One of the best things about loving to write is that it’s an inexpensive hobby which can be undertaken anywhere at any time. Just stick me on a seat somewhere with a notebook and a pen in some place where I can inhale the situation around me and exhale script, and I’m a satisfied woman.
This post is about my recent trip to Barcelona; and on this occasion I’ve strayed away from writing a general piece about the place. Rather, I’m going to describe a couple of moments from those jotted down in my notebook.
I didn’t really know anything of Barcelona before visiting. Many people I know had had much more familiarity with the city, and had told me various interesting snippets about it, but for me the relationship between the capital of Catalonia and I had never been personal. Until I landed there a couple of weeks ago.
Prior to this I had only ever been able to associate it with the 1992 Olympics, and the fragmented and probably inaccurate memories of being six years old and watching a lady in a brown dress singing the famous musical namesake alongside the vocals of Freddie Mercury upon a global stage, before throwing up on a packet of Quavers (me, not the singing lady). What a legacy for a city to have held for 24 years. I am almost ashamed…
Nonetheless, I liked what I saw of the place. I’m not normally a big fan of cities, but the blend of different landscapes won me over: the cobbles and the history and the beaches and the art. Something new to see on every corner. No rushing (having to wait for a Green Man every five seconds makes sure of that), and having time to write…
So herewith, a few short stories from my trip…
A Trip to El Carmel
With a train ticket for which I can claim ten individual journeys for 10 Euros, and with time on my hands, I look at a map of the Metro and select the most random name as somewhere to go to. ‘El Carmel’, to the North West of Linea 5, is my station of choice. To me, it just sounds a bit nobby. Like ‘caramel‘. I immediately envision a bunch of happy commuters heading to El Carmel for some molten toffee related joy. It won’t be anything like that, I know, but to me it looks out the way enough to host something that may be interesting.
It takes a fair few attempts to get to El Carmel. Three, to be blunt. The curse of not understanding Spanish instruction mean that I go back on myself three times before reaching my destination. El Carmel is pretty nothingey to be honest, just a steep street of very little beyond a couple of quiet taverns that don’t seem to have had their exteriors refurbished since the 1980’s. But this is far from a wasted journey. For me, it’s just nice to get away from the tourists, especially your stereotypical group of loud Brits that you always encounter abroad – the ones who you so often overhear swearing about this, moaning about that, always expecting something for nothing and wondering why nobody understands them when they reel off complex English to natives. That’s one of the reasons I like to get off the beaten track; the other is that these random places – whilst not being aesthetically amazing – are the ones that feel more real. They serve as authentic vignettes into the lives of what it really means to be a resident of Barcelona. This is the cultural impression you won’t always find in the guidebooks, and it’s nice to take a moment to soak it up, even if I don’t stay long. At all.
I’m not sure there’s a single word that may be able to define those sudden moments in which you feel at one with your surroundings… those fleeting experiences where you feel locked entirely in the present. It’s not necessarily about being anywhere special, it’s just about being somewhere at some time where the sensations around you hit you all at once. For me it’s on the Metro ride back from El Carmel: The sight of the lady opposite me with a kitten on her lap. The sound of the chirpy quintet of musical notes that inform us that we’re approaching the next station. A passing scent of marshmallows and shower gel. Other peoples’ legs brushing past mine as we travel during rush hour. Just the sensation of being somewhere different.
Notes from a Cafe con Leche in Parc Montjuic
“You stupid, clumsy idiot!” I think to myself as I sit at the cafe which neighbours the Metro station for the infamous parc Montjuic, home of the Olympic stadium and Palau Nacional amongst others.
I’ve had to take an immediate pit-stop upon arrival after a carbonated drink leaked it’s entirety into my rucksack somewhere on the walk between here and Paral-lel station.
The bag is soaked so I’m hoping to air it out a little first rather than continue carrying it around on my back.
