Sentir: COM QUE ESTIC ENMIG DE LA BOGERIA
And onto Barcelona. On landing (being EasyJet) we were shepherded into a waiting bus to be transferred to the terminal. Boarding near the back, I noted a bunch of rowdy British lads had overtaken the backseat and were being rather boisterous and brash (they had obviously indulged in a fair few tipples during the plane ride from Luton).
A frazzled looking young Spanish-seeming mum climbed up and in with her very close-to-new-born young son clamped to her chest; she almost pleaded with the boys to get them to move over and allow her to sit down, whereupon they grudgingly moved over to give her space to seat. But did they tone down the explicitness what with her and him being right next to them? Hell no. They got even more garish and obstreperous and recalcitrant with their volume, language and signage, unruly and raucous.
I was angry then. I was even angrier when an elderly couple embarked and the chaps didn’t arise and offer up their seats. I felt my fists clenching and my temper taking off. And then when one of the blokes pretty much shouted out a sentence of completely comprehensive swearing – as he leaned back on the mum and son – I felt my plasma poach (I.e., blood boil).
But before I had the chance to open my estuary, the elderly chap beside me was in like a fourth former at an intermediate social. “Oi you lot,” he reprimanded. “There’s a little baby right there. I think you better watch yourselves and your language.”
As I gave the man a respected nod of the head, the lads howled in hilarity and high fived. “Man, babies love me, all ‘ight?” one tosspot responded. “Just ‘cos I’m black you think you can talk to me like that.”
Mate, my insides seethed so that I couldn’t stop myself from getting embroiled. I was so incensed, the words vaulted from my voice box before I even realised I had rose up in retaliation. “Fellas, I don’t at all think this is an issue of race and what not,” I said. “How dare you be so damn disrespectful? I don’t know what your mamas” (alas! Yes, I did pull out the “mamas”) “taught you as they brought you up, but they did an abysmally shoddy job by the looks of things. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”
The carked it quiet (I.e., dead silence) that followed lent no noise bar the puckering of the little boy’s lips and the buzz of the bus. Although I was a tad taken aback at my flare-up, I stood my ground (well, bus floor) and glowered at the fuckers. And would you know it – one stood up, with a further three following suit, to give the old dears a sit-down. I nodded in ratification and – I’m almost hesitant to admit my wording here – said, “Your mamas would be proud”.
(Upon disembarking at the arrivals terminal the elderly man clapped me on the back and asked where in NZ I reigned from. (He had seen my passport). They were a couple coming from Oxford, in Spain for the weekend visiting their son, his wife and near-new grandkiddy. How cute).
During the fuckaround finding my hostel (no data, a non-connecting-to-wifi phone, finally getting the route upon hooking into a Hardrock Café and almost being mowed down by a fair few bicycles – did you know in Barcelona that while the cars go in lanes as per, the bikes have their own and go each way within meaning you must look both ways even if the traffic flow is even one?) my “word” for Barcelona rammed me with such certitude and conviction there was no question about it – Beautiful. In the buildings, the warmth of the weather, the people – both in personality and looks. (Because holy fuck, how striking are the males and females of all ages!!!!!!). Barcelona is just beautiful.
And mate, my hostel was positively on point. When booking a staying place for me and the companioning cousin Sarah the pickings had been slim – I didn’t know what the go was in Barcelona the first weekend of May, but bookings.com declared there were only a mere 17 per cent of options left to reserve. (Alas! Both my favoured Generator and St Christopher’s were out). So I had hustled a random one for my night alone, and another for the further two with Sarah in esprit de corps (the first out of availability the Fri and Sat).
So I turned up to Fabrizzio’s Terrace not expecting much (PMS couldn’t believe I had booked somewhere without even taking into account the trip advisor rating – he goes for no less than an eight) and was dumfoundedly delighted to discover I was in the Best Hostel Ever ™.
The hang out lounge complete with play station! The communal kitchen with help-yourself herbs and spices! The 24/7 free breakfast! (Cornflakes, croissants, juices, yoghurts – about seven options for flavours – cocoa pops and toast)! The tranquil terrace! It was a homely home of homies, and I instantly felt well welcomed and relaxed. (After a quick trot about the neighbourhood – right in the city centre – I hung out with a few pals in the lounge such as the sassy Chico who worked the desk, and we had yarns and laughs and what not. He asked me what I was “on”, not believing me when I said “nothing but life”; “You have to be on something,” he avowed. “No one is ever that happy or weird or crazy on nothing”. Well mate, they is and they is me).
