Catalonia

14 July 2011 Alicante to Barcelona, España

In my notes, I keep dating things as May, which doesn’t make any sense because time feels like it’s going so slowly. It’s hard to believe that it was this year that I was working in London.

I slump my bag against the 70s-brown couch, next to a handful of others. There’s a person in every seat of the common room and like their bags, are slumped, waiting to leave on a night bus/train. Some heads poke up from the couch, smiling. They get up and write some really nice farewells in my notebook, and I attempt the same in their guestbook. Because all the messages in there are large and comical, I go for the opposite in hope of being noticed. But I’ll never know if that works.

As I’m walking out the door, my Finnish friend comes up behind me and confusingly asks when I’m going. Right now, of course. ‘I’ll walk with you. Wait for me!’ Although I don’t know exactly how I could have, I’m afraid I’ve worsened any mental instability.

The air is warm and heavy, and within a hundred metres of the hostel I start sweating. That said, eighty metres ago, my Finnish friend started sweating. For someone who has lived in Norway for the past few years, this thirty degree heat at night must be hell.

Thank god the Finn was with me because the bus station, with just one flickering light outside, is impossible to spot. Inside, there’s white walls and matte floors, with the abandoned hospital’s patients either sprawled out on the seats or staring at walls. The head nurse of the ward is in the mood of someone who is at the beginning of night shift number two hundred and three this year. The Finn translates. ‘Completo!’ she says, instantly. Full.'Proxima?’ next? (I speak Spanish that I’ve worked out logically, not actually learnt) She throws me a flimsy timetable. I get a ticket for the 4am; the next available bus to Barcelona, leaving in just under four hours. Back to the hostel I go.

It’s strange seeing those people who made those big farewells just fifteen minutes earlier. In the four hour wait, most go to bed, except for some Swede who is obsessed with spiders, the'ultimate killers!’, and the co-owner of the hostel who has ben travelling for twenty years. Twenty years! He’s lived on every continent except Antarctica, working double shifts for five months, travelling seven months over and over. He says he’s Bulgarian originally but after twenty years in over one hundred countries, what would you call yourself?

My back cracks as I stand and sling the bag on my back. Finally time to go. Again.

The bus station is still holding patients, and some patients haven’t adapted to outside life. A black man shouts to himself, then starts whispering and waltzing around, with flicks of head and pirouettes out of a cartoon. In watching this character, I don’t notice the two older men sit down beside me. I can’t remember what they say. It’s 4:45AM so I walk around the station to keep awake and not miss the bus. In the bathroom there are cockroaches squashed and smeared over the tiles.

My neck cracks as I look up from the bench–must have been asleep. There’s my bus rumbling into the station, over thirty minutes late. Thank god it’s here, I can’t wait to lie down.

But where to lie down? I see one seat free on the entire bus between the majority elderly Spaniards and the minority I can’t pigeon hole.

We leave Alicante at a little past five in the morning, due to arrive in Barcelona at midday. Just that thought alone sends me asleep instantly.


It’s a surreal journey. I wake up several times finding a different person next to me: a big guy with thick glasses, skinny black guy and huge man taking up half of my seat. Throughout, the bus rolls along perfectly smoothly, and there are no bumps, corners or any other lanes. It all gets slowly brighter with a long sunrise starting soon after I boarded.


Arrive in Barcelona. Why is it daylight again? The past few hours have just felt like I’ve been taking fifteen minute naps for eight hours. In fact, that’s probably right.

Barcelona, at first glance, seems just like a big European city with old and new buildings abound. Looking around, I’m understanding a little more Spanish than I thought I ever could in such a short–no–I keep forgetting they speak Catalan here, which is closer to French than normal Spanish. I was teaching myself some good fundamentals of Spanish, but what does it matter now?

I make my way to a hostel and pass a market. The apples are soft and warm in the sunlight, so go inside for a baguette. Leaving, a man at the store hands me a banana, which is barely yellow and squishy. He makes a very uncomfortable gesture that I should squirt it into my mouth.

Automatic sliding doors mark the entrance to this mega hostel. It’s the biggest and most modern building I can see: fourteen floors. Fourteen!. Upstairs, people stare at Facebook while MTV blares in the background. Another seven floors up, my small dorm’s bed is tempting, but I force myself back down and out onto Barcelona’s busy roads.

I walk to Sagrada Familia through very non-Spanish streets. Barcelona is arranged in a perfect grid apart from a very small old quarter. I feel as foreign (as I actually am) by not waiting at pedestrian crossings. It’s so ordered! Yet, I’m without a compass and lost on the way to a church in Europe. In the distance, I spot one crane, then three, over some very tall spires. Isn’t this church old like the rest?

Forgive my ignorance. I’m guessing the whole tourist industry of Barcelona is centred on the famous architect Gaudi, who has designed a pretty amazing building that’s still under construction. One facade was built in 1926, and the whole thing will be finished in 2026. The statement'they don’t make them like they used to’ doesn’t hold. So, things can go through a'classic’ era then come back again just as well.

I remember avoiding the hot sun on the way back to the hostel, and looking out onto the sky, still lit by the sun, from the very high window from the dorm, from a very welcome bed.


UPDATE 08 November, 2011: I heard the kickboxing Finn’s name in my notes! Mira!

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