After running ourselves off our feet with tourism in Paris, we decided to adopt a “directed-moseying” approach to our 2 days in Barcelona in which we would head in the general direction of Barcelona’s note-worthy places without pushing ourselves to visit every site. In the morning, we began strolling down La Rambla, beginning near our hotel at the Mirador de Colón. We watched rows of merchants setting up their displays in the early sun. We passed through Catalunya square and into the Gothic quarter where there was a Christmas market set-up outside Barcelona Cathedral, which had everything from dancing mechanical Santas to Biblical paintings. We sat in the Cathedral for a little while to listen to the Sunday service. We couldn’t understand it, of course, but the lovely sound of the priest orating in passionate Spanish set against the backdrop of the Cathedral’s stunning interior made it a wonderful experience.
We jumped on the metro to explore Parc Guell, after which we headed back to a hip, yet unassuming little restaurant where we had stopped for coffee earlier and enjoyed beer and pizza. As the sun set, we walked towards Fountain of Montjuïc, which we never did manage to find, but it didn’t seem to matter at all.
And just like that our 3 months in Europe was up.
Perhaps because so many of my family members are British, I’ve always felt at home in England. The next morning, as our plane descended into London, I felt like I was returning to a familiar environment rather than entering into another foreign one. It turned out that the UK border control does not reciprocate my feelings of warmth. Workaway can be kind of a grey area for immigration in some countries because although it’s unpaid, there are always suspicions that money is involved under the table. I’ve been advised to always say that we’re “staying with friends” if we’re ever questioned – which is not entirely untrue. In France, customs greeted us with barely a glance and a quick stamp of our passports; UK customs, however, greeted us with a barrage of questions: “Why are you doing so much traveling at once? What are you going to be doing in the UK?” As well as statements that I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to respond to: “3 months is a long time to be in the UK; I don’t think the Schengen area will let you re-enter after 3 months here without going back to Canada first.”
We were detained in customs for over an hour, with our hopes of going into the UK steadily declining with each skeptical question and raised eyebrow. We were suspended in some kind of strange limbo, watching other travelers passing the customs booths and walking freely into the long hallway beyond – walking into England – and wondering if we would soon be among them or not. I was not in any way ready to be sent home. Against all odds, the customs officer seemed placated by our pleading eyes and hopeful answers and along with one last warning to “have clearer plans in the future”, I heard the satisfying smack of the entry stamp on both of our passports. It seems like it’s been a long time since I’ve had clear plans about the future.
We were in a daze as we reached our hotel in Manchester, stunned by the knowledge that had we answered a few questions differently we could easily not be where we were at that moment. There had never been a more appropriate time for a drink. We found a local bar; the kind of place where all the patrons stare when you walk in because they’re only used to seeing other regulars. We were starving and the bar didn’t serve food, but the bartender generously allowed us to bring in food from the Chinese take-away restaurant next door. We were soon back in the bar, munching on our fried rice, drinking pints and listening to “Bittersweet Symphony” over the sound system. People drunk on a Monday? Chinese food? 90s music? I think I’m going to like it in Britain.