In addition to the lofty Belgian in my dorm I was also sharing with two young South Korean chaps. They spoke virtually no English or Spanish, and for that reason I had great admiration for them. Travelling with absolutely no language is incredibly hard. I had to reduce my level of respect a little though as they both spent the whole night on their phones watching videos. A rather gaping hole in this blog is the missing report on our trip to South Korea last year (I’m working on it…kind of). One thing that was very noticeable in Seoul was that everybody spends every spare moment they have using their smartphones. It’s their national past time as far as I am concerned.
So in summary I slept badly and got up early. The new hostel also provided breakfast for 2.5 Euros, which consisted of toast, pastries, fruit and cereal, washed down with as much coffee as I could consume. A bargain. They also kept breakfast going until midday for the guests that like to party.
Various people I had spoken with the night before appeared and ate breakfast with me before heading out into the city. I was less enthused and was enjoying a slow breakfast whilst I tried to work out what to do. Eventually the girl from York, who will be know as P (on the basis that I never told her she would be featuring in a blog), came down and joined me. She had been very quiet the night before and when I first spotted her I had questioned in my mind why somebody so quiet and withdrawn would travel alone. This thought was immediately replaced with great admiration. Anybody who just heads off travelling alone despite clear unease with the whole thing is extremely brave – I certainly wouldn’t have had the bravery to it in my twenties.. Fortunately for me, and less so for others, I am fairly confident and outgoing and as such I can walk into a hostel and chat to virtually anybody. I got the impression that P was less like that so kudos to her for taking the leap.
Over breakfast we talked about our plans for the day. I had no idea what to do and she wanted to visit the Gaudi buildings. It transpired however that she was unsure how to get to them and rather intimidated by the thought of using the Metro system. What started as an attempt to put her mind at ease ended up being an offer to accompany her on her first Metro journey.
Once we reached the Metro station I promptly got us a bit lost which was embarrassing. We stumbled upon an elderly British couple who were confused and in my attempts to sound like I knew what I was doing I led us to the wrong platform, only to be corrected by the British couple who turned out to be less lost than I. That’s kind of how my luck tends to work.
We quickly arrived at La Sagrada Familia which meant I could right the wrong of the pick pocketing day and go inside. Despite being warned by virtually everybody I had spoken with that it was necessary to book online due to the huge queues we only had to line up for 3 minutes. And that isn’t enough time for any pesky foreigners to jump the queue, which was nice. If you thought the outside of the church looked weird…
check out the inside….
I was gobsmacked by the inside of the church, and not many things leave me truly speechless I was left thinking “why”…and “wow”…and “what the hell is that?”. It’s just a really weird and intimidating place. Like being inside the skeleton of a huge whale whilst a light show is going on. A lot of the atmosphere results from the incredibly high ceiling – 60 meters I believe. Higher than the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul which similarly left me awestruck. My photos don’t do it justice. I considered laying down on my back to get a proper look but the guards looked a bit too serious – they take their places of worship very seriously in Spain. Some retrospective research tells me that the inside was inspired by trees and religion.
As we left the church it became apparent that P probably needed some guiding and I was crying out for somebody to talk to after 3 days walking around on my own. I was really missing Claire and P seemed to be the sort of person who would happily listen to me drone on about nonsense (i.e. the patience of a saint). So we pressed on together. I found out that she was a student of languages, speaking both Polish and Russian, and that she had come to Barcelona alone because she couldn’t persuade anybody to join her. I love that the desire to travel and see the world can push people outside of their comfort zone. Be it a quiet girl from York, or me in 2010 being scared to walk more than 100 yards from our hotel in Ho Chi Minh. Travelling can be scary and intimidating as much as it can be liberating and astonishing, but it is always rewarding. Even the bad times become great memories over time, and they make great blog stories.
Before Antoni Gaudi felt the need to serve a greater power he served the rich and famous of Barcelona. His last project before the starting the Church was Casa Mila, an apartment block known more commonly as La Pedrera, or The Quarry. It’s really bloody weird.
As I was now being positively influenced by somebody who saw the value in seeing ALL of each tourist attraction (in my defense I have seen a lot of large catholic cities), we paid to go inside. The tour starts on the roof, which is just plane bonkers, as in it looks bonkers. Starting a tour on a roof makes a lot of sense. Apparently a lot of what Gaudi designed was the result of his great intellect and logic…here are some of the original plans.
