A Travel Blog for Book Lovers: Part 2
Guest Blog by Mirah Welday
Last month, I shared about my Memoirs of a Geisha-inspired trip to Kyoto, Japan, in the first installment of my four-part summer series here at Pretty Literate about books + travel. (If you missed it, you can read it here.)
This month, we're traveling to Barcelona, Spain, but first we need to travel back to 1993 - the start of my high school senior year, and of the great friendship at the root of this story. I had heard there was going to be an exchange student at our school that year. I immediately picked her out when I walked into the cafeteria that first morning of school. I’m from small town USA, everyone knew everyone, and I didn’t know her. I have no idea what gave me the nerve, but I walked right up to her and asked, ‘Are you the exchange student? I’m Mirah’. I know, not super suave. But she smiled and said, ‘I’m Ana from Spain’ and we’ve been friends ever since. We have kept in touch over the years even though we’ve only seen each other in person twice since we graduated in June 1994. June ends up being a popular month for this story, which is why I’m sharing it with you this month!
In June 2004, I got a package from Ana; it was a surprise because it wasn’t my birthday or a holiday. So, what was in that package? It was the book that instantly became a forever favorite after the first time I read it- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Over the years, I have continually recommended Shadow to others. I have probably purchased more copies of Shadow to give as gifts than any other book.
The gift that started it all. I was so touched that Ana found an English translation in Spain to send to me simply because she loved the book and wanted to share it with me.
Here is the gist of Shadow…picture it: early summer (perhaps June) 1945. Ten-year-old Daniel is awoken by his father at 5 am and taken through the misty streets of Barcelona to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a labyrinth of shelves and corridors full of thousands of books. I mean- what a start, I felt it in my bones. Daniel is told this is a rite of passage, he can select one book as his own to keep, but he must keep the book safe and the story alive. The book Daniel selects is The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax and from that moment, Daniel embarks on an adventure of discovery to learn all he can about Carax and find his other works. Dangerous connections with friends and enemies are part of this amazing story that gripped me from the start. Shadow is a multi-layered story woven with themes of love, adventure, family, friendship, and sacrifice. It is beautiful and haunting. Barcelona is mysterious, dark, lovely, and full of shadows and threats. The streets, homes, cathedrals, and especially the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, are alive throughout Zafón’s novel.
Fast forward to June 2013, Ana is getting married, and my friend Tracy and I have traveled to Madrid for the wedding. Before the wedding day, Tracy and I book a day trip to Barcelona and I can’t wait to experience it, walk the streets, and feel the history of it all, just like Daniel experiences in Shadow.
We grabbed an early morning train from Madrid to Barcelona. Once in Barcelona, we took a bus tour around the city and got off at various stops. One of our first stops was the Museu Picasso, with an amazing collection of Picasso's works, including sketches, paintings, and clay pots. After the museum, we walked through the narrow and shadowed streets and stopped for lunch.
Calle de Montcada, home to the Museu Picasso. I felt like I was walking with Daniel through the city streets in ‘Shadow’.
We found a quaint little restaurant just off a side street that offered delicious burgers and potatoes…and some excellent people watching windows!
After lunch, we walked to the Gothic Quarter (which seems very fitting for Shadow) and saw the old city walls, the ruins of Roman defensive towers built in the 3rd century.
Old City Walls
While in the Gothic Quarter, we visited the Barcelona Cathedral. Construction began on the cathedral in 1298 and The Cloister was completed in 1448. While the cathedral did receive some damage during the Spanish Civil War, it would have been a part of Daniel’s Barcelona landscape. We were permitted to walk onto the roof of the cathedral and see across the vast city. I could picture it misty and covered in rain as it is so often described in Shadow.
Barcelona Cathedral is imposing and beautiful.
I felt we could see for miles from the roof of the cathedral.
The Cloister of Barcelona Cathedral, including some of the geese (lower left). The Barcelona Cathedral has 13 geese representing the age of when St. Eulalia was martyred. The Cathedral is dedicated to the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia, virgin and martyr.
After visiting the cathedral, we got back on the bus to continue through the city. We began to see the influence of Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudí. Of course, we had to stop at La Sagrada Familia, the famous Catholic church that has been under construction since 1882. It is expected to be completed in 2026 but, even unfinished, it was a marvel of detail and craftsmanship. The church construction was started by a different architect and transferred to Gaudí in 1883. Tragically, Gaudí died in June 1926 after being hit by a tram while walking to La Sagrada Familia one evening. Gaudí’s work on La Sagrada Familia (specifically the nativity façade and crypt) was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. Everywhere I looked, I wanted to take a picture, and it was all so much to take in. The sculptures and stained-glass windows were intricate and gorgeous.
Exterior of Sagrada Familia, including detail of the nativity façade.
The interior of Sagrada Familia was breathtaking.
After La Sagrada Familia, we realized we were running very late and had a mad dash cab ride to get to the train station in time for our return to Madrid. We didn’t get that cab driver’s name, but we absolutely would have missed our train without him! Tracy and I both wished we could have spent more time in Barcelona. One day was truly just a glimpse of everything the city has to offer, but I can revisit it every time I read Shadow.
For me, The Shadow of the Wind reminds me Ana and an incredible day in Barcelona with Tracy, two wonderful friends that have been so special to me over the years. I love it when books can remind me so poignantly of the important people and moments in my life. Sadly, Carlos Ruis Zafón passed away in June 2020. He was an incredible novelist, and I will always be thankful Ana introduced me to Zafón’s work; his words have touched my heart.
Thank you for reliving this Shadow and Barcelona adventure with me. Have you read The Shadow of the Wind or visited Barcelona? If you have, I’d love to know what you thought of the book and all the beauties of the city. If you haven’t, I wholeheartedly recommend both!
I hope you’ll join me next month as we travel back to the United States, just in time for Independence Day! Until then, happy reading and happy travels.
Books + Travel.
That is Mirah in a nutshell.
Oh, and she is probably into curling more than anyone you will ever meet in real life.
She is my book buddy and friend.
I'm so happy to be able to introduce you to one of the most traveled bookish people you'll ever meet through her very own Summer Series of Guest Blogs right here at Pretty Literate.
Are you inspired?
If you'd like to have an amazing bookish experience without leaving the comfort of your home, check out one of Pretty Literate's amazing vicarious vacations (in a box!) this summer - starting with this one or maybe even this one.
Pretty Literate is spending the summer focused on delivering delicious vicarious vacation vibes, so if you're itching to hit the road or travel to exotic destinations, we gotchu.