was a very fortunate find. Mustering my best Catalan, with a lot of help from a translation app, I returned to our room armed with electrolytes and other medicine, where I did my best to administer them to Kim before the bathroom’s siren’s call became too much. Around midday, after she was finally able to rest fitfully more than expulse forcibly, I ventured out in the hopes of finding an eyeglass shop that could either somehow repair her frames, or had reading glasses with a close enough prescription to match her broken pair. After googling and wandering, and googling and wandering, at the end of La Rambla on a waterfront pier I found a shopping mall that was open with two sunglass stores. Neither had reading glasses that approximated Kim’s prescription. The latter, a Sunglass Hut of all places, did have superglue but it wasn’t a strong enough bond to hold the two halves together for any duration. So I went to Plan B: tape. Coincidentally, the Scotch tape the store had was pink’sh, and it almost blended in with the color of Kim’s frames. The employees at both stores were profusely kind and did their best to help however they could. Thank you, gentlemen. Very much appreciated. In gratitude, I bought a pair of Wayfarers. Because why not, right?

While Kim did her best to recover that day and through the night, I packed. Around 6am the next morning we checked out and headed to the airport. Kim was doing much better, comparatively, but still having moments of doubts on the flights, and in Heathrow I did my best to get her upgraded for the long leg back to Seattle. On our last visit to Barca, Kim caught a cold near the end and during our transfer in London we magically got upgraded to business class for no discernable reason (although I’d like to think it was because I was overtly nice to the person checking us in in the middle of a very, very busy day of weather-related travel woes for most at the airport). This time, I couldn’t even purchase her a cash upgrade. My inquiries did, however, lead to British Airways detaining us in front of other passengers before boarding to make sure Kim was “okay” to travel. Thanks, BA, for not only being unhelpful but for unnecessarily embarrassing us in front of the other passengers. Finally, after a long two days: home, cats, and welcome comfort.

T’estimo, Barca. I really do. But we’ve got to stop breaking up this way. Next time, go a little easier on us when we’re nearing the end and I promise to come back more often. Hand on heart. Fins aviat!

(Click on a pic to embiggen and view the full gallery.)
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