Until recently, I had mistakenly thought that the Macarena was firmly consigned to the ranks of forgotten one-hit wonders of the 90s. Alas, it is alive and well in the back alleys of Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic and, in particular it seems, in the alley right under the window of our guesthouse.
It was a Friday night at 4am and the off-key singing was underpinned by the loud hum of voices, music and all the other noises accompanying a party that has lost none of its gusto. This city is going is going to be a lot of fun I thought, with the new-city novelty still fresh. It was our first night in Barcelona and I didn’t yet know that all-night parties are not just for weekends. That week we were serenaded with Yellow Submarine and one particularly untalented rendition of Bicycle Race by Queen. “Biiiicycle, Biiiicycle!”
Things are definitely on a different schedule here – people eat dinner around the time most pubs in London are closing up. The parties start late and end in the wee hours, usually around 6.15am, when we get a brief couple of hours of eerie silence before the street cleaning starts.
The upshot is we’ve become experts at either being part of the problem (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!) or sleeping with our fists in our ears. Soon, however, we’ll be settled into our new apartment which, despite being located in the equally noisy El Raval area, has fortress-thick walls and hardly any windows.
El Raval is a small wedge nudged between the Avinguda del Paral·lel (so named because it runs parallel to the equator) and the famous Las Ramblas. It forms part of the Ciutat Vella (Old City) district and is densely packed with Industrial Revolution-era housing. It seems to share many traits with New York’s East Village, with a diverse population, vibrant nightlife and a reputation as being the seedy underbelly of the city, despite significant gentrification in recent years.
Similarly to the East Village, “creative” plumbing solutions are commonplace. In New York we saw one apartment where the sink didn’t have its own drain but rather the water flowed through a tube into the bathtub and drained out from there. Our future apartment in El Raval has a surface area of 100 sq metres, yet apparently the only convenient place to put the shower was in the kitchen. At least it may save us some time in the morning as we can shower while scrambling eggs for breakfast!
It also turns out the guy we’re subletting from is a yogi who usually uses his enormous living room as a yoga studio and who is leaving for a few months to travel in India. That fact may help to explain the apartment’s other plumbing oddity. Hilariously, it is equipped with a Turkish-style squat toilet, located not in the same room as the regular toilet but in the storeroom, with not even a curtain to hide one’s modesty, and set into a pedestal about a metre off the ground. Our yogi described it as an “experiment.” I couldn’t help thinking it may have been a better place for the shower..
As per usual we’ve also set ourselves up with a coworking space. Called “The Lab“, it’s brand new and populated mainly with locals who are doing a good job of humouring us and our broken Spanish (or even more broken Catalan). On the first day, Stacker asked the equivalent of “would anybody like to meet the objective of drinking a coffee with us,” after having Googled how to say “Anyone want to go get a coffee with us?” After they’d stopped laughing they introduced us to café con hielo (an espresso with ice) and shared with us their nicknames for the two local cafes. Sadly those nicknames translate as “the dive bar” and “the rank cafe”.
They’ve also attempted to train us to eat on Spanish time but only rarely have we managed to last until 3pm in order to eat lunch with them. By that time I’m usually cross-eyed and salivating. I initially wondered how they managed to hold out so long, until one morning I stumbled across one of our coworkers, a tiny Spanish girl, chowing down on a triple-layered ham and cheese toasted sandwich at the dive bar. Mystery solved.
Other than work and apartment hunting, we’ve been busy taking in the sights and sounds of our new city – the beach, the insane Sagrada Familia with its skinny towers and facade that looks like it’s carved from a melting candle, a concert at the Palau Musica…
Of course, we haven’t given up on eating (mainly churros) and drinking (mainly fishbowls of G&T) but more than one person has told me that all I talk about is food so for one post (and one post only), I’m attempting not to sound like a total glutton.
Despite all the distractions though, and despite my very best efforts, three weeks after snatches of La Macarena wafted into our window, I still can’t erase the damned song from my head!
Go on, take a listen, I dare you! Soon you’ll be begging me to go back to talking about food…