Three weeks to the day after my arrival in Spain I confess to my mother I have the big city blues. Just a week after my weekend in Mallorca, I already need to escape the pavement pounding, metro riding, traffic dodging and garbage smelling (yes, sadly) realities of big city life.
I’m in luck. Trains leave to destinations around Spain and western Europe every hour, so after a lazy morning in the city, Amanda and I head to the station, ready for an adventure.
This is my first trip to Europe, so I’ve never had the quintessentially European experience of riding a train through the picturesque countryside sipping wine and having my breath taken away by juxtaposing scenes of vast landscapes, quaint farmhouses and big perfectly clear blue skies. In fact, my only railway experience to date involves the Greyhound train from D.C. to Cape May, New Jersey with a gaggle of old cigarette-smoking ladies on their way to Atlantic City (at least I think that must’ve been their destination from the looks of them). It’s just not the same thing.
We decide on Figueres because its cheap (12 €) and close (2 hours) and Amanda’s friend Terry recommends it. We have no idea what to expect. We have a note pad and pen for entertainment, though it will be hours before I can show-off my mad Hang Man skillz. Instead, we spend the next two hours taking pictures, napping and playing musical chairs until we find seats a safe distance from the restroom. We arrive in Figueres just after 2:30 to find a dusty, sleepy old-fashioned town that seems to have been forgotten by the popular travel guides. A quick sketch of our route from the wall map in the train station and we’re off. A few blocks away, we stumble upon a street market in the town square where vendors have set up small tables to display a bizarre mix of antique tchotchkes, books, bawdy art and machinery ranging from cameras to miscellaneous weaponry. It is fascinating and I resist the urge to start doing shots (for fun and courage) and trying to barter with the locals. I become fascinated by an old and ORIGINAL watercolor painting featuring a woman sheepishly about to dive into an ocean of penises. Unfortunately, the frame alone is 40 € -- far too rich for my tastes at the moment.
Minutes later, not realizing we’ve covered the full length of the town, we stop to consider whether we should call a cab. That’s when we see it.
Situated at the top of a hill overlooking Figueres is The Teatre-Museu Dalí, a large bright pink building dotted on top with giant eggs and statues that look like Academy Award statuettes arranged with their arms in different positions. It's surreal, which of course is the point, since the museum was designed by the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí to house his artwork, his extensive personal art collection and his tomb. The museum itself is a work of art.
Inside is a virtual fantasyland; a giant cabinet of curiosities filled with bizarrely erotic, violent and creepily macabre artwork spanning every medium, including paint, sculpture, jewelry, avante guard and a room-sized installation called “Face of Mae West Which Can Be Used As an Apartment”. Prior to this visit, I knew little of Dali’s work except for the iconic image of melting clocks in The Persistence of Memory and I’m unexpectedly thrilled by the afternoon’s discovery. It’s almost 8:00 when we finally emerge, in a hurry to catch the last train back to Barcelona at 8:50. Although we don’t have time to stop in the now-crowded town square to wait for the teenage dance competition to begin, we do manage a quick run through the market for a couple of cold beers and a bag of corn nuts. All in all, a very good day.
After dominating Hang Man on the ride back home (though the sweetness of my victory is dulled by a very poor showing in tic tac toe), we arrive back in Gracia after 10:30, buzzing from the excitement of the day and still craving a good meal. We decide to defect from all things Spanish and try the cozy Italian restaurant near my apartment. Santa Madonna does not disappoint. Ignoring the time, we gorge ourselves on red wine, mushroom risotto, homemade pasta with shrimp and finally panna cotta, which despite its silky, rich, perfection we cannot possibly finish. The short walk home is not nearly sufficient to settle our stomachs before we pass out, tired and happy at almost 1:30.