Right now I'm sitting in the "lobby" of a really snazzy hostel in Sevilla. I'm bundled up with a cup of coffee, slowly realizing that the weather very well might stay like this for the last couple weeks of our trip. Unfortunately we hit southern Spain just as the cold snap did, but it's gorgeous nonetheless. Anyways, I have a bit more catching up to do, don't I?
Barcelona, great times. Highlights- the open air market on Las Ramblas, Las Ramblas at night.. the beach.. the port.. Park Guell.. Ruaridh getting all his documentation stolen.. oh yeah. Good stuff. But I digress...
The first day was, as it always is, all train. Long and sllooow. Still, me and Ruaridh were excited about Dr. Gallagher putting us up in a real hotel for 2 days! (Thanks again Dr. G) We rolled in a couple hours past the time we were supposed to, around midnight, and caught a cab to our Hotel, called BCN Design Hotel. At night, with the huge buildings and bright lights, it could've been New York. I was pretty surprised at how metropolitan everything was. We got in, and the hotel was absolutely gorgeous and very modern looking. It was funny, because in the lobby it was an angry american woman complaining about her room, an annoyed looking older english couple, and us, two giddy looking teenagers with dirty backpacks. Our room was equally cool and modern, and the bed was fluffy. We passed out pretty immediately.
Barcelona looked a lot less average in the daytime, I was pleased to see. The architecture is all beautiful and the streets were all lined with palm trees. Coming here, to Europe in general actually, makes me want to know more about architecture, but you don't need to be an architect to notice the distinct style of Gaudi. We saw one of his buildings by our hotel, and it is this surreal, colorful warp of a building that looks like something out of a Tim Burton film, squeezed in the middle of a row of modern, dull office buildings. Anyway, decided to wander around the city since it was sunny and warm, so we made our way down to Port Vell. On our way through a large open square, we stopped to watch an African band play, and they were pretty awesome. Port Vell was very sophisticated and very touristy, with nice paved sidewalks and manicured grass and some modern art placed here and there. The port contained a huge upscale shopping center called the Maremagnum, an IMAX theater and an aquarium, with a ton of very chic looking al fresco restaurants. The docks were very nice, swarming with fish and big pristine sailboats. People were taking naps in the sun on the dockside cement, which I thought was cool- for a while I was starting to think Barcelona wasn't as chilled out as I thought. After this we walked along the beach to La Barceloneta, the less touristy fishing neighborhood of Barcelona. People were sleeping on the beach in their sweaters. We walked onto a rocky pier full of really adorable stray cats. One looked like it could've been no older than a couple months. It looks like the city feeds them because there were all really well kept. The sun started to set, so we went back into the city for tapas. We went to this place right by our hotel called Ba-Ba-Reeba, and got some great white wine and a variety of tapas, like little sausages, patatas bravas, grilled squid, green peppers... it was so good! Definitely started my love affair with tapas that would carry through the rest of Spain. Later we decided to do as the Spanish do and go out to dinner even though we weren't that hungry. We wandered down the always crazy Las Ramblas to Placa Real, where our next hostel was located, and which rivaled Las Ramblas when it came to livelihood and crazy people-watching. I had paella, and we got another great wine, this time red. The food was spectacular. After dinner we wandered a bit more, this time into El Raval, the former ghetto of Barcelona that still hasn't reached it's glory. We went to a bar, a former gay bar actually, called La Concha and dedicated to Sara Montiel. This place would've been incredibly sketchy if the vibe wasn't so great- peeling wallpaper, exposed piping, dark, dank, smoky, untouchable toilets- but everyone was so cool, they were playing arab music and the crowd was a great mix of young and old. The tea was great, the guys working there were awesome. After a late night, we headed back to our hotel.
