Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Road trip stories: Impressions of Barcelona, New York, not Spain August 12, 2016

Barcelona is located along Lake Erie just off Interstate 90 near the New York/Pennsylvania border.

Barcelona is located along Lake Erie just off Interstate 90 near the New York/Pennsylvania border.

MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF BARCELONA, a hamlet located within the town of Westfield, New York, was not a good one.

I had to pee. Bad. The van also needed gas. So it was a good time to pull off Interstate 90 in the southwestern corner of New York. I practically flew out the van at the Citgo station, only to stop abruptly at the front door. A sign banned anyone but customers from the restrooms. My facial muscles involuntarily scowled. Welcome to Barcelona.

When my travel weary mind finally clicked that, yes, I was a paying customer, I walked inside. I didn’t know I was being watched. But the clerk advised that, yes, she had seen my reaction. And, yes, I could use the bathroom.

Cones blocking a freshly-poured concrete sidewalk blocked me from getting too close to the Portland Harbor Lighthouse and keeper's house.

Cones rimming sidewalk construction blocked me from getting too close to the 40-foot high Portland Harbor Lighthouse and keeper’s house.

Once I got over that, I noticed the beautiful old lighthouse across the street. (I’m speculating that many lighthouse lovers travel here and then need to use the service station restrooms.) Being a landlocked southern Minnesotan, I find lighthouses a bit of a novelty. However, there would be no getting inside this 1829 lighthouse constructed of native fieldstone. Decommissioned in 1860, the Portland Harbor lighthouse and accompanying keeper’s house became private property.

I moved closer to the lighthouse keeper's house, until I realized this was private property.

Another angle, from the side, of the lighthouse keeper’s house.

Upon researching this National Register of Historic Places landmark later, I learned that the lighthouse was the first public building in the U.S. illuminated by natural gas.

Boats parked near the lake.

Boats parked near the lake.

I wasn’t about to leave Barcelona, though, without at least seeing Lake Erie. If it was Lake Erie. At that point, well into our second day of a long road trip from Minnesota to Massachusetts, I wasn’t even sure what state we were in. And my Great Lakes geography is lacking. I know the locations of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. The other Greats, not so much.

It was a lovely day to be on the beach of Lake Erie.

It was a lovely day to be on the beach of Lake Erie.

Just blocks from the gas station, my husband and I found a public access to Lake Erie. I am always impressed by the immensity of the Great Lakes, how sky and water blend into an infinity of blue, how distinct horizontal lines divide land and water and sky, how such a vast body of water can appear calm one day, threatening the next.

My husband obliged my request for a photo of me on the shores of Lake Erie.

My husband obliged my request for a photo of me on the shores of Lake Erie.

I scooped my hand into the cold water, plucked silken smooth stones from the beach, posed for a photo to prove I’d been here, in Barcelona.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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19 Responses to “Road trip stories: Impressions of Barcelona, New York, not Spain”

  1. Don Says:

    My wife and I are great lighthouse fans and have stopped at most of them along Lake Superior. We have enjoyed staying at Big Bay lighthouse (Big Bay, Michigan) which is a B&B and will stay in a few more on our future travels.

    I detest the need some business have to charge for the use of their restroom. Most of the time I will automatically purchase something from the business, after all once I have stopped I will replenish the vehicle with soda (pop to you Midwesterners, took me a long time to rename it soda) chips, perhaps a sandwich and candy bar. BUT for those businesses that charge me for the use of their restroom facilities I will purchase the least I can, perhaps a piece of cheap candy or some such thing, just enough to meet the “customer requirement”. Attitude check, they have lost out on much more money from me due to their attitude!

    • I believe you are correct, Don. On a bathroom stop in Iowa, I bought a candy bar because I used the restroom. It was filthy. (I probably should have skipped the purchase.) Not that many miles down the road, we came upon a public rest area. If only I’d known.

  2. Littlesundog Says:

    I am a stone plucker too! They adorn my flower beds with fond memories of beautiful places from afar. It’s good to see a photo of you – glad you asked Randy to take it!!!

  3. I’m delighted to see a road trip post from you! Aren’t the Great Lakes beautiful? Enjoy!

  4. chlost Says:

    I love road trips. I am not sure how many people actually still take them. That disorientation after a long stretch of driving/riding is quite familiar. I have friends who think I am crazy for using the rest stops, as they think those bathrooms are dirty and germ-filled. But I am not convinced that a facility you pay for by purchases are any more clean. Can’t wait to see more about your trip.

    • It’s taking me awhile to get my road trip stories posted. Lots of other stories and photos have interrupted this series. Summer is such a busy time.

      If you don’t use a rest stop, where do you go? Corn fields are not always an option. (Inside joke on that.) I’ve found the state wayside rest areas, for the most part, to be quite clean. Indiana was the exception. I will actually be posting at some point about an especially inviting rest stop.

      • chlost Says:

        I guess I refer to rest stops as the public areas marked with blue signs along the road. My friends hate those. They will only use restrooms in gas stations, restaurants, or (their favorite) casinos. Makes no sense to me. We have always found the public highway stops to be clean and well-kept, except in Wyoming and some in Montana. Those areas out in the “boonies” are not used much and I’m sure are hard to staff. One infamous one for our family had outhouses-no flush, no faucets. But when you’re desperate, you stop. We have only had a few cornfield stops in all the thousands of road trip miles, though!!

      • I am in total agreement with you and not your friends. My cornfield experiences happened during my summers of detasseling corn.

  5. I’d been wondering about your trip. Glad to see I didn’t miss the posts about it. As you and chlost discussed above, I’ve become a believer in interstate rest areas. Easy on and off and usually just as clean (or cleaner) than fast food places and gas stations.

  6. That light house is beautiful.

  7. Sue Ready Says:

    Traveling out west some 1.900 miles some states have few and FAR BETWEEN public rest stops and several times we’d get there and they’d be closed. Since we travel a lot I have several rest stop stories of my own but will spare you and not write them out 🙂


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