Barcelona

I’d been to Barcelona a few years ago, and I didn’t love it. The hostel I stayed at had no English speakers, and I thought I’d be fine with that – you can meet people all over the place when you’re travelling. So I’d gone to a cheap little bar and made friends with a bartender there, this gorgeous woman named Maria who would go and buy fresh oranges just to make me fresh orange juice (they usually used the bottled stuff) and pour me bowls of chips that I never got to the bottom of before she’d refill them.

That was where I met Chris, an ex-con from the US who’d run away to Spain and was having a grand old time there running a number of illegal operations. Chris was a lot of fun at the start – before he got stabbed beating up a guy who’d tried to pickpocket him. Then Chris had a stab wound in his back and was on a lot of drugs because he refused to go to the hospital, and that freaked me out a little bit. Chris was also really into me and starting to get pushy about it. I ended up ditching Chris.

The next travellers I found myself with were a trio of very stereotypically gay men. They were all young American lawyers and had their guidebooks with them with very specific things that they needed to see and do, had very expensive tastes, and were just really hoity toity (a phrase that I’ve never used to describe anyone I’ve met, ever). I saw a lot of tourist attractions with them, but I was definitely just tagging along as opposed to hanging out. I left them at the end of the day.

Then I met Kate, who was staying at one of the St Jordi hostels. She’d been pickpocketed, so was mainly interested in running around doing free things (something I could totally dig), and we had a lovely chilled day, after which she took me back to her hostel and I joined their nightly pub crawl. It was nice but a little intense – we ended up at some really club with shitty chart music and a plethora of very flirty Spanish men but it was a lot of fun until it started getting too crowded. We left, and I spent the next few hours until the morning wandering the streets of Barcelona alone, at night, desperately hungry, trying to find something to eat. For a city that parties so late they really don’t offer many options for food past midnight.

So that was Barcelona at the first attempt. I definitely had an interesting time, and it was certainly an experience but I was in no way in love with the city and Ihad absolutely no desire to return. But ever since then, everyone I meet who’s been there always raves about it. I’ve heard so many people say Barcelona is their favourite city in the world and I’ve literally never heard anyone bad mouth it at all. So, when Eric and Ty said they were going to Barcelona next, and Tom shot down my choice of going to Cordoba, saying that it would be dead at this time of the year and that I wouldn’t meet anybody there, I decided to give Barcelona a second chance.

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I’d found this gorgeous little place to stay in called Jam Hostel and they had yoga classes every morning, so I figured that if worst came to worst, I could just spend my whole time in Barcelona reading books and doing yoga. I hadn’t been doing any exercise while travelling thus far and my clothes were getting uncomfortably tight around my waist so that actually seemed like a great second option.

Barcelona is a five hour train from Seville, and I spent my trip sitting next to a sweet old man – a little too sweet, if truth be told. He kept trying to speak to me in Spanish despite my desperate entreaties that ‘no habla espagnol’, as if he thought that if he just spoke clearly and slowly enough Iwould miraculously understand, and he supplemented it with rather vague hand gestures, making me feel like I was playing some incredibly stressful game of charades. He did however offer to share half his sandwich and banana with me, watched my bags every time I went to the bathroom and woke me up when I got to my stop.

I got into the station, bought a ticket, and got the metro to my hostel, my spirits high. ‘Maybe this was a good omen’, I thought. ‘Everything is going so well this time, hopefully it means that the rest of my time here will be as pleasant. Besides, it’s a Thursday night so I can go out and finally listen to something other than Latin or RnB…..’ and then I stepped out at Joanic and it was raining.

Slowly getting wetter and wetter I walked to my hostel from the metro, my excitement dampened almost as much as my clothes.

‘It’s okay’, I told myself, trying to keep my spirits up, ‘I’ll just put my bags down, I’ll talk to someone, I’ll find Eric and Ty…’ I didn’t. I got to my hostel, which was incredibly cozy and homey, but the only other English speaker I could discern was Sophie, a super serious artist from London who acted like the idea of laughing offended her, and Eric and Ty weren’t replying to my messages, and it was raining and I was wet and sweaty and tired and a little bit over it.

To it’s credit, this hostel had the nicest bathrooms I’ve seen anywhere. I had a very comforting shower, got into something clean and dry and decided to go to by fallback plan of reading in bed. Of course, this would be when Eric and Ty replied, but it’s not easy to get yourself out of bed once you’re in it, especially when it’s raining outside and you’re in a city that you don’t like. So I stayed in bed and arranged to meet them the next day.

