“And if you look up you can see a gargoyle shaped like a unicorn” – After living in Oxford, hearing a British accent saying those words wouldn’t have struck me as odd, but I heard them as I wandered around the gothic quarter of Barcelona … in English … with a British accent.
I stopped in my tracks and looked around before catching a glimpse of a tour guide leading a group of about 25-30 tourists on a walking tour of the city. I didn’t have a ticket, I wasn’t a part of any of the sub-groups that made up this tour, but instantly I felt myself joining up with them. I trusted that I wouldn’t get lost and would learn more if I stuck with them versus travelled alone.
The guide was part of a company (New Europe Tours) that have tour guides who give free, engaging walking tours of cities for free and they are paid on tips. The company also sells other tours like a Tapas taste of Spain tour that do cost money but this one was free. So I joined up and got to explore the gothic quarter, learn about the unification of Spain under Ferdinand and Isabella, how that led to the rise of the Spanish Inquisition, and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
We went to the Jewish quarter and saw the 5 street section of Barcelona where Jews were forced to live in with a curfew of 10pm. with 10-20% of the city being Jewish this became a cramped part of town so much that the buildings lean inward as they get taller so they can accommodate more space.
We learned about some of the traditions of Catalan and about the various differences between Spain and Catalan before taking a break at a bar the tour company had a deal with. At that point I had to peel off and head to the Sagrada Familia but I went up to the guide and tipped him well for the tour I’d snuck onto because it was well worth it. I highly recommend doing these tours in whatever city you visit for the first time.
Later at the Sagrata Familia I was walking through, hearing Spanish everywhere I went when all of a sudden I heard “David? Is that you?” – Now naturally David is a common name and whenever its said I perk up. I turned around and saw my friend from the MBA who was travelling with us. We had come to the church separately but found each other. Later in the day this happened again at a restaurant.
I often find myself waking through London with headphones in – especially on the noisy tube trains – but I think I’m cutting off one of my sense whenever I do that. Headphones block out the world and isolate you from others more effectively than almost anything else. Had I been walking with my headphones I’d have missed out on a fun tour, a meal with a friends, and a meet-up in a gorgeous church. So while I may use headphones occasionally I’m glad that today I wasn’t and that I have this reminder to be present and see what happens.