The first time you get lost in Barcelona is one you never forget.
Maybe you went for the first time on a business trip and stayed at a glamorous hotel near Barceloneta, one with a view of the sea. Maybe you stayed in a bed and breakfast with a kindly stranger who made you café con leche, or maybe you found a jam-packed hostel for cheap near the city center and fell asleep to jazz music from the club downstairs.
In the Morning
Maybe you wake up and laugh your way through the seven languages blossoming in the dining room of the hotel, chatting with friends while you sip the strongest coffee you’ve ever tasted. When you get up from the table, your tour guide is waiting. From there, she leads you down Las Ramblas, twin streets lined by vendors and street performers, and she sketches in the early history of this ancient city by the sea. Las Ramblas stretch on, and you find yourself admiring some of the more unique things there—a wax museum, say, or a fairy-tale cafe. The Barcelona Wax Museum and El Bosc de Les Hades (“The Fairy Forest”) are strange and interesting destinations, and you will visit them later, but for now, you follow the tour guide into the biggest, brightest market you’ve seen in your life. After all, you don’t want to get lost in Barcelona.
In the Market
As you admire the startling amount of fruits, vegetables, and meat in the Mercado de La Boqueria, your guide starts to break down its history. Open since 1840, the market has transformed from a convenient grocery stop to a cultural touchstone. You buy a mango fruit smoothie from a vendor inside, and a few elaborate chocolates.
In the Gothic Quarter
After La Boqueria, your guide pulls you across the street and down an alley, toward the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi. Sunlight catches in the elaborate stained glass windows. Your group admires the stunning interior. As you exit into the sunlight, blinking, your guide heads down a cobblestone street. Your group follows behind carefully, not wanting to get lost in Barcelona, but you hang back, listening the whole time. She explains that you are entering the Gothic Quarter, and that many of these buildings have been here for hundreds of years. You admire the narrow balconies, the clusters of plants at doorways, and the charming collections in shop windows. She pauses at the corner to explain a piece of street art, and as she does, you turn with the rest of the group to listen.
As you do, something catches your eye: around the corner behind you, there is a hidden corridor. You’re standing near the back of the group, and your tour guide’s exuberant voice carries far, so, still listening, you take a step back. Then another, and another, and before you know it you’re standing in another corridor.
Like the first, this one is lit by sunlight that streams down from the narrow edges of the roof. You can see one or two people stepping into what looks like a coffee shop. The guide’s voice is still there, so you know you can take a moment here to look: to look at the jewelry glittering in the window and the books on display across the street, and to listen to the Catalan and Spanish that trail out of upstairs windows, and to breathe. You’re in Barcelona; you’re here.
Of course you’ll go back to the tour. You’ll see the Sagrada Familia and the aquarium and the fountain show at Montjuïc, but all that comes later. Now, you can enjoy a moment in one of Barcelona chicest backstreets, alone and somehow still a part of this incredible city.
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