After writing that last blog post, I end up chatting for ages to fellow travellers in the Wild Rover Irish pub. As you could tell from the name, it’s a haven for English speaking tourists who don’t want anything too… Spanish. One of them is a retired engineer from North Carolina called Phil, and the others are a father, mother and son from Maidenhead in Kent.
It’s an interesting set of topics, but Emma (the mum) and I end up talking mostly about British education – she’s a deputy headteacher, and I work for an exam board, so obviously we both have strong views on the subject. Fortunately they’re the same views, for the most part; I’ve had teachers look askance at me when I’ve told them I work for an exam board in the past.
By this time I’ve had three pints of Franziskaner, the last generously bought by Phil, and I’m more than a bit merry. It’s getting dark outside, but Tom’s still working till 8:30 so I decide to go for a bit of a wander. I always like doing this in a new city; just ramble around and soak up the atmosphere.
Barcelona, it turns out, has a great atmosphere. It’s only Thursday night, but the place is heaving, and vibrant. I wander down side streets that feel like a Catalan version of Soho, encountering such intriguing businesses as this:
I’m not sure quite what the adjective means here – is the proprietor defiantly asserting ownership, or is it a restaurant with a menu of different kinds of fucking? It does make me smile though.
Wandering on, I find myself on the busy thoroughfare of La Rambla, a huge, mostly pedestrianised avenue thronging with people just… having a good time. The good vibes are infectious, and I amble along with a smile on my face. I like this city; it has a real cosmopolitan atmosphere with none of the ghettoising I found so objectionable in Toulouse. There are still rich people and poor people, sure, but they mingle rather than being kept in separate enclaves.
As if to prove it, I get pestered by various hawkers of cheap tourist tat as I amble. I make the novice mistake of giving one a couple of Euros, which he takes as an opportunity to sell me more and more tat – I politely refuse, but it takes a while.
More wandering takes me down to what appears to be a marina, with an honest-to-goodness sailing ship moored there. It’s bordered by wide open spaces, well lit and still busy with people enjoying themselves. Some are on skateboards, some on scooters, some even on Segways. There’s all kinds of looks – conservative, gothic, punk, preppie. City life whizzes by me and I like it. What’s more, it’s after dark and I’m still wearing shorts and a T shirt. I can see why Tom chose this place to come for his latest adventure.
Speaking of Tom, he’s about to finish, so I message him with some pictures of the sqaure I’m currently in – which he calls the “square of the parakeets” (it’s actually Placa Reial). Apparently the trees in the square are full of parakeet nests, but I’ll have to come back in daylight to see those.
I decide to relax with a cocktail, and end up with something called a Caipirinha, which I’ve not tried before – it’s a little like a margarita, but with much more sugar. And apparently it’s the national cocktail of Brazil, Wikipedia helpfully informs me. Not long after I finish sipping that, Tom turns up following the location pin I sent him on Facebook Messenger – this is the kind of situation where data access is really helpful.
It turns out he hasn’t eaten yet, and I’ve barely eaten in days – the depression I’ve been suffering with has killed my appetite. But he’s a good friend and gently persuades me that eating food is probably a good idea. We wander down side streets in search of pizza, which is apparently good round here; but end up having a burrito, which is even better.
We have a long chat about our respective situations – him just starting on his new teaching gigs, me having some difficult issues with my mental health. As ever, he’s a great listener, and a source of some good advice. And he tells me to stop comparing myself to him and finding myself inferior; he has plenty of flaws of his own, and we’re very different people anyway so it’s hardly a valid comparison.
Even though it hasn’t been that long since I last saw him on the Cornwall trip, I’ve missed him and it’s great to see him. We wander round the side streets, taking in some really cool graffiti:
There’s even a surprise appearance by Superman, posing on a building above a large nun:
We have a couple more beers, then Tom shows me a quaint Barcelona custom – locals selling cans of beer for one euro each, making a profit but underc utting the bars. We get one each, and sit down on a handy step to drink, but carefully – drinking on the street is illegal here, and if the police see us we’ll get fined.
Sure enough, a couple of copper appear, and we abandon our half drunk cans nonchalantly, ambling slowly away from them. As soon as the police are gone, we return and finish them. I’m assuming this is a fairly common occurrence round here.
It’s been a great night, but it’s getting on for 3am and we decide to part for the evening. Tom heads back to his (not too far away) apartment, while I slog up the massive hill towards Parc de Montjuic where I left the van.
I get a shock when I get there. My Bluetooth speaker, which I’d left in a cupboard, is sitting on the driver’s seat, alongside what turn out to be the now empty case for my spare glasses. Sure enough, someone’s been in and pulled the place apart, presumably looking for something worth stealing. Fortunately they haven’t found anything, as I’d kept everything else of value in my backpack as I walked around town.
But it’s a shock, and I find myself calling Tom in some distress. And he’s lovely enough to invite me to stay at his, so I can tidy up in the morning. A lot of slogging through empty and confusing streets later, and he actually comes out to to find me, then gently guides me back to his place and calms me down. It’s nearly 4 am by this point.
Not an auspicious first night in Barcelona, but my good impressions of the place remain. Tom’s right that I shouldn’t keep comparing myself to him, but that aside I think he’s made a good choice here and it’s an example I may well find myself following next year (*Brexit permitting)…