We don’t get much time to rest after the tumultuous events of last night. I have to be awake at 8am, because the previous day I’d called the RAC European breakdown service to get the van’s grease-leaking front wheel bearing looked at. They’d seemed quite efficient, and had promised that a mechanic would be there at 8am Monday.
Of course, we’d both been up really late the night before, and somewhat traumatised. Me trying to get my head together after some long overue home truths, and Tom from having to flee from his flat with all his belongings in his backpack. As he hadn’t made it to the van till about 2:30am, and we’d talked for a bit after that, it means that we’ve probably had about five hours sleep by 8am.
Well, he might have. I keep waking up, wondering if it’s 8am yet, looking at the clock on my phone then returning to a fitful sleep. Between that, and the surprisingly constant all-night traffic in the heights of Parc Montjuic, I don’t get much rest at all.
I’ve used breakdown services in the UK before, and I’m not expecting them to be on time. To my amazement, only half an hour late, a very smiley chap knocks on the door, asks if I speak Spanish or Catalan; I sort of shrug and wave my hand – a bit of Espanol, at least. He continues to smile, and talks rapid fire Spanish accompanied by flamboyant hand gestures. I make out the words, “muy grande”, followed by a gesture to his recovery truck – he’s saying the van is too big to fit on it, and he has to call a colleague with a bigger one.
Tom’s emerged now, and his Spanish is better than mine. Between the three of us, we discern that we should expect a bigger recovery truck in about an hour.
I’m sceptical about this, on past experience. Sure enough, there’s a text message about half an hour later teling me that there’s heavy traffic in Barcelona and we can expect the bigger truck by about 11:20. I figure it’ll be about midday. At least it means we can both have a bit more of a doze.
Thankfully last night’s earnest conversations have, to an extent, drained the poison in my mind and cleared the air between us. So we drink tea made with the milk from his ex-flat, play Dobble on the van’s little table, and generally have the sort of uncomplicated nice time we always did before the chaos of my life got in the way.
I am indeed right about the arrival of the bigger truck. It turns up at about midday. The driver speaks no more English than the previous one, but his dispatcher, on the phone with a very flaky signal, speaks some English. Tom speaks some Spanish, but knows nothing about cars or mechanics. I know about cars, but speak very little Spanish.
Thus ensues a four way conversation about the wheel bearing that would make for a great comedy sketch if it didn’t seem too implausible to have actually happened. Tom and I learn new words; grasa being grease, and cojinete de rueda being wheel bearing. Which I then have to translate for him into non-gearhead English, so he can respond to the mechanic in Spanish but with no idea of the technical things he’s talking about.
It’s actually a slightly hilarious half hour which lifts both our moods. The eventual outcome is that the mechanic and his dispatcher both tell me it will take over a week to get a replacement cap for the wheel bearing; but the mechanic himself thinks it’ll go on with no problems for ages. “Por un mille kilometers?”, enquires Tom, aware of the distance I have to go. “Si!” is the enthusiastic response.
I decide to cut my losses here. OK, a professional mechanic is telling me that, in his opinion, the wheel bearing will hold together till I get home. And that, if I do want it fixed, I’m going to have to stay in Barcelona, probably without the van, for at least another week. So ok – I’ll take him at his word and trust the van to get me back as it is, ominous rumbles and all.
I’ve only ever planned this trip in the vaguest terms, aware that they might change as I went on. This is one of those cases. I’d originally planned to leave Barcelona on Monday, with no clear idea of my return route – I was going to take a different way and see what came.
But with everything that’s happened, I decide to stay in Barcelona a while longer. Luckily, Tom has already sorted out a new room; had done, in fact, even before the chaos of last night. But he can’t move in till Nov 1st at the earliest. And I could do with some chill out time myself, to gather my thoughts. I’ll hang around here for a while, with no pressure to return, and that’ll give Tom somewhere to stay too.
We’re both hungry by now. Also he has to work later; thankfully a fairly easy class for which he already prepared while we were waiting for the mechanic. So we head down the funicular and on the Metro to Sant Antoni, which will be the nearest station to his new place. All right, said new place is actually in El Raval, which has a fearsome reputation as a tough neighbourhood; but given his last living situation, it has to be an improvement.
Right next to Sant Antoni station is the biggest indoor fresh food market I think I’ve ever seen. It’s surprisingly modern, but the food on offer does indeed look sensational. Tom, a real foodie, is in raptures about the place; luckily for him, he’ll be in walking distance of the place in a few days.
But we want cheap food and coffee, with the option to vape and/or smoke for me, not a thing in a covered market. Spain, it turns out, has the usual smoking ban (not unexpected) but a great deal less tolerance for vaping indoors than the UK pub landlords who’ve embraced it as a way to drag their smoking customers back to the pub.
Here, though, the question, “Esta permitido vapear?” is usually met with a curt thumb gesture to the outside. So outside is where we go, on one of our by now customary rambles until we see something we both like.
In this case we end up at a little cafe which does affordable bocadillos (basically baguettes with a choice of fillings). Tom picks one filled with potato omelette, a filling choice; I just go with a bacon and cheese toasted sandwich.
It’s a nice, chilled afternoon. While I’ve enjoyed my odyssey so far, I haven’t really had a lot of time to spend in each place, meaning everywhere I’ve stopped has been a sort of turbocharged attempt to get a sense of a new town in either a morning or an afternoon before moving on. I’ve got an excuse to hang around here for a bit, and relax. It’s very welcome.
We ramble some more, popping into a couple of charity shops on the way. It’s getting distinctly autumnal, and Tom hadn’t thought to bring a warm coat with him, so charity shops are a good option. There’s an Oxfam like chain here (and elsewhere in Europe apparently) called Humana; we pop into two of them. Neither has anything he’s really looking for, but I’m impressed that everything in there is 2 Euros. That’s a sight cheaper than Oxfam.
Eventually though, he has to go to his actual work, and I retreat to my usual haunt of the Wild Rover pub to write my most recent blog. If you’ve read it, you can imagine it took a fair bit of agonising and false starts to write; it ends up taking about three hours, and I’m just having my post-writing smoke when Tom turns up, having finished work. We head off to grab some more cheap food, then do a full circle back to the Rover, where Tom is shocked by the prices after volunteering to buy the round. He’s not overly impressed with the head on his pint of Stella either.
But we both need an early night, and it’s time for the massive uphill slog to the top of Parc de Montjuic and the van. Tom has the bright idea of getting a couple of cans of Estrella for the walk, and it turns into an entertaining moonlight stroll as he eschews the actual roads and pavements in favour of any upward looking trail through the bushes. His sense of direction must be better than mine was on the day of the epic diversion, and it is actually quicker; albeit rather more tiring!
It’s been great just hanging out with a friend. Part of the point of this trip has been to build my self-reliance; after so many years of always having someone with me, I’ve lost the knack of just being by myself and have been relearning how to enjoy it. But an uncomplicated time with the companionship of a good mate is welcome at this point, adn today hasn’t disappointed.