After falling asleep at 4:00 a.m. at the end of a fun but exhausting first day, it was rough waking up mid-morning. But we had another long and exciting day ahead of us, especially GS and NR. You see, GS planned to propose to NR that night. The couple had been together for five years, and GS spent the better part of the last several months selecting the perfect ring and planning the proposal. He had recruited EZ and myself to aid and abet his scheme. My job: Store the ring securely in my purse throughout the afternoon until the time was ripe.
Port de Barcelona
First, our group rambled across town to Port de Barcelona and soaked in the seaside sights. It was a gorgeous day – the sky a crisp azure and the sun beaming down on stone plazas peppered with palm trees and statues. The glimmering ocean beckoned from the side like a field of sapphires, sending salty sea breezes our way.
We admired the commercial buildings, including the central building of the Port of Barcelona. We gawked at the statues, some of which were ridiculously over-embellished. We strolled through an outdoor market where vendors peddled souvenirs.
But our stomachs were grumbling; for breakfast we had only eaten a half-stale chocolate croissant left behind in JH and FB’s kitchen. So we began scouting the area for a place where we could stop and eat. The restaurants on the plaza were upscale and expensive. We treaded inland a bit to reach a more residential area. Here, a main street featured a line of shiny tapas bars populated with tourists. While this seemed promising, EZ shook his head.
“Go deeper into the neighborhood,” he said.
And so we did. Soon, the nature of the area began to shift. Instead of posh new developments, we found shabby yet charming apartment complexes where colorful laundry was hung out to dry on the balcony. As we walked farther into the neighborhood, we stumbled upon a cute market area patronized solely by locals. The only languages we heard spoken were Spanish and Catalan. We had found the real Barcelona.
The four of us entered a cute little bakery where two women helmed the counter, serving a long queue of local residents stopping by to purchase their daily bread. Among these patrons, we spotted the most adorable pair of elderly twins – they wore their gray tresses in matching hairstyles and donned identical outfits of charcoal sweaters and long navy skirts. #Twinning!
Our group contemplated the assortment of breads, savory pastries, and sweets behind the glass, along with the sandwiches listed on the wall-menu. Finally, we made our selections – a few of each, plus some coffee – and did our best to convey them in Spanish, as the ladies behind the counter did not speak English. They were, however, extremely sweet and helpful. After NR struggled to find sufficient change for a cheap treat, the ladies gave it to her for free. Our group shared the food at a small table in the bakery, indulging in the fresh and homey fare.
As our next stop would be Montjuic (a mountain featuring several gardens and museums, among other attractions), we decided to buy some bread from the bakery, along with cheese, fruit, and wine from elsewhere, to enjoy as a picnic at the top of the mountain. Once again, I exercised my shoddy Spanish to ask the ladies behind the counter if they knew where I could buy cheese. I thought they said there was a marketplace just down the street, though I wasn’t sure if I understood them correctly. But after thanking them and heading down the street, I was delighted to discover that I had – there before me was a clean, well-stocked, bustling marketplace. I reveled in my linguistic success. NR and I chose a trio of cheeses at the cheese block and picked up some cherries at the fruit stand while the boys went off in search of wine. They came up empty, so we found another nearby shop where we bought wine, plastic cups, and napkins.
Then we walked out of the neighborhood and back into the port area, where we found an aerial tram that could transport us to Montjuic via a gondola lift, like the Skyway at Disneyland. Unfortunately, there was a long line for the tram, and a sign indicated that the wait could be up to an hour. Also, the price was pretty high, considering we could catch the mountain tram (known to the locals as the “funicular”) at the metro for less than half the cost. And so we decided to walk to the metro stop with the funicular that led up to Montjuic.
The walk was much longer than we expected. Along the way, we lapsed into a state of silliness where we played with the word “funicular,” repeating it and degrading it (vernacular, ventricular, venereal, testicular, nucular) for our own amusement. When we finally reached the funicular, we were hot, exhausted, and ready for a nap. But we rallied. The tram swept us up a steep incline at a fairly rapid pace, compared to the speed of normal metro lines. And then, finally, we arrived at Montjuic.
