Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Barcelona: The First Days

Two white girls walk into a bus station at two in the morning with sunglasses on…
It sounds like the beginning of a joke you don't want to hear the end of, but six days ago it was my reality. About two weeks, my roommate asked if I wanted to travel to Barcelona, Spain with her as plans with another friend fell through. I hemmed and hawed about the decision. The flight was a lot of money. I would have to miss a lot of class. I had a big paper due the day we came back. On the other hand…Spain meant sun.
For those of you in the US being held captive by winter storms and for the those of you in Ireland being driven insane by the relentless rain, you understand why sun is a big deal. It's well…warm. It's like being wrapped in a blanket without all the annoying fleece fuzzies sticking to your clothes. So I agreed to skip classes, write the paper the day before, and who really cared about the money in the long run? It's why I worked my butt off last summer at 5:30 in the morning making all of Hunterdon County's breakfast sandwiches (you're welcome).
So fast forward to that two in the morning bus trip. We stayed up all day and night packing and shopping and being excited. That excitement lasted all the way into the first fifteen minutes of the bus ride before I fell asleep. Awake at around four-thirty to get into the airport, through security to our six-thirty flight. The flight that I also slept through. All I remember is the annoying flight attendants going up and down the aisles asking if anyone wanted something to drink. The first few times it was nice but you'd think they'd get the hint when people start pointedly looking in the other direction when they stopped by.
Unlike last time, my luggage was on conveyor belt and we went on our merry way to a cab. Before we could get to a cab though we had to go outside and that meant palm trees. Everywhere. I stared up in awe; we don't have a lot of palm trees in Buffalo and Ireland. Or Jersey. Now that I think about, all those places could use a few more palm trees.
Our hostel was about a fifteen minute drive from the airport and I wasn't sure what to expect because I've heard such different things about hostels. Some are terrible, some are okay. My brother assured me I would hate them because I'm a little spoiled I wasn't used to staying in one. I would like to point out that it was not the case at all! This hostel was clean and the staff was friendly and helpful. We were in the biggest room (nine bed co-ed) in order to save money but it ended up being a great decision because we made friends from all over the world. Almost all of us those first couple days were American but many were studying abroad like Sarah and me and it was neat to get to see different perspectives.
For those of you who have never stayed in a hostel, it's a pretty simple setup. Tiny rooms with a locker for each person. That's it. We had an attached bathroom with two showers and two sinks because our room was large but the other bathrooms were in the hallways of the floors above us. In the basement, there was a small but cozy hangout spot with a couch and dining table, along with a TV and a couple computers with crappy wifi. But at least we had wifi.
Because we couldn't check in until two (it was only about ten-thirty), we dropped off our luggage and explored a little. And by explored, I mean we got lost. Hopelessly lost. Even armed with maps that my parents sent me from their trip to Barcelona, we wandered down to the harbor and couldn't find our way back. So we just walked around for ages, admiring the buildings, the people, and yes, the palm trees. Being in a big city again was a bit of a shock because we're used to Galway which is more like a large village than a city even though it's the third most populated place in Ireland. Barcelona was more along the lines of New York City but with wider sidewalks and much older buildings. Everyone had their laundry out to dry on the balconies so walking down the streets kind of felt like walking through a Disney movie. I would have started singing but my jaw was down to my knees as I took in everything, from the little kids playing soccer in the street to the butcher shops with hunks of meat hanging from the ceiling. It was as if no matter how many times I turned my head, I couldn't see everything that was going on.
After stopping to pick up some snacks, we finally found our way back to the hostel and checked into our room. Next on my list was a shower and a nap, which felt so good! That night we hung out around the hostel, eating pasta that they made for us (who can say no to a three euro dinner?) and playing drinking games with some other residents in the hostel. Then we slept.

Day Two:
I have to admit we slept in a bit on Friday, our first full day in Barcelona. Once we got outside (in the sun!!), we met up with Sarah's friend, Taylor, who is studying in Barcelona for the semester. After grabbing lunch (coleslaw and sausage: a weird combination), we headed to Parc de Guell (Park Guell). I'm sure many of you don't know who Antoni Gaudi was but Barcelona is pretty much dedicated to him. He was a famous architect who designed the Sagrada Familia, a huge Cathedral was started in the 1800s and still being constructed. He also designed several houses in Barcelona and had influence in Parc de Guell (where he also lived for a number of years). He is famous for his innovative use of natural light and curves in his architecture. Much of his work is influenced by nature and more specifically, water, so a lot of it has a wavy feel to it. Some of it literally: the walls in one of the houses curl like waves.
Anyway, we spent the whole day in the Park, walking through the never ending paths with little idea of where we were going. Like I said, the Park is home to Gaudi's house where he lived with relatives toward the end of his life. We paid the admission price to go inside the first two floors and inside, they have pieces of furniture he designed on display. I watched a mini-movie on the different pieces that explained how he would design furniture for a specific person by building it around the said person. So if you like to sit with your arm slung over the back of the chair, he would cut a little nook for your arm so you would be more comfortable. It's an interesting concept.
The Park was high up in Barcelona and boasted incredible views of the city. There's a part where you can climb on this little castle/chapel rock thingy so that when you get to the top you have a 360 degree view of the city. Aside from the sun and the palm trees, we were also excited to see cacti. Loads of it. It's so eye-opening to travel to a place outside your comfort zone. The most similar place I've been to Spain is Cancun, Mexico and trust me, it was not that similar. In Cancun, they speak the kind of Spanish I learned in high school. Not so much in Barcelona. Although many of the Spanish speak broken English, many of them also do not, so I had to do a lot of lip-biting and remembering back to when I was fifteen and not paying attention in spanish class. And also a lot of gesturing and saying never mind.
We were standing in line to see one of Gaudi most famous works (a mosaic lizard and also some curvy mosaic benches), when an employee came up and told us that in another hour, this part of the park would be free. Yay for free! We went and got something to eat before coming back and snapping some more photos of this lizard. It probably would have been more impressive if I hadn't been so darn cold. Apparently once the sun leaves, the it gets cold. So the most exciting thing for me were the vendors selling scarves. I didn't even try to haggle like you should in Barcelona because my teeth were chattering for me to do anything more than point and nod at the thickest scarf I could find.
The hostel we were staying at does scheduled outings at night and so we ventured off with them when it got dark to go see the Magic Fountain. Let me just say that the pictures of the fountain are almost more impressive than the show itself. It's just a giant fountain that lit up and spurted water to music. It belongs more in Disneyland than it does in Barcelona. It was cool for about two minutes but I couldn't help thinking how much better it would have been if I had had a couple drinks beforehand.
After being underwhelmed at this magical fountain, we all headed out for tapas. Tapas is something that should be a thing in the United States but it's not. It's basically like eating a bunch of appetizers for dinner. You go out to a Tapas Bar, pick out five or six of these little treats. Things like a slice of pork with honey mustard. A biscuit with jelly. A coconut fried shrimp. You can pick as many as you want and they are delicious and easy! You eat until you are full and then you're done; so simple!

Since this post is getting long, I'm going to wait and do another for the rest of my time in Barcelona. Stay tuned for the next installment in the travels of this writer!

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