Day 1 (Saturday 5 March 2022) Trip – Thoughts – the Sagrada Familia- Friends & Connection

Just back from Chile and off again courtesy of one of the best friends ever, who treats me every few years to an “Andrew extravaganza” in Barcelona. Excited and itsy bit apprehensive as usual when I travel alone. Every girl should have an Andrew Robinson. Slight tinge of guilt too as in Europe we are in shock at the war in Ukraine and it somehow does not feel right to be gallivanting off for a weekend of fun when there is so much fear and suffering so close to home. Yet again it also feels fitting to seize the moment and live to the full, spend time with dear friends and, as we say in my Buddhist practice (Nichiren Buddhism and member of the SGI a lay movement of SGI Buddhists around the world), heighten my life state so I can better be of service to others. I increasingly see the truth in ‘how we react to things is determined by how we feel on the inside’. So, enjoying this gift will fill me with even more gratitude and life energy to be more open and compassionate to others and help them better in the way they need most.

I have learnt a lot this week as I had a strong disagreement with someone and now thanks to my chanting of nam myoho renge kyo (the law of cause and effect from the Lotus Sutra that our practice is based on), I have moved beyond my own personal film of outrage and can sincerely chant for her happiness and the harmony within our group.
Another important insight I had this week is that it is not up to me alone to change the world. I have been feeling a lot of anxiety lately (which could also be menopause related) around the constant nagging thought that I am not doing enough to help those around me, or not going about it the right way. I just read:” The world does not need saving, just shine your own light, and if everyone does the same and focusses on their human revolution (which basically means striving to be each day a better version of yourself) there will automatically be a lot more peace and harmony in the world”.
Which brought me to ponder during the journey on what human revolution means to me…I guess: taking responsibility for my life, not blaming others or circumstances, recognizing what I need to change and working out how and most importantly actually taking action to do so and not giving up at the first frustration. It means being my own best and not beating myself up at my shortcomings but embracing all of who I am while continuing to take action. Trusting the process. Welcoming the obstacles and downfalls as opportunities to learn and grow…

Lovely to see Schiphol thriving again as we exit the latest wave of Covid-19 (omicron). Vuelig flight to Barcelona packed with a dynamic, enthusiastic crowd of all nationalities. Quite a few turned out to be at the European Space Agency in NL on the Young Graduate Program like Kylian my eldest Son, they were recognizable with their ESA caps and water bottles, so we had a chat!

Landed in the sunshine which immediately felt good coming from March in the Netherlands. All very efficient at the airport, no passport scan (Schengen) but scanned Corona pass from phone and exited exactly where I needed to be, at the airport bus where I took my ticket (5.90 EUR) to Plaza de Catalunia. Bus passed by the beautiful Plaza de España. From here I can change bus for 2 stops but preferred walking the 2.5 kms so I can get a feel for the place. As could be expected, it turned into considerably more since I could not even follow google maps properly and kept getting lost! Well, I am in no hurry and enjoy what I discover along the way.
What a fantastic city full of amazing buildings, old and new, and shops galore! The weather forecast had said 13 degrees, but it certainly felt like a lot more than that with my high boots, coat and fur bodywarmer (yes, I am a vegetarian who has certain articles of fur bought in Berlin and does not see the contradiction. For me the animals slaughtered to eat are valued the time of the meal and then naturally gone forever whereas I love and adore and respect and thank those who provided my fur daily.)

I finally made it to Andrew’s beautifully refurbished flat overlooking the Sagrada Familia which he shares with his wonderful husband Oscar. Andrew and I go way back to our BA studies in Swansea almost 30 years ago! The building boasts the tiniest and oldest lift I believe I have ever been in! Lovely to see Oscar’s welcoming face. Andrew is in Belfast and lands later this evening. Oscar had lovely veggie burgers ready for us and a delicious dish of vegetables. The view from their flat is stunning, the Sagrada Familia in all her glory, fancy that! I can look straight at her from my bed! The two glasses of wine helped unloosen my Spanish and we dived straight into the sort of discussion I adore about relationships, embracing differences etc.

