During my visit to Barcelona, I found it to be a very clean city. It was vibrant and full of energy. Its people were bubbly and beautiful, passionate and proud of their country. The energy that brings with a simple greeting, Hola, completely changes the atmosphere. My impression of Barcelona was it’s a very well planned city. The roads and alleys were pretty straight forward and clean. It was easier to navigate without circling around and getting lost. There were many beautiful squares with statues and fountains. We walked around many neighbourhoods and found it to be old and charming. Some buildings were hundreds of years old. Many of those buildings had small balconies filled with plants. The outward appearance of all the buildings had a well-maintained look. Since Spain is very famous for its football players and their football league, the signs of support and love for the game is quite visible, especially in the district where the world-famous Barcelona football stadium is.
We stayed in Aribau district, at Axel Hotel Barcelona. It’s a chain of hotels focused on the gay community. According to the hotel chain, their product is created as “heterofriendly” with the philosophy “free and tolerant society, where diversity and respect are valued.” When we booked the hotel, we had no idea about the nature of that hotel and the hotel chain’s philosophy in creating it. So we were a little surprised when we walked into the hotel lobby on that day, at late afternoon. As we waited to complete our check-in formalities, we noticed the awards displayed on the wall behind the front desk. Axel Hotel Barcelona achieved ‘Best Gay Hotel 2005’ award and earned the title ‘Best Hotel 2011.’ Advertisements of hotel’s spa, bar and restaurant were on one of the walls of the hotel lobby. The models on it were all male characters, very handsome and athletic. Once our check-in formalities were complete, we waited to go up to our room. One of the elevators opened at ground level, and we saw four men inside the small lift. They were wearing white bathrobes, busily engaged in conversation and happily laughing like kids over something they must have been discussing at that moment. In the few seconds when the lift was open, one of them signalled that they were going down to the lower ground level. As we waited, I couldn’t help but point the fact to my husband that they were very handsome. 😉 They were perfectly proportioned with sharp features and well-built muscles. They looked liked as male models, yes, the eye candy type we see in fashion magazines, movies or, in fashion runway shows.
Spa advertisement near the lift on our room floor
When we reached our room, we liked the simple, yet modern and sleek looking furniture and amenities. The interior decoration was a bit different though than any other hotel we have ever stayed before. Decorative posters in the room were that of handsome men, instead of photos of natural scenery, objects or women. It was very much a gay-friendly hotel. I’m not homophobic, and I do respect people’s individuality and preferences and choices they make with their lives. If it’s so, at first, we felt out of place in the hotel. We felt that we were aliens, invading territory that we do not belong. But those inhibitions were gone, when we refreshed ourselves and headed back to downstairs to go out for dinner. A French speaking teenage girl with her parents rode the lift with us to lobby, and we knew the hotel has a vast group of people as their guests.
The next day at breakfast we saw families, couples, men and women and, of course, more gay couples than lesbian couples at the time we had breakfast. In Southeast Asia where I belong, especially in the Maldives where I was born and raised, homosexuality is a taboo subject. It is loath, ridiculed and prohibited. People and the government are in denial and still not ready to accept the truth, which our community have people born differently, with their different needs. If anyone suspects a particular individual is different, they get ridiculed by acting out. Usually, it’s men, who would wear feminine clothes, pretending to be a woman and acting feminine in songs, plays and short films portraying them to be gay men. It is an ongoing practice from many years ago, and it still exists. Ironically, such behaviour is uncommon about Lesbians. In the Maldivian context, homosexuality seems to be limited only to a man-to-man relationship.
In our society, homosexuality is projected as a man being feminine, I realised I might have unconsciously perceived it to be true while growing up as a child. If not, I wouldn’t be surprised to see men, who were strong, manly and as good looking as them to be gay. Almost everyone in the breakfast hall had equally strong and good looking partners. It looked, as though, they’re our for breakfast with their gym buddies. By staying in Axel Hotel, a hotel focussed on the gay community, I realised, homosexual couples are no different than any other type of couples. They need a partner whom they can connect emotionally and share a life together. Someone whom they can talk and laugh with, share experiences and live together and grow old being as partners like any other couple. The only difference is the personnel preference, preferring to have a partner of the same sex. Their choice is different, may be because they are born differently. In short staying in Axel Hotel turned out to be an exceptional new experience for us as we have never, ever stayed in such a hotel. The hotel staff was attentive to all their guests, regardless of their differences. In the end, we didn’t feel awkward as we felt it’s a hotel for everyone. The management and staff were keen on treating equally to each and every one of their guest. We never had a chance to regret having chosen this hotel. There’s nothing we can complain about our trip to Barcelona. We loved the hotel, the food, the places we went sightseeing and the people we met along the way. It is an enjoyable experience we cherish till today.