Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Barcelona: Paella, Sangria, No Sleep, and Italians...

I made it to Barcelona, feeling only half alive. I was lucky that there was a pharmacy in the airport. I conjured up my Spanish and told the lady I had a very bad pain in the head and to please help me. She took pity on me, but it was expensive. Lesson learned. I then had a hard time finding the metro, because you had to take a certain train to the metro and the train was located in the other terminal. There was a shuttle to the other terminal but following the signs that said “shuttle” didn’t lead me to it. When I finally made it to the metro, I ended up missing my stop because the name for the stop on my directions was different from the name of the stop at the actual station. Luckily, there was a nosey person sitting next to me who had read my directions when they were in my hands (really kind of creepy, but had he not done it I might STILL be lost in Barcelona) told me I missed my stop and I needed to get off and go back. So I did, and eventually I made it to Be Mar Hostel. It seems like I always enter my hostels in an exhausted state, must be because I’m always lost trying to find them! I checked in and was happy to find my room to be very safe. I met three of my roommates, all Brazilians on vacation, and tried to speak broken Spanish to them. My Spanish at this point has fallen behind my Italian, and much like when I showed up to Italy I would think I was using Spanish words but actually be using Italian words! I made a grocery store trip, came back and showered then looked through the hostel’s information for ideas on what to do while I was there, deciding to start my day with a Free Walking Tour since the funds were pretty much down to notta. I went to bed early hoping to wake up the next day refreshed and ready to actually see Barcelona.

Day two in Barcelona (Thanksgiving day, but I didn’t even realize it until I saw a restaurant advertising a turkey dinner) started off a lot better than day one. I woke up early enough to enjoy some of the free breakfast, which was basically just some cereal and toast with a side of OJ, then headed out to find the place I would meet the tour guide for my walking tour. Luckily, I know myself well enough to realize I would indeed be lost trying to find this place and had allowed myself plenty of time to find it, but I found it about an hour early. So I walked up and down a very popular street, La Rambla, noticing many signs for “fresh paella” and watching as the many vendors set up their tiny tourist trap booths. I made my way back to the tour and meet our tour guide, Chris from Australia. Joining the tour were two girls from the states who were studying abroad in Scotland, another Aussie on vacation, and a girl from NYC who was apparently in Paris and Switzerland at the same time as me! The tour of the city was amazing, mostly because our tour guide was funny and really knew what he was talking about. He told us stories of massive killings during the Inquisition in one church’s plaza which is now a playground for pre-schoolers. It was amazing to see the bullet marks from these killings still engraved in the walls, and when the children cleared out, the plaza had a very, very eerie feeling about it (pictures 4-6 of Spain). Pictures 7 &8 of the Spain folder is actually a rendition of a Picasso. But the cool thing is, Picasso was ridiculously intoxicated on Absinthe and making fun of another popular artist at the time. He proclaimed he could make something better than this other artist in 1 minute, and he did on the bar’s napkin. They used his “art” to decorate the ugliest building in Barcelona, which ironically is the school of architecture! Throughout the tour I was impressed by the Gothic architecture which I thought I was going to see in Paris, but I finally got my fill of gargoyles here in Barcelona. Picture 16 is the start of a very sad story. This is a shrine to a 13-year old Christian martyr. During the Spanish Inquisition, this young girl would go around the city telling people of Jesus, so the Spanish government set out to make an example of her by stripping her naked and humiliating her (can you imagine being naked in front of a crowd of your neighbors at the awkward age of 13??!!). As the story goes, God sent a snow storm just to the area around the girl, covering up all her nakedness forcing the people to see that God does protect them. Obviously the Spaniards didn’t like this, so they claimed witchcraft, causing people to flip out and begin beating her until she was within minutes of death. In order to cover up what they had done the government put her in a barrel with broken bottles and knifes and rolled her down a hill (which we walked down a little later in the tour). This young girl is now one of the most beloved martyrs of Barcelona. Picture 21 shows a headstone from a Jewish cemetery that was used to rebuild the walls of the city after a battle. The Jews were so discriminated against that they had to walk up to the cemetery and tear down the head stones, then carry them back down to the city to build the wall. Pictures 22 and 23 show the alley way in front of the Pope’s residence during the Black Plague. When people started dying at such a fast rate, the Pope couldn’t make it to all the dead bodies to bless them, so the city began to bring bodies in on carts and unload them in this alley. The Pope would then stick his hand out the window (for fear of catching the Plague) and do a mass blessing on the pile of victims below. Picture 23 actually shows a carving of the Pope’s hand located inside the arch way. Legend has it that if you walk through the arches backwards and make a wish that it will be granted by one of the Plague victims. Yes, I walked through it backwards and made my wish, who am I to turn down a free wish?? Picture 25 is the school of art that Picasso attended, which happens to be right in front of Barcelona’s Red Light District. Picture 26 shows the origins of the famous Spanish Tapas. Bars would hang their meats like this to dry and feared that the drippings would fall into the patron’s beer and wine. So they first just used a plate to protect the drinks but thought it would be more attractive to put something on the plate, thus creating the tradition of tiny bites of food served with drinks! My tour was so great (however, not actually free, the idea is that you tip based off of what you can pay and how you think the tour guide did, I tipped as much as I could because 1. He was good and 2. I’ve worked for tips before!) so I decided to sign up for another event put on by the same company (The Travel Bar). I signed up to learn how to make tapas, paella, and sangria that night. In the meantime I wondered back to the hostel and spent some quality time on the computer making plans for Madrid. The class that night cost me 18euro to attend, but it was so worth the money. There were only three of us in attendance (me, a girl from Canada, and a guy from NYC) so it was very specialized. I didn’t have to look around any tall people’s heads and I could ask as many questions and take as many pictures as I wanted! When we arrived to the Travel Bar we were handed glasses of Sangria then taken to the back room where we learned to make some simple tapas and then Alejandro (from Argentina) showed us the step by step process of making paella. He also gave us a great tip for getting the garlic smell off of your fingers. Run them under water, BUT DO NOT RUB them together. That’s the trick, apparently, I haven’t tried yet. While we waited for the rice to cook in our seafood paella we went back up front to learn how to make sangria. Then they gave us each a liter pitcher and said, “Go for it.” Our liters held a ridiculous amount of alcohol, but it was a nice pair to that steamy hot and oh so flavorful paella when it was done. After stuffing ourselves with the paella, the Canadian girl and I hung around and sipped our sangria. It was fun to hang out in the Travel Bar that night because they had three other events going on, one of which was a Thanksgiving dinner. We met a lot of people, even a whole group that was only there on a port call from their cruise! We went out that night with some of our new friends; we tried several different bars, eventually ending up back at the Travel Bar to pick up our friend, the bartender! We then all went to a very “top secret” place for food where you had to knock just right to get someone to open the garage door and let you in. With all that security you would expect something fantastic…but it was more like a high school cafeteria with alcohol and grilled cheese. After this the Canadian girl and I walked home, arriving in bed at 6:30am.