Oscar kindly got me an online ticket to the Sagrada Familia and off I set!
Incredible to just need a 5-minute walk from their place to get to this iconic building, with such a powerful history which lives on today seen the building is still not finished!

A touch of History if I may:

1866: The foundation of devotees of San Jose is created.

1874: They decide to build a temple to the sacred family (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph). Known in Spanish as “el Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia”, which literally translates to the “Expiatory Temple of the Sacred Family” a monument to expiate all sins committed against the sacred family and the Laws of the church.

1883: Gaudi, then aged 31 is chosen as architect

1893: His project is accepted

1926: Gaudi dies, his project is then studied in depth and pursued. To be more precise the idea of his concept is studied as the original plans were lost in a fire.

1957: the four towers are built. The construction is financed by donations and visitors which is why it is taking so long.

2007: A mass of dedication was held by the Pope.

2026: Is now the estimated completion date.

It truly is a living monument as you see all the different styles it has gone through though still based on the original concept. Whether you are a fan of architecture or not, the building is mind-blowing in creativity, detail, and sheer size. So light, so colourful, so funky ,and yes so “gaudy” even. It somehow feels modern.

I took my time to wander around (masks required in transport and public places like here) and also spent some time in the museum. Gaudi actually died in a tram accident and is buried in the crypt. Judging by what I have read, he was a real character, I must look him up further. There was also an exhibition on the plaster casts he first made. He believed more in them than in plans. The artist Joan Vila Grau designed and led the creation of Sagrada Familia’s magnificent stained-glass windows, each signed individually. The project took 17 years and was finished in 2017 – a major step in the construction of the church.

By now my feet are killing me and I feel slightly shell-shocked but wandered up the charming pedestrian street to Hospital de la Santa Creu I Sant Pau, one of the most prominent works of the Catalan modernism architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
I then settled down at a terrace bang opposite the Sagrada Familia to enjoy an icy diet coke as evening fell. You are never alone when you enjoy writing,

Home for another wonderful talk with Oscar before their friends Jordi and Sergio arrived. Practically all the gay couples I know are just genuine fun and immediately accessible. Andrew’s plane was sadly delayed but we tucked into booze, cheese, olives and humus and a divine tortilla de papatas Sergio’s Mum had made discussing with much passion the situation in Ukraine and possible outcomes. Andrew arrived at 10pm and it was just so wonderful to see him. I can’t even start describing what our relationship means to me, even though we can go for years without seeing each other. Our dinner got even more surreal as he brought tons of wheaten bread, soda farls, scones and potato bread back from Northern Ireland which brought me back to all the wonderful baking sessions of my paternal Grandmother as all that side of the family live in Belfast.
We got into many a deep conversation about the issues they had had in life dealing with their sexuality, stories of pain and rejection which were hard to associate with these joyful characters. The energies, the quarrels, the sensitivities among them too. Champagne and fruit cocktails till we could talk no more, the guests left ,and we collapsed in our beds. I feel so blessed to be let in on their intimacy and that my Spanish somehow resuscitates even when it is barely used.


Day 2:  Sunday – Paella with an angel – Billy Elliot and a mink coat

Slept with earplugs and eye mask and was surprised to see it was so late when I woke up as we were supposed to go to a dance class on the beach first thing, but it is drizzling so the lesson was cancelled. Though I regretted the lesson, I was glad for the sleep-in and I bet Andrew did too especially as he has a filthy cold.
Did my 12 sun salutations (daily yoga) and chanted with view on the Sagrada Familia, bursting with gratitude.
Wheaten scones for breakfast discussing Buddhism and the SGI with Oscar. Andrew is a musical fanatic (if I remember well, he has seen Mary Poppins 73 times all over the world) and they are just back from London where they saw Tina-the musical which they adored, and she is also a fervent SGI Buddhist, hence the discussion.

