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Adventures in Barcelona

12 Oct

Hello there!

It’s so hard to believe that it’s been a week since I returned from Oktoberfest! It’s crazy how a span of time can feel so short and yet so long all at once.

As you may recall, teachers in Germany (including me!) have a two week break from teaching in October. While I knew I would spend part of my first week off in Munich, I had no plans for the second week – and once Sebastien realized he would be done his thesis a bit early, it was established that he also had a week of free time before his university started up again. Before I had left for Munich, I told him that if he were to book a small trip somewhere during the second week, I would pay for half and willingly go wherever it was. We contemplated France, Spain, Italy, England, somewhere in Germany…but I left the final decision up to him (since I hate decisions!) I had told him that my only condition was I would love to see a cultural library or bookstore wherever we went.

So last Thursday as he was picking me up from the bus station, Seb told me he had booked a trip for us. He wouldn’t tell me anything else about it though until Saturday, at which point he figured we should start getting prepared. Turns out he had booked a flight for Barcelona, Spain! As you can imagine, I was absolutely ecstatic. Seb had found a good deal on a flight leaving Tuesday morning and returning Thursday night. He had even booked a hotel right around the corner from Catalunya’s National Library! I had a hard time believing we were really going so quickly, but the day of our departure soon arrived.

The flight to Barcelona was direct, although on the way home we would have to change planes in Munich. It’s been a while since I took a 2.5 hour direct flight anywhere in Canada, but I don’t remember there being a significant amount of food accompanying the journey. What a happy girl I was when the stewardess came around offering a choice of spinach and cheese ravioli or currywurst, and I was provided with the same amount of food I usually get on a flight from Calgary to Berlin.

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Salad with dressing, a bun with butter, ravioli, cheese, chocolate, and cake. Plus juice and two refills of tea. How awesome is that!

Sorry for that boring interlude, I swear the rest of my trip was much more interesting!

The first moment when the trip started reminding me of Disneyland was when they made all of the safety announcements in Spanish. The second was when we got off the plane and saw palm trees everywhere! While we had left a cloudy and cold Berlin that morning, we were greeted with warmth and sunshine in Barcelona. The bus ride into town from the airport was extremely pleasant, with all sorts of things to see. The roads seemed pretty darn narrow for our bus to be getting through, but I guess that’s why it was the driver driving and not me. I was also introduced to Southern European driving culture when a taxi driver was taking his sweet time getting out of his cab and the bus just about drove over him. Fortunately he didn’t seem perturbed by having to flatten himself between the bus and the cab. Here are a few pictures of what we drove by on the way into the city.

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We disembarked from the bus at the Placa de Catalunya, and began finding our way to the hotel. Or to put it more accurately, Seb figured out where our hotel was while I took hundreds of photos and tried not to fall behind.

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We walked up one square that is famous for selling goods – while there is one way traffic on either side, there are gardening and tourist stores lining the pathway where throngs of people walk through.

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After that, we walked through about three different side streets before we reached our hotel. We got checked in using a mixture of English and Sebastien’s Spanish, and marvelled at the view from our room. Our window looked into that of a lot of Spanish local apartments – I don’t know how they could deal with having tourists constantly looking in on their daily lives! But we also climbed up on the roof, where there was an area to suntan or look out at the city.

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There sure is a lot of laundry hanging from the windows in Barcelona through the narrow streets. I figure Seb and I should have grabbed a pole and poked at the clothes until they fell – it’s like thrift shopping except without consent! In any case, we left the hotel by about 3:30 and started exploring the city.

There are an amazing amount of small side streets in Barcelona – on some there is only enough room for a car driving in one direction, and on the rest there is only enough room for vespas or bicycles. I think that vespas (or scooters) are to Barcelona what bicycles are to Amsterdam – absolutely everyone drives one! With all the side streets, it makes sense that it’s the fastest way to get around. There were also a lot of motorized bicycles – I suppose it’s just like a vespa except that it has a similar frame to a bicycle. It was weird to see one woman bike by with her legs crossed instead of pedalling.

It was fascinating to walk through the small streets and see the shopping districts – there were lots of jewelry stores and I got to see a pretty big Buddha.

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Eventually we reached a decent sized street, and headed towards the beach. The pedestrian crossings in Barcelona are pretty crazy – similar to Canada, pedestrians are given a blinking light when their time to walk is coming to an end, but here it’s pretty darn short before it turns to red. One time, a few people thought that no traffic was coming and crossed the street even though the light was red, and a vespa started honking wildly at them because he was about to zoom on through. It all worked out fine, but we never got too cocky in our street crossings!

The day was absolutely gorgeous, and when we finally reached the beach we wished we had brought our swimsuits. There were a fair number of people trying to sell mojitoes or pieces of coconut, but they weren’t too pushy. We did dip our feet in the ocean, which was nice and warm.

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After that, we ventured over to a park that was in Seb’s guide book. We were searching for the parliament building, believing that it would be a significant sight, but in the end it was fairly closed off and not very visible. However, the park itself was gorgeous. We sat under a palm tree for a short while, and stumbled upon a grandeur fountain representing a goddess. I won’t write the facts here because I don’t really remember the particulars. Either way, in the picture from Seb’s book, the statue was mainly black, whereas it is now all gold. We climbed up the stairs to get the view from the top, which was interesting as well.

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After that, we found an arch that was also in Seb’s book. We decided to eat dinner around there so that once it got dark we could check out the lighting around the arch, but in the end the arch wasn’t actually lit up. There was a pathway leading up to it that was though. The place we ate dinner at was unfortunately horrendous – while it was the most expensive thing we ate on our entire trip, I’m pretty sure my meal was made by tossing a bit of half-raw ground beef on some noodles with BBQ sauce. However, Seb and I agreed that this experience set our standards really low for how good the next meal might be!