Day 3 in Barcelona began at 1:00pm. I woke up and got ready to go for a run in a park that the tour guide from the day before said would be beautiful. However, on the way to the park I got sidetracked by the amazing market La Boqueria. This was by far the biggest, most beautiful, colorful, and busy market I had seen in all my travels. I walked around in a stunned gaze for a good hour here, once again comparing banana produce and prices. This market also had some delectable fresh fruit juices, in any flavor you could imagine, just like my host mom in Costa Rica used to make for us! I bought some mango juice then wondered back to a corner to find a really good banana and a cup of tiny coffee from the most genuine looking barista I could find (hey the people in this market are not fools, they know the tourist will pay more, especially if their booth is upfront and is the first one the tourist sees!). There was even a place outside the market that served samples of goods as tapas or bocas for 1 euro, which seemed to be really popular with the locals. And just to prove how “played up” to tourist these stands were, I took a picture of the gelato stand. Remember we’re in Spain, but the gelato looked more decked out than anything I had seen in all of Italy! After breakfast at the market I started off on my run towards the corner of the city I was pretty sure I’d find Parc Cittadella. I eventually found and, and was glad I did. I was able to run around in a wooded area, in and out of plant conservatories, and also get in a good amount of people watching while I was at it. After I ran to the seaside, deciding I would run to the big building that looked like a ship’s sail. I thought it was the coolest looking building ever, until I found out it was a Westin hotel. Blah, beautiful ruined by corporations. However, the view from their sight deck was beautiful and I took the opportunity to stretch out while looking over the ocean. I walked back casually along the beach, in my bare feet…in about 50 degree weather, but hey, I was on the beach! At that moment I remembered just how much I love the ocean, just hearing the waves hit the beach is enough to make all the worries of the world (and the worries of returning to the US broke, homeless, and jobless) fade away. Yes, the ocean is my happy place for sure. My happy thoughts were slightly deterred when I looked up to see an older man, BUTT NAKED (well he had on shoes, I think), walking around the plaza very non-chalantly. I was so confused. I seemed to be the only one reacting to this, it was like he was a figment of my imagination, but why in the world would my imagination go THERE?? Then a cop car came into the plaza, and I was sure that I was about to see this guy get cuffed in all his naked glory. But nope, the cop car drove right on past him…I wondered off quickly, quite confused, trying to shake the image of naked old Spanish man out of my head. I made it back to my hostel and got showered in hopes of finding something to do. I originally thought to go to a bar with my Brazilian roommates and hear Brazilian music, but once the group got together and I realized that this one person I had seen around the hostel who was very annoyingly pushy and obnoxious was going, I started to have second thoughts. The third and final thoughts came when we were all outside the hostel before we left and everyone around me started smoking pot…out in public. I was very confused then figured it must be legal, but still couldn’t shake the feeling that the S.W.A.T team was going to bust them at any minute and I would be thrown in Spanish jail for association never to be released again to my family and friends back home. Then they mentioned going to buy more, and I excused myself back into the hostel and began the search for better friends. I found them pretty easily. As I was talking to the receptionist, asking for suggestions for a good salsa club I could go to, I overheard a group of people talking, in Italian. It was my lucky night! I asked them where they were from (the Veneto, where I had done my internship!) and what they were doing. They invited me to join them for the night starting with tapas. We left and got to know each other. I was happy when they mistook me for a real Italian, then explained to them how I learned to speak and what I had been doing there. They were a part of a group of friends who like to get together and take trips to random places at random times. These four were quite the characters, having jobs ranging from a chef to a computer programmer. So the two Luccas, Marco, Niccola, and I headed to a bar for tapas. I was able to convince them they wanted Cava by telling them it was a lot like the Italian’s Prosecco. It was a big hit. And the tapas, all so delicious. I had never seen so many different combinations, most of which had fish since we were by the ocean, and one had a type of whipped cheese with something sweet and berry- like on top! We ate enough there to be considered dinner but went to another place to have more Cava and oysters on the half shell which is where we took picture 81 and Lucca spilled Cava down my entire back on accident, picture 82 is him cleaning it up. After oysters we went to have dinner at a place known for their meat…I ordered the spring veggies, and paid 13 euro for four sprigs of asparagus…hmmmmmm, not worth it, and yet another lesson learned: don’t order veggies at THE restaurant for meat. I had an apple tart for dessert which failed in comparison to the gelato of Italy or the tiny pastries of France and Switzerland. We also tried a cider, which was not like a yummy apple cider, or even a yummy spiked apple cider, but more like a nastier clove-y version of a really hoppy tasting beer. Not my bag of tea, but it was fun to watch the servers shoot it out of the big oak barrels into the serving mugs. After dinner we went to find another bar, then a dance club, and finally back to our hostel, arriving at home around 5:30am.

