Catalonia’s Colourful Capital
It took just seven days of living in Barcelona Spain for me to fall in love with the city that I call my home. When I woke up today and opened the shutters onto my balcony, letting the light flood in and breathing in the smells of the oncoming spring, I felt that same sense of excitement and satisfaction that I experienced on my very first day here.
There are many reasons why Barcelona Spain is an easy place to fall in love with, but mine focus on something so simple and at a closer look, so intricate: the colours of Barcelona. To be specific, it was the blue skies that embrace the city year-round that opened my eyes to the beauty in every corner of the city. After growing up in London I am more used to grey skies, and to see this brilliant blue landscape frame the city every day fills me with a sense of renewal, as if each day holds something new and exciting. And it is not just the bright, loud colours that make Barcelona the vibrant city that it is, it is the innate colours of the new and medieval city together that are so integral to its personality.
Our flat itself is a fusion of modern and old, with contemporary appliances and furniture framed by medieval detail and exposed brickwork features within a building that is hundreds of years old. In the early days, I visited our elderly Catalan neighbour in the apartment below. She told me that she had lived in the building for 60 years and her home was decorated in 19th century-style with embroidered cushions, furniture in rich colours and an assortment of tiny rooms decorated with traditional Catalonian trinkets. This is where the colour of Barcelona lies – in its contrasts, its fusion of people from every walk of life set against a laidback, understated framework where nothing really matters (in the best sense of the phrase) and everyone and everything seems free of worry.
At night, we leave our balcony doors open and let the sounds flood in from the maze of streets below. Late one night just a few weeks ago, we heard music coming from outside and rushed to see what it was – we were greeted by the sight of around 50 people clad in brightly coloured costumes dancing down the street. They were moving in perfect formation to the beat of the drums that came from the four musicians who headed up the pack. Their energy was electric. The Born neighbourhood is made up of hundreds of tall, narrow apartment buildings, and as we watched the procession, we could see lights flicking on at every window and faces peering out to see what was happening. The colours come again from the spontaneous nature of the city and the joie de vivre of its inhabitants – young and old, native and expat; everyone becomes totally immersed in Barcelona life.
This is often a surreal place to live and it is easy to see why the city has inspired so many famous artists and creative minds due to its unique and inspiring atmosphere. I have loved the written word for as long as I can remember, and I am inspired to write about everything I see. Yet I have never felt this feeling quite so strongly as I do in Barcelona. Just simply going for a walk with my dog through the old city can easily inspire a short story. Our first apartment was located on the street parallel to one of the main locations in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s novel ‘The Angel’s Game.’ To be walking the streets that inspired the most famous Spanish author of all time brings a certain magic. Indeed it is the creativity of the city’s inhabitants that is largely responsible for its beauty – the splashes of colour that Antonio Gaudi’s many structures bring to Barcelona are, for me, one of its most special qualities, in particular, the famous Casa Battlo. Even though there are less-well-known Gaudi buildings in other parts of the city, the elaborate exterior decoration and the dazzling, brightly coloured rooms inside are something that will always stand out in my mind as a unique feature of the city.
Photo credit: Felix GP
It was eight weeks after my arrival that I saw the first raindrops fall. At the time, I was in the Parc de la Ciutadella walking my dog – a constantly wagging, Shih Tzu-poodle mix whose energy and enthusiasm for life represents all things Barcelona. It was almost odd at first to experience rainfall as this was a city where I had never seen anything but dry days and bright sunshine, even though I had arrived in late October and close to the onset of winter. Yet the colours of Barcelona just seem to stand brighter against the raindrops. The incredible golden statue and fountain structure in the centre of the park gleamed brightly on the wet surface. Catalonians disappear almost instantly when the rain falls (in contrast to Londoners, who battle on, despite their umbrellas blowing inside out). This gives a whole new image to the city when the wet weather comes, as it feels as if it’s practically all my own with the sheets of rainfall bringing a sense of rejuvenation.
