Barcelona – Day 19

I started this post 8 days ago. A lot has happened since then. I think I meant to post this as I landed in London, but, having fallen asleep on the plane, I forgot. It feels strange reading it now. I find myself oddly detached from the me who wrote it in the first place. Only eight days have gone by but it feels as if it’s well in the past. Once again, this confirms the idea that time should not be quantified in years and months, but in something akin to this formula:

Passage of time = intensity/moment.

This works when the moment is in the past. The greater the intensity, the more it fills up one’s past. The exact opposite,

Passage of time = moment/intensity

happens when moment = present, as time seems to slip by uncontrollably fast. Anyway, I’m rambling. Here’s the post:

A new day a new journey. Today I said goodbye to Barcelona. Some of it didn’t want to let me go. When swimming for a last time, I accidentally swallowed a bit of the Mediterranean. Also, somehow, there’s still sand in my shoes. I’m in the process of smuggling it in the UK right now. Strictly speaking, all of that happened yesterday, but I’ll call it a day after I get a few hours of sleep.

I’ve decided to spend my last days on the beach and actually going outside Barcelona, to Montserrat, a rather picturesque mountain range with a monastery and a few hotels at the high end of a cable car journey. Said monastery boasts a miracle performing black wooden carving of Mary and Christ. The colour itself is considered somewhat of a miracle, despite the fact that scientific analysis proved that the wood was blackened by smoke from candles. The ability to willfully ignore uncomfortable facts is one of humanity’s most useful gifts.

Au revoir Barcelona. Hello London. I have missed you.

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Barcelona – day 15

Today was the last day of planned exploration. I have visited all the museums, buildings, and other random points of interest on my itinerary. Besides the Lonely Planet guide I read in my time here, I found postcards to be a great source of inspiration. Simply stroll to a souvenir shop, virtually at every corner in the gothic neighborhood, and check out what looks impressive. Proceed to look on the postcard’s back for a description and voila, another item on the list of things to see. While there also buy a postcard and send it. You’ll have brought a smile to someone and it’s an act of minimal effort.

As I sit now, in my room, with my anti-mosquito app turned on, and ponder upon the last few days, many memorable moments come to mind.

First of all, apparently what two weeks of continuous walking through rough terrain in El Camino de Santiago could not accomplish, a small rock in Park Guell in Barcelona finally did. My shoes gave up with a sigh. I hopped to the nearest shop and replaced them. They’re still with me though, in a box. I was never really good at saying goodbye.

Barcelona is full of religious art. Thus, second in my mind is the moment when I realised that behind the literally thousands of religious statuettes I’ve seen, which never really interested me, sits an, often unnamed, artist. A real person, very different from the prototypical individual defining society at the time. If today it is difficult to succeed as an artist, imagine a world where almost everyone was a farmer or a soldier. And yet, somehow, for thousands of years, art has found a way to express itself. My predominantly practical view of the world could never before truly accept that art is a fundamental component of humanity. In this I’ve changed.

Third, I should mention the moment in the Frederic Mares museum when I realised that I’ve been spending the last hour looking at a collection of smoking pipes, second only to the sword collection. Although absolutely fascinating, the man was crazy. Besides being a compulsive hoarder, Mr. Mares also lived with the obsession to own stuff similar to the stuff he already hoarded. I admired gramophomes, photo cameras, bikes, guns, shaving knives, clocks, stamps, matchboxes, jewelry and many many other things. I could not help but laugh when I entered the key room. Literally a room with thousands of keys. All shapes and sizes. Even more amusing was the scissor collection. Why? Just why? I don’t think owning many things is healthy. One should buy experiences, not objects. And the moment when one becomes attached to the point of dependency to an object, that person has in effect crippled him or herself. Stripped of all possessions, would a person be the same, I wonder, or do our possessions come to define at least part of who we are? But who am I to talk. I can’t even throw away a pair of torn shoes.

I haven’t planned the next few days, my last in Barcelona. I might go to the amusement park on top of Tibidabo, the hill overlooking the city. I passed by the park on my way to the Sacre-Coeur church. Or I might go outside the city. Or I’ll just collapse on the beach and finally finish reading Cloud Atlas. Summer is still ongoing.


I too enjoy fine art.