Time then to don our helmets as we took their scooters to go for lunch with Andrew’s dear friend Gemma, dance, yoga and personal trainer at her flat where she had cooked the most delicious paella I have ever eaten (sorry Mummy). The trip itself was full of sensations as I had only brought a dress and had not accounted for the draft on the scooter!! Haha! Gemma is indeed as beautiful, inside and out as I had been led to believe and we immediately connected. We started with Spanish vermouth and a superb salad with asparagus until we attacked the literally mouth-watering paella with a good Medoc. She has gone to SO MUCH trouble and that when she is feeling vulnerable after a painful break-up. Basked in all the Emotional Intelligence present around the table, covering also less run of the mill topics like polyamory, bisexuality etc. She spontaneously gifted me an unopened copy of Tina Turner’s book on spirituality, in Spanish, which I am very much enjoying reading. I have just looked up synonyms for gratitude but find none to express how strongly I feel!

It was then sadly time to leave Gemma but only to move on to my next treat: the musical Billy Elliott which I have never seen and what a feast: 3 hours of exceptional singing, dancing and acting, it was so powerful!!! Thank you, Andrew!

Back on the motorbikes, Oscar headed for home and Andrew and I set off to follow off on a lead of Gemma’s. She had been training for years an older lady who just passed away aged 100 and the family were practically giving away her longer furs as she was particularly tall and the other ladies in the family not. So here we are, Andrew and I prancing around in two perfect-condition mink coats. His a ¾ in rich brown and mine a floor length, very adjusted jet black one! And yes, of course he bought them! (Last time he bought me a floor-length red ballgown…). So here we are on the motorbike, me clasping my blue winter coat and Andrew, wearing my helmet and a full-length black mink coat! Hahahah!!! Life is never dull with Andrew! The coat weighs a ton and I still need to brainstorm how I will get it home in my hand luggage but one day at a time! Andrew, I love you!

Just nibbled for dinner after our lunch extravaganza. Oscar went to bed and Andrew and I switched to English to catch up on the tasty bits till late in the evening: friendships, betrayal…only the two cats are less happy with me taking over their room…

Day 3: Monday I walk the city and enjoy the beach

There are a lot of electric scooters here and indeed people dress well, but casually, they wear a lot of sneakers. They also still have a different work rhythm than say in the Netherlands: they start late, long lunch break and then they work late. Today we are all doing our thing. Andrew went to the gym before working from home, I did my yoga and chant, Oscar left to the hospital (he is an eye surgeon) and the cleaning lady arrived. I updated my cv, applied for an online moderator and voice-over job and worked a bit whilst feasting rather too much on the wheaten and soda bread,  laughing internally at the incongruity of it! Their cats: Diago and Gonal (they live Calle diagonal !) are such beautiful animals, smoky grey put rather “ round” shall we say… It feels so exceptional being here. It is so good to get away so you can reflect back on your life with some distance and truly appreciate all that you have got.

In line with the locals, I exchanged my boots for my sports shoes and armed with google maps (and a feature – google live – Oscar showed me which even tells you which way to look) I set off on my adventure.
Such a lively cosmopolitan city, effervescent even.

I made my way down Aragon to two of Gaudi’s houses. First Casa Milà, popularly known as La Pedrera, so ornamental and funky for want of a better word. On to the gorgeous glamorous Passeig de Gracia with all the top shops, then made a small detour to see a church which had caught my eye. I feel so unbelievably free!
From here on to another of Gaudi’s masterpieces Casa Battlo, where the even the lampposts are simply stunning. Got some postcards and stamps (yes, I still love sending postcards) and found a lovely terrace in the sun on the famous rambla de catalunia and enjoyed a delicious cappuccino flicking through a local newspaper and writing my cards. I feel profoundly content. By now it is 2pm and the terraces are filling for lunch.

It is a great city to discover on foot and thanks to the planned dance class I have my tennis shoes with me. Wandered around the imposing Plaza de Catalunya, recognisable from all the footage around the referendum and failed declaration of independence around two years ago. From there I moved away from the large ornate galleries and into the small alleyways of the old town which were wonderfully picturesque, perfectly postcard pretty.

Bought tickets for the cathedral and enjoyed the peace of its quiet majesty and went up to the sky terrace from which you have an amazing view over the city. So nice to just let it all soak in.

