CouchSurfing to the Rescue!

My last post left off with Lis and me finally–FINALLY–arriving at Dante’s place in Porto Cristo, despite Murphy’s best attempts to thwart us with his stupid Law.  This is the point in the story where our bad luck finally decided to cut us some slack for a few days, and it turned into an AMAZING weekend.

As Lis and I approached Dante’s address, we saw two men standing in a doorway conversing with each other.  Sure enough, it turned out to be Dante, and he introduced the man next to him as his brother, Matias, who lived on the floor directly above Dante’s.  Matias bid us adiós and Dante gave us a tour of his digs.  As it turned out, we wouldn’t be sleeping on a couch at all, but a bunk bed that Dante had in a room specifically designated for CouchSurfers! SCORE!  He even had a spare laptop that he said was ours to use whenever we felt like.  Within a few minutes, our host was already exceeding our expectations.

I call bottom!

He gave us a tour and was very gracious, making it clear that we were allowed to use anything in his home and to come and go as we pleased.  Lis and I found out that he’s a pretty creative guy: he’s in a band and also works as a freelance graphic and Web site designer.  He took us to a local grocery store so we could buy our food and supplies for the next few days (bread, ham, cheese, cereal, milk, yogurt, and apples), then we hopped in his car and got a quick tour of Porto Cristo and neighboring areas of the island.  He drove us to some cliffs and we were treated to spectacular views of the coastline and beaches.  I could not believe how beautiful this place is.

Feast yer eyes!

We headed back to his place for lunch (a refreshing and delicious salad), and after that Lis and I couldn’t wait any longer – after having taken in just a little bit of Mallorca’s natural beauty, we HAD to get down to the beach!  Dante said he had some work he wanted to knock out, so despite our best efforts to convince him to come down to the beach with us, Dante did the responsible thing and stayed in.  Lis changed into her bathing suit (I had been wearing mine underneath my clothes the entire time, if it’s any indication of how excited I was to go to the beach), and Operation Get-A-Tan officially commenced!  We made our way down to Porto Cristo’s beach (ah, yes, I forgot to mention that Dante lives just a 2-minute walking distance from a lovely little beach), where we spent the next few hours basking in the rays of the life-giving sun and engaging in a session of Girl Talk.

Dante’s backyard trumps mine.

After we were sufficiently satisfied with our sun soaking (alliteration for the win), we took a leisurely stroll around the town, peered in different stores, tried to understand the signs written in Catalan, made fun of the stereotypical touristy gifts (Flamenco figurines for sale in a part of the country where Flamenco is not a part of the culture in any way, shape or form are very conspicuous), and enjoyed some overpriced and delicious ice cream.  We eventually meandered back to Dante’s place, where he was conveniently finishing up his work.  The three of us made our way to his courtyard, where he revealed his hammock!  Lis and I took turns swaying on it while we engaged in a conversation with Dante, getting to know our host.  After a while, we were joined by Dante’s friend, Jeremy, who had dropped by for a quick visit.  Jeremy is a professional photographer with a very unique perspective on almost every aspect of life, so a conversation with him proved to be a fascinating one.  At some point Dante revealed that we’d be going to one of his favorite restaurants for a Mallorcan dinner, and I made my way to the shower so we’d all have enough time to get ready before dinner.  By the time I emerged to let Lis have her turn, Jeremy had left.

She’s just hanging out. 😛

But much time didn’t pass before we were joined by another one of Dante’s friends, Sath.  Sath is a professional artist (are you starting to see a trend here? Dante is a graphic designer, Jeremy is a photographer, Sath is an artist… Lis and I had stumbled upon a pretty creative group of people!), and his medium of choice is spray paint.  But Lis and I couldn’t believe it when we saw some of his art– it didn’t look like any graffiti we’d ever seen!

Much of his art carries a political or social message.

How can he make spray paint look like brush strokes??

It’s all made with spray paint!  The above images were taken from Sath’s Web site, where you can see more of his work! www.sath.es

While we waited for one more of Dante’s friends to arrive, Dante and Sath showed us a video that Dante had put together of the trip to Thailand and Cambodia that they had taken a few months prior.  It’s an AMAZING video!  Dante has some serious video-editing skills, and it was a lot of fun to see their trip.  Click HERE to watch the video!  At one point in the vid, they suddenly show a MASSIVE spider in their teeny-weeny hotel room, and, being an extremely jumpy person with a bad case of arachnophobia, I flinched and started screaming when I saw the spider, partially because it caught me by surprise, and partially because the guys in the video were screaming, so it was contagious.  My screaming made Lis scream (told ya it’s contagious), and it was right at this exact moment when Dante’s friend, Nico, steps in.  The poor guy was so confused, walking into a room with two screaming strangers.  We calmed down and paused the video in order to be introduced to Nico, and then the five of us finished watching the video together.  No more spiders, thankfully!

