i was back in europe for a while and determined to do some travelling, unfortunately my friends were all being rubbish and awkward. so the plan of a bunch of us going mad for a long weekend turned into just me and grilly going to madrid. we figured we'd make a proper time of it though, and decided to visit valencia too. then i got over excited and thought since we're going halfway across spain we may as well carry on from valencia to barcelona, make a proper trip out of it..
30.04.2007 - a sliver of london
stepping off the train, the first thing i'm reminded of is how london stinks. the stink of too many people and too little soul. but give it five minutes and it's the old familiar smell again. big city life. today is gorgeous, and that helps too. standing on the corner outside the guitar shop, grilly twiddling inside, it's all dappled sunshine and comfy clothing. a cool breeze carrying everything along. a good london day, one of few.
i've managed to hang out with chris and rifa at kings college student union, where chris is playing tonight. it would have been good to see him play with a full band, but we have other plans. at least we get to hear the giraffe song before leaving for scala, and now teamed up with tommy. he luckily manages to get a ticket for tonight's show and we indulge in full on chip shop feast, including my first proper cheese pasty in too many months, and the first of the night. but back to the venue, and it's more packed than any gig i've ever been too. hundreds of people standing in packed silence, a sea of yellow heads all staring in the same direction.
a sliver mt zion is a band whose awe can be measured in goose bumps per minute. tonight they are rocking. all they need is machine gun rapping, blast beats and a bit of glitch and they'd be the best band ever. they've come far since i first saw them five years ago, and not many bands could get away with playing a gig and not including one of my favorite songs. i don't mind, at least i got the stephen harper jokes (i was seconds away from shouting "stephen harper eats babies" but i worried they wouldn't have a clue what i was going on about). most of their set was compromised of new songs (especially when measured in time), and it's got me too excited about the new album. it's going to be massive.
they may have oversold the show, but the venue had great security guards. they were doing full bag searches and not even allowing proper cameras into the venue (hey, they're just following orders), and there's me with a backpack full of ten days worth of supplies. i asked very nicely if they could just skip the search and keep my bag behind the ticket desk. when i said i was happy to pay the cloakroom fee they just laughed. "it's okay, i'll be out there when it goes boom", he said as he took it off my hands.
infact, everyone has been pleasant to us today. what's going on? it must be the weather.
01.05.2007 - inflight entertainment
reasons to get up early and plan to be at the airport in plenty of time:
- grilly's house mate will take a long time in the shower.
- there wont be any cereal for breakfast and the bread will be moldy.
- grilly will forget his phone and have to run back to the house.
- when trying to buy your train ticket you'll not have noticed the machine isn't taking cards because you wont have pressed the completely unnecessary 'next' button. this might be okay except your debit card is now jammed in the machine, and when you try to pull it out with a 20p it'll get lodged in further. since there's no office grilly will have to go back to his flat again to get tweezers, except they'll be too big to fit and the whole situation will become rapidly hopeless. but wait, just as you start phoning for assistance grilly we manage to remove the card with a pair of scissors, incurring minimal damage. next time you'll pay with cash.
- which is what grilly will do, only to have it swallow both of his tenners. one of these you'll be able to drag out from below the mechanism, demonstrating quite clearly how fucked the machine is. you'll end up phoning for assistance anyway and writing an important number on your belly.
- all of this will be witnessed by a surveillance camera and many people, none who cared. perhaps we should do it more often..
- the gatwick express train will cost extra, so you'll have to take the "slow" train.
- you'll also have to get out foreign cash and have another pasty (yes, a third).
apart from this our journey is uninteresting. we're sitting next to a man who used to play (i'd written "work") for real madrid, apparently that has something to do with football, so whatever. i also decided against being puerile and didn't write "why would i write 'lick my labia' on this page?" in the inflight catalogue. like i said, i chose against puerility.
02.05.2007 - throwing my first projectile
we arrived in a madrid stained by the mayday celebrations. it was subtle, but it was there - fresh anarchist graffiti sprayed over the old anarchist graffiti, one smashed storefront (possibly unrelated, but it's all about setting the atmosphere) and several bored police. we'd missed the morning demo, as i'm sure most people did, and were hoping to join the 'reclaim the streets' at 6pm. we hosteled up with speed and metro'd to plaza lavapies as quickly as possible. the problem is, we didn't know what "salidas" meant until it was too late. the demo had left the plaza nearly an hour ago, not started. we followed the wet graffiti but without knowing where they were headed we had no chance of catching them up. somewhere deep in the commercial heart of the city, up by gran via, we got excited by some whistles, but it was only the stupid traffic police being making nuisances of themselves.
we followed the breeze for a while, half aimlessly enjoying the city, half with intent to find eatable food (wait, i might have meant edible). i blame our two maps, they differ considerably and neither seems to accurately depict the city. despite this we manage to find 'el estragon', a friendly vegetarian restaurant overlooking a sloped plaza. at least it would overlook it if it had any decent windows. but the light outside still casts a permanent sunset on grilly, and wine begins to do wonders. the menu is varied and we pig out. grilly manages to bodge his order and confuse the waitress, so he misses out on soup, but we still have plenty to eat. and drink.
back at the hostel we sat in the lounge, blissfully unaware of the exciting times we could be having in the city, talking to three english travelers (although mostly just the one with the funky hair). we also take advantage of the drinks machine which dispenses cans of beer, it's almost too brilliant. ten minutes later it's 1am and we're being kicked out of the communal areas. we narrowly avoid succumbing to the promise of sleep, grab another beer and head out to stalk the streets, hoping to find those previously mentioned exciting times. we're not down two streets before being accosted by the police for drinking beer (and right after i'd told grilly to hide it). we walked back around the corner, killed the beers and continued along a parallel street, following the distinctive noise of a crowd enjoying itself. following the sounds of drums. we sauntered coolly through a second much beefier police line, only paying them notice because it was fucking awesome, my mind carried a determined elegance and the knowledge that this was what i'd been looking for all day. we walked straight into the biggest street party i've ever experienced. the streets are barely a few meters wide and they're rammed with people as far as you can see in all three directions. the police behind us just looked pathetic and sexless.
this isn't even a mayday party. the moment the clock ticks over to the second of may they're already celebrating the dos de mayo uprising. it was this day in 1808 that the rebellion kicked off against the french occupation of madrid, a rebellion that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people as they fought the french army in the streets. mix it with mayday and it's the perfect double whammy, so no wonder the police are out and looking uncomfortable. we learnt this brief story from a group of guys who took us in after one of them first explained that where we were standing was where they were pissing, then that we had to be drinking their special drink - a mixture of wine and coke, of which they had 22 liters. everyone was drinking this shit, it's like sangria but bad for you, and i was all too happy to trade it for the beer we'd bought from a chinese woman (2Û a piece). the pint cup was passed around, or taken, and i had no idea how much i was drinking. also the occasional fumes from someone's spraypaint was probably making me high too. what i did know is that i really needed to piss.
we left them in search of other people and another toilet. every five or ten minutes there'd be a wave of cheering flowing up and down the street. at first i thought it was just everyone having a good time, but then realised it was actually people shouting at the police whenever they approached or tried to menacing. we squeezed through people, up one side-street, up another, there was no escape from the mass of people. and just as we found a suitable doorway and started pissing, people started running past us away from a police charge around the corner. i stopped mid-flow like i've never stopped before and we legged it back to the nearby plaza where things were starting to hot up. it was a good location, police were advancing up two streets but there were another four where people were still partying. there was a full skip of rubble and plenty of escapes routes.
