“I want to show you Barcelona…”
It was one of the first things my Hungarian boyfriend said to me. Budapest I might have expected, but Barcelona?
As a musician, he had worked all over Europe but fell hard for Barcelona’s many charms. And on our first weekend together there, I was to do the same.
We walked the streets for hours and hours, my boyfriend excitedly pointing out every beloved corner of his adopted city. At lunchtime, we’d stop in a neighbourhood restaurant and savour a three-course menu del dia with wine and coffee for just a few dollars. Even today, some 26 years later, you can dine out local-style from as little as $15.
I fell in love with the food… Faves a la Catalana, soft broad beans cooked with bacon, bacalla amb samfaina, cod with a ratatouille-style sauce and crema Catalana, a custard-like desert with a crunchy burnt–sugar top. And the waiters…poetry in motion. Their level of skill was breathtaking. Two waiters could serve an entire restaurant full of people. They’d set the coffee machine going for eight coffees at once and by the time it had dripped through they would have cleared 10 tables and brought dishes out to several more. All with a smile…and somehow they managed to stop and chat too. After two or three visits they would know what we liked to drink and how we had our coffee.
We’d get back to my boyfriend’s apartment in the modernist 19th century Ensanche district and collapse for a while and then start all over again. I loved the ornate Art Nouveau styling of the doors and entrance halls, the old-fashioned lifts with wrought-iron doors and the vibrant Gaudi buildings only two blocks away.
It was 1991, the year before the Barcelona Olympics and there was a lot of change going on. We walked up Montjuic hill and visited the shiny new Olympic stadium with its hyper-modern needle sculpture by Santiago Calatrava. We went to see the huge golden fish sculpture by Frank Gehry which was now dominating the beachfront at Barceloneta and lamented the passing of the old chiringuitos (beach bars) which were being replaced by a new harbour area where old warehouses were being transformed into galleries, upmarket cafes and restaurants.
We’d walk home through the Gothic Quarter, the heart of the old city of Barcelona, and gaze up at crooked balconies filled with geraniums and washing strung from window to window, swaying gently in the evening breeze.
It wasn’t hard to be seduced by the city’s charm, but what made me fall deeply in love with Barcelona are the people. They are the most welcoming, good-humoured, tolerant and happy people I’ve ever had the good fortune to live amongst and they sure know how to enjoy themselves.
Sadly, the love affair with the Hungarian boyfriend didn’t last but the passion for Barcelona never left me and two years after that first visit, I was back in Barcelona…to stay.
Image: ©iStock.com/Cezary Wojtkowski
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