Continued on to the just as serene Basilica de Sta Maria del Mar and just as I was starting to feel cold and hungry, I found a lovely vegan restaurant where I warmed up with a delicious tea and eat beetroot carpaccio, broccoli ravioli in sweet potato sauce. Perfect.

As I was listening to Andrew speak Catalan yesterday, I was struck by the number of French words. It seems almost a cross between French and Spanish.

Next direction: the beach! What a city! It really has it all! Suddenly you are at the beach! There is also a funicular up a mountain on the other side which I might try tomorrow. I found a lovely terrace in the sun with feet directly in the sand and enjoyed a large glass of chilled sangria while chatting via videocall with Shannon! The world we live in! I could live here. Walking back, I chose the smaller alleyways with multicoloured laundry drying overhead and the occasional underwear on the pathway which had not been firmly enough secured.
Walked to the Arc of Triumph through the park of the citadel where children were delighting in the huge bubbles blown by a street artist. I just walked, and walked, and walked, enjoying the day to the max knowing the others are working till at least 7pm.

I can feel my face has been in the sun and my body tired from all the walking but in a very satisfied way. I am shattered and delighted Andrew and I decided this morning not to go to the HIT class tonight. Instead, we enjoyed a cosy evening and an early dinner with chats around the table till we happily each withdrew for the night. Early start for me tomorrow.

Day 4: Tuesday – Yoga by sunrise – Montjuic and trip back

Up at 6:45, Andrew walked me down to where Gemma collected me on her scooter to go to the yoga class she is giving on the beach. Utter bliss. Today, International Women’s Day, 10 women on a wooden platform on the beach, united in a mix of yoga and pilates, in sisterhood, surrounded by a soft breeze and gentle music as the sun rose behind the sea. The sort of moment which brings tears to your eyes, overwhelmed by the sheer perfection of the moment. Her lesson was also incredibly good, including some Prana breathing and we took some lovely group photos in the first rays of Sun.

Left Gemma there after an emotional hug to continue her lessons and I walked back through a completely different area of Barcelona, rougher with many constructions and was thrilled to have seen this too.
Breakfast chat with Andrew then set off on metro from monumental to parallel (2,40 EUR), super-efficient. Sadly, the funicular I had planned taking is in repair, but they have a bus running instead. It started drizzling but somehow it did not matter. I enjoyed the steep climb up Barcelona’s highest hill, Montjuic. So wonderfully green and quiet after the bustle of the city and of course the views are fabulous, especially from the mirador. Many people doing sports here: cyclists, runners, walkers, forest paths, stairs and it reminded me of the big sports park in Santiago de Chile.
Continued my climb up to the castle of Montjuic, a fortress actually, with again breath-taking views over the city and beyond. The fortress also served as a prison in Franco days.

A good thing Andrew had also told me to make my way round to the Olympic Park and Palau San Jordi as I saw no signs and they were worth seeing. But I am saved now I have my BFF Google maps live! Walked and walked and walked some more. The Olympic complex is impressive, there were no signs and the path to Palau San Jordi was pretty low key, so I guess I am using the back entrance. At places it looks as if the Olympic complex was literally built against the façade of the old castle and there is another sports area here with people of all ages and children sporting about and a huge antennae and belvedere with a stunning view.

I was heading down to Plaza de Espana when I saw yet another eye-catching building up to my right and started climbing once more. It turned out it was the museo de arte catalana and was well worth the climb. I didn’t enter the beautiful building though, just mused around before taking the spectacular stairway all the way down to the grandiose plaza de espana, boasting columns and fountains and a large centre piece. Straight back into noise and bustle.

From here it is 4.7 kms to Andrews and raining in earnest but I am on a roll and stopped halfway at a lovely little café with a fire and dried up a bit around a bowl of nachos and guacamole, humus, beans and jalapeno and treated myself to a glass of Rioja to wash it all down.

Utter bliss.

Back at la casa de mis amigos it was time to get changed and say goodbye and Andrew, a gentleman right till the end arranged a taxi for me to the airport and I even managed to roll the mink coat into my hand luggage, so it was a very happy girl that made her way back to the Hague, pampered with love and friendship, discoveries and a lot of good walking and fresh air.

Thank you, Andrew.