First impressions can mean a lot. It’s taking your knowledge of something or someone (probably close to 0) and filling that cup entirely in one shot. But I don’t believe first impressions are the definitive insight into that person or place, and with time you can peel back all the layers.
Barcelona has a secret place in my heart because it was the first destination on my move to Europe and Italy. You can read what exciting thing happened to me the moment I landed. Years later, the things that stick in my mind aren’t the museums and sights of Barcelona but the time I spent with other people, and how I was getting to know myself in an unfamiliar place.
Here’s an excerpt from a post when I first landed in 2003 (now private, I have to keep some secrets!) on a day when I wandered in Barcelona and found Gaudi:
I have hours to kill before I have to be back at the train station, so I stash my big bag and head out to see Parc Güell, where I was eager to see all of Gaudi’s designs. I am armed with a metro map and a guide book with no metro indicators or information. I take the metro stop that looks to be the closest, get off, and start walking. After missing a few signs, I finally find one that says Park Guell and I follow…follow…follow. I see the last sign pointing to the right, and then a dirt path. I start walking up it, and then stairs, and more stairs, and then some more stairs. Each level of stairs I get to has a dirt path running off each side, around the mountain I am scaling. After a while, I imagine the mountain beginning to taunt me.
Pretty soon, I’ve done more stairs than a Power Hour of Buns of Steel, and I’ hot and thinking that I am not lost, but hoping I will end up somewhere in the vicinity of where I am trying to be. I see not a single person, so at least I won’t get mugged. After getting my day’s exercise, I stumble out onto a clearing, of a breathtaking view of Barcelona from up high. I am actually above Park Guell, and I get a great view of the city as well as the undulating bench that I love.
This is close to what I saw after an hour of wandering (from this latest trip):
That said, my first trip to Barcelona was full of the things I was experiencing at the time: utter freedom, lack of direction, and fear of making mistakes that led me to hang out with four Irish guys for a few days while we took in the sights, drank beer & absinthe, and tried to stay up all night and lose myself in the party that is summer in Barcelona.
I had a great time. Barcelona showed me a side of herself, the fun-loving, party side.
This trip to Barcelona was completely different (much like my second trip to New York City…seeing a pattern here?). While before I stuck to easy questions like “What’s your favorite color?” and “Name 3 places you’d like to visit before you die,” our second date was completely different. We got inside each other’s heads, shared embarassing pictures our moms had been saving, and leaned on each other while we waited for the bathroom. Like old girlfriends.
I lost a few pictures of my first trip to Barcelona, but I’m sure the majority of the photos were like the one above – looking at what was around me, thinking it was making an impression on me, and using those pictures as reflections of what I thought was the makeup of the city.
This time around, I have very few scenic pictures, and a whole lot of people pictures. A lot of people like me, taking in doses of the city as background settings for the real memories they’ll have – of the people they met, shared a moment with, and absorbed their impression of Barcelona through reflections in their eyes.
I was lucky to be there with two of my favorite people in the world, who were visiting Barcelona for the first time, and who were also so cool that I didn’t have to play tour guide or pack a week’s worth of sightseeing into a weekend. We threw away the Top 10 lists and pared it down to a Top 3 with a whole smattering of eating, drinking, and enjoying the city thrown in. A short weekend, but at such an easy pace we enjoyed ourselves.
That’s how we found ourselves in a bar in the middle of the center filled with only locals who drew us into their jokes, their love stories, their amazing 3-piece band, and had us stumbling home after 4am after passing an entire night with new friends.
That’s how we found ourselves in the middle of Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (or La Boqueria), all crowded around a small corner of a bar table and one bar stool, sipping Cava and munching on fried artichoke chips, and waiting for the time when we could all sit down and eat at El Quim and stay there for the next 3 hours, without a care in the world.
I can’t wait to share that meal with you, but for now I’ll share my second impressions of Barcelona with you.
What’s a city you gave a second chance to?