Wednesday, 23 April 2008

We wake to a beautiful Perpignan morning. The courtyard outside Jerome's house is bathed in sunshine. After a breakfast of jam and brioche and some dedicated sign-making, Jerome offers to drive us over the border to Spain, since he is going that way to fill up on petrol. I have been appointed official sign-maker, Sofia's efforts resembling the work of a mentally-troubled eight year old.

The landscape Jerome drives us through is spectacular. For the first time on the trip, it feels Mediterranean. The rock formations are white and sun-bleached, the forests an exquisite dark green. "This is Spain". After our protracted farewells, Jerome leaves us at a tollbooth, but we have spent long enough already looking forlornly at the things, so we walk the 200 yards down the embankment of the motorway to the service station.

The service station is like a ghost town, and has a strange, decaying ambience. It's kind of how I imagine purgatory: a deserted, run-down Spanish service station. I hope I am not going to be here for the rest of eternity. Already I am having visions of being kept here against my will, maybe by the giant white globe from The Prisoner.

The totalitarian globe thankfully does not make an appearance, but we are desperately in need of cardboard for sign-making and, as if by magic, a cardboard box is blown towards us by the gusts of wind. However, just as it is drawing towards us, it is mown down by a huge articulated lorry, which sends it flying towards the motorway. A chase ensues and I stop it. Phew. We can once more advertise our destination to drivers.

We are rescued from a lifetime of service station tedium by a Moroccan guy, Mohammed, and his friend who is acting as chaffeur. They stop for us and we dive in, destination: Barcelona. The driver spends the entire trip in a state of perpetual amusement, whilst we chew the fat with Mohammed. After a bit of multilingual chat, Mohammed, frustrated by his rudimentary English, borrows our French to English dictionary and jokingly instructs us to sleep whilst he retreats to work on his sentence. We wait on tenterhooks the entire journey for this perfect sentence, but sadly it never materialises.

Barcelona is as exhilerating and bustling and touristy as I remembered. We make our way to the Youth Hostel by an incredibly byzantine route, and relieve ourselves of our bags, before hitting the town for some food and drinks. Since today is Sofia's birthday, under normal circumstances we would be drinking ourselves into a coma, but she is still stricken with the lurgee and we settle for a hot chocolate and chat. Later in the evening we take the metro to the Sagrada Familia, the Gaudi-designed colossus. Apparently the prjected date for completion is 2026. I've heard Spanish builders have a hasta manana attitude, but 144 years on one building seems excessive. At night the whole edifice is illuminated by well-placed spotlights and looks delightfully Gothic.

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