I live in Montreal. I want to go to Barcelona. Normally this is a laboured process (unless you’re minted). Check numerous travel sites, track the prices and finally jump when the fares are sub-norm. It is at the very least a “vacation” – a planned trip featuring a delightfully willing drain of personal resources. This time will be very different.

Recently I started a part-time job at American Airlines in order to fulfill my passion for aviation, and by proxy, travelling. Flight benefits are effective day 1, and with training over, my house in order (so to speak) it’s time to start exploring their network. The great thing is that flights cost pennies on the dollar, so if I keep ground costs as low as possible then it should be possible to travel frequently for next to nothing.

Originally the plan was to visit Reno and check out Interbike, but just this past weekend all available seats filled in and there was no option but to scrub the mission.

I decided that the best course of action was to find an alternative – why waste three days when you have a fleet of 777’s and A330’s at your disposal? I checked out the options –  Miami, LA, Paris, London, Manchester, Bermuda were all investigated and rejected for various reasons.

I did find Barcelona to be wide open and doable on a three day mid-week break. Could it be done? How hard would the two transatlantic flights within a few days beat on me? Would I score business all round, or slum it in economy?

To keep costs as low as possible I took the AMT train from Veudreuil to Dorval, a short 15 minute train ride. Then walk to the USA terminal which is another 15 min walk on a dedicated bike path. Way less stress and aggro than a cab ride.

So I arrived at the airport like I had just been out for a simple stroll. Checked in and cleared customs in record time. Another great part of working for AA is that I use the priority US clearances at the airport, saving time and stress.

I saw my friends at check-in, and more colleagues on the jet-way, wow what a fun way to travel. Turn on the speakers loud!

The flight to Philly was a vomit-fest, in the last row, next to a vodka dispensing agent and a large lady who managed to devour a whole pack of those jam centered biscuits before taxi was over. Lots of unpleasant air on the way, but made up for by beers with Martine at the airport as we traded stories and she waited for her hub. That’s husband.

The excitement and anxiety of waiting for a boarding pass never grows old. I got a prem economy upgrade on a full upper class flight which was cool, given the relatively fast transoceanic hop of 7 hours. 7 hours. Incredible.

Smooth flight, Deadpool 2, deep free alcohol sleep followed by cold hard fruit arrival into Barcelona. Landfall across northern Spain, deep cuts in the mountains south before landing. No time for jetlag.

 

Airside in 30 mins or was it less. Euro freedom. 60 to be exact. Will it be enough?

Barcelona has an amazing metro – from the airport downtown for 48 hours cost me 15 euros. One stop. Find hostel. Check. Shower. Oh hell, thank you. Check bag into storage. Head out for the bike rental, air still mild. Get bike, chat with friendly store staff and UK chicks heading to beach. Sorry, not single luv!

For a first time Barcelona-ian traveller be warned the city is vast. Think LA vast. But with better boulevard. Perhaps less cool trees. Jury out. Bike, of course the best way to see the most. I am on a time budget – 30 hours, perhaps less. Bikes, like business class, just make everything better. But you gotta work for it.

I work hard on my purple tool – yes that sounds vulgar – by design. I crank the fuck outta it, alternatively grinning und grimacing as I weave in and out of traffic, motorized and pedestrian alike. It’s a jet-lagged video game for keeps if I screw up.

I head beachwards, through the parks, the arcs, the zoo, past the parrots, the homeless people, the yoga-bots, the rickshaw yaks and onwards admiring the Renfe yards, the metal monster movers and the upside down architecture, ice-cream delights planted with abandon on the shore ridge. Sky blue, always blue.

It’s a beautiful abandon to be wedged between jet-lag, adrenalin and a new shore. Barcelona is a coast with an inviting smorgasbord of activities. At once open, wide and accessible, it is at all catered to the she-she, the casual, the nude, the athlete, the family and the casual observer. A wide boulevard of sometimes grit, sometimes ‘phalt waders north some 10 kilometers. I crank slowly, purposelessly, mindfully soaking in the beauty of it all. Only LA rivals for uninterrupted coastal giving IMHO.

I sweat, it gets hot, very hot. I apply sunblock, hat and glasses planted head firm. Shirt succumbs to salt lick wounds and weary muscles. I seek shelter at the Olympic park, a welcome shore breeze relieves me and I even sleep, back on concrete, perhaps where gold medalists sat in silence or seduction.

I wake, cellphone battery stressed (why Apple why?) and head back along the coast the way I came. I find courage, strip at the beach, lock bike and dip nude in the water for the first time in many years. The buoyancy of nudity – Milan Kundera take note – is a beautiful thing. I flirt with my body language, ejaculate the shore in my mind, take a selfie for my wife – is this freedom?

Getting hungry, I redress, and check along the way back for food. I am no longer the same charmed, just growling belly, and settle on a café where I wait a short eternity with annoying, tall talking S African breasts and ass tormenting for a simple smoothie and desert, some kind of pastry blown high with butter and warm air.

I head reluctantly from the coast, back into the city along the bike path, dodging death, stocking up on bananas and micro-sized deodorant to that famous church with a million tourists looking lost, and get a photo taken by a friendly dutch student, and then seek power bank at a computer store, falling asleep waiting for a recharge, cheap at the 15 euro price tag.

Charged up, chastised for cellphone on a bike use by a cop, I head home, 40 odd km in, and 6 hours since arriving in town. I get lost, in a holding pattern of confusion and misunderstanding the map. I put it away in disgust and find my way almost immediately. Weened off digital dummy.

Another shower, a new t-shirt, a quick nap on a sheet-less bunk then it’s time to meet my Martin Swiss buddy Patrick, who has just arrive in Barcelona from Montreal for a 4 month sabbatical. The pub is cosy, the beer cold, and I feel good sitting there talking about life, bikes and adventures. Of course there is time to visit another bike store on the way there and think about more gear for the future!

Before I know it’s time to head home, into the night, the metro, the last found mini-bottle of single malt enjoyed on the warm boulevard alone, but at peace. No digital pyrotechnics, no social media whoring, just me and the buses, the other late night citizens and the gently rustling tress. Life is good.

Total trip cost – just under $190cad, flights included, and yes I did get business class going home 🙂