2 September 2017

eM's Massive Travel Diary Part Two: Barcelona, Spain (and some Berlin)

(My newsletter was a travelogue for a few weeks! Sign up for regular email updates here (never spam).)

I'm in a sunny Barcelona Airbnb as I'm writing this to you. The flat is a third floor walk-up in the Gothic Quarters, and it's only really quiet in the mornings. All night, thanks to several bars and several tourists, I can hear drunken people squealing at each other, caught up in the incredible luck of being here, being in Spain. Can you imagine? I'm in Spain! I still can barely believe it myself. Like every single other world traveler for time immemorial, I love Europe. I'm madly, deeply in love with the entire continent. I love how it all feels like one country, but also how things change from place to place. I love how I can walk everywhere. I love the little bars you stumble onto accidentally. I love how when you step out of your front door, you immediately feel like you're abroad, part of something else. I love supermarkets and how they change based on where you are. I love that my love of travel has been validated: this is why I do it, this is why I yearn to do more, the world is such a big place and there are so many places to see! I'm also glad I'm in my thirties as I'm doing this, you get crunched into the space you define for yourself at thirty something and it's good to push against that, get away from your comfort zone and become a new person again and again.

art by David Michael Chandler


But compressing it all into one newsletter might be a bit hard, so I suggest you follow me on Instagram where I'm trying to put out daily photo updates.

But, here then, is what we did the last few days in Berlin after I wrote to you last.

We went to an Austrian place famous for schnitzel and ordered a "small" one but it was still bigger than my head, and quite frankly, not all that tasty. A bit bland even. Traditional German food--except for all the various kinds of wurst--has not gone down very well with me. There just seems to be not enough of something in that food, a complete and total lack of spices. I don't mean that stuff isn't spicy (which it isn't), it's just flavourless. But apart from that schnitzel, I ate very well: ramen and pizza and pasta and innumerable doners which K is passionately dedicated to.

Signed up for a walk with a tour company called Alternative Berlin. I've been walking like a champ, it's so easy when there are pavements and things dedicated to the people of a city as opposed to the cars. In Delhi, it's hard to walk anywhere, because either the pavements have cars parked on them, or people squatting on them, but in Europe, the cities have been planned keeping people's walking needs in mind. Also, let's face it, the climate suits. In Delhi it's either too hot, too wet or too polluted to spend any dedicated amount of time outside, let alone the ten kilometres a day I am managing with ease. EASE.

Anyway, Alternative Berlin. Found them by looking for "free things to do in Berlin" and they offer a guided walking tour to see street art and counter culture, with a little Soviet East/West thrown in. It's wasn't free though, it was "pay what you want" which always winds up being a little more expensive than what you bargained for. (We checked the website and a four and a half hour paid walking tour was 12 euros, so we gave the guy ten each for a three hour "free" one.) I learned many things about Berlin, including the story of Osman Kalin, which is fascinating, and also he was sitting there as we passed his plot of land, a very old man now, who lifted his hand to wave at all the tourists gawping at him.

Our last rainy day there--by this time I was tired and cold of European weather, so instead of being lyrical about it, I just turned my face up to the sky and wished for the sun--we went to Templehof airport, which is this old Nazi airport, turned into a US military base, turned into an airport for West Berlin and now a public park. It's very cool to see the old radar buildings and the empty runway and the little organic gardens that are coming up everywhere. I wish more places would turn disused things like that into stuff for the people of the city to enjoy. (The old terminal itself is now a police headquarters.)

And now, on to Barcelona. My memories of this are one endless stream of debauchery, our days are filled with walking and eating and drinking. Two of K's besties are here from the UK, so we've been hanging out with them. Yesterday evening, we got empanadas, and they played Catan for three hours while I happily drank gin and tonic and read my book. (I'm on book four, the last one of the Cazalet quartet and I'm so sad it's over.) Barcelona is warm and no one has ceiling fans, so we're all a bit sweaty. I haven't seen anything apart from the Gothic Quarter yet, but it's so beautiful, these little warren-like streets that you can get completely lost in.

Yesterday, thanks to my Rough Guide, we made our way to an outdoor food market nearby called La Bouqeria, and ate at the best food stall there--at least, that's what my guidebook told me. Bar Pinotxo has no menu (it's a food stall with tall stools to eat at the bar), so we resorted to pointing at things, but in the end, got just what the owner thought we should have. Which was a warm bean and cuttlefish thing and also a sort of ceviche with cod. YUM.

Also on one of our walks, I bought Couples by John Updike at an old second hand bookstore, partly because they had a cat who was just lying there and also partly because I think old books are the best things to remember a trip by. I'll always think of Paris when I open my copy of Ved Mehta (imagine buying an Indian author at the best second hand store in Paris, but there you are), I'll always think of England when I turn to my little hardbound volume of Grimm's Fairy Tales (dinky, and bound in gold) and now Barcelona with Updike. (The other thing I like to buy are accessories, but I haven't found anything yet.)

This flat has two friendly cats, which makes me miss ours a little bit, but also not, because it's nice to pet them and just leave them to do their own thing, not having to bother about food and water and keeping them alive and so on. But having now lived with both species on this holiday (K's mum brought her dog to Berlin who is very sweet), I can firmly say cats > dogs. Chill and sweet. The best pets.

Meanwhile in Delhi, The One Who Swam With The Fishes got a RAVE review in Scroll. We are also back up on the Kindle store. (Please leave me reviews so the book gets kicked a little higher up on the ratings.)

Since a freelance writer's work is never done, here are some recent pieces I did: In Open, an essay about the childhood memoirs of famous authors. ** On why period leave is a good thing: this article created a lot of controversy on my Facebook page with people calling me "elitist" so you know it's great clickbait. ** On Paddington Bear and why bears are so popular in kid lit. **

Also I loved this old piece by Arvind Adiga on how he came to be a writer and an outsider in Delhi.

Until next time, darlings. I am off to eat some more ham now.

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