travel diary [barcelona 2005]
so i went to barcelona and saw some spanish stuff. martin was there too and he doesn't speak castilian either. we never ate tapas (or chinese) and i wrote the whole thing down. i also took a bunch of photographs. this is what vaguely follows.
Gatwick Airport - 8th Feb 11:34am
i just saw aimee off. it didn't feel like how it should have done. i guess since i'm going away it doesn't feel like it's her that's leaving. still, watching her disappear amongst the commuters, her with my stupidly large army bag (if you're thinking of the trash lady from the labyrinth you're not far off), it was the saddest thing. for some reason this seems like a fitting place to start my travel diary.
i'm wondering how this is going to work. last time, travelling to italy and switzerland, i think i had an unhealthy proportion of angst (crossed with rather novel amounts of excitement). i think emotionally there was a lot going on. it was very intersting to me and i had a lot to say - or rather i had a lot to get out. these days i'm far less interesting, plus i'm not travelling alone. instead of stewing over everything like a broken record, and recording the whole process, i can kick martin's ass at othello.
so yeah, i'm waiting for martin. i have about twenty minutes to start writing. i'm not sure why i'm so obsessed about this but i'm worried i wont do it and regret it later. all those things that will be forgotten, so may as well never have happened at all (don't worry, i realise the flaw in this logic).
but do you remember johanna's 8s? they rock.
Gatwick Airport Departure Lounge - 12.45 (is it am or pm?)
things about the departure lounge are:
- free jack daniels and coke (for my throat of course)
- an abundance of 'cirque du soleil' jackets
- actual paintings in the toilets and no adverts (also a warped infinity mirror)
- not enough foreign girls
- martin has arrowwords (always)
- a 40 year old bottle of laphroaig, a steal at £375
Brighton and France at 39,000ft
the problem is, i'm feeling generally less poetic (can i even use that word?). i have nothing beautiful to say about the clouds. i have no heartache to inflict upon the pyrenees (too cautious to be dramatic, and more like white blankets than ragged mountains). there is no stupid desperation to put into stupid words about the stupid sunset. there is no muse.
however, zippy is chained to the back of the aeroplane. and it's not an aeroplane, it's an airbus.
Ronda Universidad No23 - ten to midnight (Barcelona time)
arribada. getting from the plane to our apartment was easy, a forty minute bus ride through some fantastically stark industrialism. these buildings are woven out of metal pipes, all twisting in on themselves and steaming. soon we're in the city and our hotel is a minutes walk from the final stop, la placa catalunya. with these buildings, roads and fountains i can't help thinking how easily it could be london and i'm craving for some culture shock.
anyway, we have an apartment. ensuite with a lounge plus 'balcony'. we have a fridge and the man was very nice. the lifts in these buildings are terrifying but ultra sexy. they're tiny cages sliding up and down inside slightly less tiny cages. i don't think i've ever seen lifts this old. in the main hotel building (our apartment is just down the road) a sign warns that it is "dangerous and forbidden" to travel down in the lift. the top of the shaft is crowned by an ensemble of cogs and wheels knotted together by the lift cable. it's a rusting antique mechanism, equal in its beauty and peril. we took the stairs.
we ate dinner (embarrassingly early, it was completely deserted) at an all-you-can-eat buffet place next to our building, just past the blazing red sex shop. i had two humungous plates of vegetables and salad, plus two slices of pizza. after feeling pretty rough all day it is exactly what i need. i sit staring out into the rain, thinking how much better this place will look in day light. you see, we have no idea what we're doing. we walked down la rambla, taking random detours that scratch the surface of the barri gotic. we reach the sea and we just kept walking, across la rambla de mar (if only it had rotated while we were still on it) and around port vell. they've put lights just under the water and you can see masses of fish swarming around the bridge. it's too lovely, especially with the rain. desperate for a drink we end up sitting in some cafe bar drinking sangria like a right proper tourist, really this could be any city now.
i feel bad being so english, communication can feel really awkward sometimes. it's something you get over though, im sure. or maybe i mean get better at.
