Barcelona: Communism, Jam Session, Freak Out!!!!

On Sunday (after getting back to the hostel at 7:30 AM and promptly falling asleep for a few hours), Katherine and I went back out to La Rambla for lunch and got some delicious tapas, as well as a traditional dish from Catalunya called Botifarra.

Yuuuummmm!!!!Traditional Catalunyan dish

Katherine was still exhausted, so we went back at around 4 PM for her to nap. She ended up napping for the next 5 hours, so at least I had Alessio to keep me company because he was working the evening shift on Sunday. Italian lessons continued, and I also helped him do some of his chores around the hostel, like making beds and such.

That’s how bored I was.

Plus, he was kinda flirtatious, so I was having fun getting so much attention from an Italian! However, there was one teensy weensy itty bitty detail about him that kinda-sorta makes him the type of guy I could never bring home to meet my folks:

He’s a Communist.

His Facebook profile pictures (yeah, we’re friends) feature Marx, Fidel Castro, and other beloved heroes, along with tons of anti-capitalism, anti-American banners and pictures. But my favorite part is what he calls Coca-Cola:

“Black water from The Empire”

…..

I love it.

Coca-Cola is my favorite company because they are marketing geniuses, but this phrase was so hilarious to me that ever since my return to the U.S. I have adopted it into my lexicon.

But yes, this is how I spent Sunday. Hanging out with Commie Alessio. He left at around midnight, and afterwards Katherine and I left to get a late dinner (we went back to the Ravi Kebab place, and the owner was so nice! He gave us free drinks because we were being friendly and asking how to say “Hello, How are you” in Pakistani). I don’t understand why Igor said that the people of Barcelona were unfriendly or didn’t smile — I encountered so many wonderful people during my weekend!

After we finished our dinner, the two American musicians from the party on Saturday night came over and played a few of their songs, and it was awesome! Since my return I have tried finding them via Internet, but even my superb stalking skills have fallen short. I am really sad that I can’t find any information about them, because their music is fantastic.

Jam out session w/ the AmericansYou can tell they're really into it.

At about 3 AM I went to bed for a quick nap. I was supposed to wake up at 4 AM so I could pack, check out of the hostel, and take the metro to the train to the airport for my flight that would be leaving at 6:10 AM to return to Sevilla.

That nap was a MISTAKE.

Instead of waking at 4:00, I woke up at 5:10, had the most MASSIVE freak out of my life, shoved everything I owned into my backpack, and ran down the stairs to check out. The receptionist told me I needed to bring down my bed sheets before she could let me leave. I almost cried. Right when I was about to turn to run up the stairs, the French girls and one of the Americans I had gone out with the previous night came to my rescue: they said, “Don’t worry about it! We’ll take care of the sheets! Go!” I thanked them with all my heart, ran outside and hailed the first cab I could. I told him I was headed to the airport and I needed to get there ASAP. We pulled up in front of the airport at around 5:45, and I paid, ran out, got my passport stamped, got through security, and arrived at my gate at 6:00 AM. The Ryanair people shooed me in, and the gate closed right after me. I was the last person to get on the plane, but the point is…. I MADE IT!!!! I arrived in Sevilla two hours later, caught a bus to my apartment, dropped off my bags in my room, showered, went to class from 10:30 AM to 2:30 PM (it took so much will power for me to stay awake), then promptly came home, ate lunch, and slept until dinner.

So that concludes my adventures in Barcelona!

If you’re wondering why I never talked about La Sagrada Familia, the symbol of Barcelona, it’s because I never went. I also didn’t get to go to the Picasso museum, nor did I visit Camp Nou (Barcelona’s fútbol stadium) even though my hostel was just a few blocks away from it. HOWEVER! I went back to Barcelona in late May and did everything that I had missed from my first trip! I even saw some more, like Montjüic and the monument to Cristóbal Colón. But that blog post is for another day.

When I come back to Spain in the future, I hope to live and work in Barcelona. I absolutely fell in love with the city, and I felt like it was where I belonged. Funnily enough, my grandmother’s maiden name is Taulé, which is a Catalunyan last name. So maybe, just maybe, there’s something in my DNA that really is calling for me to return to Barça. 🙂

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Barcelona: Rambla, Karma, Par-tay!

Saturday was quite possibly my favorite day in Barcelona.

Why? You may ask.

Because.

Because Saturday was La Rambla day.  And everything went perfectly.

La Rambla is located at the heart of Barcelona. It’s this one long, wide street that extends from Plaça Catalunya to Barceloneta.  Tons of restaurants, bars, shops, hotels and hostels branch out from it in every direction, and the largest market I’ve ever been in, La Boqueria, is right on La Rambla.  This is a pretty touristy spot, but worth visiting.  It’s probably my favorite part of Barcelona that weekend.  For some reason or another, I was on the receiving end of some incredible Karma on Saturday.

Told you so.Cool dragon thing.I am on La Rambla!!!Mercat St. Josep -- La Boqueria

The first thing we checked out on La Rambla was La Boqueria.  This is a massive marketplace where all sorts of foods are sold.  There are piles of fruit as tall as a person, various animal limbs hanging from hooks, nuts, chocolates, and dried fruits of all varieties, these delicious fruit juices, cheeses, vegetables, fish– you name it! La Boqueria’s got it.
I am getting one of these when I return!FrutaaaaDragon Fruit. Loved the presentation.Mmmmmmmushrooms!!!

