Barcelona Day 1 – Weirdos, Chocolate & Football Induced Hypothermia

This blog is over 100 entries long and has covered every continent of our planet, with the exception of Antarctica. Yet I still find myself questioning what you might want to know about. Personally I have always enjoyed writing about the journey rather than the seeing and doing. So my 5 days in Barcelona fails on that front. I’ll start with the hostel and go from there.

My first hostel was brilliant. It ticked pretty much all of my hostel boxes. Clean, comfortable and sociable. Plus it was in a great location and the dorm rooms were very roomy. But the real draw of the hostel experience for me is the people you meet.

The first guest I noticed was a French guy who looked like Doc from Back to the Future. He spent every day sat at a tiny table trying to type something into his laptop. Periodically he would stand and pace the hallways and kitchen whilst slapping his forehead as he searched for inspiration. I have no idea what he was typing as he was French and didn’t seem to speak English or Spanish.

My room had a balcony. Not a balcony out on the the street though. This was a balcony between buildings, where all the junk and rubbish is chucked. Including, somewhat randomly, this large poster. I’m guessing the building once housed the Afghanistan Tourist Board.

Property of the Afghanistan Tourist Board of Barcelona

My roommates, of which there were 5 at any one time, were pretty typical of my experiences in hostels. Underneath me was a guy who came in late and got up late. Thus I never saw him aside from the back of his head. The Japanese guy on the top bunk across the room from me was much the same. In fact after 2 nights all I saw of him was a silhouette at 4am and due to his long flowing hair I assumed he was a girl. Until he barked something at me on the day I left for daring to pack at 10am. Suffice to say I ignored him and increased the amount of noise I was making.

Elsewhere in the dorm was an American-Korean teacher who had an incredible amount of enthusiasm for anything and everything. She kept sociable hours so we chatted quite a lot at bedtime. It’s an indication as to just how many hostel dorms I have slept in that chatting away to random females whilst in bed seems completely normal. Even more so for the Austrian girl who arrived on my second day and had absolutely no qualms about stripping off in front of everybody else in the room. Being as I am a gent I averted my eyes and resisted the urge to cop an eyeful.

Anyway, let’s get to the city. I set off very early to explore on my first day and as it was Sunday the streets were eerily quiet. I walked all the way to the old city in search of breakfast, admiring the incredible buildings that are everywhere in Barcelona as I walked. Breakfast took the form of Churros and Chocolate, or as they spell it in Catalonia, Xurros. These are long fried doughnuts sprinkled with sugar and served with a cup of the thickest, most luxurious, warm, melted chocolate that you could imagine. Actually, it’s better than you could imagine.

Churros y Chocolate en Barcelona

I ate the lot. My body went into a state of confusion and I felt sick halfway through but my hands were helpless and continued stuffing the chocolate coated doughnuts into my mouth. Absolutely incredible.

After this, and in a desperate bid to burn enough calories to justify a lunch, I walked the streets of the old city. The old city is a confusing jumble of roads and passageways, which is a complete contrast to the organised city block design of the rest of Barcelona. If it were not for the GPS on my phone I would have been in a constant state of hopeless confusion. As it was I managed to find my way to the Cathedral (closed for mass, a bit like the Blue Mosque was in Istanbul – who needs planning?!), then another church by the name of Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar and the city park, which reminded me of South American parks due to its blend of picturesque settings and dog crap.

Untitled design

At this point I was missing Claire. When we explore together I talk a lot. There is always something to talk about when we travel. However, I was now struggling with the endless silence and started to imagine what I might say if she were with me. So I texted her.

“I have nobody to tell my ‘interesting’ snippets of information to :(“

She didn’t reply. She was probably enjoying the peace.

After the park I pressed on to the beach. The temperature was about 6c and the breeze at the beach was rather bracing. I was regretting my decision to only pack a lightweight summer jacket. Nobody was swimming in the sea but I saw enough to know that the beaches must be heaving in the warmer months. The promenade along the beaches was great and it was good to get some sun, albeit without the heat.

Lunch was interesting. I had read about a co-operative market in the Cuitat Vella district by the name of Princessa Merkat. Weirdly it was deserted when I arrived at 12:30, but as the place was spotless and all of the vendors looked excited to see me I stayed. I battled the guilt caused by breakfast and had a small Patatas Bravas, which is potato wedges with spicy sauce. Delicious and almost healthy. Whilst eating I looked longingly at the Sushi, Burgers, Chicken and Pizza vendors who in turn looked at me hoping that I might want something else. I resisted and moved on, heading back into the old city to get a bit lost.

Slightly easier on the eye than a Moroccan Tagine

When I popped back into the reassuringly well organised comfort of the new city I worked my way back to the hostel. I fancied a siesta before evening activity. I had a ticket to see FC Barcelona play at the famous Camp Nou stadium.

Back in the dorm my bunkmate had gone but the Japanese guy (who at this stage was a girl still) was still sleeping. The American-Korean teacher had returned for a siesta too and was desperate to tell me about the Flamenco show she had been to see. Flamenco shows are boring so I pretended to be confused and made out that I thought she was a Flamenco dancer. She wouldn’t shut up though so I made my excuses and went to the lounge to see if I could sleep there. Here I found a Czech girl who was in Barcelona to complete her final year of training to be a doctor. She was trying to learn Spanish and my hopes of sleeping faded as I was drawn into an impromptu Spanish lesson. I quickly concluded that she spoke very good Spanish and that I am still limited to awkward conversations about buses. hotels, restaurants, my age and donkeys. It would have been embarrassing but Czech girl didn’t seem to care and the French guy was too busy beating his forehead to notice us.

Going to see a Barcelona match was my number one reason for choosing Barcelona for my jaunt. They are an amazing football team but I was equally excited to see the stadium. It has a capacity of nearly 100,000 and towers above the pitch. I bought a ticket right at the highest point as I wanted to enjoy the view.

The match was great. Barcelona fell behind twice before Lionel Messi scored the winner. My overriding memory of the match though was the fact that I stupidly only packed a lightweight summer jacket. I have never…NEVER…been as cold as I was in the top tier of the Camp Nou. I got there 40 minutes before kick off to enjoy the view. I managed 5 minutes in my seat before retreating back into the concrete bowels of the stadium to shelter under a stairwell.

When the match started I returned to my seat. The wind was strong and what with it being 9 o’clock at night the temperature had dropped. I started to shiver uncontrollably. I wasn’t exactly under dressed either. I was wearing jeans, a long sleeve thermal top, a merino wool t shirt, a jumper and the annoyingly ineffective lightweight summer jacket. Round my neck I had a trusty buff and on my head the trademark hat that has accompanied me once around the world. 

Camp Nou

At half time I fought my way back into the stadium and found crowds of people battling to hide from the wind. I joined the throngs and it soon became clear that everybody was cold, even the people with seemingly adequate coats. It became a touching show of unity as everybody gladly huddled closely together to create a communal warmth. This phenomenon, which I can’t imagine ever happening in the UK, possibly saved my life, maybe.

The second half was worse. The football was great but my shivering was uncontrollable. I spotted some free seats next to a fat man a few rows in front. I climbed down and plonked myself right next to him. He looked at me with suspicion, but seeing how cold I was he smiled. I half expected, hoped even, that he might sling a chubby arm around me.

This is me in the second half. Buffs are awesome. I don’t care that I looked like I was about to rob a bank.

Take a big coat if you go to Barcelona in January

And that was day one. When I started writing this I thought I might just do a couple of blog entries to cover my stay. I best re-think that.


Meanwhile back in the UK…

Claire was reveling in the fact that she didn’t need to continually clear up after me, or reply to my text.

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