The Great ByrNolley European Adventure Part 1 – Barcelona

Two girls with bubbles in Barcelona
This is how I felt about going to Europe for the first time.

Houston We Have A Problem

Early on April 28th, the morning we left for Barcelona before the ass-crack of dawn, I checked our flight information to make sure everything was running on time. Go for launch. We’d had a little less than three hours’ sleep the night before, but we were on our way to Europe (for my first time!) so, really, who needed sleep?

My parents had invited us on a nine day seven port European cruise in early May, and by invited I mean they offered to pay for our cruise. An incredibly generous gift I’d like to thank them for again, and one we couldn’t pass up. Because Europe! And because it was an opportunity to spend some quality time with them and my brother. In Europe!

Barcelona was our port of embarkation, and Tony had never been, so we left a week before the cruise to introduce ourselves to the great Catalonian city and get to know her a little bit.

Halfway to the airport I got a text informing us that our 7am flight was delayed until 4pm. We had a connecting flight leaving from JFK at 8:30 that night. So, unless there was a way to bend the space-time continuum, no. Houston we had a problem. And I blamed it all on our surly Super Shuttle driver.

Cupcakes, Love, and Cigarettes

But we got it all sorted at the airport and they put us on another flight. A ten-hour non-stop to Paris, with an hour layover before our connecting flight to Barcelona. It didn’t leave until 3:30pm so we had some time to kill at the airport. A lot of time. Nothing like spending the day (or night, been there too) in an airport.

Eat. Read. Sleep. Repeat. Thank god for that Fleur de Sel chocolate cupcake. Holy wow! If you have to wait in an airport for eight hours, it’s best to do it with a fabulous cupcake. Because chocolate. And an even more fabulous boyfriend. He just makes everything better. Because love.

When it was finally time to board, we noticed the woman in front of us only had one carry on. A large, clear plastic bag filled to the brim with cigarette cartons. Priorities. Ah oui, how very Franche.

Sardines, Security, and Customs, Oh My!

Our seats were in one of the emergency exit rows in the middle of the giant A380 airbus. The plane was huge. Double decker. Their largest aircraft. Possibly the biggest aircraft in the world. The universe. Thing was massive. We were gifted with ample legroom, (because exit row), but ironically on this monstrous, gargantuan winged cab, no wiggle room in the seats. We are not large people. Spending ten hours in them was bound to get…tight.

Are they making the seats smaller and smaller? I think they are. Packing us in like sardines in their colossal flying tin cans.

Speaking of sardines, I sat next to a beautiful French girl with pixie-like features. Could have been a model. She was kind and helpful but suddenly switched places with someone in her party halfway through our trip. I’d had sardines earlier in the day and kept burping surreptitiously during the first half of our flight. I did my best not to let the aroma move freely about the cabin, but I worried I hadn’t succeeded. If that French girl ever reads this, my apologies, belle mademoiselle.

After ten solid in-flight hours, we landed in Paris. Yay! Eiffel tower? Nope. Absurd lines for customs? Yep. Forty-five minutes left to get through security and customs before our flight to Barcelona hits the runway?

Uh oh.

I plowed my way through the line like a running back, knocking nurses and nuns out of my way ‘cause we had a plane to catch.

No. No I didn’t.

But somehow it all worked out anyway. I didn’t have much faith honestly, and I’m still not sure how we made it in time, but as Geoffrey Rush always says about the theatre, (at least he does in Shakespeare In Love) ‘it’s a mystery.’

Good thing to know, though, for all ye who have never traveled to Europe, once you enter any European country, whether it’s your final destination or not, you will have to go through security and customs. Be ready for this. If you don’t want to give yourself an aneurism, schedule a layover with a little more than an hour between connecting flights.

Finally Barcelona!

Beautiful Barcelona. So many things to say about this lovely lady. Best. Tapas. Evar. To be expected.

Author Kelly Byrne Best tapas
Succulent, melt-in-your-mouth beef tapas here. Right across the street from our flat!

Amazing paella. Also to be expected.

Author Kelly Byrne best paella
Oh, the paella!

Some of the most spectacular, innovative, out-of-the-box architecture I’ve ever seen. Thank you, Antoni Gaudí, for your dazzling, daring vision.

Author Kelly Byrne La Casa Battlo
Antoni Gaudí’s La Casa Batlló
Author Kelly Byrne Sagrada Família
Antoni Gaudí’s amazing Sagrada Família

History? Pssht. Of course.

Here were some unexpected things.

The Second Best Gelato in Europe

Seriously. And right next door to our AirBnB flat. We stayed in an adorable condo on Ronda de Sant Pau where it intersects with Av. del Paral-lel. And the gelateria, Sirvent, was literally right next door. Like right next to our front door. Couldn’t have been closer, more convenient, or more delicious unless it was in our flat. We partook on our way out each morning, and most days on our way back in the evenings.

Author Kelly Byrne gelato
Second best gelato in Europe. Best gelato in Spain. See the door to the left, lit behind by yellow light? That was the front door leading up to our flat. Yep. That close.

The Italian Hostess With The Mostest

Our AirBnB hostess was an Italian living in Spain engaged to a Japanese man. How awesome is that? Morena (More) took us on a tour of our neighborhood, el Raval, when we arrived (after our three hour nap of course) and led us to the best pizza place in the area, La Pizza del Sortidor. She would know, of course.

Author Kelly Byrne margarita pizza
Sweet and curious pup outside La Pizza del Sortidor, hoping we would give him our leftovers. I don’t blame him. It was, IMHO, the best authentic margarita pizza in Spain.

