Parc Güell, Barcelona
Barcelona in July
The low cost flight from Bristol to Barcelona's El Prat Airport was the usual cramped affair but it was punctual and bearable for the two hour flight. An untroubled taxi journey took me to my hotel. True to the eccentricity of Barcelona it was next to a hospital of Art Nouveau design.
The Hotel occupied very little ground space being square and tall with the rooms arranged around a central lift-shaft. My room was tiny and basic, more like a third-class cabin on a tramp steamer. The bath was small. My arms and legs which stuck out like an assortment of celery sticks jammed into a small jar. There was no natural light in the room. What passed for a window was the size of a bathroom cupboard and opened into was I took to be a ventilation shaft.
The hotel owners went to extremes to conserve electrical power, whether from a green conscience or to maximise profits I never discovered. The task of gaining entry into the room was fraught with problems because of this. As one leaves the lift one activates a light switch in the hall which is on a timer. One then uses a conventional key to open the room door which has a very strong closing mechanism an important point.
Now the cunning part of the arrangement, the door key also switches on the room electrics and hence the lights via a separate key mechanism. To insert the key into this mechanism requires one to relinquish one's grip on the door. This closes with the ferocity of a bear trap plunging the room into a velvet blackness. It is impossible to find the tiny keyhole in the dark so one if forced to open the door again. Now the final genius of the design. The timer on the hall lights expires plunging the whole floor into darkness. I spent a great deal of time in Barcelona simply trying to get to my bed.
The small bar on the ground floor appeared to be no more than a wardrobe with a few optics bolted to the wall and a Cruzcampo pump. It dispensed beer however which was all that really mattered. On entering I noticed the barman talking too a customer in Spanish. I actually understood what was being said. I was relieved as on my trips to Andalucía my inability to understand the local dialects had shaken my confidence. However when I asked for a beer in my best Castilian, he answered Catalan. He also changed Catalan in his conversion to the other customer. I have noticed this phenomenon in Wales when I enter a pub and speak English. Not that the Welsh speak Catalan rather that they change to Welsh.
Barcelona has a history of anarchy and revolt. At the start of the Civil War the Anarchist organisation the CNT, Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, pushed the Nationalists out of Barcelona in 1936. They then promptly tried to start a social revolution against the Republican government. There has been so much civil strife over the years that manning the barricades became as well practised as fire drill. It is said that if you take up a cobblestone from any street in Barcelona it has two numbers on it. One is for its position in the barricade and the other for its position back in the road.
The architect Antoni Gaudí symbolises Barcelona and the Catalan people. His Art Nouveau buildings are truly unique in concept and realisation. The undulating façade of Casa Milá and the sea shelled Casa Batlló are among the best examples of his work. The sheer intricacy of the Cathedral La Sagrada Família is bewildering while the architectural elements in Park Güell spring surprise after surprise. I doubt he would have been granted planning permission if he had tried to build them in London.
Barcelona's most famous thoroughfare, Las Ramblas has unfortunately been completely hijacked by the tourist industry. It is pleasant enough however to wander through the crowd past the stall selling wild birds and confectionery. The smell of freshly made coffee and toast appears to be everywhere and draws one into some café or other out of the heat of the day. The Catalan cuisine is wonderful. Fresh Mediterranean vegetables, pastas and seafood are combined in the most delicious ways. Meat dishes particularly lamb and the Vic Sausage are a tempting alternative to seafood.
It was while enjoying some of these delicacies that I noticed the cars parked by the roadside. There appeared to be only an inch or so between each bumper. I marvelled at the skill needed to park in this fashion. I have been known to go home rather than attempt to parallel park in a busy street. I am a terrible driver and people only drive with me out of necessity some even weep as I negotiate traffic.
I was lucky enough to see one of the car's owners return to his vehicle and soon realised my praise regarding the driving prowess of Barcelonés was misplaced. He simply shunted forward and back denting bumpers until there was sufficient room to extricate his car. I was told that Spanish cars are delivered from the showrooms with dents. I have since learned that it is not true, the art of denting a car is an integral part of the driving test.
My journey back to the airport was further testament to the anarchic qualities of Barcelona and its ability to surprise. I hailed a taxi. The cabs in Barcelona are yellow and black and a green light on the roof indicates that they are free so this didn't present a problem. One of the vehicles duly stopped. Stopped doesn't quite describe what happened. On seeing me the taxi driver switched off his green light, slammed on his breaks and swerved to the curb. There was an awful squeal of brakes as he left rubber marks on the road. I soon found out my assumption that it was a male driver was wrong.
The cabby turned out to be a slightly built greying lady of about fifty-five dressed in a knitted grey two piece suit. She was the image of my maiden Aunt. We wrestled with my case for a bit but I maintained my male dignity and put the case in the boot myself. Then we were off. She threw the car around like a rally driver, ducking in and out of traffic. With her window wound down she gave universal hand gestures to objecting road users. Her shouted profanities were obvious even to me with my
limited knowledge of the Catalan language. During the twelve kilometre drive she broke every rule of the road and even invented a few of her own. I was relieved when we arrived at El Prat Airport and I gratefully hauled my bag from the boot.
I was only in Barcelona for short time but I became completely captivated with the city. An individual and idiosyncratic town, singular in all respects. I made a mental note to return.