If you’ve been to Barcelona, it’s changed since you were here. Really. Even if you were here last week.
Of course, the old town is still an ant farm of twisting, impossibly narrow alley-like streets, a warren of canyons threading through leaning towers of laundry-filled balconies, gothic and baroque facades, grinning and snarling gargoyles, centuries-old walls, tiny, mysteriously misshapen plazas and each turn still leaves you delightfully lost, dismayed and bewildered.
The shops, though, are increasingly new. Where there used to be seed stores and butchers and mattress shops mixed in amongst the boutiques, galleries, cafes and restaurants, increasingly there are world-wide recognizable brand-names in the windows: H&M, Diesel, Levi’s, Zara, and their European equivalents, Desigual, Springfield, C&A. Gelato shops have popped up by the dozens, high-end chocolate ("xocolati") shops crowd churro fryers, and the inevitable Starbucks has planted its flag.
I really don’t mean to be one of those "it was cooler before it was discovered" hipsters, and I’m not. Barcelona is lively and awesome and we’re having a great time. We gape in amazement at the doorways preemptively graffiti-ed with fantastic designs and scenes to ward off the taggers, thrill at the profusion of tiny, independent little shops crammed into every hole in the wall, stuff ourselves with the pintxos, tapas and bocadillos and simply wile away the days getting lost in the meandering bustle.
Burnt on the constant moving we did through France, we were enormously relieved to settle down in Barcelona. We spent one night when we first arrived with couchsurfing hosts, the affable, excitable Sven and Sybille, but have since spent seven days relaxed in our own studio flat, complete with our own bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room area, balcony, washer / dryer, all for a very reasonable 50€ / day.
The location is excellent. We’re in the old section of town just 50m or so from the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA, en Catalan), and an apparent mecca for skateboarders. At all hours of the night and day (more on that later), the square is filled with kids, ranging from barely old enough to walk to teenagers to thirty-somethings flipping their boards and twisting their bodies on the giant slate plaza.
It’s been a source of great entertainment for us, always good for a brief watch on our way in and out. As a bonus, I’m able to cadge an open wifi network in one corner of the square, so it makes for good background while I check my e-mail in the evening.