Friday, July 29, 2011

Narrow Alleys

It may have taken me half an hour to get in but I did take advantage of the massive pool at camp. We also took advantage of the beach on the other side of camp which, although not as nice as San Sebastian or Benicassim, did have a bar set up in the sand. After a day of doing nothing (and paying 10 Euro for 24 hours of wifi), we ventured back into the city.

As I’ve said, one of the Golden Rules we’ve been taught is to never have a map out in front of people, because you look like a naïve tourist, ripe for the robbing. What we usually do is roughly memorise the route, and if signs pointing the way don’t eventually appear, duck into a shop and check the map again after awhile. In Barcelona this is even more important because it’s a huge market for pickpockets, one of the worst cities in Europe for it.

Navigating this way isn’t always easy because street signs are less than obviously placed in Europe. They’re stuck to the corners of buildings and are of varying height, size, and behind-a-tree-ness. Sometimes they’re just not there. In Spain, tiny alleyways are also often old roads that are still marked as such but only for foot and motorbike traffic.

Enter the Navman. With our constant battle for power we haven’t been able to use the Navman in cities before but we have a new toy that I’ll tell you about later and we are now able to be a bit more lenient. The best thing about using the Navman is that if you select the ‘quickest’ route in Barcelona, it doesn’t take you easy way. Instead, it takes you into a tangled web of ancient old-city streets that in all honesty totally made our trip.

We probably would never have wandered off the main streets if we were navigating the usual way because it’s easier to stay straight for as long as possible and do as few turns as possible. Navman had us turning every few metres but it was awesome because we got to know a totally different Barcelona. Most of the old town streets aren’t wide enough for cars so other than the occasional moto, you have the freedom to wander as you please.

Despite the very cool little shops that dot almost every street, there aren’t many tourists either. Some of the streets that lead into the old town areas do look a bit seedy, but you usually only have to turn one, maybe two corners to find charming cobbled alleys. A Frenchman who owned a quiet little café we found told us he was wary of the alleys when he first arrived in Barcelona because in France it would be dangerous to go down them. Not so in Spain – he said there are always pickpockets no matter what but in terms of dangerous crimes you can feel safe.

So feel safe we did, and we let the Navman take us down any alley it wanted. There were a few things we wanted to check out in Barcelona and at that stage we hadn’t decided if we would still be in the city the next day (we weren’t) so we put them all into the Navman, hit ‘optimise stops’ so it would put them in a realistic order, and let it take us where it wanted.

We saw the markets we wanted, even if El Encants Vells was closed when we got there (it looked massive though, you should go) and Santa Caterina Markets didn’t live up to La Bocqueria on Las Ramblas. We saw another basilica, Santa Maria del Mar, and Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf – a smaller red brick version of Paris’ monument. More importantly, we found another spectacular Patisseria and ate more of the best food of our lives.

We finished the day at Placa Reial, just off Las Ramblas, paying 8 Euro for a half hour Flamenco show. I’ve always loved the drama of Flamenco and Courts was up for a taste test so we sat front row of a dark little bar called Los Tarantos with our Sangria and let it draw us in. It was so different in real like than anything we expected, far far more intense. The half hour passed quickly and it was back into the sunshine to find dinner (at a buffet for 11 Euro with all you can drink beer and almost-like-at-home food) and take the hour long bus home.

Penelope_nz's Barcelona, Spain photoset Penelope_nz's Barcelona, Spain photoset