Ah – how good it is to escape Barcelona! After that horrible bird poo experience (I still cringe whenever I recall how stupid I was), it felt good to get out of Barcelona and into the sunshine of the Mediterranean coast.
Barcelona lies directly on the Mediterranean coast, and I’d already been to the beaches in the city, so it was time to get out.
Sitges, less than an hour south of Barcelona, is a great little beach town. It has large, wide beaches fronting the Mediterranean, which glimmers under bright sunlight. It felt so summery, so light-hearted and carefree, and I suddenly understood why Europeans like to travel in summer. Trapped for nine months in coldness and drowning in beer, they go crazy every June to August and drink even more beer then.
It felt just like summer, and though the weather wasn’t still yet right for the beach (give it a month or two and things should have heated up sufficiently), I was content to sit on a bench facing the sea, listening to the sound of the waves, delving into a good book, stopping occasionally to munch on some chocolate (extremely cheap in Spain; I surmise it is because of their close relationship with Latin America where chocolate is produced) or a banana. I loved it – just having the luxury of time to do whatever I want, and slow down to appreciate the beauty of the instant, the moment. Not just to snap photographs as is the case at most places, and scoot off to the next highlight. Sitges isn’t a place of outstanding beauty, but it was still beautiful nonetheless – how ugly can a beach by the Mediterranean get? It also felt good to be out of Barcelona, a city which enthralled me, but where I seemed to be in constant danger, my skin colour immediately identifying me as a naive tourist, ripe prey for all the shady characters in the big city.
After sitting by myself for a couple of hours, I decided to explore the town a bit. My impression of the town is a very lived-in, prosperous place that obviously does a brisk tourist trade but is now basking in the off-peak tourist-free season. I wandered to the cathedral and the surrounding old streets, then went uphill and poked through leafy residential districts before catching the train back to Barcelona.
The next day, I spent a long and frustrating but very educational time on the regional railway stations of Barcelona trying to navigate myself to the beachside town of Tarronga.
The train system of Spain, or at least of Barcelona, is bewildering to the tourist. Know that in Spain, they have even less English signs than in Japan. And a lot of them can’t speak English. Don’t assume, like I did, that white people can all converse in English! Most Spaniards can’t speak Spanish. The reason for this is simple to comprehend – Spanish is one of the world’s most important languages. It is spoken by almost the entire continent of South America, and English isn’t a necessity at all. There’s like this other side of the world which I’m not aware of that speaks Spanish, eats tapas and burritos and tacos and has Spanish architecture, Spanish culture, Spanish festival, yet is an entire ocean away from Spain. It’s amazing how Latin America gets so little coverage in Singapore – its like how Australia is almost never mentioned in American media, according to novelist Bill Bryson (his books make good travel reading).
Spain is like the capital of the Spanish-speaking world. They live in their own Spanish-speaking world with all their Spanish stuff and completely different way of thinking. They travel to Latin America, trade with Latin America, are influenced by Latin America, and this exchange with Latin America is probably the most important international relation that Spain has today, even more far-reaching than the EU. Its so strange, huh? The Commonwealth countries don’t have much to do with the UK anymore, but the ex-Spanish colonies still have special relationships (culturally and economically) with Spain, or at least this was what I gathered from speaking to Spanish people. Truly one of the new perspectives I’ve gained on this trip (along with the importance of the EU, the drinking culture, the way Europeans think and many, many more lessons that I could never fully comprehend if they were taught from a textbook): the entire Spanish-speaking world, until now lost unto me, was suddenly revealed with amazing clarity and focus, and found to be of such surprising magnitude and depth.
Tarronga is a strange place. They have a nice, big beach, similar to the one at Sitges, but the town and the beach is separated by the railway station and the railway lines branching out from it. There’s no easy way to get from the town across the railway station to the beach. No pedestrian tunnels or anything across the length of the track, but rather just two rather lame crossings at either end of the town, very far apart. This has the effect of making the beach so inaccessible, which I though rather strange as Tarronga is one of those beach towns which depend on tourism.
It was Saturday afternoon, and everything seemed closed. I don’t think it was to do with siesta, but most likely that businesses don’t operate on the weekends in Spain (in Madrid today, on a Sunday, many shops are closed too). The only shop open was a Carrefour express, and I grabbed some processed breads and biscuits once again for my meal, as well as a small pomelo which cost me S$1.20. The processed food in Spain seems a little healthier than that in the UK, because there are noticeably less microwaveable lazy-food options stocked in the supermarket aisles and there seemed to be many different medium-sized chain supermarkets and not just a few dominant ones.
Then made my way down to the beach and sat there, reading my book and enjoying the luxury of time once again.
Went back to the hostel to pick up my bags and met Jin, the Japanese guy who was going to Madrid together with me (we met at the hostel, he’s also travelling alone). Had more processed food for dinner on a bench opposite the Arc de Triompf and practised my Japanese on Jin while getting tipsy on cheap Spanish beer. Rediscovered my love of Japan - I’m definitely going back there soon.