Barcelona: Through the eyes of my 20-year-old self

Chapter 4

Trip date: March 20 – March 23

Age: 20

At the Olympic Village in Barcelona

I just couldn’t get enough of Spain!  After spending spring break in Costa del Sol last week I convinced Kristin, who wasn’t on the trip, that España was the place to be so we quickly scrounged together a last minute Catalonian adventure for this past weekend.  While it was partly a comedy of errors we still managed to have a blast.  Let me start by stating that Kristin and I are very different travelers… she likes a map and a plan and a comfortable bed with a hot shower at the end of the day.  I am perfectly happy with a good pair of walking shoes.  We balanced one another out for this trip.  I didn’t have the luxury of time to walk the entire city and absorb culture through osmosis and Kristin just needed to relax when things didn’t go according to plan.  And nothing helps you relax like getting lost in a foreign city, right?  Keep reading…

The deal we found at the travel agent in Monte Mario was Thursday night to Sunday so right after classes on Thursday we headed to Fiumicino and almost missed our plane.  Note to anyone planning on flying out of Rome via Fiumicino.  You will NEVER actually fly out of the gate that is printed on your boarding pass.  Those little announcements over the PA in rapid Italian and then broken English are actually pretty important.  Check the monitors.

We got to Barcelona around 10:30PM and caught a cab to the hotel that the travel agent assured us was “just outside the city center, on a quiet street.”  I handed the voucher with the address to the cabby and he looked confused.  Oh no.  After mumbling to himself in Spanish for several minutes on the side of the road (with the meter running) he decided that the address on the voucher was wrong.  The voucher read “Hotel Verdi” but he decided it must mean “Hotel Derdi.”  I tried to explain in my broken high school Spanish (with a dash of Italian, for good measure) that the voucher was not wrong and that we should ask someone else but he took off at a break neck speed explaining, “Está bien, señoritas.”  We then zoomed into the city, fearing for our lives at every sharp turn made by the mumbling cabby – and that’s saying a lot coming from Rome where everyone drive like lunatics.  We pulled up to a  very nice hotel and the mumbler went inside to check if it was ours.  He came back with a very distressed look on his face and informed us in an invented sign language that our hotel was very far away but “no problemo,” he’d get us there.  The next 30 minutes or so Kristin had her head down dramatically in the back seat while I tried to lean forward, despite the force of the speed of the cab, to practice my Spanish with the mumbling, speeding cabby.  Turns out our hotel was in Sabadell, a suburb of Barcelona.  After a few more wrong turns the cabby pulled up to a police station and asked where the hotel was.  Several more wrong turns and we pulled up in front of Hotel Verdi and our mumbling amigo showed us the price of his little joyride: 80 euro.  I asked the woman at the front desk what it should cost from the airport and she said no more than 30 euro.  The two of us managed to talk the cabby down to 40 euro which he took angrily and sped off.  The woman then informed us that there is a train station just down the street so there was no need to take any more taxis while in Barcelona.  Kristin and I laughed, enjoyed a drink at the hotel bar and turned in.

I would guess that the next day we covered just as much distance as the cab the night before – all on foot!  We took the train (for less than 2 euro, I love public transport) into the city.  A woman heard us speaking English on the train and it turned out that she was in training to be a tour guide, so she pointed us in the direction of Las Ramblas, the famous pedestrian thoroughfare in Barcelona.  We didn’t get too far down Las Ramblas before I spotted the green awning – Starbucks!  Now, you have to understand that this is the first Starbucks either of us had seen since January and as much as I love the little cafes in Rome I don’t love the lack of soy milk.  We HAD to pop in for a latte and used the opportunity to talk to the barista about how to spend our day.  It’s a good thing that we stopped for a bit of caffeine, we had no idea that there was a nine hour walking tour in our future!  And what’s even better, I was able to apply my employee discount to our beverages… delightful!

Tall soy caramel macchiato, por favor!

It was decided that our first stop would be the Cathedral.  While walking there we started to notice chalk outlines of people on the ground with what looked like blood smeared on top of them.  Our first thought was that there had been a mass murder there the night before until we noticed the signs and a woman getting off the ground after being traced, only to splash the fake blood on her outline.  Then it became apparent that this was an artistic sort of protest of the war in Iraq.  I’ve seen several war protests since getting to Europe but this was, by far, the most creative.  Like good American tourists, Kristin and I just kept walking, leaving the scene of the crime – pun?

Kristin atop the Cathedral

The Cathedral was beautiful, both inside and out and I even convinced Kristin to climb with me to the top.  We walked the length of the walkway on the roof of the Cathedral, took some photos and admired the city from above.  From up high we were also able to get our first glimpse of the harbor, deciding that we’d try to eat somewhere by the water for lunch.  Once we came down we visited the courtyard and admired the 13 white geese that are traditionally kept in residence.  If I were a goose, I think I’d like to live there, it was lovely!