Now that we were all gathered, we made our way to the restaurant, where Dante is friends with the chef.  Lis and I had no idea, but we were in for a treat!  Dante picked out a few things, then a plate arrived.  Then another.  And another.  Plate after plate after plate kept coming to the table, and some of the things hadn’t even been asked for!  And it was all delicious!  Dante also had us order a traditional Mallorcan drink called hierbas.  Hierbas is an herbal liqueur that is said to be good for digestion, so that’s why we had it after our feast.  It’s made from distilled molasses and wine, with herbs like aniseed, mint, chamomile, rosemary, thyme and fennel.  It was sweet, though a bit strong, but Lis and I both liked it.

After dinner (we each only ended up paying 13 Euros for ALL of it! Including the drink!), we headed to a bar, where we met up with Matias and his fiancée.  We ordered another local specialty, the mojito mallorquín.  It’s made using the Mallorcan liquor called licor de palo, then they add white sugar, fresh mint, 2 pieces of lime, a little bit of soda, and crushed ice.

A delicious Mojito Mallorquin

A delicious Mojito Mallorquin

As you can imagine, after eating all of that food and enjoying those two drinks, I was starting to feel a bit sleepy.  We all were, I believe!  We headed back to Dante’s home, where Dante, Sath, Nico, Lis and I chatted some more and the guys shared funny Spanish YouTube videos with the American girls.  The Spanish comedians spoke really quickly, and even though Lis and I are both Spanish-speaking Hispanics, it occasionally got difficult to understand the Spaniard comedians.  But the guys were great; they were patient and would pause the videos and explain the jokes whenever they would see our eyes glaze over or give them confused glances.  After a while we decided to call it a night, made plans to see each other again, and as I lay in the bunk bed that night staring up at the wooden planks supporting Lis’s bed, I couldn’t help but be grateful for how much better this day had been than the day before.  I was excited to see how the next day would go, and quickly fell asleep thanks to the energy-draining properties of the sun and a belly full of delicious food and a couple of drinks.

Coming up in the next post: Saturday– a day that included explorations, bumming it on another beach, tostones, more creative people, a few bars and nightclubs, and bumping into tennis superstar Rafael Nadal (with a photo to prove it)!

To those who celebrate it, have a Merry Christmas!  Happy Holidays to everyone, wherever you are in this beautiful world. 🙂

Left Behind

As I mentioned in my last post, my friends and I decided to have a fun yet relaxed Saturday night in Lisboa, so we bought some wine and played charades in our hotel room.  We ended up staying awake so late that a bunch of us decided we ought to just stay up until breakfast opened at 7 AM.  As expected, the breakfast was GLORIOUS.

Afterwards, I went to go shower and start packing my things, but after my shower I was feeling really sleepy. It was 8:30, and I figured if I napped for an hour it wouldn’t hurt. I set my alarm for 9:30 (we would be departing from Lisboa at 10:00 AM), snuggled into my sheets, and napped.

Well. I forgot one teensy weensy but ever-so-crucial detail.

Daylight Savings Time. The change occurred that very night.

The blaring of the alarm startled me awake, and I jolted upright in bed.  I was still a bit too groggy to be thinking clearly, but it’s as if some part of me knew what was going on and wanted me to start moving ASAP.  As my vision started to come into focus, I realized the room was completely devoid of any of my roommates’ belongings. Suspicion dawned, and I glanced at the time. Then it hit me:

It wasn’t 9:30 in the morning. It was 10:30, and the bus was supposed to have left to go back to Sevilla at 10:00.

HO.

LY.

$H!T.

I launched myself out of bed, threw my clothes on (cleaning lady walked in on me half-nude, awkwaaaaard), grabbed my backpack and jammed it full of whatever I could grab hold of **organization be damned! I’ll fix it later!**, did one quick glance around the room to see if I had forgotten anything important, and ran to the elevators.  Once in the elevator I prayed to every god I could think of that a large group of obnoxious American students would be in the main lobby, but when the elevator doors opened….

