There are two layers to any city—the tourist layer and the real-life layer—and it’s hard, if not impossible, to get a sense of both at once. The first Orlando Parents visit is currently underway, and I’ve realized in the past few days that a ten-day visit isn’t nearly enough time to peel away the layers of this strange city and show what our life here is really like. A visit to a new city must involve exploring the tourist layer, since it’s underneath and around those tourist sights—the museums, the statues, the architecture—that our real life takes place. If we ignore the tourist layer, then we might as well live in Kansas or Iowa or Minnesota; the structure of real life, with its groceries and errands and other everyday tasks, doesn’t look much different from one place to the next. It’s the backdrop that changes.
So, we’ve done our best to see the famous Barcelona, and we’ve done an excellent job so far. On Thursday, when Mom and Dad arrived, we walked down La Rambla—the essential first sight. The living statues with their elaborate costumes, the bird stalls, and the sketchy pickpocket-types were out in full force. We detoured into the Boqueria, the fabulous market off La Rambla, and bought fresh strawberries to snack on. Then we turned onto Calle Ferran and walked into the old part of the city, stopping for lunch at a corner sandwich shop and admiring the small, winding streets. A few attempts at tourism were foiled here: at the Picasso Museum, but the line for tickets was much too long to consider waiting; we tried to go into the Cathedral, but Mom and I, in our sleeveless summer shirts, were apparently too harlot-like to be admitted. We were refused entry, then offered shawls for a few euros, but we declined. Finally, we found success at the Museum of the History of the City, which features an enormous basement area where you walk on pathways over ruins of actual Roman streets that once existed below the Barcelona we know. This former Barcelona was called Barcina, and the eerie lighting and music in the museum gave the sense of truly going back two thousand years.
The eerie lighting and music were also incredibly relaxing, and, not surprisingly, Mom and Dad’s jet lag finally roared to life. Dad nodded off on several benches when we stopped to gaze at the ruins, and I knew it was time to head home. Once Andrew came home from work, we set out for dinner—an unwise decision, since our favorite restaurant had a wait, which extended the evening for the jet lagged, already-exhausted parents. But the food redeemed the wait.
On Friday, we boarded the Bus Turistic—an open-top tourist bus that travels over the whole of Barcelona, stopping at all the major sights. It’s a perfect way to see a lot of the city from the comfort of a nice perch. We traveled up Montjuic; down by the port and the sea; and through L’Exaimple, where we got off the bus to visit two Gaudi structures: the Casa Batllo and La Pedrera. We were all impressed by the undulating walls and windows, and the general Gaudi weirdness. Next, we went to the ultimate Gaudi: the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that’s beyond strange. Gaudi is one of the reasons I always describe Barcelona as a “weird city” when someone asks me how I like it here, and seeing the structures for a second time did not disappoint.
The Bus Turistic then took us into the northern part of Barcelona, through Gracia, near Tibidabo mountain, then west toward Andrew’s school; and it left us off at Placa Catalunya, after which we walked the length of La Rambla then took the metro home. Nighttime found us watching La Font Magica (also weird) near our apartment then having dinner at a local place that serves reliable, if not exactly Spanish, food.