A few of the geese in the courtyard

Our next destination was Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, though we stopped by the Arc de Triomf and a bull fighting ring on the way.  All navigated by Kristin and our free hotel map.  We would take a wrong turn now and then and Kristin would get out the map a la Joey from Friends “we have to get in the map” while I would turn to a passerby and ask directions in my adorably broken Spanish.  Between the two of us, we got there.

Arc de Triomf

Eventually we made it to Sagrada Familia and learned that it was part of the worlds longest construction/restoration project.  Our admittance fee was actually a donation to the construction and restoration though, after looking at a timeline of events for this unique structure, it doesn’t seem like it will ever be completed!  For over 100 years this has been going on and while it will be stunning when it’s complete, I can only hope that day comes in my lifetime.  The exterior was impressive and I’m sure that the interior would have been equally so if Id’ been able to see any of it through the scaffolding.

 

The exterior of Sagrada Familia

The exterior actually reminded me of a drip sand castle.  You take a bucket of really wet sand and mix it up.  Then take a fistful of the sand and let it slowly drip out of your hand into an uneven pile.  Keep adding more sand until it looks lie the Sagrada Familia.  Perhaps this was Gaudi’s inspiration.

Interior of Sagrada Familia

The interior left more to the imagination.

Next stop was the Picaso museum where our International Student ID Card got us in for almost nothing.  ISIC has been possibly the best investment of the semester in that it’s already paid for itself several times over.  Sadly the permanent collection at the Picasso Museum doesn’t open until mid-April and all that was currently open to the public were three rooms of sketches done by the great artist.

The harbor

After a walk along the pier and a late lunch at a little cafe back on Las Ramblas we set out of Mont Juic, the 1992 Olympic Village.  Now, I understand that if you’ve never been to Barcelona you may not appreciate the amount of walking we did that day, but it was a lot!  Especially in an unfamiliar city and lots of wrong turns and unintentional detours.  By the time we reached Mont Juic, walked around a bit, got lost and got on a train back to the hotel it was well after 7PM.  We had a lovely dinner near our hotel in Sabadel and did a little research on the Spanish night life.  Unfortunately for us, the trains stop running at 11PM  and most of the clubs don’t even open until 1AM.  Staying with our vow to steer clear of taxis for the rest of our trip we opted to stay in and watch a movie in Sabadel and to get an early start the following morning.

On the bus tour

On Saturday we felt like pros!  We got to the city early, grabbed our Starbucks and hopped on a bus tour of the city.  Our intention was to see if there was anything we’d missed on our walking tour the day before but, nope, turns out we pretty much covered all of it. Still, seeing it from the bus was nice.  It was a hop on, hop off tour and when we got to the shopping district Kristin grabbed my arm and we hopped off to explore a different side of Barcelona – Mango, Zara, Burberry and the like.  I actually treated myself to a bottle of Burberry perfume*, a very grown up purchase for me!  It was about 7PM before we stopped to take a breath and realized that we hadn’t eaten anything since that morning.  I wasn’t crazy about the idea, but we ended up treating ourselves to cheeseburgers at Hard Rock Cafe (though, I’ll admit… it was delicious and kind of nice to feel like I was back in the US for an hour or so) and thought we were calling it a night…

…Little did we know that our night was just beginning!  Maybe we were feeling a little overly confident in our knowledge of Barcelona or maybe we were in a food coma from the cheeseburgers.  Either way, we got on the wrong train and didn’t realize it until much later than we should have.  Once we noticed that nothing seemed familiar we asked the lady sitting next to us.  She just laughed at us and shook her head “no” while pointing behind her to indicate we were going in the wrong direction.  Fantastic.  We got off at the next stop and asked the conductor on the platform to help us but he simply scratched his head and walked away.  Enter Simon, an incredibly handsome man who came to rescue the damsels in distress.  The only problem was language.  In short, he spoke Spanish and French.  Kristin spoke Italian and I spoke Italian and a little Spanish, though after months in Rome my Spanish was really more like Spatalian.  After drawn out broken conversations, lots of pointing and sign language, Simon was able to get us going in the right direction again.  He and his cousin even paid for our train tickets back and agreed to escort us part of the way.  Before we said our goodbyes, Simon asked for my number and said he wanted to plan a trip to Rome to see me again.  Okay.

Simon took us as far as the city center and then made sure we were on the right platform to go toward Sabadell.  Of course there was a 40 minute wait for our train, but we chatted with Tom from Baltimore who has been working as a web designer in Barcelona for several months.  (I’ve had the good fortune of meeting the nicest people on these little trips!) To top off the night, we somehow got lost again, in the block between the train and the hotel and by the time we finally got back to our room it was nearly midnight.  Sunday morning we slept in a bit and then headed to the airport via public transport – this time successfully!  It was a fantastic weekend and, despite the little directional hiccups and my blistered feet from all of the walking, I’d say it’s been my favorite weekend excursion thus far!

Until next time, Adios!

*Almost a decade later, I still wear Burberry Weekend, despite the fact that Burberry has stopped making it.  I was able to find a couple of bottles online a few years ago but I’m now on my last one.  I’m afraid that when it is finally empty I may have to find a new scent.

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