Did you know that long long ago, a Spanish prince ordered almond trees to be planted on the mountains so that his Scandinavian wife, who was pining for the landscape of the snow-covered white mountains she grew up in, would feel less homesick?
Then, the people were left with so many almonds that they didn’t know what to do with them. And that is how turron came to be! Our guide Catherine told me this story as I was tasting turron for the first time in one the shops tucked into a narrow lane in Barcelona. She gave more details, like names and times, but I always forget those very easily. I remember the essence and the romance of the stories, everything else is a little hazy.
Catherine was our guide for this walking tour of old Barcelona we’d signed up for. She’s an Irish art history student and had lived in Spain for 4 years, which I thought was wonderful, cos it’s long enough to know things from a local’s point of view and yet, not that long ago to remember the things that fascinate you about a new place.
She took us around the Barri Gothic and the Roman barracks (what was left of it), down narrow winding lanes and past massive cathedrals, telling us wonderful and sometimes sad stories about it all.
I listened in horrific fascination about 13 year old Eulalia who was tortured in 13 different terrible ways by the Romans who wanted her to stop following Christianity. One of the tortures involved putting her in a barrel filled with knives and broken glass and rolling it down the street. When she told us that story, I was standing on the very same street the barrel rolled down on! It felt odd. Seven centuries separated me from that incident, and yet, I felt bad for that poor kid, and marveled at her strength, of the faith she had at such a young age that helped her endure so much. I wondered if it was precisely because she was that young that she held such conviction.
We later went to the cathedral that held Eulalia’s crypt.
It was beautiful and cavernous, sad and mournful, busy yet silent, peaceful if you wanted it to be, bustling if you didn’t.
Usually, when I walk past ancient streets and monuments, I wonder. I wonder at their history, the stories those walls hold. This time, I heard the stories, and it was an uplifting experience. Never had history come alive for me like it had in those ancient streets. Almost like I’d gone back in time. It felt a little strange afterwards to shake hands and part with Catherine, figure out a place for lunch, take pictures, drink sangria, clink our glasses together, be happy, be present.
If you’re in Barcelona, of course you must go to the Sagrada Familia.
Marvel at the weird genius of Gaudi, the wonderful play of light and colours that he worked with.
Go sit on the longest bench in the world at Park Guell, check out the Hansel & Gretel gingerbread-style houses he built there.But if you’re like me, you’ll love the Barri Gothic the best. I realized I love exploring new places, but I especially like them when they’re old. The Barri Gothic was where the magic is, where you feel like you’ve gone back in time and history is coming alive around you.