Almost three years ago to the day, I wrote about my first experiences in Barcelona – a city unknown to me at the time that I had decided to start a new life in. As this is where my first ideas for this blog came from, I thought it fitting to document my exploits here. These blog posts started out life as emails to my friends and family during my time there.
I wrote this first entry on the day that I had finally become ‘official’ in Spain. This ‘officialdom’ had come in the form of an unimpressive flimsy piece of credit card sized paper, laminated ON ONE SIDE ONLY, costing a meagre 10.30€ but an awful lot more in hours of my life wasted, bearing the golden digits that allowed me to work legally in the country. Yes, this much sought after ‘document’ is THE NIE (nee-ay aka national insurance, social security card/number).
But that is a whole other story in itself… (for up to date information on how to go through the painful process, which appears to have become even more bureaucratic since my own joyful experience, have look here:).
Well before that, though, my first escapade started almost literally upon touching down in the country. Waiting for a train to take me from the airport to the completely unknown, soon to be my home city of Barcelona, I was accosted in an amicable manner by a local who had apparently decided to befriend me. Said local was a man and, as a solo, decidedly non-local female, I was obviously a little wary.
However, after much chat and upon discovering that I just so happened to have stumbled into Barcelona on one of the biggest saints’ day fiestas in the year (La Mercè, anyone? I could’ve been more clued-in had I done a bit of googling…), I found myself jettisoning all usual caution: my desire for what could turn out to be an instant friend in my new vida, along with the potential of a pretty culturally exciting first evening, had me agreeing to meet up with him later that night to cavort on the streets of the city with thousands of other party goers! Worst case ‘creepy-man’ scenario, I could run away and get lost in the crowds…
Still all before I’d managed to arrive in Barcelona itself, though, I realised I’d lost my phone – somewhere between the airport baggage carousel and getting on the train. At that time (and as is pretty much still the case now) I couldn’t possibly boast to be the owner of any real technology worth stealing, least of all my £5 Nokia. Even so, it was a vital part of the new life puzzle I was attempting to put together and so I needed it back rapido!
My New-Catalan-Friend came to the rescue and I abused our 20-minute old friendship, borrowing his mobile to conduct expensive and relatively incomprehensible calls with the policeman who’d found my phone at the airport. Eventually, New-Catalan-Friend took over and established where and how I could go and pick up my mobile, so my arrival in Barcelona was followed by a swift departure: back to the airport I go lugging my 20 kilo case with one broken wheel behind me. And, by the way, it is hot and muggy.
I get to the airport police station to claim my treasure which the policeman asks me to describe before handing it over. “Muy basico” covers it. He laughs at me and my phone but I get it back – first near crisis of my adventure averted!
Later on that evening, New-Catalan-Friend and I hit the busy streets of Barça to watch and, eventually participate in, a street spectacle that health and safety in the UK would have absolute kittens over. Hundreds of ‘fire diablos’ and bands of drummers march and dance down the streets whirring sticks over their heads bursting with enormous sparklers and fire crackers sending streams of sparks flying off in every direction. The job of anyone else who wants to get involved is to try to dance with the devils or stop them going on their way (the devils also push around massive animals on wheels, running at the blockades of people, bursting with sparks in every direction!
All of this is called a correfoc – fire run – and mini-versions happily take place at fiestas throughout the year. So, in we went – the closer you get to the devils the fewer sparks you get showered with. I was pretty scared on the first attempt but got taken under the fire-retardant cape of a rather yummy-looking devil and so all was good, bouncing and hopping around to drums in the sparks with people chanting and singing all around! With all this incredible atmosphere, I am instantly totally in love with Barcelona (and also rather taken with my cape swishing devil!)!
A lot more dancing and running around in fireworks later, sweaty as anything, pretty choked up from the fumes, singed hair and with burn holes in my clothes (all that careful packing straight out the window…) it’s time for my first eats in Barcelona – oh yes!
Thrift and a somewhat traveller’s mentality ever wielding the power of decision making, and I’m up for grabbing some cheap and yummy tapas or Barcelona-style street food. I’m somewhat surprised, then, to find myself in a rather fancy and expensive looking restaurant for the occasion. My protestations fall on deaf ears and at this point it dawns on me that I have accidentally stumbled into a first date. On my first night in Barcelona. New-Catalan-Friend appears to want to be More-Than-Just-New-Catalan-Friend. Oh dear…
That issue aside, the food was amazing – good tapas is REALLY good here! (Although Barcelona is not particularly famed for its cuisine in Spain – apparently Asturias is where it’s at – and my only memory now of the meal is wine, asparagus and my first ever Romesco sauce).
With our intentions somewhat differing, I nevertheless decided that we hadn’t actually arrived in ‘creepy-man’ territory, so off we continued with our evening to visit the Sagrada Familia by night where there was a light display as part of the saints’ day festivities. In fact, we missed the light show by mere seconds but I still got given a guided tour of the outside of Gaudi’s basilica – incredible (and even better on the inside, I would later discover) – and collected a flashing light bug as a souvenir – hurrah!
Cocktails were proposed as a continuation of our evening but I decided it was definitely time to call it a night and chip off back to my hostel before wires could become any further crossed…
Later on, lying on my top-bunk with a gently snoring American bunk-mate below, trying not to move for the mugginess (is it going to be like this all the time?!) and I have time to take in my first night in Barcelona; done – and in quite surreal and spectacular style! Although I know that every day won’t be like this (I still have a job and flat to find, a life to create… and a bloody NIE to get) for sure I am already in Love Love Love…- with the city, NOT with New-Catalan-Friend!