The Big Trip, Day 11: Barcelona, still, but some rays of sunshine

After the gloomy, rainy recent days, it’s a relief when we wake and squint, bleary eyed, through the windscreen at a recently absent friend – sunlight. I can’t help feeling the high drama of the past couple of days has been accentuated by the gloomy weather. Even so, it’s never been less than about 15 degrees C, a lot warmer than back home. Tom, who’s been here for a month now, thinks this is “chilly”.

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Even with the return of good weather (in my opinion at least), we spend the morning relaxing in the van. Tom has two classes this evening, and apparently they require a lot of prep. Since this is something I’m interested in doing also, I watch with some interest as he plans his lessons, asking the occasional question (hopefully) without breaking his concentration.

There’s also fun to be had watching the girls sleeping in the next door car playing fetch with the dog belonging to the German lady in the van across the park. I must admit, I’m surprised that it’s seemingly acceptable to just park where we are for the better part of a week without any charges, but the German lady has been there longer than I have, and it all seems fine. It’s a good location, if you ever visit Barcelona in a van – easy to get to the town, and great exercise slogging up the hill with your backpack in the evening. Just make sure you don’t leave anything of value in your van, as I discovered!

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But it’s a nice day, and we head into town to get some food and coffee. By now the funicular has become routine for me; there’s none of the wonder I first experienced as it trundled down the steep gradient to the city. But it’s the quickest way to get down the monster hill of Montjuic. It’d be great if it was also available to go back up, but the line shuts at 8pm, and neither of us has wanted to go back that early yet.

We head to somewhere in the near vicinity of Tom’s first job, which has the additional attraction of yet more of Barcelona’s fascinating architecture. As we emerge from Passeig de Gracia Metro, the first sight that greets us is an amazing house designed by Gaudi, its surreal curves in stark contrast to the more conventional but still impressive architecture next to it.

The whole area has some amazing architecture, even aside from Gaudi. I really do like this city, and after five days I’m getting a real sense of both its character and geography. If my plan comes off, and I get a teaching qualification and head off to teach English in foreign climes, Barcelona is going to high on my list of potential places to go. Tom or no Tom.

But we’re both here now, and we’re hungry. Thankfully this town is not short of good eateries for very little money, though we have to scout about to find one with good wifi and a power outlet for Tom’s huge, ancient laptop.

Doesn’t take too long though, and as he continues to work on his lesson plans, I reflect on how easy it is to work from anywhere these days. Most places here have free wifi (though power outlets seem harder to find), and if you have a decent laptop you can work from any cafe for hours – even if all you actually consume is a cappuccino.

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In my backpack I have a fairly new laptop with a six hour (approx) battery life, a 4TB hard drive with loads of movies, TV shows, my entire music collection, comics and books on it. Plus an ipad to read the comics and books on, and a speaker to play the music.  And when you can find a power outlet, as I do in the Wild Rover, you can charge all the batteries comparatively quickly. I also take advantage of their free wifi to download the most recent episodes of The Walking Dead. Basically everything I want in my life can now be carried on my back with ease – why not go nomadic?

I reflect at length on this after Tom heads off to his first class of the day. I haven’t wanted to completely miss out seeing the beach this trip, and it turns out that the nearest one is literally two stops down the Metro from Passeig de Gracia, at Barceloneta. That’s a no brainer.

It doesn’t take too long to get to the station, and it’s a short walk from there to the beach. The walk is as vibrant as everywhere else I’ve been in this town; all human life is here. A stretch Hummer glides inelegantly round a corner in front of me, as I walk past what look like some very exclusive yachts in the marina.

It doesn’t take long to get to the Barceloneta beach, and I experience my usual joy at the sight of it. I love beaches. It may be sunny but it’s not warm, and while there are plenty of people on the sand, most of them (like me) are wearing coats rather than swimsuits. That does at least have the advantage that there’s plenty of space to sit. Pausing only to admire some rather epic sand sculptures, I park myself near to the incoming tide, slip off my jacket, and spend a while just listening to the waves and trying the meditation techniques I’ve been practicing recently.

It is relaxing, even though you’re constantly interrupted by beach hawkers trying to sell you sangria, towels, and other such tat. But I feel a yearning for more wandering. There’s a lot of coast here, I’ve not got much to do. Let’s go look at it.

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I do a bit of Googling, and discover that Barcelona does actually have a nudist beach – up at Platje Mar Bella. I don’t really expect anyone to be naked when most of us are wearting jackets (and I’m certainly not going to start the trend myself), but it’s somewhere to aim for. A nice, hour long walk up the coast. That’ll do nicely.

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I do a lot of thinking as I walk. Although there’s been a lot of very honest talk over the last few days, and although I’m clearly still not over my recent serious bout with depression and anxiety, I still want to remake my life. Despite my acknowledgement that I’ve been obsessing over Tom to an unhealthy degree in the year since I split with my partner, following his example in this still strikes me as a good idea. People have told me for years that I’d make a good teacher of English. Now’s the time to do something about it, while I can still travel (Brexit permitting).

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I don’t know how, or even if, this will fit into my plan of doing van life. The teaching jobs are in cities, like this one, but they tend to be the hardest places to find anywhere good to park up in a van for any length of time. I’ve been fine in Parc de Montjuic for a week, but for a year? Something tells me I’d get noticed and moved on.

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So, maybe I’ll have to give up the van, and go for renting cheap rooms in houseshares. Maybe not a bad idea – seems like a good way to meet people in an unfamiliar city where you don’t know anyone. But no need to decide yet. I’m doing what I always do, overthinking it. Let’s start with first steps and go from there. There’s a CELTA course at Cambridge Regional College that starts in January and runs till March. Let’s see if I can fit that around the job I’ll still need to actually pay for it. Then when I’ve got the qualification, THAT’S the time to consider the next move.

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As you can tell by the interspersed pictures, I’m having a gentle amable up the coast as I consider all this. The sky’s clouding over, but it’s still tranquil. I pass people playing volleyball, a quite sexy guy apparently pulling a heavy case to make tracks in the sand, even some people apparently filming a commercial.

There’s a skatepark too, and I stop to watch for a while. Yes, I do fancy skater boys, but that’s not the only reason – I genuinely enjoy watching good skating. I wish I’d ever been able to master it myself.

I still think, unable to really stop. But this time I hope it’s productive. A year ago, all the certainties I’d had in my life were yanked away in one go. I’d never felt so lost. It’s been up and down since then, and I’m still lost. But I think I’m starting to find the way out. I’ve seized on my relationship with Tom like a drowning man clutching at a straw, hoping he could fill the gaps left. Intellectually, I knew he couldn’t. But it’s taken this trip, and these conversations, for me to start actually feeling it too. I’m so grateful to him for that.

I don’t know yet how to deal with being single, but I know I’ve been forcing it. Clinging to Tom, a couple of disastrous hookups from Grindr, visits to gay bars where, in the words of the Smiths, “you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home and you cry and you want to die“. It can’t be forced. I need to meet new people, yes, and maybe it will lead to something more than friendship. But it’s not something I can engineer, like fixing a head gasket. Life isn’t a car, and I can’t keep worrying at life’s problems like things I could fix if only I had the right spanner.
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And at least while I’m here, I can still have fun with my friend. It’s starting to rain again, but by 8:30 I’ve finished my blog and it’s time for us both to slog up the hill with our cans of Estrella. A night of chatting, listening to music, and chilling in the van with the back door open awaits. I may not be fixed yet, but maybe life isn’t so bad for now.

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