it turned into a dance or some kind of weird spanish game, the police would charge up a street and everyone would run. then bottles and stones would be thrown and the police would retreat. this repeated with a regular rhythm until we thought it best to not be on the front lines. people were setting up barricades with the orange wheelie bins, which make a horrific noise when battered. they were banging on cars and rattling window grates. the spanish sure know how to have a good time and keep up a fun atmosphere, everyone is having too much fun to take it seriously. it doesn't help that the police look ridiculous in their bright yellow jackets, laughable compared to the danish brickshit houses. had this been denmark there'd already be a hell of a lot more than nervous energy in the air, nasty shit that chokes you. i am disappointed that i've still never tasted teargas. shit, this is like proper first hand riot porn isn't it?
we are being sensible though, we know when it's time to walk calmly away. down every street we pass there's more barricades, fences pulled down and menacing shadows. down the next i can see tear gas filling the next crossroads and know it's definitely time to get moving, if only there weren't a stupid amount of policia between us and our hostel. at the next crossing someone is trying to set shit on fire and we turn again. the rain is beginning to be miserable but i can't help but smile. isn't this what you've been missing? are you getting it out of your system now? in a situation that's still reasonably predictable and safe? like i said, riot porn. this isn't even our fight.
and then all of a sudden we're behind three lines of police, them blocking each crossing, and some nasty shit going down at the one furthest away. we managed to get out of the danger zone and are surrounded by police bikes and cars. the road is completely filled with unaccompanied police vehicles and half of them are tagged, some right across the bonnet. as we walked back along the same streets we were partying on not two hours before there's devastation from top to bottom. rubble crushed between the cobble stones, broken glass, dented cars. bins in every direction and everywhere the smell of spilt beer and piss. one dirty yellow skip has been turned sideways to block a street (is that even physically possible?) and another has been overturned, it's bottles and cans spilling out and covering the floor. the police and stoic and wont let us down half the roads we need to go down, their rubber bullet shotguns hanging limp at their side. somewhere in the distance a bang and a crash. the sky's orange and the rain dampens the mood, making everything slick and shiny.
up at glorieta de bilbao there's even more police, but no revolution action. just a random guy beating the shit out of two people 20m down the road. where's the fucking police now?
indymedia article - most people seemed to think the 'riots' were mayday related, when in reality it was just a large bunch of people trying to have a party, using a very local holiday as an excuse. sure mayday was involved, but the 3000 people mentioned were mainly out for a good time and pissed off at the police for trying to ruin it. i actually saw a nike store the next day, so it was either untouched or madrid has two - is that really necessary? (btw, malasa–a was the street where our hostel was)
03.05.2007 - introducing the hostel and the prado
our hostel is reasonably nice, although really i have very little to compare it with. it's a bit sad that i'm 25 and this is my first experience of dorms. but it's a bit sad i'm 25 and lots of things. i'm still all green stupidity, i actually managed to leave my backpack in the bathroom last night, although to be fair that's more out of drunkness than stupidity. if there's a difference.
there's free internet (but always a queue), an overly smokey lounge where groups of people have spent most of the time watching football, and an adequate kitchen where we ended up spending most of our time. i'm not so sure how cool it is the toilets being right by the lounge, but the occasional jostick is a nice touch. the stairs up to our room are an accident waiting to happen (i should probably find the light switch) and we need a padlock for the lockers. i hadn't thought of that before. the beer in the drinks machine is something of a novelty after canada but it also makes us lazy, we should be buying beer from the shop. bah, it's all so cheap anyway.
the guy were sharing our dorm with is an interesting character. when we first arrived (at around 6pm on tuesday) he was in bed, and when we returned from all the street fights he was still lying there asleep. it was gone midday when we left the next 'morning' and he hadn't got up, and he was there again at 7pm and when we finally hit the sack. his name is matt anyway, we finally met this morning, he was reading his newspaper in bed when we returned after breakfast. he's not ill, apparently it's just bad timing that we always see him in bed.
the other strange guy here is hard to describe. he's a friendly australian with a slightly obscure story. it's not that i don't believe a word he says, it's just that it doesn't make sense. he's on a journey of self discovery (and finds it odd how people react when he tells them that, what does he expect apart from a "okay cool"), but he doesn't seem to leave the hostel and doesn't actually explore anywhere he lives. i wanted to say "oh, so it was a girl then?", but there was no need. we also met a pair of australian girls and a german guy, who helped us finish off our pasta. he taught us a sick german card game called skat. it took him half an hour to begin teaching us the rules and he had to leave to catch his flight halfway through the first game, which we were playing open handed anyway. i have no doubt that it's the most complicated and tactical card game in the world. we really should have got his email.
we also played cheat and poker (using pasta as chips), this all while waiting for the action to kick off down by the arch again. we'd been promised it'd be even more raucous tonight, but wandering around at 1am all we found were police patrols and checkpoints (them armed with shotgun-like with rubber bullet guns) and shady geezers. there was no sign of any trouble, and none of the energy from the night before.
they did a damn fine job of cleaning up though, walking through the same streets the morning after (er, afternoon) there wasn't a single trace of the previous night's chaos, except for the graffiti and odd smashed glass.
actually, this is a good place to continue on with our story and fill in yesterday. so after the frantic and energetic first night in madrid (and what a night) we were famished. after a quick tour around the same area with the benefit of daylight we came across a crappy pizza chain. getting a "plain" pizza was a struggle, they really wanted to give us mushrooms, but it was a satisfying breakfast. i promised myself fruit for lunch.
we then walked down through palm lined streets, gorgeous despite the weather, and stall upon stall of book sellers to the prado art gallery, where we queued up (me trying to make best use of the time, scribbling down our adventures to date before they blurred and the emotional details melted into the generic crap i've probably ended up writing) to see a stupid number of jesus paintings. to be fair, it's not all jesus. but mostly. the prado must have more paintings of jesus than anywhere else in the world. at least i hope so, and if there's somewhere with more i hope never to go there. not without warning a very dark pair of sunglasses. maybe even a knife or a can of spraypaint.
but seriously, what is the obsession with the crucification? you'd think jesus was some sort of important character or something. you'd almost be forgiven for thinking so given how much paint they waste on him. the only obviously religious paining i liked was the one of mary (or whoever) squirting milk dramatically from her breast, in a wide arc and straight in the mouth of a priest below. that kind of shooting must take practice. or a miracle, whatever. you know, i should go on for another five pages about jesus being crucified so you get the picture of what the prado is like. and i would as well, if only i wasn't so bloody sick of him already.
it isn't all doom and gloom though, the prado also plays host to a massive amount of goya paintings, including his infamous black paintings (infamous in the sense that they're why we chose madrid in the first place). i found goya's earlier work thoroughly dull (hey, call me a philistine - they may be colourful but they ain't half uninspiring), but they make for a great contrast with his later work when he finally lost the plot. the black paintings come from a much darker place. i feel nothing but absolute terror and despair. kids cry in their presence. only the painting in ghostbusters2 is scarier. these last 15 paintings were painted directly onto the walls of his house before he died. it's a shame the house was demolished, because it'd make for the best horror house.
the other must sees in the prado are the small collection of bosch paintings and the treasures of the dauphin. stored in a vault somewhere underground (and somewhere near the less impressive cafe), the treasures are a bizarre collection of decorative glass objects and other random oddities. an incredibly detailed and delicate dragon perched on the lip of a cup, a colourful and shiny snail crawling over a bowl, devils and mermaids and monsters. a basilisk. plus i'm sure some normal things too. the bosch paintings are probably the second reason you'd go to the prado, after the black paintings, and you could spent hours studying all the tiny details, but by the time you've got 'comfortable' with one part of a painting you've already forgotten the other parts. it's impossible to take in his paintings as a whole in full detail, it boggles the mind. and those skeletons are terrifying.
we were in the prado for hours, but since it was raining i wasn't so bothered with how long grilly spent in the gift shop. i had imagined the weather would be kind of nicer than this. i'd pictured glorious sun and rolling countryside. that typical spanish stuff. hopefully it'll warm up as we move to the coast
i'm actually writing this amongst the green explosion of the reina sofia courtyard, serenaded by the beautifully yearning creak of the centre sculpture as it's blown around by the wind. is that rain or is it the fountain?
