Before touching down in Barcelona to live and study for four months I had never heard of Tibidabo. I was familiar with Barcelona’s major highlights otherwise, such as Gaudí’s masterpieces and the smaller mountain of Montjuïc. I would only see that episode of Friends later, and though I had briefly visited the city before, I had somehow missed Tibidabo entirely, an impressive feat considering it is the highest point in the city.
In one of my first weeks in Barcelona I saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen’s amorous ode to Barcelona and its wiles. I remember the sepia-tone scene on Tibidabo most clearly and fondly of all: An angelic Scarlett Johansson walks past the rides of one of the world’s oldest amusement parks, meters and meters above the city, conversing with the irresistible Javier Bardem and pulling at tufts of feathery cotton candy. Even dubbed in Catalan, it was perfect. I remember feeling bittersweet and nostalgic, though I was in Barcelona and had never been to Tibidabo before. It looked and felt like a place I had already visited, a place to where I longed to return.
Within the week I was on Tibidabo. I ended up there in one of those opportune moments that materialize during travels when curiosity, boldness and serendipity coalesce, when circumstances just lead you there and you cannot say no, because you would only regret it later. They are the moments that you call upon months and years afterward, often with stories that begin with, “Remember that time…” This was that time I ended up on top of Tibidabo, otherwise hushed and empty except for us, with all of Barcelona sprawled at our feet, shimmering in the night right down to the edge of the Mediterranean. I sat on a bench of the cathedral, chills from both the temperature and the scene. Craning my head all the way back, the enormous Jesus figure topping the basilica seemed to touch the sky. Slightly below I could make out darkened outlines of the still rides.
I would return to Tibidabo on other nights, though not as high as to look straight up and see a stone Jesus embracing the sky, but far up still to the few bars perched on the mountain. They were my favorite nightspots in the city. While maybe only a few people knew each other, it always felt like some sort of intimate party thrown for those of us who had made it all the way up there. We were on top of the city and therefore we felt like we were on top of the world, but at the same we were in awe of it all. Conversing or dancing we would forget where we were, and then one spin or a glance to the side and there was the entire city spread out front for our admiration.
Below were the tiny, twisted alleys of the Gothic Quarter, the turrets of Catalan Modernist architecture poking into the sky and that arresting creative energy. Maybe those details were indiscernible from such heights, but it was there in Barcelona all the same and we knew it.
I wrapped up my time in Barcelona with a daytime visit to the Tibidabo amusement park. The place was classic, spellbinding and so old that no one was too old. Small families, affectionate couples and clusters of friends were zigging in and out of the antique rides, riding to the pinnacle of the Ferris Wheel, passing warped fun-house mirrors and circling on the carousel. In it all, behind and below it all was the grandeur of the city; the history of the park, mountain and Barcelona.
I snapped one of my favorite pictures at the end of that day right after the sun had set. The photo remains as the background of my computer, and I think it might always be. For me, Tibidabo became emblematic of Barcelona and of what made me fall in love with the city. Since Barcelona I like to think there is a Tibidabo everywhere I travel, that one place that can come to represent my connection to the destination and some of my favorite moments there, and I always try to find it.
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