A Short Break in Spain
(written in 2006)
We booked a cheap hotel in Calella, Spain, in September 2006, and you get what you pay for: a noisy, crowded swimming pool with lots of people consuming lots of alcohol, scores of screaming children, loud music in the evening, and traffic about thirty feet away. Not a speck of tranquillity in sight. The surrounding streets were grubby and littered with rubbish and their were nose-wrinkling odours of I knew not what, but didn’t much like them.
Bob, my husband, bought some nice Spanish brandy on the first evening and imbibed a few stiff ones. Consequently he had no problems getting to sleep. I, on the other hand, while having been able to drink like a fish when I was young, now have some sort of intolerance to the stuff, so no brandy for me for fear of setting off a headache. Instead I lie there listening to all the wonderful noises emanating from the rooms above, below, and on either side. A wonderful cacophony of sounds: muted voices, toilets flushing, children doing the hundred-yard dash up the corridor, air-con cutting in and out, showers, drunks shouting somewhere downstairs, drunks shouting across the street, the distant strains of disco music, and none of it music to my ears! It was all most disconcerting for someone who lives in an isolated spot in the woods and at best hears an owl too-wooing or a fox barking in the middle of the night. Added to the pleasures of hotel noise was the uncomfortable bed which definitely listed to port. I had to lie on my stomach. If I lay on my side I just tipped over and may well have slid right off. What more could be wrong: Bob snoring contentedly! Swine!
Needless to say I was not amused when Bob woke me by stumbling to the loo at 6.45 am – approximately half an hour after I’d got to sleep. We decided to attempt the breakfast (since it was included in the price). Dinner the previous evening had been inedible – a smorgasbord of battered sausages, suspicious-looking burgers, mashed potatoes, soggy chips, and wilted salad. Possible the worst meal I have ever encountered. We didn’t think they could screw up eggs too badly – and anyway there was only one variety – hard-boiled. Their catering imagination knew no bounds! Also on offer were sweet rolls, bread and butter and jam. Not a yoghurt or piece of fruit in sight. We queued at the coffee machine and pressed the button for white coffee. After a couple of coughs and burps the machine discharged a foamy looking liquid into our cups. My taste-buds (which are honed on fresh dark French espresso) told me that this substance bore little resemblance to coffee as I knew it. And there was no milk in it. I guess the milk compartment had run dry. We left the dining room – canteen would have been a more apt label – and retired, disgruntled, to our room where I made instant coffee on the balcony with our camp stove.
We had woken up to overcast weather so decided to pass on the beach and go to Barcelona, one of Spain’s biggest cities, by way of the train. It was about a forty-minute ride up the coast. We stood all the way because it was so crowded, but not a real problem. Just before Barcelona a blonde female busker got on and proceeded to set up her music box. She serenaded us loudly with a variety of Spanish songs and in doing so drowned out the station announcements. If we couldn’t see the name of the station we were about to stop at this was most unhelpful. Miss Busker then came round with a hat for donations. I mean on a train for heaven’s sake! Then she jumped off and, I assume, jumped on one going the other way, and I guess she jumped on and off all day. Our next entertainment was a quite well-dressed youngish woman sitting on the floor of the carriage wailing and pleading. From my negligible Spanish I picked up that she had no money and that she was hungry, and something about her heart. I definitely picked out the word corazón which I know is heart. I began to wonder whether she may be begging money for a heart operation, or whether she was saying ‘Have a heart and give me some Euros!’ She was also mentioning vast numbers of small children which I guessed were also starving but she actually couldn’t bring them with her today because they were in school or with the baby-sitter. And who knows maybe it was all genuine and maybe I’m getting too cynical in my old age.
Barcelona was big and full of wonderful buildings, shops and market places. We wandered from here to there not really knowing where we were going, sat in a little café in a plaza and had coffee, wandered some more and eventually ended up in a huge covered market. It was quite beautiful the way the market traders display their products: fruit, veggies, salamis, sweets, bread, fish, meat, spices, dried fruits, eggs, and a lot more. A kaleidoscope of colours and aromas to intice the senses.
The egg stall was one of my favourites, it had every type of egg you could imagine including some enormous ones. I couldn’t think of any domestic bird that could have laid anything that big without serious injury. They were about the size of an elongated-grapefruit. Probably a good twenty minutes for soft-boiled. The fruit stalls sold lovely packs of chopped mixed fruit with melon, kiwi, pineapple, mango and papaya. I decided to eat healthy and have one and it was delicious. We bought some rolls filled with Spanish meats and cheeses from a little bakery bar and some oat biscuits topped with pine-nuts, raisins and marmalade – scrumptious! Then we sat in a big square and people-watched and took photos of a cat statue … definitely a Tom!
After another meander we ended up in a huge plaza with about thirty million pigeons. There were two little wagons selling bags of bird food which people would buy and then throw to them. We watched the flock rise en-mass from wherever they were and target the food spot as soon as someone threw a handful of grain; sometimes landing on the food-thrower themselves.
Normally I would have done my good deed for the day and bought them some too, but I didn’t fancy them landing on me. The evening before I’d been watching the pigeons around our hotel and they obviously had a severe case of lice. One poor bird seemed to have them up his bum which sent him into the most hilarious contortions. However he tried he just couldn’t seem to reach the spot to relieve the itch. In the end he tried doing small jumps one after the other as though he was in the grip of some strange dance, but that didn’t work either. Then he spied a pretty female pigeon and his irritations were instantly superseded by his need to impress. He dashed over flaunting his plumage and his hugely inflated chest and told her he really didn’t have an infestation of the tail-feathers, he was actually practising a new and unusual dance especially for her! Lying sod. She told him to piss-off and no-way was she billing and cooing with anyone who had just had his beak up his bottom.
