Barcelona | November 16, 2014 | 3:30 pm
It’s Sunday and I feel like stepping outside the flat. I need it. It’s a beautiful sunny day on the other side of the window and it’s been a week since I returned from my last trip: Asia. A week where I’ve spent most – except one – afternoons at home, doing the same thing: sitting at the table in front of the laptop for endless and empty hours. Lacking desire to go out and explore, convincing my brain with “I’m allowing myself a week of doing nothing and eating tons of comfort spanish food”. After all it seems like this is my place for routine, right?
During the week, while spending hours on the web (where we can also find useful reads and information occasionally), I ran into a friend’s thread asking precisely about this topic, which ended up squeezing a good juice for thought. He (Mike Sowden, the writer behind Fevered Mutterings: a blog about storytelling, travelling and the power of misadventure) came up with this article about travelling like a local which made me think again (as I had started doing during the trip) about re-discovering this amazing city I live in: Barcelona. Yes, you can become a little lazy even when living in places like this one. It’s called routine.
– “Go out, talk to people, walk, observe, then observe some more. Do the same thing as you were doing over there, Mariana, in Thailand. You can do this!”
Well, it turns out it’s not as easy doing this in Europe as you can do it in Thailand. People are colder and not so keen to give a smile back. But it’s okay. You can always begin a conversation and someone will finally respond to it. Persevere we must!
I decide to walk out of my flat, walk to the bike station just around the corner and grab a bike. There are some available, lucky for me. Not knowing where to go and not feeling like going to the same places as before, I decide to stick with the original plan in my head: Plaça Catalunya. The most downtownish place possible in the city.
I slide the card against the screen and a bike number pops out. I take it out and then start riding heading towards the city centre. As I move forward through the street, the need to slow down suddenly haunts me.
I feel the urge of watching the beauty of the buildings on my sides. Buildings that I know pretty well and yet today I feel like wanting to bath myself in the banality and into the ordinary of this city. I feel like wanting to melt into the tourist flow, into the endless sounds of kids, bells, pigeons, cars, laughter, conversations and construction machines. Sounds of a lively place on a common sunny Sunday afternoon.
I then feel immense peace inside.
I keep riding slowly, while taking nice and deep breathes as I go down the busy and gorgeous street called Passeig de Gracia. The famous house La Pedrera by Gaudí is on my left and a few blocks down I meet with the Casa Batlló on my right, also by Gaudí. Incredible architectural work that blends nature and imagination in such a dreamy and almost impossible way. How not to stop and take a few minutes to enjoy and honour the imagination and good ambition of a man.
Lots of them and yet I don’t feel overwhelmed by crowds as I would’ve imagined. As it happens in the busiest months of the year. So this is probably the clearest symptom of autumn: chilly air, fewer crowds and a lovely white light across the skies.
And it feels good. It feels light. Maybe people can notice the lightness in me as they stare when I go passing by. Do you believe in such things? I am starting to do so.
I arrive now to my destination: Plaça Catalunya. The heart and neural spot of this city. Where kids and pigeons dance constantly between land and air. The happy yelling and running around makes some of us passing by to turn around and become aware of our surrounding.
I leave my bike at the arrival destination station right there on the corner. I walk towards the monument standing in the middle of the plaza, where some stairs, an open area and the warming rays of sunshine make the perfect spot inviting me to sit down and enjoy the moment.
People and groups of friends can be seen gathering up, here and there. Three of them are on my left, talking and eating sunflower seeds as it is common to do here in Spain. Takes some skill to peel and eat those and I haven’t still mastered that curious art. Pigeons approach hungrily to their feet while grabbing the remaining seeds from the floor.
That digital thread comes to mind again as I’m sitting here under the sun, particularly some words added by one of the commentators:
-“It’s called mindfulness, Mike.”
After one and a half months of being away from Barcelona, today I just want to go into its busy veins, see the touristy, feel the crowds, look at the gorgeous iconic buildings and ramble through the stuffed Ramblas.
This city is both my home and a place where I am an expat. Today, I want to play the tourist and not the resident – local – if you can be called that after 5 years living in a place. You can certainly loose the sense of wonder after spending longer periods of time in one spot.
Sometimes I like to play the local character and other times I just want to be reminded of the feeling of wonder of those first times. Just like I experienced in Asia this last month.
Yes, it changed me inside in ways I didn’t imagine despite knowing a few ways on how travelling can change you. This last trip changed me and it feels the best ever. Why?
It reminded me of the goodness of strangers, of the beauty on opening up to people and conversations, of leaving aside your fears and pushing your own limits, on finding out how little you actually need to live well. Travel can certainly make you wonder and think. And think again.
The sun is slowly going down. It’s 4:00 pm already.
Pigeons at my feet keep picking up sunflower seeds from the floor. Kids are gone with the sunlight. Shadows from the buildings have kicked into this spot I am sitting at. The city tour buses can still be seen at this time flowing around and filled with tourists. Construction workers can be heard as they dig into the pavement making repairs. Daily life goes on in between the marvelled eyes of visitors.
It’s time for me to go and keep being a tourist with the core of my senses.
In the city where I’ve been for the last five years. Because living mindfully, travelling or enjoying a place and life in general can be done anywhere. Near or far. Home or abroad.
Go out there and explore your place, your city, your neighbourhood. Talk to strangers like you would do when being on a foreign place. Drop your fears or doubts. Get lost downtown in your city and walk through the local markets…I bet there are some. Eat something you have never tried before. Share a story (even just a few words) with someone on the street.