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Barcelona – day 7

Wherever I go, I enjoy walking and discovering a place at my own pace. I walk a lot. The experiences of the Camino, although exhausting, have not robbed me of my passion for extreme promenading. In the seven days I have spent so far in Barcelona, I have walked an average of 7 hours per day. One of my favorite activities, whenever possible, is getting lost in places. My inner compass is not that great and, usually, after randomly strolling for around an hour or so in a city, I manage to find myself with no idea where I am and with no point of reference as to where I started from. Barcelona is the perfect place for this. With narrow, winding streets and relatively tall buildings, I got lost, most of the times on purpose, almost every day. I find that only with the slight panic, brought by the unfamiliar surroundings and the potentially dodgy areas, are my eyes truly open. With just a pinch of adrenaline in my system, I suddenly notice the small details, like names of streets, the way people act, the random architectural quirks of the buildings, the way someone put clothes out to dry, the girl painting a graffiti in a side alley and many other aspects of life that my unconscious mind annoyingly registers as inconsequential.

I walked, I believe, every street of El Barri Gotic. I saw the cathedral, the churches, Santa Maria del Mar and Santa Maria del Pi. I saw La Sagrada Familia and wondered why, from the moment Gaudi drew the plans for it, has any church or cathedral been built differently. I saw the Juan Miro foundation and remembere that art is fundamentally an idea. Good art reflects the society it is created in, while great art changes that society and anticipates and precipitates what the world will revolve around in the next cycle. I saw the National Art Museum and the people gathered in front of it, waiting for the weekly show of the “magic fountain”, a spectacle of water and lights, which adds an extra objective on the map on any self respectable Barcelonian tourist.


Barcelona is the city of Gaudi’s architecture, long stretches of Mediterranean beach, mouthwatering food, great art, beautiful museums, hot summers and gorgeous girls. It’s the kind of place where one should want to move to. There’s even a fountain I accidentally drank from which promises that whoever drinks from its waters will return to Barcelona. Thus, it’s a puzzle to me why this city doesn’t attract me. It has everything it needs and more. Why then did I feel more at home when I first walked the streets of London, still my favourite city in the world. Or why does it lack that certain “je ne sais qoui”, which fascinated me in Prague? I don’t know. Maybe because I’m exploring it alone, but I don’t think that’s it. Maybe it’s because I find it slightly pretentious in its artistic displays, resonating with a part of me which I’ve repressed for a long time. I still have some time here and I hope I’ll figure it out. It’s definitely me, not the city, and it’s quite bothering that I can’t identify what in me is incompatible with Barcelona.

To conclude, my thoughts go to a friend of mine about whom whenever I think, I realise that in life, we can either struggle to find out the answers to all the small questions, or we can strive to figure out what the important questions are. And, hopefully to make you smile, here’s a story. I was walking the streets close to La Rambla, where I live during my time here, and I was accosted by a prostitute. Interesting experience, first time for me. As I was walking away from her “Pssst, guapo, good time?”, one of her workmates, in the tone of a question whose answer is already known, asks “Nothing yet tonight, girl?”. I continued to walk away, smiling this time, as I had finally heard my own language spoken on the streets of Barcelona.


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Barcelona – day 4

How different a place or an experience can be when one is alone. So far, in my travels I have never really been on my own. During the Camino, I was with a friend. In Gran Canaria I was visiting another friend. Even though I wandered off on solitary walks for hours at a time, at the end of the day there was always someone I could share my experiences with. Someone to talk and to listen to. Now, it’s just me and Barcelona. I did not think it would bother me and yet somehow it does. It seems I’ve also become less of a loner in recent years.

I’ll start with the good points first. On the one hand I have total independence. There’s no question as to what are we doing today, there’s no need for a plan, or for any kind of structure imposed by the social need of mutual predictability. If I walk through the gothic quarter and I find a nice spot, like the plaza de Sant Felip Neri, I can just lean on a fountain and sit there for an hour. I can plan to visit a museum the second day and, when I wake up, decide that I want to go to the beach instead. It’s the ultimate sort of freedom.

