Sometimes train travel should be fast and efficient, like on a Thursday evening when we are leaving Sydney to visit The Folly, Freddie and Mr P. Other times you want a slow, ambling, shambling journey on an old fashioned train with quirky service, for example, when traveling between Barcelona and Montpellier on yours hols. Life is rarely perfect and J and I find ourselves hurtling through the Spanish countryside towards the French border at a disappointingly fast rate. In our parallel life , we rarely get to Bundy on time, adding to the frustration.
We have had a lovely 6 nights in easy, historic, vibrant Barcelona. Firstly up a bloody big hill and then in the centre next to the old port.
The big hill was the Tibidabo area, a National Park overlooking the city and a magnet attracting very serious people in Lycra who want to start their day in much pain by cycling to the top (I don’t even think they shout ‘weeeeeeeeeeeee’ all the way down). Besides finding sweaty MAMILs at the top, there is also a very odd car crash of the historic and modern. Right on top of the hill is an old huge and elaborate church (Temple Expiatori Del Sagratcor), surrounded by cobbled streets, old mansions, a couple of hotels and lovely, hilly woodland. Intertwined with this is………….. an amusement park. Roller coasters, a big wheel, a monorail, and a few more rides. Think of the love child of Mont St Michel and a down at heel 70s Disney land. All rather odd.
We were staying a few hundred metres down the hill at the very peaceful Antigua Biblioteca Almirail AirBnB. The actual house is a lovely building that used to house the library of the grand mansion next door. It was bought and renovated by the current owners and now has the original library room as a huge space full of original features to relax in, more modern rooms down stairs where the family live, and a small room plus bathroom next to the pool for AirBnB guests.
The hosts were not there, so we were looked after by their very organised and attentive daughters. The family have an interesting back story. Mum is Colombian, dad is Norwegian and the kids are Spanish. A few years ago they decided to sack it and travel the world (2 adults and 4 kids over 16) in a Toyota Landcruiser equipped for camping. Whilst it must have been cramped and at times tense, Alex described it as the ‘best present a parent could ever give them’. I can well imagine it was an incredible experience and I thought of all the people who told us that they would love to do what J and I are doing but couldn’t, because of the kids. Perhaps youshould, because of the kids.
Our mission here was to relax, sleep lots, catch up on all the stuff we should have done before we left, and plan forward. Mostly we achieved it. It took us until night three to be awake after dark, and I slept for about 10 hours each night. We also managed to get a bit more of a plan together for the next few weeks (Montpellier and surrounds for 4 nights, a hire car for a three day slow amble to Troyes, Troyes and the Champagne area for Champagne en Fete with Bridget and friends, a flight to Lisbon from Orly, three nights in Lisbon then a rough plan to work away through Portugal and Northern Spain, getting to Bordeaux for a wine tasting at Chateau Talbot on 20th August, followed by a flight to Corsica on the 21st. Then…………..)
A bit of bad news that turned out ok was that on day 2, the family were hosting a team building event for 70 twenty something international students. A slight impediment to proper relaxing. The good bit was that part of the event was cooking classes so we returned from a walk to some samples: a lovely local pasta meets risotto thing, some lovely salads and local beer. A fantastic treat and we would have then beenhappy to have events on everyday.
The event meant that I also got to meet the uncle who was doing the cooking. He is a fascinating professor of change and had recently returned from a lecturing tour in Cuba. He is also restoring a yacht that was once owned by the old Spanish king, who from my understanding used it as a place to take women to (“He had a very big heart, so had to love many, many, women, and the boat was as good a place as any”). Once renovated, he and his wife are off to circumnavigate the globe. Very inspiring.
We made a new friend whilst there: a big black Alsatian called Black who demanded attention whenever we were outside, slept outside our room, swam in the pool and ignored commands in 3 different languages (Spanish, English and Norwegian). His most notable feature was his desire to play fetch with stones, rocks, bits of plastic and my towel. We were asked not to encourage him, so at no point did I throw anything or engage with him. That didn’t stop him and he would drop stuff on you at all times of day and night in the hope we would give in. I got genuinely angry when he dropped a small log on my face when I was doing some sit ups. The host said Black was hyper intelligent. I think they meant very special……. It’s a bit like people who have three kids and one is clearly stupid: they always tell you he’s very bright even as he sticks his hand in the fire for the 22nd time.
We managed a couple of day trips from here: one to Barcelona and one to Sant Saduri D’anoia, home to Freixenet and the majority of Spain’s Cava production. The latter was great fun. We had a tour of Freixenet that was genuinely interesting then drank a healthy amount of cava in various different Caves until it became a little unhealthy. We were helped to misbehave by a lovely young couple from England who shared our lack of common sense and our desire to try lots of different varieties of cava. I am not sure if any of us were achieving sensible conversation by the time we got off the train back in Barcelona.