03.05.2007 - 10pm en tapas
already i don't know what day or date it is, but we're sliding into this properly, helped on by vermouth and a sexy transition from evening into night. we're a few tapas bars down and almost know what we're doing. this here is the 'zapateria', which i insisted we came to for obvious reasons, and we're currently drinking sangria, jugs of which are conveniently lined up along the bar. we're doing this by numbers. and spread across our table is a mixto vegetariano - olives that look like tiny apples, a plate full of roasted vegetables and padron hot peppers. just before we had fried eggs and fries (not particularly spanish) with vermouth in a bar north of gran via. before that a beer in a smokey bar on calle de pelayo, and before that we were in a place just off puerto del sol and ate cheese, patatas bravas and garlic mushrooms. this is the tapas crawl.
we have transferred. we had a map and plan, but one based on three year old knowledge and it all fell to pieces. always for the best though, and not at all unexpected, most of the places we've sought out have been closed or non-existant, we're used to it now. and now we're at the 'taberna de conspiradores'. it also says 'conspiraciones varidas', which until i learn better spanish will means "global conspiracy" and make me happy. this establishment is my favourite yet. the decor is tiles and many black and white photos. dali, madrid, joy division, a peter's map. the ceiling is high and a huge gold cherub hangs above the bar. no one is smoking and they are all cool. the music is delightfully varied and our 'house potatoes' with garlic and paprika are awesome. no, i need a new and better word. whatever. a girl in the corner wipes away a tear and the chef gives us a wink. the music goes genuinely eerie, grilly mimes a theramin, it ends in a bell. the bar is so good they sell their own tshirts. bathed in yellow light again, i wish i could solidify this moment. capture it and keep it bottled. but nothing is sufficient, not even the camera crew parked a few streets north, their flood lights filling the busy spanish streets from all angles, cameras everywhere. grilly asks about the music and it's coco rosie, the "everybody just hold hands" song sticking in my head for the rest of the night (and holiday). the girls leave, one of them hobbling on crutches. we spend the rest of the night discussing the possibilities of falling in love with someone in a wheelchair, or worse. but these two things are completely unrelated
a third of the way home, and halfway between puerto del sol and plaza mayor, down a dark alley we're having an interesting encounter with a chocloatier, all shiny bright white and green. more tiles. grilly is ordering in spanish now and seems to know what is going on. two cups of thick hot chocolate arrive along with a plate piled high with churros, about ten too many. we vow not to finish them, that would be sick, but end up eating all but one. a token gesture that barely counts. at the table over from us a guy sucks a dick sized churro. why didn't we get one of those?
04.05.2007 - second full day in madrid
this morning my stomach is not my friend. more like i'm not my stomach's friend. my mouth has torn our friendship apart. everything we ate yesterday was fried, possibly apart from the cheese. the churros were the final straw, and this morning grilly tells me you're supposed to eat them for breakfast. but the guide book had said we had to do it, and i'm not listening to that judas again, with its old listings and inaccurate map. what guide book map only lists half the street names? our other map has fallen apart, but more to do with the cheap paper and bad folding.
i still haven't worked out the technique for my travel towel yet. it has something to do with putting it against my skin and it absorbing water. but how?
before yesterdays tapas tour, less elegantly described already, we'd had a full day of tourist action. i'd even managed to get up and make it to breakfast, claiming the last of the sugary cereal. the milk tastes funny too. and incase you're interested in our strange room mate, matt was reading in bed when we left and has checked out this morning.
our first stop of the day was a comic shop near our hostel, then we caught the subway down to the reina sophia, but got distracted by another protest (no idea what it was about) and icecream.
like the prado, reina sofia is too big and it quickly over saturates you with abstract paintings. although i'd rather abstraction than religion any day (or wait, are they the same thing?). there's the obvious guernica, which had been hyped by several friends to the point of no return. i expected to breakdown infront of it, crying uncontrollable tears, or to be held back by talkshow style security guards as i tried to rid the world of its horrors. if you stare at it long enough it fades to grey. i'm not dissing it, it just didn't rock my world like i'd been told it would. upstairs there's a large collection of antoni tapies, but his own gallery in barcelona contains his better work. the dali collection is quite satisfying, but i imagine it suffers from the same problem. i never liked miro but i loved the "hombre con pipa", if only they sold the postcard of it instead of the 20+ variations of the guernica. hey, i just realised that all of those artists i've mentioned have their own galleries in barcelona.
one of the temporary galleries was of chuck close's huge photorealistic portrait paintings (there is one of these at the AGO in toronto). in the end, why not take a photograph? my stupid quip doesn't make them any less impressive, they are quite jaw droppping, and i'm sure i'm not the only person who's been told off for getting to close to them to see the detail. the other temporary exhibit was more of a science museum, only you couldn't play with or touch anything as it fucked your eyes up.
we also bumped into two american girls there, again. they were at the prado yesterday, spending almost as long as grilly in the gift shop. it makes you horribly tourist self-conscious when you keep seeing the same people around, taking the same routes around the galleries and the city. we didn't talk to them or anything, sheesh, but we did see them another few times around the town, buying napolitanas from the same patisserie all the way over at puerto del sol, or whatever. it was that time that grilly suggested we actually follow them. no.
instead we walked around, seeing the palacio real with it's crap 'gardens', not a garden at all, and the front of a church we should have gone into because it was raining. then through some exciting backstreets and to the plaza mayor, which looked a little sad all damp and soggy.
it's just large and hard to photograph, or maybe that's me. i've been finding it awkward taking photos. is madrid uninspiring? is it the weather? or am i in the middle of a photographic crisis? i've changed my view on photography quite drastically recently, i mostly want to photograph people and that's tricky whilst on holiday. the party/riot on our first night would have been great, but it was fun enough and was glad to not have my camera at the time, slowing me down and getting in the way of the rocks and molotovs i was throwing. but anyway, barcelona will be interesting for comparison, and hopefully i haven't wasted too much space forcing myself to take photos.
getting back to the story, if you match this up with all the previous clues from our tapas adventure you'll notice we walked a very long way. as i hope this map will demonstrate:
that excludes most of the time we walked around in circles, which was embarrassingly often, and clocks in at over 14km. no wonder we ate so much tapas.
04.05.2007 - the cat howls in the park of fully booked trains, 2pm
so we fucked up. the internet lied. the ticket office hates english. we arrived at the train station in plenty of time, after discovering the greatness of patatas tortilla for breakfast (at cafe commercial, spoiling my healthy kiwis), but our train was already full and the next one is at 20:20. it's a nice station though, it seems to think it's a botanical gardens, with its tropical palms and ferns, the constant spray of moisture and the light dropping in through the glass ceiling. this is what great stations are made of, it's dramatic like the one in milan, only not in a fascist way. they had to do something with all this space when the moved the stations back, why not fill it with trees?
we're sitting in the parque del retiro and they day can't make up its mind if it wants to shower us with sunshine or pepper us with rain. or both. we've been here all day, wandering, sleeping, sitting, staring, talking rubbish. we started a game of chess but didn't get to finish it, grilly is playing white and it's his move:
there was the wild cat that sounds like a dog. the tree of love we walked past three times before finding it. an ant attack. a greenhouse being used as a sculpture gallery, with ghat-like steps leading down a lovely pond. lots of me playing bad annoying ukulele and lots of grilly playing good annoying ukulele. y'know, park stuff.
and now we're speeding across spain, east to valencia, taking it straight to the coast. the dying sunshine is golden and it exhausts me. and after that the lowest reddest moon i've seen in 25 years, a cigarette burn bleeding in the sky.
so, thoughts on madrid. or even easier..
