When a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to Barcelona for a month to learn Spanish with her, I just heard the ‘go to Barcelona for a month’ bit. “Hell yeah,” says I and off we went.
For cheapness’s sake, we agreed to share a room in a slightly shabby flat in an area that was nominally central Barcelona but a decent length walk away from anywhere worth walking to. We quickly learned that we were to share this flat with two very large and slightly frightening Dutch girls and a blond-haired Irish girl. The décor was straight out of the 1970s and it was necessary to wear flip flops around the flat because if you didn’t your feet would soon be gritty feeling and jet black.
Tracy, my friend, was more put out by the condition of this flat than I was. It was the whole learning Spanish thing that I wasn’t so keen on. As a dyslexic, languages and I have never seen eye to eye and after a week of attending a class that I couldn’t follow past the absolute basics, I decided to jack it in.
It was August, the streets were shimmering with the heat, tourists were thronging around the famous sights like ants around ice cream, Tracy was spending her days at the course and the city was all mine. Mornings were a hive of activity around me. Tracy and the Dutch girls prepared to go to the course for the day and sometimes they popped in to mock my smug ways. “You going to the beach again today, beach bump?” one of the Dutch girls said. She had heard Tracy calling me a beach bum the day before and this was her interpretation. “You get a better tan than all of us,” she said.
She was right too. After a rather long but very pleasant walk through the bustling streets, I arrived at the Olympic beach, which was much quieter than the main one. The sand was yellow and very hot. I placed my towel and took out my book. Thanks to the fact that I was about to start my degree, my holiday reading was not very holiday reading-ish. Other people were reading The Girl with the Pearl Earring and Bridget Jones’ Diary: I was reading Richard III and Paradise Lost.
After being suitably cooked, and hungry, I would make my way up the beach towards Las Ramblas. Life abounds on Las Ramblas and the fact that it is all designed to part tourists from their money did not dampen my enjoyment of it. Restaurants line the wide street on both sides with tables and chairs on the pavement outside. The main thoroughfare is a pedestrianised strip in the middle of the road with trees on either side, more restaurant tables, stalls selling all sorts of wares and street performers. Human statues did their thing every few feet, it seemed, and they all had small crowds of gawpers surrounding them. The combination of all those restaurants and food stalls created a marvellous smell and the sea breeze meant that it was never unpleasantly warm, despite the crowds. However, my enjoyment was not absolute. Birds in cages made up a large part of the street market on Las Ramblas and, even though they made a wonderful spectacle, I just don’t agree with it. After a few visits, I learned to turn off before I got to that part, not just to avoid the birds, but to have lunch in my favourite part of the city; the Gothic Quarter.
So much cold grey stone doesn’t sound too appealing but there was something amazing about the atmosphere there. The narrow streets, enclosed squares and high, flat stone walls created a strange echo of footsteps and voices. It was less crowded than other parts of the city and the history of the place was ground into the granite. Walking there was like going back in time (without the smell) and the whole effect was like inspiration on a stick. After a wander around, I would sit outside my favourite cafe, order bocadillo de tortilla (omelette in a baguette: sounds gross but is actually really nice) and clara (shandy), take out my notebook and write my novel. It was heaven and I could just sit there for hours and the waiters/waitresses would just keep bringing me stuff.
Later in the day, Tracy and I would visit famous sites like Parc Guell, Gaudi houses, various museums and art galleries before going back to the flat for dinner and laughs with the Dutch girls.
It was the best month of my life. I learned sod all Spanish but I had a magnificent time.