On the other hand, most people distrust a guy alone. Furthermore, If I get into a conversation and, asked where I’m from, I mention my Eastern European heritage, the instinctive, albeit momentary slight tightening of the eyes can be observed. This is bothering, but, having seen it coming, I can deal with it. The worst thing however, is not being able to share the unique amazing moments I’m living every day. When I find something funny, I laugh on my own. I was walking next to Montjuic castle and, following a seagull gliding towards me, on the blue sky, still bright at 9.30 in the evening, intersecting with a plane heading in the opposite direction, directly above my head, I found myself trying to excitedly point out the coincidence to a non-existent friend. For miles in front of me and behind, I was alone. I could not stand it today. After a few suggestions from different sources, I went to a couch surfing event. I met some really nice people. Had my fill of socializing. I may actually go to another one soon.

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Gran Canaria

The six days I spent on this little island went by in the blink of an eye. I find myself only now, in the airport, waiting for the plane taking me to my next destination, with time to write here.

Although belonging to Spain, the Canary Islands are situated somewhere of the coast of Africa, some 100 kilometres west of the Sahara desert. Along with the ocean’s influence and probably other factors beyond my grasp, this contributes to the strangest climate I have yet to see, which, some claim, is the best in the world. The northern part of the island was always covered in clouds during my time here and I apparently experienced, with 22-25 degrees Celsius constantly, a weather worse than the one in winter. The southern part of the island was always sunny, with the cloud cover ending in an eerie straight line. I’m told that there are never clouds there. I did not believe it before seeing it with my own eyes. In this land of eternal spring and summer, the weather is not even close to being as interesting as the one in England. It barely fluctuates and nobody talks about it. People just take it for granted.

It’s impossible to walk on this island without stumbling upon a breathtaking view. In the north there is Las Palmas, a city larger than one might think, with hills covered in multicolored, slightly crumbling Spanish style houses. The south is a collage of dry, desert-like landscapes, with forbidding cactuses being the only living things for miles. This culminates in Saharan sand dunes which lead to a superb, tourist ridden beach. The centre of the island is dominated by mountains which extend all the way west. Here, where the mountains meet the ocean, the latter has that perfect shade of blue which seems to always act as a signpost, marking the place as a small piece of paradise.


The people, although nice, welcoming and proud of their island, have a general air of self-indulgence and complacency. Many spend all of their time lying on the beach, surfing, maintaining nearly perfectly sculpted bodies, partying and generally “finding themselves”. Gran Canaria is a pretty good place to lose yourself though. I assume that this is why it’s a favorite location for the very rich to carve their own little worlds, but even most of the locals who work don’t seem to be doing it particularly hard. Also, many businesses have a faint smell of money laundering.


My days here were amazing. I explored the city, I ate the seafood, I climbed the hills, I ran on the beaches, I read about the many stops Columbus made on the island, during his expeditions, to a mysterious lover, according to the stories. I ate the churros, I swam in the deep blue water of the ocean, I dived in a coral reef teeming with friendly colorful fish, and enjoyed the many small things in life that only a place like Gran Canaria can offer. Now, in the plane, I look back thinking of all the things there were still left for me to see and do. I need to start planning my next trip here.


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Day 14 – Santiago

As I sit now in the airport in Santiago, waiting for the flight which will take me to the next part of my journey, I’m trying to remember as much as possible of the past couple of weeks. I’ll need these memories for quite some time yet. Reading back through my posts I realise that there are so many things I forgot to mention, like the friendly farmer who offered me and my friend a ride on the hay in the trailer of his tractor (we refused, of course, as any good pilgrim would do), or the French guy who kept telling about how his walking stick cost more than 300 euros, being made from a certain type of very hard wood, while I was struggling not to laugh, or that the room I had dinner in at the Parador used to be the hospital’s morgue, or the east asian guy with a painted face who succeeded (on his third attempt) to walk 100 kilometers in one day, but did not receive the certificate in Muxia because he had not stopped at the albergues along the way. Some things are irretrievably lost. Others, may resurface in moments when I expect them less. However, even through this posts I can’t hope to remember everything.

It’s the peace which comes with falling asleep straight away, feat which I can rarely accomplish on my own, not in a room with 8-20 other people, after a day of intense physical exhaustion, or the deep concentration required for every step on a treacherous forest trail, in the rain, which I cannot properly convey through words. I hope that they will stay with me nonetheless.

