Monday, 27 May 2013

Visca el Barça!

I have for a very long time thought that to be British was in many ways similar to having won the lottery in life. Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware of other places. I know also that people from elsewhere probably consider their homes as being pretty good, too

I won't disagree. Especially after having spent a few days in Barcelona earlier this month.

I mean, Barcelonians (I am almost certain this is incorrect) have pretty much won the rollover in life, haven't they? You've got the combination of a great climate, cloudless blue skies, a gentle breeze rolling in from the Med.

You have a city that mixes gothic with modern, where you let artists design your buildings. Look at these:

That final one is the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, which they started building in 1882 and is still underway now. I'm not a particularly church-y person, but it pushed my buttons.

I can imagine town planning meetings in Barcelona must be like:
"I'd like to put this building up. It's a little bit left-of-field."
"Does it have a roof like the back of a giant dragon?"
"You're just not trying, sunshine. Come back next week."
If you live in Barcelona you have art galleries, museums and parks on your doorstep. You can get from one side of the city for a few euros. You have the technological quarter, with wide airy boulevards taking you into and out of the centre with ease. You seem to figured out the whole 'living well in a modern environment' thing. You have sensible living areas and spaces to work and live in.

Your local cuisine is like this:

You have a football team that is successful and admired by everyone in Europe. That's something that just doesn't happen, normally.

If you live in Barcelona, you're surrounded by waiters who don't know when to stop when pouring drinks (I accept this might be a tourist thing, but bear with me). This is what passes for two sangrias:

This is not a poster for sensible drinking. We flew black from Barcelona with livers like pickled walnuts.

I'm sure, like any other large city, there are less favourable elements. But in short, if you live in Barcelona, I'm bloody jealous of you. You really have won the lottery of life. I'll be coming back to see you again at some point in the future. And I'd recommend that anyone reading this does so, too.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

On the Marrakesh express

This is most unlike me. Us. It's most unlike us.

For a number of years, our idea of a holiday has been quite simple and described using these five words: get away from it all.

Quite what It All is, we've never been quite sure. But we aim to distance ourselves from it at least once a year. So our holidays have involved going somewhere quiet, relatively private and lacking in both hussle and bustle. Climate doesn't enter into the equation.

There's a reason why we're not fussy about the weather at our intended destination. I am, by nature, north-west European and don't go in for heat. Warm weather is just so damned un-British. You get all sweaty and unpleasant. You have to worry about what the sun's doing to your pearly white flesh. I have Irish ancestors. We don't worship the sun, we run away from it in fear.

An early holiday with Katie, not long after we got together, saw us spending some time on a beach. And while she went a deep golden brown, I opted for Shade of Lobster and spent a significant proportion of the next fortnight screaming, "Don't touch me!" in a strangulated falsetto.

Which is not what you want to be saying in the early stages of a relationship.

So if, on holiday, I look out of the window to see rain lashing down, I generally say, "Marvellous," out loud,  reach for a good book and put some John Martyn on the stereo. I am a man of simple, temperate tastes.

Which is why it's all the more puzzling that we've booked two weeks in Morocco in June.

I've checked and, yes, this is an African country. It's bordering the Sahara desert. We'll be just outside Marrakesh, home of the beguiling Jemaa el-Fnaa, the busiest market square in the continent.  A heady mixture of spices, souks, mosques and ancient, history-soaked streets await us. We'll have the Atlas Mountains off in one direction, home of ancient Berber tribes. I will eat quite a lot of lamb dishes.

All of which sounds lovely. But I'm going to melt.

I'm told that everywhere will have air-conditioning. It's a modern country, after all. But you still have to walk from one air-conditioned bit to another air-conditioned bit. And I don't think the ancient souk is going to be quite so well-equipped. Thinking about it, in order to be respectful to the locals, it occurs to me that you need to cover up a little bit. So the Speedos are out of the question, which, on reflection, is probably a good thing.

I've just looked at the temperature for Marrakesh. A couple of hours ago, in the early evening, it was a balmy 26 degrees celsius, or 79 degrees in old money. But with undisguised glee, Katie tells me that she's researched the typical daytime temperature for June. By all accounts, 40 (104 in fahrenheit) is about par for the course.

Seriously. I am going to melt.

The famed Berber storytellers, who gather in the market square at night, are going to have a new tale to tell. About the pale ghost from the north who simply burst into flames one day.

This should be interesting.


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