- the street party and subsequent riot was a blast
- the tapas crawl was awkward to begin with but was ultimately satisfying
- cheap alcohol
- moments of heart wrenching beauty hidden in the art galleries
- too much bloody jesus
- there's no sea and it rained
- lots of building work
or to put it another way, there's lots of graffiti but it's mostly rubbish. there's lots of tapas but it's mostly meat. there's lots of
art but it's mostly jesus. there's lots of street partying but it mostly ends with fighting the police. all in all we did madrid well, thanks
to our impeccable timing (he writes while sitting on a train that left eight hours after planned).
we could easily have had a rubbish time there and i don't think the city has much to offer me. but yes, it was a damn good start.
my ears are popping, like we're on a plane descending. about half an hour we stopped at alicante, does that mean i can say i've been there? i guess not.
04.05.2007 - arriving in valencia
stepping off the train my heart finally feels like it's in the right place. like i said, madrid wasn't what i was looking for, i think this might be. it's almost midnight but the air is still warm. my bag feels lighter. the train station looks like brighton station done on a grander scale, and walking away from it valencia embraces us with its relaxed warmth. it sounds tacky but i can't help it. the streets are well lit and clean, all polished and shiny, it makes madrid look dirty and unwelcoming. it makes it look a bit like birmingham.
although it's not like the pavements aren't slippy in madrid either, as demonstrated by the pissy litle dog that nearly ruined our vege buffet earlier today, jumping onto our bench and sliding out of control into our recently purchased glass bottle of pear juice. he missed my wooden spoon and was gone. next time my wooden spoon shall fly true.
but anyway, our hotel is the strangest place i have ever stayed. i'm standing on our balcony overlooking calle de san martin, with groups of people shouting at each other below. is that house or samba coming from the cafe madrid, filtered through reds and blue neon? whatever it is it's terrible, but i can't help but smile at it. one wall of our room is painted in a rough red that ends a foot below the unnecessarily high ceiling and is decorated with a number of chinese pictures. the other walls are white. we have a bidet and a bright orange door. the door to the apartment next to ours is dark green and much taller, they look so odd up against each other in the corner. the hotel looks like it's been put together with random parts of buildings bought from car boot sales. the layout makes no sense (grilly is drawing a map), nothing is straight and the floor sinks at an upsetting incline on the west side. there's a random bath tub sitting in one room, which is half painted blue.
and now is the time for exploring ancient cities. but valencia will make do.
05.05.2007 - what really happened last night
we thought we'd go out and find food and drink. that's what we thought. it's never that simple. cafe madrid is not our scene, well dressed women and sleazy men. a bouncer, i don't think so. we sat outside a cafe for five minutes before moving inside and realising it was closing. no pizza for us, and on an empty stomach there'll be no beer or vermouth either. we returned to our room and laughed at the "erotic comic" we'd bought from a newsagent in madrid. "laughed" is completely the wrong word, but you know what i mean. buying it had seemed a funny idea at the time, honest. but i wont have grilly claiming it was either my idea or me who bought, it was a concerted joint effort. and i'm only being defensive because it was so rubbish, not even in an entertaining way.
our big first night out in valencia fell flat on it's face.
cafe madrid continued to be noisy long into the early morning, drunken hooting and squealing at inappropriate times (past 5am?). i found it funny, leaving the balcony door open to share our space with the raucous night. our bidet also gurgles, like some sort of demonic baby lying in the corner of the room. i find that funny too. but we can hear everything from room 1, which isn't funny at all. i kept thinking they were knocking on our door. between all this noise we both had horrendous dreams. figures.
05.05.2007 - deep into the valencia night
sitting a jazz club, jimmy glass, in valencia getting as drunk as necessary. a perfect white russian. where the fuck are you? this is the darkest bar i've known. grilly's drink is terrifying. before here, we drank in rough around the edges bar on calle alta, just north of where we started on calle de caballeros. or caller de quart, how you're supposed to know when all you maps disagree i don't know, and our book refers to areas as often as streets, neither marked clearly or at all. it was a cool hang out though, except it smelt of frying. deep and dirty frying. overdone cheese on toast. omlette. and we got all our beers mixed up but had two good pints anyway. watching a girl in the corner taking myspace photos of herself with her shiny phone. that shallow grin. they played metal. the staff were cool. or they thought they were. it's a little blurry already.
i'd wish you were here, but i don't need cliches to be patronising.
06.05.2007 - exploring valencia
right now it's another day. another morning. a bed covered in clean clothes, outside random spanish voices fight the cars to be my background noise. the wailing baby has no chance. it's nice having clean clothes, but i seem to have left my shorts in madrid. i'm annoyed because i never even wore them, and couldn't wear them yesterday when i should have been washing my trousers. (since grilly told my parents i may as well mention i lost my sunglasses as well. nevermind, i never wore them anyway because people said they looked stupid). if this was hemingway i'd send a telegram to the hostel requesting they forward my things on to barcelona, but really i know nothing of hemingway.
anyway, the rumours circulating about valencia are true. it's well hip.
after breakfast at the hotel, which we had to experience incase it was as odd as the rest of this place (it wasn't), we went for a random walk. it took us up to plaza de la reina and then east into barrio de carmen's maze like streets. the arab moorish influence is strong here, it reminds me so much of what i remember from morocco. the lines of palm trees help, along with the bustling market and rusty orange walls. there's much to find hidden amongst the sprawling streets and inside bad maps. a circular market place, the roofs slanting down towards the center fountain, lazing the in a pool of sunlight. there are fountains everywhere, it makes me wonder how there's any water left for the houses (especially since they dried out the river, but more on that later).
all of a sudden not getting sunburnt, dehydrated or famished becomes quite important, so we went in search of the pizza we were so cruelly denied the night before. lost in the more commercial area, we sat outside somewhere with a reasonable pizza menu for fifteen minutes before they told us "no pizza, only seafood". fuck them anyway, by accident we found la pappardella, what is blatantly the best pizzeria in valencia. they have a sexy menu with plenty enough vege pizzas. it's actually difficult to choose. the waitresses were dead friendly too, and didn't seem to mind dealing with out awkward englishness - i ordered water and got coke, grilly wanted lemonade but got beer. superb pizza though. and obviously well popular, when we first arrived they sent us away for an hour, which was just enough time to climb the octagonal cathedral tower 'torre del micalet'. this is the best view of the old town, if not all of valencia, you can get for 2 euros. bonus points if you're up there when the bell dongs out the hour. thankfully it was only 3pm when we were up there.
despite all of valencia's 'old city charm', they for some reason feel the need to modernise and build 'wonders' to attract tourists. the biggest display of this is the 'ciudad de las artes y las sciencias' (city of arts and science), with it's uber-contemporary architecture and grandiose scale courtesy of santiago calatrava. it's as jaw droping as the artificial can get. it's like a gargantuan robot broken into pieces and turned into buildings. apparently it's most like "a giant sun-bleached carcass", a pistachio nut and an eyeball. it's like the future's shat itself into the present. all dominating white ceramic surfaces and shallow blue tropical waters. the over-reliance on aesthetic perfection. the hope that people will be wowed into not thinking of how much it cost or what was destroyed to make space for this for-the-priveledged-only amusement park. i can't wait for the day it wakes up, reconstructs itself and goes on a crazed rampage. we didn't go in any of the buildings, they're far too expensive, but i was impressed enough just looking at them. i'd much rather have scaled them anyway, even as a grown up. i would have liked to see the aquarium's arctic dolphins, those bulbous white smiley creatures, but not for that price.
