5 min

Come for a week, stay for a while

SUNNY SIDE UP. Looking out on the balcony of the small Barcelona pension. Credit: Megan Richards

Hola from the sunny shores of Spain! My wife and I have finally arrived in Barcelona after our first week in Europe. London was quite the whirlwind, and neither one of us really processed what we were getting ourselves into before we left Toronto, so England passed by in a bit of a blur. But this past week in Barcelona we have been fully switched on and ready for anything. Well, almost. “Anything” in Barcelona, as it turns out, means a whole lotta hangover.

Our gracious hostess for the first four days of our stay in BCN is definitely the tour guide to have for a genuine city experience. The day before we arrived I provided her with our flight details so she would know when to expect us at our predetermined meeting spot (a Starbucks, as they are global, shameful as that is). What we didn’t expect was that she would be standing in the airport waiting for our plane with a sign that read “Hey Ladies.” In her leather jacket and white rabbit-fur vest we should have known that, despite it being 8pm, the night hadn’t even begun.

Considering our English luggage hike the week previous it was of course no surprise that she lives in a sixth-floor walkup. On the best of days that is no small feat for a smoker. With a suitcase weighing 23.9 kilogram and my fold-up bicycle, the climb was my own personal Everest. Thankfully our hostess was a gracious sherpa and schlepped both bikes like it was nothing while her Canadian companions wondered where the elevator was.

Once the three of us had made it up the stairs, caught our breath and appreciated the Euro-styling of our pension, it was time to celebrate. Her only house rule is to always have a bottle of cava — the Spanish equivalent of champagne — in the fridge chilling so she was ready! As tradition would have it the cork from the first bottle of cava must make it onto the roof across the street. With a bit of cheating (throwing it), the glasses were poured, the cigarettes lit and a toast raised to the beginning of our adventures in Barcelona.

At 9:30pm it was time for dinner. Although Japanese would not have been what I would have expected as my first meal in Spain we ate at a small sushi joint (apparently also global) around the corner from her home. Two beers, one saki and the arrival of her BFF and we were ready to take on the town as much as a Wednesday would allow. Around the corner from the restaurant was a small bar (I would soon come to learn that most bars, at least those worth going to, were small) that was once a bakery. The rich wood detailing and stained-glass work was the perfect introduction to the local bar culture. Beers were ordered (served in small juice glasses) and the bill was paid when we left, an arrangement that requires that patrons pay attention while under the influence. Since I was still getting over jet lag and overwhelmed by the language I was glad someone else was paying attention.

After some laughs, the discovery that the bff spoke French — which meant the four of us could be included in the same conversation — and several cigarettes, we were off to another drinking establishment, La Bata.

A small, somewhat rundown hole in the wall it was full of people my wife and I immediately recognized, not only as queers, but as our kind of people. The kind that are happy to cram 40 people into a space too small for 20. A little bit of home. A little bit of heaven. Another few rounds and then, since our hostess had been sick, we decided it was home time. It was 3am.

The next day was my first day practicing the learn-to-sleep-until-noon goal I had set out before leaving Canada. I am proud to say it was achieved with great success. After coffee, toast and a look at the rooftops, across the Raval neighbourhood and up the mountain, we headed out in time for lunch. We stopped into Ra, a restaurant behind Barcelona’s famous market La Boqueria. Not surprisingly, lunch involved wine. After two glasses, with what was essentially our breakfast, we were off again.

It is amazing how tired aimless wandering can make you. By 5pm it was time for a siesta. Waking at 8pm it was decided that dinner in was a good idea. It would be low key. It would only involve three bottles of wine and we would be in bed by — wait for it — 4am.

We greeted Friday closer to 1pm, and headed out for lunch. Hostess and bff found us a nice little place on a quiet little square. Lunch is often a prix fixe deal here and always comes with a glass of wine. Who am I to turn that down? This time it came with a cultural learning experience. When you order the house wine, and it’s made by the neighbour, it comes to the table with a bottle of lime-lemon soda for mixing. After tasting the wine without the soda I would advise that any time it’s offered you’d do well to take it!

After a loungey and boozy lunch we did some more sightseeing then went for a siesta. That was at 5:30pm. At 8pm we headed out again to meet our hostess who had been sitting at a cute little bar on Rambla de Raval holding court. Upon our arrival it was cava all round since our hostess had managed to fix her own toilet earlier in the day. After our second bottle of cava, it was time to move on, and get something to eat. It was 9:30pm.

Through the winding roads of the old city we came to a small resto called Mam i Teca with the best single malt selection this side of Glasgow. Talisker and Lagavulin and Cardu and all the Glens were there. Part of the slow-cooking movement, the chef prepared anchovies and small Spanish peppers that were fried and lightly salted. The secret behind this particular pepper is that they all look the same, but some are spicy and some are not. Every bite is a surprise, a little like life.

After dinner (and two bottles of wine) we said goodbye to the bff and turned down “broken heart street,” a small alleyway with a giant light-up heart that spans the distance from building to building. Across from the glowing heart is a bar, small and smoky, where we finished the night and made plans to have a drink on the mountain overlooking the city with the bff’s sister the following day. 

Decked out in our best travellers’ outfits, we tackled Saturday. Breakfast at home with a bottle of white then up to the fancy neighbourhood to do some window-shopping and check out Gaudi’s La Padrera. After a visit to design store Vincon, which now occupies an old Barcelona mansion, it was in a cab and to the top of the mountain for a pre-dinner cocktail. The city lit up before our eyes and it was time to head back down to Gracia, a neighbourhood where we had made dinner reservations. Atmosphere was a small, intimate French restaurant with impeccable service and exquisite wine list. The evening started innocently and ended with the waiter dancing on the bar, shirt off, with our hostess. After we closed the place down it was on to to an afterhours establishment and finally home around Fix am (that’s between four and six if you’re wondering).

I am in no way a religious person, but it makes sense that Sunday was the day we rested. Outsiders might call it a breakdown, but “rested” sounds much more civilized. Clearly I had been testing my constitution and after what, by my count, was 35 glasses of alcohol in four days I had reached my limit.

Now, with a couple sober days behind me (a rarity in this town) I am ready for round two. It is Friday after all and tomorrow is lunch with friends and then Sunday is paella on the beach and then Monday… well, I guess we’ll see when we get there, sometime around noonish.