Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Not Even Not Traveling 18: Barcelona 1, On Bikes

Barcelona, 2022

Being There

The flight to Barcelona was kind of exhausting. I've traveled enough within the United States to know how to prepare for some of it. I brought lots to write. I got something to read. I had a game. Still, the four of us each had to sit in a 2 x 2 area for half a day. Human bodies complain about those constraints. Looming after our hours of immobility, we had a connecting flight to catch in Heathrow. We were going to leap from inactivity to hurrying through corridors and queues pretty fast.

I haven't passed through customs since I was a child. For sure, I hadn't realized that Britain has a labyrinthine process that's different from the U.S. process or the Spain process. Security theatre in each country is a little different. No one seems to trust anyone else, which is probably sensible. Heathrow itself requires a rush-and-wait attitude. The British airport equipment breaks and requires manual intervention. The Heathrow staff manage the queues of travelers well and so they essentially make the bad systems look better than they really are.

We arrived in Barcelona on the next day by eleven in the morning. By four in the afternoon, we were climbing onto our bicycles.

The Barcelona Bike Tour

The tour bikes were all similar, built in a style that I would describe as slightly foreign. Yes, they were all familiar, too, and basically just bikes. They had two wheels and handlebars. They had a power assist mode. I started to figure out the parts that were new to me. Most of my awkwardness came from how I hadn't ridden a bike for a decade. It still wasn't too much of a problem except for the hair-trigger brakes.

The citizens of Barcelona seemed relaxed about passing close to bikes, cars, buskers, distracted tourists watching the world through cameras, street barriers, buses, taxis, vespas, skateboarders, electric scooters, people blowing human-sized bubbles on the sidewalk, wandering guitarists, and police who never seemed concerned with anything other than their fellow police. It's a city. It's built for bicycle travel. In a small American town, if a car passes within a yard of a pedestrian, it's probably because someone was careless. In Barcelona, the acceptable space between scooters, cars, and other deadly inconveniences was less than a foot.

Every time someone jumped in front of me, especially with a child in tow, I tried to ease to a halt. The brakes weren't having it. They wanted a full brick-wall, face-planting stop or nothing. I've got some leg injury problems, so I re-injured myself on the first time I planted my foot. And the second time. And so on.
"I have been here two years," said our tour guide, Agatha, as she pedaled her bike. "I love Barcelona. I lived here before. I wanted my partner to move back."

Agatha grew up in Poland and Sweden. She spoke at least four languages, I'm guessing all of them with a charming Swedish accent.

"Look at that," she said at nearly every stop. "See? I love this city."

She took us from point to point and explained the districts of Barcelona, information I needed but which largely slipped through my mental fishing net as I paid more attention to driving than to the schools-worth of information from the tour. Agatha showed us the Gothic Quarter, Chinatown, Barconeleta, Las Ramblas, and more. She held up guideboook pictures of the city's history. We stopped to see art installations. We visited an outdoor mall that had been excavated to reveal seventeenth century ruins. We biked along the beach for miles, where every stop showed us one site or another from the 1992 Olympics like the diving stage, the volleyball sands, and the canoeing, rowing, and sailing venues.  
"Olympics transformed the city," she said during her presentation. Apparently, Barcelona had been a working class town with a port fortified during the middle ages and not much improved since. The Spanish national government decided to make an example of the host city and built bike paths in it. The government also dredged the port, hauled in sand from the Sahara Desert to make a beach, improved the roads, and added parks.

Surprisingly, the results were sustainable. They snowballed in a fantastic way for Spain. The city continues to make improvements and attract tourism.

For two hours, we rode on our bikes from place to place. The tour ended on foot, however, with a hike to a restaurant. I don't think I can recommend the restaurant but the bike tour, yes, absolutely.

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