19. Barcelona

Dear travelling buddies

It's Sunday night in Barcelona. It feels like an age since I wrote. I have so much to tell you. And if you were here, it would all come tumbling out in the wrong order, one marvellous thing after another. Gaudi for starters - I thought my heart would stop. And the Catalan independence movement. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to yesterday in Turkey:

We travelled through the fertile Meandros River Valley (yes because it meanders all over the place) with its crops of peaches, grapes, figs, olives, strawberries, cotton and then wheat on the drier outer parts. Past plants which harness the thermal springs for central heating in the towns.

Then the lime cliffs of Pamukkale where people swim in the healing thermal waters of the Greek Roman city of Hieropolis. A series of turquoise pools descend down the white cliffs.

In the amazing museum, jewellery from the first century could be in any shop window in the world.

And a pool where ancient Roman columns lie where they fell in an earthquake centuries ago.

It was here that I saw my email from your fellow traveller Sandra in Brazil, who told me of the tragic bombing in Ankara. I feel so sad for those people and their families and the utter senselessness of it all.

On our tour we met Josh, a young psychiatrist doing his residency in a Los Angeles public hospital who had just escorted a patient back to Turkey. The LA county finds it cheaper to send a patient back to their home country with a medical escort than to keep them in hospital. We came to an arrangement with him where Cally and I will both have a nervous breakdown in LA, and then all of us will have a free trip back to Australia.

Then in quick succession: an evening flight from Denizli to Istanbul; overnight at the Ataturk Airport; a very early rise for our flight to Barcelona.

Ataturk airport was full of people with huge parcels wrapped with gaffa tape, loaded on to airport trolleys. The people in front of me at security had 7 or 8. I’m so sad about the refugee situation, and I asked them ‘Are you from Syria?’ The young man nodded, pointed at his foot, and then at the parcels. They had obviously walked out with only the bags on the trolleys. I felt stricken for them and my face showed it.

The boy stood with his back to me for a moment. Then he turned back again. ‘Iz bizzness' he said, and pointed at the huge parcels. It suddenly dawned on me, and we both laughed. They are retailers, taking shoes back to their home town to sell. Not just them, but people all over the airport. They come to the big city to buy their stock, and this is how they get it home.

We’re at the Hotel Mercer in Barcelona. A delight. It’s in a no-vehicle street in the old city, now called the Gothic Quarter or Barrio Gotic. As we pushed our suitcases a short distance up an ‘inclination’ (to quote the taxi driver), a doorman came walking down the street, smiling widely, and took them both. It was lovely to see him. A glass of cava, the local bubbly, on arrival, and we were whisked up to our rooms. Part of the hotel was a tower and sentry path of the old Roman wall which surrounded the city of Barcino. The hotel was designed by Rafael Moneo, who was awarded the Prince of Asturias prize in 2012. It has the most delightful interior courtyard.

lovely flowers...

We had a very happy dinner at Le Bouchon, the street restaurant attached to Hotel Mercer in Barcelona. Actually we saw that it looked crowded from the street before we realised it was attached to the hotel. A good sign.

I asked for a typical Spanish meal for you to try, and the waitress suggested their signature dishes: Anchovies in green oil, followed by Coca de Vidre de Sant Josep con tomate (traditional Catalan bread with tomato and olive), and a plate of Iberian ham 'Gran Reserva Joselito'. I loaded the wonderfully fresh bread with the deliciously salty anchovies and then the ham, a delicately flavoured cured meat, a little like proscuitto but not as strong.

A Japanese couple nearby were much more adventurous. They had octopus then steak tartare. The first course I asked if I might photograph because it looked so amazing. Then the husband invited me over to photograph the second. When Cally’s food came, she asked them if they wanted to photograph ours. The man laughed very much at that. A very jolly evening.

The octopus...

and steak tartare.... (not for me thank you)

Cally told some English people near us at dinner that she’s just flown in from Barcelona (after she’d had one sparkling water). I think she's related to Manuel. Let's not talk about any of my faux pas.

When we closed our doors just now, I found this delightful plate of sweets in my room. Care for one?

Or would you rather some Turkish delight from yesterday?

I rang Cally much earlier to suggest we sleep in a little tomorrow. She said 'Have you felt the pillows? They’re made of down.'

It’s time I tried them out. It's after midnight now. Maybe after I raid the mini-bar. Juice, soda water, soft drinks, all free. It's ridiculous what a thrill that is.

Thanks for being with me, travelling buddies. Gaudi to come.

Buenas noches. xxx