Barcelona, Barcelona and Barcelona. And some more.

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September 19th 2019
Published: September 20th 2019
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Barcelona, Barcelona and Barcelona. That’s right 3 tours in a day. Sure doesn’t pay to stuff your schedule up here and try and cram 3 days touristicity into 1! That’s a word I made up but it sounds like it should be a word. I did the hop on hop off bus on routes red and green and then did the walking tour of the old city. That’s seven hours of my life I won’t get back. No. I love tours, really. I didn’t hop off the hop on hop bus as that would have make the 2 hours (red) or 2.5 hours (green) tour even longer and I wouldn’t have had time for the 2.5 hour walk. I find the facts and figures interesting, informative and educative (who would have thought that?). The hop on hop off was OK although the commentary was difficult to follow particularly if the bus gained any speed and the English was a bit clipped and didn’t always follow through on subjects that they raised. The walking tour, one of those red Sandermans (something like that) ones that are everywhere was good. I know you tip at the end but if they are good I don’t mind paying what I th is fair and reasonable. Our guide was good. She was animated and passionate and managed to impart lots of information to all parties except the 3 American groups that could not listen for that period of time and simply gave up early and disappeared. The tour concentrated on the Gothic area here and the streets, lanes and alleyways are far too narrow for cars or buses so it gave a very different view of Barcelona than that gleamed from the bus tour.

We are on the train and heading towards Malaga although we get off one stop before Malaga.

But back to Barcelona.

Lee had a little sleep in whilst I did the bus thing. Saw some Guadi, the Arc built for the 1888 Expo, some Guadi, the Botanic Gardens, some Guadi, the Zoo, some Guadi, the Olympic diving and Olympic Stadium, some Guadi, the Marina, some Guadi, and well you can guess the rest. The Gaudí thing is strange. He’s almost as important to Barcelona as Messi is to Barca Football Club and he is regarded very highly here. Lee is the only person I know who doesn’t marvel at his buildings and design but I can understand her reservations. He is over the top completely and it is no surprise to see his name used as an adjective nowadays. His work was used as an ostentatious display of wealth and/or power in his day and viewed through that prism it can look too over the top. It must be a nightmare to construct and maintain and his masterpiece to this day remains unfinished and will probably remain so according to locals. Officials expect completion in 70 years! Plenty to see here and quite a fascinating history although so much has been relatively recent. It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that the original Roman wall that defined the city and city limits was demolished and the city really started to spread. In the 1950’s, what are now attractive and popular beaches were waterside slums and shanty towns. The Olympics were the catalyst to fully reclaim the areas even importing sand from Egypt. The biggest impression from Barcelona is just how many people live, work and play in the city. There are apartments everywhere and they are lived in. Catalonian flags and liberty ribbons are everywhere and the strong Catalonian spirit is felt everywhere. It’s not that they are anti Spanish it’s just very strong pro Catalan. If they could work out issues like currency, trade, EU membership and a plethora of minor details I get the impression they would be out in a flash. There’s a history of recent serious political oppression here and the days of Franco are not that long gone and certainly not forgotten. The old town section is that rabbit warren of alleyways and narrow passageways but it’s now a tourist destination of Mecca proportions. Guides with sticks, poles, umbrellas, flags and whatever weave their way through leading some very bewildered looking individuals like the Pied-Piper of Hamlin with his wide eyed children in tow. I know it’s a gross overgeneralisation but I’m yet to see an interested American tourist here. It’s a surprise really as like us they don’t really have a history longer than 400 years or so so you’d think it would be different enough and interesting enough to be of interest. One asked if the Jews of Barcelona during the 1200’s were persecuted by the Nazis! And I think he asked to demonstrate his knowledge of world affairs! They were even surprised that the big news was Columbus returning here and telling Queen Isabella of his findings in 1493. They associate 1492 with the event and none of could make sense of the 1493 date.

We had the compulsory paella last night and very good it was too. I had the seafood and Lee the chicken and pork mixture and both were robust and flavoursome. But 2 beers and a sangria big enough to swim in may have had something to do with the positive judgement.

Our hotel, the H10 Casanova, was one of a group of 10 within 2km or so of each other and was really comfortable. Very comprehensive breakfasts which we fully appreciated yesterday and woofed down a bit today because we had a train to catch fairly early. Breakfasts even had gummy bears but the place is so classy no one had them! The hotel had a pool and deck area that we didn’t even see let alone use in any way. That’s the price for missing a day!