They do love their olives here in Spain!(Salivates)
Bunnies after the "cute" is removed.How's it going, Bill? Just fine, Bob.
Best ham in the world. Hands down.Say cheeeeeeeessssse!!!!

Mmmmmmm..... nuts and candies.How d'you want your candy? Sunny side up
Mountains of fruit up to my eyeballsI love dates!
After being completely awestruck by La Boqueria and buying our lunch there (a selection of nuts and a bowl of exquisite fruit), we wandered for a bit to find a shady spot to eat.  After sitting for a little bit, out of nowhere a group of Capoeira dancers came and performed right in front of us (click link to see some acrobatic maneuvers)! They did their thing and kept moving on, but it was so cool! Katherine had never seen Capoeira before, so I enjoyed explaining a bit of it to her.
Lunch = fruits and nutsCapoeira street performers
Afterwards we went on a fierce hunt for a Barcelona F.C. scarf, but Katherine was adamant that she didn’t want to pay more than 5 Euros for one.  She started bargaining with the shopkeepers and merchants (who were all Indian or some sort of Middle Eastern), but I don’t think anyone went lower than 8 Euros.  After finally throwing in the towel, we wandered into another store, where I asked if they sold postcards (postales).  The man pulled out a shoe box filled with them and showed them to me. I asked how much each one was, and he said 10 cents.  My eyes bugged out because all the other ones I’d seen were at least 35 cents, so I was really happy about the deal.

Yes. Saving 25 cents was a big deal to me. That’s how tight my budget was.

I picked this awesome Drac postcard and went to pay, but he says, “You know what? Just take it, it’s free. I don’t want these postcards anyways.”  I smiled hugely and thanked him and practically skipped with happiness out of the store.  Katherine and I enjoyed window shopping for the next few minutes.  There were so many stores filled with cute trinkets or jewelry.

Cool jewelry storeI remember these in Hawai'i!

We had wandered down another side street and I saw a man in dirty clothes sitting on the side of the street with a blanket in front of him, and the blanket was filled with these little dishes that he was making from empty soda cans. I was enthralled. He had a big plastic bag next to him filled with empty aluminum cans he had no doubt sifted through trash bins to collect, and he was making art and dishes with them. His fingers worked nimbly on his craft, and I sat there for a long time just watching. Each creation was 1 Euro. I almost didn’t buy any, and started walking away, but I couldn’t help but keep turning back to look at it again. The man caught my eye and smiled every time I turned around. Katherine encouraged me to return and buy one, so I went back and I bought two little dishes! I picked one that was made from a Coca-Cola (my favorite company) can, and then a smaller black one because I like the color combination of red and black. I keep dishes like those on my nightstand and I use them to put my jewelry in.

After my purchase, I stayed and continued watching for a while after that. After I had been watching for a few minutes, other people paused to watch as well, until at one point a small crowd had gathered around him, and other people were buying the dishes too. After the crowd had dispersed, he reached into his plastic bag and pulled out a black can, the same that my small black dish was made of. He made a really intricate dish, a deeper one that also had a lid (those were worth 2 Euro), and handed it to me. I looked at him slightly confused, and he said it was a gift for me! That was now twice today that someone had just given me something!! I couldn’t believe it! We exchanged names and introductions, and I learned his name was Gul, and he was from Mongolia!

He was such a happy guy. He had the biggest smile ever, and Katherine and I decided we wanted pictures with him, and when I stood next to him he pulled me into a big side-hug, pressing his cheek right on mine. That close, I could tell that he hadn’t had a shower in a while, but I didn’t really care because he was such a sweetheart. I gave him a hug after the picture, then it was Katherine’s turn for a picture and he gave her a big hug, too. Then he gave me his email address so I could send him the pictures so he could have something to remember us by as well.

Me and Gul!!!!

Gul and me!!!!

As he was writing his email address in my little red notebook I had made a habit of carrying around with me, I started feeling incredibly sad.  He had difficulty writing, like it was something foreign to him, and he made misspellings within his own email address (“spanihs” instead of “spanish” (he wrote it like that 3 times, so it was deliberate) — so I wasn’t sure if I should send it to him the way he wrote it, or the right way, or if I should just try both).  Then I remembered when he had pulled me close for the picture, my first instinctive thought had been that my purse was too close to him for comfort.  It wasn’t the fact that Gul was a poor street vendor that had prompted my to think about my purse’s proximity to him, it was just the fact that he was a stranger.  I would have thought the same thing if a handsome man in a business suit had hugged me.  During my entire time in Barcelona, I constantly had my hand on my purse to dissuade potential pickpockets.  I was so tuned in to where my purse was at all times, I could not prevent the thought from crossing my mind.  Nevertheless, I felt extremely guilty and silently berated myself for that thought, especially because it had occurred right after he had been so generous and had given me the little aluminum dish gift.

