I landed in Barcelona last weekend and have spent this week working from my friend’s living room, wandering around the city and practising my very rusty Spanish.
I’ve discovered that Catalan is relatively easy to read if you speak French – I have no idea what people are saying when they speak to me, but road signs and menus make sense. When I was coming out of the airport I actually found myself following the exit signs in Catalan (sortida) because they’re closer to the French (sortie) rather than the Spanish ones (salida).
Every day this week I’ve woken up with a persistent earworm in my head. It started with The Piano Man, followed by You Are Sixteen, Going on Seventeen from The Sound of Music, followed by Baila Me by The Gipsy Kings (which is at least in the correct language), then a melange of If I Could Talk to the Animals and The Glory of Love, and finally Le Temps des Cathedrales from Notre Dame de Paris.
Work has been mercifully quite quiet, in the second half of the week at least, which has afforded me the opportunity to go and explore a bit in the late afternoons when it’s not too hot. However Deep Dot Web earlier this week posted an article about a new “darkcoin” mining crowdfunding platform which is being used by paedophiles, so it looks like next week at work will be busy.
But first, my impressions of Barcelona.
The architecture here is amazing. Just walking around the city gives you a wonderful mix of pretty buildings to look at.
Of course there are the Gaudi buildings like Sagrada Familia
…but one of my favourite things to do was just to wander around the city and look at all the other, less famous buildings, like town halls and people’s houses.
Walking through the city feels like walking through a work of art.
The plaças are beautiful too. I’m staying with my friend in Gràcia, which is nice because it’s less touristy than a lot of the areas. And we’re just a couple of streets away from the Plaça del Sol and another couple of areas to sit and watch the world go by.
The Gothic Quarter
Of course we had to make a detour to the gothic quarter to see some of the older architecture. We raced straight across Las Ramblas (neither one of us particularly enjoys shopping or crowds of tourists) and down the side streets to look for Satan’s Coffee Corner.
It didn’t look particularly interesting though: the chairs were hard, the range of coffee small and the staff were unfriendly, so we left (“I suppose we can’t complain,” I said to my friend, “after all they did name their shop after the devil.”)
I loved the little cobblestone streets in this part of town. It reminded me of small English villages, but much hotter.
Unsurprisingly, the tapas here is excellent. Everything is cheap – including mojitos – and the range of wines is good.
There’s quite a culture of gin & tonic drinking; I’m not a gin fan, but there are specialist bars here that cater just to G&T drinkers with a huge range of different types of gin.
We went to Rizoma for dinner which was excellent – they also do a midday menu for twelve euros.
The portions are generous (a bit too generous, actually) and the quality of the food is very high.
I started off with mushrooms with cashew cheese
…then I had a burger, which defeated me
…and then we finished off with a shared tiramisu, which my friend loved but wasn’t really my kind of thing – it was very rich and chocolately, and I grew up in Scotland so I prefer my food bland.
The foods you can get in shops here also interested me greatly.
There’s a vegan pizza place which delivers to my friend’s neighbourhood, so one day when we’d been out walking for ages and couldn’t be bothered to cook, we ordered from there. It was good.
I don’t think I’ll ever quite get used to pizza without actual cheese, though.
One of the main things I love about being here is the culture. Currently, Gràcia is preparing for its festival in August, and when you leave the house during the daytime you see groups of people sitting at tables on the street, making papier-mache animals and chatting.
Children play in the streets, everyone says hello to you, cars drive slowly and mopeds are popular.
Bars are open late and have nice, non-bingey atmospheres. We found the rooftop bar at Hotel Omm a great place to sit. The drinks were more expensive than they are in the rest of Gràcia but still significantly less expensive than London.
There was a pool and a beautiful view. There was also a DJ – a fact which nearly put us off, because in London this would mean too much noise to have a conversation, and people drinking far too much – but he was chilled and the music was backgroundy. At one point a lady got up to sing with him, which was lovely.
I can’t really post about being in Spain without mentioning the weather, can I?
It’s hot. Frequently over 30 degrees. It’s more humid than London, which I like because I prefer humid heat, but it’s actually not quite humid enough for me. And I find being in the heat in a city to be more stressful than heat in the countryside. The buildings are tall and the streets are narrow, so it can feel quite claustrophobic when coupled with the beating sun.
The plaças are very nice though and provide a good mixture of direct sunlight and shade under umbrellas.
There are benches and individual chairs peppered around the city, which means it’s easy to wander around and then sit down for a while when you get hot or tired. The pace of life moves more slowly, probably because the heat makes you not want to move quickly at all, and the people are laid-back and smile at you, bringing you cheap cocktails (or mocktails) with lots of ice.
Barcelona is lovely. It’s a beautiful place to visit and I’m definitely going to come back. I didn’t fall in love with it quite as much as I’d expected, but I think that’s just because I’m more of a countryside person.
The quality of life is much nicer than London – art, literature, food, coffee, and moderate (but good) alcohol consumption make it a great travel destination.
EVerything else this week
I did actually do some work while I was here, too.
I finally got the forensic software I’m supposed to be testing to work, and then had a halting but effective conversation with a man in a tech shop at the end of the street, in which I somehow managed to explain that I’m a forensic investigator who needed to image a hard drive. I’m still not sure what I said, but he understood and gave me what I needed, so that was good.
I did a lot of post scheduling for one of my clients, and a lot of reporting for another. This week was mainly about wrapping up a few projects that have been going on for quite a while, including some PR campaigns for Hampstead Theatre, the RA , the Globe and Memphis the Musical.
I’ve hired someone to run most of the PR campaigns moving forward, which means I’ll be able to concentrate more on the forensic and investigation side of things, which I prefer.
Tomorrow I’m heading back to London via a nine-hour night layover in Geneva. Any suggestions regarding (a) whether it’s worth leaving the airport at all and (b) if so, what I should do with my time there would be very welcome.
Until next time.