Ultra-cool city invaded by the ultra-dorky

"Hola, chicas!"

The girls on the corner whipped their heads around, surprised by the sight of our silly little car and its helmeted driver. One or two of them might have cringed just slightly, in fact, at the realisation that their ultra-cool city had been invaded by the ultra-dorky.

Which was us.

It's not as though I was some playboy trying to impress. Pretty much the opposite. But there's a special madness that takes hold when you're bumbling through Barcelona's slick streets in what looks like a mixture of Smart car and scooter, and is significantly less sexy than both of them (which is certainly saying something).

You have to have fun with it.

The whole idea was on the spur of the moment. We'd been walking the backstreets, my girlfriend and I, enjoying the city, just strolling and watching, steering clear of the tourist hordes in the popular places. Then we saw them parked there – a row of little yellow machines, two wheels at the front, one at the back, a small windscreen, an open top – and the madness took hold.

"Let's hire one!"

I looked at them, doubtfully.

We'd been trying to avoid looking like typical tourists and these things had "typical tourists" written all over them.

"Come on!" my girlfriend entreated. "It'll be fun."

They're called GoCars, these beasts, and they're ridiculous. You have to wear helmets to drive them. They take you on a tour of Barcelona with the help of a GPS that screams instructions and guidebook information at you while you negotiate the city's busy streets. I'd been persuaded.

So we donned helmets and hit the road, getting the feel of the flow of traffic, cruising past the beach, attracting stares from the mortified public as we buzzed up towards the city's main landmarks.

Touristy? This was touristy. We could have had bum bags and huge cameras and "I heart Barcelona" T-shirts and we still wouldn't have looked more like tourists.

And everyone knew it. Bright yellow scooter-turned-convertibles tend to attract attention in a place such as Barcelona, where everyone else looks as though they stepped out of a Zara catalogue and wouldn't drive anything that didn't come in a shade of black.

We caught a few stares outside La Sagrada Familia, as children pointed and fellow tourists took photos. We provided great entertainment as our tiny engine ran out of power going up a hill near Parc Guell, forcing my passenger to get out and walk, to the evident amusement of every non-GoCar-driving person around.

More photos. More pointing.

You would imagine I would be mortified. This is, after all, not my thing. I usually like my experiences a little more authentic, a little less obvious. I never want to look like a tourist. (In some cities, it's a survival technique; in others, it's pure vanity.)

Open-topped bus tours make me cringe. Tour guides with flags on sticks make me run the other way. I'm the classic deluded traveller, the one who thinks he can move through a city with such an embrace of local customs as to go unnoticed as an outsider. That's not possible in a yellow GoCar.

But here's the worst of it. Sitting in that little machine, soaking up the sunshine and the stares and the little frowns of embarrassment from the population, I wasn't just surviving it. I was having a ball. Screaming with laughter at the sheer stupidity of it all.

Forget being cool, forget fitting in. Some things are just so stunningly dorky that you can only have fun with them. Especially in a city where no one knows your name.

The GoCar doesn't have a reverse gear, which makes parking them interesting. Outside a cafe, I was forced out of the cab and onto the street, pushing and shoving while my girlfriend twisted the handlebars. All the while the coffee-drinkers watched us, equal parts amused and horrified.

Senor GPS wasn't proving the most reliable guide. He would drop out at inopportune moments, forcing us to do a few laps of the block before the satellites would align and he would grace us with his presence again, screaming instructions and information at a volume aimed to be heard above the incessant burble of the car's little engine.

He made himself known on the tourist strip of La Rambla, however, emitting a piercing whistle to attract attention, as though the sight of helmeted tourists in a neon-bright car wasn't enough.

More photos. More pointing.

But we just smiled and waved back, like the Pope in his casuals-day Popemobile.

By the time we'd been instructed to make our way back to base, the madness had completely taken hold, prompting my cry from the cab and a wave to the stylishly dressed girls by the side of the road.

They just looked embarrassed. In a very cool city, we were monumentally uncool. But apparently having fun.

bengroundwater@gmail.com

Have you ever embraced anything uncool and touristy while travelling? Post a comment below and share your stories.

The story Ultra-cool city invaded by the ultra-dorky first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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