“Mount Jew!” GS declared, as we disembarked the tram.
At first we laughed, thinking he was just playing around with the name of the mountain like we had played with the word “funicular.” But GS said, “No, really. That’s what Montjuic means. Jew Mountain!”
Although I still wasn’t sure if he was joking, EZ and I later confirmed with JH that Montjuic did, indeed, translate as Jew Mountain in medieval Catalan. JH informed us that Montjuic earned its name for being the home to an ancient Jewish cemetery.
The mountain was lush with trees and shrubbery. We walked down the road and up a flight of stone steps in search of the gardens and museums for which Montjuic is known.
After some aimless roaming, we finally found a garden with a trellised stone passage overlooking the city.
NR, EZ, and I sat in the shade near a fountain while GS left, claiming he needed to search for a restroom (in reality, he was familiarizing himself with the area to prepare for his proposal).
I watched a group of Spanish schoolchildren frolic nearby, their carefree giggles sounding especially sweet and innocent in this idyllic atmosphere.
Once GS returned, our group moved farther away from the children and into a sunny spot with a nice view of Barcelona.
From here, we could identify some distinct architecture, including Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Church and a modern Water Department building that looked like a whale.
We sat on the ledge and spread our picnic out before us, taking in the scenery as we nibbled on cheese, bread, and cherries and sipped on our wine. So pleasant and relaxing!
Our next stop was the Joan Miró Foundation, an art museum. We walked down more stairs and followed the signs at the crossroads until we reached the big white modernist building – curved structural elements over straight lines. The contemporary exhibit near the entrance featured works of young modern artists. Some pieces were rather interesting reflections on the European Union, while others were beyond my comprehension or favored aesthetic. The permanent collection of Joan Miro was easier for me to appreciate, his bold colors and childlike impressions more evocative of an emotional response.
Our group’s collective energy was beginning to flag, so we took a break in the middle of our museum tour to discuss whether or not we should continue. We decided to “speed-walk” the rest of the museum, lingering only at the most compelling pieces. And then we decided to take that long-coveted nap.
Just outside of the museum was a large, grassy space bordered by trees and graced with a few statues. A couple lay on a blanket with their dog, but the lawn was otherwise empty. Although our group didn’t have a blanket, we managed to create our own comfort by lying on our sweaters and each another. We finished off the remnants of our picnic and greeted the dog that wandered over to say hello before trotting back to his family. And then we finally succumbed to our fatigue and fell asleep.
I awoke to the sound of parrots cawing. My eyelids cracked open a fraction. Lo and behold, there up above me, flying to a tree, was a parrot. A wild, tropical parrot. A brilliant green-and-crimson parrot.
“Parrot,” I murmured. “It’s a parrot.”
“I think she’s sleep-talking,” NR whispered to GS.
It was true I had just emerged from a deep sleep, but I was now awake. Blinking and shaking off the last vestiges of slumber, I opened my eyes wide. The parrot landed in a palm tree and instigated a shrieking war with its neighbor in another tree. A turf dispute, perhaps? Or a mating call?
“No, look,” I said, sitting up and pointing to the trees. “Parrots.”
“Oh wow…you’re right! I thought you were dreaming…”
Soon, all of us were stretching and yawning as the parrots squawked above us. We checked our phones; nearly an hour had gone by since we began our naps.
“We should check out that restaurant I mentioned,” GS said, sharing a look with EZ and me. We nodded.
“I’m not that hungry,” NR said.
“Maybe we can just do appetizers, then,” GS said quickly. The restaurant was the centerpiece of his plan.
As NR walked across the lawn to throw away the trash left over from our picnic, GS turned to me and asked for the ring. I rummaged in my purse, feigning an air of nonchalance, and slipped him the box as covertly as I could before NR turned back around.
“Let’s go,” GS said when NR returned.
