There was amber glass and I was running down a corridor, up and down, back and forth. Only years later did I find this was no dream but the amber glass in question belonged to our hotel; separating the cool grey interior to the heat of a Spanish spring day outside.
That was in 1973, suffice to say I don’t remember much of my first ever international adventure – so a visit to the land of Picasso, Miro and sherry was long overdue.
Arriving at Barcelona’s sparkling new airport terminal on a balmy May evening I found the train into town only serviced the elder terminal six kilometres away. The bus however wasn’t such a bad alternative whisking me into town in under half an hour; the towers at Place d’espanya, a sure sign of arrival preluding the main square at Place de Catalunya.
I had merely two days in which to catch up with the Catalonian super nova. Like Wales and England must appear to foreigners it became increasingly difficult to ascertain whether I was seeing Spain, Catalonia or both. Both flags flew and both languages were spoken.
Alighting the morning metro Gaudi’s wonderful Casa Batllo and Amatlla House stood before me but on a budget I really wanted to find the cities iconic La Sagrada Familia, if nothing else to get it out of my system; tick it off my list sounds blasé but isn’t that what we all do?
The unfinished cathedral was more difficult to find than I’d have thought possible as I chose to walk via the city streets instead of see an array of darkened metro tunnels and amber tinted stations. With a sense of horror and all the panache of a car sales yard, masking the right hand façade was a huge ‘SOS – donations needed’ banner. I hence sought a more suitable vantage point – not easy with the amount of cranes still moving around the site in a surreal slow motion ballet. The shot I ended up with was genius; a sun burnished silhouette of its jagged towers against a Barcelona blue sky.
Typically I bowed out of the tourist limelight and into a territory more associated with ‘real’ travellers, soaking up the cities atmosphere amid the old buildings, alleyways and secret squares.
Like Lisbon at the polar opposite of the Iberian peninsular Barcelona’s hills lie on the edge of the sea and have an ever growing population of green parrots who make their nests in the equally populous palm trees. For all their beautiful plumage they were not blessed with the most beautiful vocal chords squawking their way through the skies with reeds dangling from their bills.
By then it was raining and I had to dig around for my umbrella, though I didn’t mind, it was nice to see two sides to this wonderful place and to feel the Spanish rain permeating the air. So too Café La Nena and a hot chocolate like no other. When it arrived I was unsure how to approach it; its thick texture like a soup – did I sip or spoon it? I opted for a mix of the two. The beguiling female assistant asked if I had been here before and I explained my 38 year absence sans the amber light dream sequence.
While I was falling in love with Paris, Barcelona was hosting the Olympics. The stadium, part of the extensive Montjuic Park, now lies desolate and I wondered if the site before me is what becomes of any Olympic city after the party ends. I walked further and further and still the castle seemed as distant as the fragrant gardens I’d read about in my trusty guidebook.
Eventually after what seemed many miles I chanced upon the former fortress standing above the two tone blue of sky and sea, the way behind to Tibidabo cloaked in grey amid the brilliant lime of trees lit by sunlight.
Remembering my notes to avoid La Rambla at night I instead ventured into the nearby Gotic part of town but this too began to feel threatening the darker the night became and even then, I haphazardly stumbled upon the infamous boulevard, thankfully without incident.
I could not find the hotel with the amber glass and cool grey corridors, perhaps it had been demolished, confined to history like the rest of 1973. The hotel expects me back in less than 38 years.