Our Apartment - De la manana, Miercoles/Dimecres 9th Febrero/Febrer
one of my favourite things must be waking up in another country. the sun light is a slightly different colour and the air smells slightly different. more of the environment has become a comforting background noise. people's conversations are just another layer of noise.
i'm on the edge of our balcony. it's a good seven stories above the street. we're on the fifth floor but the ground floor is 'b' followed by principal, primarie and then segundo (second, etc). the road is busy with black and yellow taxis, although they don't really look like bees. over there looks like rio, that's my favourite bit. then down to the left is placa catalunya, the fountains look cool from up here and so does the rotating clock. it says it's "un quarts de dotze", but i figure quarter past eleven is easier. across the road is 'olivers detectius - invetigado privada', isn't that the coolest thing ever? and i love the rooftops - irregular, unexplored and so textured.
the city is damp from last night's confused rain (which is far better than confident rain). the weather didn't really know what it was doing. the sun is out now though, and i can't believe it's the same sun - it's so warm. the plan is to embrace this.
Nine Hours Later
sitting on our balcony again, the french doors open and i'm half outside. it's too cold for this kind of wannabe romantic behaviour, but whatever. i can't exactly see the street but i can't ignore it either. i wouldn't say the city was buzzing, it's more like a groan or roar. honestly though, i'm not sure if i'm feeling it. there is a barrier there and i can't quite put my finger through it. maybe it's because it feels like any other city, except i'm a total outsider, awkward and alone in my language and culture. or maybe it's just what happens when you spend all day looking at things, trying to not simply collect photographs.
we did somewhat of a trek, covering the vaguely north area of the city area (l'eixample) and a lot of modernista architecture. actually, it was scarily similar to craig thompson's first day in barcelona as documented in his 'carnet de voyage'. most of these buildings aren't that interesting (sorry) but it's a good way to see this section of the city, which is strangely built on a grid system. we weave left, then right, then left again and we encounter our first gaudi - casa batllo, part of the manzana de la discordia. it's impressive and obscure (as is the entry price, saved for another day). with it's waves, curves and coloured tiles it's almost reptilian. funny, because it seems so unnatural. just around the corner is the fundacio antoni tapies, a gallery dedicated to the local modern artist. whose exhibited work i really appreciated. also, have you noticed how all of the girls who work in these galleries are so attractive?
the rotating clock says 9:15. it says, "get on with it".
we grabbed an awkward and late breakfast from a baguette place, "uno griego por favor" is all it took, almost as lame as their vegetarian options. we may as well have gone to subway (no no no). it's just an urge for an easy option, stress and language guilt free - how could they possibly not speak american in a starbucks?
our next stop was the awesome la pedrera. despite the curves there's something big, uniform and grey about it that reeks of office block, it almost reminds me of coventry (such an absurd statement, i know). it's definitely worth exploring, the top floor is more like a cellar and it just confuses my brain. as you wander around learning about gaudi's techniques and the geometry used in his constructions you can't help but fall in love with him. of course, the most stunning part of la pedrera is the roof, complete with roller coaster paths and ridiculous chimneys. from the various photos and drawings i'd previously seen i had imagined it being more 'removed', but it's right there in the middle of the city (the view of which made me a totally snap happy). i could have sat up there for hours in the warm sun, surrounded by the other tourists.
we then headed straight to la sagrada familia. it's the most phenomenal building site you'll ever see, what an amazing mess. walking through the park towards it and it's an awesome vista through the trees. when it's finally finished (complete with gigantic blazing cross) it's going to absolutely take the piss. the sheer size of this operation is unbelievable. the front (which is actually the left hand side of the cathedral) is dominated by the passion facade, sculpted by josep subirachs in the 1950's it depicts the final arc of christ's story, from the last supper to his burial. my favourite part of this enormous sculpture is the maze in a box. unfortunately you can't see it from where you stand, but it's secrecy makes it all the more appealing (there are pictures and models in the basement museum).