Put a Ring on It
On the way to the restaurant, we saw a row of cats sitting on a low wall. This was a most auspicious sign, given that NR is a huge fan of cats. In fact, her pet name for GS is “Kotik,” which is Russian for “cat.”
Through a nearby gate, we caught a glimpse of the Olympic swimming pool used in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics (and in a Kylie Minogue music video in 2003). We also spotted some kids trying to hop the fence into the pool area, much to our amusement.
Right next to Olympic swimming pool was El Xalet, the fancy restaurant that would be the site of the proposal. The restaurant was so fancy that the doorman dismissed us when we asked to be seated for drinks and appetizers.
“I’m afraid we don’t do that. Perhaps you can try the bar down the road.”
It wasn’t until GS mentioned he had a reservation (wink wink, nudge nudge) that the man seemed to realize he was talking to the patron who had planned a very special event.
“Oh yes, of course, come right inside!”
NR looked surprised. “I didn’t know you made a reservation!”
As we walked through the restaurant, it was clear that the outdoor patio on the balcony would be the ideal place to sit. It had the feel of a luxurious yet relaxed lounge while boasting a panoramic view of the city. Unfortunately, the waiter said the patio was only open for lunch, which honestly seemed like a waste of a view. Especially since the patio was in possession of heat lamps that could combat the night cold.
We sat down at a booth indoors, where the lighting was dim, but at least we had a spot next to the window with a view. Still, it struck me that it might feel a bit awkward if GS were to propose to NR at the table, surrounded by other diners and only two feet away from EZ and me (while we snapped photographs and recorded video at GS’s request, no less). This little table didn’t seem quite private enough.
When the waiter arrived to take our order, we requested champagne and appetizers (calamari and tuna tar tar). EZ and I then excused ourselves to use the restrooms. I returned to the table to find NR alone; apparently GS had also disappeared to the restroom. We learned later that he first approached one of the restaurant attendants to work out a strategy to let us see the view from the balcony (since we were not allowed to dine there). GS then went into the restroom, where EZ could hear from the stall as GS practiced his proposal in front of the mirror.
Once we were all back at the table, the appetizers and champagne arrived. So did the attendant. He wanted to know if we would like to go out onto the patio to enjoy the view, but GS was not quite ready yet. As we pecked at the appetizers and drank the champagne, the overzealous attendant approached us several more times to see if we were ready to enter the patio. We were all amused by his quirky enthusiasm, but GS, EZ, and I hoped he didn’t arouse too much suspicion in NR.
Finally, GS was ready, and we joined the attendant as he escorted us to the patio. It appeared as if he wanted to stay and watch, but GS politely let him know that we would be fine out there alone.
The view from the balcony was spectacular. It was a sweeping vista of Barcelona, set against a sky melting into sunset. The patio was completely empty, except for our group. Well, almost empty…a couple of tourist girls suddenly arrived on the scene to giggle and take selfies. We waited for them to depart.
Then EZ and I drifted off to the far corner of the balcony, granting GS and NR some privacy at the stunning overlook as GS began his romantic speech. When GS gave us the signal – a nod in our direction – we pulled out our phones, EZ to record video, and I to take a paparazzical flurry of photographs (yes, I just made up the word paparazzical). GS went down on one knee, opened the ring box, and popped the question. NR wept with joy as she said yes, then squealed giddily – “KOTIK!” GS grinned and put a ring on it (because he liked it).
EZ and I captured the special moment without intruding on it. We moved in closer as the proposal unfolded, and we were on site to record the adorable reaction that would be used by GS and NR to announce the engagement to their families.
Once we returned to our table, EZ purchased a bottle of very nice champagne in honor of the newly engaged couple, and we all drank in celebration. The restaurant attendant arrived at our table, beaming, to congratulate GS and NR; he was genuinely thrilled that he had played some small part in their engagement.
Before we left the restaurant, we returned to the balcony for more photographs. Violet clouds darkened the sky, and the city sprawl glittered like gems.
