I was enjoying the peace and quiet afforded by the 14-bed dormitory that I was staying in, until the Infamous Five and the Novocastrians arrived. The five girls were from the UK and were fabulous and the two Aussie guys were from Newcastle. I was able to pass on all the Neighbours gossip that I picked up from the other Brits I met in Paris. And again, people thought I was an actor, Ben Unwin, from Home & Away… (These Brits are crazy!)
I call them the Infamous Five because if Enid Blyton were there, I’m sure she would have done the same. But to qualify for one of her stories, there needs to be mystery, intrigue and adventures.
So we decided to go check out a bar that one of the girls had read about in the ‘quirky’ section of their guide-book. After some serious amounts of walking, we arrived at the place to find a half open roller door leading down into a corridor. We called out a hello – no answer. Checking the number again, we decided to walk inside…
Now, if you have ever seen some of the Scooby-Doo series, or some classic horror schlock, then you’ll probably know exactly what I mean when I say the decor was ‘Haunted Freakshow Theme Park’. Passing giant painted sculptures, posters for freak shows, we entered through the darkened corridor. The music was on, the lights were dim and the place was empty! Half-expecting to meet a “Jason” or a “Freddy”, we sat down in the rather odd chain chairs that were hanging from the ceiling. It turns out, the owners were watching – you guessed it – football! So after a few minutes of trying to make the ‘vibe’ of the place work for us, we decided to head on back to town on foot and in defeat. Enid Blyton would have loved that bar if they served treacle, and so it came to pass that I dubbed the girls the Infamous Five.
Barcelona is famous for its Summer Olympics in 1992, Joan Miro’s enthralling artwork and of course Gaudi’s unique architecture. It’s quite something to visit the La Familia Sagrada, Gaudi’s Stone Cathedral, and see the work as it is progressing. It began in 1892 and will take around 200 years to build. Looking closely at his design, you wonder how he was able to come up with such complex patterns and structures without the aid of computers. But the astounding thing about Gaudi, is the number of buildings and designs that he came up with throughout his life. There is a local story that Gaudi was so impressed with his own work that one day he was run over and killed by a tram while gawking at his masterpiece.
And one for the weird file… There were three tornadoes in Barcelona in 24 hours. I managed to see one of them starting to form and the other two Aussie guys happened to get off their plane just as the other two formed behind them near the airport.
Arriving in Madrid in the early afternoon, I jumped off the metro to find its streets deserted. There were more stray dogs than people, and more gusts of gentle wind than cars. Wisps of cotton sheets and clothing hung from open balcony windows and furled lazily in the breeze – their flapping easily breaking the distant hum of traffic.
Unperturbed, I walked around until I found my hostel, checked in and then realised I was intruding on someone’s siesta time. I now understood the lack of activity outside, and quickly curled up for a power-nap of my own.
I awoke again after dark and headed out on the streets to find the place packed with metropolitan easy-going Spaniards. They weren’t afraid to pass on a smile or help if you needed directions. With remembrances of South America, the Latin essence of Madrid trickled through my veins and recharged my weary spirit. These Madridians sure knew how to party… Staying out on the streets all through the night, and I think there were probably more people in the plazas at 3am than there were at 1pm.
Madrid’s plazas and parks are a welcome break to the monotony of housing, industry and shops. The plazas are full of life, each offering a different ambience to please just about any visitor. From the relaxed meal and a drink in the Plaza Mayor, to the faster paced Chueca and Gran Via. My hostel was placed in a quieter area in Tribunal, with a very sleepy plaza nearby which was great for a spot of late afternoon people-watching or a read…
The street entertainment was well worth staying out for, and one of the best moments had to have been at about midnight mid-week in Chueca. It was the steady beat of deep drums that drew me to the plaza, in time to see four guys bashing out a complicated rhythm on a variety of drums. Their leader was a short guy with really long hair that would hang down in front of his face as he concentrated and gyrated his ‘mop’ to the syncopated beat. Adding to the hypnotic effect of these gyspy drummers, were a number of fire-twirlers who were VERY good at their craft. Wielding large solid implements they twirled with such ferocity and velocity that I was starting to wonder if any insurance company would be in a position to offer them public liability. Just one badly timed flick of the wrist and those fireballs would have been sent into a very large number of people.
But of course, the danger only made it all that much more exciting to watch…
In less than a week, I found myself headed for the coast and Barcelona. I met two other Aussies on the midnight bus on the way over and we somehow managed to get off at the wrong terminal in Barcelona. So we made up for it by eating breakfast at the ARS cafeteria – I had to steal a few of their napkins just for laughs! We parted ways and I arrived in the main tourist centre of Barcelona – La Rambla. It’s a long stretch of road that is seperated by a large pedestrian walkway in the middle. As to be expected, there are many buskers, street performers, stalls, gimmicks and tourist traps. The most prevalent type of street performer are the ‘statues’ – you know those people that dress up and then hold themselves dead still for 5-10 minutes at a time. La Ramblas has to be the world’s best collection of ‘statue’ buskers. From headless Charlie Chaplins to a white marble statue on the ‘throne-room’ (complete with royal toilet paper and a good book) to more modern characters like Mr & Mrs Smith (unfortunately it wasn’t actually Brad or Angelina). But don’t even think about taking a photo without throwing some change into their bucket! The public ridicule alone could leave a tourist bedridden for days.