Hugo and Mizayuki lived in the Old Quarter, which was dark and medieval and totally cool, despite needing to beware of, as Mizayuiki warned, the shit, “fresh, slippery” that was indeed to be found all over the streets.
Their flat was in a building that was literally 400 years-old, older than THE UNITED STATES. It had a crazy, uneven, worn out and frankly kind of creepy spiral stone staircase with damp walls. Trying to schlep all their modern camping gear up this tiny, narrow, vertical hallway was a lesson in buffoonery!
We headed out for tapas, which turned out to be “Tourist Tapas”, but was finally, after a month in Spain, what Americans actually think of as tapas: delicious shrimp sizzling in butter, freshly fried little fish, crisp spinach salad, and other “fancier” style tapas, much different than the “real” tapas that I’d been getting most of my trip. All of the food at this tourist place was fresh to order and totally delicious.
For the record, “Real” tapas tends to be served either cold or from chafing dishes along the bar: Ensalata Rusa or “Russian Salad” — also known as “Potatoes, Peas and Some Other Random Stuff drenched in Mayo”; Pickled things like olives and little cornichons; if you’re lucky, there will be pulpo, octopus — my favorite!: sardines; tuna rolled with tomato; glutenous meatballs; fried meat things in a shell, kind of like the Spanish version of a Samosa or Empanada; Spanish tortilla, which is fluffy omelette stuffed with onion and potato (Americans call this “quiche” and Italian-Americans call it “pie”); or pinchos, which is cured meat of some sort, usually Chorizo or Jamon Serano, served on cut baguette-style bread of varying degrees of hardness. I think tapas are not considered “Real” unless they appear to have been sitting behind the bar all day.
Despite this, the Real Tapas is actually pretty tasty, but the Tourist Tapas I got in Barcelona? Killer.
I went home to sleep in their warm attic, woken by a party of Flamenco dancers outside the window at 3am. Three am!! But at least the city gratefully appeared to sleep until 10 the next day.
The next day, we checked out the food-and-stuff market, and had a coffee. Hugo and Mizayuki warned me to keep my backpack wrapped around my hand at all times, as snatch-and-grab is so common in the city. Barcelona was indeed a big city, with a big-city feel despite being, you know, ancient, and in the end I only spent a day or so there. After so much time with no privacy, being super-social and more or less dependent on others, I was aching to get back to walking, aching to get back on the trail and into nature and the sense of independence it confers.
I’d thought “I should go to Barcelona!” Why? Because it would be easier, because I had a ride, because it was so close — I “should” see it! People would say I was a fool for being so close and having the opportunity to go and missing it. But, tuning into what I really wanted, deep down, I realized after just a day that really getting to know Barcelona would have to wait for another time.
That last day in Barcelona, after the market, I took the subway and found my way to a big church, which was so crowded with tourists that I decided to just… sit in the park across the way and watch it rather than go in. I ate an ice cream and watched a blonde, blonde, blonde child with his Scandinavian father walk around the park.
I braved the crowds and walked around the corner to a shop, asking the saleswoman for something I no longer recall in Spanish, and she understood me, and complimented me, and I felt proud of myself. I waited a long, long time for the bus to take me far, far away from the urban-ness and somewhere else, anywhere else. I’m not sure I ever got to say goodbye to Hugo and Mizuki beyond our last coffee in the market, but I know I left them a note.
Another amazing connection, so fleeting, but so memorable. They were such a great couple; I do hope they’re still together, continuing to adventure away in love and romance and travel.