Saturday, 9 July 2016

Sea, sun and Jamon Serrano: Tarragona and Barcelona

Tarragona: 09/07/17-18/07/16

After a few days of chaos in Pamplona and a 5 hour bus journey (where nobody in the station had the faintest idea of which bus went where and at what time), we arrived in the small seaside town of Tarragona. Fresh air, less tourists, blue skies and blue seas, oh yes and the heat again, the unrelenting heat. When you're accustomed to being satisfied with a summer if the thermometer reaches 26 degrees on a couple of occasions, then the constant 37+ heat that surrounded us in Tarragona came as a surprise.

Our AirBnB host met us at the coach station and walked us to his place. It was a simple room in a simple apartment, with him, his parents and a couple of other AirBNB'ers. In true Sarah and Bob fashion the first thing we did was to have a nap. By this point I was running on about 9 hours sleep across the span of two days and Sarah wasn't much better.
After dragging ourselves out of bed when finally went for an explore around our new home and quickly discovered that this town that neither of us had previously heard of, a place we chose to visit purely because there happened to be cheap accommodation was stunning beautiful.

The main street that ran from the town centre to the seafront was lined on either side by tapas bars and cafes; their seats were protected by the beating sun with awnings spraying a cooling mist down on their customers and in the shade of the trees we slowly wandering up toward the end getting ever more excited by the fact that every establishment seemed to serve "Gin Tonics". The road ended with a magnificent view of a the beach and the sea below, I don't think I'd ever seen so blue.

Also Maxibons and Lemon Fanta, 2 of our favourite holiday treats. By the end of our time in Spain we could tell fairly accurately how expensive a city or a restaurant was purely based on the price of Maxibons. There was a reason we didn't lose any weight in Spain, and this was on of them.

Our dinners for most of the week consisted of salad (admittedly a new for me) with cheese, pate and baguettes, you know, to balance out the healthiness of the salad. Just because we couldn't afford to eat out at the restaurants every night didn't mean we couldn't eat well....this was another reason we didn't lose any weight.

Tarragona had many things to offer, another beautiful old town was one of them. Unlike Pamplona however, we could slowly wander around this area in peace and truly take in the atmosphere. Despite so many European cities having similar old towns with narrow, cobbled streets and wonky buildings it's difficult not to fall in love with every one of them. With this old town came a lot of history as well, and it turned out that Tarragona had once been a Roman town, consequently there was amphitheatre on the coast, a circus in the town and ruins of a forum and a fort too, as well as couple of very nice museums too. Of course I was very happy with this and Sarah obligingly followed me round all the ancient sites. Even if we didn't learn much it was an excellent way to hide from the heat. The museum aircon really was a very good at keeping us  the exhibits nice and cold.

Beyond these little streets full of hidden gems Tarragona was also home a few parks and green spaces. Areas we took advantage of in order to start playing Chess. Over the next couple of months we probably played more chess with our little travel magnetic set than most people will play in a life time. Sarah hadn't really never played before so I happy taught her and thrashed her. An excellent way to kill a few relaxing hours in the sun.

With the promise of clear - and mud free - water we used our GoPro for the first time underwater. The footage I recorded is unimportant because it's just me flopping around in the sea trying to look good but the Mediterranean very much delivered on its promise. The water was bright blue on top, crystal clear underneath and as warm as the bath. With the lack of tide which would usually threaten to dragged all our stuff out to sea if we weren't careful, we parked our towels by the water's edge and spent whole days taking turns swimming, sunbathing and playing more chess.

I have to say never in my life would I have thought that I would be wanting to shower as frequently as I did. With my eczema it means at home I'm resigned to having cold showers (lukewarm if I'm feeling brave) which in England and Wales usually isn't much fun, but in the high 30 degree heat, having 3 or 4 icy cold showers a day was an absolute pleasure. And in fact within about a week of being in Spain my skin had pretty much healed and has been virtually perfect since (so that's the last time I'll mention it).