Our train has managed 299 km/hr but has not hit the 300 mark yet but we are streaking through the countryside. Already the familiar dry sand countryside littered with irrigated crops and olive trees has overtaken the light industrial landscape so common on the perimeter of tracks and outskirts of towns. It’s flat here but with mountainous outcrops on the horizon. Here too are solar farms and windmills scattered around the towns where the obligatory church stands tall and proud, although somewhat old and a little past their prime.

The train has some form of wifi but the connection details are difficult to follow so I’ll type and then download when I can. Hotels and even buses have been good but the rail remain a little anachronistic. Strange as they have displays for temperature and speed that are updated constantly but... Today is a big travel day with 2 trains and a ferry but at the end we are met (always good no matter where you go) and taken to one of my favourite hotels in one of my favourite cities. I don’t know much about Tangiers except I like the ‘vibe’ but the El Minzah has hosted us before. Great place, great breakfasts and since I saw Rick Stein talk about it I’ve wanted to visit. My other best hotel we revisit in Marrakech. Tangiers is that terrific blend of cultures that sees good coffee and good ice cream available in cheap cafes. Lee may suffer pastry deprivation as so much will not be gluten free but I may be charged with sampling her share as well as mine. The speed just hit 300 km/hr but I was too slow to photograph the sign. Lee now has the responsibility. Skewered meat on sticks, targines (spelling) unctuous with fruit and veg and sweet desserts all await the eager and hungry or not tourist. We are tourists tomorrow also as we head to the ‘Blue City’ for a day trip. Both of us are looking forward to the experience as the place looks amazing and has a pretty good reputation as a destination.

That’s it for a while. I like to look out the window.

Kcab again. Temporary but back. The plains have been replaced by rolling hills and the olive trees by even more olive trees. Again no big surprise as although our hotel had gummy bears for breakfast there was no butter to be seen. However every table had its own bottle of olive oil as the only condiment. Our paella last night was accompanied by olive oil. It’s like mother’s milk here. The train is virtually full which means little room for our suitcases. One we stowed at back in the luggage area, the other above us. It means only 1 is in sight which makes me slightly uncomfortable but there’s not much I can do about it. Probably a little edgy about that as we were so often warned about pick pocketing in Barcelona there’s still a lingering legacy with me. Even in the hotel foyer our bags were moved closer to us as we sat and sipped our arrival bubbly because she was a little concerned. Apologetically she explained about Barcelona’s reputation for pick pockets and we had the same speech on each tour I did. Along with pick pockets came the gangs that sell fake brand products on La Rambla. The police raid then regularly but they disappear into the metro system only to reappear and play the same game somewhere else. Similarly the labyrinth that is the old city attracts beggars a plenty, those mine artists and ‘statue’ performers and all vie for the tourist euros.

We’ve stopped at Ciudad Real. It’s a larger town but my map is tucked away in the case so I can tell you little more. We have less than 2 hours remaining on this train before we swap to another that should take us to Algeciras. From there to the ferry terminal is not far but from memory it’s a taxi ride because it’s impossible to cross a major freeway. Even the taxi goes in the wrong direction for a while before circling back. And I’m pretty sure we weren’t ripped off with some guise and ploy. The ferry takes about 90 minutes to cross the Mediterranean Sea, near Gibraltar and deliver us to Tangiers. Most of that time I’ll spend lining up for immigration checks and passport control if last crossing is any indication of this time. Aboard the ferry will be all description of odds and ends going to the African continent. It always amazes us what people carry but I suppose if it’s scarce or unavailable it may be the only option available.

We still move along magically just under the 300 km/hr mark that I want to photograph. Lots of high 290’s but always just under 300. Even the temperature has dropped a couple of degrees and now sits around 22. The skies have clouded over and it’s a thin greyness that greets me as I look out the windows here. Fairly regular stops punctuate the journey, a couple of people disembark or embark at each stop but the carriages, and there are plenty, remain quite full. There are at least 3 engines pulling the train and I’d estimate at least 25 carriages. The configuration of the engines leads me to believe the train may even spilt at one of the destinations further on but I’m confident that it will be OK for us. The infrastructure that is necessitated by such a high speed line always intrigues me. What are virtually donkey tracts have engineered concrete bridges guiding them over the railway tracks or elaborate tunnels that see them disappear only to reappear on the other side. The solutions seem so disproportionate when the problem is a donkey track but not so disproportionate if the problem is viewed as a 25 carriage train travelling at close to 300 km/hr.

