28.03.2009 - 05.04.2009 12 °C
Late night flights are never exciting, but arriving at 10pm in a city renowned for thieving and pick-pocketing certainly adds a bit of extra spice. I set off from Dublin full of verve and bravado, but alighted from the plane in Barcelona more mouse than man, and opted for the relative safety of a taxi over the unknown of The Metro. Cojones slightly smaller, I arrived at the hotel safely and met up with good friend and erstwhile housemate Alan to take advantage of a few days free accommodation in a five star hotel. Sweet! Thanks mate
The first day in Barca was spent tentatively exploring the Metro (the underground) and wandering around the beautiful beachfront. Contrary to my experiences in the UK, here there were people everywhere enjoying the (relatively) sunny day - surfing, swimming, drinking and enjoying tapas by the Mediterranean. Tapas, you say? What a great idea - 5 Euro each and three dishes to share for lunch? Brilliant.
Alan was off to wow the Telecommunications Engineering Conference on day two, so I set off on an excursion to Tarragona, a picturesque town a few hours south, a former bustling spanish port when the Romans were about the place doing their worldwide expansion thing. As a result, you get some surprising juxtapositions, such as a coliseum with an ocean view and a grand, typically Roman cathedral surrounded by spanish townhouses and the sweet scent of orange trees everywhere. A real concoction of cultures, and the richer for it.
It was also a day of taking a few blind risks - why not? Firstly it was deciding to get a regional train in the first place, as being my second day in Spain I had no grasp of the language whatsoever. Still, phrasebook thrust firmly in front of me and helped along by some kind american tourists (journalists from The New York Times!) I managed to just barely get the right train at the right time. Phew! Even better was ordering lunch - I set off down some little side streets and chose a bar/cafe at random. Being in a small town and my liguistic skills no better than earlier that morning, the waitress and I had a great bonding session as I attempted to order a three course lunch. It didn't really help that I used the Portugese section of my phrasebook accidentally (which I only realised later).
Anyways, I had such great fun wandering around the winding streets of Tarragona that I thought I'd try the same again in Gerona. It seems I have a knack for engendering help from strangers. Perhaps because I'm so tall, dark, windswept and interesting. Anyway, a spanish lady reassured me I was on the right platform, and then we got talking for the rest of the two hour trip about Spain, traveling, and her time in the UK. As a result, I've got myself a standing invite to come and stay at a pub she owns on The Isle of Wight in England. It pays to be friendly, eh? Gerona turned out to be just as charming as Tarragona, despite that fact that it was absolutely pouring all day, and I lacked an umbrella - but there's just something about the bright but gnarly alleyways and streets that's enhanced by the sheen and reflections of the rain, and it made trudging around in wet socks for five hours totally worth it.
Dinner that night was a solitary affair, what with Alan off hob-nobbing at his conference banquet, but I didn't mind! I dutifully left my credit card at home and set off around a randomly chosen neighborhood in Barca, looking for some appetising tapas. I found some, but disappointingly I didn't get mugged or knifed. The waiter even complimented me on my spanish - perhaps he was partially deaf to start with.
Amidst all this sightseeing, some basic essentials needed seeing to, like doing some washing so I could avoid reusing my socks for the third time. After a bit of googling, I set off for the nearest laundromat (three metro stations away!). Upon arrival, I explained what I needed to the lady on the front desk, and she started counting up the items. Fair enough - the price? 12 Euro. Sure, a little steep, but my feet could do with a little lovin'. No problem, hand over the cash. What? Not enough? I peer a little closer at the screen - 125 EURO FOR A LOAD OF CLOTHES? I shrugged and handed over my credit card. You gotta go what you gotta do.
No, not really. I grabbed my stuff and got outta there as fast as I could. That's $250 Australian! More than my clothes are worth, mate. I resigned myself to washing by hand. Ah, the luxuries of travelling.
Determined to make amends for a lost day, I set out early the next day for Barcelona's sports mecca, the home ground of Spanish superclub, FC Barcelona (duh). Sure, the tour was kinda tacky and overpriced, but it was worth it just to experience the sheer size and scale of the stadium, which is the third largest in the world. I think Brazil holds the record at 150K, but I'd be worried about theirs falling down (it was built in the 50's and some parts have already collapsed!). There was a total absence of football stars wandering around, so I set off for my next destination, the jewel of Barcelona's tourist attractions, La Sagrada Familia.
This neo-gothic cathedral is the masterpiece of Spain's most celebrated architect, Antoni Gaudi. He somehow manages to convey religious passion and reverece through a monument that looks, from the outside, like someone vomited on top of a small mud hill. Pay the 15 Euro and peer a little closer, however, and you can see that what looked like undigested corn and carrot is in fact myriad fine details representing a breathtaking nativity scene adorning the cathedral facade. Both inside and out you can observe how Gaudi has masterfully integrated the natural lines and tesselating shapes found in nature into a fascinating, organic structure, and it's unlike anything I've ever seen. More of Gaudi's works are found throughout the city, but personally I found them a bit gaudy.
Haha! See what I did there?
- ducks bottle thrown from the audience*
Mick joined up with Alan mid-week, and although we did a bit of sightseeing together, we pretty much did our own thing. Partly because their stride is twice as long and fast as mine, so any joint sightseeing would have resulted in us walking around looking like some sort of atypical family, with me skipping and running along behind to keep up! While they toured the city I made yet another regional sojourn to Sitges, a beautiful seaside town thirty minutes south of Barca. It was postcard Spain - alfesco bars and cafes on The Mediterranean, churches standing tall as waves gently lap the cliffs on which they stand, meandering walking paths by the coast, and people sunbaking naked. Oh yes - I probably shouldn't have walked down to that secluded beach. *shudder*
The three of us did meet up for dinner most nights, however I have to admit I don't have the best record of choosing culinary neighbourhoods - I think my status is one from three. The first time we ended up at the spanish equivalent of Mcdonalds, the second time one of our extended party had their wallet pick-pocketed, although the third time we hit gold. Perhaps I should do a bit more research before we head out.