Second day in Barcelona and I’m sitting on a bench in Park Guell, listening to uplifting Spanish guitar music and basking in the warmth of the Mediterranean sunshine.
Two nights before I took Ryanair from Edinburgh to Girona Airport, 1h outside Barcelona. Ryanair’s low cost model is astounding. They’ve done away with boarding passes, requiring you to print your own or pay an exorbitant fee at the airport for them to print for you. And they’re pretty strict about carry-on baggage as well, requiring passengers to fit their lugage in a box-like structure and those who don’t comply are immediately slapped with a hefty charge. On the plane, they’ve removed the seat pockets behind every seat, and there’s no safety information cards – the safety essentials are printed on the back of each seat. I kind of pity the air stewardesses; they push the food cart up and down the aisle throughout the entire flight, like they’re operating a food stand. Which they are, kind of, I guess. Occasionally during the flight advertisements come on the audio system, like one for Hertz, the car rental company.
But by far the most ridiculous one was when the plane touched down at Girona airport, 10 minutes ahead of schedule. A “victory tune” blasted out from the speakers, and informed everyone that Ryanair is the leading European carrier in terms of on-time performance, that over 90% of its flights land before or on time. Which is really an outstanding performance, considering how Jetstar constantly bungles that up. Still, a victory tune? I almost laughed out loud when I heard that. It was just super cheesy.
First impression of Spain – why is it so dark? I looked up and could see the stars overhead, one of the most number of stars I’ve seen before. Then I realised – the airport was IN A BLACKOUT. Yes! A blackout at an airport! I mean, its not Barcelona’s most important airport, but how can airports undergo blackouts? The entire place was dark, and the passenger gates everything dark as well. Airports are usually the brightest places filled with floodlights so this was really an, ahem, novel experience for me. The automatic doors between the tarmac and the interior of the building couldn’t open thanks to the blackout, and the whole group of passengers were stuck outside for 10 minutes. Well, I’ve a good impression of Ryanair, but not of Girona airport!
Arrived at the hostel which is a really clean, new and cheap place at just 10 euros a night. What I liked best were the free lockers and curtains around every bed complete with individual bed lamp so there’s privacy. Oh, by the way, I’m staying at a hostel because I’ve had enough of couchsurfing for a while. Not that I don’t like it, but I want to pause for a bit, and stop sending couch requests which are pretty tedious. The downside? I’m paying for accomodation, and most importantly, I don’t really get a good feel of the place I’m in without a local to talk to.
So what’s Spain like? I can’t tell, because my knowledge of Spain is limited to Barcelona, and from what I’ve heard, the Spanish don’t like to be Spanish. Daniel told me that this is a people that’s very proud of regional identity and dialects, and the majority of Spanish people think of themselves as people of that region first, and Spanish second.
But Barcelona as a city, is really, really… different. Its like poles apart from any city in the UK, although they’re just a short hop away. Its more different from the UK than Singapore is different from Thailand or Malaysia, for example. The most obvious thing is the architecture. The variety of architectural styles on the streets is just staggering. I can’t tell my modernista from my gothic, so lets just say architecture in Barcelona seems to consist of building whatever they want, wherever they want it. Its so flamboyant and passionate. Buildings without a single straight line, in weird curvy shapes and decorated with what looks like shells that glow orange in the sunlight.
Even the classic Spanish architecture is beautiful in its own right. This is my favourite city for wandering the streets, because everything feels so exotic to me. Down the streets in residential neighbourhoods, 4-5 storey buildings with wide elaborate balconies (balconies seem to be a defining feature of Spanish architecture – indeed, with the gorgeous weather, I think everyone wants to be in the sun as much as they can) stand side-by-side, in pastel colours, and lines of clothes hang from the backs of these buildings, down the tiny, dark alleyways.
Every single thing is in Spanish. Its so exotic, really. My first impression is that it looks like Mexico or any other city in Latin America. Not that I’ve been there, of course, but now I’m really intrigued. How did Spain manage to turn an entire continent of the world into Spanish-speaking people (with the exception of Brazil, which is Portugese-speaking) and the same kind of architecture? What happened to the native languages and religions of those places? They’ve just become… Spanish?!
As a developed European city, Barcelona doesn’t look its part at all. When I think of Europe, I think of everything that doesn’t look like Barcelona. I think of castles, vineyards, nice quiet streets, cold, arrogant people, the Eiffel Tower… okay, maybe my idea of Europe seems to be like France. Barcelona feels a bit like a developing city, because it is just so, so vibrant. You can feel it even if you don’t talk to anyone (and I hardly do, because Spanish is really the only language most people speak). The people seem to be more open, more expressive, friendlier, happier even… I guess it has to do with the weather! Which is so comfortable and nice. For two straight days already its been incredibly clear blue skies and bright sunshine, with day temperatures just below 20 degrees and a minimum of about 10 degrees at night. Almost perfect, really.
Just a few more weeks and it might be good enough to go to the beach. I went to the beach, which is really accessible (walkable) from the city centre, and the water is pretty clear, and the sand is so nice and clean. Too bad its still a little bit chilly, else it’d really be the perfect holiday destination – Barcelona. Wander the streets, admire the architecture, chill out at the beach. That’s life!
It’s important to remember though, that Barcelona is an incredibly touristy city. This place staged the 1992 Olympics after all. In these two days I was a victim of pickpocketing twice, more than I’ve ever been in my entire life. Maybe Singapore’s too safe, but I’ve never had anyone try to unzip my sling bag and take stuff out, which is what both pickpockets tried to do. The first was along one of the most famous streets in the city, crowded with tourists, souveniour shops and painters offering to paint your portrait in just 5 minutes. I’ve always wondered why there are so many of these painters around in every major tourist destination, and how many pictures of myself I would have collected had I agreed to get myself drawn by every one of them!
I was doing the normal thing of wandering down that road when suddenly I felt a tug from behind. Turned around to find my bag half unzipped and the perpetrator, a 20-plus woman in dark sunglasses, turning to move in the opposite direction. Well, nothing was stolen, because I don’t put anything important in my bag, but just for the fun of it, I followed her for a bit. After like 2 minutes of me glaring at her from behind she finally acknowledged me and shrugged her head as well as opened her palms to indicate that she didn’t take anything.
This morning, I was on my way to Park Guell, when along one of the main streets, I felt that same tug again. There was no one nearby except this couple who suddenly acted lovey-dovey and turned away, so I knew it must be them. Thankfully, once again, I had nothing in my bag.
You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to find out how to write ‘get a life, you [insert vulgarity]-ing thief’ in Spanish and put a large piece of paper with those words just under the zipper. Come forth, all the pickpockets of Barcelona!