The park itself is one of my favourite locations and almost seems to represent a microcosm of the whole city with its many contrasts and hub of social activity. The winding pathways and sweeping foliage sit alongside the wide central avenue, main fountains, small cafés and a lake with sailboats for hire in the summer months. The Ping-Pong tables on the park’s mountain side are constantly busy with an assortment of people battling for victory, inevitably surrounded by a group of friends and a dog or two. The park is beautiful by day, with its modern art structures standing in contrast to the lush greenery and the castle on Mount Tibidabo in the distance. By night, a crowd of dogs light up the greenery with their bright red, luminous necklace collars that make them visible to their owners in the darkness. Against the gleaming lights from the old lampposts that are dotted throughout the park, this is just one image of the brightness that fills Barcelona’s every corner, especially after the sun has set.
Colour beats at the very heart of this city and runs through its veins. I feel the colour in the character of Barcelona and the diversity of her neighbourhoods. No doubt the most mystical, immersive and romantic part for the city is, for me, El Born. Along with the Gothic, this neighbourhood forms the medieval part of the city that has stood since the 13th century and where my flat is located. Also known as La Ribera, it seems practically unchanged since medieval times. Authentic palatial style structures remain and the winding narrow streets house authentic old buildings featuring balconies with wrought-iron structures, bright green plants and low seats where many of the residents sit and watch the world go by. Modern additions include trendy bars, art galleries and funky vintage shops that bring chic to the grunge and add a flourish to the medieval beauty. Even my hair salon creates a memorable image, featuring neon blue lights and bright, quirky modern decoration, all built around the old, exposed stone walls of an ancient building in the heart of the Born.
One of my favourite buildings in this area is the stunning Picasso Museum, which is as beautiful outside as it is in. The museum is home to some of the most colourful and distinctive works of art in the world and housed across five interconnecting medieval palaces in a light, bright and breathtakingly beautiful space. I often find that Barcelona’s beauty takes my breath away. When I walk through the Born late at night, the streets wrap me up in an enchanting and magical feeling and I feel as if I am walking in the footsteps of those who lived here centuries earlier. The presence of the old city is enhanced by the cobblestone streets that wind through the area and create an air of mysticism.
Photo Credit: Albert Lllop
It’s early March and springtime is upon us. The city feels like it is waking up from a long siesta but it has by no means been quiet until now, just quieter – it has been practising for the colourful and joyous warm months ahead. As I write this, I am looking out from my top-floor apartment over the rooftops of the city, spread below as a colourful patchwork with church spires peering out. The gleaming high-rise office towers and beach hotels are just visible in the distance. The contrast between architectural eras is apparent across the local areas of El Raval, the Gothic and the Born. Terracotta buildings sit alongside ancient stone and brick structures and brightly coloured modern builds in a beautiful confluence. This enhances my feeling that Barcelona’s colour seems to come from the sheer amount of personality that is contained within its streets. From my window, I can see tens of apartment blocks with the Catalan flag hung proud from their window – its distinctive red and yellow stripes, blue section and white star brightening the city’s panoramas. These are a striking image against the graffiti that fills the city’s older neighbourhoods and is so representative of the population – bright, loud and totally over the top.
Dia de San Jordi
My favourite day is nearly here – the Dia de San Jordi. As the Catalonian equivalent of Valentine’s Day but for all the family, it is without doubt the most colourful day of the year. Tradition states that men give women a rose and women give men a book. On this day, the city is covered in a carpet of red roses and book stalls line the streets in even the busiest areas – where vintage and one-off novels give a retro image to complement the rich colours.
Last night, my partner and I took a walk up one of the city’s main boulevards, Passeig de Gracia. Home to striking Gaudi buildings and slick designer shops, it never fails to overwhelm me with its imposing beauty. At the top of the hill, we sat by one of the fountains that line the centre of the avenue and looked out over the twinkling lights of the city spread before us. In a world where everyone is desperate to chase meaning and find out the ‘why’ of it all, Barcelona is a haven of tranquillity. This is the place where the chase appears to come to an end and it is time to just have a rest and enjoy life against some of the most beautiful colours and landscapes the world has to offer.