While I love seeing the sights of the places I visit I also love just wandering about, getting a bit lost and stumbling across unexpected treasures. Even if the “treasure” turn out to be in my guide book, the fact that I’ve “found it myself” certainly adds just a bit more extra excitement and enjoyment.
I recently arrived in Barcelona at Sunday lunch time. I headed off to my hotel, checked in, grabbed a map and went off for a walk without my guidebook (as I am wont to do). Wandering down the Ramblas on a Sunday afternoon was a bit of a culture shock, even after the busyness of London. Wall to wall people, complete with all the tourist horrors – cheap restaurants with pictures of the food, multilingual advertising and aggressive spruikers, souvenir stands….you know, the standard tourist thing in towns that are just “too loved” by tourism. I made it down to the end to the Columbus monument, and couldn’t face the thought of heading back the same way……..
So, checking the map, I thought I’d make my way back up a parallel route via the Barre Gotic (the Gothic Quarter). Still touristy I thought, but at least a different route, and only a couple of blocks from the Ramblas if my map reading skills failed and I got lost. Wandering back I started noticing people walking in the opposite direction to me (ie coming from where I was going) carrying wine glasses. There seemed to be more and more the further I walked, some drinking wine, then others eating…..until I stumbled upon a square……not just any square though…..a square with a Catalan food and wine festival, full to brim with people and not a tourist in sight!
Too good an opportunity to miss! I bought my tickets for the tapas, a glass and some wine vouchers and off I went, head long into Catalonian cuisine, with not a word of English in sight. Now, I do stand out a bit in Southern Europe. With my blond hair, blue eyes and very fair skin I can’t even pretend to be a local. Away from the tourists in the Ramblas I stood out even more, even in a busy throng. Every time I perched at a table to enjoy my glass and my food somebody spoke to me (in English). Where was I from? (Oh, wow, Australia, so far!) How long was I planning on being in Barcelona? Our country is in a terrible mess, so thank you for coming! Was I enjoying the food? What wine was I drinking? Hints on what to try next. I admired babies, discussed Australian politics and the Australian economy, the woes of Europe, the vagaries of the Australian accent, apologised for not speaking Spanish and never initiated a single conversation myself……I felt like an honoured guest at a party that everyone wanted to make sure was having a good time.
So while the tourists were eating EUR10 tourist menus on the Ramblas, two blocks away, I was living it up (for just EUR12) on tapas cooked and served with love inside the stands by what often looked like Mum, Dad and the kids, great local wine served by the vigneron who grew it and made and generally being loved up by the locals…….
You can’t plan for experiences like this, unless you plan to go two blocks off the main tourist drag, and see what you find…….
I’d love to hear about your “two blocks off the tourist drag” unexpected discoveries!