Plaza Real, Barcelona
We staggered, my colleague and I, out into the dawn light, and headed towards the Plaza Real. We had spent the night talking, laughing, and squeezing each other’s hands over shared memories. We’d been working together for five years, his classroom opposite mine. He was one of the gentlest people I knew, and also one of the funniest. We were both happily married – to other people- but we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company, and it seemed like such a good idea to stay up all night in the hotel bar drinking wine, especially as we were not on duty next morning.
This was our second school trip together, with a team of other teachers to help handle the 40 boisterous teenagers in our care. We just didn’t notice the time – you know how it is – and suddenly I remembered that the Plaza Real was one of my favourite places in the city. So we took off in search of coffee and sunrise, and were repaid with one of the best atmospheres either of us had ever experienced.
The palm trees swayed silently, and the sky was pink. The mountains were as pale as clouds in the distance, whilst the spires of ancient churches were silhouetted against the rising sun. The arched colonnades lent an elegant ambience to the café restaurants surrounding the open square. And a lone guitarist plucked a tune at the base of the central fountain. It was after all around 5.30 a.m. and we were after all still a wee bit drunk. This city has seen me excited, broken-hearted, in love, out of love, scared, thrilled, angry, broke, and prosperous.
I’ve seen the stunning Sagrada Familia cathedral double its towers; I’ve seen new Gaudi houses open to the public; I’ve seen Barceloneta go from slum to fashionable, the Born fill with restaurants, bars, shops and expats, great modern buildings rise from previously empty spaces, and Nou Camp become known throughout the footballing world.
Yet not so many people talk about the Plaza Real. I wonder why. The square is surely filled with secrets and gossip. I can imagine clandestine meetings taking place under the arches, forbidden rendezvous by the fountain, drugs changing hands under the café tables, and dangerous messages being whispered under the palms. All the while the nonchalant Barceloneses stroll by holding hands or chatter in strident Catalan.
Ah, Barcelona – no wonder my colleague and I took to the early morning street to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to soak up the soul of this thrilling city.