Conversation with my sister over the phone on a chirpy Thursday morning:
“Guess what, I’m going to Barcelona this weekend all by myself. I’m slightly nervous and very excited.“
“WHAT?” She exclaimed.
“Barcelona on your own?”
“You must be out of your goddamn mind!”
“What if someone mugs you?”
“What if someone kidnaps you?”
“What if someone murders you and sells your body parts?”
“All that’s still fine”
“What if someone rapes you?”
“Now that’s just morbid! Next time I’ll only call you when I have absolutely no one to talk to.” And I hung up.
I got to hand it to my sister. It’s incredible to see how she manages to survive after being so negative all her waking hours.
I batted my eyelashes and took advantage of my colleague’s benevolent heart and booked my flight and hotel for the weekend.
Park Guell-Gaudi’s work (One of the world heritage sites in Barcelona)
Everything that could go wrong went wrong on this trip and I could hear “Murphy” bursting into peals of laughter from up above!
Saturday 6 am @ Charles De Gaulle airport:
The woman at the ticket counter was smiling until I handed her a printout of my booking and passport. Her head oscillated between the printout and the computer like 30 times while she punched in some stubborn keys. Bored I turned around and shot “Barcelona? Me too!” looks at the queue-mates. Nobody showed any interest so I turned back picked up a couple of baggage tags and strapped them on to my hand baggage in advance, thus saving 5 min of my precious weekend or so I thought.
“Parle francais? (Speak French?)” The woman finally spoke after what felt like an eternity.
“Juste un peu (just a little)” I replied with a sorry face.
Do you have any other reservation number? This booking is cancelled.”
“What? That’s not possible. Could you please look it up with my passport number or just with my name?”
“I already did that”
Pointing towards the help desk few yards away she said, “you can talk to them.”
I followed her instructions diligently and hobbled with my bags, the baggage tags still intact.
Lady at the help desk-bless her heart-confirmed, even more firmly this time, they cancelled my booking and she couldn’t book me on another flight until Sunday morning.
I couldn’t access the internet at the internet café until 10 am and was in absolutely no mood to access the airport kiosk and follow instructions in French! I didn’t want to head back to the hotel as I paid a fortune for my taxi to the airport.
Surprisingly after all the hullaballoo settled and I knew I wasn’t going to Barcelona I was still very composed and in total control like the Lamas I saw in Bhutan! All the meditation I had done these last years finally came into play.
At 7:30 my benevolent hearted colleague answered my 27th call, and said, in his raspy Australian accent “Ma’amta, what happened? Are you ok?” That’s when I knew I was going to Barcelona again.
Needless to say, I ruined Richard’s Saturday. While he booked me on another flight and got busy figuring out what happened with my original booking, I rambled around the airport for 5 hours; raided a duty-free perfume shop and came out smelling like a perfume shop myself; looked at the flight information LCD display board every 10 min to check the boarding time, in due course Portugal and Madagascar from the display board made it to my list of countries to visit.
I spent 6 long hours in the airport and It took me exactly one hour thirty minutes to reach Barcelona from Paris. At 13:45 I was in Barcelona. Barcelona’s slightly warmer breeze as opposed to the nippy breeze in Paris brushing against the only exposed part, my face was very welcoming. My mood changed from muddled and zonked to cheerful and contented, not for very long though.
I was very glad that the taxi driver didn’t have any trouble locating the hotel. So finally everything was falling into place or not just yet!
At the hotel
As soon as I uttered my name, the receptionist at the hotel looked at me like as if I was an Interpol’s most wanted illicit drug trafficker or something. She said, “sorry, we cancelled your booking.”
“But my friend, his name is Richard, called you guys to re-book the hotel.”
“No, we don’t have any reservations in your name.”
“Can I book it right now?”
“So I was &$*#@$# again!”
This time I really felt like a “DANGEROUS” escaped prisoner.
After all, the receptionist was kind enough to hand me a map, which was the size of my yoga mat, and circle an invisible dot on the map and tell me that I might find some hostels there. In reply, I said, “it will also help me if you tell me where I’m right now on this map.”
After walking 1km and interrupting people from their chores I found out that, in Barcelona, only the taxi driver who dropped me and the receptionist at the hotel spoke English.
A man with a pram
Just when I felt miserable and hopelessly lost standing right in the middle of a deserted street, I found a man with an innocent and harmless face like that of a vine snake coming out of a shop with a “PRAM.”
A man with a “PRAM,” I told myself, will not have time or energy to kidnap me or murder me to sell my body parts. And rape, that’ll definitely be the last thing on his mind after a baby. I ran up to him, quickly introduced myself and without wasting much time that was left of my weekend I poured my heart out.”
“Listen, I need your help.”
“I don’t have a place to stay and I think I’m lost”
“I’m on my own here; I never did this once in my whole life. I don’t know what I was thinking when I booked my flight.”
“The woman from the hotel gave me this map and said I might find some hostels here”
“Can you help? Do you speak English?”
I paused so he can speak:
“Yes I speak English,” he said in his Spanish-American accented English.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief!
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from India, but right now I’m coming from Paris. I have friends and colleagues in Paris but not here” and I frowned.
“Where in India?”
“Oh! You know India? From Bangalore.”
“I was in Pune for work.” He replied.
“Pune? Nice place.”