The next morning we moved to our hostel, Kabul hostel, located in the fabulously seedy Plaza Real I mentioned earlier. We did more wandering, and at a local place I had the best french toast of my life. We did a lot more wandering, and found this place called the Travel Bar, a big backpackers hangout with these two Irish bartenders who were really awesome. We signed up for a tapas and flamenco tour for the following Wednesday. Later we decided to get better acquainted with our hostel, considering how many people we met raved about it, and we realized we would probably change hostels before we left Barcelona. It seemed like they really took advantage of their popular name, so the reception was bitchy. Considering how many people there were, it wasn't a very social place, it seemed like a place where people would go with their buddies to get as drunk as possible.. the food and bar were pretty awful and incredibly smoky. But luckily there are so many places to go in Barcelona we didn't have to stay long. We wandered up and down Las Ramblas a bit and then headed to bed, of course not without the usual drunken stumblings-in from 2am until 6am, the norm in most large hostels.
Another sunny morning, and we headed over to the Parc De La Ciutadella, a really big, beautiful park which contained the Barcelona Zoo and a the Gaudi Cascada. The zoo tok up most of the day, and it was really great- I haven't seen a zoo in years. This one has Komodo Dragons in it, which were pretty crazy to see. There were also dolphins, which started performing little tricks as soon as anyone came to watch them it seemed, and all kinds of other things- jaguars, elephants, seals, penguins, etc. Afterwards we walked through the park to the fountain, which was enormous but much more conventional than Gaudi's usual work. A lot of it was also covered in scaffolding. After eating and a little more wandering about this different part of Barcelona. It's a lot bigger than it seemed at first- all of the different neighborhoods are like different cities. Barceloneta was like a seaside town, El Raval had a Spanish urban feel, this area around the park was full of business buildings and Starbucks... and we ended the night in the Las Ramblas area, the quirky, seedy lively Las Ramblas part, where we saw a late night jazz show at a little, well-known place called Jamboree, literally right next door to our hostel.
Today was our museum day, since the weather was supposed to be pretty crappy. That held true, so we decided to see to Frederic Mares museum, one man's vast collection of Spanish and European artifacts, including some of his own work since he was a sculptor. We found that almost all of it was composed of giant medieval crucifixes with various Jesus poses (as awful as that sounds) and hundred of large Madonna and Child sculptures, also looking like they were heisted from a medieval church. It was cool in ways that is really wasn't intended to be- we would just walk into a small room and be confronted with hundreds of hanging Jesus(es) staring at us from all angles... in the basement there were some tombs and ancient archways worked into the museum walls, which was very cool. After this strange little museum we headed over to the Barcelona cathedral, which I have to say was one of the most gorgeous museums I have ever seen. It was unfortunate that it was under construction, because the dark gothic peaks on the outside were covered in billboarded scaffolding, but the inside was stunning, again designed to make you feel so incredibly small. It was different than the Notre-Dame because this building actually commanded reverence from every visitor. After some unmemorable lunch, we visited the Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat, which housed the enormous chambers were Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand received Christopher Columbus on his trip from America, and a perfectly preserved piece of the ancient city underground. After several hours we had our fill of museums and headed back to our new hostel, a much better choice called Centric Point, located up in the smart, chic part of the city where the BCN Design Hotel was located. We met up with this really cool guy from Manchester named Dave. We ended up hanging out with him for the rest of the night because he ended up joining the tapas and flamenco tour we were on. We all met up at Travel bar and were served the most amazing traditional tapas, mostly "montaditos," tapa things on little pieces of toast. One was tuna with guacamole and corn, another was cheese and peppers and sweet sauce, there was calamari and grilled squid, a salsa-like one.. they were so good! After we all got chatty with a few glasses of sangria, we headed over to the flamenco venue. The venue was very intimate, and the flamenco guitarists were amazing. They looked like they could be brothers, Moriscos with the black curly hair and intense dark eyes. The female singer was incredible, and the male dancer was tapping so quickly that at some point he looked like he was levitating across the dance floor. Me, Ruaridh and Dave decided to go out after the show to a bar off Las Ramblas, since the night was still young (as far as Barcelona goes.) We were having a really great time, laughing the whole night, but Ruaridh wanted to go out and get some air since the bar started getting packed and pretty smokey. After a few minutes, Ruaridh came back in, looking like a deer in the headlights, saying his things were gone. After a lot of panicky babble, we came to realize that two guys came up to Ruaridh while he was walking up the street advertising a club, which is very common on Las Ramblas. He said they were in front of him the whole time, and he saw the two of them walk away, but somehow they got to his front and back pockets. This included his passport, green card, wallet.. everything. So while I'm trying to think of a way to handle this, Ruaridh disappears. Dave tells me he ran off to "find them" (heart attack) and so we are sitting there, waiting for him to come back. When I start getting nervous Dave says he was going to try to find Ruaridh, and he promised he would be back in 15 minutes. Some really nice bartender sees me sitting nervously and gives me a beer on the house. After a bit, Dave comes back, Ruaridh-less, but he shows up a few minutes later. We go back to the hostel and plan out what we have to do over the next few days. The guy at reception tells us that during the summer, one out of every 4 people in Barcelona are pickpocketed.