The landscape and even the cities appear almost devoid of colour. As the buildings are built with local stone they merge with the landscape and even the larger towns seems to have little advertising and little colour. I’m not a big fan of Shell and McDonalds but they are glaringly obviously missing here. The fast food industry has worked its magic on Barcelona as burger bars, chicken and chips and Starbucks are everywhere. That’s a surprise in a city which has good food, knows it has good food and prides itself on having good food. Even where we went for paella last night almost apologised for cooking it from raw ingredients as if it took too long. They even asked if I wanted the skin left on the seafood or taken off prior to cooking.

Enough musings for a few moments, back to looking.

On board train 2. Antequera Santa Ana is strange. Super modern, efficient station dotted with intriguing art works and with really helpful staff that speak that ‘little’ English which translates to more than most Australian teenagers. But it’s in the middle of nothing but olive groves. No sign of a town although there was a map that showed one but as to how far away it was that’s anyone’s guess. It’s right on departure time now so I hope I feel that gentle rhythm of the rail pretty soon as the ferry asks passengers to be there 2 hours prior to departure. We have 2.5 hours if we arrive on time minus the time it takes from station to ferry terminal. It’s not far on Google maps but as I mentioned the route is somewhat circuitous. No movement yet, and that’s not a report on Lee’s toileting!

Quite a few English tourists are taking this train with us. Obviously holidaying in the south of Spain and chasing that final bit of sunshine before the English winter.

We’re moving. Under 10 minutes late but I think that’s OK. It’s almost exactly a 3 hour trip so hopefully that time can be made up somewhere. Whereas our last train was a monster this one is significantly more local. It’s smaller at 3 carriages and sounds very different. The conductor clipped our electronic tickets, which to me seemed a clash of old and new, and it sums up the transition from first train to second. As soon as we left Catalonian boundaries the announcements that were in Catalan, Spanish and English (no not all at once!) become announcements in Spanish and English (again not simultaneously) and now on our little train they are just in Spanish. Fortunately Algeciras is the end of the line so not even I can miss the station. That will mark over 8 hours of train travel and you’d be forgiven for thinking we would have seen quite a bit of Spain in that time but in a way you would be mistaken. It’s as if we have seen the same bits over and over. Olive trees and olive trees with the occasional village, hill top church and/or castle on some kind of endless loop. The land and villages look as if they cling desperately to anything in order to survive and I’ve seen so little movement anywhere post apocalypse thoughts can not be completely ignored. I’ve even seen an olive oil mill that been closed down and if that goes what can survive?

Special g’day to Captain Matt who has been following my blog, especially through the trials and tribulations of the Pennine Way. Always great to hear from you and thanks for the comments. And what’s so special about an Aussie severely breaking a leg but still crawling to safety. We’re all trained in snake bite therapy, shark eye gauging, broken leg crawling.... I did meet a couple from Boston whilst in Barcelona but they didn’t know Reno’s or even Kelly’s Bar so they were dealt with summarily.

Starting to climb through the hills now. Julie would call them mountains, I’ll concede big hills. Makes for a much more scenic ride and soon I think the stork nests will start to appear. Lee and I love them. They are big, at least 2 m wide and sit majestically on top of poles and various structures. As soon as we see the first I think we’ll see lots but it doesn’t matter how many we see we always like them.

It’s footy time now so I’ll have to check how Geelong went when we arrive. No it’s not, I thought they were playing Friday night but thinking about it I reckon they play Saturday afternoon so I have a little more time. Sunday morning should be results time over here.

Back to window time.

Just received some footy scores. Not good but not over. Lee has wifi connection here at the ferry terminal but for some reason I don’t. Proof perhaps there is a God! Last score was t minutes or so into the last quarter so...

We have less than an hour to boarding time then approximately an hour and a half sailing (do ferries sail?) to Tangiers. Passport rigmarole will take up most of that time but I’m happy enough knowing that Tangiers will appear on the horizon and become bigger and more real as we approach

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