Silence. Just some hotel employees chatting in Portuguese behind the front desk.

I glanced outside, hoping to see two large buses, but there was only a line of taxi cabs.

At this point, Dread curled its clammy fingers around my stomach and gripped it tightly.  I approached the front desk and asked in a shaky voice, “Americanos?”

Receptionist: “Oh, they left 10 minutes ago.”

**Oooooohhhhhh myyyyyyyyy gaaawwwwwwwddddd-**

Receptionist: “Were you a part of that group?”

*nods head*

Receptionist: “We’re calling the lady in charge….. Hello, Lola? Yes, we have a student here…. Okay.” (turns to me) “Here you go, she wants to speak with you.”

*grabs phone* “¿Hola?

Lola: “Biqui, where were you?”

“In my room.”

“The room keys were turned in, so there was no way of knowing yours was missing.”

“OK.”

“Well, I’m sorry, Biqui, but we just left the city limits of Lisboa, and we’re not turning around to get you. You’ll have to find your own way back to Sevilla. Vale?”

“…. OK.” *feels tears welling up*

Vale, good luck, and I’ll call you in a few hours to get an update from you.”

“OK.” *Hands phone back to Portuguese receptionist.*

By now the three receptionists were looking at me to see what Lola had said, and I’m pretty sure the look of devastation on my face was a clear indicator, but I told them that the bus wasn’t coming back for me.  They looked at me shocked, and kept repeating how they couldn’t believe it, it was only ten minutes, etc.

So at that point I did the only thing I could think of doing.

I cried. Like a Fado singer.

Not really. It was nowhere near as pretty as Fado.

So, crying, I went and sat down on a couch by the reception area and started reorganizing the things I had hurriedly shoved into my backpack. A litany of thoughts that kept repeating in my head. **How could nobody have noticed that I wasn’t there? Am I so easily forgotten? Not even my roommates? Not even my friends? How?** As I finished repacking, I told myself that enough was enough, to stop with the pity party, and figure out how to get back to Sevilla. I rubbed the tears away and one of the receptionists approached me. He handed me a bus schedule for that day, with buses leaving from Lisboa to Sevilla.  The soonest was leaving at 1:30 PM. By now it was a little past 11:00 AM.  The receptionists told me to catch a cab from the hotel to the bus station, then to buy my ticket there.

I thanked them for their help, smiled, grabbed my backpack and walked out the front door.  I went to the first taxi in line and asked the driver to take me to the bus station. Once there, I purchased my one-way ticket to Sevilla (37 Euro; much cheaper than I had expected!), called my host-mother from a pay phone to let her know what had happened, then found a bench where I could hang out for the next couple of hours.  As different buses arrived and departed from the station, I would steal their free Wi-Fi for a few minutes at a time so that I could communicate from my iPhone apps.  I sent my mom a message via Whatsapp to let her know I was safe, and then I posted a Facebook status to let my friends know what was going on: “Got left behind in Portugal, I’m alone but safe & have found a way back to Sevilla. Good thing I speak Portuguese.”

Once that had been taken care of, all that I had left to do was wait.  In my idleness, the thoughts crept back in. **How come nobody noticed? Why didn’t my roommates wake me up? Why haven’t my friends tried calling me? One of the room keys wasn’t turned in; how could they not know? Why didn’t anyone knock on the door? Why did I have to nap? Why didn’t I update the time? The bus was only 10 minutes away…** On and on it went, until I couldn’t stand to think of it anymore. I figured I would get my answers once I got back to Sevilla, but until then there was no use agonizing over it.

Eventually my salvation rumbled into the station. I found a seat behind a happy Asian couple, plopped myself down onto the cracked plastic, curled up into the fetal position, and endured the longest bus ride of my life.

By the end of the trip, I’d had plenty of time to reflect on everything that had transpired, and, believe it or not, I was kinda feeling proud of myself!  I had accidentally been left behind in another country and was able to get back home on my own (with the help and guidance of the wonderful Portuguese receptionists)!  That’s certainly one way to gain confidence in yourself. Not that I recommend my particular way!

After talking about it with my friends and roommates over the next few days, it became clear why I had gotten left behind. Everything that had occurred that Sunday had created the perfect storm.  There were two buses. My roommates thought I was on the bus with my friends. My friends thought I was on the bus with my roommates. The directors of the trip had already been angry because a couple of party boys had slept in really late and made everyone wait 30-45 minutes. Lola kept counting and knew one person was missing, but then someone commented to her that a girl had stayed behind to meet with her parents in Lisboa. It was really all too perfect.

