Funny thing, leaving home for a holiday. If you haven’t been on one for a long time. Say, eleven years or so. Hey, I was busy. Anyway, you get on the plane, steeling yourself for an interminable journey across the blue dome of the sky and…nothing. Behind you Willem from Potchefstroom is loudly berating little Jannie who is determined to kick your seat all the way to Schipol and next to you the obese guy who really should have bought two seats keeps drooling in his sleep and wobbling ominously when turbulence hits. That’s economy for you, it’s one of the little tricks airlines play on you just to remind you that you should not get above your station, lowlife. After all, those twelve smug larneys up front are the ones that keep the airline afloat, not you with your tuck money. You look out the window as you soar above Johannesburg, above Congo, above Libya, above Corsica, above France, above Holland and eventually your final destination, Spain and…nothing. Feels like you’re just taking a local flight, despite the smiling blonde KLM air hostesses and the little siroopkoekjes they hand out. Then you step out into the warm Barcelona sun and at last – aha! I haven’t just taken a local flight, no, no, no – I’m halfway across the world!
Barcelona airport is overrun with screaming Spanish kids, large and small, who all seem to think they’re stars and consequently deserve a little respect. And all of them look at you as though you’ve just emerged from the underworld. Mind you, the girls are pretty sexy. Then you see their mothers and think about all those anecdotes about Mediterranean girls being flaming hot until 25, when overnight they sprout hairy facial warts and moustaches. Hmmm. So you get through customs thinking ‘Jeez, could’ve put that half kilo in, they’d never have known…Hmmm. Next time.’ And you’re suddenly out there at last, at your final destination. Hit the train station and your first impression of the Gaurdia Civil is cast by them tackling some unfortunate pickpocket on the platform. As they lovingly pound the living daylights out of him, his girlfriend (who has obviously been up for a week smoking crystal meth and is screaming like an electrocuted witch) tries to convince them it’s all a case of mistaken identity. Beinvenido a Espana indeed. The train pulls up and you shove your way through the scrum, barely escaping with your life as the doors slam closed with guillotinish efficiency. Beep, slam, zoom and you’re off.
Emerging from the humidity of the Metro at Plaça Catalunya, you explode like a cork out into the scalding sunshine and the swarm of madding crowds, completely overwhelmed by the newness of it all, and, of course, promptly lose all semblance of bearings.
‘Where the hell?’
Goes without saying that you and the thorn-apple of your eye promptly have a navigationally-challenged spat:
‘It’s this way, for god’s sake!’
‘Men! You’re insufferable! Forget about the cigarette, I’m tired and I’m hot and my feet are sore and I want a shower!’
‘Is it too much to ask that I smoke a bloody smoke? I’ve just flown twelve straight hours! Anyway, I know it’s this way ‘cos I sussed it on the website!’
‘You always think you know where to go and you’re always wrong! If that’s south then the hostel is thissaway! Leave that woman alone – she does not have a lighter!’
‘Don’t have a cadenza, my little piranha fish. I’m telling you for the last time – the ocean is thataway, the mountains are thataway and we should be going…’ etc etc…
So you get to the hostel eventually:
‘12…15…Yes babe, I know it’s goddamned heavy, that’ll be the shoes, but for crying out loud it can’t be far now!…22. 22? How the hell do these Catalan number their buildings? Where the hell is 17? Eh? This is 17? Told you I’d find it!’
‘Hmmph.’ (This is the sound of a girlfriend chewing thistles.)
All those rosy forethoughts of hanging out with mellow characters and shooting the breeze over a cold one are shot down in flames. The hostel is more of a sterile clearinghouse for a pick ‘n mix of owlish students of indeterminate international extraction who look like they’d rather have a nice cup of tea than shoot the breeze. Of course, it goes without saying (what a strange expression) they don’t have your booking. So you do a psycho chicken dance, throw your passport on the floor, your hands in the air and curse St Christopher’s name. Then the big cheese comes in, apologises and shows you to your bed. Singular. What happened to the booking for two? Ah, you’ve overbooked, have you? On Barcelona’s busiest summer weekend, due to the Sonar festival being held, when all other accommodation is similarly overbooked. Imagine that. So we’ll be sardined into a cot for a night or two, then, will we? Right.
‘Don’t worry darling, we can get drunk and forget about it. Have a warm San Miguel.’