Only 3 days in Barcelona? Yes, it can be done

BARCELONA, Spain — In retrospect, traveling 6,000 miles to see a band does seem a bit ... crazy. And maybe buying concert tickets for two nights in a row and then flying out at dawn the next day wasn't the best idea. And yes, it might have been unwise to spend only three (well, 21/2) days in beauty-crammed Barcelona, where even the sidewalks are works of art.

But it wasn't just any band, and it wasn't just any trip for my sister, Alison, and me. It was our favorite band, a British group called the Stone Roses, and they were launching their first concert tour in 16 years.

By chance, we had gone to what turned out to be their last U.S. show in San Francisco, before it all ended in tears. So seeing their first official show after reuniting had a certain symmetry to it.


FOR THE RECORD:
Barcelona: A July 22 Travel section article about a music-themed vacation to Barcelona, Spain, carried the headline "Rock the vacay: 1 band, 2 fans, 3 days in Barcelona? Vamanos!" The correct spelling of the Spanish word is "Vamonos" (meaning "Let's go"). —

And maybe even more than that, it proved we weren't so ancient and spontaneity-free that we couldn't make a spur-of-the-moment decision to just ... go.

I had a sentimental connection to the band too. Every single road trip my late husband and I took had started with the band's self-titled first album queued up on the CD player (ranked the best British album of all time in a London newspaper poll — yes, topping the Beatles and the Rolling Stones). The opening chords to the first song, "I Wanna Be Adored," always make me think of him.


So it was particularly special when the first song the Stone Roses played at the Razzmatazz club in a post-industrial part of Barcelona, following a frenzy-inducing recording of the Supremes' "Stoned Love" to introduce them, was "I Wanna Be Adored."

I think every one of the 2,000 people at the show sang along, not only to lyrics but to guitar riffs too (including, no doubt, Oasis singer Liam Gallagher, the band's most famous fan, who later told the BBC that the show made him "feel great again"). The crowd was so vocal that we couldn't even hear singer Ian Brown for most of the show, but it didn't matter. We were living a bit of British pop history.

I had known the night was going to be special on the ride over on Barcelona's rider-friendly subway. (Tip: Get the T-10 ticket and save money and time.) Sitting next to me, a gray-haired man in a business suit was clutching a plastic bag emblazoned with the words "Disco 100." At one point, he pulled out a record (not a CD — be still my heart!), as if he couldn't wait until he got home to see it. It was Gustavo Dudamel conducting Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3.

Only my poor Spanish prevented me from telling him that I was from Los Angeles and that I had just seen my first Dudamel concert. I knew then that the musical stars were aligned.

But a lot of things were aligned on this magical trip, starting with pilgrimages to two buildings by the most rock-'n'-roll architect of all time, Antoni Gaudí, who unleashed his wild genius all over Barcelona.

We knew with our impossible schedule that we couldn't see all, or even many, of the buildings. So we started, right after we landed, at his still-unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia church. At last report, construction may be finished in about 15 years, but the Sisyphean nature of the task, at 130 years and counting, adds to its wonderful eccentricity.

My canny sister had bought our tickets to Sagrada Familia online; she knew we didn't have time to stand in lines on this trip. So we walked right in.

On the outside, it's a bit like a traditional cathedral — but one with wax dripping all over it, like a wine bottle that's been used as a candlestick holder. As a whole, it reminds me a bit of the French description jolie laide- pretty-ugly, used for unconventional beauties.

Close up, you can see millions of fever-dream details in the exterior: a frieze with roosters, a cluster of rodents huddling around a post, a large turtle holding up a pillar.

I stood staring at the doors alone for a good five minutes. Massive, with every inch filled with words of praise to God in stunning 3-D carving. I loved how certain words were highlighted in gold, such as the repeated "Jesus Jesus" and "Gracies" (Catalan for thank you).

Inside, it was just as mind-blowing. We had timed it beautifully, and the setting sun made the stained glass glow like one of those old-fashioned kaleidoscope toys. At the peak of one spire, light poured in from a circular skylight, as if transmitting the rays of a higher being.