I loved the idea of Spain even before I’d left home, and from the moment I arrived at Barcelona airport I have been justified in that excitement. The airport was clean, spacious, beautiful and welcoming. I even loved the toilets – the doors were a bright red colour, and the scent in the air was of strawberries, just like the car air freshener I used to buy. You could easily be forgiven for thinking you were somewhere other than the toilets!
I navigated the airport shuttle bus and the metro system easily, and made my way to the designated location to meet my couch surfing host. Murat was wonderful. He had a busy day but stopped long enough to explain the public transport ticketing system and gave me a map and some directions to get around. His house was like a hotel it was so nice! He spoke English really well, as well as Spanish, Turkish and German, so once again it was good to have a local I could ask all my Barcelona related questions, and hear about their political and social economic situation – some of the things that make a country a country I think.
The weather was brilliant, low 30s when I arrived and was still warm and light at 9pm. I walked to the beach and was amazed at the number of people still out and about, eating and drinking and enjoying themselves. I now know why so many people love Barcelona, for I did immediately. I was surprised to find I appreciated the trees in the city. I hadn’t registered the lack of them in Italy and now that I was surrounded by them I discovered how much I’d missed them. I think trees and greenery make a city seem more alive, giving a certain kind of life and breath to a place. I felt that Barcelona was similar to Melbourne in a way, it was calm and relaxed and content. The moon was already in the sky, although it was still light enough to see quite well, and around 10pm it got a little darker and the sky turned a royal blue colour. I was astounded, I’ve never seen the sky that colour before. I took some pictures of it yet they are so rich in colour they almost look fake.
The next day I wandered around Barcelona on foot, using the map Murat had provided and obtaining another Hop-On, Hop-Off bus map. I saw the people camping out in Placa Catalunya, with their signs of protest that have been featured on the news lately. I walked down La Rambla, and saw all the illegal markets with men standing at the ready to leave if the police showed up. They had assortments of fake brand name handbags and sunglasses, all laid out in neat rows on sheets. Attached to each corner of the sheet were four lengths of rope, the ends of which were held by the seller, ready to raise his arm and envelop his goods within the sheet while he made his getaway. There were also legal shops along the street, many selling tourist gimmicks, some food places, and even a pet shop!
I found the Mercat La Boqueria, a well known market that had fruit and vegetable stalls, meat and fish and egg sellers, along with a variety of sweets and chocolate stalls. There were a few places where people sat at the perimeter of a ‘shop’, eating food that had been freshly cooked while they waited, and a few gypsies asking for coins. Most of these gypsies seemed to be women, often with signs about how many children they had. A woman in the market was heavily pregnant and I wondered how many other children she had to feed as well.
I walked via the Santa Maria del Mar church, where the ocean had once met the city, and walked past a number of Gaudi buildings, the famous artist/architect of the area. At the Cathedral there was a bride to be walking amongst the crowd, and some tourists stopped to take photos. I heard one young American girl proclaim she’d love to get married in Spain, then state that the bride’s dress was ‘beautiful’ – well we must have been looking at different dresses because what I saw was not my idea of beautiful – it was a frilly, puffy, layered skirt that looked like a teapot cover. The woman herself was pretty, but the dress was not. Each to their own though. I met my second Barcelona couch surfing host that night, and Virginia was lovely. She had cooked me a Spanish Omelette for dinner, and it was really good. She spoke Spanish, Catalan, French and English, and although she said her English was not good, I found her very easy to understand. All these people speaking a number of other languages left me feeling a little inadequate, and I wished I’d taken that Spanish course I’d thought of doing. I’d love to return to Spain learn Spanish, I think that will have to be added to my ‘must do’ list.
On all the information boards around the city there were three languages – one was English and the other two were similar when I compared them word for word. I figured one was Spanish, and I later learned the second was Catalan. Staying with hosts in a city means you can learn a lot more than you would otherwise and from Murat and Virginia I heard about the division between the Catalan people (from Barcelona and surrounding areas) and the Spanish people (the rest of Spain), and this division included the Catalan language – similar to Spanish but different enough that people had to learn it and differences could be heard when you knew enough what to listen for.