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The Island

Mirador del Virolai

SPAIN | Thursday, 28 May 2015 | Views [439] | Scholarship Entry

‘Focus on Gaudí. Everything else is replicable elsewhere.’ My best friend’s words of advice on what to see in Barcelona rang in my ears as the neatly dressed young woman at the entrance to the monumental section of Park Güell – where Antoni Gaudí realised some of his most vivid sculptures and architecture – informed me that the next available entrance was at 6pm. It’s a peculiarity of Spanish tourist attractions that you have to book many of them in advance. I had not. Make sure you do.
So I made the most of my journey – I’d taken the metro all the way from Catalunya to Vallacarca Station, after all – and explored the free part of the park. I walked north, away from the tourists and the buskers, through Gate F into the forest. I walked past the fountain of San Salvador, and eventually down a dirt path into the neighbourhood of La Salut. I veered up the steep, narrow streets, sweating in the sticky, thuggish afternoon heat, past overgrown yards and the high walls of stacked apartments with Juliet balconies, one with a Catalan flag strung from its railing. Two middle-aged women sipped white wine, perched on plastic chairs in the middle of a long, gentle staircase. I climbed many such staircases until I re-entered the park higher up.
I continued north and pressed on higher, driven by a feverish need to be above it all, up a makeshift path through scrubby vegetation, until the trees and bushes gave way and I found myself at the Mirador del Virolai – the summit of the hill over which the park sprawls. There were few others at the top. The city spread around me in every direction, decaying apartment blocks tucked into the folds to the west, red-roofed houses spilling out between the hills to the north, and the great flat hazy expanse of the city centre stretching to the southwest towards the sea, where the Sagrada Familia – Gaudí’s outlandish and unfinished cathedral – jostled with skyscrapers for attention on the city skyline.
I felt like I was on an island in an ocean of city. Barcelona looked for the first time smoggy and real … and humanised. I asked a tall, bearded fellow speaking American-accented Spanish to his friends to take a picture for me. He asked me if I was a tourist. “Yup. This is my third and last day in Barcelona,” I replied. “Three days and you found your way up here?” he exclaimed. “We’ve been here three years and we never knew about this place!”
Everything else is replicable elsewhere … except for moments like these.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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