We started sorting out everything the nexy day, police reports, trying to find the british consulate, etc... we didn't do much other than that, since Ruaridh was pretty shaken up. In the morning he said he would take a cab to the american and british consulates to make things easier. We had tapas that night though, at Ba-Ba-Reeba again since it was so good. Afterwards we went back to La Concha, where the bartenders recognized us and I ended up having a very heated political discussion, albeit some language barrier problems, with some Barcelonian guy, of course all in good fun.
In the morning we had to change hostels again, this time to one called Barcelona Mar. The spanish receptionist was incredibly friendly and bubbly, and the place looked a bit run down but pretty cool. We got to our 4-bed room, which was actually in an off-shoot behind a massive 12-bed room. Ours was pretty tiny, with harsh fluorescent lights, and it smelled like still water. I got to my top bunk, and laying down my head was only a few inches below the cracked paint of the ceiling. We've seen worse, and the rooms were only for sleeping, so we hung around the common room while we waited for our laundry to finish. Later that day we went to La Sagrada Familia, an enormous spired church looming over a fairly residential part of Barcelona that Gaudi never got to finish. It was very cool, even more so that they have people trying to replicate his work and imagination to finish the rest. We wandered around the many vendors outside the church, but wanted to catch the light show they put on with the fountain on Montjuic. The area, again, was completely different from the rest of Barcelona- all of the buildings were pretty enormous, the streets and sidewalks were all wide... it just made you feel very small. The water/light/music show was really fantastic, apparently just something they do for the public a few nights a week. After fighting the leaving crowds, we took the subway back to our hostel, made some dinner and hung out. I couldn't really get to sleep in our little room, so I just counted the cockroaches. Awesome.
Our last day was definitely our best in Barcelona. We went to visit Park Guell, of Gaudi's design, and it was beautiful. The day was sunny and clear, so we just wandered around, enjoying the plants, the walks, the crazy architecture.. there was also a really beautiful Spanish-style house, a small museum. The house yard had all these beautiful flowers and trees growing, a lot of orange trees too, and those purple flowers climbing over the fence. The sound of small bands or guitarists playing around the park grounds followed us everywhere. I expected some crazy Dr. Suess looking park, but outside the food court/entrance area, it was just a beautiful place to wander. After eating, we went back to the seaside area intending to go back down to the port, but they set up a little market at the south end of Las Ramblas, so we wandered around there a bit, and I picked out a few things for friends back home. We ate kebabs for dinner... they were very good. At night we decided to go out again, for what I don't know, to get out I guess, and ended up back on Las Ramblas to see the performers and the crowds and the crazies for a last time. Oh, I hadn't mentioned the Beer Guys. These guys walk around with 6-packs of beer to sell to people. We got hit on every corner one night (not that we took of course... sketchy.) For some reason this night, the street was lined with makeshift pet shops, no dogs or cats but fish, frogs, baby ducks (awwww!!) and chicks, roosters, bunnies, etc... one guy, for some reason, was even trying to sell a pigeon. We said our goodbyes to Barcelona, and prepared for Valencia in the morning.