Barcelona, the land of my maternal ancestors. As a child, I listened to the stories my grandfather used to tell us about growing up in his hometown of Granollers and the visits to the big city. Of his strolls around Parc Güell. Of that time he was at the cinema, the lights came on, Republican soldiers burst in, rounded up the men and recruited them against their will.
Barcelona and the culture and food of Catalonia are a fundamental part of my makeup. I’ve always felt the need to experience them first-hand. However, no member of my family has visited Barcelona. My grandfather always refused to go back – I guess because of bitter wartime memories.
I’ve been twice so far. The first time was back in 2000. I was dating this guy, whom I shall rename Casper the Friendly Ghost*. Casper was in Europe doing I don’t remember what, maybe attending a course or something like that. He suggested I bought a ticket and joined him in Barcelona. Please note the “go you’re your OWN ticket,” which is what I did. It was probably the last time I went to a travel agent. And we split the hotel costs, cheap though it was. (Years later, when I came back with my husband, we stayed in a modern 4-star hotel on the beach. So there, cheap ex!)
The day I bought the air ticket, I went straight to my grandparents’ to tell them the great news. I was going to Barcelona! They were very happy for me. My grandfather made a list of places I had to see and which were etched on his mind. I wrote them down, together with the address of his childhood in the town of Granollers.
I chose to travel the week of my birthday in early November. We celebrated with wine and tapas somewhere in the Gothic Quarter. (Side note: although Catalonians enjoy some types of tapas, the local cuisine is very rich and varied.)
“Casper” and I visited the main tourist attractions; however, we never went to Parc Güell. And I never found that cinema. I tried to connect the places I saw with my grandfather’s stories. I looked for signs of the famous Catalonian separatism of which I heard so much. It was there. I saw another family connection with Barcelona and modern history almost in the flesh when we went to Montjuic Castle. One of my grandfather’s cousins, who fought for the Republican army, was executed for refusing to betray his comrades in arms.
My favourite place was the Gothic Quarter. One of the items on my list was the Pont del Bisbe (the Bishop’s Bridge) on Carrer del Bisbe (Bishop Street). It looks ancient but was built as recently as 1928. Around the corner, across from Sant Jaume square, the Palau de la Generalitat (the seat of the Catalonian government) and the Ajuntament (city hall) are two beautiful and important buildings in the historical and political life of Barcelona. The nearby Palau de la Musica Catalana is an artistic and architectural jewel.
The medieval churches of Santa Maria del Mar or Santa Maria del Pi and the Cathedral drew my attention and left me in awe. The remains of Barcelona patroness, Santa Eulalia, rest in the crypt. The reason that 13 white geese roam freely in the cloisters comes from Eulalia’s story. Legend has it that she looked after geese and was martyred by the Romans when she was 13 years old for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.
We visited some of Antoni Gaudí’s most iconic landmarks, like the Sagrada Familia and the Casas Batlló and Milá. Also known as La Pedrera, the latter building has a family connection too. One of my great-grandfathers worked here as a stonemason.
I discovered the city and reconnected with my roots during this first visit to Barcelona. The memories will stay with me forever.
PS: You’ll notice a white shape next to me in the photos or a blank space where a human shape used to be. I wanted to keep the photos without my ex-boyfriend’s mug in them, so I either whited him out or cut him out, quite literally! No hard feelings, I’m just not that sentimental. Once the relationship is over, it’s over!