one of the other great things about valencia is the park that circles the old town. it's not so cool that they diverted the old river, but i'm sure they had their reasons, and they did good. it's a narrow but almost endless park (for all intents and purposes), broken up by the old bridges that used to cross the river. i'd pictured it as a dense exotic paradise, exploding palms, trees trying to crawl their way into the city, wrecking destruction with their roots and branches, tearing foundations and smashing windows. reclaiming etc (is this a theme i'm trying to create? no). it's nothing like that, but after the initial underwhelm it's still brilliant. come on, it used to be a river bed, now it's mostly entangled couples sitting under orange trees, around fountains, against statues, on the grass, beside the football pitch. they get everywhere in valencia, in the day there must be nothing better to do but snog and fondle. sigh (yes, i'm missing julie). but in contrast with the science park, it's unbeatable as a cultural community space. it's free for everyone and each of it's segments (i suppose it is a little like a worm) is different, functionally and aesthetically. it has all manner of sports pitches, playgrounds (one based on gulliver) and gardens.
i don't think they needed to knock down the old city walls, which, going by the last remaining piece (the towering city gates), must have been seriously awesome. they must have really needed that ring road. pricks. (laurence makes an explosion sound, mimicking shock and awe as his hands model the destruction of the circular road, a less than archaic modern day binding spell laid in tarmac. didn't we used to use salt to imprison demons?)
our biggest problem in valencia is the lack of a kitchen, or any supermarkets. being vegetarian is resulting in some terrible dietary habits. bocadilla with cheese and only cheese is not a meal, and the patatas tortilla baguette that pan's company do is rubbish (i'd almost rather go to subway), but that had to do for our dinner tonight. again.
and then into the "buzzing" valencia night life. we'd already had a beer at the cute plaza negrita, which contains three of the bars recommended in our book and a gorgeous illuminated fountain and tree combo (the street musicians are a bit annoying, but it wouldn't be europe with them), so we headed along the main strip, calle de caballeros. a lot of bars were already packed, despite it being relatively early, and it's not long before the streets are heaving. my memory even contains a low-rider bouncing down the street to loud hip hop, but i'm sure this is my overactive imagination. we sat on the side of the street drinking 'aqua de valencia' from a pitcher, enjoying the atmosphere and being able to eavesdrop on the english people we're sharing the terrace with. our own conversation probably revolved around imaginary top trumps, the hit game we invented in budapest, and offensive jokes. i also remember discussing various unsavory people, but less said about that the better.
this 'aqua de valencia' is the local drink and far from water, containing cava, vodka and orange juice. it slips down easy and drives away the headache that's been creeping in from nowhere. something in the air, still warm from the day. shit, this town needs a big sexy storm to relieve the pressure. if only there was a cloud in the sky. having said that, there's been a token cloud in the sky everytime i've looked. one tiny sheepish cloud.
i've already covered the rest of the night.
sometimes i wish i could stick to past or present tense when writing. other times i don't really care.
06.05.2007 - before going in search of dinner
we're still struggling with food. i almost wish i was an asshole enough to eat meat. we had chocolate napolitanas for breakfast, croissant is as good as anything for quashing hunger pains. my great plan was to buy fresh fruit and bread from the elaborate market, but being a sunday it was obviously closed. in a weird inversion the streets surrounding it (and all those leading to it from our hotel) suddenly fill up with stalls selling all kinds of everything, mostly crap. we sat in the cool train station for an hour, waiting in the virtual queue to buy tickets to barcelona. it was gruelling, especially dealing with the smelly hungarian traveller who was trying to get me to tell him when the next train or bus was to prague (or wherever, i have no idea), like i knew better than he did. but it was ultimately worth it and we saved time in the long run, we've learnt out lesson. aren't we good? we're getting fairly slick at dealing with these things. or rather grilly is. he's taken up the role of difficult language speaker.
we had a look at the bullfighting stadium, which is right next to the station, and contemplated the possibility of a visit. obviously we're both very against bloodsports, especially when they're this fucked up, but it's also hard to judge (or argue against) cultural traditions without knowledge or experience. we wouldn't enjoy it, on any level, not even through sick fascination, and decided that remaining ignorant was the right thing to do. i'm not sure i could forgive myself for supporting them anyway. still, i'd prefer a world without football than without bullfighting, i'm an ass like that.
next stop was the sea, the beach. we took a tram from behind the quiet police station, next to the tatooine style buildings, and it took us straight there. we wandered up, dodging the almost naked sun bathers, and sat half under a parasol. walking barefoot on the soft sand was a delightful change, but far from soothing. i'd forgotten how difficult real sand can be to walk on. after about ten minutes i was itching to get in the sea, and also fed up of trying to avoid all the breasts. it's only may and the water's not exactly warm, but once you're in it's not so bad. punching the waves and accidentally headbutting the ground. we went in twice, with a gap just long enough to dry off and make it almost not worth getting wet again. as if. even the salty nasal discomfort isn't enough to stop me trying to bury myself underwater.
we walked along the shore until the threat of being hit by a football was too great, then we put out shoes back on and followed the road, as busy as the beach itself. i ate an overcooked corn on the cob with too much salt (just like the water). the woman didn't think i understood anything she was saying, i was trying to decide if i wanted salt or not, not trying to work out whether it was salt or sugar. that's the new phrase we need to learn, "i understand". but being out in the sun all day does this to you, not being english. although i imagine most of the english she meets are assholes (it's just statistics). there are very tourists around though, apparently because it's not fiesta time.
which reminds me, there's a small town around here called bunol that holds the most incredible sounding fiesta - la tomatina. during the last week of august a huge group of people descend on the main square just before noon, followed by a caravan of lorries armed to the teeth with tomatoes. the crowd begins to chant "to-ma-te" and when the first cannon fires they let them have it. an hour of unrelenting fighting in the streets - tomato war. a dumpster divers nightmarish wetdream, and surely more fun than throwing rocks at police. the photo in our book looks remarkably like a bosch painting. utter madness. (there's a video of last years fiesta with an annoying soundtrack here)
what's going on here at the moment is the america's cup, whatever that is. we were happy not knowing, but it has taken over the entire port. since we were there we figured we could have a wander around, we'd been told there was all kinds of fun things happening there, but no. we made it through the over-intensive security checks (is it so absurd that we don't have phones?) only to be drowned in horribly dull boat race stuff. we sat on the boardwalk staring out into the salty mediterranean, watching the feral cats dance amongst the wave breakers, too exhausted from walking, late nights and the heat to do anything else. the port is a soulless pit of people, seemingly excited and happy to waste their money on double priced food and drinks. it all looks deeply unsatisfying to me.
we did find another horchata/horxata stall though, making grilly very happy. this is another local drink, one that's distinctively less aggressive than the "aqua", and what's made from tiger nuts. they look more like berries to me. it's a milky fruit drink that doesn't contain milk, with a rather complicated and delicate flavour that i can't be bothered to describe properly (grilly has suggested savoury banana milkshake). i'd only get it wrong anyway. it's quite magical though, and if you get the chance you must try it.
anyway, that dinner we were going to go in search of..
06.05.2007 - last night in valencia
walking around at 9:30pm on a sunday it should be dead, but in the right places it's no different to saturday. the annoying difference is the vege restaurant we intended on eating at is closed. we've wandered around the backstreets, that aren't really backstreets at all - with no main street it's more like a web of plazas. the graffiti around barrio de carmen is some of the best i've seen anywhere. there's some very distinctive and varied styles. here's some respectable dedication. lost down one street we passed two girls heading in the opposite direction, one of their packs emitting the telltale rattle of a spraycan. they set up just where we'd been standing. we should have stuck around but we needed food.
infront of iglesis del carmen a women is training her dog. and in the next plaza a women sits on the end of a bench blowing bubbles into the cooling air, a puddle of washing-up liquid at her feet. a guy pulls his dog from the pavement by it's lead as a bigger dog tries to attack it, he shouts back at the owner for not keeping his dog under control. it's an interesting atmosphere. i wish i could eat the oranges.
we settled for mexican and ate great nachos and fajitas. great as in one of the greatest. homemade tortilla chips with nacho dipping cheese, like how nachos should be. and when my dessert arrived (i couldn't resist) the girls in the next booth couldn't stop ogling it and giggling. one of them was leaning right over to peer around grilly. the other one was dressed all in red. whatever significance that has.
now we're lying in our room "writing up", drinking beers bought from reception. cafe madrid is closed tonight so we're at peace, listening to the city's gentle buzz and doom midi files on grilly's knobby phone. i think we are done with valencia. i've really enjoyed my time here and can leave feeling satisfied. it's nicer than madrid in incomparable ways. unfortunately it's also more expensive, which i'm blaming on the lack of supermarkets and our lack of a kitchen. we've had to eat out all the time, and drinks have been costly too. especially those cocktails in that jazz bar.
i should do this more formally..