We moved on and walked some of the back streets between the old buildings, through narrow winding passageways where everyone seemed to string their washing across their balconies. I wonder what their sheets smell of?
There were plenty of prostitutes hanging around on street corners. One exceedingly chubby one was wearing a tight black bum-hugging skirt about the size of a large handkerchief, a low-cut blouse displaying some stupendous cleavage, four-inch stilettos, two tons of mascara and three inches of ruby-red lipstick while she posed with one hand on her hip and the other picking her nose. A sight to behold. The city was a feast of different cultures, of rich and poor, a melting pot of colours, shapes, sizes, creeds and nationalities.
During our visit to Pigeon Plaza (not its real name) we also saw a bag-man. This guy was obviously one up on bags because he had a supermarket trolley. I suppose he was a trolley-man. He seemed to have had a successful day judging by his trolley’s fullness. Not far from him were some quite beautiful statues of horses, so I snapped a couple of those too.
We had thoroughly enjoyed our day and now decided to head back to the station … but where was it? We asked directions a couple of times and tried to work out the answers, and eventually with more luck than understanding of Spanish we got there. The best bit was trying to figure out which train was going where because the overhead computer was showing all its times for 14.00 hours and it was now 15.30! There was no relation whatsoever between the computer and the incoming trains, so we just had to go by the destination displayed on the front of each train as it came in, and hope one eventually said Calella. It was hot, humid and horrible in the station and we were just starting to reach meltdown when hey-presto in came one with Calella on the front. We leapt aboard and were in heaven – it was air-conditioned. No buskers or beggars on this trip and we managed to get seats too which was another bonus.
We relax and idly watch the Mediterranean slipping by between crumbling, graffiti-daubed ruins, and stretches of white sand and … oh no … Nudists! Sprawled like seal colonies they were, with all their bits and pieces bared to the sun; tits and testicles for the train passengers’ titillation! Quite a sight for sore eyes and best that we were on a moving train or we could have got quite fixated on such a feast of body-parts. We made a mental note to avoid those particular beaches in the future.
Rocked gently by the rhythm of the train and absorbed by the wondrous sights we are lulled into the false sense of security that we’re going to roll into Calella station. Wrong! About four stops from Calella our train stops and we’re told we all have to get off! Everyone, especially the tourists, disembarks looking confused and mills around in disoriented confusion. We hear someone say that the train we were on is going back to Barcelona! The driver’s decided he’s had enough for the day perhaps? He enjoys confusing the tourists? His wife has phoned him and told him she’s leaving him for Miguel the gardener? Who knows! We amble round in circles looking lost and are taken pity on by a nice Spanish lady who tells us to cross the track and get the next train. Phew! That was a relief, and lo and behold here comes the train, and it does go to Calella.
On Wednesday the sun came out so we decided to head to the beach. I had difficulty deciding whether to wear my swimsuit and probably be too hot, or throw caution to the wind and allow my flab access to public view by way of a skimpy black bikini! I decide sod it, I’ll be cool and not care about my rolls, which by standards here are small, even if unacceptable to me. The beach was quite nice but far too crowded for my liking, having been spoiled in years gone bye by hundreds of yards of empty white sand on the Baja peninsula in Mexico. We carefully lay out our towels and observe the waves and the relaxing sounds and smells of the sea. Also on view are a number of middle-aged topless ladies displaying a range of bare breasts, some of which to my mind should definitely not be unleashed for public view, unless you want to be put right off your panini. There are two leggy Polish girls, one blonde, one brunette, a few yards in front of us draped delicately on their backs on two colourful air-beds. They look like models, and not only have fantastic figures but they also smile a lot and have a happy air about them. Bob said he liked them because they seem very natural, and nature certainly had done a wonderful job on the brunette’s nipples which seemed to reach out to meet the wind like a pair of wild cherries. Personally I don’t think girls like that should be allowed on public beaches, it’s downright unfair and makes me want to stay under my towel.
The sea was warm and wonderful and we donned masks and snorkels and jumped in. There were quite a few fish of different varieties and we floated around and swam for quite a while until I pointed out a large purple jelly-fish, a bit like a flying cauliflower with a bad hair day. Bob vacated the water rapidly and retired to his towel. The jelly-fish were obviously an ongoing problem because the first aid people had a boat out in the afternoon and appeared to be checking on quantities and how near the beach they were. It’s all right if you’re snorkelling and you can see them but for normal swimmers it would be so easy to swim into one, and they can have a very serious sting.
I only had one dodgy moment, but not due to jelly-fish. It had got a bit rough and I decided to get out of the water, and had almost made it when a dirty great wave grabbed me quite unexpectedly from behind and sent me sprawling, face-down on the beach. I landed in a heap in the surging water, coughing and choking as more waves rushed in, and then I had the dreadful realisation that my bikini-bottoms were no longer on my bottom!! And every wave was dragging them down a bit lower! Eeek! I wriggled backwards in pure panic grabbing my bottoms in a death grip, convinced that the whole of Calella beach had seen my misfortune – and most of nether-regions. I kept reversing until I was in deep enough water to make adjustments. Then of course when I did get out in a more composed and dignified fashion – as composed and dignified as you can on all fours through a mass of shifting gravel and foaming sea – I ambled casually up to my towel as though nothing had happened. I knew I should have worn my swimsuit.
We enjoyed two days on the beach but Friday the weather changed and neither of us felt the urge to stay any longer. I think we both missed our home in the woods and the peace and quiet. We loaded the car and headed back to France and the Dordogne.