Barcelona

October 5, 2008

Despite being back in England, with permanant work, I’m very happy to report that I’m still able to travel about. Yipeee.

Last weekend I braved the best of the North of England’s British transport and headed from Huddersfield to Manchester and then by a Terravision (the unlikely name for an Italian bus company, staffed entirely by Eastern Europeans, operating airport services throughout Europe) service to Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

Fortunately I wasn’t carrying annoying little bottles of liquid in my luggage, and so I didn’t have to put 50p into the automatic crisp machine, which instead of crisps sold only empty plastic zip lock bags. Two and a half hours later… and a long chat with a very friendly, heavy smoking, wrinkly, sun-damamged old lady on the plane… and I arrive in the warm, sunny, palm-treed climes of Barcelona, Catalonia.

No coach to the Costa Brava or squeals of the hen do for me… my host, an easy going Catalan – Xavier – who I’d met out in Ecuador, was grinning as I came through the arrival doors.

We whizzed through the streets of Barcelona in his people carrying van to an underground car park, then walked round the corner to his flat (about 15 mins walk from Las Ramblas, for any of you who have geographical knowledge of Barcelona). A quick snack and out to the pub for the first of my team Barca footie matches.

The lads who hang out at Rafa’s bar have all been friends since school. Their lives very different now… ie suited, blackberry carrying types, a green-grocer and Xavi, outdoor mountain guide. They’re all turning 40/41 and most have kids. Some are divorced, others married. In the bar however it’s a bit like meeting them all in the playground. It’s a relaxed place and they take over the main part of the bar, squeaking stools into position to view the telly and have a bar end to put their VollDam or Estrella on. Rafa, is a cross between Danny Devito and Uncle Fester, and supplies drinks, which everyone pays for at the end of the night… I’m not sure who keeps count…

Amazingly I actually enjoyed the football. (A complete first actually). Thierry Henry played like a man possessed and in the final few minutes put a goal away that gave Barca the game. The shouts and cheers were loud, as 17 or so men celebrated. Rafa and I just looked at each other and smiled.

After the game, we moved onto Paco’s bar. I’d love to work in Paco’s. Like Mojo 10 years ago. A galley layout, with a dance studio at the back. Paco’s in his 60s, a refined gay gentleman, a dance legend in his time and a complete character. He runs the bar on his own, no matter how full it gets on a Saturday night. His face is stencilled onto the toilet seats.

Xavi and the lads are regulars here too. Paco just gave us the glasses with ice and passed the spirits bottles over the bar so we could pour our own. Some time later, we went home.

Sunday was the complete 1-day tour or Barcelona… from the Olypmic Stadium at MontJuic, walking round the harbour and cycling down the Ramblas… I was frequently tested on street names and what hill or monument was what. Not to mention following Xavi, duckling-style, down the cycle lanes and up and down tricky kerbs, on my little red bici.

Monday, picnic packed, we drove out of Barcelona and followed the coast round up to the Costa Brava before turning inland towards Figueres (map of Catalonia here). On the way… and as we were getting a bit peckish… Xavi remembered he had a friend – Ignacio – who has an outdoor adventure park in the countryside. So we called in, I petted the two mangey alsatians while the boys talked outdoor tour guiding business in Catalan. We had our bocadillos and then strapped on our harnesses and made some free use of the high adventure stuff… some walking on very wobbly high wires and planks… then a double zip line descent (twice). All fab. And free.

Did I mention that Xavi doesn’t speak English, infact with most people he’s speaking Catalan. But because Franco was in power when he was in school, he was schooled in Castellano until he was 10 or so. Anyway, he switches between the two languages like we blink. Oh, and he speaks french.

After a bit of high wire action, we headed onto the Dali museum in Figueres. An old theatre, bought by Dali, and filled with art and sculpture. It’s a very special place. Lots of hidden treasures and random bits of art to stumble across, we explored the 20 or so rooms for a couple of hours, before retiring to a leafy square for a couple of beers. Me in the sun (like a true ‘Gidi’ – foreigner), and Xavi (already tanned brown from a summer working outdoors) in the shade.

We made our way further up into the Pyranees, heading for a little place called Ogassa, where, up a hillside, in a beautiful stone house which they designed themselves live Xavi’s young hippy-like aunt, uncle and daughters.

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