As for you reader, thanks for going through this with me. If you ever have the chance to walk El Camino de Santiago, do it. It’s hard, but worth it. And let me know if you do, I may join you. My flight is departing. I hope I’ll have something to write here again soon. Until then, Buen Camino!

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Day 13 – Muxia to Santiago

I don’t know if I should still be counting the days as today I traveled by bus to Santiago. My pilgrimage is pretty much over. After a final visit to the cathedral tomorrow I’m flying to the next part of my adventures. I’m doing it until then though. Fourteen is a good number to end this story with.

Today I visited Muxia. I actually spent two and a half hours watching the ocean’s waves break on the rocks, but after checking out the church and the lighthouse I decided that this view, nothing short of amazing, was the best that the city would offer me. Later, while waiting for the bus to Santiago, I enjoyed, over a beer, the company of a drunk Spanish old man, singing “La Bamba”. I would have joined in, but, unfortunately, singing is not one of my gifts.

What have I learned in my pilgrimage? Well, I learned how to estimate how much I can eat in one meal a lot better. I learned, the hard way, that one must pack light for long journeys. A guy from the albergue in Muxia picked up my pack and, thinking that I’m just starting the pilgrimage, advised me to lose some things since I won’t be able to travel with one so heavy. I learned that it’s worth spending a little more energy to find the right place for the night. I learned how important my feet and actually all of my body parts are. I need to take better care of it. I learned that sunscreen in Spain is like an umbrella in England – a necessity at all times. And finally I learned that there are more good people than bad people out there and that I should never hesitate to engage in a random conversation with a stranger. Worst case scenario, I’m rebuffed and it’s only their loss. Best case, I get to hear wonderful stories and maybe even learn something new.

Reflecting upon the pilgrimage itself, I find that it could easily be compared to Pokemon. You travel from place to place and collect stamps on your pilgrim’s passport. When you reach certain destinations, if you’ve traveled far enough and collected enough stamps, you get a certificate acknowledging your efforts. I have numerous stamps and all of the certificates available: the Compostela from Santiago, the Fisterrana from Finisterre and the Muxiata from Muxia. I guess that I’ve caught them all, but this really isn’t what the pilgrimage is supposed to be about. It’s a spiritual journey, a challenge of the mind and body and, at the end of the day, an adventure. Today I spoke with a French guy who had been traveling for two months and two days. More than 1750 kilometers. This guy certainly isn’t doing it for the certificates. I’ll try and climb a mountain next, or maybe travel by bike across Europe. I don’t know exactly what the next challenge will be, but I hope it will be at least as amazing as this one.


Wilson, is that you?

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Day 12 – Finisterre to Muxia

Today was the toughest day so far. The last one of my pilgrimage, it took me 31 kilometres, from Finisterre to Muxia, under a scorching sun. Traveling under a clear blue sky this time of the year is harder than doing it in the rain apparently. Yesterday’s sunburn manifested through intense shoulder pain and I had difficulty carrying my backpack. The heat was so strong that I was sure that when I would take my shoes of, my toes would be cooked inside them. I actually needed to rest a couple of times in the shade of a friendly tree, which so far I have stoically avoided. The sights were beautiful however, as seeing the ocean through the needles of pine trees was something I haven’t had the chance to do until now.

I am now in the town of Muxia, a place which, to my eyes at least, seems to be crumbling under the merciless sun. Named after the monks which brought the Christian religion to these areas, in medieval times (Terra Monxia), it now consists of a few houses, a church, a lighthouse, a few people and about a million lizards, sunbathing while admiring the way the ocean’s waves violently break on the cliffs of the Costa da Morte, literally the Coast of Death. It was named like this not due to the large numbers of foolish pilgrims jumping to their deaths rather than carry that hellish backpack for one more second, but for the many ships which find their end of these cliffs.

So here I am. At the end of my journey. After more than 230 kilometers travelled, more than 10 Spanish towns visited, I find myself in another albergue, drinking a glass of rose this time, and pondering upon my travels so far, about where they’re going to take me from now on, this summer at least, and about the fact that tomorrow will be the first time I step into an automobile since I came out of the bus which brought me to Sarria. I’m too tired to properly discuss my pilgrimage now so I’ll leave that for the next couple of days. Furthermore, I think I may be suffering from mild sunstroke. The fact that I am shivering and my skin is burning at the same time were useful hints.


