At the Parc Cervantes
Unlike so many free attractions in Barcelona (Park Güell, The Magic Fountain at Montjuïc), Cervantes Park is rarely crowded, especially if you have an hour or so to spare during the work week.
Beautiful, but unidentified
For months after 'discovering' the park on my way to a meeting at Sant Joan de Deu Children’s Hospital, I didn’t even know what it was called. When I asked my husband, Jesús, a Barcelona native and self-styled Barcelona expert, he scratched his head, thought about it for a while, then Google-mapped the area to find what park it could be. “Ah, es el Cervantes,” he sighed in relief; he still had all the answers. Had he ever been there? He said he thought he had, as a child, but that he didn’t remember.
A picnic with Cervantes…
So I suggested a picnic. Because as an American Midwesterner living in the Eixample with no garden to speak of, I’m always eager to enjoy Barcelona’s beautiful open spaces. Especially when, in stark contrast to so many other Barcelona parks, it’s a relatively peaceful space, refreshingly free of street vendors, pigeons and packs of tourists posing in the middle of walkways for photos.
The next day, we slap some cheese on pa amb tomaquet, grab a bottle of water and a couple of oranges and are off to the park for a quick eat and explore. In the midst of relentless traffic on Avinguda Diagonal and Ronda de Dalt sits this small oasis, once hidden under the rushing waters of Estela Stream. Paved pathways and narrow sand trails zigzag between immense flowerbeds, pergolas and tall trees. Irises in shades ranging from creamy white to deepest purple perch majestically above bunches of daisies. I point out a bushy plant that closely resembles Queen Anne’s Lace, and tell Jesús how my mom used to let us dye it with food colouring, the same way the flower vendors make blue roses to sell for Sant Jordi.
A wide variety of exotic trees, including everything from Persian Silk Trees to Japanese Cherry trees, shade the park. Not to mention the requisite palm trees, which, for whatever reason, I’ve grown to loath over time. I turn to Jesús. “What is it with Barcelona and Spain’s obsession with unnatural, non-native palm trees?” He’s heard this before, so he merely smiles and shakes his head.
I continue my short rant. “Barcelona isn’t a tropical destination, and if they really must populate the city with an exotic tree, I vote for the Italian Cypress. Tall, dark and mysterious, they aren’t as embarrassingly out of place in the Mediterranean to my eye.” Jesús changes the subject. He motions towards the other side of the garden. “In the middle of the park there’s a playground, ping-pong tables, a picnic area and a fountain.”
Roses and serenity
But since I’m really only interested in the gardens, I shrug and plop down on a large patch of lawn under the shade of an immense Ombu tree. I pull out the sandwiches and hand one to Jesús, unwrapping the other for myself. While we munch, I take some to time to “see” the roses. Creeping over fences, pergolas and arches, and carefully groomed in ordered rows, they’re everywhere—as many as 150,000 roses blooming at a time between May and July—and they paint the hillside garden in vivid shades, fuchsias, reds, oranges and yellows
On the stroll down to the Diagonal, back to Barcelona proper, the daily grind where harried residents on foot and in cars, rush hither and thither, I wave goodbye to Serenitat, a female nude by Eulàlia Fàbregas de Sentmenat. It’s good to know she’ll be there, calmly crouched among the flowers, whenever I can return.
Chris Ciolli is a US copywriter and translator currently living in Barcelona. She has two blogs of her own: www.barcelonaforidiots.com all about the city and www.midwesternerabroad.com, where she writes about her travels.