(And get this – the lad on the desk upon us checking out invited us back for the free dinner the following evening “Oh thank you,” I replied. “But we aren’t actually staying here again tonight. You guys didn’t have room.” “No worries,” he said. You can still come and eat with us and hang out.” We were tickled!).
(And even furthermore, I told the lass on the desk later how my flight was at 6am Monday morning so I hadn’t seen the point of booking a hostel for the night, instead slumbering for a mere few hours at the actual airport itself, and she said I was welcome to just go and chill at the hostel in the lounge until the last Aerobus left at 1.30am! Mate, this place was simply sensational. “We are your home when you are in Barcelona,” she said. And she’s right – it truly does feel homely, intimate and inviting (plus the guys who work there are total babes). See? The beauty and the warmth of Barcelona).
And to bed.
I rose at 8am, extremely enlivened and enthused for the day ahead. You see, my young cousin Sarah (a Whatman, she is the younger daughter of Deb’s younger brother) is currently living in Spain herself, nannying in Anglesola for three months as part of her gap year while she works out what she wants to do. She is the most beautiful girl, extremely wise, insightful and mature for her age (so much so that I feel between the two of us she is the more adult) and being in her presence makes me so proud of the wonderful woman she has and is becoming (that sounded so trite. But grizzly with I – I.e., bear with me). When it was discerned I would be in Europe soon into her nannying stint, we locked in a weekend – this one in fact – for us to break out in Barcelona and take on the city Worts and all (What? Man, keep up).
Sarah was to be aboard an ALSA bus pulling into the Barcelona bus station on a coach that had travelled from Tarrega at 10.15am. So after awakening at 8am for a spot of yoga and a little run (Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look! I told myself as I covered my peripherals when I saw that the Sagrada Familia was a sheer street away from I – wanted to wait and see the sight with Sarah. Although I did run up to and have a chuckle at the thimble-penis reminiscent building ahead – can’t put my finger on it, but couldn’t help myself). Google maps informed me of a 17-minute journey to get there, so I made sure I left a 9.47am so I would be well and waiting for my cutie cousin as soon as she stepped off the bus.
I smirked as Siri announced I was a mere 300m from my destination at 10.01am. I thought I had it sold mate. “You have reached your destination,” she pronounced, and I looked up to where she had taken me and had an ephemeral attack of alarm. Rather than be at the bus station, you see, (which I later found I had totally just passed on by in my walking) I was at the ALSA garage, where all the buses go for maintenance and what not. Although Siri may have been on point, my keying in of terminus was quite humbly not at all.
In a fluster I flagged down a gathering of mechanics and explained me conundrum. Alas! To no avail – the assemblage of Spaniards did not speak English and did not understand my enigma. Luckily after a minute or so of attempts to apprehend, one caught on to my horrendous Catalonian “Nord! Um, bus nord!” and did some gesticulation with his hand that I took to mean as, “Go right, right, then right.”
So I did and ended up in a side street café asking the lad making lattes where the fuck I was.
I sprinted across the park – 10.17am – in a flurry, feeling awful. Poor Sarah! I knew she was a bit like me in the regard of having sometimes panic-y antiphons when things didn’t quite go to plan. And with neither of us having data to get in contact to let her know the go made it all the more of a perplexity. (We did have a backup plan that if I did not appear by 10.30am, to go to the nearest free wifi facility and hustle me a message). But as I ran wild eyed into the bus bay, my little lovely lass came joyously jogging out at me, hybrid Kathmandu on hand, for a movie-like happy hug and relief-filled embrace.
Time for the Whatmans to take Barcelona.
Honestly, the rest of the day is right up there with my favourite since being away if not the most prized. Sarah is such an absolute ray of sunshine and although she is only just 18 she has a worldliness and maturity that makes her seem beyond her years. Even if we weren’t related, she’s the sort of soul I would gravitate towards to be a friend (much like her sister Soph) and – it sounds so silly – I am just so damn proud of her and how she has turned out.
Enough gush. On with the day.
So after going back to the hostel to shower, sort and map our way around, we set out to see the sights. Originally we had planned to do a free walking tour but after discussing (a ten second “Shall we do this instead?”) I printed out the walking tour from my Contiki assignment and I took her around the must-sees myself.
