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SKETCH: Reluctantly on a villa vacation in Catalonia

Barcelona airport

I’m standing at Barcelona airport and it’s all my wife’s fault. I don’t want a villa vacation in Catalonia, I don’t speak Spanish, I don’t like her extended family, and the thought of being trapped with them for week in a rental makes me wince. Yet here I am among their happy, pale and expectant faces waiting for luggage to arrive on carousel 3. The name of the airport is El Prat and I feel like a bit of a…

As an experienced traveller, I am more than prepared for the hour or more wait before the first bags appear. My iPad is connected, I have found a place to sit whilst others stand, and I’ve powered up my phone in case anyone calls. It’s slightly frustrating that the carousel starts to move three minutes later leaving me to scrabble to re-pack my rucksack and catch the others as they scurry into to July’s bright sun.

I read the news. I know about unemployment and particularly the Spanish kind. ‘Desperate’, the headlines shout; ‘a lost generation’. The man that greets us outside appears neither desperate nor lost. He carries a small white board on which is neatly written our names. He’s smiling, looks relaxed and his name – so he says anyway – is David which he insists on pronouncing as “Dabid”.

Dabid is clearly angling for a tip. Firstly, he opens the minibus doors for the ladies and offers his hand to guide them in. Secondly, he insists on loading all the bags into the trunk himself, shrugging off my half-hearted assistance. Thirdly, as if we’d fall for this one, there are cold drinks available to cool our way. Dabid feigns disinterest in the twenty euro tip offered by my wife. Twenty euros! On her insistence, he takes the proffered notes. So predictable.

I’m unclear just who he is trying to impress, but before climbing into the driving seat, he turns and gently pushes the twenty euro tip into the hands of a woman begging next to the sliding doors.

The minibus is new. Testimony to the huge amount of money that our group of 22 has shelled out for the pleasure. My wife, who is alarmingly good with numbers, points out that we are paying less than half per person of what we paid last year for a 3-star hotel in Bournemouth. I point out that at least Bournemouth has fish and chips available on every street corner. “Exactly”, she says but it’s unclear if I have just made an excellent point or if she has.

Thirty minutes of painful small-talk later and we arrive in Sitges. Dabid says it’s a “town which has something for everyone”, whatever that means. He drives slowly through the narrow streets pointing out some shops to visit here, and some decent restaurants there (probably all owned by his cousins). On enquiring about fish and chips, he frowns and then – would believe it – winks at my wife. “Yes, we even have fish and chips for people just like you.”

The villa is big, which raises the hope that I’ll be able to lose the rest of the losers and do my own thing. Thick, white-washed walls keep out the Catalan heat, date palms shade us by the pool. During the walk-through, I claim the first room we come across and stretch out on the firm mattress, leaving the others to complete the tour. My room has a large bed, en suite bathroom, and a flat screen – definitely the best room. Let the other suckers figure who sleeps where. Allocation of the other rooms seems to go smoothly. It’s only later I realise that I have the smallest suite. All the others have a balcony or roof terrace, incredible views and an even bigger bed. My suggestion to draw lots and assign rooms fairly is ignored.

At around dusk, I notice someone new in the kitchen. Not part of our group, not Dabid. I am this close to confronting them when I stop dead in my tracks. This stranger is half-way through peeling a large pile of potatoes. “That’s the chef”, points out my wife “not a burglar.” A chef! That’s blown the budget. Before I get another word in, my wife says “12 Euros per person including wine… and he does the shopping and washes up.” She can be very small-minded, always talking about money.

The meal is – good. The wine is – good. Her brother, to whom I never volunteer to speak with, turns out to be a good bloke and the duty-free cigars he produced are – good. We sit by the pool until late then climb into the hot-tub until later. Brandy appears from somewhere. I find myself laughing (reluctantly) at a joke told by my wife’s uncle. I had no idea he had a sense of humour, working for the council for all those years.

We finally turn in around two. Stars twinkle over the courtyard as we make our way to our respective rooms. Is this Catalan villa an improvement on Bournemouth’s Hotel Doreen? Conditionally, yes – a lucky first night.

Only six more to go.

Villa pool