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After this, we went back through the park – the wind was almost a bit cold, but I still was doing fine in just a t-shirt. Seb had told me that in Spain, the cities come to life at night because of the extreme heat during the day. As we walked through the park, there were several fitness classes going on, as well as people doing tricks on their bicycles or skateboards. We then wandered through more small streets, and noticed the varying hours of shops and restaurants. It seems that there is never a time when all the stores are open at once – while some are open in the morning, some are only getting started at nightfall. We stumbled upon a really cool music hall, although at the time I don’t think I fully appreciated how artistically elaborate it was.

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We then went and bought a small drink, and took it to the Placa de Catalunya where we sat and took in the atmosphere. A few people were trying to sell these small lights that you toss into the air with a slingshot, so they were constantly launching them up and trying to lure in tourists (that was another similarity to Disneyland! People outside our hotel were selling them as well). There was also a man making huge bubbles which children would then pop, but usually a few would get away and drift towards the trees. Once we were done sipping on our drinks, we headed back to the hotel and finally gave our feet a proper rest for the night.

The next morning, we set off for a department store near our hotel. A friend of Sebastien’s spent a year in Barcelona and recommended a cafe at the top of the store – she said that the view was amazing, but the prices were good because hardly anyone knew about the cafe’s existence. We found it easily enough, and were able to order through pointing at pictures and speaking little bits of Spanish. Believe it or not, I spoke way more German in my attempt to communicate than I did English. When I try to think “what’s the word for this that’s not English?” German instantly pops into my head. I remember my very first day of German class, suddenly I could remember all sorts of French that I hadn’t used in three years for the same reason. In any case, we enjoyed our breakfasts and the spectacular view. The only intimidating part was when Seb pointed out the hill we would be climbing later in the day, and I figured it looked a little scarier than he had made it sound.

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After that, we tackled the hill (you can see it in the first picture above). It wasn’t actually too bad of a hike – I wore my running shoes and at the end of it all felt a sense of accomplishment that we had walked the whole way instead of taking a bus like most tourists. There was an impressive fortress at the top, and the view was incredible. We were able to spot the department store we had just eaten at, as well as a statue of Christopher Columbus.

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After that, it was finally time to check out the library! It was just around the corner from our hotel, and was within an area walled off from the other stores. The walled-off spot had a few buildings and a courtyard, and there were a few students hanging around strumming guitars. The library we entered had previously been a hospital, and we could see photos of what it used to look like (I didn’t take any photos inside the library itself for fear of being yelled at in Spanish). There were some things we were unable to see without being members of the library, but there were a few old books on display. This library specializes in historical national documents, and it was pretty fascinating to see. When I saw the staircase labelled “library staff only” I got all excited thinking that someday that could be me!

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After that, we headed back to the beach. Ironically enough, the sunshine that had been around all morning (and was not the most welcome on the extremely warm hike up the hill) disappeared as we made our way to the beach. We sat in the sand for a little while, hoping that it would come back, but in the end we went swimming despite the clouds. The sun did come out once in a while, but by the end of it I was excited to have a hot shower in the hotel room and put my jeans back on.

We had dinner outside at a “sports bar” we had walked by earlier in the day. The special of the day was mussels with potatoes and a spicy sauce plus a drink; while I am not known for enjoying seafood, I was developing a craving for it and decided to go ahead and order it. Sebastien got a paella, and we agreed that if I didn’t like the mussels we could figure out some sort of trade. Paella is a very well known Spanish dish, with seasoned rice and either meat or veggies or seafood. Seb tried the mixture of seafood and meat, and got to try scampi and calamari, as well as one mussel of his own. I loved my meal – the mussels had a great buttery sauce and Seb and I both sipped on sangria.

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After our very satisfying dinner, we once again bought a drink at a grocery store and went to the Placa de Catalunya (I finally memorized how to spell that, so I’m going to use it as often as I can) and sat on a bench. The people selling flying lights were out again, as well as the bubble man. We also noticed quite a few mice scurrying around in the bushes that we had failed to notice the day before (and the similarities to Disneyland continue – should have named one of the mice Mickey). There were a few fancy fountains that we watched, and we saw them shut off at about 11.

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The next morning would be our last in Barcelona, so we set off early to see the rest of the important sights. We checked out a cathedral in the area, which had an impressive courtyard with several swans. We later took a break outside of the King’s old living area, and enjoyed soaking up the sun that had made a grand return.

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With our remaining time, we went to the park to lie in the grass before going for lunch. We found a rustic restaurant that had a paella special of the day, so I finally tried my own paella. Unfortunately it turns out I don’t really like paella – there are so many different things that I was terrified of eating a chicken bone or scampi leg along with the rice. But it was certainly an experience!

After that, we headed for the airport. It was sad to go, but I think we definitely made the most of the time we had there. To do any other touristy things would have involved a lot more money and travelling to the outskirts of the city. And leaving in the afternoon on the last day meant that we still got to do a lot of things in the city before heading home.

I hope that I haven’t left out any important details (or perhaps included too many?) and that you’ve enjoyed the read! I certainly enjoyed the trip, and am happy to say I have finally been to Spain. On Monday school resumes, and on Wednesday I will be teaching my very first “conversation course.” It’s been a fantastic break, but I am excited to get back into my routine. Seb will be beginning his Master’s this week too, which is very exciting! Hopefully I will have lots of entertaining things within the next while to tell you about here.

Thanks for reading!

Auf Wiedersehen!

-Robyn

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Posted by on October 12, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

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