We went to Sagrada Familia (large – and I mean large – Catholic church which was announced in 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI to be a “minor basilica”; designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, construction commenced back in 1882 and still isn’t finished. When Gaudi died in 1926 the project was less than a quarter complete – though hopes are high for a 2026 finish (tying in with the centenary of Gaudi’s death, believe it or not). Why the dawdling development? Well, you see, it relied on private donations and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War and such. But it is underway, with cranes and construction chaps working away as the millions of tourists mill about snapping shots), the Arc de Triomf (a memorial, triumphal arch built as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair, presiding over the promenade which leads into Ciutadella Park. When Sarah and I asked a passing las to take a pic of it in front of it we were a touch disappointed – and filled with mirth – to see he’d taken it of only us, the Arch itself showing only the mere reddish brickwork feet. It always makes me chuckle when people leave out the point of the photo. Like why else did we request this loco?) the Gothic Quarter (an amazing maze of lean lanes and sweet stores (in the “endearing” sense, though there were a few lolly ones) where Picasso’s very first exhibition took place) and The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (named after to co-patron saint of Barcelona in Eulalia. Born in 290, at age 13 she was persecuted by the Romans for refusing to denounce her religion. She was subjected to 13 different means of torture, including being shoved in a barrel filed with glass and knives and being rolled down the road, having her breasts cut off, being crucified on an X-shaped cross and ultimately being decapitated. It is said that upon her head being given the chop, a dove flew out from the space in her neck. Her remains actually lie under the high altar in a crypt inside, and can be lit up by slotting in some coinage. In the church complex also is the Cloister, of which the church is probably most famed for as “the loveliest oasis in Barcelona”. It is the central courtyard where there are always 13 geese pottering about – one for each year of Saint Eulalia’s life. The gaggle is all from the same line with their ancestors stretching back five centuries) (poor Sarah, I was loving being all full of merriment makers and imparting my information on her).
On crossing the square to get to the infamous La Rambla, we stopped to watch a group of (very sexy) guys doing some dancing and flick flacks and such. It was all very impressive (both the moves and the lads themselves) and the atmosphere of the observing assembly was very amicable and fun.
And then to La Rambla, the area of Barcelona I most wanted to see. So La Rambla is a 1.2km long tree-lined pedestrian mall street. Formed in 1440, it had as its former glory being a sewerage-filled stream bed that fed rainwater from the fills into the sea before taking on the status as the centre of Barcelona life (though it has listened to the lyrics of one Matiu Walters and not forgotten its roots – the design of the pavement is made to look like water rippled, in reference to its previous function). It is a common conception that the best and easiest place to hook a hooker in the world is the southern end of La Rambla; a few years ago, there was a story in The Times talking of the outrage of the exhibition of sex, with tourists paying a prostitute then engaging in sexual acts in full view of people on the streets. While brothels in the traditional definition are illegal in Spain, they abound in the form of whiskerias or “clubs” and are more often than not left to function as normal with a good 100 or so prostitutes able to be found on corners and in the alleys after dark. Prices for a quickie apparently range from 25 to 75 euros depending on your bartering, FYI. The street is also the hottest pick pocketing point in Europe, so bearings of belonging (and little locks, as I locked in upon Sarah’s bag as soon as I saw her) are earnestly advised.
We headed down the way to the Columbus Monument (a memorial to Christopher Columbus) to get the essential tourist shot of us aboard one of the lions. It was great hilarity when on getting on the beast’s back, Sarah whispered in my ear, “Fuck! I’m in a skirt. How am I going to get off this thing?! Everyone is going to see my vagina.” Luckily after much manoeuvring and using of her jacket to cover, we managed to slide her off. The crowd below certainly got a sight of a different type of growler than they had anticipated. “I feel sorry for the children,” Sarah said mournfully. “Oh well, I’ll never see any of these people again.”
We cantered off laughing uproariously. Suffice to say, I think we surpassed the pillar as the mane (pun purposes) attraction. (In the lion sense, I must clarify; I am not referring to any lengths of hair upon my mane-taned cousin).
We went back up La Rambla and decided that a big bowl of Sangria along the city’s most famous street was in order. However, the bastard wait staff at the promenade places had other ideas. While one demanded we must eat to take a table, another said we must both buy a bucket, rather than share one as we had agreed upon.