We whiled away the week eating unhealthy, wandering aimless around the town, jumping from airconned shop to airconned shop, drinking cheap wine, lying in the sun, playing chess and having an incredible time. Once again however we had fallen into the same trapped that we had in Barcelona. Our time in Tarragona was coming to an end (already having extended our initial stay twice). We knew our next stop was Barcelona and we knew how we were getting there. Badly however we had no clue as to where we would be staying and so we once again wasted an entire day looking for one. It's not the slightest bit surprising that finding a cheap place to stay in Barcelona, in the middle of summer, on a weekend at last minute would be difficult but we were enjoying Tarragona too much to care, that was until it really needed to be done..."How Not To Travel". Eventually we found a reasonably priced and reasonably located room in Barcelona, and this much joy very quickly returned to relaxing. Relaxing on the beach, in the sea, in the town, in the parks. You name it we relaxed there.
Soaking up the sun

I could write about how much I enjoy this little town for far longer than I already have but I shouldn't so I shan't.
Onto to:

Barcelona: 18/07/16-20/07/16

We only had a couple of days in Barcelona before our next destination - which I will let Sarah tell you about - and so we made the most of it. On the first day after arriving from Tarragona on the coach, we just went for a little walk after dropping off our bags at the BnB. This little walk turned into a 5km round walk in our flip flops with a quick stop off at La Sagrada Familia which after admiring it for a bit and taking a few photos (with our new selfie stick which we bought unashamedly) we swiftly moved on away from the crowd of tourists all doing exactly the same thing. In doing so we incidentally found a cafe serving slices of Jamon Iberico/Serrano and beers for cheap. Jamon was something we both very quickly fell in love with and was yet another reason we lost no weight in Spain. IT'S JUST SO GOOD!

The next day we walked and metro-d around Barcelona, visiting Las Ramblas, the Hard Rock (the first of many to come), counting the number of Corte Ingles' we came across (answer, there were many), walked around the old Olympic park, through another park, failed to get into a third park (Guell, which we managed to do at a later date) and generally knackered ourselves out by seeing as much as we could in as little time as possible.

Before and even after going to Barcelona everyone we'd talked to about the city, locals and tourists alike, all seemed to warn us about the city and how we had to be careful with our bags and belongings due to the number of pickpockets but fortunately for us we didn't see or experience this at all. It's strange to enter a city with that kind of suspicion in your mind; it makes you end up looking at everybody like they have ulterior motives. Perhaps we escaped unscathed because we looked too scruffy and tired to be carrying anything around of any worth, which isn't actually too far from the truth but whatever the case the people we met were friendly and the things we saw were beautiful, if not expensive
After a few busy days of being tourists in this bustling metropolis which had been a different change of pace from our overly relaxed week in Tarragona it was time to move on.

Admiring the view
Taking a look back through our travels so far we seem to have continued this trend of busy period, relaxed period, busy period, relaxed period. At first it arose purely by chance and the context of the settings in which we found ourselves i.e starting in Pamplona during the craziness of San Fermin before moving to a quiet seaside town of Tarragona and finding ourselves thereafter in a huge city with lots do to and only for a short amount of time to see as much as we could. But as time has progressed we have to some extent figured this into our planning.

If you're on holiday for 1 or 2 weeks you'll spend everyday doing as much as possible because you know at the end of it you'll return home and be annoyed if there was anything you missed. But when travelling for any longer than that, as we have found, this kind of hyperactivity simply isn't feasible, or at least it isn't for us. We don't have the energy and stamina to see everything in every place we visit; not the energy nor the time or money. Consequently we have had to get comfortable with 2 things.

Firstly that we cannot see everything; I very much hated the idea about missing out on things and so arriving to a new town and having a look at Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet etc it becomes hard not to get absorbed into the world of tick-list and "must-see" tourism where everything that is mildly interesting in the area is listed and rated usually with one or two sites that sit above the rest. The result is that if you don't end up visiting all of the 100s of top rated things to see/do it becomes very easy to feel like you've missed out and wasted your time. It's a sad frame of mind to be in -especially because we've discovered that few things in this world are truly unique and if you miss out on something you'll likely find a similar equivalent elsewhere - but it was nevertheless something I had to try hard to overcome during our first months travelling.

Secondly and similarly to this point, we had to become comfortable with relaxing and not doing the touristy stuff, i.e, being in a place with loads of things to do and be happy doing none of it. Again if you were on holiday for a week but had days where you didn't leave the room or went to the cinema instead of exploring the area it would be wasting time because you can do those things at home but with travelling full time, where although we don't have stressful jobs we also don't designated weekend to relax in either. This means we have to decide ourselves when to have days to sit down and do nothing but without feeling guilty.

To relate this back to the original point, we have started taking into consideration that if we visit a city where we know we'll be busy we will (if possible) look for the next destination to be a little less demanding and time consuming to allow more guilt free relaxation.

(I'm in no way complaining about the hard life we lead travelling, I just wanted to point out something I hadn't considered might be an issue before I left).

Onto Castellar...

Until next time

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