Barcelona is a big city -“ certainly big enough to accommodate two people with very different travel agendas. I wanted something of a cultural odyssey while my American friend had a much simpler plan in mind. Did you know, he commented as our train raced south from Paris, that Barcelona has the biggest dance club in Europe?

My friend had taken charge of our plans for Barcelona, so we stayed at a gay guesthouse, followed the gay map of Barcelona, ate at gay caf?and restaurants, shopped at gay stores, drank at gay bars, steamed at gay saunas and danced at gay clubs.

The experience left me a little bewildered as I was really more interested in basilicas than bars. Could it be that I had actually become less gay in recent years?
Not that I was immune to the gay charms of the city. The smiling, handsome face of Mario, our host at Adonis House, was typical of the friendly nature of the Spaniards. Adonis House, on the fifth floor of an old building in the northern end of town, was a wonderful find, with Mario proving to be as obsessively clean as he was charming. The bathroom barely went an hour without being taken to with his cleaning sponge, while the bedrooms were as comfortable as they were spotless. Having survived a stay in a filthy broom cupboard elsewhere in Europe, I found Mario’s home a welcome change.

Adonis House is just a few short blocks away from the amazing works of the Picasso Museum and the brilliance of the Temple de la Sagrada Familia or, as it is better known, the Gaudi Cathedral. But the guesthouse is also a long 13 blocks away from the main gay part of town.

My American friend set a cracking pace as we charged back and forth from our hotel to the gay strip, repeating the process many times over the coming days. One confusing experience with a cab driver whose English was as bad as our Spanish scared us out of the taxis and back to pounding the pavements to the Casanova and Consell de Cent area.

Castro Restaurant in Casanova was an escapade worth the walk. The walls had a decidedly industrial/S&M style to them, with chains and handcuffs hanging alongside pictures depicting anal sex. In contrast, round the corner at Dietrichs Bar young drag queens busted their best moves to Kylie and Christina Aguilera to a mostly unimpressed cruisy crowd. The show queens further down the road at Caligulas were having a decidedly better time as an old drag diva did her best with Liza Minnelli’s Cabaret, proving that what she lacked in understanding English she made up for in giving it her all.

One night I sent my American friend on his merry way to the Salvation dance club so I could prepare for some sightseeing the next day. He reported having a very good time and I had a good time of my own at the site of the 1992 Olympic Games, which proved to be breathtaking in its grandeur. Sitting atop Montjuic Hill, it offers commanding views across the city, and also features the stunning Olympic Ring, which incorporates the Olympic Stadium, the swimming pools, the Sant Jordi Sports Hall, the Olympic statue by Calatrava and the National Institute of Physical Education. Fronting the site is the Grand Palace of Barcelona, which is now an art museum.

While passing up a day trip to the gay resort town of Sitges due to lack of time, we instead strolled along the Mediterranean waterfront in the Barcelonta part of town. This is where the water meets the city and Barcelonta boardwalk leads to Villa Olympia, which was a park created to link the city back to the waterfront across a busy freeway. The Sunday afternoon markets along the beachfront offer an eclectic array of items for sale, fabulous for bargain shoppers of designer sunglasses and illegal DVDs.

On our last night in Barcelona, we decided not to repeat the 26-block return walk to the Casanova area and had dinner at a recommended local restaurant where there were people lining up outside waiting to get in. The irony was that even without a rainbow flag flying, most of the staff were gay as were a fair number of the other diners. It seemed a suitable farewell to the gay agenda of our Barcelona experience -“ the most mainstream of restaurants still proved to be a gay good time.

As my American friend and I said goodbye at the airport, we decided Barcelona had what we both wanted -“ from the culture to the clubs, we both left with a smile of contentment.

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