Tapas, paella, Gaudi, and a nightlife that can give New Yorkers a run for their money: this is how I would describe Barcelona. It’s a city of unparalleled charm and grittiness. A city where the Sangria is plenty and the heart of the Spaniard, while at first reluctant, can be as giving as the city. The vibrant street life is as depicted in guide books and online reviews. There’s truly never a dull moment with street performers, musicians, and outdoor cafes and restaurants parading through the crowded sidewalks. The culture of this Catalonian region is proud, earnest, and clearly set on its traditional ways, yet its people are not inadvertent to change. Commercialism and medieval corners (such as the Gothic Quarter) are a pleasant paradox, as you are taken in by the old and the modern. Yes, you will see a Zara (founded by Amancio Ortega and Rosalía Mera in Galicia) almost everywhere, and yes, the prices there are slightly cheaper. My friends and I definitely got our shopping fix!
This trip to Barcelona was special for me. Not only was it my first time visiting this quirky, urban city very much unlike my own, it was also a small family reunion. An aunt and two cousins from Colombia have lived there for over 15 years, now having completely immersed themselves in the Catalonian culture. The last time I had seen them I was 15 years old: a young, pimply teenager with chubby arms and frizzy hair. You can imagine how it was to see them again, 17 years later (gosh now I really feel old), my older cousin now a mother to a precocious 10 year old, and my younger cousin a beautiful, young woman at the cusp of her life. Our reunion was heartfelt, hilarious, and incredibly fulfilling, leaving me dumbfounded and gasping for more, wishing I had more time in this city of hope and new beginnings. When I wasn’t with family, I was gallivanting with friends from Lugano, soaking in the culture, the drinks, and of course the eye candy.
My family was proud to show me their side of the pond. That first day we had lunch followed by a long, deliriously happy walk through the Catalonian streets. We strolled through Ciutadella Park (also a zoo), a historical garden of 70 acres. The park is home to a small lake with the occasional paddling enthusiast, a collection of statues, museums, a variety of vegetation, and a large fountain designed by Josep Fontsere. This charming park is a portrait of daily living; families and couples flocked there to read, picnic, and simply enjoy a floral respite from their concrete metropolis. The park is easily accessible from start to finish, with well paved pathways, benches, and ramps. If a st’roll’ through the park is what you crave, without all the tourist hubbub, then this park is for you.
Barcelona certainly lends itself to disabled travel with decently paved sidewalks and entrances to shops being fairly accessible. I have to admit the purpose to this trip was more emotional than educational, but it still gave me insight as to how the city caters to the needs of those less mobile. The bustling city while busy and consumed by its entirety, is definitely aware. One night, my family and I went to a small sidewalk restaurant called Ciudad Condal (located on Rambla de Catalunya, Esquina Gran Via), where I had my first taste of the notorious tapas. I liked them! Small, bite-size goodies that still fill your appetite and tickle your palette. Once again, the Sangria was plenty. The service while a little haphazard and mediocre at times, didn’t take away from the actual meal and the quality of the food. In fact, I noticed a pattern with many waiters in the city: customer service might not always be at the top of the list, so be prepared for a little bit of gruffness or outright indifference in some places. Like most outdoor cafes and sidewalk restaurants, accessibility was not an issue; no steps, no fuss. The bathrooms vary according to establishment. Ciudad Condal had an accessible bathroom on the bottom floor. After a few pitchers of Sangria, I was relieved to not have to tackle a staircase to get to the loo!
After dinner, we strolled through the tree-lined streets of Las Ramblas and ended in Port Vell, a fun, animated seaside attraction teeming with visitors, locals, entertainment, and a stunning view of the city at night. Wheelchair users won’t have any problems here as the boardwalk is as intended- friendly, flat, and a long stretch of diversity.
Gaudi fans will enjoy Park Guell, with its lush gardens and mosaic sculptures and buildings. I call it Gaudi’s playpen: where all his inspirations and colors seemed to have come together for a nap, producing an ethereal play-land for all. But make no mistake; while enchanting and seemingly peaceful, Park Guell is busy! Relieved to have a separate entrance (for disabled visitors), my friends and I were able to avoid a long chain of impatient tourists and street vendors. Once inside, you are taken in by the colors, the geometric shapes, and the Gaudi imagination. Once meant to be a private park for palatial homes, the space never lost its sense of richness and clever modernity. The sloping walk ways make it another play -land, but for disabled travelers. Wheelchair users will be able to get around, however, not without the help of a companion. The slopes while helpful, were sometimes a little steep and “sweat-worthy” for those pushing you up the slope.
Of course no trip to Barcelona would be complete without a visit to La Sagrada Familia. This monumental structure, now a Unesco World Heritage Site, is the heart of the Catalonian culture, combining an architectural and engineering style that I have yet to see in other basilicas (I would however like to be proven wrong in my future travels!) Clearly, Gaudi’s master-mind was present when he began his work in 1882, and his hands are still felt in every chiseled piece, every stained glass. I tried to think of a way to describe his art work (aside from modern and neo-Gothic) and came up with this: it’s as if Tim Burton and Giger had dinner with Willy Wonka and decided to have a baby.
Accessibility in La Sagrada Familia is incredible with long, extended ramps in every direction you turn. A private entrance for disabled visitors is a welcome option once you see the long line outside.
Inside there were ramps that helped you cross to other ends, without feeling like you had to remain in one place. Even though I was there with friends, I felt autonomous and in control of my surroundings. Do reserve! I purchased my tickets through www.cloriann.com. Disabled visitors and children get reduced prices. 🙂
My first impression of Barcelona exceeded my expectations. I can see where the pride stems from as the people have a lot to be proud of. Seeing my cousins and aunt again after so long, truly warmed my heart in a way I never thought imaginable. Time and routine create a cozy cocoon for us, until suddenly that cocoon is burst revealing something we never knew we were missing. Seeing my family, feeling that unequivocal closeness that you only feel with family, made me want to know more of the city that has hosted them, the city that has embraced them over the years.
I plan to revisit Barcelona this October, and will have more to report on as far as tourist sites, but in the meantime, I think I’ll go enjoy a glass of Rioja!