It’s the most recent in a succession of clumsy episodes I’ve perpetrated recently. The other was failing to see the massive signage in the hostel dormitory which clearly explained which bed was which. I slept in one which was allocated to somebody else, and didn’t realise it until the middle of the night when I was stirred by a US accent commenting that somebody was sleeping in her bed. I felt a bit like Goldilocks (minus the decent hair and free grub, which would have been pretty welcome on my budget!) The girl was asleep this morning so I left her a note which was embarrassing to write. It went something like,
“Oh hi, I have realised I am completely ditzy for shit and can’t read generously sized signage, sorry for stealing your bed”
(Okay, I was a little more polite and less self-depreciating than that, but that’s what I wanted to write).
But then, holidays aren’t for deploying brain cells, I guess, even though I do feel bad for inadvertently betraying hostel etiquette.
Nevermind that, or anything else though. I suddenly become grateful for my leaking bag, because it’s prompted me to sit and take the time to take in a pretty awesome view of the city. An old guy who reminds me of a Spanish version of my late Uncle Ken has served me up a couple of the most delicious cafe con Leche and after an overcast morning the sun is lighting up Barcelona, and it’s time to explore.
Rooftop Yoga Under the Light of the Moon
On the crest of a whimsical wave I decided to sign up to the free rooftop yoga session which was being offered by the hostel on a Friday evening.
It had been 5 years since I’d last tried yoga back home in Canterbury, and though I’d struggled with the art back then, I deemed it worthy of a second chance, particularly out here in Spain.
At 8:30pm a group of us assembled in the hostel foyer before a staff member reminiscent of Cher helped to bundle us into the elevator up to the ‘secret floor’ from which we could access the rooftop pavilion, an act which was usually forbidden.
It was a platform which boasted some amazing views of the city at night. To the left, we could see the Torre Agbar lit up in bright blues and pinks. Straight ahead lay the crane-clad figure of the Sagrada Familia. Palau Nacional beamed its blue rays across the city, and the surface of the ocean glistened under the glow of the full moon. Not that you’d be able to tell from the photo below, which unfortunately is the best shot I got:
I picked up a yoga mat and placed it on one of the few remaining patches of floor. Somewhat typically, I had managed to find the only bit above which a leaking valve was intermittently dripping an oily, pungent liquid onto the floor (and later on, my arm).
The teacher – a beanpole shaped shadow at the front – began the session:
“Wiz thiz zhezhion, we hope zhat you will feel zhe fool moon. Breazh in zhe moon. Exhale zhe moon!”
(As seemingly the sole Brit, I was probably the only participant thinking about Jaffa Cakes at this point)
And so began an hour of stretches and breathing which I was grateful to have been able to try for free, but couldn’t really get into. For starters, half the classmates were a bunch of excruciatingly loud professionals on tour from the US, a couple of whom I was convinced I could hear mocking my choice of trousers at one point. The notion was compounded by spotting myself in the epicentre of what appeared to be a sneaky selfie as they took it.
I cheered up by reminding myself that they were on a yoga holiday; and had traveled all this way just to basically stretch and breathe in a different setting.
I just don’t get yoga. Well, that’s not quite true – I understand it – I just find it exceptionally boring. What’s more, for an exercise which oscillates round the key concepts of nature and mindfulness, there was something that just felt so inherently wrong about practicing it a mere couple of blocks away from the Passeig de Gracia, a big fat modern street that itself oscillates round the concept of commercialism and overpriced designer goods.
It’s safe to say that for a taster session, for me it had all the flavour of boiled rice, but it was certainly an experience, and so I don’t regret it. I think it’s awesome that the opportunity was even there, because it didn’t have to be, and it’s one I certainly won’t forget…
What a pleasure,
visiting Parc Ciutadella,
as rowing boats drift in the sun.
Bright warm weather,
climbing the fountain at leisure,
and tightropes between trees for fun.
Cerveza in hand,
an Indian dance in the bandstand,
it’s a nice afternoon for one…