Barcelona: Day Zero Impressions
This morning, I am that guy shouting nonsensical statements at his laptop in a thick accent in the corner of your local café, aggression increasing steadily with each sip of the brown goodness. I’m sitting in Starbucks screaming at duolingo.com. It’s not the first time I’ve indulged in this kind of Renaissance-hobo behaviour — I’ve told strangers, cappuccinos and invisible objects slightly above and to the left I’m one of three daughters, the mouse eats the cheese on Wednesday and “Are you a model?” (all actual scripted sentences) in three languages and as many continents. My most recent ravings have been in Spanish.
The setting: Barcelona.
This is a city I landed in knowing embarrassingly little about, which is somewhat unique in the scheme of places I’ve traveled. When exploring Asia, I’d had a prelude to the food, language and culture via both my cosmopolitan Sydney origin and my strict childhood diet of Japanese cartoons. However, I struggled to name more than three Spanish foods and didn’t really have a mental image of a Spaniard. It turns out everyone here is piss-takingly attractive. I think the reason for this evolutionary anomaly is they’re working hard to keep up with the architecture. My eyes often struggle to choose between feasting upon that divinely inspiring booty over there or that sexy, perky cathedral up there.
I’m a spoilt Sydney brat, having grown up in a city-of-villages where you can catch a bus to a beach paradise, where food from every nation can be bought fresh and cooked the traditional way, and where you can walk drunk through the dodgy neighbourhoods at night without being assaulted by roaming gangs of pickpockets and prostitutes. Barcelona is the first city that has given me pause for thought regarding my torrid affair with the city you gotta love for its body and not its brain, as The Whitlams sang; until this trip Sydney was my easy number one for most beautiful city I’ve set foot in.
I’m staying in the Gothic Quarter, a mess of ‘alleyways’ that somewhat defy description for a man from a city where that word refers to dank dead-ends where old boxes, dumpsters and bar staff on smokos comingle. Walking this area in Barcelona will see you pass hidden tapas bars and boutiques before rounding a corner to discover an impossibly huge plaza, all cafes and gargoyles, nestled right where you swore one couldn’t fit.
Next suburb over is Barceloneta, the Bondi of Spain. A jog along the chunky yellow sand will take you past a dense throng of chiringuitos (bungalow bars), volleyballers, entrepreneurs offering massages (great) and mojitos (weak), and sun-kissed tits. The beachside playgrounds have been overrun by gym rats from every nation, shirts off to reveal muscles in places where you don’t even have places. Any given night someone somewhere on the coast has good cause to celebrate with a personal fireworks show on the sand. The heat is oppressive in summer, the crowd dense and the water tepid. It’s exciting and frantic and hot, like the people here.
I landed just in time for San Juan, a Christmas-in-July celebrated by setting off huge amounts of fireworks at the beach and swimming at midnight. I had touched down in Barça mid-afternoon — my previously sensible black jeans/shirt/boots ensemble rendered blatantly ridiculous by the otherwise welcome heat and humidity — after a Lord-of-the-Rings-esque flight involving four planes, 33 hours, 2.5 crappy films and one good one (“A Most Violent Year”), including a detour through the Moria-like velvet rope labyrinths of Jakarta airport (any similarities between goblins or Indonesians living or dead is entirely coincidental). I stepped off the plane zombie-like, gored with red stains from tiny wines, and evidently reeking of the grave. A saleswoman sought me out quite earnestly in duty-free to give me a perfume sample. It wasn’t even a men’s scent.
A new sun eased the rough landing: a friendlier, later-setting, más amarillo, more sanguine orb than is lording over my friends back home at this sultry time of year. “Hola Luke,” it seemed to say. “Let’s stay up late and drink star juice and hit on hot satellites together.”
Tripping on a heady combination of sleep deprivation and the usual legal uppers and downers, I’d resolved to stay up until a reasonable, non-senior-schedule hour to nip the jet lag in the bud. And I wouldn’t have lasted long without the instatribe that awaited me, my ad hoc support team and shiny new friendsters from Stoke Travel. I’ll be interning with them over the next few moon cycles, which is a shmancy way of saying I’ll be doing all the dumb things and then writing about them for your amusement.
Beers and tales were shared on the sand. Explosives were detonated disturbingly close to where we sat, shattering nearby discarded beer bottles. This is my kind of travel company, the kind for which “tour” is a four-letter word. The Stokies are in this for the love, not the money. They’re basically dirty gypsies. I should know, I live with some of them. They’re weird and adventurous and ridiculously good-looking just like you, dear reader/vagabond, and definitely not cool, which makes them some of the coolest people you’ll meet on the road. Should your pat hs cross, chill with them, dance awkwardly with them, make cuddle-puddles with them. And, if you make it to Barcelona, maybe I can be the big spoon.