We decided to walk down Montjuic instead of taking the funicular (vehicular, ventricular, avuncular…) so that we could experience the Magic Fountain. The first set of stairs led us down to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (National Museum of Catalan Visual Art), which includes another restaurant with a view that GS had considered as a site for his proposal. In front of the museum was a water feature overlooking the Magic Fountain and the bejeweled cityscape below.
Our group descended another long staircase and then finally reached the Magic Fountain, a large round fountain surrounded by tiers of miniature fountains, all of which changed in flow amid a colored light show and ridiculous music. The jets spouted high and bubbled low in a lovely kaleidoscope of hues. However, the splendor of the fountain was tempered by the music. Instead of dramatic classical compositions or celebrated Spanish masterpieces, the fountain danced to a soundtrack of American pop hits and cartoon themes (at least, that’s what played during our time at the fountain).
After spending some time at the Magic Fountain, our group passed through a vibrant plaza and hopped on the metro back to our neighborhood.
EZ and I had been raving to GS and NR about the delicious food at Quimet & Quimet, so we all decided to head over there for some grub. The night before, we had also considered going to Quimet & Quimet, but since all the bars were closing by the time we made it back to our neighborhood, we assumed it would be closed as well. Now, on Friday night, all the bars were bright and alive, so we believed Quimet & Quimet would be open as well… Alas, it was not. We’d forgotten that the owners only opened shop whenever they felt like it, and though it seemed counter-intuitive, they preferred to avoid the late-night masses that crowded the streets.
Instead, we enjoyed tapas and beers (Estrellas, of course) at a few other bars, but they were not quite as delectable as those at Quimet & Quimet. While fun, these bars lacked personality and were mostly filled with tourists.
But, after meandering down the street, we spotted a bar where a cluster of locals gathered: Bodega Saltó. At first we thought it was another Irish pub, given the shamrock design near the entrance. As we entered, however, we realized this was quite a different world entirely. Wooden barrels and beams, vintage signs, ropes of twinkle-lights, strange gaping dolls, shiny hanging sunflowers, quirky paintings, colorful masks, and other whimsical décor marked Bodega Saltó as a hidden gem with heart, soul, and authentic local flavor.
In the far right corner, beneath a disco ball, was a middle-aged male DJ in a t-shirt and striped cowboy hat. Despite his ridiculous appearance, the DJ played great music in Spanish, Italian, and Arabic, including some fun fusion numbers. He was having a grand old time over there in the corner, drinking a beer while dancing to the tunes he selected, rubbing his pot belly, and blowing kisses to the ladies.
Groups of people sat at tables, eating and drinking. I snagged a table for my group and we ordered drinks of our own. The place didn’t have a dance floor, but whenever a popular song came on, random patrons would stand up and dance at their table. They felt the music, and didn’t care who saw. One lanky, debonair-haired Spaniard danced his way across the room to a young lady who had just entered. Utterly unperturbed by his footloose approach, she immediately began dancing with him. Neither of them made a romantic move – no hand on the butt, no grinding, no leaning in for a kiss – this was a union formed purely by their mutual love of dance. Or perhaps the dance itself was a romantic expression. Either way, it was joyful to behold – our table joined others in applauding and cheering for them.
And then the music changed. The DJ switched to a Gipsy Kings rendition of Volaré. The magic and romance of the music swept over me like a spring breeze. This time, I caught the dancing bug – and I immediately infected EZ with it. We stood up and began to dance!
We weren’t the only ones – throughout Bodega Saltó, people were standing up and dancing with abandon to the beautiful, jubilant music. But EZ and I must have stood out, because later that night when our group was walking back to the apartment, we crossed paths with the debonair-haired Spaniard again.
“Ah, the dancers!!” he said to us in a rolling accent, arms spread out in magnanimous recognition.
And we thought he had been ”the dancer” !
By the time we reached the apartment, all of us were exhausted. GS and NR called their families to announce their special news. But sleep came easily to us not long after that. And we had “Gaudi Day” to look forward to tomorrow!
Start at the beginning and learn more about my travels in Barcelona: