Within thirty seconds of parking the van outside my apartment, some Barcelonan bell-end had called the police.
I had been dreading this day for weeks. I knew it would be sad, stressful and painful, but I did not expect the ordeal that followed.
I had returned to Barcelona, the city I had moved to with my girlfriend during the summer, to collect all my worldly possessions. Sadly, what we had hoped would be a new, exciting chapter for us, had not turned out that way. After three years together, we had fallen apart and the relationship had come to an end.
So collecting my belongings from the apartment we had lived in was never going to be an enjoyable task. But on top of the emotional sting, the practicalities of the move turned out to be a logistical nightmare.
The apartment was located on a very narrow, one-way street in central Barcelona. Things had started out well. With everything boxed up and ready to go, me and my road-tripping companion Andy, who had kindly come out from the UK to help, picked up the rental van, and drove it back to the apartment.
There could be no hanging around. With no parking space whatsoever, we had to pull right up on the pavement to allow cars to pass, but in doing so had to block one of the pavements. I had to move some 15 boxes worth of my life out and drive them all the way to my new home, Slovenia. But within half a minute of starting the operation, some Barcelonan took task with us being pulled up on the pavement and threatened to call the police.
I was on high-stress mode. Knowing we were loading on borrowed time, I sprinted up the stairs of the apartment, madly ferried box by box to Andy, who then loaded them in to the van. But I was not fast enough. The irate Barcelonan had made good on his threat and actually had called the police. After just six minutes of loading, the Spanish Five-O arrived. I tried to explain I was moving house. This was a one-off deal. Yes – I was blocking the pavement but come on – give me a break! How are you supposed to move house in a street like this without parking on the pavement for a few minutes?
We only needed another five or six minutes and we’d be driving out of Barcelona, never to return (until the following week when we had to return the van as no rental company will rent you a van for one-way hire to another country).
I was feeling sad, I was stressed and I just wanted to get out of Barcelona with my things and put the tough times behind me. I pleaded with the police. But the Catalan coppers weren’t cutting me any slack. As the police woman pulled out her pad and started writing me a ticket we were forced to abandon the loading operation, dash back to the apartment, lock the front door, and move the van. Muchas gracias Barcelona.
With another eight or so boxes to come, we didn’t know what to do. Driving on to the busy La Rambla, stress levels had been turned up to eleven. We spotted signs for a car park and followed them, ending up at an underground multi-storey. It was three blocks away from the apartment, but at least we could park in peace. Or so we thought. But Lady Luck was against us this day.
There was only one space left in the whole car park, and it was the tiniest slot imageable. I was not convinced we’d even be able to fit the van in at all and I felt like crying, in disbelief of how my moving operation had gone from smooth and calm, to calamitous, in the space of three minutes or less.
Thankfully, with the expert tuition of Andy, who had once worked as a delivery van driver, I managed to edge the van in, with only centimetres to spare each side. Indeed, it was so tight, I was unable to open either door, and had to get out of the window. Still, at least we could take our time now, rather than being slagged off by annoyed passers-by for blocking the pavement and hassled by the police.
We had to make five journeys from my apartment to the car park, running the gauntlet of the La Boqueria market each time, clogged with crowds. It was only after the forth leg that I suddenly had a terrible thought. How were we going to get back into the van? I had closed the window, thereby cutting off our only method of entry.
We were now faced with the situation of having a fully loaded van, but not actually being able to get into the driver’s seat. Fate really was not on our side today. We went through our options; if we opened the door enough to get an arm in, perhaps we could get the key in the ignition and be able to roll the window back down? Andy tried, but there was no way he could reach.
Was there a way to enter the cockpit via the back of the van? No – the pack panel was a solid sheet of metal.
Could we wait until the car next to us moved? Well yes we could but that might be hours, or the next day even.
Back to basics. Could we squeeze in via the doors? The driver’s side – absolutely not. But the passenger side had just a little more space. I squeezed myself between the van and the car next to it and opened the door as far as it would go – about 15cm. Stepping up from ground level– there was no way I could do it. But I noticed that the opening was wider at the top of the door. If I could change the angle of entry, perhaps I could just fit?
Opening the sliding rear door gave me the step up I needed to give it go, but I still couldn’t quite fit; my belt was catching on the door frame. So off came my belt. Exhale. Contort. I edged myself in, centimetre by centimetre, worried I might get stuck, but kept going and just managed to slide myself in to the passenger seat. I breathed out, opened the window again and exited, and made sure not to close it this time.
It was such a massive relief that I didn’t even care about the lady who hurried her two kids past us as I stood next to Andy in the dark multi-storey car park, putting my belt back on.
Exit Planet Barcelona
We could now just get out of the city and begin the 16 hour drive up to the French border, east across south France, through Monaco, into Italy, up to Austria, and dropping down into my final destination: Slovenia.
It was a brutal farewell from Barcelona. Driving out of the city, I felt sad but I was glad that I had retrieved my possessions, avoided a ticket and upskilled myself in contortion.
Little did we know that our road trippin’ troubles were far from over. Part 2 coming soon…