Tues 21st May
I left in the morning, around 7:45. At the early hours they mentioned. It was clear they were a proud hard-working family. This time of day was still foreign to me, but I was glad to be turfed out of comfort and onto the bike.
The last one to leave before me was the mother of the family. She wished me well and sped off to work. I stayed outside the house for a few moments, collecting my things together and re-assembling the bike.
The sun was at an angle you only see early in the morning. It was bright in way that was uniquely Spanish, drawing long shadows. The streets were quiet.
I got pedalling through the city. I noticed again the architecture and colour of buildings, a sandy red. Riding out of Girona was pleasant, green trees, a river running through. It seemed prosperous and optimistic.
The road to Barcelona was pretty straightforward, but once I looked at a map I realised this was the motorway and the route I would have to take was a bit more complicated and on the Spanish equivalent of A roads, so it would be quiet. Although the tension of cycling next to traffic means that you keep up a good pace, which is good sometimes, but doesn’t make for pleasant riding.
The cycling was pretty repetitive and boring. There were a few forests around I didn’t expect to see. Other spanish road cyclists and mountain bikers were out too and were polite on the roads, saying “Hola” when passing.
The previous day I had seen a lady sat on a chair by the side of the road when I stopped cycling to have a snack. I thought nothing of it, other than it being quite odd. I decided ignorance was bliss and moved on.
The next day, I noticed more ladies, all alone, sitting on little plastic chairs by the side of the road. I think I saw about three altogether. The amount increasing as I neared the city. The first time I had put the obvious nasty suspicious to the back of my mind, but after seeing one lady talking to a guy in a van, I was sure they were prostitutes. All individually were scantily dressed and doing nothing. I had the privilege of watching a girl squat next to her chair, I looked away to try to avert any shame she might feel. It may sound presumptuous, but there was really nothing else they would be doing.
Something else I hadn’t seen anywhere else in the trip. A new Spanish cultural bookmark. Roadside prostitutes.
For the rest of the day a remained focused. It was warm but not hot, for which I was grateful. Long before the trip started, I had fears of cycling around Spain and being scorched off the bike, not knowing if I should cycle or hide from the heat. But it was fine, a pleasant climate for cycling.
I had used the GPS for the day, to guide me to victory. I knew when I was getting close to the city as the urban density of the towns, buildings and people increased, as it did for miles outside Paris.
I went under a few flyovers, joined a large road, made some corners and after looking up, much to my surprise, I saw Barcelona sprawled out in front of me in the distance.
It was the kind of sight I dreamed of seeing when entering Paris and got nothing of the sort. An urban paradise with world-famous landmarks being seen from miles away. The landmark that personified Barca in this view, was Gaudi’s Cathedral.
I was a while before I was into the centre of the city, going through large, unfriendly parts of the city, adorned with some nice public art though. There was a cycle lane I hadn’t expected that frustratingly zipped around trees on the pavement. I followed this into the city and before long I was at the base of the infamous Cathedral, surrounded by Japanese tourists, all taking photos of the building on their phones. I decided I could better for a finish line and headed to Barceloneta for a few beers.
When I sat down and looked at the sea, I started to take in the accomplishment. I had a few along the way already, Paris, the west coast, then the south, now Barcelona. The first place that I had previously been too before. Only connected by planes, now connected by pedalling and a ferry across the English Channel. It felt amazing to think that I had now been somewhere I had only previously flown too. Even though it wasn’t far from France, it felt like it was hundreds of miles away.
It was also the first day I had done more than 100km and to top it off it was only around 4:30pm. I had plenty of time in the evening to soak up the work and find my friends I had agreed to meet.
While on the beach, I walked up and down looking around and saw a character that seemed familiar. I went over to the young man with his friends, and said “Patch?!?”
The guy looked up “Yeah?!?”
“It’s Alex. I just got here from London… Well I’ve been on the road a while”.
He was bewildered, not recognising me first in my cycling gear. Perfectly understandable. He got up and warmly greeted me.
I went to art school with Patch, we worked together a few times in the first year, he’d gone on to become a very talented illustrator since, but I seldom saw him as he lived in Bristol. I remembered I had heard he would be here for the festival like me, but had forgotten until now.
Patch and his friends took me in talked about the trip and offered me some of the sparkling wine. It was very pleasant and overwhelming to think, I had come to Barcelona by bike and within minutes of being here, ran into an old uni friend.
We headed off to Carrer de la Mercé, a small street of the main stretch by the beach full of small bars, but more importantly, bars that served the drink we had spent days hunting for in our previous visit, ‘Leche de Pantera’. Panther Milk.
The girls ordered Sangria and the boys got to work on the alcoholic milk. It was the perfect start to my first proper break, in one of my favourite cities.
Later that night I met my host for my stay in Barcelona. Nick an old schoolmate who had been living there a while. I bumped into him in Berlin a year ago and got chatting. He lived in Barca, moved to Berlin, then back to Barca at it was the city he loved.
I’d been in touch with him for a while prior to arriving and was worried I wouldn’t be able to stay, but he was happy to host me and catch up.
When I got to the bar he was in, I enjoyed minor celebrity status, being ‘that guy’ who had cycled from London to Barcelona and just got here. People asked all manner of questions, “Why? How long did it take? How much did it cost? Show us your legs. Ah there not that big…”
For once, the shoe was on the other foot. Instead of being a regular Joe meeting someone who’d done something interesting or inspiring, I was that person. “About time” I thought to myself, I’d been thinking about this things for years. It was nice, it felt like I was finally starting to take control of my life and get what I wanted from it.