Picky and Pristine in Barcelona

In 2008 we only managed to visit the continent twice, enthralled as we were with our new life in the Cotswolds. Every weekend here still feels like a vacation, but nonetheless we vowed to take better advantage of our proximity to Europe this year. We even made a list, top of which coincidentally includes two cities that have recently featured in films, Barcelona and Bruges.

The other night we saw In Bruges, the story of two hit men hiding out in the title city after a job has gone wrong back in London. Colin Farrell plays Ray, who upon arriving in Europe’s hallmark chocolate box city declares it “a shithole.” It was pretty much the same reaction husband had to Barcelona last month as I forced him on a Gaudi death march across the traffic strewn city, taking him past the Palau Musica, to Casa Batlló and La Pedrera, then finally Park Guell. Taking in Park Guell’s unwashed masses and makeshift vendors miraculously hawking the exact same crap as their brethren in Venice Beach, husband could be heard muttering a steady refrain of, “I could be cycling around the Cotswolds right now.”

Husband is a very picky traveler, preferring among other things non-smoking restaurants with dinner available from 7pm onwards (a complete and utter rejection of the 1/8 Basque heritage he has been known to proudly cite in explanation for his perma-tan). I should have realized there were going to be fundamental Catalan culture clash issues, but there were grim moments in store even I could not have predicted. The tapas we ate in La Boqueria was some of the best I’ve had, but husband narrowly averted a pickpocket in the process. We pretended for awhile that a wine bar we found in the Gotic district was quaint, but couldn’t ignore the view across the narrow medieval alley of a souvenir shop selling authentic Catalan memorabilia like a Dolce and Banana t-shirt.

The pinnacle of our Barcelona misadventures was an outing to see Woody Allen play jazz at a swank hotel on Oscar night. When we noticed the signs advertising the event in the hotel window it seemed plausible. It wasn’t much of a leap to imagine that Woody, always a bit anti-establishment, would rather be in Barcelona than in the paparazzi glare of L.A. And hadn’t I read somewhere he regularly plays clarinet in a New York hotel? We were near the end of the Gaudi death march and, having absorbed vitriol from husband all day, I was rather smug that my relentless sight seeing ambition had yielded such a result for the evening’s entertainment. It was one of those divine moments of traveller’s serendipity, like stumbling upon an open air string quartet in an Italian piazza on a starry night.

Of course Woody Allen was by Penelope Cruz’s side in Hollywood that night when she won the Oscar for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. We found out after having taken a taxi all the way back up to the swank hotel. The maitre d’—who spoke much better English than the bellboy we’d spoken to in the afternoon—explained it was a Woody Allen tribute band.

Despite my track record in Barcelona, I am not disheartened from pursuing our European quest. We head for Bruges in April. I could be in for more trouble with husband if what Ray said about it is true: “If I grew up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me. But I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”

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