The Big Trip, Day 8: Rainy day in Barcelona

After my epic detour getting back to the van last night, I’m really tired and don’t wake up till after 11am. It doesn’t make much difference though, as it’s hammering down with rain outside, the first rain I’ve seen since getting to the continent.

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Tom’s busy hunting for a new room on the internet anyway (his current place being less than ideal), so I just treat it as a rainy day where I can’t really do very much. I stay in the van, snuggle up in the duvet, and listen to a Big Finish Doctor Who  audio story – it’s a really creepy Fifth Doctor story called Iterations of I, which captures perfectly that early Peter Davison era with Tegan, Nyssa and Adric.

It’s a good story, but even with the rain hammering down on the van’s roof, by the end of its two hour running time I’m getting a bit stir crazy. Yes, it’s wet out there, but even so I didn’t travel all the way across the continent to just sit in the van.

So I don my old NATO parka, the first serious coat I’ve had to wear since crossingh the Channel, together with my usual Indiana Jones fedora, and head out into the rain towards the funicular again. Actually the rain isn’t as bad as it sounded, but it’s still very autumnal out there.

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I hop off at Av Paral-lel, and take the usual route to the Wild Rover Irish pub so I can post my blog. This turns out to be harder than usual. Previously, this rather touristy bar has been fairly mellow and relaxed; I’ve had no problem finding a seat and setting up the laptop.

Today, however, is Saturday. And that means a veritable horde of exceptionally drunken British lads, somehow managing to cheer what appear to be all eight separate football matches being shown simultaneously on screens around the bar.

Ordinarily I like a bit of party atmosphere, but it’s not what I’m looking for right now. I manage to finish the blog sitting at the bar with the laptop perched on my knee, and decide to go for another wander round the now very wet La Rambla.

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People still seem to be having a good time; it’s just that they’re now having it with the addition of umbrellas and plastic ponchos, both of which are readily available from eager hawkers on the street. I’m fine with my hat and parka though, and just enjoy wandering. I return to La Placa Reial (Tom’s “parakeet square”), but still can’t see any parakeets in the trees. I guess they don’t like the rain.

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I get a message from Tom – he’s found what sounds like a promising room, and is off to see it. He’ll meet me at 7:30. I don’t really fancy a drink, so I explore a bit more, discovering Catalan political statements and some interesting shops.

Tom turns up, and as ever he’s hungry. Neither of us are all that flush with cash though, so we look for a budget alternative. This turns out to be the ubiquitous pizzas. They’re everywhere here, and surprisingly cheap – these ones are 2.50 for a slice that’s bigger than some of the frozen pizzas I regularly subist on at home. As an added bonus, there’s a special offer of a glass of vermouth for 1 euro each. Apparently vermouth is a big thing here, and that’s pretty damn cheap for any alcoholic drink, so we both decide to give it a go.

Turns out vermouth (which I’ve only previously had as a component of a Martini) is a very sweet, rather orangey fortified wine. It’s actually rather lovely. I don’t think I could drink much more than a glass of something that sweet, though. And it makes Tom distinctly tired, though to be fair we’ve both had some late nights since I arrived.

To keep us both awake (and save some money), we go on a nighttime wander with cans of the ubiquitous Estrella. Our wanderings take us back to the Cathedral, but this time we wander on into the warren of medieval streets along and behind it.

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This is definitely the oldest looking part of Barcelona I’ve seen yet. Buskers play classical guitar on the narrow stone streets, though the tourists seem more interested in filming them on their phones than actually giving them any money. A neat little gothic covered bridge spans one street, reminiscent of the Bridge of Sighs but smaller.

We round a corner and come upon a little square where stands the Barcelona Town Hall. It’s in a grandiose style, but far smaller and less ostentatious than, say, the Capitole in Toulouse. Given that Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, I thought it’d be taller.

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It is, however, defiantly draped in banners protesting Catalonia’s vassal status, along with the yellow ribbon showing support for Catalan independence.

Under the pleasant tourist exterior, this is a well-hidden but vicious issue since the October 2017 independence referendum was declared illegal by the Spanish government, and the overreaction to Catalonia’s subsequent declaration of independence led President Carles Puigdemont to flee the country, while nine of his cabinet members were arrested as political dissidents. Since then, the region has been run more or less directly by Spain under a puppet President, Quim Torra.

For anyone who thinks cancelling Brexit in defiance of a 4% majority is a betrayal of the “will of the people” – the Catalan referendum had a 92% majority in favour of independence. Legal or not, that’s what I call decisive. And the Spanish government responded by removing the Catalan people’s elected representatives and replacing them with pliant quislings. If you think cancelling Brexit would cause blood on the streets, you might be surprised at the lack of civil unrest in what Catalonia could rightly feel aggrieved at. Of course, they don’t want to upset the tourists that are their prime source of income. But the resentment can’t be entirely hidden.

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Tom and I have a lengthy discussion of the subject, and of the EU in general. I’m surprised to find he’s a bit of a Eurosceptic, though I admit I share his concerns on some aspects. I don’t think the EU is an “undemocratic, unlected bureaucracy” – but i admit its administrative structures are so complex it can certainly look that way. And I’m not actually averse to the idea of a “United States of Europe”, because I don’t think such a thing would necessarily trump power and culture at a national and local level below that. After all, look at the USA – federalisation has hardly destroyed the individuality of, say, Lousiana and made it identical to New York State, has it?

It’s a contentious subject, and though we agree on most things, the debate is lively. But our minds wander as we wander away from the Town Hall, especially when we encounter one of the more stereotypical Irish bars in the Gothic Quarter. Pictures of Bono and tin ads for Guinness line the walls. I’m only surprised not to find the usually obligatory rusty bicycle hanging from the ceiling.

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It’s been a good night, but even though it’s Saturday, neither of us have much stamina to carry on after that, and we retire comparatively early (by recent standards, which is still about 11pm). After previous experiences, I’ve pretty much memorised the route back to the van, via the easy landmark of the Funicular station, and for a wonder I actually get back with no drama tonight – apart from the, for me, extreme exercise of lugging a heavy backpack up a series of really steep hills. Between Parc de Montjuic and the Pyrenees, I may be getting fitter than I imagined I would from a driving trip.

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