I could feel the kinship between two nations already.
“You speak good English,” I said.
“My wife is an American.”
“What’s your name?”
He said “@#$%&%”
“How do you spell it?”
X A V I
Off we went looking for the hostel named Lesseps and we found it without any trouble.
To begin with, I have never stayed in a hostel my entire life, so this was going to be an experience. This hostel had almost 15 feet tall glossy wooden door. It slightly resembled a spooky jail. To enter the hostel we had to ring a doorbell, once it opened, you step in and wait in front of another massive cast iron gate. I wondered if it was a prison turned into a hostel. A head popped out from the inside of a room and went back in and suddenly the gate opened. It seemed like a lengthy process to let someone in.
The warden of the hostel was a nice looking, always smoking old man. Xavi asked the warden if he knew English or French and the warden promptly replied with a smile he only knew Spanish and Italian, two languages alien to me. Xavi did the needful on my behalf and assured me that it was a safe place to stay. The hostel room wasn’t all that bad for two nights. It had a cold wooden floor, a soft bed, a flat-screen TV, I couldn’t figure if it worked, a fan, I wondered if it’ll ever be used, work desk on which I emptied my bags and a decent bathroom.
I found out on the day I was leaving that most of the monuments and landmarks I visited the earlier days using hop-on and hop-off buses and metros were within walking distance of this hostel. This confirmed my doubts that I’m an idiot and a half!
I called this trip foolhardy because:
1) I planned a trip just two days before it actually happened
2) At 28.5kbps internet speed nobody would have the stomach for any research
3) I was travelling for the first time on my own that too without any weapons
4) I had no plan in place whatsoever, didn’t exactly know what to visit, where to eat, whom to meet
This trip will easily qualify for the boldest and dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I had gathered names of a few places that were a must visit in Barcelona from friends just the day before I left. The warden gave me a couple of maps one for the metro and another one I don’t know for what. So now I had three maps in total to follow.
I dumped my bags in the hostel and headed straight to one of the most famous streets in the world called “Las Ramblas” It’s a 45 min straight walk, one right turn and two left turns from the hostel. Given my sense of direction and my map reading skill, I was very sure of losing my way. After all the map tests I wrote in school I’m not exactly pleased to say I can only find India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan on a world map. So my focus while walking up to the “Las Ramblas” was mainly on remembering landmarks.
I enjoyed being an utterly confused solo tourist looking in all directions on the brightly lit, tree-lined, crowded with shops and tourist, street. The only threat on this street as I was told was pickpocketing. And after all the mayhem I dealt with I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened to me of all people. While walking on “La Ramblas” I had this epiphany: I’m alone, I’m alive and I’m happy more than ever. I’m invincible! The only thing that could punctuate a feeling so good is hurting feet and the fear of not being able to find my way back to the hostel.
It was very simple, two right turns, one left turn and walk straight to the hostel. But the trouble was locating the right “right” turn. I passed almost 8 right turns. All the landmarks I mentally noted betrayed me at the right time. After taking several wrong right turns, asking people for directions and with the help of maps, I made it. Phew! That night I went to bed telling myself “I’m going to spend the rest of my time in Barcelona in this hostel room.”
The epiphany I had the previous evening left its traces in me. I woke up that morning all fired up, showered, packed my bag, gathered my maps and charged straight to the warden’s room. The warden took a break from smoking and smiled at me as if to say he was happy to see me alive.
“How do I go to Teleferic?” I asked him showing a piece of paper on which I scribbled names of places I planned to visit. He didn’t follow so I repeated, slowly this time.
Smart fellow-he promptly opened a Google translator got up from his seat and gestured to me with his hands to type.
I typed and pronto he said “ Si Si Teleferic”
“Exactly” I said.
And then he animatedly gave me the directions and I think what may have been some useful tips in Spanish. I said gracias and went out of the hostel even more dazed. I managed to figure out how to go to Teleferic, Le Pedrera/Casa Mila, Sagarda Familia, Parc Guell, Port Vell and a few other places somehow.
Barcelona, I found out, is all about this gem of an architect named Antoni Gaudi and rightly so. It’s clearly evident in Gaudi’s work that his inspiration is nature. In Sagarda Familia cathedral, the best cathedral I’ve ever visited, I slumped back against a chair to relax, raised my head to take a look at the roof and brought it down with a stiff neck only after 20 min. It’s a forest up there and very easy to get lost. And he used sculptures of reptiles in his work, how cool is that.
His single-minded focus towards work, his lifestyle, his spirituality, his simplicity, everything about him is inspiring. I had goosebumps the whole time I was watching his biography.
Sagarda Familia-Gaudi’s work (another world heritage site)
This cathedral has been under construction for over 200 years and it is still going on.
That said, I discovered a new me in Barcelona. Confident, bolder, newer sense of purpose to my life and all that jazz! I’m in love with Barcelona!
Back in India conversation with sister:
“Even if I happen to die tomorrow I’ll have absolutely no regrets”
“What?” My sister exclaimed.
“You must be out of your goddamn mind!”
“I have to pay your credit card bills. And I can’t even share it with dad, he is old now!”
I’ve been praying to every God I have come across to keep you safe at least until you clear your credit card bills.”
On the day Barcelona team plays football this is how the streets look at 4 pm.