Barcelona: Garden Recalled

The clock ticks forward; complex and constant, friend and foe. Andorra is caught between two countries and two towns. France and Spain, Toulouse and Barcelona. As the latter is my first international city I swing round for my third visit and after my night of purgatory at El Prat’s T2, knew just where to go. The metro journey was inexorably arduous yet simultaneously exciting. My last visit in 2010 would birth the poem, BCN from Terminal Wanderlust…

I don’t remember our first date
Age became me then

Now I am older and so are you
Although your terminal shines eternal youth

Its gleaming floor welcomes me
Reflecting a host of possibilities

But where is the train, catering for the low cost crowd?
It really shouldn’t be allowed

I breeze into town, a balmy spring evening
Two days; one of sufficient heat and one of rain in Spain (or is it Catalonia?)

Then I’m back with you
In a shimmering haze – the exotic Avianca stands beside Egyptian

I’m heading home, north
Climbing into blue, a Briton abroad

The Med sparkles beneath me
As ash clouds cast uncertainty

I’m pleased we met again
You ask for my return in less than 30 years

I like the sound of it
But it’s a game of chance, wait and see…

And so it was a mere eight years later that I returned to the Garden and my favourite part of Barcelona, Horta. The person who smiled and asked for my return in less than 30 years’ had long gone. A completely new crew tended the Garden helmed by Felipe who aside from being very nice is from Uruguay. I have an affinity of sorts with Uruguayans as they have a similar population to Wales. A tenuous link? Definitely.

My previous visit was mirrored in the weather and other factors; sunshine and rain, euphoria and pain. The parrots still squawked their way, though for me this was an extended holiday without pay. Eight years ago I was not a teacher so had no need to seek out ‘idiomas’ (language schools). It’s hard to believe how much ground I covered in those few days. Everything is updated except Montjuic and Parc Guell (the latter of which I don’t recall having to pay to enter). Most of my time though is reserved for Horta, which apart from its dog toilet streets is as captivating as ever (see the panorama video over on my You Tube channel).

Aspects of nostalgia and beauty collide with that of politics seen first hand, not just in the pages of La Vanguardia. In Pamplona and Bilbao I had sampled the independent aspirations of the Basque and now those of the Catalans. Not only were there flags waving but also unwarranted aggression towards tourists found in graffiti, odd for Horta as it’s not really a touristic part of town. I toy with the idea of settling but know it’s pie in the sky or at the very least won’t be easy and with my finger in so many pies was settling wise?

New feeds come courtesy of Bonamassa – fresh pizza just off Plaça D’Eivissa – Horta Square (they also do Nutella cakes and coffee). Cafe 365 is where I spend a few breakfasts. The Spanish or Catalan speaking Chinese are present if you look hard enough and are a little bewildered when I speak to them in Chinese. Cerveceria Balouta sell a blend of western Chinese, English (e.g. egg and chips), German sausages (in hot dog rolls) and pastries as well as slot machines and beer, wine and olives for those that may want them. I eat there a few times during my tenure. Next up is the one and only La Nena for thick hot chocolate and melindros. Finally I chance on another cafe La Vitaminica just short of 365 for some apple cake. My return for their orange juice which looked as good as it probably tasted were dashed by events at the hostel. A night of rampant teenagers and maintenance; cue a stubborn door which needed hammering into place secured a free breakfast though some still weren’t happy.

Felipe calls time on my time at the Garden. Apparently there is a 10 day maximum stay and while most hostels use this as a deterrent for the more undesirable travellers or rather characters. In the Garden’s case it’s mandatory for all and unfortunately he’s right. There really wasn’t any point me being in Spain, never mind Barcelona, Horta or indeed its garden house. If anything the hostel was slipping from its perch as a tranquil refuge for discerning travellers by attracting riff raff (e.g. kids whose sole diet consists of weed) unable to defend itself and doing little to deter them. *I don’t object to its usage but for the stench it leaves behind, more so for the other guests. 

Having said all that I was beginning to tire of the monotony, the same TV visuals daily, the same songs which were not made for working. Could something other than teaching be found? Barcelona is after all a creative hotspot. One walk around Gracia and Diagonal assembles a load of potentials only to conclude each one unsuitable one way or another. Accommodation? That’s pretty much been hijacked by the realtors. Barcelona is popular for a reason, it’s nice and everyone wants a slice.

Reluctantly I give up the ghost. In the last rays of brilliant blue sky and sunlight I’m lead towards a building that has become a prominent feature of the Barcelona skyline and as it’s close to Nord station I make the short walk to it and in turn discover Glories. An architecturally rich area featuring shimmering markets (Encants), the Design museum and said tower which goes by the name Torre Glories.

My one regret is not getting to see the W Hotel as I’ve made a point of checking out these extraordinary hotels in cities they have properties. In Barcelona this is right on the shore of a peninsular I was unable to reach. There it is again; time like a straight jacket constrains us all. The clock ticks forward; complex and constant, friend and foe. This time no one at the Garden is telling me to return. A business is a business, a smile given only as a temporary gift. Is there a way back? Who knows. For me the signs were pointing to the one place I’ve been running away from… my own country.

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

• Joni Mitchell

Oranges on Appletrees – a-ha (not my fave but present because of all the orange and lemon trees in the area)
Stolen Dance – Milky Chance (yes, I know it’s a weed song but it’s a nice track even if the words make little sense)
Again – Lenny Kravitz (self explanatory this one)
Thinking of You – Lenny Kravitz (very poppy for him but nice in the afternoon)
Bueno Vista Social Club OST
La Vuelta al Mundo (Round the World) – Calle 13 (apparently this song is about travelling to escape the routine of office work so again very apt even if inadvertently so)
El Alma y el Cuerpo (The Soul and the Body) – Bomba Estereo
Brilliant Trees – David Sylvian (an overhang from Bilbao but still very relevant)
Waterfront – David Sylvian (purely for the fact he mentions ‘Catalonian bars’ in its lyrics)


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