I’ve always wanted to visit Spain. I have been to just about every other western European country but somehow never made it to Spain or Portugal. When the opportunity came to spend a few days in Barcelona with my daughter, I jumped at the chance.
The entertainment began at Gatwick Airport. I am frequently amused by the sartorial choices of my fellow travellers. I remember the days when getting on a plane was A Big Deal; and people dressed up to travel. Men wore ties and children were trussed up in Sunday best outfits more suited for church. These days it is not uncommon to see people boarding a flight in pyjamas. The unofficial flight uniform for females under 30 is micro shorts and a hoodie.
Wearing dark jeans and a t-shirt, I looked like a burqa-clad granny compared to the other passengers. In between the conservatively dressed families our flight from London to Barcelona included a cross dresser in a pink tutu, a he-she in a floral get up Hyacinth Bouquet would cherish, and persons of all ages and sexes sporting more flesh than fabric. I felt sorry for the young woman forced to don half the contents of her suitcase to conform with EasyJet’s weight limitations – but I enjoyed the reactions from the male members of the check in queue when she bent over to put on pants.
A few short hours later we were in Barcelona and I was ready to explore my new surroundings. Mini Me however, was not. She flaked out as soon as we arrived at our hotel. After admiring the view of Barcelona Cathedral from our room, our first night in Catalonia was spent in peaceful slumber.
What could be better than a trip to the legendary Camp Nou, home of FC Barcelona? As it turned out – nothing. Camp Nou was a sports lovers’ paradise; a state of the art stadium with a treasure trove of football paraphernalia. I marvelled at the impressive silverware collection; ogled Lionel Messi’s four Ballon D’or awards, and squealed with delight as I walked through the tunnel leading onto the pitch. Having lunch at the Camp Nou lounge overlooking the pitch was le pièce de résistance.
I blissfully munched grilled octopus and sliders while sipping perfectly chilled Chardonnay. It was impossible not to be overwhelmed by the rich history and romance of Camp Nou. Even the Real Madrid fans defiantly strutting around in their away kits were impressed.
That evening, after a tactical time-out (i.e. a nap), Mini Me and I ate paella on Las Ramblas and shared a sangria bucket while watching the world stroll past. Continental European fashion style is fascinating. The men, for the most part, are impeccably groomed and buff, with carefully coiffured hair held in place by expensive product. The women strut around in impossibly high heels draped in outfits that are absolutely on point, with hairstyles and makeup to match – and plaitable underarm hair. I also observed several women rocking pelts. Clearly keeping it natural is still A Thing in Europe.
Heterosexual and gay couples walked arm in arm down the avenue, chattering animatedly in multiple languages. I revelled in the relaxed atmosphere and easy acceptance of all God’s children.
Having been advised by Friends With Knowledge that no trip to Barcelona was complete without a visit to La Sagrada Familia, we joined a few hundred others and queued for tickets to explore the legendary cathedral. It did not disappoint. Even my jaded teenaged companion was struck by the breath-taking beauty of Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece.
Irrespective of religious persuasion, one cannot help but be touched by the sheer majesty of the building. The intricate and unusual architecture of La Sagrada Familia is extraordinary. I tried to visualize the finished building but honestly couldn’t imagine further gilding the lily.
We left La Sagrada Familia with dozens of photographs and a sizable bag of commemorative souvenirs.
For our third and final night in Barcelona, we ventured to Plaça d’Espanya to see Font Màgica. Hunger gripped us as soon as we exited the Metro. We made a beeline for the nearest tapas bar and were soon feasting on small plates of heaven. Fortified by tasty morsels and yet more sangria, I resumed my favourite vacation activity – people watching.
There was plenty to see. We’d barely walked 50 yards before Mini Me was gaping open mouthed at the naked – yes completely naked – and hairless, except for her Lady Godiva style tresses – performance artiste strolling up and down in front of us. Public nudity didn’t appear to be a criminal offence. Two policemen stood idly by playing with their phones. Fellow passers-by seemed similarly disinterested. While Mini Me and I gawped, people barely registered Godiva’s presence. Momentarily mesmerised, I forgot I had a camera. But before I had a chance to take a cheeky (pun intended) pic, Godiva slipped on a dress and the show was over. We walked on.
Plaça d’Espanya was packed with people taking advantage of the warm Catalan night and free entertainment. A large crowd gathered around Font Màgica and we jostled for position with the hundreds of others attempting to take selfies near the beautifully lit fountain. After taking in the synchronized light and water show, we wandered over to the stage where a concert was in progress.
To our delight, the concert was a drag queen talent show. It was fantastic! We were treated to Eurovision-style song and dance acts with costumes so elaborate they’d make a Trini Carnival designer jealous.
It was at this point that I began to notice the composition of the crowd around us. The spectators were a curious mix of tourists such as us, the odd family with young children, couplings of every sexual orientation possible, and a surprising number of bearded men in frocks.
Much as we were enjoying the show, the hour was getting late so we reluctantly made our way towards the Metro station. On our way out of Plaça d’Espanya we passed several stalls selling food, drink, and the kind of items usually stocked in the back rooms of stores you need to be 18 years and over to enter. I couldn’t resist a closer look. It’s not every day you see an 18 inch dildo for sale in a public square. (I guess it depends on where you live.)
I’m very open-minded. Well at least I think I am. But I confess to being somewhat nonplussed by the sights and sounds. Until I saw this sign as we exited the square:
The penny dropped. Suddenly everything made sense! The cross dressers and he-shes on our flight; the drag queens; the unusual stalls. Mini Me and I had unwittingly attended our first Gay Pride Festival! Definitely an experience to be repeated.
From fake penises to Pablo – our Catalan adventure concluded with visits to the Picasso Museum and Barcelona Cathedral. To say that Picasso was a child prodigy is an understatement. His early work displayed a depth, maturity, and perception so uncommon in a young teen I couldn’t help but compare him to my own fifteen year old son. (I made a mental note to speak to his art teacher as soon as I got home.)
After the splendour of La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Cathedral seemed somewhat bland in comparison. But it glowed with a quiet beauty and tranquility that refreshed my soul and energized me for the journey ahead.
I inhaled the Cathedral’s peaceful atmosphere alone, Mini Me having been turned away at the door for unsuitable attire. (Backless mini dress at a Catholic Cathedral? Seriously? She looked for that.)
As we boarded the flight to London a few hours later, I bid Barcelona a sleepy adios. My final thoughts? What Schwarzenegger said.