7am wake up call and its pouring outside, torrential Parisian rains like I couldn’t believe. Said a quick goodbye to the parents and felt increasingly ill knowing I was just about to leave my comfort zone. Took an airport taxi to Paris Orly and made my way to the easyjet check in. Easyjet is actually really nice for the price you pay. I would compare it to Westjet in Canada but the seats are jammed together with barely any leg room. I grabbed the aerobus from the airport to the central bus stop and walked for a couple blocks in search of the hostel while asking people along the main street how the heck to find Aragon street. Finally I found the hostel which is right in the center of town and was met with open arms by the cleaning lady and receptionist. Wow does she ever talk! An hour after arriving I finally got my room key. She talked and talked about where to visit and where to eat.
Many of the people I met initially at the hostel were in town when Barelona won the footy match in Paris. I saw pictures of the craziness. The streets were packed with people who were ripping up the town literally. One of the guys was in the crowd/mob and said police were shooting guns of rubber bullets the size of hockey pucks. These crazy Spanish folks! Most of the people at this hostel are from Toronto, Chicago and Michigan at least for the time being, and we have had fun discussing our different countries. Much effort was spent on teaching the Americans how to pronounce the word shot glass. They say shat glass and I explained that means a cup of shit rather than a cup of absinthe (which they all seemed to be drinking last night).
I paired up with a guy from Toronto who works for Air Canada and we walked all through the city and had dinner together. We left the hostel and took pictures of Casa Batllo right on our corner. Down the main street and through many side streets that are so so so adorable. I was amazed at how incredibly busy this city is constantly, the streets are packed and never seem to die down. The style here is amazing but still very different from that of Paris. Many many cool buskers and leather and wooden jewelry artisans. We came across a huge square where we found an international music festival, what a treat it was to sit and listen to some Irish musicians in the middle of Spain. Walking into old town is definitely sketchy as the Barri Gotic quarter is full of small shady streets. There are many shoe and clothing stores throughout the city that I have to visit on a separate trip later on. We happened to stumble upon the Dali Museum and decided to give it a try. Very interesting and thankfully enough you are allowed to take pictures there. Dali was a nut, the museum has many of his pastel and water colours as well as sculptures and personal photographs. His waxed mustache and piercing glare reminded me of a vampire, maybe that’s what he was going for. We walked all the way down to the the port and took pictures by the huge Christopher Columbus statue. The streets are quintessential Spain and lined with palm trees and yachts galore throughout the boardwalk.
We walked back up to the hostel and found a great tapas restaurant. I had a bottle of Vina Blanca de Vallformosa for 4.30euro and ate the following:
Acorn fed ham croquettes
Rice salad with chicken and pine nuts
Thin potatoes with garlic aioli
Veal steak glazed parmesan and basil with smoked frites.
More restaurant news: they have the worst service imaginable here so I have now become accustomed to it. The all time low so far was last nights dinner. I asked for a jug of tap water and the waiter said all they serve is bottled water, that just peeved me right off. When we arrived back at the hostel the common room was bustling with thrilling conversation and bottles of wine. The majority of that group went out to a bar at about 1am (that’s when pre bars start around here which is just mind boggling to me). I was so exhausted I decided to lay loose and get a good night sleep. I ended up talking to this crazy musician guy. He has been traveling since last August and is from Californian and plays rock music. He sold all of his worldly possessions to travel and play music around the world. Unfortunately he has very little money left so he attempted to go busking last night but it is illegal to busk on the streets without a license here. He made it clear that he wasn’t fond of the idea of paying a fee to play music and started a rant on his bill of rights while finishing the bottle of Triple Sec he opened 20 minutes prior. I think he may find his busking to be more of a success if he drank Evian. First sleep was pretty brutal. It is so humid here and hot. My face stuck to the pillow and the return of the bar hoppers at 4am woke me up and their instant orchestra of snoring was much unappreciated.