Day 4 in Barcelona was originally my limbo day. I was leaving my plan to chance. If I liked Barcelona I would stay four days, but if I hated it, I would move on to Madrid. Well, there was still so much to do, so I decided to stay (had to switch rooms at the hostel, but was luckily able to stay in the same place). I started my morning with a trip to my new favorite breakfast joint, the market, and then continued on north up La Rambla checking out the little booths and the street “performers” who dress up in crazy costumes and wait for people to give them money. Well, it’s a job, I suppose. I can’t imagine telling my dad, “Yes, I got a job. I dress up as a fairy princess every day and wait for tourists to throw money into my dish.” But I heard through the grapevine that these people actually make pretty decent money, if their costumes are good enough. After that spectacle I made my way to the famous Gaudi church, stopping at pretty plazas along the way, and also stopping to take a picture of the outside of the bull-fighting arena zooming in on a wall splattered with red paint by protesters. The protesters got their way; this summer will be the last summer you can see bull fighting in Barcelona! I understand where the animal people are coming from, but can you imagine Spain without bull fighting? To me that seems like Italy without pizza or gondolas. But, that’s not my decision to make. I also saw a Telepizza which was the pizza place I ate at in Nicaragua! When I finally made it to the church I was shocked and disgusted all at the same time. I just kind of stood there with a “huh?” look on my face. All I can really say about Gaudi’s church as a whole is, “Oh my…” and I can’t believe that the Pope has recently blessed it making it an official Catholic Church. I didn’t even go inside, the outside was enough to give me a Willy Wonka on acid feeling; no need to see more. I went away from there to find something more beautiful to look at, a castle! Parc Montjuic was huge, so much so that I didn’t get to see all of the gardens and was afraid I wouldn’t find the castle, but figured if I just kept heading up the hill I would run into it eventually. And I did (after trying to play with the self-timer and some slides I found, it’s too bad it didn’t work because I shot off the end of that slide and right onto my butt, would’ve been a great picture!). The castle itself was pretty run of the mill for a castle, but the views it offered were outstanding. I had spent the last three days walking all over this city, never using the metro, making it seem so small, but from above you could really tell just how big it was. Then from the other side you had an amazing view of the ocean. I hurried back down towards the beach hoping to catch the sunset. I made it there in time but it was too cloudy for a pretty sunset. I sat there anyway, enjoying the sound of the waves then headed back to my hostel for an easy night. I showered and went to the grocery store down the road to buy a bottle of wine. I spent about 30 minutes trying to decide which cheap wine to buy. They were all cheap, and they were all Spanish, and they were all bound to be delicious (we’re talking Riojas for only 3 euro!). I went with a Crianza for 1.69 euro. It was dark ruby read and has smells of black cherry, prunes, oak, smoke, and hints of fig. On the lips it left a bright berry taste followed by a mid-palate of spics and a taste in the back that started out warm with a spicy chocolate then finished long and full with a coffee and smooth chocolate taste. Wow, I was REALLY impressed with my almost 2euro wine! I took my wine to the common room at the hostel and spent the evening talking with other travelers. I was lucky enough to hear my Yugoslavian friend play this weird looking instrument (pic 144), and it was some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard. He said back at home he performs to make money. I went to bed fairly early, knowing I had to be up early to catch my flight to Madrid.

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