Thursday, 26 April 2012

The more I see the less I know

So here I am. The first chance to update my much neglected and poorly named travel blog in a very long time, due in part to my own laziness and in part to a distinct lack of travel. The eagle eyed among you will know that I´m currently on a field trip in Barcelona, in northern spain. It´s been an eye opening few days, to say the very least!

 (Quick note before I get into the flow of it, the computer is in Spanish (surprise surprise), so any typos or awful spelling are going to be glaringly obvious and for that I apologise. I´ll correct it all when I have access to a computer that doesn´t think I´ve fallen asleep on the keyboard.)

I´ll start at the very begining, walking through deepest darkest stoke on trent at 3am with my ruckslack slung over my shoulder early on Monday morning. I´d talk about the journey, but I slept soundly on the coach and plane, so my recollections of Liverpool Airport are hazy at best. We touched down in Barcelona 11am local time and caught a bus through the bustling city to our hostel, 5 minutes from the main square in the city (Place de Cataluña) and 30 seconds from the main road and thouroughfare (Las Ramblas). It was at that moment, tired and hungry, that we took our first (of many) walks around the city. We stuck in the Old Town, the narrow streets, old buildings, buskers, sights, smells and sounds all adding to the vibrant, happening feel of the city. The following few days all added to this romantic, classical view of modern Spain, narrow streets, hill top forts, Cataluñan flags and Paella. We eventually checked into the hotel room, had our first siesta, then headed out to the seafront, Montjuic and the old Olympic Stadium. After a lengthy walk up the hill, we had our first breathtaing panoramic shot of Barcelona. Although not containing as many high rise buildings as other large cities, the city has enjoyed several periods of massive growth, sprawling across the plains in every direction, contained only by the mountains and the sea (awe inspiring pictures to follow).

Tuesday rolled around, and we headed up to Parc Guell, designed by none other than the famous Gaudi. As expected, it was rammed full of tourists. Unexpectedly, a large section of it felt more like a half built rounders pitch than a park, but that´s something for an essay, not here! As soon as we were off the beaten track, the crowds died down and we could enjoy the green oasis in the middle of the teeming city. The afternoon was spent wandering around the various areas and districts surrounding the old town, preparing for another day of work.

That night we did not go out, enjoyed a cup of hot milk and a cookie and were all in bed before 10pm.

With some mysterious headaches and lighter wallets, we headed out on wednesday to carry out our own research on one of the neighbourhoods, ready to compare to another later in the week. Actually taking time to observe the city, rather than just dashing from one tourist destination to another gave us a real opportunity to learn a little about the historical city, how it´s grown and the people in it. A person really could give their life to studying the city, there is always something else to discover and another little narrow street and market to explore (would you believe that Tourism Barcelona aren´t paying me a penny?? Shocking).

It was today that we began to see a different side to Barcelona, the one not advertised in the tourist booklets. Or rather, 50 yards away from where the tourists are milling around and the hawkers (who are selling these stupid in mouth bird whistles) are plying their trade. We´d noticed the "Tourists go home" banners around some of the seedier neighbourhoods earlier in the week, but it hammered home most when we were moved on by the police for our own safety.

Through the week, both in our work and our leisure, we´ve been exposed to the "other" side of Barcelona. The nightlife, especially on budget we had, was more reminicent of a first night bar crawl in Zante or Kavos than of a classy night out in a big european city, right down to the overpriced drinks and free shot offers that vanished as the night went on. It does go to show that there is a cheap, tacky side to every wonderful city.

Although only 2 full days have actually passed here, I can safely say that I love Barcelona. It has elements of many other cities, the narrow streets and vibrant nature of central London, the sweeping boulevards and tree lined avenues of Paris, the grid like pattern of many American cities and the staggering views of Stoke on Trent the towns and villages in Switzerland and Northern Italy. I can´t wait to find out what the next few days will bring.