the other side of the church is completely different again. the detail in the glory facade is incredible, and so is range of building materials used on it. you can then climb up inside the cathedrals spiral staircases, joined maze-like by the odd sequence of rooms or an annex. you circle up higher and higher and the passages become narrower and narrower. when you're high enough (and your sense of direction is completely screwy) there are walkways joining the towers, like battlements, and they must be terrifying in the wind. the view is a bit special and again i'm thinking of brazil. behind us are mountains (montjuic and tibidabo) and in front there's a beach snaking out towards the horizon, hazing out as the two meet.
the thing about gaudi is you look at photos of his work and they're almost escher-esque. the perspective is strange and you can't quite tell which way is supposed to be up, but yet it feels so right. also, steven t. seagle named his dog after gaudi. fact.
now totally beat, we headed to the nearest vegetarian restaurant in la ribera, via the arc de triomph and some gorgeous tree lined streets, only to find it closed. not to be put off we headed to the next one only to find that the street it's supposed to be on has disappeared. there was no road where there should have been one. there was however a rather nice 'underground' 12monkeys style mall (whatever that means). finally we found the self-naturista and managed to work out how to acquire food (it really wasn't that hard). we stuffed ourselves stupid while i watched all the girls go by. great food, but we really have to stop going to fluorescent tubed school-dinner style canteens.
this brings me to now, and we are off in search of alcoholic refreshment.
Placa Universidad - Thursday morning
i wanted to get up and out and fancied sitting on one of these chairs, they're single sitting and chunky. it's such a weird mix of trees that are planted here - palm trees next to normal trees. palm trees being associated with exotic climates and gorgeous weather, and then these leafless trees reminding me of nothing but winter. their purpose is obviously to confuse tree dwelling animals and tourists - it looks like summer and winter.
the sun knows what's going on though. it's not exactly warm but it is pretty. a morning like this and it's urging me to go proper travelling. i also feel like i'm trying to work out stuff but i've no idea exactly what. whatever it is though is far less crushing than when i was away before.
last night we went to an irish bar. and yes i did feel suitably lame about it, we come all the way to this beautiful city and end up in an irish themed bar. in our defence we just wanted a pub. not to eat, not to cafe, to just drink. the girl behind the bar automatically spoke english at me, completely belittling my pathetic attempts at spanish. upstairs no one was smoking but the music was english trash (the nearest it got to irish was tom jones). this is all justified by the fact we had a thoroughly enjoyable night, chatting until at least two.
now i want a coffee and croissant.
Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona - Noonish
i'm overly impressed with the architecture of this building. old and historical buildings are great and everything, but my heart lies in quirky modern architecture like this. its angles, obscure corners and levels awe, for real.
along the side of the building is some of the best graffiti i've seen since being here. it was quite embarrassing noticing some other guy taking pictures of the same stuff (he had a beautiful girlfriend though, of course). inside the building the art is good too (although far less dense). highlights include:
- a whole lot of old chocolate - schokoladenmeer (dieter roth)
- a psychedelic horse (malcom le grice)
- a white room full of orange and yellow balls
- oyvind fahlstrom - tretton
- 'andy warhols exploding plastic inevitable' with cushions (aimee would love this)
In transit across Barcelona
i can't believe they sell birds on the street, including pigeons.
a brief walk through the market and it's the most colourful thing i've seen in ages. the brightest fruit and vegetables. even squids.
the statue street actors aren't really very good, and it's hilarious watching two of them take a cigarette break.
three street cats are just hanging out. the third is just a head poking out of a tiny hole at the base of the wall. they look like they're having a meeting and have all scampered before i manage to get my camera out.
i must stop falling in love with every girl i see.
martin is drinking coke from a wine glass. this is in the picasso gallery. i never realised quite how good some of his paintings were. especially the self-portraits, they're dark, scratchy and perfectly framed. it makes me wonder why some of his early drawings are so crap. honestly though, you can't frame pictures better than this. moving through the gallery, i find his 'paris' period all very boring and then it goes quite strange - why is the woman being oral sexed by a fish and why is that cat so interested? the cat is fucking amazing, by the way. there are also penises drawn into the bed head, weirdness. now i'm looking at 'las meninas' and i'm thinking that when these girl finally saw their portraits they probably cried for hours. poor margarita maria, poor maria agustina sarmiento, poor isabel de velasco. this last painting is actually amazing - black blotch eyes dripping down her grey face, her mouth a brush spat. after these it gets a little bit 'alice in wonderland'. an aside, one of the girls working here has a really strange and beautiful face. after looking at all these paintings i find it hard not to stare. is this to be expected or is it just wrong of me?
