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.

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Next post: My first full day in Barcelona!!

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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! 😉