What I remember most distinctly about Barcelona was that it was completely overwhelming - in size, culture, noise, population - they simply have MORE of everything (including an insane amount of French.) Valencia, though the third largest city in Spain, was considerably less... jarring. While only a four hour train ride away, the provincial dialect was completely different, thus throwing another wrench in the already-shaky works of my Spanish. I missed the Valencian lisp... dearly. Where's Joaquin?
But we were there to learn... nay - to live! Our hostel was a super scene little place, two blocks back from Las Ramblas, one of the main drags of Barcelona. The staff was friendly and the place was clean. The downsides? Really noisy and in need of at least one more shower. More than once I was in line in the hallway with bed-head and a pre-caffe con leche frown.
We went generally exploring the first and second day we were there. We took in the Gothic church and the district of the same name. One of the highlights of the entire trip was seeing the man, pictured above, playing panpipes outside of the church. What he playing you ask? How about Frank Sinatra's "My Way," backed up by a stereo playing the little midi version of the same song. When Rachel and I took the elevator up to the roof, we could hear those pipes of Pan as we ascended. Glorious!
We made the pilgrimage to the Picasso Museum. It was interesting in terms of scope - most of what they had was not the "best known" Picasso, but rather, a lot of his early work and a considerable number of prints and drawings. His early drawings were... phenomenal. When you find yourself saying "wooow!" at the scribbled study of a goat, you know the man was good - not to say that everything he touched turned to gold - but you have to admit, he was arguably the best artist of the 20th century.
We also took in all the Gaudi we could handle. We spent a full day and a half with him, actually - bouncing from site to site. We first hit Sagrada Família, which was nothing short of mind-numbingly awesome. As Kenny Rogers once said, "I saw so much, I broke my mind." It's not even complete and it's one of the most beautiful man made structures I've ever seen. I must go back to see it completed... sometime after 2026.
Next, we swung by Casa Batlló, a private home in the theme of a man-eating dragon. It was, devastatingly, closed for no apparent reason. Luckily for us, Gaudi is everywhere and we walked a mere two blocks up and found another private residence-turned-museum in Casa Milà. The most interesting places were the attic - a winding series of brick archways - and the roof - a series of stairways, towers, and arches... tremendous. The interior was gorgeous as well. Gaudi took a Frank Lloyd Wright approach to most of his projects, in that he designed everything, down to the chairs and door knockers. Fantastico.
The next day, we hoofed it out to Park Güell, and I think of the movie 10 Things I Hate About You...
Chastity: I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed... but can you ever just be whelmed?
Bianca: I think you can in Europe.
I was whelmed. Rachel was whelmed. The park is pretty amazing. It's gigantic, with multiple sections with different visual themes... but it was so incredibly overrun with people that I wanted to scream. The last part we visited was the long mosaic tile bench, which winds around the terrace above the main gate... we couldn't see any of it because it was covered by the asses of a thousand fatties. I expected people, but not what seemed like an organized mob sent to piss us off. Rachel and I both left feeling rather letdown, and sought comfort in our cervezas. Perhaps we should have been less naive, but it was, to put it gently, anti-climactic.
The last full day was spent mostly at a beach in Sitges, a tourist town about an hour south of Barcelona. When the water touched our feet, Rachel screamed. It was cold. Cold even for this jaded New Englander. The temperature of the Atlantic off the coast of Maine in early June. COLD! We took a picnic lunch of bread and fruit, which we ate almost immediately. Rachel said, "oh man, I'm not going in." I cocked my head and looked at her because she already knew the answer. We, of course, went in. How do you not swim in the Mediterranean? Sure, our lips literally turned blue (well, violet), but damn it - we went in. And it was good.
One of the scariest/"we can laugh about it now!" moments took place on the last night. Rachel and I decided to take a different route back to our hostel, which was between a Russian a Middle Eastern neighborhood. We head down this street, somewhat populated with people... we soon realize, however, that they're all men. We start getting that fight-or-flight feeling... but then we see a woman hanging out and think "phew!" Turns out that it's a hooker... of course. Meanwhile, the guys are watching, sort of following Rach and I in small clumps. I think to myself, "if street-smart Rach gets freaked out, then I'll freak out, but until then..." As if on cue, Rachel grabs my arm - HARD. Crimeny. We dive off that street to a slightly less freaky street with some drunk clubbers, and start talking...
Rachel: Did you see that?
Alec: You mean the freaking "Thriller" video that was following us?
Rachel: No - the street filled with hookers!
Alec: I saw the one hooker...
Rachel: No - there were more! I looked down one of the alleys and it was FILLED with hookers! AHHH! We're gonna DIE!
As we were walking back towards Las Ramblas to get back to our hostel the non-hooker filled way, we saw a couple of cop cars filled with attractive and extremely bored policemen going to scatter the wolves of Barcelona and the hookers paid to love them. We needed to shower and go to bed. ASAP.
To end on a positive note, earlier that night, Rachel and I went out for dinner and a cute little French family sat next to us. It was a youngish couple with two little boys - a redhead around five or so, and a little blond cherub around two. The two-year-old takes one look at me and was, apparently, smitten. He spent the whole evening smiling at me, hiding his face, then smiling again and trying to edge closer to me on the bench, getting upset only when his mom pulled him back. The mom was thoroughly embarrassed and frustrated, the younger brother thought it was hilarious, and the dad was trying not to smile. When the little one tried to sneak over to our table, I told the mom something in French along the lines of "no worries." She gave me a meek grin and they left shortly thereafter. I would have nabbed him if I thought I could make it through customs with one extra towheaded French toddler than I'd left the country with. He was too cute. I don't know why two-year-olds think I'm awesome, but they do.
Anyway, to sum up this series of random events, I enjoyed Barcelona, but not as much as I thought I would. I didn't fall in love with it - as I had expected. If I had the chance to go back, I guess I would, but not without some reservation (as in "couldn't I go to Seville, instead?") But I'd be willing to see what else it had to offer. And catch up with Gaudi.
The trip home started off frantically, and ended quite easily. Rach and I got to the Barcelona airport in plenty of time, but were told that we had to check our bags - something we'd manage to avoid. No bueno. The flight from Barcelona to Dublin was running late and, on top of that, took longer than expected. We knew we were going to miss the connecting flight and our bags. We touch down in Dublin and us and two guys going to Boston were ushered upstairs, thrown into a van, zoomed through customs, and dropped off at the gate. We ran onto the plane and were greeted by, what else but a pleasant Irish woman who said, "oh, no needtah run garls! The plane inn't going tah leave withoutchu!" I wanted to hug her and stay in that glorious country until they found me and gave me the boot back to its little snot-nosed brother of Boston. We were the last people on the plane and plopped into our seats - which had individual screens and a list of shows and movies to choose from... even an episode of "Father Ted." I was overjoyed. The flight was without incident and when we arrived, we were unnecessarily sassed by a fake-cranky Boston cop (home!)... and both our bags were there! Rachel declared it a St. Patrick's day miracle, in spite of it being about two months late. My parents were only ten minutes late picking us up. It is a miracle!
Back home, Rach and I ate our weight in chips and fruit, crashed and had brunch with my fam the next day at Julian's. At the Providence airport, we parted ways as we always do - without much pomp and circumstance - because we know we'll see each other again.