The next time I walked into the API office, I could tell that Lola felt a little apprehensive around me.  I think that she thought I would be mad about the incident, but I wasn’t.  It was an accident; these things happen.  If anything, it was my fault for not updating the time on my phone.  When the API staff asked me about that morning, I just laughed it off (Of COURSE this would happen to me!).

If someone had to have been left behind, I’m glad it was me. I can only imagine how much more scary it would’ve been for someone who didn’t even understand the language. At one point on the bus ride, I wondered to myself if I had learned Portuguese in college just to prepare me for this moment.  I guess I’ll never know, but this experience affirmed my belief that everything happens for a reason.  If anything, my misadventure in Lisboa was a learning experience, and I gained invaluable confidence in my abilities as a traveler.

You can call me Carmen Sandiego. 😉

I am definitely a 90’s kid.

Olá Portugal!

Welcome to Portugal!

My observations about Portugal in general: If the two Iberian countries are sisters, Portugal is the younger sister that always got the hand-me-downs and grew up in Spain’s shadow.  They’re both beautiful, and smart, but in their own way.  Portugal definitely got more beat up and teased than Spain did.  However, Portugal is more self-aware, self-confident and proud of who she is, whereas Spain has been plagued by insecurity and stuck in an identity crisis for a long, long time.

Having said that, Portugal needs a better marketing team.  It’s a country with a fascinating culture, great architecture and natural beauty, but I would feel confident in saying that most U.S. Americans know hardly anything about it.  For example: Did you know there’s an instrument called the Portuguese guitar? If you have heard about it, kudos.  It’s an amazing instrument that produces a great sound, and yet, it’s completely been overshadowed by the Spanish guitar. I suppose I might have to attribute this, in part, to the country’s size — Portugal has a population of about 10.7 million people.  Spain’s population is over 47 million.  I guess it’s only natural that the one with a larger population will receive more attention (other examples: Canada/USA; New Zealand/Australia).

As for Lisboa (or Lisbon, in English): it’s a lovely city, situated right on a bay, but it looks a bit worn down.  It’s like your favorite pair of jeans that are frayed and have patches on the knees and need to be restitched in places.  I would love to see this city with some new life breathed into it, but it’s beautiful either way.  I have to say that Lisboa has some of the best street art I have seen in the Iberian peninsula.  I highly recommend a visit;  Lisboa is worth seeing and I’m glad I did!

After Greece comes Portugal. ANARCHY!!!!Probably my favorite street art ever.Plouf!Fadista & Portuguese guitar

I also got to practice my Portuguese, which was one of the things I was most looking forward to. However, Brazilian Portuguese, as it turns out, sounds really different. I was able to read and communicate effectively, but understanding the fast-speaking Portuguese was a bit of a challenge! But that whole challenge of communicating with someone who speaks a different language is one of my favorite experiences in this world. I love everything about it: the patience and creativity you need to have, the frustration when you can’t seem to figure out how to communicate a relatively simple idea, the exaggerated body language and hand gestures (it’s like a real-world version of charades!), the excitement when you finally understand each other, the sense of camaraderie that’s formed when they realize you are making an effort to speak their language and understand their culture… I love all of it! Of course, there’s some people who will just treat you like crap no matter what, but I suspect they treat just about everybody that way.

Thursday we spent traveling by bus from Sevilla to Lisboa. It was about a 6- or 7-hour-long trip. As we crossed the border, my friend Ian whipped out his guitar and the whole bus sang a rendition of “Ai Se Eu Te Pego” by Michel Teló (Watch the video here!). Sooo it’s Brazilian, but since we didn’t know any songs from Portugal we figured it was close enough.

Jammin' at the rest stop in PortugalAlways with the harmonica

That night we arrived in Lisboa, wandered around, and enjoyed pizza for dinner.  We found a place that was about to close (the Portuguese eat dinner earlier than the Spaniards), but they were really accommodating, and served up some great pizza! Afterwards we just hung out in the hotel.  We wanted to save our energy for Friday night!

It's a blurry Lisboa!Mmmmm Portuguese pizza!

Friday, after a GLORIOUS hotel breakfast buffet, all day was spent on a bus touring the city. We saw the most famous spots, which included a beautiful Cathedral and an impressive monument dedicated to those who discovered the New World and funded their voyages.