we then lunched for far too long. i ate four too many cheeses, at least one of which i can still taste. by now the zoo has shut and we don't get to see snowflake the albino gorilla. the surrounding parc de la ciutadella is very chilled. occupying the north east corner is the impressive cascada waterfall (designed by jospeh fontsere). my favourite features of this are the ascending stairs on either side, like in the mysterious cities of gold. across the park are people enjoying themselves. couples and friends share time around the boating lake. infact, watching children play in the park like this is the thing that makes me feel the most lonely. and it's such a european evening.
more random and aimless walking is called for, delivering us nicely to the catedral - the barri gotic doesn't get more gothic. it's fantastically over the top, with shrines to over twenty saints, a walled off central enclosure (the coro) and a wide staircase descending into a crypt (containing the tomb of santa eulalia). immense doesn't really being to describe it. i'm a little confused by the electronic candles (insert your one euro to light up an led), isn't there something important being lost here? the red candles create such a beautiful atmosphere. but then it's not like i understand any of the religious significance anyway, not really. my favourite part of the catedral has to be the cloister, carrer de santa llucia. it's a curious place straight out of the labyrinth and is impossible to photograph. a ring of shrines (i never realised there were so many saints) surround a central open air 'garden' of trees and fountains. the thirteen geese here show how little i understand. i accidentally took a photo of a girl making a wish, throwing a coin over her shoulder into a pond. i hope i didn't steal her wish. and i hope her coin didn't kill a goldfish.
it's about six o'clock and the streets of barcelona are more alive. the atmosphere has reappeared after the rain had washed it away. the sun is beginning to set and la ribera and barri gotic are full of beautiful people. the street performers have also improved. right in front if me now is a puppeteer acting out 'the nightmare before christmas', the pumpkin king moving perfectly across the cobbles. further up towards la placa catalunya is a man dancing on one of the marble benches. he's listening to a walkman and completely immersed in his dramatic dancing. aimee would love him also.
there's a fingernail moon and all these girls just hurt.
Restaurant Ganpatti - Dinner time
we have stumbled across the coolest and nicest place in barcelona. the people here are so accommodating and friendly. the menu is luscious, 100% organic and equally divided between vegetarian and meat dishes. martins pasta tasted better than pasta should (dito on the tofu), and my salad platter made me shit the bed five times while eating. we've also got a jug of proper sangria (it has this amazing almost chalky taste to it). after eating we took our drinks upstairs, here. it's all about the low tables, sofas and bean bags that are scattered about. world music and cool looking people, great until i noticed they are all couples.
on the way here we took a strange tour around the dark and often deserted streets of el raval. there were a few uncomfortable "why the fuck are we wandering down this dodgy street" moments, but i can't help being drawn by such good graffiti. we found a nice but clique cafe and then some miserable looking whores. they're dressed like your sister in the early nineties and far too young, i normally live in denial that the world is this ugly. the red light district in amsterdam makes me feel desolate, but at least they have organisation, regulations and unions. this here was just awful.
Last Day - 10am
there is a protest going on down our street. it doesn't look that impressive but i took a leaflet and will
decode translate it later.
we're currently trying to grab breakfast and coffee (martin with his
english blend, bless him). the poor waitress doesn't understand any
english, her brow furrows perfectly under the weight of our awful spanish.
i figure they're out of everything we want. being a cautious vegetarian
the croissant is the only way forward. but i wanted a croissant.
the cash machines here have the numeric keypad the other way around, with 1 in the top left corner and 9 in the bottom right. my fingers know my pin number better than my brain does and it really threw me. losing my card would have been really unfunny. also, the barriers into the metro have the ticket readers on the other side, in a really unobvious way. so when you try to go through them you're actually unlocking the barrier to your right. all this confusion is made okay by the super cool exit barriers that swoop open and closed.
we're now on our way to montjuic (jewish mountain), home of the estadi olimpic, the joan miro gallery, the castle and numerous botanical gardens. stopping off at the museu nacional d'art catalun and the toilets smell of peach.