- clean and generally nice atmosphere
- bustling at night
- has a lush park and a generic beach
- interesting buildings decorated with even better graffiti
- the science park awes
- when the market is open food is affordable
- a wacky hotel
- this city is expensive
- eating out is awkward
- bullfighting is not cool
- no protests or riots (i'm not being so serious)
it's becoming chilly. it must be bed time.
07.05.2007 - the train to barcelona
on one side of the train it's flat all the way to the horizon, where the see pokes out to meet the the sky. the countryside is all plantations and groves, of what i have no idea, interspersed by blips of industrial insanity. the odd distant town, the distinctive blocky buildings that look like they're half crumbling, places i'd like to call 'hamlets'. on the other side of the train it's flat all the way to where mountains rise sharply, violently jutting into the sky, jagged and in dark earthy colours.
it's must be around twelve or one. we just finished our breakfast of bread and cheese, our best breakfast of the last few days. technically it's the same as every other lame bread and cheese meal we've had, but it was bought from the valencia market and had some dignity to it. the bread was fresh and cheese proper manchego. we also bought bananas and a large tub of strawberries, which i have all to myself because neither grilly nor the girl sitting opposite us wanted any. well, she was sitting opposite until an elderly couple made her move. she hasn't gone far, i can still hear her singing along badly to her music, more like mumbling really, but i don't want to be mean. when she sat down she'd asked us something complicated that we spent far too long trying to understand, much to her embarrassment. grilly thinks she was asking if we were together. perhaps rumours of a gay couple sleeping together in the hotel pension levante have spread further than we thought. when we first checked in the owner double checked with us that it was a double bed room we'd reserved, after looking puzzled at his books. to kill the rumour we left our issue of kiss comics rather blatantly in the bin in our room. perhaps it was too obvious.
nearer the sea now, whooshing along side by side. the water is patchy dark and light blues, shining silver. huge. i love the spanish scenery, if not only because it's foreign. everything is appealing. the lure of the mediterranean, only meters from the train. the gorgeous beaches around tarragona. the mountains and their impossible gradients. all this and the english girl behind me is reading heat magazine, "oh. my. god! [stupid celebrity i don't know] puts ON two stone!". even worse, when grilly was buying postcards in valencia this morning i noticed the shop was selling various political tshirts, and i wish i'd taken a photo to prove it, one of them was a "no logo" tshirt.
08.05.2007 - doing barcelona
last night was dancing on glass. like a mother fucker. just like you. my feet didn't need the extra pounding ontop of the mistreatment they've already suffered, but the pain felt so good. the cut soles on my trainers are testament to a good night, and they'll forgive me. i'm not sure if my head will. wow, and all this because i can speak a little danish.
we arrived in barcelona yesterday, amid a heat wave and tsunami of too cool people. there's nowhere better than barcelona for making you feel cool and inadequate. it's huge and beautiful and ugly. it's inspiring and crushing all at the same time. it's another big crazy party.
our first stop after the hostel was la sagrada familia, because it fit nicely into our day 'schedule', not because it's the first thing you do in barcelona. it's something to get out of the way. the progress they've made since i was last here is interesting, but also disappointing. it doesn't look like they're progressed much at all, and it's all for the worse. you now have to take the elevator (for an unwarned extra two euro) and can't explore as much as you could before. it was the ascent that i found so exciting last time, trying to pick the right spiral stairs as they wind tighter and tighter. we also went up the same side as before, for no reason at all. but nevermind. we sat in the park eating bad icecream, watching people play table tennis and getting shat on by birds again. like grilly said when i put my foot in another shit later on, but i forget what. something about being on the low point of a statistical improbability curve.
we shot down to placa catalunya to wander down la ramblas and explore the barri gotic. i'm impressed with my sense of direction and memory, managing to navigate us around everywhere without a map. we managed to cross the two large cathedrals off our list in quick succession, getting all of the religious tourist crap out of the way in a matter of hours. i think a couple of hours of getting lost in these old and wonderful dirty streets is what i've been craving.
for dinner we tried to find ganpatti, but it's gone. however we did find a reasonably cool replacement on the next street down, a vege tapas bar called bioasis. it has a different atmosphere, but the impossible combination of being cheap and awesome. we sit and eat vege paella, vegetable and tofu kebabs, humous and tortillas. drinking sangria from the same jugs they had at ganpatti and kicking grilly's ass at chess. twice. well, to be fair only once - the game we had started all the way back in madrid. the second game was fascinating and horribly complex, it could have gone either way. we took a photo of the crucial moment before it all fell apart (i'm presuming grilly is black and it's his turn to move):
sangria also makes chess difficult.
it must have been half ten when we left for the hotel, snaking our way through dodgy streets and less dodgy plazas, activity everywhere. we bought a few strong beers and hit the hostel common room, which was rammed and smokey. there were six croatians, two girls of unknown nationality (they left before we had chance to talk to them) and two very obvious norwegian girls. two english guys sitting quietly on the sofa in the corner, oh wait, that's us. we also met the french woman we're sharing a dorm with (there are a lot of french in this city, or am i getting confused with the languages? possibly), unfortunately it's only because she was trying to sleep and asked if we could be quieter. i tried to explain it wasn't us, but the loud croatians (i actually said italians, which is where they were all talking about, and they lived near the border anyway).
the problem was that the guys were sitting in a tight circle around the girls, creating an impenetrable anti-social wall. or more like a net. when they started talking about language i saw my chance. they were exchanging swearwords and i nearly gave in a shouted "fy faen" across the room, instead i waited for a quiet moment and gave them my best "kan du taller dansk?". we were away, and note to everyone, my danish rocks. i had a mini conversation about "min kaerste kommer fra norway" and then we were given beers and bought into the circle. actually no, we deconstructed the circle. turns out the girls are from trondheim and know boten anna, although a bit unsure about the old ungdomshuset. we get on really well with one of the croatians, bonding mainly over dinosaurs. his knowledge is amazing, he even knows where certain species where found and by who. also his art is amazing.
there was talk of going out partying but the common room was closed before we had a chance to sort it out. we hung around awkwardly in the corridor before deciding to put our shoes on and wait outside for anyone who was leaving. yes, a trap. we timed it perfectly and it almost looked natural. we were invited along to a club the girls knew was open. we went up out street to ronda universidad, across to placa catalunya and then down las ramblas. it's a bit like traversing three sides of a square instead of one, but nevermind. we ended up in placa real, i remember me and martin coming here briefly before, having been warned away by the guide books promise of hard drugs and pickpockets. bah. the club we stood infront of was playing nasty rnb and was 9 euros entry, it was never going to happen for us, and that we'd just been given fliers for free entry to 'sidecar' just across the plaza didn't help either. the flyer was red with a skull and the word "rock". an offer you can not turn down.
so we embraced the tasty mix of 80's and early 90's. punk and indie. it wasn't 20 seconds after i said how much this B52s song sounded like le tigre that they played 'hot topic'. i am the passenger, i am iggy pop. a spanish punk cover of la bamba. and i've never enjoyed dancing to 'smack my bitch up' before, i do hate it. people kept giving grilly dirty looks for treading on their feet, they might have been giving me looks too but i wasn't paying them no attention. punk means you gotta break some bones. then some english idiot tried to start a fight in the toilet and i nearly passed out from lack of oxygen. it was wicked. drinking water like my life depended on it, which i guess it does. and not a club to wear sandals in, sticky broken glass everywhere. how did i make it out with no cigarette burns?
we walked home in a straight line, nice and smooth. only we couldn't sit on the hostel steps because the croatian guy was talking too loudly (trying to impress the norwegian girl) and got us told off. three or four in the morning? we sat on the street corner eating biscuits, just like all the other bums in this city. laughing at absurd shit and being almost bohemian. that makes me chuckle as much as anything.
so five hours of bad sleep later and i'm sitting on our hostel's back patio listening to screaming children, edging my way out of the sun whenever it approaches. absent mindedly wondering how i can go on. on my feet or my worker-bee life? a plane cuts across the perfect sky, every day that single token cloud, between the bright yellows and oranges of the patio chimney, the rainbow colours of the washing hanging from all the windows, drying in the morning sun. i would die for peanut butter. i'd settle for clean trousers.
i survived amsterdam on five hours a night, i can survive this.