Did you know that Lisboa has a Golden Gate Bridge look-alike? It’s called the Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge) and was constructed by the same company that built the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, but its rusty red coloring is reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Lisboa's "Golden Gate" Bridge

We then visited two other nearby towns: coastal Cascais (we went to the beach and then the Boca do Inferno or “Mouth of Hell”) and charming Sintra in the mountains.

Mouth of Hell, right sideMore from the Mouth of Hell
Yep that's a castle along the top ridge.

Friday night we went out to a traditional Portuguese restaurant to try the local cuisine (I enjoyed Caldo Verde (green soup) and Bacalhãu à Brás (a mix of cod, eggs, and thinly-sliced crispy french fries)).

Sopa VerdeBacalhao a Bras

Then, after taking an hour to figure out the Lisboa metro system and deciding what we wanted to do, we partied it up in the Bairro Alto — a giant grid in the city completely dedicated to getting people intoxicated.  It’s street after street after street of bars and clubs.  Have I mentioned that everything is legal in Portugal?  Well, it is.  All drugs are legal there, and the country is doing fine. So if you wanna party, the Bairro Alto is for you (and the name is definitely not a misnomer— we had to make our way up a steep hill to reach it)!  Another observation: they guys in Portugal are taller and broader than the Spaniards.  And much more flirtatious than the guys in Sevilla.  Sevillanos, y’all have gotta step up your game! You don’t wanna be shown up by the Portuguese do you?

MetrooooooNot THAT many people...Ok it was packed.

Saturday was a free day, and in the morning after yet another GLORIOUS breakfast, we went somewhere really, really cool: The Thieves Market.  It’s a giant flea market, where people come and lay out their blankets and their wares and set up their little shops and display the most random, eclectic collection of stuff I have ever seen.  You can find anything in the Thieves Market. I had a field day running around and looking at everything, but I didn’t end up buying anything.  I regret it though!  They had such cool things! For so CHEAP!! (The market lives up to its name: some items were definitely stolen… like beautiful tiles pried from the walls of the city… O_o)

Afterwards, we went in search of the restaurant Chapitô (that was a mission) for lunch, and Kevin and I accidentally ate our friends’ tapas because we had all ordered the same thing and they had brought it out combined on one plate.  It was only nine small pieces, so we thought it was one serving.  The moment when we realized what we’d done was horrifying and shameful. We paid for all of it, of course, but it was still so embarrassing!  After the fiasco at Chapitô, we headed back down into town and ate at a famous pastry shop while we waited for everyone else to show up.  We were all being taken by API to go watch a Fado performance.  Fado is Portugal’s national music.  It usually involves a woman who is singing in the saddest way imaginable— it sounds like she’s crying as she sings.  She’s accompanied by a Portuguese guitar, which, as I’ve said before, is a really cool instrument and deserves to get more attention.  After the performance we went to a market to get snacks and alcohol (what else do you need?), then had dinner at a really classy establishment: McDonald’s.  I’m proud to say I only ordered a McFlurry.  I had a bocadillo in my backpack that I had made that morning at the hotel breakfast, so that’s what I ate for dinner.  We went back to the hotel and ended up playing charades and drinking the whole entire night.
Trolleys!!LisboaaaaaI had to be sneaky to get a pic of FadoKeeping it classy. Mickey D's.

Saúde!

Sunday: That’s the one anecdote I have from Lisboa that deserves its very own individual post. Here’s a preview: tears of despair and abandonment were involved.