And of course it was owned by an Italian from Napoli. And it was amazeballs. Second only to the margarita ‘za we had in Napoli at Pizzeria da Michele. That crust!

More was a delight. She glowed with enthusiasm and positivity and her catch phrase for just about any question was adorable. “Pssht, of course!” she’d say in her Spanian Italish accent. It was her answer for nearly everything because ‘of course!’ to everything. I aspire to that level of hopeful enthusiasm. We won’t ever forget her. Plus she made copies for us and did our laundry. Amazeballs.

His Heart

Her fiancee, Makoto, met us when we first arrived and gave us the tour of their place. He’s an artist and had painted a large portrait of her that hung on their living room wall. It was beautiful. I’ll always remember the way he described her to us. Not his fiancee or his girl, but his “heart.” So special.

Author Kelly Byrne Barcelona
My heart, surrounded by citrus and sardine cans, enjoying a bright morning in our Barcelona flat.

El Barri Gòtic…

My favorite area was the Gothic Quarter, El Barri Gòtic, which isn’t a surprise as I love all things historical with many many many past lives mixing in with the present. The surprise was that we were fortunate enough to happen upon it completely by accident our first day out and about. We’d just decided to go roam and get lost. The best way to discover a city. Turned left and there it was.

Author Kelly Byrne El Barri Gòtic
A deserted section of El Barri Gòtic at night. The best way to enjoy it.

We were in heaven, entangled in the twisty puzzle of narrow streets and alleys. Also, I just don’t understand how they built the buildings so close together, creating those fabulous, well worn, and sometimes ominously dark alleys. I could stand in the middle of a few and almost touch the buildings on each side of me. Crazy close. Not a good place for anyone claustrophobic.

But, oh, the history built into those cobblestone streets! Who had roamed them over the many, many, many centuries since their creation? Century upon century. We don’t speak so much in centuries here in America. We are so very young in the world.

Author Kelly Byrne Barri Gòtic
El Barri Gòtic in the daylight. Still mysterious and beautiful.

…And The Lady Of My Broken Heart

The centerpiece of the Gothic Quarter is The Catedral de la Santa Creu (Barcelona Cathedral) which faces into the Plaça de la Seu. The traditional Catalon Gothic architecture is awe inspiring and the details of the sculptures of angels, saints, prophets, and ancient kings carved into the stone above the main entrance, truly magnificent.

Author Kelly Byrne Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia
Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia – The Gothic Cathedral – Barcelona Cathedral. Gorgeous gem.

When we tried to enter, we were turned away because I’d worn shorts. Europeans are strict with their rules about respecting the sanctity of their churches and won’t allow any visitor entrance if you don’t have your knees and shoulders respectfully covered.

So we enjoyed the crowd outside where this tiny woman introduced herself by way of her cup. We didn’t speak the same language, but no language was necessary to understand her situation was grim. Even though she smiled, the lines on her face spoke volumes about the life she’d lead. And I thought of my mother and how I’d die if I thought she was on the street begging for money just to survive.

Author Kelly Byrne homeless woman
I wish for much better things for you.

This woman was someone’s somebody. And it killed me thinking about where she might be sleeping that night or how she was going to get enough food to fill her belly for more than an hour. I only had a couple Euros to add to her cup, but I wish I could have given so much more. A home, warm meals, a carefree life. I’m not sure why she touched me so thoroughly or so deeply, perhaps it was her demeanor, or her diminutive fragility. I still think about her and pray she’ll get everything she needs and desires someday and hopefully soon.

author Kelly Byrne homeless lady

Obviously I shot a few photos of her, but after a minute I felt guilty about it. Like I was invading her privacy. So I stopped. I’ll get more into that in my post next week, but I’ll tell you, she was the first lady in Barcelona who broke my heart.

Next week in part two, I’ll discuss the second lady in Barcelona who broke my heart, camera rage, and the story of the serenading nuns. I’ll also warn you against the street vendors who sell you false cartoon dreams and how to steer clear of pickpockets, so be sure to tune in.

If you can’t wait that long, click here to see my entire album of photos from our week in Barcelona.

Author Kelly Byrne Columbus
Columbus, perched at the empty intersection of La Rambla and Passeig de Colom in the dusky light, pointing to the New World or simply out to sea.

Until then tell me about your trips abroad. Or trips you have planned. Or trips you want to plan. What’s your dream vacation?

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Author Kelly Byrne Website

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Kelly Byrne

An award-winning writer in many a genre, I currently herd words into novels and short stories about wildly flawed, but lovable characters. I strive to uncover the extraordinary in the ordinary, for those who believe in the possibility of the impossible, and those who always believe in love. My fiction embraces the idea that extraordinary things can and do happen in the real world. These whisperings of supernatural elements give my work a strong emotional edge, lending surprise and wonder to every story. I live in Los Angeles with my desperately handsome boyfriend where I’m working on my next novel.

6 Comments

  1. Seriously, what kind of camera are you using! Geez, do you know how to handle a camera. Wow! Looks like it was an amazing trip!

    1. Thanks, Rach. I have a Nikon D600 with a few terrific lenses. I like shooting most things with a shallow DOF, prefer that look, but it’s hard to do when you’re shooting architecture. Next week’s photos are even better IMO.

      And it was an amazing trip. I can’t wait to go back to a few of the places we visited and spend more time there. Barcelona was wonderful.

      Thanks for stopping by! See you here next week, hopefully. Much more to come. 🙂

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