Call me a statistic. I have joined the ranks of the unlucky thousands (millions, maybe?) who’ve fallen prey to the uber-talented street thieves of Barcelona. I’m actually in awe of them. They are that good. Not that I presented much of a challenge, of course. I was probably Level One Training Exercise material. With my zipper-less handbag. Trying to carry too much stuff. Attempting to read a map on the train in from the airport. Ding ding ding, come and get me!
It was still a shock, though. Fresh off the plane from London, we were deeply engrossed in our map reading, trying to figure out which subway route to take to our apartment. And along came ‘Mr Helpful Spanish Gentleman’, who we now know to be ‘Mr Sneaky Conniving Thief’. As he generously suggested new routes to take, his two cohorts, standing obviously, uncomfortably close to me, did their bit. Not that I knew it was happening at the time, although as I did mention to Caroline, mere seconds after they disembarked, “Those guys were standing weirdly close. Strange, right?” and I’d even moved my handbag closer to my body, away from them. Of course, by that stage, they’d already taken the goods. Bastards! Fast-moving, professional bastards! I didn’t feel a thing. Applause.
Barcelona was an … interesting trip. It almost felt from the get-go like something was a little off. I mean, even before the wallet-stealing incident, we nearly didn’t make our departing flight. The train we were due to take in London was delayed, so we had to grab a taxi. And, as anyone who knows London traffic will attest, taking a cab is no guarantee of any kind of arrival. It definitely got a bit hairy. We caned it from the cab to the train which would take us to the airport, and, during our power-sprint, I lost my Oyster card which I’d haphazardly shoved in my pocket instead of packing away properly in my wallet. Oh well, no huge loss, right? Yeah, especially not, seeing as I’d be due to lose my wallet anyway in about three hours’ time.
The wallet, though — not that much of a big deal. I had about five quid in there (enjoy, assholes) but I did have a lot of keepsakes, which I’ve now learned are best kept safely at home. And the wallet itself was a treasured 30th birthday gift from a friend. But in the grand scheme of things, it was something I was prepared to get over.
Two days later, however, and my camera? Well, that was a different story. This little blue Canon point-and-shoot, that had accompanied me on so, so many journeys, lost on the streets of Barcelona. That was a real blow. I felt it. I mourned that camera. My heart ached, knowing it was out there, abandoned, alone. It was fucking ridiculous. I knew this, and I really, really tried. But after this shitty year and the wallet … and now this? This was a struggle.
Poor Caroline. She worked her hardest to drag me out of my pathetic, hungover state. I was irrationally upset. I did cry, I’ll admit. I yelled out, to no one but the thin walls of our apartment. Then, I got over it. We had a beach to see. And no ordinary beach — this was Sitges, a glorious paradise one half-hour train trip out of the city that promised white sand and turquoise sea and the decadent freedom that only a southern European coastal city can.
There were many topless ladies. And speedo-wearing, fat-bellied men. It was glorious. We splurged and paid for two deck chairs and an umbrella. It was that kind of day. We felt reckless. We deserved it. It was amazing. The sea, I’ve learned, will cure not only any hangover, but any depressive state, too. Dunk your head in and let go. Swim out to the horizon. Then turn back, squint into the sun, trying to figure out where to swim back to. You’ll be about 50 metres off, guaranteed. That’s okay.
The Barcelona madness didn’t end there. Our last night out we wandered the streets by our apartment trying to find a decent tapas bar. We hadn’t even had good tapas yet, you see. Tapas in Barcelona! Mandatory. And as a pre-dinner show, have you ever heard the sound of a person being hit by a car? We did, that night. A very loud, sudden smack, in case you were wondering. Smack probably doesn’t do it justice. A bloody great bang, is more appropriate. One that causes everyone in the vicinity to stop suddenly.
Passersby rushed towards the accident, myself included, though Caroline yelled for me to stop. “You don’t want to see it!” she warned, pulling me back. She’d been traumatised by a recent viewing of a cyclist killed in London traffic. But I think you can’t control these things. Not the first time. It was the adrenaline. I had to see. Even if I didn’t really want to. It was a guy on a motorbike, who’d been hit by a taxi as it pulled out suddenly. I saw him sit up, and heard the sirens of the ambulance draw near. And that was enough. I don’t know if he made it, but I left before finding out. I’d gathered my senses by that point to realise it was probably best not to know.
Continuing our hunt for tapas — because shock needs feeding after all, and we’d basically learned to ‘Surrender All’ to the mysterious forces of Barcelona — where did we end up? Some dodgy, back alley venue which served up a friendly waiter but some seriously sub-standard tapas. I’m talking deep fried, stodgy, packet-type fare. Patatas bravas with a squeezy sauce. But that wasn’t even the highlight. Turns out we had arrived just in time for a lovers’-quarrel-turned-punch-up. And one that involved not just the starring roles but anyone who happened to be in a one-metre radius.
Chairs were knocked over, fists were flying. We hid inside, and went out again once the drama passed. Then, it happened again. And again. We asked our waiter in a panic, as we abandoned our food and huddled by the bar, what the hell was going on. He tried to explain that this was, in fact, a regular occurrence. This woman, well, her girlfriend left her for a man, and the man happened to frequent this part of town. Like, most nights. And every night she would turn up and cause trouble. It was a sort of tragic melodrama, repeated frequently and for which the locals barely blinked an eye. We, however, were undeniably rattled. We tried to tell the waiter what a weird night we’d already had. “A man, we just saw a man get hit by a car!” He didn’t understand. Lost in translation. It seemed appropriate, actually. The crazy shitshow that Barcelona had put on was apparently just for us. What a treat.
It must be said, however, that I’d return in a heartbeat. Never have I had such an unexpected, eventful four days. Never have I had to surrender myself completely to the whims of the universe and chance and just plain bad luck. There’s something freeing about saying, “Fuck it. Bring it on. Show me your weirdness in all its glory” and living to tell the tale.
None of this put me off this city. In fact, quite the opposite. I’m dying to get back and accept the challenge of not being ripped off. I’ll remember all these crazy things, but also the beautiful towering palm trees that intersperse the grand, ancient buildings. The winding alleyways that lead to cobbled plazas. The scorching, late September heat. The stunning beaches. The midnight mojitos.
Oh yes, Barcelona. I’ll be back. Maybe with a money belt, strapped under my t-shirt, like a full-on paranoid travel nerd. And my camera cord wrapped tightly round my wrist. Maybe I won’t drink so much that I don’t even remember where I put my camera at all, let alone how I got home. Yeah, that’s my plan. Be ready for me.