After saying goodbye to Gul and starting our walk back to La Rambla, I got really emotional and almost started crying as I was expressing to Katherine the unfairness of the situation; that Gul was so nice and didn’t deserve to be on the streets like that, how life was unfair, and how despite his poverty he still had the biggest smile and a friendly demeanor.  She said something that made me feel better, but I still felt like a jerk for the purse thing.  I’m just glad I didn’t grab my purse and move it away, or else he would have noticed and it surely would’ve hurt his feelings.

After walking a little further down the Rambla back in the direction of our hostel, we passed by this young man holding out a menu and trying to get people to go eat in the restaurant he worked for.  This was the second time I had passed him that day, and when he asked if Katherine and I wanted to eat there I gave him the same response I had given the first time: a big smile and a quiet “No gracias, no gracias!” while shaking my head.  This time though, he stopped me and asked, “Where are you from?” in English.  I just turned around, looked at him kind of surprised and asked, “What?” Obviously, I know what he said.  I was just momentarily confused by him assuming that I’d be an English-speaker (most Spaniards thought I was a fellow Spaniard up until the moment we engaged in a conversation and they heard my accent.  Even then, they assumed I was Hispanic or Brazilian because my accent doesn’t sound like an English speaker’s).  He repeated his question and I said, “The United States.”  He smiled and said, “I could tell you are not from here.”  Still surprised, I asked him, “Why?”

“Because you are really nice and happy.”

I had to laugh at that, and asked, “So the people here aren’t nice or happy?”

“No, not really.”

I laughed in surprise again, and he asked me how long I was going to be in Barcelona.  I was leaving Monday morning, but I told him I was leaving that same night.  He said, “Aw, people always leave the same night! So there’s no chance I can take you out on a date?”  To which I replied with a big smile and a “No, I’m sorry!”  He just smiled back and wished me a good trip.  Out of curiosity, I asked him what his name was, and he said, “It’s a weird name, but Igor.” “Igor?” “Yes.” “ OK, Igor, I’m Biqui, it was nice to meet you.” and we said goodbye and Katherine and I continued on our way. Katherine and I giggled at the fact that his name was Igor, imagining Dr. Frankenstein’s hunched lab assistant, but I had to admit he was kinda cute!

After all that, I was officially having the best day ever.  We had a great time exploring La Rambla at night.  It stays just as busy as it is during the day.  Also, there were these men lining the Rambla trying to sell toys, and they made the funniest chirping noises to catch your attention. I took a video while I walked past them to share with you! You can hear Katherine and me cracking up in the background.

Boqueria by nightLa Rambla, still packed even at night

Finally, Katherine and I went home, and we got ready to go out to a house party with a fellow American, some French girls, and Mikael (Katherine and I had given him the secret nickname “Moi Moi” because he taught us that’s how you say “bye” in Finland).  So after we’re all ready to go, we take the metro back to La Rambla and go up into an apartment building for a birthday party.  The apartment was being rented by these two American college students.  They’re theater majors studying abroad in London, but they are a 2-man band (one on a guitar, the other on a djembe— yes, a djembe), and they make INCREDIBLE music! It was the djembe player’s birthday celebration, and we had lots of fun that night.  Maybe a little too much fun!  We all  made our way back to our hostel after the party had ended, stumbling in at 7:30 AM.

Barcelona was just intent on making sure I never got a decent night’s sleep.

Waiting for our Metro train to La Rambla

The massive guy all the way to the right is Mikael!

Barcelona: Gaudí and Italian Lessons

FRIDAY IN BARCELONA:

After waking and showering, Katherine and I were excited to get a start on our Gaudí day!

We went in search of a cheap breakfast, so we bought a baguette from a bakery and a fresh tomato and fresh cheese from a market. We found a place to sit and enjoy our breakfast, and it was delicious!

The bakery where we bought the baguette!

This guy was awesome! And the baguettes… Yum!

Afterwards, we took the metro (I love the Barcelona Metro— it’s the most well-organized and cleanest I’ve ever been on!) over to what we thought was the closest stop for Parc Güell. We ended up walking for FOREVER (“forever” lasting approx. 2 hours), going around the hill before we finally got to the Parc, but on our way we got to see some beautiful views! (click link to see)

MetrooooooGreat views while trying to find Parc G.

The view from the very top of the hillThe closest I got to La Sagrada Familia.

Parc Güell itself was impressive, to say the least. Gaudí was brilliant!

I love his style, using organic shapes for his architecture, how imaginative he was, and all of the colors & tiles he used! His works look like something that would go really well in a Dr. Seuss book. And all of the tourists were going gaga for it— snapping pictures of everything, and I was no exception. It’s no small wonder why he’s Barcelona’s favorite son. One of my favorite parts was Gaudí’s Drac — the colorful dragon guarding the entrance to the Parc. It was such a mission trying to get a picture with it! You had to hurl yourself onto the Drac before the next person tried doing the same, and it was a madhouse. But I got my picture! Victory!!

That looks really safe!Chillin' with my old buddy Drac.

The Man lived here for 20 yearsThe famous tiled benches of Gaudí
The area under the famous tiled benchesGingerbread houses?
Entrance to Parc GüellEl Drac!!! :)

After leaving Parc Güell, we continued on our way downhill to see the Gaudí houses. When we finally reached the first house, it took my breath away. Casa Batlló was absolutely gorgeous! It was completely covered in the most beautiful mosaic of shimmering tiles that captured light and color differently depending on your perspective, and it reminded me of fish scales. It was waaaayyyy too expensive to go in (Barcelona is NOT wallet-friendly), but I really enjoyed what I could see from the outside.

After admiring Casa Batlló for a period of time, we made our way further South to Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera. We did go inside this one, because it has a really cool roof! It used to be an apartment building, but now serves as a tourist attraction and a kind of mini-museum to Gaudí.

La Pedrera

The inside was pretty neat — not a single sharp angle to be found! — but the best part was definitely the roof. Katherine and I had bought these pizza-type things from the bakery we had gone to that morning, and now we decided was as good a time as any to enjoy our late lunch. I mean, really late lunch. Yes, the sun was starting to set as we ate lunch. But that’s ok, I didn’t mind, given my aesthetically pleasing surroundings.

Coolest door ever.

The coolest location I´ve ever eaten at.
After our meal we walked all the way back to a large plaza called Plaça Catalunya, and when we got there we decided we were really tired from all the walking we’d done that day, so we took the metro back to our hostel. The meal we’d had on La Pedrera hadn’t filled us enough, and I had a huge craving for real pizza, so we stopped by an Italian restaurant and shared a delicious pizza as the 2nd half of our ridiculously late lunch. Even after that we both agreed we could’ve eaten something more, haha. There was just no satisfying us!

Fancy water fountainAnother goddessPlaça de CatalunyaEntrance to the Metro

We got back to our hostel and chilled there for a bit, recuperating our energy from the day. After a few more hours, everyone was starting to get ready to go out, but Katherine and I weren’t in the mood. I think she still had a half of her bread with cheese and tomato sandwich, so Katherine ate that, but I didn’t have any more food, so I went down to the corner of the street to buy something from this place called Ravi Kebab — similar to all of the Döner Kebab chains that have taken over Europe. I got a dürüm (Turkish word for “roll”), which is like a wrap, but stuffed with tons of pork, lettuce, veggies, etc.

Feast your eyes on the glory that is a dürüm!

After eating that puppy, I was definitely satisfied! Katherine and I stayed chatting with Mikael (fully clothed this time!) for a bit while I was eating my dürüm, and he tried to convince us to go out and party, but we just didn’t feel up to it. At this point, I had discovered that there were Brazilians working in the hostel, and I got super excited to practice my Portuguese with them. I ran upstairs to get my handy-dandy notebook so I could write down anything they might teach me, but by the time I had come back down they had gone. Alessio was working the receptionist desk for the night shift again, and I marched up to him and asked where the Brazilians had gone. He told me they had left to take the group of hostel kids out to a nightclub, and I was disappointed.

But then, I was struck with a brilliant idea: I might not have Brazilians, but I have the next best thing.

An Italian.

I then proceeded to order Alessio to teach me as much Italian as possible, and he happily obliged, because he missed speaking in Italian and it amused him to see me trying to learn it. Katherine, Alessio and I stayed up talking for a really long time, and at around 5:00 AM Katherine was starting to get sleepy, so she said goodnight and went to bed. I was so happy with all of the new Italian words I was learning that I stayed up chatting with Alessio and scribbling madly in my red notebook for the next 3 hours until the end of his shift. He was really surprised and happy with how quickly I was absorbing the information and learning it. By the end of his shift, I had 4.5 pages completely filled with Italian words and phrases! Afterwards, he left to go back home, and I trudged upstairs to my bed to nap for a few hours before starting the next day in Barcelona.

Alessio & me, sleep-deprived at 8:00 AM!

Alessio & me, sleep-deprived and making crazy faces at 8:00 AM

Barcelona: Stranger Danger, Hunger Games & Finnish Giants

Continuing where my last Barcelona post left off (I had just finished unpacking and putting my belongings in my personal locker in the hostel I was staying in)…

It was around this point that I realized one very important fact: I. WAS. FAMISHED. The last time I’d eaten was at 3 PM, and now it was nearing 1 AM. Katherine and I went downstairs and asked the Italians where we could possibly go nearby for food. The younger one pulled out a map and showed us a place called OpenCor that would be open until 2 AM, where we could buy groceries and such in order to cook our meals. Katherine and I happily took the map and stepped out onto the street in order to find our way to OpenCor.

Apparently, Katherine’s sense of direction is far, far worse than mine (and believe me, that’s saying something). In no time at all we got a bit turned around and confused about where to go. Let’s re-cap really quickly so you know the situation we have put ourselves in: it’s about 1 AM in Barcelona, we’re on the street, slightly lost, we have a map pulled out in front of us, and we’re speaking loudly in American English.

Any mugger within a 5-mile radius was probably crying with joy at the prospect.

I had noticed while we were walking (in the wrong direction) that we had passed by a guy, coming from the opposite direction. We briefly made eye contact as he passed. He had a shaved head, a long baggy T-shirt, and loose jeans. He looked like he was of Latin American origins, probably Central American. A red flag immediately went up in my head, but I just looked away from him and started trying to figure out the map with Katherine. After a minute, we solved the “Where are we, and how do we get to where we want to go?” question, and finally started heading in the right direction to OpenCor.

I would like to take a moment to thank the Brazilian from the Barcelona airport and everyone who told me horror stories about Europe, because congratulations! I became the most paranoid American in Spain! It was thanks to this paranoia that I decided to glance behind me as Katherine and I were making our way to OpenCor. Guess who had changed directions and was now about 15 yards behind us? Yup. You guessed it.

I immediately had the suspicion he was following us, so without saying anything to Katherine so as not to panic her, I started walking faster, and she subconsciously kept up with me. I glanced behind me again, and the guy had gotten even closer to us— he was walking fast to keep up, too. At this point I knew he was after us. I started looking around to see what we could do, and I saw up ahead a large group of about 10 Spaniard guys and girls who looked to be around my age, dressed like they were ready to go out, and I immediately knew they would be our ticket to safety. They were walking away from the direction of the OpenCor, but at this point safety overruled hunger, and I didn’t care about my growling stomach anymore. I just knew that there’s safety in numbers, and 12 is a bigger, safer number than 2. The Spaniards turned up a street and I grabbed Katherine’s arm to turn there and try to catch up to them before the guy following us caught up to us. For a moment, Katherine protested, “This isn’t the right wa—”

“Just trust me, Katherine.”

“..Okay.”

As we were approaching the group, I whispered to her that there was a man following us and that we ought to stick with this group for safety reasons. She was surprised but immediately agreed that this was the best plan, and we caught up with the Spaniards.

While we were walking with the group, I kept glancing over my shoulder at the man in baggy clothes, making direct eye contact with him so he knew that I knew where he was, and that I knew he was following us. The longer we walked with the Spaniards, the slower he got, and he started falling back. The last time I made eye contact with him, he came to a complete halt, held my eyes for one second, then turned around and walked in the opposite direction. He knew we had figured him out and that Katherine and I wouldn’t be easy targets for him, so he had given up.

We followed the group a little bit longer until he was completely out of my range of vision, and then Katherine and I scurried around the block to get back to our hostel (we had basically walked in a big square). We were so nervous that we’d see the guy again as we were rounding the final corner, but when I peered out onto the street and saw it was deserted, I felt a huge sense of relief. Katherine and I ran the rest of the way to our hostel and after getting buzzed in by the Italian, we told him everything that had happened. After I described the man’s actions and how he was dressed, the Italian said, “Wow, yeah, he was definitely going to rob you, it’s a good thing you noticed him when you did.”

Unfortunately, while attempting to avoid being mugged in the streets of Barcelona, I had neglected my poor stomach. The Italian noticed this, and mentioned that there were vending machines downstairs with candy bars and such. I grimaced at the suggestion and he completely understood. He then said, “Tell you what. I have two bananas and a mango. You guys can take them downstairs to the kitchen, cut them up, make a fruit salad, then bring it back upstairs and the three of us can share it.” I was taken aback by his generous offer, because he was working the night shift and this was the food he had brought for himself in order to last through the night. I refused, but he insisted, and went and retrieved his fruits and handed them to me. I asked if he was sure and he gave me the affirmative, so Katherine and I headed downstairs to make the fruit salad.

When we got to the kitchen there were 2 or 3 people hanging out there, and Katherine and I told them what had just transpired. While we were in that conversation, I started feeling bad about the fruit, so I told Katherine what I was thinking, and confirmed it with the older Italian (named Salvatore) that these were, in fact, the only food the younger Italian (named Alessio) would have to last him through the night. An American guy (Taylor) staying in the hostel for a few months had some groceries he was willing to share so that we could make an omelet. So it was decided, and Katherine started cooking the omelet. Meanwhile, I ran back upstairs and gave the fruit back to Alessio, saying that I didn’t want to take his food and that we had figured out something else for dinner. He protested one more time, saying that really, it was no problem, he wanted to share it, but I refused one more time and he finally realized I was serious and that I didn’t want to take his food. Alessio smiled and said, “Fine, have it your way,” and took back the bananas and mango.

I went back downstairs to the kitchen and hung out for a bit with Katherine, Salvatore, Taylor, and a Mexican-American woman named Rosa who had checked into the hostel the same night as I had. Katherine finished the omelet and everyone had a bite of it, and before I started eating it I took it upstairs to share a bite of it with Alessio, as a way of thanking him for his offer. I went back downstairs to finish eating. The omelet was really spicy, with peppers in it and a few other things, but it was delicious, and my starving stomach was placated.

In the kitchen at Yellow Nest Hostel

In the hostel’s kitchen with Taylor and Katherine

We stayed in the kitchen chatting with the others for a while, then Katherine and I washed the dishes and pans that were used for the omelet’s creation. We decided that we needed to plan what we were going to do the next day, our Gaudí Day, and went upstairs to grab our notepads and pens. When we got into our hostel room, all the lights were out and there appeared to be nobody there. We walked to our bunk bed and grabbed our things, when suddenly our bedroom door creaked slowly closed.

When I looked back to see what was causing it to close, I saw the most massive, muscled, blonde-headed guy I’d ever seen closing the door, with thighs as thick as tree trunks, wearing the tiniest little white boxer-briefs. The thought that passed through my head: Whaaaa—?!?!

He approached Katherine and I and just started chatting with us in a thick Northern European accent, and I learned his name was Mikael and he was from Helsinki, Finland. I was so close to losing my composure and bursting into laughter from the whole ridiculousness of the situation, but I didn’t want to offend the Finnish giant in tighty-whities. I was working really hard on acting as casual and comfortable as he was, because I didn’t want to seem like some uptight American who couldn’t handle seeing a guy in underwear. I majored in Advertising for Pete’s sake! Scantily-clad people are a big part of the profession! But let me tell you, there’s a big difference between seeing a guy on a sheet of paper and then a 6’4” Finnish muscle man in his undies standing right next to you in a dark hostel room. Can you blame me for feeling slightly uncomfortable and awkward? I never felt unsafe, he was a really sweet guy, but I just felt… yep, “uncomfortable” is the best word for it.

After about 10 minutes of the conversation (and me trying my hardest to not burst into laughter every time I made eye contact with Katherine, who also looked like she didn’t believe this was really happening), Mikael climbed up onto his bunk and went back to sleep, and Katherine and I scurried (we did a lot of scurrying this night) out of the room and down to the common room. As we passed the front desk and saw Alessio I finally could not contain myself and broke down into peals of laughter while also relating the story of what had just happened to Katherine and me in our hostel room. He laughed and said, “Wow, everything is happening to you tonight!”

