Sunday, November 7, 2010

Extreme Tourism: Barcelona

You're reading the second part of a three part post! If you missed the first part, you can catch up here.

We woke up early and I was loathe to wake, since it was the first night I had slept with no interruptions. But I did, and we managed to get out of the hostel by 5:40. Our taxi arrived a few minutes after that wand we made our way to the bus stop. Grace got carsick.

We got on our bus to the airport and went through to our gate with no problems at all. However, our plane was late, so we had to wait around for a long time. We boarded 5 minutes before our scheduled takeoff. The flight was fine, except there was a screaming baby and at the end of the flight, we went through some serious turbulence. I thought it was great and it felt like a roller coaster ride, but Emily got motion sick and Grace had boarded this plane queasy, and Veronika wasn't too pleased with the ride either. So my jokes about the smooth, wonderful flight weren't received too well. We were again landed to a herald of trumpets. Then we took a bus to the city center of Barcelona. I slept most of the bus ride.

We left the bus station and tried to find the metro to get to our hostel, but failed to find it, despite the "clear" directions we got from half a dozen people and after walking around a few square blocks with our luggage. We decided to stop for food, since we hadn't eaten since our sushi, around 8 the previous night. It was almost 2 in the afternoon.

We sat down and Emily got spicy home fries and I got tortilla española and the other two got hot dogs. Tortilla española is a potato and egg casserole, essentially. After we had some food in us, we were able to find the metro (which was still in an obscure location) and made it to our hostel, Mambo Tango. After our experience with Three Ducks, this place looked like a 5 star hotel. It was a very nice hostel, even without the Three Ducks experience. We took showers for the first time on our trip (we didn't dare in Paris) and rediscovered how wonderful it is to feel clean. Then we decided to catch a walking tour of Gaudi's architecture. Antoni Gaudi was a Spanish architect that believed in organic forms, and since there aren't any straight lines in nature, there shouldn't be in architecture, either. So his buildings are very unique and easily distinguishable.

We had a little time to kill before the tour started, so we stopped at a cafe and ordered coffee and cake. I had a hot chocolate that I ate with a spoon. That's right. With a spoon. Hot chocolate in Italy, and apparently in Barcelona as well, is literally heated chocolate, and so when served, it has almost a pudding consistency, and is impossible to just drink. It's incredibly rich, but oh so delicious. I also got orange lemon cake and Veronika and Emily got carrot cake.

We then went to meet our tour, but we were two minutes late and the tour was nowhere to be seen. So we decided to go on our own tour. We walked up and down La Rambla, the 1.2 km pedestrian mall that is lined with shops and restaurants and entertainers. We also saw a Hard Rock Cafe, which was a nice little reminder of home. We also saw a plaza full of pigeons, and a lot of awesome non-Gaudi architecture.

We went to the three main Gaudi buildings. The first was his house. The next was Casa Mila, which has structures at the top that supposedly are the inspiration for George Lucas's Storm Troopers. And the last was Sagrada Familia. Gaudi died during the construction of this last, immense building, but it is still being completed, with a finish date of 2015. We got lost on our way back and ended up taking the metro home.

Emily and Grace tried to use their bus passes on the metro and couldn't figure out why they weren't being let into the station. When they figured it out, the metro guard smiled sympathetically and said "Watch out for pickpockets. Welcome to Barcelona, girls." He must have assumed that we were stupid Americans, which, while not far from the truth, was sort of depressing.

Emily's roommate had told her about Juicy Jones, a vegetarian juice bar, that we just HAD to try. So we tried to find the juice bar, failed, got lost, and ended up eating dinner on La Rambla at a tapas bar. Tapas are assorted appetizers. We had a lot of different tapas and then we had tortilla española again. Then we got churros for dessert. We went back to the hostel after a full day and planned our adventure for the next day and then went to bed.

The next day, we woke up and ate breakfast at the hostel, which consisted of cereal, toast and jam, and tea or coffee. It was simple and clearly store bought, but good enough for me. We went out and walked to La Rambla to find that juice bar again. We were determined. We were successful in finding the establishment, but it was closed, so we decided to come back later and try once more. So we walked to the Cathedral and Gothic Barcelona and saw the Roman ruins there.