08.05.2007 - barcelona polarised and dying
hurray, we've found a squat! and by accident too. last count i read there are about 200 squats here, i imagine less since the crackdowns (three of the biggest squats were evicted at the end of last year), but it's good to see a prominent few still occupied and offending tourists. this city makes me want to be a spanish anarchist. the scene here is massive. where do you even start? it pisses on toronto. actually we've found quite a few squats, but there's no one around to shout "ungern blir" at. everywhere is written "salem vallcara - no als vials", but we have no idea what it means, except that vallcara is the area (answers on a postcard?).
what worries me is the leaflet we found in the hostel amongst all the tourist crap, "measures to encourage and guarantee peaceful coexistence and respect in barcelona". it states:
"as of this year, 2006, the city of barcelona has introduced a new municipal by-law that regulates and fines those people who make improper use of the city's public space. this by-law is applicable to everyone in the city of barcelona, whether tourists or residents. everyone must respect the general norms for peaceful coexistence."
ethnic cleansing at increments of 3000 euros. the suffocation of culture. "peaceful coexistence" through coercion. i can't believe it. the by-law includes "consumption of alcoholic drinks in squares and streets where this might cause a nuisance" (vagueness left for police discretion?), "writing or painting graffiti on any item of public property" (i presume this exclude private property?), "misuse of urban furniture" and "gambling on the street". this leaflet explains a lot. it explains why las ramblas isn't as fun as it used to be. and it explains where all the beautiful graffiti, that this city used to be famous for, has gone. a passionate scene has been extinguished, and another is dying, and for what benefit? the whole thing is bullshit. it makes me want to cry. it makes me want to throw stuff at fascists. mainly insults.
these day's, and it's the same in madrid, all of the graffiti is bad tags and quick political slogans. people literally can't afford to spend the time making something beautiful. wandering around areas that used to be dripping with colour and expression, there's now just blank walls. the odd fragment of a sticker or wheatpaste remains, a stencil hidden in an alcove or too high up to be bothered with. will there be no more miss van in barcelona? she's been replaced by crossed out swastikas (mostly rotating the wrong way, which is a little embarrassing, although not as bad as spelling "government" wrong).
10.05.2007 - all that remains
i would have been writing this on the plane or at the airport, but i've been absolutely exhausted. i couldn't form comprehensible words, i couldn't be bothered to even try and use my pen. i couldn't even be bothered to play grilly again at chess, although i did, and won again. this brings my final score to 3.5 to his 0.5. i got lucky. our other game was in the hostel common room on our last night, waiting for things to get excited and pretending to not be in the queue to use the internet. i made a feeble mistake that ended up with me losing my last pawn, and you can't do shit with only two kings a bishop on the board. we were willing to try until one of the croatians pointed out to us that it wasn't possible. but anyway, our plane was running late and it was verging on nightmarish. grilly was so tired when we finally got on the plane that he fell asleep and completely missed take-off. when i woke him up (to get passed and relieve myself) i don't think he believed me that we'd taken off. i wasn't cruel enough to pretend we'd landed in england already.
i need to mentally rewind to the moment i discovered the shop next to our hostel was a patisserie and i nearly burst with happiness. this was our first morning in barcelona. the woman was very nice in explaining to me what everything was called in catalan and i bought way too many pastries, for very little money. with all this heat and exercise i should be losing weight, but if we keep up the croissant and cheese intake there's no chance.
me and grilly in our colours:
we left the hostel quite late, my trousers stinking form the night before, and we walked down to the nearest subway station where we met the french women we we're dorming with. i didn't recognise her at first, but she came up to say goodbye and smile and be nice, despite us barely talking. i mention it because you don't get this level of friendliness very often, and i think that's a real shame.
from parallel we took the subway up to vallcara, where a lot of the squats are, but mainly parc guell.
i like what gaudi did here, it's aesthetically very appealing, although the original plans are far from cool. it's luckily that it was never finished and was handed over to the people as a free park, rather than being a private area for privileged rich people to live in. the market area is a gorgeous space, and i hope that it's actually used for fairs or performances, something a bit more substantial that simply attracting tourists (and masses of school kids) to the sun trap and charging them sick money for drinks, icecreams and nasty bocadillos (although the foreign people sitting next to us were very cool).
the park also provides a brilliant view over barcelona, with the previously mentioned squat dominating the foreground in full glory.
if only i wasn't a tourist too. and if you follow random paths around behind the park you might be able to find the font de salvador, a rectangular shallow pool surrounded by greenery and verging on some kind of aztec ambiance - a place to take a much needed nap. we let the sun make pretty patterns on us through the trees, everything completely at peace, until a huge black dog jumped into the water, waking me up, and ran off down the steps. grilly didn't see him so i may have dreamt it.
from here we wandered down back into vallcara. it must have been around 4pm because parents were picking their kids up from school. we wondered along the streets, navigating by the sun or something, probably by nothing, until we ended up at the station. my sense of direction is peachey keen.
this is where it gets confusing. my camera tells me that we went to the cloisters at the cathedral (which had been closed the day before), and after that up to see la pedrera, which doesn't make sense because la pedrera is between parc guell and the cathedral. i'm going to presume i changed the time on my camera to spanish time during that period, and what actually happened might have been this..
we went to check out the dali museum (via a vege buffet that grilly didn't want to go in because he was being picky), but decided not to go in because it was 8 euros. maybe even nine. then we looked at the silly army figures outside the toy shop where we'd bought the chess set the day before (hence why we were able to finish out game in bioasis). from here i could see all the people walking up around the side of cathedral, so we went to see the cloisters, which are as calming as i remembered. at least they are when some stupid girl isn't shouting "hola" at the geese, over and over and over, her face a mess of abject stupidity.
i still find it really difficult to photograph though, it's too crammed with perfectly arranged trees, ponds, fountains, geese and fish to fit it all in. and i don't think i looked at single shrine whilst we were in there. we sat on a cold stone step, cleansed by the shade, deciding what to do next. contemplating, some shit like that.
outside a woman sat playing sad songs on an accordion, attracting a pathetically small crowd. later, back at the hostel, an english woman played us a recording she'd made of her. it was terrible quality, tourists shrieking in the background, but i liked the idea of recording sounds instead of pictures. it turns out the english woman was crazy anyway (in the nicest possible way). she'd come to barcelona for several weeks without anywhere to stay and couldn't stand the hostel, how we came in late and how the road was too noisy so she shouldn't sleep. being a teacher from london she said she couldn't afford a proper hotel. totally mad, but she seemed comfortable around us "kids" so that's cool.