We said goodbye to the pool and the cool air of the hills and headed to our city Airbnb on day 5, which was an ensuite room in a old apartment block near the port. Perfectly located, with welcome aircon and a pleasant host. It was the first time we have stayed in a shared place, where shared means more than sharing with the hosts and other rooms are rented to other travellers. A bit like a very small hotel. I think this may be reasonably common in Europe so we will have to get used to it, or pay more for an entire place.
We did some great exploring around the city and I cannot understand why it had not been high up on our list of places to go whilst we were in Europe. It is easy to get around, is full of history, has great food and booze (I discovered the joy of Vermouth with ice and orange on our last night, which is a massive lost opportunity. Jodie discovered that some bars serve their Vermouth with an olive stuffed with Anchovy by chewing one, which was a massive and almost messy surprise). It is also safe and has a great mix of old city and beach life.
I say that, but we didn’t go to the beach really, only ran along it, but it was obviously well used. Especially at night when the many nightclubs are obviously full, or at least are surrounded by people who want to leave rubbish everywhere. On my dawn runs I felt rather out of place and old amongst the die hards who had pushed through to dawn and were still drinking beer or smoking dope as the sun rose. I understood why they didn’t do a rubbish clear first thing in the morning, as drunken tourists from all around Europe were still messing the place up until about 8 am. Bah, I’m getting old and grouchy.
That brings me to running in general. I am running the Berlin Marathon in 8 weeks so need to keep the running up. Living of top of a bloody big hill made this a little challenging. 10km felt like 20 and after a few runs, my legs were dead. That, combined with heaps of walking mean that they remain dead. It’s going to be a long campaign.
Barcelona is of course associated with Gaudí and we visited a few of his remarkable buildings. I find my self a bit conflicted when I see his work. Some is full of the most beautiful curves and shapes, mixing nature with buildings and furniture in such a bold way. Others look like bones or something out of a horror movie. On balance, it is rather amazing.
One of our Gaudí experiences, a visit to his old house in the Parc Guell, went a bit wrong for a couple of reasons. Firstly we walked for about 40 mins in the midday sun, mostly up hill. This meant that J was very hot and bothered by the time we got to the park, so I opted not to share the news I saw when I opened my email to retrieve our tickets until later. A message from my brother Nic “Fuck, the house sale has fallen through”……… the house sale that is/was funding this adventure.
I felt physically sick whilst we went through Gaudí’s house and I remember very little of it. When we left we sat on a bench in the shade in his garden and I broke the news to J, who as ever, copes with the big challenges in our lives with ease.
We hope that this will not hit us too hard and our initial calculations suggest that on a strict budget, we will be ok for about 7.5 months. So we have 7.5 months to sell the house. We will also have to change our plans a bit: hiring a yacht in the Med is off for now, and visiting the gorillas in Rwanda may be postponed, and the wine we drink maybe a little bit rougher……… but these really are first world problems and adventures aren’t supposed to go as planned.
I mentioned Barcelona is easy and it really is. Public transport consists of a great urban underground metro that is not hub and spoke, a suburban train network that is fast and efficient and a really easy to use bus network (made even easier by Google maps, which makes everything so easy it may take some of the adventure away) and the city is a bike riders paradise. For all it’s wonderful features, the shortcomings of Sydney’s transport and the politicians that are responsible for it, are hugely apparent when compared to this.
Smart phones make everything much easier than it used to be. You don’t get lost unless you make a decision just to wander. You can translate anything you need to. You can decide where to go next and book it all without speaking to anyone. No more confusion. No more walking through building sites after getting of a bus in the wrong place, no more turning up to a hotel on the wrong day. You can even check the ABV of Vermouth after your fourth, which is probably an interesting story denied. J is however missing her hard copy lonely planet, so we will not be entirely digital.
Smart phones also bring evil. Instagram, insta or IG. We are on IG and I know that my hashtags are probably very annoying. I also spend time looking for good photos, which may be good or bad. But we are amateurs on IG compared to so many, and this is the first time I’ve noticed the bizarre behaviour that leads to many insta photos. The pouting. The strange dresses people wear to go sightseeing, the boyfriends with seemingly unlimited patience. There can be more ‘takes’ than the filming of an Olly Reed movie after he’d had a big night out. I even saw a women out jogging, with immaculate hair, in full slap, some kind of sexy bra/running top, filming herself with a selfie stick as she jogged. Ridiculous. Nice bra though.
Everybody speaks English too, though that doesn’t stop us talking in bad Spanish whilst the replies come in perfect English. We found one exception, and that was in a small café in the small village just below our first Airbnb. We tried our bad Spanish and they had no English or written menu. Solution: take us into the kitchen and show us stuff. It almost worked but they kept bringing me food. Either I nodded at the wrong time or they decided I was a fat bastard/needed to be fed, depending on your perspective. We only later realised they were giving me the menu del dia – a fixed price bargain lunch, so must have thought I was weird when I only ate one of 3 courses!