My first trip to Spain…was surprisingly enchanting. Spain is the third foreign country I visit, for this reason, while planning my trip, I did not think that it would feel any different from the previous trips I did in the United States and France. I thought the more places I visit the less my capacity to be amazed is going to be. Barcelona has proved me wrong.
As the plane landed around midnight, a feeling landed on me that the land I was about to step foot into possesses a quality of openness I have never been exposed to before. The scintillating street and building lights manifested the wide expanse of the numerous islands. Out the glass windows of the cab, I watched the widely curved buildings standing at the corner of the streets the car passed by, my appreciation of the architecture in Barcelona was born.
The elegantly standing buildings show the potential of its previous, long-gone rulers who commemorated their names in written history – and in the memory of countless curious beings who have visited this land – by commanding the creation of the magnificent architecture. I was walking casually in the beginning of the Gothic Quarter and at the end of the horizon, I could see a big terrace in an orange building. At the back of my mind, I thought the end of the horizon I was heading to, must be a regular corner I was going to walk around to reach a more interesting destination. But it wasn’t. I stepped into a spacious, arena-like area with music notes flowing into my acoustic receptors and the facades of the charmingly diverse architecture realized by my eyes, simultaneously, my mind was caught off guard attempting to confirm the reality of my presence in this stunning area. It did not turn out to be “an end of a horizon,” it is a melting pot of architecture. The gothic towers of the Cathedral of Barcelona proudly, topping the height of all the surrounding buildings, the simple facades of Islamic architecture giving a sense of Mediterranean grace and the tall stone-walls confirming the ancient identity of this space by their grey color and steadfast appearance which revealed the great age of the wall. At that moment in the plaza, I felt envious of the citizens of this city for growing up with a luxurious access to appreciate the architecture of the Gothic Quarter on a consistent basis in their lives. I refused to take pictures of this beautiful area, because I do not think any pictures will do justice to capture their beauty and because I wanted the feeling of awe to be my only memory from this moment.
The wide plaza-like area in which these buildings are located creates a perfectly suitable environment for visitors to really see the architectural styles. As opposed to a street and an alley, the plaza area does not have trees right in front of the buildings, so one can fully see them and as opposed to an alley, the plaza is spacious enough for one to stand at a distance that permits a satisfying gaze so that the entire building is fully exposed from top to bottom.
In all my previous visits to foreign cities, I, unintentionally, mainly observed the differences between them and Cairo, my place of birth. Barcelona broke that fixture, thus, becoming a visit incredibly meaningful and unique to me.
I went to Barcelona with two of my colleagues in the exchange program I am doing in Paris. Although we had agreed in the beginning of the day that our final destination would be the charming Chateau Montjuic, they were not enthusiastic to go. I will be objective and say that it was 7pm – one hour before the closing of the Chateau – when we got to the Plaza Espanya where we were supposed to take a 15-minute bus to the Chateau. My colleagues’ pretext to not go to the Chateau was that only 45 minutes there would not be worth the value of the ticket—5 euros. On hearing that, my inside started to boil. Any amount of time I can spend at a building with the historical and architectural importance of the Chateau Montjuic is worth every cent.
At the back of my mind, I thought: “I am at Plaza Espanya, only 15 minutes away from the Chateau Montjui, indeed, I will go see it, especially given that I have no other alternatives at that moment.” After using my phone all day to navigate and take photos, only 10 per cent worth of charge was left. Sticking to their decision to not join me in seeing the beautiful Chateau, my colleagues agreed with me to meet in front of a store in the Plaza Espanya at 9pm. But even after coming to a suitable agreement, one of my colleagues discouraged me from going saying that its dangerous to go to the Chateau on my own because I do not have battery. But why do I need battery in the first place?! Then she went on to give me her wisdom that “there is a difference between taking a risk and doing something dangerous!” I did not think my colleagues’ justifications to not visit the Chateau made any sense, nor did I understand why they insisted on discouraging me to go. I did not feel going to the Chateau on my own would be “dangerous.” I have experience navigating foreign cities—and so do my colleagues, I have lived in the States for two years, I have been living in Paris for a month and a half where I daily take public transportation. The possibility of danger did not make any sense to me, I was not in the desert, I was in a city, in gorgeous Barcelona, I would like to enjoy it and I was not going to let anything or anyone stop me.
I hurried to the bus stop where I saw that the bus was going to be there in 6 minutes. I did not want to wait, it was only an hour before the Chateau door closes and only 30 minutes before the ticket office sells its last ticket for the day. From where I was standing I saw a taxi stop. I headed there to ask the first cab I saw to take me to the Chateau, but the driver didn’t speak English. The next one did not either, but he pointed to a cab a little farther whose driver could speak English. Yes, the driver who spoke little English would take me to the Chateau, it takes 8 minutes to get there and he could charge my phone in the car. Only on the way up the beautiful hill of Montjuic, I realized that from a distance as high as the hill, I could see the charming City and the mountains that surround it. As the car got closer to the Chateau, I realized that there is a cable car that goes down the hill. Why wouldn’t I try the cable car for the first time in my life?
The view in the cable car was the most beautiful I have seen: the sun was setting. An intense orange-red sun made the mountain ranges look like their own silhouettes, as faint and thin as a ghost. The most wonderful sunset I have witnessed. I was thankful for not missing this phenomenal moment.
The cable car left me midway on the hill. It was still 7:20, ten minutes before the ticket office of the Chateau closes. I asked around where I could take the bus to take me up the hill again. I was lucky enough to arrive 2 minutes before the ticket office closes. “But we will be closing in 20 minutes,” the saleswoman said, “go to the roof to see the sunset.” I headed to the roof to realize that the Chateau faces the coat of the Atlantic and Port Vell on one side and the beautiful City on the other. And I was fortunate enough to see these wonderful views.
Before going to Barcelona, I wanted to visit the Aquarium. I first heard about it from Maria—my host mother in Paris. We were talking about my plan to visit Barcelona and she said, as she closed her eyes to express the awe she felt: “you have to go to the aquarium, you see whales swimming above you!” But I did not visit. I missed the chance of seeing whales “swimming above me” because I restricted myself to the company of two people (my colleagues) very different from myself! My desire to visit the Chateau when my colleagues were discouraging me was serious and clear. My desire to visit the Aquarium before going to Barcelona was on the same level of certitude. So why didn’t I express my desire to visit the Aquarium to my colleagues from the minute they told me they did not want to go there but we “will see” how the day plays out?! From the moment I asked myself this question and from the moment Maria asked me with a confronting and surprised gaze: “And you let them keep you from going?!” I decided the following:
“What I want is what I want and I will not take anything less.”
My decisions in life won’t be taken based on an “Aquarium” way of thinking, they will be based on a “Chateau Montjuic.” Everyone deserves to live life embracing a “Chateau Montjuic” mentality, because as Maria says: “Nobody knows you better than yourself; the only person who can tell you about yourself is YOU.” Alas, my short trip to Barcelona enabled me to understand her insightful saying.
Before I left the roof of the charming Chateau Montjuic, I experienced a feeling of gratitude to the stunning land that Barcelona is, then I turned around to see the Spanish flag, gracefully waving in the air and I was happy to see it at that moment because in my memory it feels that I turned around to see a person I wanted to express my gratitude to. Thank you, Barcelona and thank you, Spain, for the great moments and the happiness you gave me and until we meet again, stay safe.