Friday, June 28: My flight arrives in Barcelona at 3 p.m. It still looks pretty cloudy as we start our descent. We go through some shaky moments as we drop into some huge cloud banks. However, by the time we actually touch down at the airport, the sun is shining and we’re told by the captain that it’s about 25 degrees (75 F) and a beautiful day in Barcelona. Yay!
During the flight I sit next to an Argentinian guy named Matteo, who lives in Chicago and works for Deloitte in “transfer pricing.” I don’t know exactly what that is, despite the fact that I used to be a banker and a stockbroker. He asks where I’m staying in the city and I tell him. After he looks at the address, he says, “That’s a great location. It’s right in the center of everything. You should take the shuttle bus with me!” I have been so worried about Barcelona’s reputation as the pickpocket capital of the world that I had intended to take a taxi directly to the door of the hotel. People had warned me that people hauling their suitcases are often targeted. But Matteo assures me it’s a very busy part of town, lots of people everywhere, and if I wait for him, he’ll show me how to do it. It will cost around 6 euros as opposed to 25-30 for a taxi. I decide I’ll be brave and heed his advice. He’s so nice to take me under his wing. Sadly, after all the luggage has arrived, his is conspicuously absent. I wait for him to register his missing bag with Lost Luggage. They track it down and tell him it will arrive on the next flight, whenever that is. 🙂
He says he’s getting off the shuttle one stop before the final stop, Plaza de Catalunya, but he instructs me to get off there and walk five minutes. It turns out to be almost as easy as he says, other than the fact the sign on BCN Fashion House is the size of a a paperback book on a very nondescript door and I walk past it several times wondering where the heck it is.
It turns out BCN Fashion House is an elegant bed and breakfast in a modernist house that dates from the early 1900s. Matteo is right that it’s in the center of everything, in the heart of the charming L’Eixample neighborhood, close to Paseo de Gracia, Plaza Cataluña, Las Ramblas and the Barri Gotic.
BCN Fashion House started after a trip to India with the name of Casa Ganesh Guest House. The owners have incorporated the oriental spirit into the house, with several Buddha and Ganesh statues, lush greenery on the patio, and other items the owners have collected on their travels.
My room is spacious, bright and comfortable, with hand-carved ceilings 4.5 meters high, equipped with heating and air conditioning, and furnished in the same style of the whole house. All the rooms of Fashion House B&B have either a balcony, veranda or terrace. I have a balcony, which I love.
The common areas of the bed and breakfast are intimate and comfortable: a spacious living room with an ancient marble fireplace, comfy sofas and armchairs and a large gardened terrace equipped with tables, chairs, hammocks, umbrellas and plants (BCN Fashion House: Spirit).
After I pay my bill, settle in for my 5-night stay, and take a shower, I go out to the patio and say a hello to a young man who is sitting there drinking a can of Estrella beer that he bought from a vending machine in the common area. I first assume he is a friend of Francesco, who runs reception at the hotel. But we start a little conversation and it turns out he is here alone, having attended a conference earlier in the day. His flight back to Germany was cancelled because of a strike at his airline, so he now will be staying until Sunday morning.
As he lived in Connecticut for a year, while getting his Master’s degree at Yale, his English is excellent. He’s also quite a brilliant young man, at 31, as he did a 3-year apprenticeship with a chef, and then got his Master’s degree at Yale in food science. Later, he got a Ph.D. from a school in Germany in a similar field. He now works as a food scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology in the Department of Environmental and Food Analysis. It all sounds quite impressive to me. He’s very passionate about his work. He introduces himself as Matthias, but since all the Americans he knows are unable to pronounce his name, he tells me to call him Matt.
He asks if he can come out with me tonight in whatever I’m doing. I say sure, that would be great. He’s very charming, companionable, and easy to talk to, about any subject. He tells me all about his work and how he feels quite proud that he isolated a particular protein while at Yale, even though he downplays its importance as there are tens of thousands of proteins and he only isolated one. Of course, I’m not at all scientific so I don’t have a clue what he’s talking about! He has a girlfriend, Iris, of 12 years; they have been living together for 6 months in the middle of nowhere near Cologne, Germany. He loved the camaraderie he developed with his colleagues at Yale during his year in Connecticut; he says no one ever shares their ideas in Germany.
