What’s more romantic than Barcelona’s gothic quarter?
You’re meant to get lost here. Beelining to your destination is no fun. With every turn you make, looking up is imperative. Only then will you notice the couple dining on their balcony, or the succulents cascading from gaps in a wrought iron rail.
I imagine drunks stumbling their way home after closing time, only to go in circles and arrive on their front step at dawn. Each corridor is so similar it’s the details that differentiate them. One has a band of lights webbing their way across the alley, while another has flags casting the same pattern. I recognize this block because of the red door, and that one because of the sleeping cat in the barred window. Throughout all, mopeds lean on the ecru cement walls and laundry dries outside of third story windows.
Each street is almost entirely empty, and in an hour or so of making random lefts and arbitrary rights, we run into just a handful of people, before spilling out into the busy plaza where one of Barcelona’s oldest cathedrals resides. Over 600 years old, the Santa Maria del Mar was finished in record time for its day, taking only 54 years to complete.
Being our first cathedral visit in Spain we were awed by the size of the church. Few places in the world felt as holy as that place did, and Carl momentarily left his wallet and phone on a pew while he strolled around, neck craned towards the ceiling, mouth agape. Cathedrals only got better from here, and this one now feels dwarfed by those that followed (Sagrada Familia, Seville’s Cathedral, even the nearby Cathedral of Barcelona).
If visiting the Santa Maria del Mar, I’d definitely recommend the nave tour which is short, informative, and boasts a lovely view of neighborhood rooftops, as well as a bilingual guide who singlehandedly does the tour in both English and Spanish, answering questions as he shuffles everyone up the nave’s stairs.
While the cathedral is six centuries old, some structures in the Gothic Quarter date back to medieval times when Barcelona was the Roman town of Barcino. We stumbled upon a plaque marking the Roman ruins that could be found in the area. Remnants of the ancient Roman wall were directly in front of us, and a few blocks away were the remains of the aqueduct.
The history buff in Carl had to hit up each spot, so we made a scavenger hunt around the quarter, winding us past opera singers serenading sadly on the streets, a hula hoop acrobatic duo, and a cafe at the corner of the world where patrons sipped cortados under a centuries old tree.
Wine time brought us to Eldiset to sip some of the best reds we had in Spain. For tourists not accustomed to eating at 9:00pm I cannot stress enough how imperative it is getting to a popular restaurant 30 minutes or less after opening time. Opening at 6:00, this place was turning away people at 6:40.
Hanger for me is real. I have the ever-so-impressive ability to go from #blessed to I’m grateful for NOTHING within the span of one hour after a stomach growl, regardless of how many gorgeous and stylish people surround me, or how new and foreign of a city I’m in. For anyone who shares this Jekyll/Hyde food mentality I highly suggest planning your days around meals in Spain or carrying a purse full of granola bars and nuts to stave off hunger and monstrousness.
El Raval was the neighborhood where we plunked down our bags due to its central location, but if we return to Barcelona in the future I’d want to go Gothic all the way; to lose track of time since daylight doesn’t reach into those narrow alleys, guide myself through the streets by touch, recognizing the block I’m on by the texture of its stones, and to hang ornaments from my balcony, adding just a touch more charm to a place anyone would fall in love with.