With planning like that it is easy to see how he came to build a roof that looked like this. What you are looking at below is essentially lots of chimneys. The one on the right is covered in broken porcelain, and those in the second photo are decorated with broken champagne bottles.
I noticed that some of the chimneys looked like sinister helmeted figures, maybe knights. When reviewing my photos later I noticed this on the front of La Sagrada Familia.
The tour at La Pedrera also includes the loft space, which was also bloody strange but extremely atmospheric and apparently a clever way of insulating the building. Then we moved on to one of the apartments which has been set up as it would have been when the building was completed in 1911. People still live in the rest of the building and have to contend with crowds of people standing and looking up at their windows and taking photos all day and night.
I got rather bored whilst touring the apartment actually. It was cleverly designed, with excellent use of natural light and some really funky door handles, but …yawn. I much prefer ruined cities in the jungle and crazy bus journeys.
When waiting to enter we had seen groups of people on the lower balconies doing a strange dance. We presumed this was part of the tour so we went in search of the entrance to these apartments. We tried lots of locked doors which clearly said “no access” and also tried to get the elevator to stop at other floors. This all failed and we had to conclude that the lower apartments and their balconies were off limits. We left just before we were asked to leave.
These tourist attractions are pretty expensive. La Pedrera was 20.50 Euros and the church was 19.50 Euros. Such costs tend to mount up so we decided to just do a walk-by on the next Gaudi building. A walk-by is what you do when you can’t be arsed to actually look at a tourist attraction, but you know that somebody back home will look disgusted if you admit to not visiting said tourist attraction.
“What do you mean ‘you went to Belgium and didn’t go and see the pissing boy’?!”
The walk-by photo is usually carried out with a camera in one hand and a purposeful look on the face. Here is Casa Batllo, which scores top marks for weirdness. Can you imagine the conversation when Gaudi ordered his window frames?
I didn’t want to go into Casa Batllo because a) it costs 21.50 Euros and b) 3% of all Japanese people were queuing up at the time, along with their 10” iPads which they were using as cameras. I didn’t get a photo of the Japanese but I did get a photo of this woman. Amusingly a few people standing next to me also started taking photos of her whilst she spent ages trying to take a photo of the building with a wine glass in front of her camera.
Which leads me to get sidetracked a little. There is a school of thought that goes like this. If you spend your whole time taking photographs then you are not enjoying the experience properly – and you may well be Japanese. I find this to be true and try to limit myself. One of our greatest travel moments was a long period of time Claire and I spent on the terraces of Machu Picchu. No photos, no other tourists, no talking. We just sat in silence drinking in the astounding scene before us.
What is certainly true though is that if you and your 100 mates are regularly holding your 10” iPads in in the air to take photos/videos you are getting in the way of other people’s enjoyment. Which is nearly as annoying as selfie sticks, to which I nearly lost an eye twice in Barcelona. I saw one person using a selfie stick to film herself walking down the street. Nothing was happening, there were no landmarks in the backdrop and she wasn’t talking or singing. Just walking.
As we walked we chatted about what else there was to see. I foolishly mentioned and then described churros and in no time at all I found myself back on Calle de Petritxol for a third time. I felt like I was pushing drugs. P, who up until this point seemed to have no enthusiasm for food at all, proceeded to devour the churros and all of the chocolate in the style of a cat licking its paws whilst eyeing a potential threat.
Then we went back to the hostel and I had a siesta whilst P went to enjoy some peace. I was woken when a new guest arrived in my dorm – the South Koreans had left and the new guy was also from Belgium and promptly got dressed in lycra and went for a run in the rain. Inspired, I too went for some exercise and walked another couple of miles in the still baffling old city. I was just wasting time before dinner really as I was looking forward to some more top quality conversation.
When it came the food was better than the night before, though for the life of me I can’t remember what it was. There was bread. Lots of bread. The chat was great though and I got to regale people with some of by best travel stories like “ the time I had my appendix taken out because I was going to Bolivia” and “the time Claire and I swum with the rarest dolphins in the world”. The most popular though was “the hostel that had such bad bed bugs that they burned all the mattresses” which drew a very large audience. Poor Claire – she’s still mentally scarred from that week in Mendoza. I predict that a few guests at Hostel Paralelo One in Barcelona checked their mattresses before turning in for the night. (Nobody reported finding any by the way – it was a very good and clean hostel).
A new guest arrived at the hostel and immediately joined us for the meal. He was a British guy from Cambridge and had come to Barcelona to celebrate as he had just quit his job. Brave man.