This morning I got plenty of walking done as I headed north on Gracia to Casa Mila (La Pedrera) the famous Gaudi apartment building. It is massive and I just love how organic it looks. I then headed east and ended up right in front of the amazing and shocking Temple de la Sagruda Familia. This is the best church I have ever seen in my life. I stared at the facade for about an hour and took a tour of the construction going on inside and outside (it has never been finished as Gaudi died before it was completed, a work in progress). The most amazing part was the 350 step spiral staircase climb up the church steeples. It was packed busy so you walk up one step every minute or so. I was in front of two American comedians from California and behind a family of 5 fat Spanish ladies who were laughing their heads off at each other. To say the least, the wait was enjoyable. The view at the top was amazing and it is so interesting to see up close the intricate mosaics of the building. At the top of each of the spikes on the church are bundles of different seasonal fruits. Bright pink and green watermelons, huge spiky pineapples and bright orange and yellow citrus. Never before or ever again will I ever see a church with such great representation and recognition of the wonderment of fresh produce. The walk down lasted forever as it was quicker than the way up and looking straight down some people had panic attacks and the line slowed a bit. I managed to look forward and hold my breakfast. Finally I saw the last of the great Gaudi works and spent 2 hours in the Parc Guell. The most famous of all of his structures it is absolutely astounding. It is a huge public park full of cactus, palm trees and interesting rock formations. It gives you the feeling of being surrounded by an oasis within a desert. The center of the park has a grand church and many steps with elaborate fountains leading up to the Gaudi museum. I took some great pictures and thought at that moment that Barcelona was an excellent place to be.
By mid lunch time it was HOT. I have a burn on my back and I look like a cherry. The sun was a blazing and a nice wind helped to cool everyone in the city down. I took a metro to the beach and was amazed at the quality of the area. It was a european sun bathers mecca. A system of about 10 different beachs along one huge boardwalk. Since it was Sunday there were tons of locals hanging out playing music together, sun bathing and playing soccer on the sand. I found a great cheap beach restaurant and had:
A can of cold San Miguel beer
Pan Poler Panini (turkey, spinach, tomato, parmesan cheese and garlic butter).
Ensalada Delicamo/ Chicken salad (chicken, walnuts, pineapple, raisons shredded potatoes and sweet yoghurt).
I strolled the beaches with my ipod and had a great time stopping here and there to people watch and laugh at the local guys wearing there little speedo’s and dancing around with drums and recorders (it was a funny site).
FIRST EMBARASSING MOMENT OF THE TRIP: I was at the final beach along the coast after about an hour of walking. I saw a cliff with grass on the top so I thought it would be a nice place to take a picture of the beach and take a nap. I get to the top and take some pictures and then plug in my ipod. I open my eyes and notice some people looking a bit frustrated down at the beach bellow me. They are pointing up near where I am so I turn around to see what’s going on and realized I was on a NUDE beach! APPROXIMATLY 50 to 100 Spanish NAKED people were SCREAMING, SWEARING and FLIPPING OUT at me. They thought I had gone to the top to take sniper shots of their naked bodies I presume. I have this horrible image of a small naked little 80 year old man with enraged eyes screaming and pointing for me to get away. As soon as I realized that about 1000 naked bronzed Spanish beachgoers were now looking right at me I got up and RAN. I have never been so terrified I thought I surely was going to be mobbed by a vicious nudist colony. The story is funny now as I have told everyone at the hostel and they can’t stop laughing about it. But forever this memory will be engrained in my mind, horror.
I had the best ice cold bath of my life after returning from the beach and realized I was indeed burned to the bone. I organized a group of us to see a Flamanco show and was it ever fantastic. The entire experience is so moving as the singers, musicians and dancer are so very talented and heart wrenching. The dancers have so much power and passion in their faces, hands and feet it’s astounding. I then had a really interesting evening with a PhD student from Bologna Italy. She and I chatted all about food culture in Italy, the slow food movement, Italian traditions and politics, American issues (it always seems that turns up somewhere). She is really interesting as she studies the laws and art of translation. She was telling me all about the laws regarding translation of films. How fast subtitles can be displayed and how many words you are allowed to omit in order to not mislead interpretation. She also discussed how many countries including Italy do not use subtitles (dubbed) and how their constant viewing of international cinema with dubbed actors effects their perception of Americans. It makes sense as Tom Cruise in Italy sounds like an Italian! We both walked all around town and found a nice place that specialized in Paella. All of the restaurants down the Rambalas have open fronts so you can see the lines of tapas and many many hanging legs of little piggy’s (also known as yummy hams). I love the hanging hams they excite me. They hang the cut from the hoof so the actual meat part is hanging to the floor. All of them have little umbrellas pinned into the bottom of them to collect the dripping fat that glistens off the pork during the hot weather. I had a chicken paella and a 1/2 litre of sangria for dinner. I have to admit I am not a huge fan of paella, it makes sense I can´t love everything. I just don´t like the jargon on my plate. So many different vegetables and rice all cooked together are the same texture. I like diversity in texture as well as flavor. The carrots and artichoke both tasted the same which affronted my tastebuds. I do however love sangria. I am sold on that stuff. Please sir can I have some more.
