17th November to 16th December, 2010

Okay, so it’s been a little while….lost blogging momentum there, around arriving in Barcelona, experiencing the extent of this damn cold winter spreading across Europe. Nonetheless, it was a great ride, an occasional stop to check out crumbling old buildings and particularly serene vistas, and a break just before sunset as the desert began to give way to greenery and small towns.

Again, the bike was flawless after nothing more than a simple fluid check, chain lubrication and tyre inflation. Once again through the beauty and awesomeness of the Monegros Desert, between Zaragoza and Barcelona, beneath the sharp rises of the rocky range flanking either side of the old highway, past abandoned farm shacks, the cold certainly bit deep and had my toes and fingers thoroughly frozen by the time I reached Los Ramblas in Barcelona central.

I’m finding that major cities have a way of surprising, regardless of my previous experiences. I guess I thought that maybe as the trip progressed big cities would begin to become less enthralling. Totally naive. Each city, large or small, has invariably found a way to completely amaze me, whether it be through landscape, architecture, people or happenings, or, more usually, the way that these happen together. Barcelona, was no exception.

The ride in was spectacular but didn’t prepare me for the inner city. Big open roads, impressive statues centring roundabouts, breaking up footpaths, public art installations along the waterfront, giving way to the the tight winding cobbled lanes of the streets off the Ramblas, behind the waterfront boulevard. I had an address for a pension but no booking. So, after parking up the bike on a footpath and getting some quick rough english advice from two tattoo shop guys, I began to head to where I thought the hostel I had written down was, before realising that i was literally surrounded by options. The second attempt brought success and at a reasonable rate, and as it turns out the people at Pension Segre were great for the whole time I stayed.

Unfortunately the cold really affected my motivation in Barcelona. I’m no winter guy, at the best of times, but the frostnip, though I hadn’t diagnosed it as this at this time, really made it hard to warm up, despite multiple layers of thermals and clothing. So, Barcelona was a mix of chilled alone time, tucked under blankets, and alternatively checking out the city. Not that the time wasn’t productive in the little hostel room….lots of reading, editing video, getting back into drawing and watercolours, and organising meets and research bits and pieces….I’ve also been dreaming up some of the new work and play ventures that I want to be part of creating over the next few years, including a new business approach, a collective think tank, a festival and cultural program in Sri Lanka, and personal creative projects with film, music and drawing and painting, mainly.

Las Ramblas is quite an experience. From the first night there I was learning life lessons all over the place. After weeks in small towns, I was like a country boy in the big city streets for the first time. I arrived, tired from the ride, and headed up to my room after unpacking the bike, forgetting to padlock my tools pannier. I’d also left my GPS bag on the bike, and by morn all was gone, totally stripped, complete with a nice neat 10cm knife cut through the seat. Nice. Ramblas and the streets around there are both tourist shopping point and hustler central. With street smarts on board tho, there was much to check out. Small cafes, art galleries, buskers, and all kinds of people fill up these cobbled streets, at most times of the day.

Found a great streetball scene too, at Industrial Park, near Sans Station, happening mostly every day up until 9 or 10 each night. Good people, even some english speakers, amid a beautiful park with massive water features and usually full of kids kicking footballs, shooting hoops or just running around. Street ball scene is such a great way in to local culture, for me anyway. Under the motive of competitive game, we hang out, listen to tunes and talk about daily things as well as public space and how it’s used. Public spaces in Spain are generally full, most of the time, with an extraordinary range of things taking place, activities that a planner sitting in an office might otherwise think to be clashing. Footballs roll across the basketball court as we’re playing, kids run on, chasing their ball. The game stops while the ball is kicked in return, everyone’s happy, it’s just recognised as part of the daily life and use of space…

Even in winter Barcelona is full of life. Tapas bars bring people together around plates of shared food, strangers leaning on bar counters shoulder to shoulder, the occasional exchange, acknowledging other people within a space. Jazz bars, fundraiser hip hop gigs, traditional flamenco gigs, accoustic buskers, Barcelona has been a blast and great reflective time. Unfortunately, I haven’t really mixed with like mindeds or met with anyone for my research. I’ll be back here before I head to Sri Lanka and hope to be more social then. Tomorrow I head down the east coast of Spain, through Tarragona, where I was going to try and get to the Spanish National Beatbox Champs, but didn’t, on to Valencia where I’ll stop for a night. Granada awaits, and Hannah’s hopefully cosy flat for a week or so. The ride through the Andalucians should be incredible.