By pure chance and luck, my lovely friend Anthony had been working at a vineyard in Fermoselle - a town even smaller than my own, located in the north of Spain, so small that most people I know here in Valverde del Camino have never heard of it ever. A brief history on Anthony and I? We met in class at UW-Milwaukee. We were both in the same degree program - English: Professional and Technical Writing. And initially, we hated each other. Okay, hate is a strong word. Let’s say we had difficulty seeing eye to eye. Over time, we warmed up to each other, and now? WELP, we love each other a lot. He’s intelligent, sassy, fierce, opinionated, driven, extroverted … what more could a girl ask for?
Upon finding out that our paths would intersect in Spain for a couple of months, we knew we had to plan a trip somewhere to meet up and ended up deciding on a weekend in Barcelona, where Anthony’s man friend, Matías, was working and residing for the time being. Joining us would be two other girlfriends of Anthony’s: Maddie, who is currently interning and living in London, and her best friend, Sara, who was in London on vacation to visit Maddie.
We settled on the long weekend of November 15-18, booked flights and hostels and waited anxiously to reunite. I hadn’t seen Anthony since mid-summer when he was home in Milwaukee on a month or so break between working on a vineyard in New Zealand (where he met Matí) and getting ready to jet off to Spain. (To further ensure you how rad Anthony is, he is now currently living in Australia, working on getting the beer he brewed and bottled off the ground.) Needless to say, I was excited to see and spend time with him outside of serving him coffee at Alterra.
When finally the time had come for me to jet off to Barcelona, Miri and Carlos drove me to the Sevilla airport after work on Thursday the 15th, and off I went to reunite with Ant and the girls. And aside from my excitement to meet and see them, I hadn’t been to Barcelona since 2007, and I was ready and raring to view the city a second time, five years later. Thanks to great guidance from all involved, I was able to quickly and easily find the bus I needed to take to the Plaza de España where Anthony, Maddie and Sara would be awaiting me.
I can’t even begin to describe to you what that moment felt like - realizing it was my stop, gathering my things, stepping off the bus, scanning the crowd from my familiar faces and spotting them almost immediately, the long-awaited hugs, smiles and laughs. De película, as my Spanish friends say (which essentially means “like a movie,” but can also mean “fantastic”). Seeing Anthony give me a burst of energy, just what I needed after all that traveling.
And I can’t even begin to explain to you how awesome it was to have two other Wisconsin gals there with me in Barcelona. (And also I still feel like a jerk-off for not realizing I had actually met Maddie once before, being that she was the former roommate of my dear friend and coworker Callie.) Either Anthony has really good taste in friends, or us Wisconsinites have an inherent bond no matter where we are in the world. (I’d like to think it’s a little bit of both.) What really provoked it for me was Sara’s laugh, which lit me up like none other, reminding me so much of my friends’ laughs at home - a good hearty Wisconsin laugh that’s impossible to resist.
Walking and talking at a rapid pace all the way back to the hostel, we checked me in and cracked up the bottle of rum Anthony had purchased in duty-free to share with all of us. Matí met us at the hostel, and the boys began to cook us dinner: chili con carne. I have to say, not only did I love getting cooked for by these handsome gents, but also the end result was positively delicious. We had decided ahead of time that we wanted to at least cook together that first night to save money and still have dinner together, since the hostel was equipped with a community kitchen. (And the best part is that we ended up cooking dinner together every night while I was there!)
Enjoying getting to know each other and eating our first meal together.
After we had filled our bellies with chili con carne and relaxed with a few rum and Cokes, Matí decided to head back to his apartment, though he was quite the trooper and still incredibly charming despite being under-the-weather. Sara, too, decided to hit the hay, while Maddie, Anthony and I headed out for a late-night stroll around Barcelona. We headed towards the water, naturally, and ended up goofing around in a nearby half-indoor, half-outdoor mall, taking a ton of photos. Ultimately, we called it an early night, since we all had been traveling quite a bit and wanted to save up our energy to hit the town the following night.
We set out late morning the next day, Friday, on the metro to stroll through Parque Güell, one of Gaudí’s masterpieces, stopping to watch a hilariously entertaining and talented band that posts up there, The Mañaners. After a refueling break for a tapas lunch and coffee, we leisurely made our way back through the city, deciding to exercise our legs some more and walk the whole way. I mandated a gelato break (sweets are my weakness, and gelato was my best friend when I studied abroad in Sevilla), and the rest of the group stopped to try some empañadas at an adorable little shop Anthony knew of. Needless to say, we were in need of that infamous siesta by the time we got back to the hostel.
Upon waking, the girls and I set out to look for souvenirs for their families and grocery shop for our paella dinner that we had planned. Shopping in the Mercat de Sant Josep de La Boqueria, the well-known, open air market usually referred to simply as La Boqueria, is something I could never get sick of, if even just for the giant candy stand that always calls my names and the fresh, natural juices that were 2-for-1€. Buying fresh seafood and veggies was a fun little excursion, despite the hustle and bustle of everyone trying to get what they needed from the market before it shut down for the evening.