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My next morning consisted of yoga in the sun, copious amounts of rooibos tea, eggs, salami, cheese and 2 very sweet kaki (what the Spanish call persimmons). There’s nothing like yoga and a huge breakfast to make me feel good.

Feeling decidedly more cheerful, I put on the Jezabels on my ipod and sauntered out to meet the guys. Walking through my neighbourhood in the sun proved infinitely more enjoyable than it had been last night in the rain. I was staying in the Gracia, which I was later told was the most hipster part of Barcelona, and it was very obvious.There were cute little shops and art everywhere, and a plethora of fruit stores, and it made me feel like I was in a Catalan version of Glebe.

‘Maybe Barcelona isn’t so bad’, I thought. Last time I’d been right near La Rambla, and it was super touristy and I’d hated it, but this was much more chilled. But the best surprise was when I got to Ty’s hostel and he ambled up to ask me if I liked Flux Pavilion. Flux Pavilion is only one of my favourite DJs, and I’d been desperately hoping to catch him in the UK. As it turned out, he was playing that nght at Razzmatazz, and it was only 15E.

I looked it up and started to understand a little better why people loved Barcelona. So many of the artists that I liked were playing in Barcelona over the next few weeks, on almost every day of the week, and it was all super cheap. It didn’t matter how much I loved/hated the actual city, seeing the gig guide for the next month made me salivate and I would definitely have been happy to spend a month in Barcelona just reading and doing yoga all day if I could see all these artists in the evening, for next to nothing.

But I had only four days in Barcelona, not a month, so I was going to have to make more of an effort during the daytime. ‘Let’s go get some food’, I suggested, sure that that would be a good start. Everywhere else in Spain had been absolutely amazing for food, why wouldn’t Barcelona be?

Unlike everywhere else in Spain, however, the food in Barcelona was hella expensive! Finally, amidst a plethora of 20 and 30 Euro menu du jours we spied one for 9.90 Euros and jumped. As yet unused to Catalan, I decided to go with what I thought were the ‘safe’ options on the menu – patatas ali-oli, grilled salmon, and crema Catalana. What I got was literally three potatoes, on top of some sad looking lettuce, with huge dollops of mayonaisse on top. ‘This is what you were raving about?’ asked Eric incredulously, having followed my lead after I’d gushed about how fantastic patatas ali-oli usually was. My salmon came out really dry too, although the Crema Catalana was alright, though not exceptional. ‘Man’, Eric said, ‘Barcelona’s food is a bit of a let down.’ I agreed. I get so excited about food that if it’s bad I just feel so betrayed by the universe.

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Following that disappointment, Eric suggested we go to Parc Guell. He was so excited about it, having read up on it and seen the pictures of Gaudi’s grand structures. It was nice as parks go, and I liked it – there were cool musicians everywhere, playing the slide guitar and double bass and saxophone, and it was kind of groovy. We wandered along the windy paths, Eric and Ty trying to climb some of the walls and all of us taking ridiculous photos.

But Eric and Ty felt pretty let down. I’d seen the paid part the last time I’d been in Barcelona and was just enjoying hanging in the park with friends, but they’d come here specifically to see some of Gaudi’s work and it was all hidden away. Ty and I didn’t want to pay the 8 Euros to see it and Eric was happy to pay but didn’t want to go alone, so we ended up just leaving, both of them voicing their dissatisfaction regarding the whole experience. After all my Barcelona-hating and their assurances that it would be amazing, I found their put-upon-ness pretty amusing.

Despondent, we decided to have a siesta and regroup after that back at Eric’s hotel. Eric had switched to a hotel after his hostel hadn’t let him bring any guests in, and so was paying 115 Euros a night to stay at Andante, which had a beautiful rooftop with an infinity pool looking out over a seriously breathtaking cityscape – the perfect place, he’d thought, to chill with some friends. Andante didn’t think so; when I arrived they refused to let me go up without my passport, even though I offered them my drivers license and credit cards, even though Eric had paid for two people. It took a lot of begging, pleading and then ultimately Eric threatening to leave before they finally let me up.

Neither Eric and I are ever the type to threaten hospitality workers because we’ve both been in those positions but the guy at the reception had literally barely even listened to my request and had ignored me and was then just really rude to both of us without giving us a reason.