since grilly hadn't like the look of the first buffet place i'd found we tried the other one, with the same result, but that's okay. we walked all the way back down las ramblas to the maoz for vege falafel, whilst discussing the ethical dilemmas of eating there. we decided it was okay whilst they're still not completely ubiquitous, and whilst they weren't putting other companies out of business. had there been another decent vege place around we'd have gone there, but there wasn't (or maybe they just can't afford the real estate, and had we looked properly we'd have found them somewhere). this fell flat on its face that night, when walking back from the bar and we passed another two maoz. it's good food though, and i had barely eaten through my salad and started the actual falafel before being too full. i struggled with the can of beer, not wanting to incite the wrath of those nasty policemen and their bollocks discretion.
since we had ten-ride subway cards we took the metro up to diagonal to see the remaining gaudi buildings. it was getting late and we were running low on funds so we didn't go in them (casa batllo was closed again anyway), just looked at them a distance and took stupid photos. la pedrera is only really impressive when viewed from its roof anyway.
from there we walked back down las ramblas, admiring all the weird sculptures just north of placa catalunya, but i can't remember who they were by, and made our way back to the hostel via a slightly confusing route. it's difficult when half of the city is on a very tight grid system and the old part has no cartological consistency (i just made that up, i have no idea what it means). i sat around writing my journal whilst grilly went to the shop with our newest room mate, a nice chinese guy from vancouver, to buy alcohol and mixer and snacks. he returned with rum (which i kept calling whiskey), fruit juice and a bottle of horchata, which it turns out goes okay with rum. who would have thought? the common room slowly filled up with people as the evening went on. the norwegian girls sat half asleep on the sofa for a while before disappearing again. most of the croatians were around too, they'd had a nightmare with their car which had broken down and got them in trouble with the police. an america girl added some salad and wasabi peas too our snack pile, although we were too polite to open them, and commented that she'd thought i seemed very comfortable (she'd presumed we'd been in barcelona longer than a day), which i took as a complement before thinking it over too much and getting confused. two dutch girls, who'd arrived just after us yesterday, and who i'd presumed were spanish (not because i'm stupid, but because their spanish was very good), were also hanging around. they had to catch a flight at a silly early time so were planning on pulling an all-nighter, having to leave the hostel at half three. we inevitably ended up following them out to a bar all the way over in the barri gotic, which wasn't even open tonight. also along for the ride was the chinese guy (whose name i didn't remember because he'd only just changed it, so it seemed pointless in remembering if he was going to change his name all the time) and two of the croatians (whose names i couldn't be bothered to learn).
the bar we ended up in seemed nice enough, cocktails and all that, but i went for a beer instead (because that made sense with all the rum, right?). we spent a while trying to get jokes out of everyone, but finding international (inter-linguistic?) jokes proved too hard. all the alcohol and sun had fried my brain. then one of the guys spilt another guys drink and it went all over my trousers (probably cleaning them slightly) and slightly on one of the dutch girls shoes, which were brand new and needed five minutes of cleaning in the toilet (i didn't mean that to sound as belittling as it did, but i never did understand shoe culture). i'm sure we had some fascinating conversations, but it's all been lost.
arriving back at the hostel we were as quiet as possible, trying not to wake up the english teacher woman. but i did make sure the balcony door was open, there's nothing worse than having no air in the morning like did on the first morning. i swear that nearly killed me.
and what is it with everyone at our hostel being so attractive anyway? grilly suggested it was because the hostel won hostelbookers award for cleanliness, which makes sense. if you're going to preen yourself just to sit around in the common room you may as well make it a nice one. er, wait, this doesn't make sense. nevermind, it's written now.
we had to be up at 10am the next morning to check out and get our stuff in order. we could still use all the facilities, so it was only a matter of vacating our room, but we were still up too early. struggling with the morning, determined to beat it down and reign triumphant. making friends with the tub-like shower, using whatever washing stuff is lying around. laughing at the broken bidet, and the sign that it is only temporarily broken, like it matters to anyone currently staying at the hostel. for breakfast i had a single chocolate napolitana. i should have gone for a mini pizza too.
we walked through the pretty streets, passed the contemporary art gallery (the area around it now completely devoid of graffiti) and to placa catalunya, where we caught a train up to the base of tibidabo. last time i was in barcelona me and martin climbed mont juic, so i was totally up for climbing tibidabo. faced with the possibility of taking the vernacular railway, or the possibility of baking to death on the windy roads that snaked to the top, we figured the easiest option was also the most sensible. but talk about ruining a perfectly nice mountain, they've devastated what could have been lovely mountaintop with a theme park. there's barely even anyone here, and half the rides don't seem operational. fantastic view though, you can see the whole of barcelona. or you could if it wasn't for the smog. and from here mont juic looks kind of small. the church has the best acoustics though, and grilly got all excited by the reverb whilst i was trying to explain the plot of the last two matrix films, which wasn't at all worth bothering with. we were thrown out anyway, but i think they were closing.
we debated getting chips or something, but the cafe was priced for assholes, so instead we took the vernacular back down (too hungry to walk and get lost). we walked back through a small park, across the busy road, passed the big black submarine and back to the station, where all the cafes were also rubbish. we'd decided to ride back into the old city when we noticed the huge, and very cool, advert for the science museum. we had to go, it just looked too exciting. only there's that problem of food. everywhere we passed looked crap, and we ended up eating at the museum, a pathetic cheese baguette and a bag of crisps. so pathetic. sometimes these people really test my patience.
the science museum is well worth the visit though, if not just for the aquarium (for want a better word). they've created a rainforest environment that is begging for a dinosaur invasion, and it's been cross sectioned by a huge piece of glass. you can see the big round fish swimming around after each other, a crocodile floating lazily around in the pool. ducks and birds and a terrifying ant hill. it's proper pre-historic (although not proper at all) and it kept raining every few minutes into the water, creating beautiful patterns from below and a fantastic noise from above. the photos will explain this better:
other memorable highlights? sheesh, there's too many. the entrance is down a huge walkway that spirals around a tree trunk, i have no idea what it means but it looks fun. all kinds of physics demonstrations you can play with, if you wait for the teenagers to get out of the way. stress blocks, waves, inertia and momentum. lots of sand and water. they had a huge block of ice that people have made indentations in with their hands, many people over many hours slowly melting it away. lots of strobes, on brownian motion ping pong balls, falling droplets of water and sycamore seeds. interact, learn and destroy.
we were pushing the time though, and i was starting to feel rough. we jumped on the subway and i passed out straight away. it was probably the only time i didn't chuckle every time the subway doors closed. the little jingle that plays before the next station is announced is the first four notes of mogwai's helicon1. it's brilliant. but all i knew now was i needed fruit, so back to the opencor for kiwis, edam slices, pressed corn cakes, salad and red peppers, which we ate while sitting in our hostel's common room. the computer was being an arse and i got the woman at reception to restart it, and then she decided it was called robert, probably because of something stupid i said, i can't remember what was going on.
soon the time came to leave, and i was just about welcoming it. we took the subway up to placa d'espanya to see if the magic fountain was doing anything exciting, but it wasn't even on, nevermind lit up. the view of mont juic was almost completely obscured by building work. i'd like to say we sat at the bus stop in peace, relaxed after nine nights of having it hardcore, but placa d'espanya is a giant roundabout of honking cars. spewing and vomiting, polluting on every level. it's smoggy and noisy and ugly. i'm too tired to muster much hatred for how they must have ruined this once beautiful space.
before i know it we're on the bus, rattling through the ugly side of barcelona. to the airport and all the hassle that entails. the only cool thing about the airport was the funky kids toy shop. they sold bigger than normal sized 2x2x2 rubiks cubes for 6+ (because a kid under 6 couldn't possibly solve one) and all kinds of cool looking tactile stuff that made me wish i had loads of money and kids to buy toys so i could play with them myself. something like that anyway.
but i'm still not done with this city yet. there's still much for me to do here, and i've been here twice now. i think i need to have some bad experiences here, because right now it still seems like the ultimate city. it's just a shame the powers that be are determined to destroy and ruin all that is great about it. just like everywhere else in europe. these fuckers can't be allowed to get away with it.