I remember this email came right before MSTD. I filled it up almost instantly, and the reply came almost instantly too. First impression: the UCL Geography office is really efficient.
“Barcelona” sounded so exotic. I heard it a lot when I was young, as it was one of the only countries with football that my mother could pronounce in her thick Chinese/Singaporean accent (context: my parents aren’t exactly fluent in conversational English). As I type this I am still in disbelief that one day I would step foot in so many new places halfway across the globe, and I will eternally be grateful for the opportunities I have been presented with.
That being said, although we took a flight to and fro the Barcelona airport, we spent 80% of our time in Sitges, an hour’s drive away from Barcelona. Or maybe 90%. It honestly does not sound as fun as it should be, because we had lots of worksheets everyday. 8am to 6pm every single day, and you had to give a shit because those worksheets were graded.
First day at river fieldwork: where we kicked rocks, caught bugs, measured pH of the water, paid attention to cobbles pebbles and boulders every 10 metres, and shook test tubes to measure nitrate and phosphate content. Let’s be honest: I have done river fieldwork in Kuantan 2 years ago, but this was a lot more enjoyable, because the water was freezing cold.
Here’s Kuantan from 2 years ago. I think I recall wiping perspiration off my sleeve, and being frustrated with the extreme afternoon sun during the double ring infiltrometer demonstration by Mr Ng.
And then there’s beach fieldwork, running the lengths of the beach to measure the beach widths. After an entire afternoon of seemingly pointless measurements, I was pleasantly surprised when beach profiles measured across all the groups correlated and showed evidence of coastal erosion. “Putting theory into practice”, that was it. It was rewarding to know how coastal erosion patterns matched with wind patterns we had always been learning about, how coastal defences are built in response to destructive waves, and how recent storms can be so telling of an area’s maintenance.
That’s me without shoes by the way, which was probably one of the smartest thing I did all day that day.
Although work was quite substantial, we had lots of fun at night. My definition of fun, at least. Many people were out partying, drinking and clubbing, and while I couldn’t relate to that idea of fun, I had my fair share walking through the beaches in the dark, eyeing masthead lights and sidelights, secretly hoping to burn away all my dinner. At the same time, learning more about my intolerable self and what I cannot tolerate, too.
Pictures of us during our late night exploration in Sitges, which stretched till 12am or even 1am. I don’t know what came over me at this point in my life, but I enjoy long walks so much now. In comfortable weather of course, not the Singapore 2pm afternoon sun. All these photos were taken with self-timer: I’m still amazed by my ability to find really strange surfaces to take photos on.
Away from Sitges: The 3rd full day of our field work was at Barcelona, where we witnessed the urban regeneration of places. The Raval, mainly, which was supposedly one of the poorest areas in Barcelona, where the underground economy operated really actively.
Before then, they brought us to one of the highest points in Barcelona, to have a clear look at Barcelona and pay attention to some details. How the structure or functions of old industrial estates still perpetuated in current infrastructure, and the development on brownfield sites. Oops, is this blog post turning too geographical?
Next, something I could not stop showing off: we visited the origins of llao llao! One thing I really missed in Singapore was llao llao, it is truly an irony how we moved so much nearer to the source of llao llao (Spain) but ended up so much further away from it. There isn’t a single outlet of llao llao in the UK! One day I had such a massive craving I was even telling Weixuan I would pay up to 7 pounds for a sanum.
So when we were given free and easy time in the city centre, my first instinct was to Google for llao llao. When I arrived in Sitges I was quite disappointed because there was supposed to be a store 5 minutes away from our hotel, which happened to close down last year. If not, I would probably be eating llao llao every single day.
And when Google Maps said that llao llao was 7 minutes away, I got so excited. I did not even bother to verify whether the store still existed- I started brisk walking there. On our way, we caught sight of people holding familiar cups of yogurt in their hands. We were literally squealing- THIS IS REAL! I started running towards the destination. It felt like I was meeting my boyfriend again after 2 months, except more exciting because I don’t have a boyfriend.
AND WE SAW IT.
So satisfied with my yogurt, I almost wanted to get another cup if not for the fact that I was going to have dinner. The crunches, sauces and fruits that I used to choose back in Singapore were all available, and apart from a slightly less sour aftertaste, it tasted exactly the same. To top it off, it was 3.5 Euros, which would be about S$5.30. That’s way cheaper than the current price of $6.95, which can still maintain snaking long queues in places like Westgate.
And then I entered Zara (origins from Spain, too) and bombed 100 Euros on a new winter coat. No pain no gain, although not in the literal sense.
After walking around Disney shops, clothing shops, waiting for the lovebirds to finish chewing on their Spanish ham (ha ha), walking through dark alleys and churches, exclaiming how cheap Sangria was compared to normal soft drinks, we ended up in a Sports Bar to have tapas. Apparently it was a must to eat tapas when you are in Spain.
We had quite a hearty meal, and were about to leave when we were handed a piece of paper to partake in a bar quiz. We came up with a group name of “Team Singapore” and felt so smug about it, until we continually came out last among all the other participants in the bar that night. Obviously I had no clue about the Game of Thrones, or soccer, or embarrassingly, the various states in Australia. In the end, we left early, without any shame because we had an excuse: we needed to catch the last train back to Sitges. In retrospect, it seems really amusing, and undeniably a really great way to end off my experience in Barcelona.
Will I go back? Sitges, maybe not. I think I walked through the city too many times, I can still remember being amazed by the private playground, I can still remember that there were 8 sections of the beach and the direction of the incoming wind (and waves), the after effects of the recent storm, the hilly terrain all the way to the pharmacy… But Barcelona? Definitely. I loved how we were brought to areas that would easily classify Barcelona as “underdeveloped”, but at the same time given the opportunity to explore the city by ourselves and discover the vibrant mix of cultures, the bustling city centre with street buskers and graffiti everywhere, and the really nice service staff who spared no effort to strike up conversations with us.
And of course, to eat llao llao.