We only had a short time on the rooftop before we had to leave. I’d had the brilliant idea that we should do some salsa and bachata lessons and had looked some up online, so we set off following Google maps to some back street where a few people were gathered on the sidewalk. ‘Salsa?’ we asked ‘Si’ someone resonded. There were no signs, just nondescript buildings and we looked at each other dubiously, wondering what this was going to be like. It was all very mysterious: a window opened up and a woman poked her head out, then a door opened down the bottom and everyone went up all these flights of stairs into what looked like an apartment converted into a dance studio, and they all bustled about while we stood around looking awkard.

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When the class finally did start, it turned out that I’d made the hilarious mistake of taking us to an advanced, Spanish, dance class. Oops. Eric and I looked at each other, worried. Do we leave? Do we stay? I went over to the dance teacher and asked; “You can stay,” she said “But it will be in Spanish, so you’ll just have to watch and copy.” In all honesty it just felt a bit too awkward to walk out, with the exit diagonally opposite the room to where we were. So we stayed.

That dance class was honestly the most hilarious experience I’d had thus far while travelling. The dance teacher was incredibly sexy, then we’d try to copy what she was doing (keep in mind the class was half male) and I would end up in hysterics. The whole front wall was mirrored so you could watch everyone else in the class; Eric looks very manly so when he’d go to do body rolls I’d just burst out laughing. Ditto with the other men in the class. “Slap me” I whispered urgently to Eric, “I literally just can’t stop laughing!” Eric shot me a look “Keep it together! You can do it!”

The Bachata was better, I actually got it really well after watching. I’m usually not good at following directions but Dora was a really good teacher. One of the men realised it was my first time and told all the other guys, and they were very encouraging and told me I was just as good as the other women in the class. The salsa was another matter, and I felt like that compliment got completely rescinded when we switched dance styles. I blame Eric – we started off dancing together and he just could not get the footwork right, and while I tried to show it to him I missed out on all the other directions. When we switched partners Isettled for just letting the men lead and trying to be as pliant as possible.

The whole experience was both super stressful and incredibly fun. At the end, one of the ladies gave Eric her details, asked him for his number and kissed both his cheeks just a little too enthusiastically. I wondered if I should jump in and mention a fake girlfriend. We left in fits of laughter, swapping stories about our various dance partners.

We headed back to Gracia for dinner, and this time made (mostly) better meal decisions: I had a lovely chicken wrap while Eric had some really nice salami and tzatziki and then some less nice potatoes topped with goat’s cheese where the goat’s cheese looked like glue paste and apparently tasted something like that too.

It was shaping up to be a much better evening than our morning had been. We went from there to a jazz club called El Paragua, walking through this really quiet square that was all lit up with a huge Christmas tree and giant nativity. The jazz club itself was hidden underneath what wasn’t a particularly remarkable looking restaurant, but you went down the stairs and the basement was an old wine cellar with fairy lights and red bricks and a banging cocktail bar and little bowls of nuts on every surface. The band was swinging, and every now and then another intoxicated middle aged lady would get up and try to dance drunkenly along in the tiny strip of space up the front.

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We stayed for a few songs, but as soon as it hit 12.50 we set off for Razzmatazz, where we were meant to meet Ty (he’d skipped out on the dance classes for a pub crawl run by his hostel). How do I convey just how happy I felt when I set foot in there? Imagine if you really liked food – like, really really liked food – and had been absolutely starved for a few weeks and then you got to go to a Michelin starred restaurant. It was  little bit like that. There was some beautifully crafted techno playing and I lost myself in the flashing lights and bass.

That night was intense. I’d already been dancing so much earlier that day, and then went really hard at Razzmatazz. I was aching and sore everywhere and I just didn’t care. I got absolutely drenched in beer and other alcoholic beverages, and was sticky and wet and sweaty and I just didn’t care. I did moan a little bit when someone got their drink in my right boot, yet again, which I guess is maybe just cursed to squeak for eternity since it seems to be a magnet for people to spill liquid into, but I got over it pretty quickly. Flux Pavilion, when he came on, was amazing – he started with Gold Dust and the crowd just went absolutely bonkers.

The night passed by in a blur, and we headed into the subway just before 5am, absolutely exhausted. I got onto the train in a bit of a trance state, fell asleep, and woke up (fortunately) at my stop, very pleased and relieved to find that I hadn’t been pickpocketed.

I trudged back to my hostel and crawled into my lovely warm bed just as the sun was beginning to lighten up the sky, which is such a peaceful feeling.

I guess everyone was right and Barcelona wasn’t so bad after all.

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