Katherine and I went downstairs to plan for Friday, and after a few minutes Alessio joined us and the three of us stayed chatting for a bit. He cut up his mango and shared some of it with us, then Katherine and I decided to call it a night and go to bed. After we had changed into our pajamas, I remembered I needed a safe to put my iPhone and passport in, so I went downstairs to get a free one the hostel offered. Alessio wasn’t at the front desk, so I went looking for him in the common room and ended up accidentally startling him while he was sweeping the floor. He laughed and we went back upstairs so I could get a safe for my valuables, and he offered to show me how the safe worked and we chatted for a few minutes more. When I’d finished stowing everything away, I said goodnight and finally got to bed after a fairly eventful first night in Barcelona.

~~~~~~~~

Next post: My first full day in Barcelona!!

Barcelona: Arrival

This is going to be a very long, detailed post. My posts about Barcelona will be this way, for the most part, because I don’t want to forget anything. OK, warning’s over. If you feel like reading, great! I had an adventure during my first night in Barcelona, filled with suspense and danger!

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I left Sevilla on Thursday night. My friend who I’d be traveling in Barcelona with, Katherine, had already arrived the day before, so I flew there on my own. I met these two American chicks who were going to be on the same flight as me on the aerobus that took us to the Sevilla airport, and since they already had experience navigating the Sevilla airport, I decided it’d be best for me to stick with them. Our flight was delayed about half an hour, so it was nice to spend the time waiting with people to talk to. I flew with the airline Ryanair, which is pretty much the cheapest airline in Europe. It’s awesome. The bad thing about it (besides poor customer service) are the carry-on restrictions— they’re VERY strict, so I had to pack smart. Everything I’d need for the next 4 days had to fit into my backpack. (For great tips on how to pack in order to avoid those extra Ryanair fees, check out this post by Jessica on her blog, ¡Hola Yessica!)  I also layered my clothes, and I actually had two complete outfits on. The good thing about Ryanair, besides the price, is that you don’t have an assigned seat; you just sit wherever you find a spot.  I sat with the American girls.

The flight itself was fairly uneventful. Little to no turbulence — THANK GOD FOR SMALL MIRACLES — and we flew at night, so I got to see the lights of Spain’s Mediterranean coast.  When Barcelona came into view I was in awe, 1) Because it was a beautiful glimmering gem in the darkness, and 2) HOLY CRAP IT’S BARCELONA!  You know, no big deal.  It was awesome too because of the way the plane came in for landing: we passed over the middle of the city before banking to the left to land in the airport, a little bit south of the city.  Ryanair likes to boast about how 98% of its flights get their passengers to their destinations on time.  Even though my flight had been delayed for 30 minutes, we still arrived 15 minutes before my original expected arrival time.  Hmmm…

Barcelonaaaaaa

Blurry Barcelona

So we land (hurray!), I grab my backpack and skedaddle.  Thank goodness I didn’t have any checked luggage, because I was in a race against the clock.  In Barcelona, the metro stops at midnight on weekdays, and I had landed at 10:00 PM.  I still needed to get out of the airport, take a train to the metro station, take that metro to another metro station, and then from there connect to the line that would take me near my hostel.  There was another group of Americans who were trying to get to their hostels, too, and I was initially going to tag along with them, but they ended up deciding to take the bus to Plaça Catalunya.  My friends who had gone to Barça the week before had warned me not to use the bus because it was more expensive.  I was tempted to stay with a group because this was my first time traveling on my own, but I decided to stick to my gut and look for the train that would get me to the metro.  So with a smile and an exchange of awkward shrugs, I bid adieu and good luck to the other Americans.

I found some young people chilling in the airport and asked what was the best way to get to where I needed to go.  They said the best way was the metro, but I had to rush. One guy was Brazilian, so I practiced my Portuguese with him and he gave me great directions.  The last thing he said to me (all in Portuguese) was, “One more thing. Be very careful. Barcelona is very, very, very, very dan-ge-rous. Don’t talk to anyone on the street. Only police. Or businessmen in suits with briefcases or something. Use your judgement. I don’t want to frighten you, but just be careful. (HA! Didn’t want to frighten me?! I’m pretty sure my face had blanched and all I was thinking was ‘ohcrapohcrapohcrap’) Now go! Run! With luck you’ll be able to catch the metro! Run! Run!”

[Keep what the Brazilian said in mind, because it becomes important later.]

Of course, what do I do if someone tells me to run?  I walk very briskly.  Duh.  Plus, my backpack was heavy and I was not going to run the risk of jogging, losing my balance and doing a face plant in the middle of the airport.  I get to the train station (connected to the airport) and get my ticket with the help of the attendant (who also says I’ll be able to catch the metro if I have luck on my side). I see two young American guys I recognized from the flight and immediately joined them to wait for the train. I was scared out of my mind after the warning the Brazilian had given me, so I was thinking “American students = safety,” and I wanted to be near the safety.  Nice boys, from Wisconsin.  One was studying abroad in Córdoba, the other in London.  After waiting around for about 15 precious minutes, we hopped on the train and found seats together.  It was at this point that I turned around and asked the Spaniards around me what stop I should get off on in order to eventually get to Camp Nou (my hostel was a few blocks south of Camp Nou).  The whole section I was in erupted with Spaniards trying to give me advice, each with their own opinions, talking over each other, arguing about which way was the best.  I just stared at them, slack-jawed, unsure of who to believe and feeling stirrings of despair.

This one elderly gentleman (SAFE! He was old and couldn’t move quickly) was getting off at the stop I (apparently, hopefully) needed to get off on, and he said that he could guide me.  I said goodbye to the American boys and got off the train at the stop for the metro.  Mind you, I had been underground the entire time, and had yet to see the city.  I tried calling my friend, Katherine, but no answer.  I bought a 10-ride metro pass for the weekend, and the old man guided me to the metro stop.  Apparently he needed to get on the same one, then get off on the exact same stop I needed in order to connect to my second metro line, so I was very happy. Katherine called me back, and told me to get on the L5 Purple Line. I asked her if she’s sure, then she said she’d call me back.  My elderly companion and I got on the metro and then stepped off a few stops later, where he then told me where I needed to go next, and finally bid me farewell and good luck.

As I headed off in the direction I needed to go, Katherine called me back, saying, “Nevermind! The hostel people told me it’s the L2 Blue Line Metro!” I laughed at her for almost getting me lost while silently thanking every divine being I could think of that the old man had guided me in the right direction.  She agreed to come meet me at the metro stop so that I’d have someone to walk with me to the hostel.

At this point, it was almost midnight. I felt like Cinderella, hoping I’d be able to get to the carriage before midnight… My carriage came in the form of the most beautiful pair of blinding lights that thundered out of the dark tunnel, followed by the sleek shiny form of the L2 Blue Line metro train.