Moorish Ruins and Córdoba

I have neglected writing about my travels in Spain for a while!  October was pretty busy for me… but I’m back!  I hope you all have a Happy Halloween and All Saints Day/Día de los Muertos!
~~~~~
I went on an organized day trip with my program (Academic Programs International) to Córdoba the day after the Wig Party, and that day marked a significant moment for us: March 16, 2012 = the first time any of the Americans had seen RAIN since we had arrived in Spain!  And when it rains, it POURS.
The day started out overcast, and we went to the ruins of a Moorish city called Medina Azahara just outside of Córdoba.  The ruins were really cool!  The Moors were a highly intelligent bunch; they even had a pretty advanced plumbing system (check out the 2nd picture: the “toilet” was a hole in the ground, but underneath was impressive plumbing).  Also, there were these adorable hairy caterpillars EVERYWHERE.  Not exaggerating.  The guide said that if we had arrived a week prior, we would have seen the walls completely covered in caterpillars!  We enjoyed exploring the ruins, but the sky soon parted and the drops started falling.  We weren’t able to stay because there was nowhere to take shelter.  Having been caught off guard by this completely foreign concept of water falling from the sky (What? It actually rains in Spain? Crazy!), no one had thought to bring an umbrella, so those who had scarves used them to protect their heads.  I am so glad I had brought mine!  We ran right back to the bus and headed off to Córdoba.
Medina AzaharaMoorish toilet
These little guys were EVERYWHERE!!!Everyone get together and act happy!
I love arches.Love those flower pots!Marita and I trying to keep our hair drySO. INTRICATE.
I think the rain put a damper on everyone’s spirits (we got over the excitement of actually seeing rain fairly quickly), because the general consensus was feeling unimpressed with Córdoba itself.  This might have also been because we were comparing it to Sevilla, and both cities are extremely similar: mudejar-style architecture with intricate details, great tapas, charming mazes of cobblestone streets and narrow alleys, Andalusian cities sitting on the Guadalquivir River, a rich cultural history, etc.  Córdoba even has a tower that looks almost exactly like La Giralda!  All of these things are wonderful, of course, but for us it was like Córdoba was Sevilla’s twin, and we were meeting her for the first time when she was sick with a cold.  However, it didn’t stop us from appreciating the minor differences!  One of my favorite observations was that some of its street names were very creative and displayed that lovely Spanish humor.

This street name means “Where You Are Going”

The Mesquita (mosque) was the most impressive part of Córdoba.  I’d always seen pictures of it in Spanish travel books and photography, and the real thing was awe-inspiring!  What I had no idea about, though, was that the Catholics gave the biggest insult to the Moors in the Mesquita by building a gorgeous altar and church right smack dab in the middle of it.  It really was breathtakingly beautiful, and I loved the contrast between the two religions.  I think my favorite thing I noticed were scenes from Jesus’ life (like the Stations of the Cross) in between Muslim arches.  That was such a huge culture clash, but in a beautiful way.

Those famous archesJesus in a Muslim arch.Right smack dab in the middle of it all.GorgeousScenes from Jesus' life in a Muslim arch

After seeing the Mesquita, it was time to go.  We left the city through an arch that led to a massive bridge that spanned across the Guadalquivir River.  Looking back at the city from that point was giving us a gorgeous view of it.  By this point the sun had come out and Córdoba looked like she was enjoying the sun’s rays.  We took our last glances at Córdoba, then got back on the bus that would take us home to Sevilla.

Córdoba's equivalent of our GiraldaPray for safe passage to the other side?ArchangelEntrance into the city. Or exit, for us.Guadalquivir flowing swiftlyCrossing el ríoAww, Córdoba! You look so pretty here!Spain's iconic bull

I hope to return one day during Córdoba’s spring festivals where the entire city is covered in flowers!  That would definitely be a sight to behold.

Mama, Papa, I’m sorry. I’ve become a thief.

Journal Entry: March 4, 2012

I know you’ve raised me better than this, but my circumstances have made me this way! I’m not alone, either. All of the American girls have become thieves.

You see, the problem is this: There is no toilet paper in Sevilla. Let me rephrase that. There is hardly ever any toilet paper in any of the restrooms in Sevilla. With the exception of your bathroom at home, you won’t find it. I can’t believe I haven’t written about this before, cuz it’s a pretty big deal.

As a result, the American girls have resorted to thievery. Yes, thievery. Although it shames me… I steal the cheap paper napkins from the little metal napkin dispensers at restaurants and store them in my purse for later use as toilet paper. THERE! I admit it! I’m sorry! I just don’t know what else to do! The boys don’t know how easy they have it. But you know what the worst part of it is? The napkins aren’t even soft like toilet paper. They feel more like wax paper; they make crinkly noises.

Also, it’s crazy how we’ve adapted to our environment. Before we figured out the napkin trick (it took us about a week and a half), a lot of the girls would stop drinking water prior to heading out so that they wouldn’t have to use the bathroom.

Just the other day, one of my friends was stepping out of a café’s bathroom when I felt “the urge.” These were the words that came out of my mouth regarding the bathroom: “Is it clean? Scratch that. Is there toilet paper?” To which she responded with an elated, “YES! It actually has toilet paper!”

I’ll never take toilet paper for granted again.

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. 🙂

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!