My “travel writer’s journals” are my actual, personal journals and offer a voyeuristic glance into my life as a full-time travel writer and blogger in Barcelona… and beyond!
On assignment in Girona, Catalonia. Summer, 2015.
It was 6pm and I woke up tired.
I’d spent the morning walking the Roman walls and Jewish quarter of Girona with Margarita. She was fit and spritely, about twice my age, and I’d been dazzled by her knowledge of architecture.
I flung myself out of bed and turned on the air conditioning before opening the minibar. I poured myself a whisky and coke and did 100 push-ups on the white laminate floor and 50 sit-ups on the bed so as not to hurt my spine. I sipped the whisky and coke between sets and studied the room. It was simple, a cosy little haven of soft blues and greys, dark wood and warm lighting. Anything fancier would have made me feel uncomfortable.
I could hear music out in the street, so I opened the curtains. A woman was hanging her underwear and towels up on her balcony and the water droplets dripped down onto the balconies below. The sky was fading as the sun burnt itself out and I poured myself another whisky and coke to toast the day. I took it and my laptop to the bathroom and listened to the Beatles and drank the whisky and coke in the shower, surrendering to the seductive sensation as the chilled whisky filled my throat and the hot water hit the back of my neck.
I imagined all the people living life in peace and then put on my blue and white checkered shirt, which was still damp with sweat from the morning’s walk, and decided that George was definitely still my favourite Beatle. There’s nothing cool about Paul, and John’s guitar playing was too loose for my liking. I went downstairs to drink my welcome drink on the hotel terrace. It was still warm out and I could taste the humidity in the air.
I drank a sweet white wine and watched couples in Barcelona football shirts walking up and down the street, swinging their arms high and low with excitement. It was the last game of the league and I felt ashamed that I was not more interested in football. I’ve tried, but I just can’t get into it.
The restaurant was modern. Everything was white and the staff were all in the kitchen. It was still early and they weren’t expecting anyone. A friendly man with coal black hair and chestnut eyes sat me next to a couple, the only other people in the restaurant, and I sat alone in silence, listening to their conversation. I recognised the man’s accent. “Nice ‘ere mind isn’t it, love?” he said. And “I’ll ‘ave the moussaka, I think. That’s with meat, is eh?”
He was from Swansea, my home town. What were the chances?
I ordered a fig and almond salad to start and veal with chips for main course. I wanted a glass of the Emporda red wine because Margarita had told me how it was from the local terroir, but they only had it by the bottle so I ordered a glass of house red instead. I was trying to be modest; it was all free, after all, because I was here for work, but I have always considered myself to be a modest man and I wanted to prove it to myself. The house wine was very good.
The waitress, Judit, asked me what I wanted for dessert and I showed her a photo of a bottle of Ratafia Russet that I had taken earlier whilst I was with Margarita and asked if she had it. She said, “Yes, I have,” and smiled warmly as she shook her crimson-red hair out of her face. I ordered one with a Moritz beer and a yoghurt and fruit salad. When she brought it to me I asked her for recommendations on where to go for a drink afterwards. It had become a routine for me when travelling alone, which, to be fair, is more often than not with my line of work. It’s often the only human contact you have. Talking to staff, that is, and it’s a great way to find out where the locals go to eat and drink and cut loose.
“I’m not good with this,” she hesitated. “I’ll ask the kitchen.” She came back with a piece of paper that listed four bars: Lola Cafe, El Pati del Rabi, Cacut, and Ultonica, which was one of her favourites.
I went back to my room to drop off my camera and drank a glass of water. I poured it from the bathroom sink instead of taking a bottle from the minibar. I was still trying to convince myself of my humbleness and I wasn’t sure if I would have to pay for the minibar or not.
I could hear the people on the balconies next door screaming, “Barca! Barca!”. And although I was tired and full, I went back out again.
In Ultonica I sat behind a white-haired man who was wearing glasses with half-inch-thick lenses, two hearing-aids and a new pair of army-green braces that kept his trousers up around his bellybutton. The rest of the crowd was young and beautiful, with flowing dresses and braided hair that looked out of place as they jumped and hollered drunkenly, spurring Barcelona on to win.
And they did win and the barman jumped and banged on the bar with the fat of his fists and the crowd erupted, grabbing each other, picking up their children and throwing them up into the air. It was a joyous and emotional scene and I felt happy to share it with them, even though I stood alone and invisible at the bar. It was the first time in my life that I felt maybe I understood football, the sense of community and family, of belonging. Not that I felt I belonged…
I paid two euros for my glass of red wine and set off to find Lola Cafe. Margarita had told me that she and her friends liked to go there for drinks and Judit’s additional recommendation had cemented my decision. It was meant to be, I told myself.
I crossed the river, stopping to watch the glow of the street lamps bouncing off the terracotta buildings that hung over the water and jived between groups of leaping locals as they skipped and hopped with joy. It was a night when everything else stopped… this, this victory, was everything.
Fireworks burst into the misty black sky, but the flames were not to be seen. I traversed the river and eventually stumbled upon Lola Cafe. A man of at least seven feet tall took one quick look at me and said: “Private. Sorry. Private tonight.”
Next door there was a vermouth bar where hordes of people spilt out into the street. Waitresses carried trays of beers, goblets of gin and tonics and whisky colas, handing them out like it was Christmas morning. From the bar I watched the locals jumping around and singing and shouting with guitars and cajons. It was thrilling and heartwarming to see such pride.
I ordered a small beer and the girl behind the bar put it in front of me. I handed her a €2 coin and she took it from me before being accosted by a man who whispered something in her ear. She shrugged her shoulders and gave me back the coin. “Tonight, we invite you!” she said as she poured herself a beer, picked up a pack of cigarettes and skipped out into the street. I drank my beer and left before they changed their minds. Maybe I wasn’t invisible after all.
Back in my room I poured myself a gin and tonic and nibbled on a tube of Pringles whilst I wrote. I didn’t know what I wanted to write, but I was inspired and desperate to express the joy I’d just experienced.
In the morning I ate dried out watermelon and custard-filled croissants that were coated in sugar. I drank a glass of orange juice that was so thick with bits that I had to chew before swallowing, and finished with two cups of espresso.
Whilst checking out, the receptionist asked if I’d “taken anything from the minibar?”
“Yes,” I said, “but, I don’t know if you have a note there? I’m here with the Costa Brava tourist board. I’m writing about…”
“Yes, I know,” she interrupted, “but it doesn’t include… extras.”
She took out a piece of paper and a pen and looked at me, waiting expectantly.
“Well, yes, I think I had something. A whisky and coke,” I mumbled.
“Which whisky? We have two types.”
“Well, I think I… Yes, I had one of…. one of each, actually.”
“Both with coke?”
“Yes. And a gin and tonic.”
“OK. Which one… we have…”
“One of each. And a pack of Pringles.”
It felt like an interrogation. I wasn’t used to being commanded to itemise my debauchery.
She looked at me curiously, a smile beginning to curl away in the corner of her mouth. She was enjoying this.
“I think that was it,” I muttered unconvincingly.
I left briskly and made my way back over the bridge that Margarita had told me was designed by Gustave Eiffel and built just before the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I took pictures of the moon as it floated like a ghost in the pale blue sky, the ducks chasing each other in the early morning rays.
Soon, Ana, my guide for the next day, would pick me up and we’d drive to Figueres to visit the Dalí Museum.
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I stayed at the very charming and comfortable Hotel Ciutat de Girona, which was perfectly situated for exploring the city on foot – highly recommended!
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