The third day of my stay in Barcelona consisted of a fun little day trip to a city 40 minutes south of the city called Sitges. It is an ancient medieval town which is now famous for its 17 beaches and gay resort party atmosphere. The train trip was excellent and the scenery took my breath away. The train actually goes right through mountains initially and then scoots around the cliff faces so if you look out the window all you can see is beach and glistening turquoise ocean. The temperature varies as Barcelona was 24 today and Sitges was 29 degrees. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I walked first to the beach to see how the town was situated and found the cities famous medieval church right on the ocean. I took several pictures here as the waves crash right against the church walls, it’s a beautiful location! I then walked down the boardwalk and found a restaurant right on the beach. I had a big jug of beer for 3.50 and ate croquettes and tortilla. I took off my shoes and changed into my sandals and walked along the beach letting the waves touch my feet. The sand is like silk over here and parts of it are really wet causing you to sink if you stand in one spot for too long. I went out on to a boulder dock and took some pictures of myself frolicking and hung out with a local guy who was collecting sea creatures from inside the rocks. Finally I found the best beach Platja de la Bassa Rodona and slept for about an hour under the sun. I had made myself a little makeshift lounge chair in the sand and enjoyed people watching. The Speedos on the guys over here are just hilarious and women seem to like to walk around naked everywhere. Perhaps this is heaven, who knows. I grabbed a gelato on my way back to the train station and almost fell over. Dark chocolate and Mandarin orange is a killer combo. My general smell at this point was a mixture of sun tan lotion, sea salt and sand. Good memories of Sitges forever and ever.
This evening was the first night I decided not to go out to eat at a restaurant. I walked down the street from the hostel and visited the supermarket. I don’t know if its just me but supermarkets are like Disney World on the fun scale. In the cheese section they have wrapped sectional cheeses based on region. So you can buy a French board for 3 euros and you get 5 different cheeses from France. I thought that idea was so nifty! I walked to the deli counter and met a lady who grew up in Boston but moved to Spain over 20 years ago. She was a great help and was able to communicate with the deli lady for me. Tonight I ate vast amounts of Manchego cheeses (there are actually over 15 kinds of Manchego, food for thought) and Spanish ham. The Spanish ham is shocking. Cheapest cut is 9 euros a kg and the most expensive is 45 euros a kg! The lady gave me a slice of each and I was just in heaven. The ham is aged and really tough almost between a jerky and prosciotto. I ended up having a bit of a headache after a long day under the sun and very little water so I bought a huge jug of water and competed against myself for timely completion. On the way back to the hostel I popped into the local pastry shop and bought a little dainty banana chocolate chip loaf and an INSANE almond cake. The outside looks hard as many sliced almonds are held together with praline and candied sugar. Once my teeth had introduced themselves to the soft creamy center I was beyond words. I cannot properly describe the enjoyment I experienced from devouring this treat.
Kayley Redgers from Muskoka Woods and OTHS is in Barcy, who would have ever thought! I went out with the lassy and her travel partner Jon and had some nice chats and caught up on some much needed gossip. We hope to meet up in Portugal for some much needed partying. I took one last stroll to the gothic quarter in the morning and saw all the locals opening up shop. Enjoyed a gala apple in front of the cathedral and watched three men play a recorder, harp and mandolin (not kidding). I found a very interesting shop that specializes in maternity bikinis. Talk about niche markets. I fly to Madrid at 3pm but will be at the airport for a while which gives me a chance to read more of Great Expectations.
Speaking of expectations…check out Barcelona you won’t be disappointed.