One for me and one for you.

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Day 11 – Finisterre

Today was an amazing day. It started cloudy, as most did before it, but it was soon apparent that the sun would dominate the sky. I explored the city of Finisterre, literally, the end of the earth. The place is beautiful, small and Spanish, from the architecture, to the fishermen. The twisted alleys somehow all led me to the sea and it was impossible, no matter how much I tried, to actually get lost here.

One of the reasons for which this place is famous is the lighthouse located a few kilometres outside the town proper. It has, in time, become a secondary ending point of the Camino, as pilgrims, basically the early incarnations of tourists, wanted to see the place where land gave way to ocean, which stretched as far as the eye could see. Thus the end of the world idea. The memorable thing about the place was not the lighthouse itself, but the rocks beyond it, where pilgrims had left small sacrifices from their journey across the Camino. Whether a pair of socks tied to a rock, a pair of underwear, one of boots, a small silver angel hidden in a nook in the stones, or just soot from the fire of pilgrims who decided to burn some possessions, objects with a certain meaning for people, things they had carried throughout their journey, lay strewn all over the place, turning it into an altar of sorts.

After visiting the lighthouse and leaving something of my own behind, my friend and I enquired about a beach, unwilling to let such a sunny day go past without going for a swim in the Atlantic. After getting lost in a forest and backtracking from a nearly impassable path, carved by some unknown animal, the beach was reached at last. I threw myself completely into the ocean and quickly threw myself back out for the water is unbearably cold.

Later, at 22.16, to be precise, I went back to the beach and saw the sunset. Obscured by a random cloud in the last minutes of the day, the sun still put on a wonderful show and once again reminded me, trapped between the mountains and the sea, with both the sun and the moon in the sky and surrounded by a handful of other pilgrims, how small individual people are when facing the forces of nature. As I lay now in bed, I realise that the cold ocean and the wind hid the real strength of the sun from me. I am all red and shivering after spending so much time in the sun. But it was worth it. Today was the best day so far.


Offerings at the end of the world

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Day 10 – Olveiroa to Finisterre

Today was a day with a bit of everything. I switched from a raincoat to a t-shirt and back to the raincoat. The area traveled was probably the most mountainous so far and it offered beautiful sights, revealed by the rising fog. Said fog turned into a very low ceiling of clouds, threatening to pour some of their substance at a moment’s notice, further torturing the bodies of two lonely pilgrims. Although still wet and slightly miserable, I dealt with the challenges of the environment much better with the aid of music. It’s amazing how music can change my perspective so strongly. How some songs speed me up and others bring into focus little bits of nature I’ve until then ignored. Also, navigating a flooded area of a road is a lot more fun when you have a soundtrack to do it on.

Today was also the day I walked the longest. 35 kilometres. At one point I knew that if I stopped for only a few seconds I would not be able to start walking again. Moving my feet became a conscious effort as each step had to be persuaded out of my body. I later found out that I had developed a few massive blisters, one of which could easily pass as the sixth finger of my right leg. However, when I reached the ocean, I felt a sense of achievement stronger than the one I felt when I finished my last university exam, just weeks ago. I felt like I saw it for the first time, although I’ve been living next to it for three of the past four years, and I felt a strong urge to go sailing.

My friend and I stopped for lunch in the first coastal town that crossed our path. The plan was just to rest our feet for a short while before pushing for our destination. It was the kind of small cute place where they don’t even have a menu, and the waiter tells you what kind of food they have today. We decided that some hot soup would do nicely, as the weather was still bad. Acknowledging that we have ordered soup, our waiter proceeded to utter words which I recognised as rabbit, chicken and cod. I replied rabbit and minutes later we were served a slightly disappointing rabbit-less noodle soup. The surprise came when, after finishing the soup, as we were getting ready to leave, she brought a massive tray with two or three sacrificed rabbits on it and enough French fries to feed a family of four. Apparently, in my unfortunate, or perhaps fortunate, for the rabbit was excellent, grasp of Spanish, I had ordered soup and rabbit. And, since I was already there, I finished it all with a delicious local cheesecake. It’s the small things which can turn a bad day into a good one.


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