Europe | Spain | Barcelona – Cuban dreams and caiperinhas

Europe | Spain | Barcelona – Cuban dreams and caiperinhas

I took one look at the Sagrada Famila and fell flat on my face. It wasn’t awe but exhaustion. It was 1996. We’d been sleeping on concrete train stations and the backs of trucks for three days, hitch hiking a go-go. It was a sign: goodbye Barcelona. I vowed to return and see it properly one day. And now I have.

I can never have too much medieval. We never saw the Gothic area in 1996; all I recall is the Rambla, that long promenade where cage birds screech and jugglers dance. There was coffee ,and prostitutes, and a courtyard with huge palm trees and the inside of a Spanish ambulance. So this time I’m seeing it all. I could walk forever down narrow crooked lanes, laundry drying above on little wire balconies, walls leaning with the centuries.

Then a shock when you emerge on a modern, trafficked street. In the back ways its another time, another place.

I see Picasso, Dubuffet, go on bar crawls drinking caiperinhas and wait 5 months to finish this entry. Barcelona was wonderful, as expected. My former roommates from London, who now live around the corner from the Sagrada Famila itself, can sit on their balcony in December sun in nothing more than t-shirts. Why do we still live in London?


Faces pressed against metal railings, wobbly from caiperinhas, Cristina, Ben, Sexton and I gaze at newly discovered ruins. Underneath the old market de Santa Caterina another place was uncovered. The huge 19th century wooden ceiling high above – how did they not know there were ancient ruins underneath when they built this place? Crumbling walls, fireplaces, narrow avenues. People lived here, people died here.

We leave the ruins ands head back on our Barcelona bar crawl, trying to find a smaller, more tucked away place than the last one. Cristina and I started at 5, bored already with the Lonely Planet ‘modernista’ walk – don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to see, its just that, some of the buildings on the map were “ho hum, is that it” then we’d turn a corner and see something spectacular that wasn’t in the book. And it’s the accidental discoveries that are the best. Padrera and Battlo were my favourites. Both in the books and in the flesh. Didn’t go inside either though; the tour of Palau Gull was enough. It was first on the walk; a sunny day, why not see the roof? I suggested. We paid our 3 Euros only to find we had to take an hour’s tour. And we know from Sexton’s trip to Transylvania how much he likes tours. Not.

So Cristina and I had coffee and a cava (E 1.75) in a tiny place with barrels stacked to the ceiling, near the musical hall, a nice building wrapped at the moment in scaffolding. We met the boys, who’d been buying cheap CDs (E3!), headed to an area called Born, near the Picasso museum. Another tiny café, then the cellar of a library/net café/café where we sat on cushions on the floor and the boys spread out their purchases on a low Moroccan table. More wine, then a dark bar (a lot of Spanish bars are well lit) for cocktails, a ‘blues bar’ where the only blues was in the names of the drinks, and finally, we stumbled to Kaigo, a lively little pizza place, a bit of Spain and Italy mixed, on the Avenue Ample. Ample indeed – ample drinks, pizza, and live people enjoying themselves on a – what day was it? – night.

Then we had Montserrat… another story for another time….. the moral of this one being, don’t leave ‘draft’ entries in your live diaries too long or you forget what you were going to write!

Cuba beckons next, and we’re back to family history, yet another branch. Only this is somewhat morbid….some of my Lithuanian family married Cubans. One cousin’s husband was shot down in the Bay of Pigs invasion, fighting on the American side. There is strong feeling amongst Cubans both for and against their dictator; needless to say I won’t be telling my cousin that I’m going Scuba diving in the very spot where her husband’s plane now lies. Nor will I mention any of this to our Cuban hosts….

(started this in December, didn’t finish ’til April…. The photos here: say more about our time there…)

Category : Europe | Spain | Barcelona , Uncategorized