It fucking guts me when people are rude. Like, fair enough, it’s a busy street with millions milling about and as a business you want to capture the clientele that will bring in the most cash, but there’s no need to be dismissive and discourteous about it. An apologetic smile with an accompanying, ‘I’m sorry but to sit down you must both have something each,” or words to that effect would have been far more pleasant, with us moving on with no ill grace towards them. (I made sure to tell one of the men this as we strode of. Where has all this stand-up sass come from all of a sudden?). (Jokes, it’s always been there. I think now I’m just – apologies for the coming crassness – – and that unintentional nutty pun – growing the balls to word it all aloud).
So we carried on our way, stopping in at the remarkable Nike shop (got a tick in my book) and making a to-do list for the following day. We stopped off at Placa de Catalunya (considered the city centre and place where the Old City and 19th-century built Eixample meet) to feed the infamous flock of pigeons. (I has stashed a few muffins and croissants in Sarah’s bag for her to munch on as we marched about the city and we decided we would feed one to the bundles of birds. “Which one shall we give them, a muffin or croissant?” I asked Sarah. “What do you think they’d prefer?” she replied. I actually had to sit down in my mirth. “Mate, I think it’s more what you would prefer to keep for yourself,” I said between gasps for air).
We went back to the fabness that is Fabrizzio’s Terrace and gathered our gear, then seat off for the 39min walk to our next staying place (we smashed it in a mere 29. Get it together Google). It was like a sign from above – we had literally just been talking of our need to suss out a waxing slash threading place to get our faces back on point (alas, we both suffer from the mo misfortune of the woes of the Whatman whiskers) when we stumbled upon a store with the lady chatting to a chap at the door. Through broken language we established that an upper lip wax (I had a momentary panic where she pointed to the word that looked like “labia” and furiously shook my head) was a meagre three euro, so we entered the establishment and proceeded to be de-haired.
I went first and as the lovely lady smeared the wax on my face I couldn’t stop laughing. “It looks like caramel calcium yoghurt,” I sez to Sarah, who got in on the giggle. When I was all free of fuzz and what not she lay down for her turn; “Had a Yoplait there mate?” I asked when she was coated with the concoction, setting the sniggers off again.
After paying the cheap charge and getting two kisses on each cheek from the lovely lady, we continued on our way. We were just commenting on how we were lucky it was all so flat, when a gradient suddenly took hold and we were sweating as we made our way up the steep street to our hostel.
“I hope I have the right one in Google this time,” I nervously commented. “I mean, it’s called ‘Factory House’. What if I’m taking us to some sort of sweatshop works or what not?”
But brill, I was on point, and we arrived panting at the place. And – oh the joy! – once again I had hit a home run in the hostel game with Factory House having an 8.2 rating (there you go PMS) and being clean and friendly. We were distributed our keys (a wristband chipped in with the unlock, how smart!) and shown to our dorms (I bunking on top and Sarah beneath, blue swishy curtains able to be shut for privacy) and after unpacking and a little refreshen we went for a walk to find a place to sangria and snack up.
We decided that tonight would be a chill one, having a spot of dins then heading back for an early retirement and SLEEP IN in the morning (we were greatly excited about this aspect). Our new hostel was located in the Gracia neighbourhood, being the Bohemian bit, and our lovely receptionist said it was not so touristic – there were many a place to retreat and eat, she said, with the prices much more locally set and what not.
So we trottled down to the squares of surrounding bars, restaurants and such and sat up to sip back sangria (Sarah wasn’t such a fan, so I sipped most of hers back too). After an hour or so we returned to our roost, had some smashing showers and then went to bed, pretty much settling into slumber as soon as we shut eye (with me then being awoken by some bloody loud latecomers who switched on the light and proceeded to joke and jostle while what seemed like unpacking and repacking all their bags. I furiously swished open my curtains, glared at the pair while tutting in distaste, then shut them again. They then shut up and went to sleep – as did I. Sassy success? Yes, I think so).
One thing to add in: both Sarah and I were somewhat surprised at the look of the Spanish people. I guess what with famous Spaniards such as Penelope Cruz and Enrique Iglesias, we had expected dark, sexy and smouldering sorts and were a touch tripped up by the fact that the people in fact looked very European in the sense of UK, Czech, Austrian-like. But beautiful, oh so beautiful, all around. So much striking!
So a fab, fun-filled day all round. Just truly on point. I think Barcelona has surpassed Rome, Budapest and Berlin to take up second-equal placing alongside Dublin (Nepal still holds the gold).
I am pumped for tomorrow (plans of hill climbing, market meandering and shop, well, shopping, abound). And I love my little Sarah – there’s no one else I’d rather be here with.
Barcelona, you beauty.