I hopped on, and, two stops later, hopped off at my destination.  It was just a few minutes to midnight, and I’m pretty sure I had caught the last ride of the night.  PHEW!  I went to the exit, up the stairs, and there, waiting for me with a big smile, was Katherine!  I was so happy!  During my entire time traveling I’d had a “stank face” on (Stank Face example 1; Stank Face example 2).  My hopes were that I looked mean and disinterested in the world so that I could fit in as a stressed out, over-worked and under-paid Barcelonian.  I did not want to bring attention to myself as a bright-eyed bushy-tailed tourist with a fat wallet.  But when I saw Katherine I was overcome with relief and gave the biggest, brightest, tiredest, touristy-est smile!

We walked out of the metro station and into the warmer-than-expected Barcelona air. I had finally set foot in the city! She and I walked together to the hostel. It was the same hostel some of my friends had stayed in the week before (Yellow Nest Hostel), and it was about 5 minutes from the metro stop. When we got there I finally let out the nervous breath I hadn’t been aware I’d been holding for those crazy two hours since my plane had landed.  There were two hostel employees working the reception desk; both were Italian.  One man was older, I’d say in his 40s, while the other was in his 20s.  The younger one checked me in to the hostel.  After I had paid and been given my keys and everything had been explained to me, I bounded up the stairs to my 12-bed co-ed hostel room.  Katherine led me to our bunk bed, where I was happy to see she had left me the bottom bunk.  I sat down and unpacked, took off one of the outfits I was wearing, and stuffed everything into my locker.

My first legit hostel room! :)

Guess which bed is mine?
Hint: It’s the tidy one.

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And there you have it! I have finally arrived in Barcelona, and safely made it to my hostel. I know in the beginning of this post I said I had an adventure filled with suspense and danger, but the “danger” part didn’t come until later that night… Guess you’ll just have to read my next post to get the details! 😉

BARCELONA: Abridged

Because I am a shameless people pleaser, you have two options on how you’d like to read my blog posts about Barcelona.

Option 1: Abridged Version – this version will be included in this post, and it’s for those of you who just want a general idea of how my time in Barcelona went. I’m just going to touch on the highlights and not go into details. No pictures.  If this is your choice, then ignore the next five posts you see about Barcelona.  But keep an eye out for Splang Saturdays!

Option 2: Excruciating Detail Version – this version will span a series of five posts: my arrival in Barça, my first night in Barça, Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.  Each one will be the length of a small Constitution, and will include various pictures and links to videos that I have uploaded, along with every detail I could possibly recollect.

There is no happy medium, because I wouldn’t know how to write it.  Barcelona was just SO MUCH action packed into slightly over 3 days.  So, this is my offer. I know some people just like to hear the general gist of things, while others like a story to be told. Whichever option you prefer, the choice is yours!  With that, let’s jump right into the Abridged Version, shall we?

BARCELONA ABRIDGED

Thursday: I caught a Ryanair flight to Barcelona and arrived at 10:00 PM.  After being warned about the perils of the city by a friendly Brazilian, I began my race against the clock to get to my hostel. I had exactly 2 hours before the metro would close for the night, and there was a very real possibility that I might end up stranded by myself in a metro station.  Two hours, one train and three metro rides later, I emerged victorious from the metro station closest to my hostel, where I was met by my travel companion, Katherine.  After checking in and getting settled we wanted to get food, and were given directions to the nearest OpenCor by the friendly Italian hostel receptionist named Alessio.  We went to go find it, but soon realized we were being followed by an unknown male.  We used our wits and managed to escape and get back to the relative safety of the hostel.  Katherine ended up cooking an omelet for me with some groceries generously shared with us by a fellow American traveler.  We went upstairs to our room and met a large Finnish guy clad only in a pair of tighty-whities who decided he wanted to have a conversation with us.  After he said goodnight, Katherine and I planned what we were going to see the next day.  Finally, after placing my valuables in a safe, I went to bed.

Friday: Gaudí Day — We saw Parc Güell, Casa Milà and Casa Batlló.  We walked a lot.  We ate a lot.  I stayed up until 8:00 AM the next day learning Italian from Alessio.

Saturday: Rambla Day — We bought lunch from La Boqueria, saw an impromptu Capoeira performance, then enjoyed a stroll on La Rambla.  Katherine haggled with at least 7 different merchants for a cheap Barcelona scarf, I got a free postcard from a merchant, we met a Mongolian street vendor named Gul, and I got asked out on a date by a waiter named Igor.  I graciously declined.  After returning to the hostel, we were invited to join a group of our hostel-mates to go to a house party in an apartment near La Rambla, and we accepted.  The apartment was being rented by these two American musicians.  We stayed out partying until 7:30 AM.  Barcelona refused to let me sleep.

Sunday: Katherine and I had lunch at a tapas place on La Rambla.  Afterwards, Katherine was tired so we returned to the hostel so she could nap.  Alessio was working again so I entertained myself while Katherine napped for the next 5 hours by asking him more Italian-related questions and chit-chatting a bit more.  After Alessio left at midnight, Katherine and I went to have a late dinner from a Kebab place right around the corner.  We got free sodas for being friendly.  The two American musicians from the party the previous night came over and played some of their songs.  I went to bed at about 3 AM for a quick nap.

Monday: I was supposed to wake up at 4 AM so I could pack, check out of the hostel, and take the Metro to the airport for my flight that would be leaving at 6:10 AM to return to Sevilla.  Instead, I woke up at 5:10, had the most massive freak out of my life, shoved everything I owned into my backpack, ran down the stairs, checked out, ran outside and hailed the first cab I could.  We pulled up in front of the airport at around 5:45, and I paid, ran out, got my passport stamped, got through security, and arrived at my gate at 6:00 AM.  The Ryanair people shooed me in, and the gate closed right after me.  I was the last person to get on the plane.  I arrived in Sevilla a couple of hours later, dropped off my bags in my room, showered, went to class, then promptly came home and slept.

FIN.

Barkeno. Barcino. BARCELONA.

Things I learned in Barça: Don’t speak too loudly in American English. Avoid walking around alone after 11 PM. 4 out of 5 people you meet will be tourists. They may not want to admit it, but the Catalunyans can speak Spanish (if necessary). Karma is very powerful. And large Finnish guys like to wear tiny boxer-briefs to bed. All of these and more will be explained to you in the following posts.

Quick Wikipedia facts: Founded in the 3rd century B.C., Barcelona is currently the capital of Catalunya and seat of the Catalan government (Generalitat de Catalunya), the 2nd largest city in Spain, the 6th most populous urban area in the E.U., Europe’s largest metropolis on the Mediterranean Sea, the 16th-most-visited city in the world and the 4th most visited in Europe (after Paris, London, & Rome), the 4th richest city by GDP in the E.U. and 35th richest in the world, and the 7th most important fashion capital in the world. Also, the city is Europe’s 4th best business city and fastest improving European city.

It also has the best fútbol team in the world, FC Barcelona, and the largest stadium in Europe, Camp Nou, with a capacity for 100,000 screaming fans. Additionally, the language spoken in Barcelona is called Catalan (kind of a mix of French and Spanish, but it’s its own distinct language).

Still awake? Cool. Well, I just wanted to give a little intro to this SPECTACULAR, AMAZING city while I organize my thoughts so I can start writing about it all. Until then, sit tight!