No, there is no such thing as eco jet-setting. I remind myself of this and squirm slightly in my Easyjet seat en route to Barcelona. We had managed to traverse most of the globe by train on our outward journey to England from Australia but now we were once again seduced by the cheap flights to 'must-see' European destinations.
The best way to see a city certainly must be with a bicycle tour, a miniscule recoup of emissions, in a city so bicycle friendly as Barcelona. The bikes we see everywhere for rent aren't actually for us as travellers and tourists. You need to be resident to use bicing
and used they certainly are. Cyclists whizz past the traffic, whizz along the pavements, bike trail or no bike trail, up the lanes and alleys, dodging pedestrians and itinerant tourists intent on Modernista building gazing.
Paula, the Sarah Lund of Fat Tire bike tours is our guide. Our group of eighteen is really too much to handle for a petite curly-haired Chilean with a bad jumper. Jim from Adelaide and Steve from the UK, part of Good Barcelona tours cycle up as reinforcements bringing a rear
mounted tricycle for one of the younger members of the group too timid to cross the traffic on her own small bike.
Have you ever wondered who goes on these bike tours? Amongst our group there were three Indian ladies from Delhi who have left children and husbands and are having a week's jolly in Barcelona, Rome and Venice. They giggle and nearly fall of their steeds as they try to take photos of this momentous occasion to show the family and friends as they wobble behind the straggle of bikes.
A Perth couple, married in a hailstorm are on honeymoon. Crissy a svelte, smart girl dressed all in black explains how she is managing to spend her accountant husband's money as fast as it is made. He grimaces and says he is trying to hang on to it. As they are off to Berlin, Prague and possibly Vienna I would say she might succeed!
Brendon, an immaculately dressed, debonair American with a dazzling smile sits next to us as we admire the ornamental cascade at the Parc de la Ciutadella. His black and white striped scarf loosely draped and his
black woollen coat hint at government connections or at least some kind of civil service position.
I tentatively mention the recent election result, was he glad Obama won? You just never know with Americans; although he is black he might not be a fan of Obama. But the awkwardness passed as he said well, yes, actually he is taking a well-deserved rest. He has visited a friend in London and is now taking a few whistle stop city tours after working on Joe Biden's legal team. I beam with delight but sip my coffee without grilling him. The secret service were probably watching us.
A Florida family with 3 children in tow follow along apologising profusely when we have to wait for the tricycle to arrive. No matter, we cycle along past the Arc de Triomf until they catch up.
Jim is an entertaining guide, inserting interesting snippets and anecdotes which seemed very amusing at the time, but none of which I can remember! Despite the economic straits that Spain finds itself in, Jim has managed in less than two years to buy two apartments, one of which he rents out.
He did add that the rent is now three times less than when he first came; but he still loves Barcelona.
We sat out on the pavement enjoying some of a huge paella made for us at Sailor
in Barceloneta. We really didn't mind being segregated from the other diners as we downed our sangria, neatly sectioned off behind some tubbed bushes.
'I think he smoked too much hooch.' Graeme says as we make our way down the ceramic tiled stairs from the columned market hall at Parc Guell. The garish lizard leers down at us
as we endeavour to find the perfect shot minus a tourist's head or facebook fingers. Well worth the trek up the hill from the metro. You read and view photos but nothing really prepares you for the sheer oddity of Gaudi's creations, the fluidity of the walls and the curiouslycrafted columns and walkways. The whole Modernista thing is wondrous.
And then the buildings on the Passeig de Gracia just keep coming. How many photos can you take?
The mushrooms on the market stalls are not sold as
hallucinatory ones but maybe, just maybe they are the cause for this exceptional style.
No visit to Barcelona would be complete without viewing a game at Camp Nou. I apologise to non-football fans in advance but this trip was planned around tickets to a home game. Barca against Bilbao. Not Madrid, but a creditable performance by the team from the other side! The score of 5-1 belies the skill of both teams. What magic to watch Messi score 2 goals. How privileged to see Pique and Fabregas demonstrate their goal shooting skills. The 100,000 capacity stadium slowly fills up as the game starts. We watch from our seats perched high up in the gods of the the steep-sided stadium.
What to do on a cold Sunday with the wind whipping in our faces, threatening to scour the epidermis? Museums on free Sunday of course, the first Sunday of the month. Cosmocaixa Science Museum found us spiralling down through life as we know it on this planet. Children shouting and laughing as they experiment with physics.
And of course no visit to Barcelona would be complete without a
visit to the Museu Picasso housed in the sumptuous medieval palaces of the Carrer de Montcada. Forget the breathtaking works of Picasso and be amazed at the architectural masterpieces of these restored 13th
century buildings built around open central courtyards with vaulted arches. Several of these 'townhouses' were built on remains of a settlement on the outskirts of the Roman town of Barcino. We came across more of these remains whilst walking around another part of the city down from the city hall. Housed in glass and illuminated, the white stone walls glistened eerily in the dark.
Salving my eco conscience somewhat we became interlopers in a community picnic consisting of the largest paella dish I had ever seen which had been cooked in the community garden. So this is where I would live if I were in Barcelona, then, adjacent to a productive community garden complete with banners demanding an end to multi-national food companies, deep in conversation with Alex from Uruguay telling me of his Argentinian wife. A world community indeed.
We clambered around Montjuic, after me desperately breathing slowly (can you do that?) as we
traversed the harbour in the cable car enjoying the view but not the height. The Fundacion Juan Miro was on our list but sadly closed so we descended through gardens to the Musee of Catalan Art. A bit of a 1929 exhibition monstrosity really, with a mish-mash of styles, mostly trying to impress with size. It was imposing, gargantuan but not necessarily aesthetically pleasing.
The fountains put on a display for us which is lucky as they only work sporadically as the man with the eager camera found out as he stood in vain with his long lens trained on the dribbling trickle.
To top off the trip I met an old schoolfriend whom I had not seen for 41 years. I sat in Cafe Zurich in clear view of the door. Feeling doubtful of recognising her. Was that her? No. How about that one? No, not tall enough. And there she was. I would have recognised her anywhere even without her brown school skirt and jumper. Her hair long and straight, still parted in the middle. We had such a short time to blurt out our past lives. Recap 41 years in 5
minutes, start now! Somewhat emotionally we shared stories of jobs, husbands, relationships, betrayals, infidelities, financial ruin – we'd both been there. But we were out the other side and enjoying life.
For a finale to our trip we attended a classical guitar concert. Exuding sexy passion you couldn't capture on camera this talented couple played a selection of old folktunes and classical arrangements of concertos for guitar to be played in small country towns when the orchestra access was impossible.
Their eyes smouldering, their fingers a blur they played complementing each other's style. The setting in the old candlelit chapel was perfect as emotion overcame piety. A good recipe for life?
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