Castell de Montjuic - Midday sunning
up here it is somewhat of a laurence playground, and the best industrial view i have ever seen, to the south west vast networks of factories and grey sprawl out across the land and sea.
in the other direction barcelona looks like a painted wall. my brain isn't used to distant things appearing so defined and is tricked into thinking it's not at all far away. an army of pine trees have created this serene and peaceful spot. martin throws a pine cone.
i'm now sitting on the top of the castell, a flat and wide square donut. a gaggle of school children in the square below are noisily having their lunch. it's hazy out but you can see for miles. in the distance is tibidabo, the temple del sagrat cor clearly visible, somewhere i must visit next time.
hiking up this mountain with our all our gear, it really felt like we were travelling. it's fantastic. i've also been spiked by a cactus and seen the cutest and tiniest birds.
look at the sun.
moving dowm the mountain we come across the cementiri del sud-oest, a deserted concrete labyrinth, its walls lined with small niche crypts. seemingly random stairs take you up to different layers and there are many strange crypts and other curious directions to be taken in. how you could find any single grave is a mystery. it's such a strange mixture of architecture and death. you are also requested no photography.
it's hard to not stumble across the rather bizarre olypmic stadium. it dominates the view every time you look around. the olypmic area feels a little forced though, with constrained sculptures and 90degree angles everywhere. the layout repeats itself three times down the slope, it all feels very greek (unrelated and random comment to complete the sentence)
The Aerobus to the Airport - Friday 8pm
i loved the mountain but we had to leave. one possibility was to head to the beach, but i figured it might be a bit ambitious. instead we went back to ganpatti for (much needed) dinner, where i watched a couple do nothing but take photographs of themselves. i would too if i was that attractive. then i knocked my chair over backwards and it was all very embarrassing. we have definitely caught too much sun. right in the face.
with two hours to kill i figure it's time to capture some of this cities fantastic graffiti. the city's reputation is well deserved, it has an impressive display of both local and international graffiti. the best of which can be found on the west side of la rambla, especially around the 'mercat de sant josep' (the large market) and surrounding the 'museu d'art contemporani de barcelona'. with far too much to photograph i tried to be a little selective (also in my choices of the photos below). i'd hate to think of what the turnover rate is on these graffiti strips - it's all far too good.
back to the here and now, and we're going through la placa d'espanya again.
towards monthjuic, the fountains of the avinguda de la reina maria cristina
are alive and all lit up. it's quite pretty, even if a little blancmange-like
at the far end. colourful water whatever, i'm just staring out of the cold
window as it all goes by.
every bodyshop in the world has the same pictures in the window. and martin never did get to go to his chinese restuarant. then i'm washing my hands in the toilet and this dude walks in, sees me and doubles back on himself. i can see him in the opposite mirror. he checks the gender sign on the entrance and hesitates. checks again. we pass as i walk out and can do nothing but grin at him.
clearly none of this makes sense. i'm too tired and sunned. just sitting here waiting in the sterile airport. i feel jet lagged. another word would be exhausted. all the shops are closing and i had omelette in my bocadillo. i like spain.
flying at night i thought would be dull. however, the take-off through my tiny porthole window was the most magical thing i've seen in such a long time. once through the horror movie red and white flashing blankness we are floating between clouds - a layer above and below us. through the thinning wisps there are networks of twinkling lights thousands of feet below us. they appear and disappear behind the clouds, brown against the night sky. then there is nothing but black and a single white speck. it's like we are above the layer of stars. and far below there's light trying to burst through the clouds. orange blurs hiding the cities beneath. the clouds obscure and make the ugliest things beautiful. a whirlpool of orange. through the window though, you can barely see anything at all. what looks like puddles, reflecting the stars, stretch all the way below the horizon. this doesn't even make sense.
i think (or imagine) i can hear the rain as we pass through the clouds.
i guess this is the end. and i'm not thinking anything at all.