When we woke, there was a new land at the top of the Faraway Tree; the land of Barcelona. Now, here is an interesting thing. While we have arrived at every other location with a whole host of things to do and to see - and a whole historical narrative to take us around,we arrive here with nothing. There is something absolutely wonderful and liberating about this; and the kids are delighted. No more damnable, long winded stories about beheadings, or writers going mad, or unbelievably, oversized palaces. Nothing but a blank slate.
Firstly, it was mild. After a month and a day of pretty cold weather (though clear) and puffy jackets for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we were walking around in long sleeved tee shirts. But we were disorientated. Not much good sleep was had in the train (Paris was worried my bunk would collapse onto his, Zelda tied herself into her bunk for fear of falling, Niccolo shared his bunk with a huge suitcase, and Myles was on the floor; good times) so we were exhausted. But dogged. Instead of taking a taxi (right there, in front of us) we persued the metro with luggage and foggy heads. Amazingly, we made it from Barceloneta on line 4 to Liceu on line 3 and walked the rest of the way down to the apartment. There, at the door, was the smiliest Englishman you have ever seen who welcomed us in, showed us around and gave us a map and advice. Best service we have had. And the loveliest little apartment you could imagine with three bedrooms (Paris is kissing the floor as I write). Barcelona is great value.
It is an odd city - not at all like its more northern neighbours who are beautiful but a touch uptight. This city is more like an Asian city, with much more narrow alleyways with washing everywhere and ricketty, inelegant shops and cafes. Much more colour, much more relaxed. Palm trees for God sakes (a little, Myles said, like California - or the other way around perhaps).
Despite the beguiling nature of the place, we were (not to put a fine point on it) cactus. So we changed a little, and went into the local square for breakfast. We are one street parallel to La Ramblas called Raval which is great. There were a million (or so it seemed to tired eyes) little cafes to choose from. The cafes are on one side and in the middle of the road are the chairs, so we sat and ordered hot chocolate and crossiants. Hot chocolate in Barcelona is more like hot chocolate mousse. The children were delighted.
Then we went to bed. That is to say, Myles went to bed, I slept on the couch (and very comfortable it was too), and the kids sat around me and watched Agatha Christie movies from the sixties.
After we felt a little better, we went out for a walk and lunch. Ah lunch. Tapas and beer; where have you been my whole life. Potatoes, sausage, lamb, tomatoes, cheese all there before us. And a huge mug of beer for happiness. The sun was shining on us and there were lots of people around us, drinking beer and writing; perhaps this is where all the writers come now. And very cool young women in leg warmers; who ever thought that would work again. But here, yes. Not for me, no matter how I am charmed by how they look. That would go very wrong.
We sauntered off to the habour to see the Mediterranean for the first time. I think this is my first time looking at the Mediterranean. I was thinking through this, and I'm pretty sure it is. A lovely dark blue lapping away at the walls of the harbour. Seagulls everywhere. Lovely boats (including an Arrrrr Pirate Boat), and people walking about. Then, around a corner, there was the Rainbow Warrior, ready (apparently) to weigh anchor and set off for good works. There was music and dancing as the local people sent her off with good will. Zelda (grumpily) demanded that we needed to seek out dessert. So to ice-cream (the first time this makes sense on this trip) and the largest nativity scene in the northern hemisphere. We were feeling fine.
Barcelona is much more rough hewn than the delicate spires of Paris or even London. The royalesque palace-y place at the harbour was big but bulky and dark. I liked it a lot. Mind you, we haven't seen any Gaudi yet, so that whole 'rough hewn' thing might change.
We made a hook turn and went back into town. Great art work around this city - near us there is a huge cat with a very bad mooded look on its face. In the harbour, there are 'boys' standing on buoys looking up at the sky, there is a huge Joan Miro looking sculpture just at the end of the harbour. And along La Ramblas, there is a decent smattering of human sculpture. Niccolo is very into these, and likes to 'pay' them (as he puts it). So much life as the sun sets; people everywhere, eating and laughing and drinking. But we were at the end of whatever energy we had garnered at lunch. On the way back, I tried to buy a pretty fabulous 10 euro bag but (from what we could understand) it wasn't for sale until 21 December. Interesting ... weird. Perhaps we didn't look the type.
We fell into the apartment and watched cooking shows for a while - thinking about our own Christmas dinner and what we would be cooking and eating. We won't get to Carcassonne until the 21 which doesn't leave a lot of room for shopping and cooking for Christmas. But we will manage. Niccolo is determined to cook custard. I want to buy and cook a Bresse chicken. Zelda wants chocolate to feature in most dishes. Paris doesn't care as long as there is enough. Myles is worried about a heart attack. Should make for interesting eating.
Love Barcelona already. Can't wait for dawn.