Disclaimer: this post contains some profanity. *All names are changed to preserve the minute amount of dignity we all still have after this experience.
Despite what Instagram leads you to believe, holidays and travelling aren’t always picture perfect. Everyone knows that when you step out of your comfort zone, there’s a risk of serious unfortunate events occurring, be it lost luggage, crime, or a ‘holiday belly’ – if you know what I mean. But, even if the logistics of your holiday goes swimmingly, there’s always a chance of a classic #travelfail.
‘What is a #travelfail?’ you ask. Well, it’s an experience that’s either embarrassing, awkward, or ridiculous, that takes place when you are travelling, and trust me, I’m #travelfail prone! I’ll be posting the most awful, but hilarious stories of my experiences in the UK and elsewhere, starting with this one.
One summer, three of my friends and I took a four day city break to Barcelona. We wanted to intersperse our ‘girls on tour’ attitude with a bit of a cultural experience, so we planned an electric bike tour of the city with We Barcelona on our first afternoon. After checking in to our hotel, and a spot of lunch, we put all our faith in Fearne* and her Google Maps, working out that it would be a 20 minute journey from our hotel. So, with a backpack and trainers on, the four of us set off into the Spanish sunshine.
The first attempt
Confidently, we marched through the Barcelona streets until we had the Arc de Triomph in our sights. In the distance, I could see some red bikes – not too dissimilar from the London Boris Bikes – so verbalised my idea that they would be our modes of transport for the afternoon. Our e-ticket explicitly said that our destination was a building called ‘We Boutique‘, and as soon as we saw it, our hearts sank. The building, a terraced apartment block with a huge wooden door, looked a bit dilapidated for a travel agency.
‘Are we in the right place?’ Bonnie* asked. We must be. It’s what the ticket says. It doesn’t look like it has bikes in it. Maybe we sign in there, then walk over to those red bikes. Oh yeah, that makes sense…
Helen* pressed the button on the intercom, and on hearing the static of someone answering shouted, ‘We’re here for the bikes?’. She got no reply, but as if by magic, or some evil force, the door buzzed open. Buzzed open into what I can only describe as the set of The Shining 2. The Tower of Terror in Disneyland is less unnerving. In the centre of the foyer was one of those imposing 1920s style cage elevators, and the only sounds we could hear were the alarming creaks of metal above us. It was dimly lit, and had a musty smell, but for some reason, we were sure we had reached the right location to start our bike tour.
I’d literally spent the whole journey to the country warning my friends about the dangers of sex trafficking, but we four imbeciles still decided to walk up the stairs of the horror hotel. Helen even knocked on a door. A door which we soon realised was some Spanish person’s apartment! Suddenly, a voice from above asked if we were okay in a heavy accent, and we then realised that We Boutique was not We Barcelona, and we were, in fact, half an hour away in the wrong location, and only 10 minutes from the start of our slot.
How ridiculous we must have looked: four English women, walking around a dingy hotel searching for bikes.
The second attempt
Two days later, after arriving at We Barcelona a full 20 minutes late and grovelling, we finally started our bike tour of the city. Our guide, Emma*, who was Swedish (trust me, this is relevant), brought out some bikes, but like the delicate ladies we are, we complained that the seats were too high and uncomfortable on our undercarriage, so she tried again.
Our second group of bikes were the ‘premium’ bikes, and were much more luxurious, so we put all our trust in them. In no time, we were whizzing through the cobbled streets of Barcelona, zooming down hills, and dodging traffic. We saw some fascinating sights, and were informed of their significance by our hugely knowledgeable guide. The first 20 minutes or so was fantastic – even though I hadn’t ridden a bike for years before that summer, I felt like a pro, even managing to ride with one hand. I know, get me!
The next stage of the tour was to make our way up to the cable car, and although we had to make ride up a collection of ridiculous hills, I believed in the power of my electric bike to get me up there.
The first hill was elementary – I’ve got this I was thinking. But soon, the warmth in my quads became a blazing fire, and shockingly, I found myself quickly lagging behind the others, despite the fact that I’d been way ahead on the flat ground.
‘We’re the fittest, and we’re way behind,’ I complained to Fearne*, who laughed through her own pants of breath. ‘We should be much better at this!’
But after three hills, she too pulled away from me, I was in agony, and was sure I couldn’t feel any electricity in the bike. ‘I think my bike’s fucked,’ I shouted up, which was returned with more laughter. Seriously, I thought my bike was broken. I had no juice to boost me up the mountain we were ascending, and in the heat, I was struggling to breathe. ‘Fuck this. I’m walking’ I announced, and dismounted. I was NOT going to ride a push bike up a hill on my holiday. Within three steps, I felt something warm hit my leg and I sighed in despair.
I met the rest of the group at the top of the hill, completely out of breath and dripping with sweat. Emma was explaining the next leg of the trip – two more hills to reach the cable car, one stop on the car, then a ride around Castell de Montjuic, and I let her finish before I requested a quick break.
‘Uno momento.’ I said. The others turned to look at me with mild confusion, which rapidly transformed to faces of contorted hilarity. ‘I’ve been shat on.’ Emma’s face still held her bewilderment, while the rest of the girls let out a chorus of huge belly laughs. Turns out, Emma didn’t know what the word ‘shat’ meant, so Helen had to explain it to her while Bonnie and Fearne helped me. And by help, I mean took photos of me wiping bird faeces off my bare leg. Bonnie did validate her actions by saying I’d do the same to her – which is true. Thankfully there was a water fountain at the very point we stopped, where I was able to wash my leg, but I wasn’t quite able to wash the mortification and agony off too.
‘The bike’s broken. I’m not riding any more.’ I stubbornly declared. Emma and I had to trade.
Following a terrifying ride on the cable car, we swapped back and had a relaxing ride around the castle (where again, I was in front) another apparently terrifying ride down a hill, and a rather bizarre ride through a cactus garden. Then we arrived at a dock to take a short boat ride around the cerulean coastline. Still doubting my own body and sanity, I had to ask Emma if my bike actually had no electricity.
‘Oh yes,’ she enthusiastically replied, in front of my three friends, who’d been enthusiastically accusing me of being a drama queen, ‘It’s definitely broken!’
Nothing – NOTHING – has felt as satisfying as being told that my electric bike was not an electric bike, that I had indeed ridden a push bike up an enormous hill! My humiliation was over.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. After the boat ride, we mounted our bikes again to return to We Barcelona, where I, like Neville Longbotton in the first Harry Potter movie, was fired into a crowd of people – my electric had finally decided to work.
At least we got to see some cool sights!