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The Leaving Journal


SPAIN | Sunday, 20 October 2013 | Views [630]

On Saturday, I completed my inaugural pilgrimage to Barcelona as a full-fledged tourist. I spent too much money on a bus tour of the city with <a href="http://www.barcelonabusturistic.cat/ca/home">Barcelona Bus Turístic</a>. A breezy, double-decker bus ride was  a nice way to orient myself with the layout of the city, but joining the masses forced me to sort through some elitist, prejudicial social beliefs.

The word "tourist" has had a negative ring to it since my first trip abroad to Peru when I was 11. My father has had the largest influence on my travel attitudes and style and our philosophy is closely aligned with taking the path less trodden. This means devoting most of your time to less popular destinations and experiencing local lifestyle rather than what might be touted in a guide book. Not that we didn't go to Macchu Picchu - we did, and it was beautiful, but far from my best memory of that trip. The most vivid memories I have of Peru are of general, day-to-day life: playing in the guinea pig pen of our friend Victor's home while my father helped him lay bricks to rebuild their shack that had been destroyed by an earthquake, squealing and running in the hose spray with some malnourished, homeless children on the street, looking at their protruding bellies and wondering how they could laugh if they were so hungry, sitting in a dark kitchen in the mountains, eating guinea pig noodle soup by candlelight with a toothless woman who let us sleep in her yard, waking up to find my straw hat had been pecked to smithereens by her chickens the next morning. I think, in a way, these rare, uncut diamonds of experience, and the joy they give me, have deterred me from the shiny, pre-packagedness of "tourist attractions." I remember sitting in line to see the David in Italy and begging my boyfriend,"We don't need to see this... it's probably not that great anyway... there are too many people... come on." But he stood his ground and when I finally entered the museum and approached the David, I was mesmerized. I stood there for a solid half hour, studying the gently carved lines and the living movement in the marble. I recognize that there is a reason certain places have become "tourist attractions" and when possible, they are worth experiencing, but sometimes it is hard for me to accept the consumerism and main-stream qualities of tourism. Basically, I'm a travel hipster (*cringe*).

And all of this came flooding back when I strolled up to Casa Batllo with my map and camera, ready to explore the colorful Gaudi masterpiece, only to find a swarm of hundreds of flashing cameras standing in the street and a ticket line that stretched around the block. Three weeks in rural France had spoiled me. I had forgotten about crowds: the masses of sweating, loud lemmings all pushing and gawking and yapping. The sight of them made me hesitate across the street and I was brought back to that day in Italy: "You don't have to see this... it's probably a rip-off anyway... That's a really long line..." But, I persevered. While I didn't tour Batllo, I took a picture and admired the strange, scaly front facade before hopping on my bus and trying to embrace the label of "tourist." 

But my minor panic attack at the site of a crowd had me wondering why I resent these groups so much. Social anxiety runs in the family: none of us are particularly fond of navigating our way around masses of people and it tends to make us ornery (I'm thinking most specifically of me and my brothers). For me, overwhelming throngs of people take away from the sacredness or intimacy of experiencing beautiful places and works of art. Furthermore, I get the sense that many people are exploring these places out of obligation or blind obedience. "The guidebook says see Casa Batllo. Let's go see Casa Batllo." Perhaps I myself am one of those people. And what's so wrong with doing something out of a sense of obligation? And why do I care? Regardless, I think my dislike of large groups is mostly elitist and unfair. People bother me and it bothers me that people bother me.

I have been eager to explore Parc Guëll and spent a good hour there on my Saturday. Something about the colorful, mosaic, open-mouthed Saurian at the entrance drew me to it. Upon arrival, I made a b-line for the back of the park because the entrance, with the Saurian and famous mosaic bench, was completely swarmed with people. Things quieted down at the back and I was free to admire the smooth, flowing structures of the park molded from large lumps of brown rock. The raw material - jagged, rough stones - contrasted curiously with the soft, fluid lines it had been used to shape. Once you pass the white stone and mosaic at the front, the entire park has a fascinating, natural flow to it, almost as if the benches and balconies and pillars have grown out of the ground. The architecture echoes of trees and roots and vines and earth, which I imagine were some of Gaudi's major inspirations.

I continued on the bus to northwest Barcelona, near the University. I got off at the Palau Reial de Pedralbes, the former home of the Spanish royal family, and was delighted to find its' gardens virtually devoid of people. It was a lovely reprieve from the chaos of Parc Guell: lush plazas lined with symmetrical rows of trees, chirping birds and water flowing from extravagant, white-marble fountains. It's a spot I've never heard of and might not have seen if I hadn't taken the tour, due to it's somewhat inconvenient location. 

In the evening, I had a wonderful reunion with a dear friend. When I was 17, I somehow ended up spending a month in a remote, mountain monastery in Nepal, teaching English to novice monks. It was one of the most terrifying, enlightening months of my life and I experienced every minute of it with a Bulgarian woman named Bilyana. We took to each other quickly when we met in the monastery, two women traveling alone. We took side trips together from the monastery and shared many remarkable moments: sunrise yoga to the music of the monks' chants, riding on the roof of a gas truck to Chitwan National Park, belly dancing in the monastery dining room. It's been six years since our adventure and here we are, reuniting in Barcelona where she now lives. It's an international love story if there ever was one.

Tags: barcelona, bus tours, crowds, gaudi, groups, people, throngs, tour, tourism, travel



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