We decide we will just walk until we feel like stopping for a drink. Instead of heading south on La Rambla, we head north on Gracia. We pass by Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and La Perdera. These masterpiece buildings of Gaudi’s just sit along the street like any other house; I guess I was expecting them to be set aside somehow. I think the organic looking balconies on La Perdera really work, even though they seem a little dark and scary. Matt thinks they look like some of the proteins he works with. I don’t take any pictures at this point, as I can’t concentrate on photography when engaged in conversation with someone. Neither do I feel like disrupting our talk to take pictures. I know I have four full days here, so I’ll have plenty of time for pictures when I actually visit these places.
As we’re walking, we see something happening inside the gated garden of a fancy building. We poke our head in and find people sitting on chairs around a stage. There’s music playing and we can’t see over the heads of the people standing at the periphery, so we first think it’s a musical performance. Then we see that it’s a fashion show. The first models are men. The clothes are futuristic; the first model is wearing what looks like a Peter Pan outfit with a piece of Kraft Singles cheese tied around his waist. The second one is wearing what looks like a woven two-sided bib and rose-colored pants. We watch for a bit and then decide to move on. Just as we start to leave, a girl comes out wearing a navy blue dress that is totally slit down the side, showing a side glimpse of her naked body underneath. Matt says, “Now that’s what I like to see!” He wants to stay a bit longer after that glimpse of breast, but as the other girls come out, each one is increasingly covered. Matt’s ready to leave when one girl walks out wearing about 10 layers as if it’s the middle of winter.
We stop at a sidewalk café and Matt orders dos cervezas, por favor. We talk and talk, and suddenly it dawns on me that my son Adam, who is quite mathematically and scientifically brilliant, and who loves issues of organic food and sustainable development, might be interested in exploring Matt’s line of work. I tell Matt all about Adam and Matt says to put Adam in touch with him; he is often able to invite students to his Institute to do study or research projects. I’m very excited about this possibility and so determine to get Matt’s contact information when we return to the hotel. I tell Matt I think sometimes fate throws two people together for a reason and maybe that’s why I’ve met him, to eventually be able to connect my son with him.
After a while we finish our beers and walk back in the opposite direction, south, toward La Rambla, a broad pedestrian boulevard lined with restaurants and cafes. It caters mostly to tourists, but it looks to me like there are plenty of locals there. La Rambla gets its name from a seasonal stream (raml in Arabic) that once ran here (Lonely Planet Spain).
We take a different street back. I love the pedestrianized streets of this area of Barcelona. All of these were apparently created during the 1992 Summer Olympics, which were hosted by the city. The city went through a great transformation in those years leading up to the Olympics.
I start to get hungry after a while, so we stop at another sidewalk café in La Rambla where I order a trio of hot and cold tapas and a glass of red wine. Matt doesn’t eat but has another cerveza. I enjoy smoked salmon wrapped in goat cheese, cheese croquettes and something else I’ve already forgotten; all are delicious! Matt ate a big lunch at his conference today, so he doesn’t feel like eating. The atmosphere is lovely. I’m surprised when I look at my watch and find that it’s 9:30 and it’s still light! No wonder Europeans can enjoy the café culture so much; they have many more hours in the day to do it!
We continue our conversation; Matt shows me pictures of Iris and talks about how beautiful she is and how much he loves her. He says they’re very passionate about each other. They haven’t made any plans for marriage because they’re both focused on their work now. Iris is a middle school teacher. I tell him there’s no rush, they’re young. We also talk about the difficulties of marriage and about my two that have both failed.
Matt smokes thin cigars and I ask him if he smokes while at home in Germany and he says never. I get the feeling that he has a bit of a wild streak in him that maybe only comes out when he’s away from home. After we return to the hotel close to 11:00, we go our separate ways; I find out later that he went back out again by himself and was out for hours.
I love it when I travel and I meet up randomly with someone who’s so much fun. What a lucky thing for me! Though I didn’t have much time today in Barcelona, it was a great first evening.