Following the eventful family Christmas in Luxembourg in 2005, my parents, sister and I went to Barcelona, Spain for New Year’s Eve. It was the first time all of us traveled in Europe together.
Before Air BnB, I had the brilliant idea of it by « going local » in an apartment rather than a hotel. Part of the rationale was so that we could stay together and make breakfast at our leisure (mom and big sis Mel were never morning people).
Barcelona is famous for its cityscape near a beach, buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí, stylish restaurants, Catalan language and lovely leather. We anticipated our flat would be in keeping with these sophisticated elements and eagerly walked up to our « home away from home » … four flights of stairs.
That was the first strike against the place for my parents, who preferred to use their walking credits for strolling around Barcelona. Plus my gentlemanly father, who carried everyone’s luggage up the stairs, was done with them.
When we opened the door, a waft of patchouli oil mixed with stale smoke and mildew hit us.
« What is that awful smell? » my elegant mother asked, clearly never having smoked marijuana.
Inside we found a large Bob Marley poster to match and other « unusual artwork » (aka bongs) according to my mother. On top of being poorly decorated, the apartment was cold and damp. We were all drop-jawed exploring it.
« Oh hell, » my dad said. « We are not staying here. Angie, is there any way you can get us out of this mess? »
« If we can come up with a viable excuse, » I gulped, feeling duped by the advertisement of the « modern, stylish flat in the heart of Barcelona. »
Considering we were actually on the edge of the heart geographically and the heat was not working, we had enough reason to get out of the agreement.
We also got out of the apartment immediately, taking a taxi to a four-star hotel that Mel found online while I was cancelling our hostile hostel. We all sighed relief that rooms were available … warm, fresh, clean, stylish rooms.
Over the course of four days we visited all buildings Gaudí, including La Pedrera, Park Güell, La Sagrada Família (which was then and still is now under renovation!) and the then newly opened Casa Batlló. The latter was where the famed architect lived, featuring iconic curvy windows that he designed on a napkin — possibly smoking whatever our apartment owner did. (Gaudí is one of my favorite architects in the world as his works are highly imaginative with organic lines that mimic nature.)
We shopped until we nearly dropped, dragging dad along since he was outvoted by three women. I found leather trousers (which I still have thanks to cyclical fashion trends) and mom and Mel found other local takeaways. Ironically, Dad bought a tweed hat from Ireland for warmth in the wintry beach city. And the one thing he really wanted he could not find: a soup and sandwich.
“Isn’t there any place around here with this lunch combo?” my dad annoyingly asked in the land of tapas and paella.
“Time to feed the bear,” Mel joked, understanding his “hangry” state.
The one concession us female shoppers had to make with dad was stopping for lunch. In turn, he was strongly encouraged to eat Spanish foods. While we didn’t find a soup and sandwich, the “bear” was satisfied with various types of ham in tapas.
We exclusively dined in typical and modern Spanish restaurants, enjoying local wines and foods. On New Year’s Eve we went to a « stylish modern » place — for real this time — and did the traditional countdown to midnight with grapes.
That meant putting a grape per second for 10 counts into our mouths like a game of Chubby Bunny. As non-Spaniards new to the tradition, we nearly choked trying to eat all of the grapes at once while garbling “Happy New Year!” Cava washed down the grapes of wrath and we toasted to being together many times over a multi-course meal.
Since Mel and I had our own hotel room, we decided to go to a cool outdoor party with a DJ — one of my better discoveries — while mom reluctantly and dad gleefully went back to the hotel around 1 am. Mel and I took in the red-lit scene (no, it’s not what you’re thinking), attempting to chat with Spaniards without Spanish-speaking skills. When the DJ finished his final set around 3 am, we conceded our finale as well.
Waking up on New Year’s Day in Barcelona brought grapes of wrath again … this time from cava. But at least we were warm and cozy in our hotel, not staring at the ghost of Marley in a lack-of-fresh-Air BnB.
Wishing you and yours a refreshing 2021!