We got lost (this is a trend in Barcelona for us), and ended up on the coast. We walked around and had fun seeing whatever we stumbled upon. We saw the huge statue of Christopher Columbus, and saw cable cars running high above the city.

Then we went to lunch and I had a tuna salad tapas, seafood paella (Spanish rice and meat), and a strange dessert that looked and tasted like a hardened ho-ho. After lunch, we decided to try the juice bar once more, and we basically opened the store, since they were just arriving as we showed up. I had a delicious milkshake smoothie juice drink, full of dates, raisins, apricot, pear, and other assorted fruits. It was thick and wonderful.

We decided to take the Funicular Train to Montjuic (where the 1992 Summer Olympics were held) and a cable car up to the Barcelona castle. There wasn't much to do except walk around the castle, but it was interesting, and apparently the site of numerous executions during the Spanish Inquisition.

The Magic Fountain was there, but under construction until 2011, so we didn't get to see it. But basically it is similar to the fountain outside the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

We walked down to the base, and found really long, metal slides that we of course rode.

Then we took the metro to Parc Guell, another one of Gaudi's creations. I had assumed that it would be lush and green, given Gaudi's affinity for nature. But the park had sand along all the walkways and only the edges were lined with plants. It was a very strange setup. We met up with two of my other roommates that happened to get into Barcelona that day, Nikki and Danielle. We swapped stories about our travels so far and walked through the park. There were a lot of musicians in the park, too.

I had heard about the Laberint de Horta, and so I dragged all my roommates with me to explore the labyrinth. We got lost on our way to the park, because we didn't realize it was behind the university outside of the metro stop. But we eventually found it, and made it in just before sunset. The labyrinth was a little disappointing, because it wasn't very well kept - you could see where people had torn through the bushes, and it wasn't difficult to find your way to the center. The challenge was finding your way out, but only if you tried to take a path other than the one you came with. Still, even with the break to take pictures at the center, the whole maze took us only 15 minutes. We thought with our history of getting lost that it would take us longer, but we made it out and were able to watch the sunset. The park itself was gorgeous, however, and is supposed to be Barcelona's most beautiful park. I would agree.

Emily, Grace, and Veronika went back to the hostel after that, but Nikki, Danielle, and I went to dinner on La Rambla. We went to a tapas bar and ordered 9 great tapas. The bar sent us free shots, and it tasted like melted chocolate. The other two said it was probably chocolate and Bailey's. We then had churros and a Nutella crepe for dessert. When we stood up to leave, I got extremely lightheaded, and was good-naturedly mocked for my very low alcohol tolerance. We made it back to the hostel (after getting lost) and Nikki and Danielle left. Grace, Veronika, Emily and I decided that we needed to experience Barcelona's famous night life, so we began researching good clubs to go to on a Wednesday night without a cover charge. In case you're wondering, there aren't any. Nikki and Danielle ended up at Razzmatazz, which is 5 floors of awesome, and there are plenty of places to go if you don't mind paying a cover, but really, try going on a weekend. You'll find a much better party scene.

We met Tony, Juan, and Helen, who were each traveling alone and were interested in joining us to go party. Around midnight, we ended up at a jazz bar, which was really chill and nice, but not exactly what we had in mind about Barcelona night life. At the bar, we had an intense but quiet debate about whether the bartender was male or female. Tony and I had no doubt that she was female, and Grace sided with us, but Emily, Juan and Veronika were somehow convinced that she was a man. I tried to sneak a photograph, so I could poll others, but I couldn't get a good one without the flash and couldn't come up with a good enough reason to ask the bartender for her photograph.

We left the bar and sought out a more traditional club. On the way, we stopped and got some delicious shawarma. Juan and Tony bought the five of us girls roses from a street vendor. We finally found a club in Placa Reial (Royal Plaza), but it was completely deserted. So all the girls headed home while the two boys stayed to have drinks. We got back to the hostel around 3 AM, and I was still wide awake. So I got ready for bed and went out into the lounge to charge my iPod, and ran into the boys, who had come home shortly after us. Juan said goodnight, but Tony and I stayed up to talk some more. We were reprimanded for being loud, so we went outside to continue our chat. Tony is from London, and we had a great conversation about traveling, changing the world, stereotypes, and foreign policy. Around 4:30, we decided that it was time to go back in and get some sleep. As we were approaching our hostel, we heard noise coming from the hostel across the street. It sounded like a party without the music. So naturally, we went over to investigate. And I'm so glad we did.