Thus began family-style dinner number two, with the boys manning the ship otra vez. Meanwhile, us girls started in on the bebidas for the evening, white wine to complement the paella and ye ol’ standby rum and Coke. We ended up making a new German friend, Chris, in the meantime and invited him to eat dinner with us, because we had overcooked, which is easily done with paella. (And yes, the only reason I remember his name is because it is the same as my brother’s. Normally, I am terrible with names. Faces, no problem, names, yikes.)
Per usual, we got caught up chatting and playing silly games post-dinner in the common room of the hostel, but eventually, we readied ourselves and hit the streets to walk our way to the main strip of bars. (In retrospect, we definitely should’ve taken the metro; it was a long walk - and I wasn’t even wearing heels.) Incredibly fascinating it was to view the difference in between the more ‘high brow’ clubs, where you have to be wearing a certain attire to secure entry, and the strip of bars we went to, where attire is less important but the tunes are just as bumpin’. Needless to say, I didn’t even bring a pair of heels with me to Spain (On these cobblestone streets? Paso (“I pass.”)), much less shoved that, a dress, my curling iron, blowdryer and all the make-up I own in my Chrome bag for my weekend get-away. They just didn’t make the cut.
I, however, couldn’t have been more pleased with how our evening ended up. After a few shots, we spent the entire night dancing away, sweating profusely and, frankly, not giving a damn. I ended up being swooped away and dancing with some random man who tried to sweep me off my feet and failed, because I couldn’t have cared less; I just wanted to dance. Shortly thereafter, a man peddling roses gave me one and then tried to ask my guy friends to pay for it. I attempted to hand it back to him, because, like I mentioned before, I couldn’t care less - I was just out to have a good time and dance! But he careened me towards some man, presumably someone he already knew, and said this man would pay for it, but I owed him a dance for the rose. Well, as you can probably guess, this guy looked like a total creep, and I was not about to dance with him, so sucks for that guy, because I’m pretty sure he still paid for it, and I just walked away, because my friends were wanting to head over to the next place. Moral of the story? Free rose and lots of laughs.
We did Barcelona right that night - that’s for sure - as we waltzed our way over to a cab, all drenched in sweat from head to toe from dancing so much but with a smile on our faces all the while.
Our German friend, Chris, on the left. And literally, you can see the sweat; I wasn’t lying. (Photo taken by Maddie.)
Saturday morning, Sara, Maddie and I left Anthony and Matí to have some quality time together while we set out on subway and by foot to do some essential Barcelona sightseeing, if you’ve never been before. (Read: GAUDI GAUDI AND MORE GAUDI.) Our first stop was La Sagrada Familia (which if you don’t know it’s history, you should look it up; this thing has been being built since 1882, and it’s still a work in progress.)
What took my breath away was the interior of the cathedral, due to the sheer magnitude of change that had occurred since the last time I had the pleasure of being inside its walls. (Em. Maybe I should’ve rephrased the last part of that sentence, given I’m talking about a religious structure. Moving on.) I was in Barcelona in 2007 for a high school class trip I elected to go on, and, of course, we visited La Sagrada Familia. I remember it being filled head to toe with construction, plastic sheeting masking much of its beauty. While still a sight to be seen, the interior now doesn’t hold a candle to the interior in 2007. I later learned, when talking with a teacher at my school about my trip, that there was apparently a visit from the pope in 2010, or somewhere around there, and for that reason, they spread up construction more than usual to impress him.
The interior of La Sagrada Familia.
After La Sagrada Familia came Casa Milà, or La Pedrera, as it is commonly known, another one of Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces. But there was obviously a much necessary descanso (“break”) for sweets and coffee. We lucked out with a lovely little cupcake place near La Pedrera where I devoured an adorable miniature strawberry cheesecake and a metallic macaron. I had also already been to La Pedrera, but I could never get sick of looking at the vintage apartments, preserved in all their glory. As hipster as that sounds, old things are cool. I dare you to try and tell me otherwise.
Followed by a siesta to rest our weary pies (“feet”), the complete crew rejoined for a final tapas date before Sara and Maddie departed - Maddie back to London and Sara home to the U.S. We marveled at all of our paths colliding in this moment, coupled with tears and laughter and wondering when we’ll all see each other next. Big squeezes goodbye and the girls were off in a taxi to the airport.
Shortly thereafter, Anthony and I split off from Matí to run a few errands as Matí prepped his apartment for our small dinner party that evening. And oh what a dinner party it was. Throw together two Argentinians, two Americans, a French person and a general knowledge of more languages than you can imagine, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success. Yet another evening where I had a group of handsome men cooking for me while I got to relax with a glass of wine and enjoy their company. I couldn’t have wished for a better night to cap off my trip.
The next morning, after another mediocre - but free - breakfast in the hostel, I checked out and made my way to the nearest café for a freshly-squeezed orange juice and capuchino to relax and wait for Anthony and Matí to walk me to area where I could catch the bus back to the airport. I’m still thankful for that walk and those hugs on that bright sunny morning.
From bus to plane to taxi to train to my fantastic valverdeño friends’ loving arms awaiting me in Huelva, it was a long day of travel but with a great reward at the end. Upon showering me with hugs and kisses, we made our way to the movie theater to see the new Twilight film with our friend Cinty, who lives in Huelva, and then they carted my tired behind back home. It should come as no surprise that I got hella sick shortly thereafter, but by golly was it worth it.