Excuse the philosophical start to my Barcelona trip but my friend Frances has just come back from a guided tour in Vietnam and Cambodia which she thoroughly enjoyed. Over a few beers with Graham in Liverpool last weekend we talked about the difference between travelling and touring. As my family and late wife will attest Raggett holidays were always travelling. Planned by me, booked by me and executed, however badly, by me. But as age creeps on it made us all wonder the time for a bit of organisation by others might be timely. Graham’s fear was that he’d find himself in a group of Daily Mail reading Brexiters and be most uncomfortable. Fran’s tour was happily free of such companions and Graham was a little reassured.
But as I set off for Stansted to begin this latest venture I had a rare sense of unease. Could I still do it? Should I be with Tui rather than intuition? Hey I’ve done Rome, Lisbon, Malaga and Cadiz and Mallorca – with Covid tests – so why the worry? I’ve had real, not man flu for a week – three lots of Benyllin at home and a trip to the pharmacy for Mucosan (better I would say after two doses) and cancelled a Barbican concert on Sunday because I didn’t want Rattle’s baton picking out the cougher in the stalls. So maybe confidence is down a bit through illness. There was a moment during the miles of steps through Stansted that I thought there must be a better way to do this. But hey, if you buy and fly Ryanair you know what to expect. Everybody chooses Priority so that queue is longer the the Other Q, but at lest you do get on first.
Flight was fine, great snow over the Pyrenees and a wonderful descent into Barcelona along the coast. Then the traveller took over. I’d booked a Barcelona 5 day card for unlimited travel and free entry to 20-30 museums several of which I intended to visit. However Terminal 2 is huge and the Tourist Office is at the other end, the best part of a kilometre away. I get my card and set off back to where I started to get the train into town when I realise I’ve left my second bag on the floor while sorting out the card. So steps are retraced, bag retrieved and the trudge to the train is on again.
It’s a nice train, with diverting behaviour from two young ladies, whose black suitcase rolled towards me as the train pulled out. I rescued and returned it amid great giggling. The journey was initially through industrial suburbs and just as it got interesting it went underground, But it delivers me to Passeig de Gracia station five minutes from the hotel – if you come out the correct entrance. So fifteen minutes later I rock up at the hotel where they let me check in early which is a relief as I need to sit down for a bit. It is an OK hotel in a modernisme building but sadly my room does not have one of those nice balconies overlooking the street. There is a swimming pool on the roof but not open in December. Great views over the city though.
Refreshed, I was soon in proper holiday mode with a beer and tapas in a local bar on the Rambla de Catalunya. The eagle has landed!
The evening’s plan, cough permitting, is to go to the Palau de la Musica Catalana to hear Philippe Herreweghe, the Belgian conductor doing Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. I knew vaguely where it was – no Google maps with roaming charges back – and I was on the verge of asking a waiting taxi driver for directions when I spied the exterior. Almost as embarrassing as one day in a market when I pointed to a cauliflower and asked ‘come se llama?’ To be told with an uproarious laugh ‘coliflor’. I’d booked my ticket online and was shown to my seat in the magnificent auditorium – the absolute epitome of modernisme design and execution.
Soon after I was seated I was hissed at by a lady of some few years younger than me I would estimate, indicating that I was occupying her seat. My neighbour explained that a group of them usually sat together but there had clearly been an “error” at the box office. She didn’t seem that bothered and despite my offer to swap several times I was told ‘no pasa nada’ – it doesn’t matter. Maybe my limited Spanish kept her from an earbashing.
The orchestra, choir and soloists arrived followed by the rather ancient-looking conductor – he’s four years younger than me but you wouldn’t guess it. He also had to take a couple of comfort breaks between segments – unusual in this work – but pee breaks are something I sympathise with for anyone. I love the Missa and this was an enthusiatic rendition but not the best I’ve heard although the soloists were outstanding.
It was exceptional to hear a great piece of music on my first night in town and my companion recommended a guided tour and the cafeteria in the basement. ‘Cafeteria si,’ she said ‘restaurante no – es muy caro!’.