We walked in and saw four people around the bar, enjoying each other's company and clearly close friends. They welcomed us and I experienced one of the greatest conversations I've ever witnessed or been a part of. The bartender was from Morocco, and spoke Arabic. There was also a woman from Mozambique, who is a singer for house music. There was an older man who is genuinely Catalan (from Barcelona), and spoke Catalan (the Barcelona dialect of Spanish). There was also an Italian man who is currently living in London. So the conversation was in Spanish, Arabic, Italian, and English, and the languages flowed over each other so naturally in the conversation. We were fed jambon, which is smoked and dried beef leg jerky, and bread. The Catalan also told Tony and I where to go to experience "true Barcelona."

He said never to eat the "shit served on La Rambla." If I was looking for real paella, I was to go to these restaurants, where it would be cheaper and so much better:
La Cova Fumada
Poble Sec
El Che Paella

And that I was to try snails, which apparently is also a Barcelona delicacy. He recommended two more restaurants, but didn't suggest a specific dish to try there:

Also, he said to go to the Market Boqueria, which is the open market, similar to the Mercato Centrale in Florence, and eat at Pinocho (which is the Spanish spelling of Pinocchio, the wooden puppet who wanted to be a real boy). Pinocho is a bar-like restaurant, and uses only ingredients from the market itself, which assures that the food is absolutely fresh and in season.

The Mozambique woman told us that if we wanted to get into all the best clubs in Barcelona, we only had to register on her guest list and we would get VIP access. She said the best clubs were Shoko, Opium, The One (best on Friday nights), CDLC (best on Saturday nights), Moog, and Jamboree.

By that time, it was 5 AM, and I needed to wake Emily up to make sure she made her flight back to Florence. So we said goodbye to the group and went back to our hostel. I walked with Emily to the metro and said goodbye to her. I went back to the hostel and went to sleep, finally, but woke up three hours later because I had forgotten to close the window and was freezing. So I got ready for the day and went to breakfast. I met a Latvian who was born in Australia, but is now living in Latvia again, even though he's never lived there before (confusing, I know), and woke up Grace and Veronika around 9. We went to the Market Boqueria and I think it's much cooler than the Mercato Centrale, and has a much wider selection of food to choose from. I got mango orange juice, patates alioli (roasted potatoes with garlic sauce), papas rellenas (mashed potato balls) and fresh baguettes.

Then we went to the Picasso museum, which was beautifully curated. It focused on his early (and better) works, pre-cubism, and you could see how his art gradually morphed into Cubism. The temporary exhibit was a comparison between Picasso and Degas, and was very interesting. I had no idea how similar the two artists' tastes in subjects were. Picasso's prints and sketches were incredible.

Then we took the metro to Torre Agbar, which looks like a giant phallus, but is supposed to be a finger pointing to heaven. As we got off the metro, a girl got her scarf stuck in the doors, and there was a moment of panic. Things worked out, though, and she got detangled and safely off the metro. Torre Agbar turned out to be the water purification center, and they had a small exhibit to promote water purification awareness (or something like that) and was incredibly informative and well put-together.

We took the tram from Torre Agbar to the Zoologic Park.

The park was beautiful and huge. We didn't go into the zoo itself, because they were charging 17 and we decided that walking around the park would be more interesting. I found a mammoth in the park, too!

We also walked by the Arc de Triomf, which was not as impressive as the one in Paris, but still cool.

We went back to La Rambla and got pitas and then we left for the airport. The metro and bus rides were simple enough, but at the airport, we ran into trouble. We waited in line for 20 minutes to get our passports checked, and then were told that we were in the wrong line. Once in the correct line, we had to wait behind a large group of people who were on a cancelled flight to Rome, and we began wondering if our own flight would be cancelled as well. But our flight was fine, and we finally got our passports checked and went through security. We found our gate, only to find out that our flight was delayed. We sat on the floor for a while and watched some British boys act like idiots, which entertained us for a while. Then our departure gate changed and people began rushing to the new gate like crazies. At the new gate, people were screaming and pushing to get through the queue. I don't know what the rush was. The plane wasn't going to leave without its passengers. We finally boarded and took off. The flight was fine. We had arrived in London.

No comments:

Post a Comment