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WESTERN EUROPE - THE “HISTORIC MINDSET” TOUR

Barcelona Postcard

BARCELONA

"GAMES OF THE HEART WHERE NO ONE WINS"

I had no fixed plan for my one month tour beyond visiting Morocco and the European Union buildings in Brussels. I had stood outside the impending administrative centre of Europe and felt nothing; bored and hollow. Perhaps it was the weather. Dull, overcast skies with low cloud cover had followed me all the way down from London.

I checked out of the hostel and arrived at the bus station unsure of my next destination. I looked up at the timetable. The south and a more temperate climate beckoned. I boarded a bus. Twenty four hours later it dropped me off in Barcelona. The length of France had disappeared during a day of dreaming and a night of restless sleep.

Collecting my backpack from the bus I suddenly realised I had a previously unthought-of problem on my hands. Fewer people in Spain would speak English than in northern Europe. Given my map reading skills were non-existent I may have a problem finding a hostel.

Barcelona skyline

I relied on my map reading skills to get me within the general vicinity of the hostel and then decided to rely upon the kindness of the local people. I wrote down the street address of the hostel I planned to stay in and showed strangers on the street the piece of paper. The plan worked. After stopping ten different people and getting eight different directions I eventually found a police officer who informed me I was virtually standing under the balcony of my planned abode.

With my accommodation organised I needed to get some fresh air to overcome the ill effects of my 24 hour bus journey. I went for a walk to the Port de Barcelona. As expected the weather was milder than up north and there was a fresh ocean breeze that carried with it colour to my cheeks. On the waterfront there stood the impressive Monument a Colom, a statue dedicated to Christopher Columbus that looked out to the sea.

What he must have thought as he looked out to the horizon, fading with the distance? A world unexplored ready to fill in the blanks of his imagination?

Inspired by the thoughts of Columbus I returned to my hostel via La Rambla. This long, lively avenue populated with trees, newsstands, buskers and beautiful people was alive even in the dead of winter. During my subsequent stay in Barcelona I made every attempt to divert my walk along this path. If I became lost then I could be found at La Ramba, watching the people live a short space of their life without me.

Christopher Columbus statue

Inspired by the thoughts of Columbus I returned to my hostel via La Rambla. This long, lively avenue populated with trees, newsstands, buskers and beautiful people was alive even in the dead of winter. During my subsequent stay in Barcelona I made every attempt to divert my walk along this path. If I became lost then I could be found at La Ramba, watching the people live a short space of their life without me.

If La Ramba was a place to sit and watch people walk by then La Sagrada Familia was a sight to look up to and inspire. The cathedral was an out of this world creation whose tight thin towers with intricate sculpting rose up to the sky. What kept the towers upright, stopped them crumbling upon the foundations of their own strength? They appeared vulnerable, as though faith and belief was the only thing keeping them upright.

The La Sagrada Familia held me in its spell. I was so impressed by the outside of the cathedral I didn't want to spoil its spell by paying an admission fee to view the inside. It was better to leave my impressions of the La Sagrada Familia untainted and free.

La Ramba

Close by was the gothic district. A large gothic church sat as the centrepiece. Intricate architecture and overhanging statues warned me of the darkness which sits within. Narrow alleys, standing in the shadows, the sky and the sun kept in the distance. My thoughts were turning negative, my body shivering in the shade. Claustrophobic, enclosed; I needed to free my thoughts from the sides of my mind which were pushing inward.

I did not dwell any longer and left the gothic district to walk the many miles to Parc Guell. Here buildings sat at impossible angles, structures crafted as fantasy, it was a park which sat at the cross between the minds of the aged and the infant. It was another invention of Gaudi, the designer responsible for La Sagrada Familia.

Such were the sights of Barcelona I thought it would be worthwhile getting the overview. I climbed Montjuic. This was a hill, behind which many of the main events for the 1992 Olympic Games had been held. I was able to walk into the stadium unimpeded. Close by were other tourist sights such a museum and a castle. But the best sight was the view offered over the city. A mass of humidity crowded together, buildings covering the ground like the shallow water in a lagoon, no oasis of greenery except that which covered the hills far away in the distance.

Local football game

I walked back down the hill and passed a junior league game of football. The pitch was on some sort of yellow, barren, sand based surface. Ragged residential buildings five stories high looked down and busy roadways behind both sets of goal posts looked across. I watched the game for a short while and then moved on. I came across a group of older men playing conkers. They were enwrapped in the proceedings of their sport with the same enthusiasm as the young football players.

Sport gives most of us the opportunity to share a passion and prolong our lives. But I suppose the Spanish passion for bull fighting hasn't prolonged the lives of too many bulls. This is the sport I wanted to watch most of all during my time in Spain but the closest I got was passing a bull ring that sat in the centre of a huge traffic jam in Barcelona.

Perhaps there will be another time. Perhaps I would have been too squeamish to enjoy the experience anyway. Perhaps! Sometimes in life there are just too many perhaps that I wish my world was a simpler place to live. But then perhaps not!