Barcelona

I was going to go to Madrid from Paris, but all tickets there were sold out, so I decided on Barcelona instead. Ian (one of the guys from the hostel in Paris) said that he was headed there, and going to stay in Kabul (Kabul is the name of the hostel you stay at in Barcelona. Its just the place to be). I decided to go there. On the train ride, I met two really nice girls from the states who were studying music. They were very nice, and I asked them if they going to stay in Kabul. They said probably not, as the one girl was bringing a $5000 French horn with her, and was concerned about its safety. I donít think that they and I had the same expectations for our respective trips. They were a little more conservative, you could say. When we got to our station, there was a platform for unloading passengers on to that could hold people about 5 rows deep. We'll say it was about 10 feet deep. People were packed in here about 7 rows deep. It was amazing. So crowded. The first of the two girls got off, pushing in to the crowd. Before the second girl got off, the train began to move. She started screaming "the train is moving" as if I couldnít tell. I gave her a good shove and pushed her and her luggage off the train, and then jumped in to the crowd myself. My huge pack was on my back, and was getting hit by every car of the train that passed. I couldnít move or even rotate. There was no room. I just prayed that there was no hook of any sort on the side of the train, or anything that would catch my bag. If there was, I was done. The train passed without incident, and my first impression of Barcelona was awful. I planned on leaving the next day after this mess.

By this point, I had the gist of getting in to a city, finding cash machines, finding a map of the subway system, and generally getting around. It was getting fun, like a little game I played where the reward for winning was good times and good friends. I had a hard time finding the hostel, partly due to bad directions in the guide book, and party due to the fact that Barcelona, just like about every other European city does not have street signs. They do, but they're all on the buildings. So you have to search for them, and many times, theyíre not there.

I did find my hostel, and ended up sleeping off the fatigue of a day of travelling. Even though you're on a train all day, it still takes it out of you.

The next morning, I met up with a couple of guys (Nathan and Mike - Right) from the states that were studying in for a semester in Holland, and were doing some travelling on their break. They had a couple of things they wanted to see, so we all headed out together. We went to a park (below) designed by Gaudi, who was the most influential architect in Barcelona, and only died as recently as the 1940's. On the way to the park, we stopped at a fruit stand, and I got a couple bananas. They were crunchy. I'm not sure if they were supposed to be like that in Spain, or if they were bad, but they tasted pretty good. The park Gaudi designed was incredible. First, it was on top of a hill that overlooked the city. One heck of a walk up there. Once up there, you see the most amazing structures. Everything is covered in little tiny tiles (also below). Benches, houses, columns, everything.
These tiles interlocked with each other, but are not fabricated, they're all broken pieces, arranged to fit perfectly. The whole park is just breathtaking. Further on, we walked up to a summit that had a stone platform built on top. Atop this platform are 3 crosses made of stone. This platform was probably 20 feet tall, and had steps to the top. Once up there, it was another one of those moments where you looked around and reflected upon where you were, and just tried to take it all in (Right).



Next we walked to the Olympic grounds so that Mike could see the pool. Mike was and avid swimmer, and to him, so see the pool where such athletes swam, was the equivalent of a deadhead standing on the corner of Haight and Ahsbury. He was in awe. To us, it was a pool. To him, it was everything. We were glad he found such joy, but pressed him to move on. We walked back, and went through a heavily wooded area (or park) on the way home, and sort of stumbled upon an old amphitheater. It was much more fun to find something like this by accident rather than to search it out.

That night, I went back to the hostel, and found a bunch of people looking to go out, and decided to join them. The times people do things in Barcelona are very different. People get up at the same time, but they have siesta (a tricky way of saying 'afternoon nap') from about noon to 2pm. Then they have dinner at about 9 or 10pm, and then they go out at about midnight, and stay out until sunrise. It was now 9pm, and people were going to head out around midnight. After the day of hiking, I decided I'd powernap. This time it worked too well. I slept until about 3am. At this point, I just figured I'd sleep through the night and gear up for the next night.

The next day, I decided to have a day to myself. I woke up and it occurred to me that I was spending every day meeting people, going places, and doing things, which was all fun, but I hadn't really taken a day to relax. It was after all, my vacation. After such a long night of sleep, I was up before the rest of the hostel, and could leave before anyone presented anything that sounded fun. As I sat in the bar in the hostel, there was a window that overlooked some children playing. I watched them for quite some time, and then started thinking pretty deeply about life. Not sure why. I ended up writing some semi-deep thoughts in my journal. They went something like this:

Overlooking the children of Barcelona playing with the Pigeons in the square below. A familiar song of my innocence past plays over the room. My thoughts turn to what my life has been, what it is, and what it will be. A tour-de-force of self-realization. The bottom line has always been to live life in the now, to its fullest. Planning to have a happy future starts with having a happy now. ---"The best way to ensure a happy future, is to make sure that once you get there, you have the fondest of memories".

After walking around a little bit on my own I really got a feel for what it would be like to be deaf, as I couldnít understand anyone, nor could they understand me. (When I walked around with Nathan, it was easier, as he spoke Spanish fairly well). I did learn that it's easy to order a value-meal in any language. :-) I also gained an appreciation to know what it was like to be a foreigner. I could imagine myself in their shoes, and them in my country, trying to speak to me. I'd stand there and shrug my shoulders as they did to me.

It was good to take a day off from sightseeing. A vacation within a vacation of sorts.

I walked to the beach and hung out. I was depressed to see the homeless people sleeping under the docks, but I guess it just shows that as far as you might go, there are some things that are the same no matter where you go. Being the holiday season didnít make it any easier though. I had thought of my good fortune, and the celebrations that we'd had over the past week or so. I wanted to come back and bring food for them, but being in a strange country, not knowing if it was safe, or if that might have been degrading to do, thus making it dangerous, I didnít. Unfortunately, thatís one of those images that sticks in your head that you wish wouldnít.

Later I walked on to the docks, and sat there and read. The weather was nicer in Barcelona than anywhere else I visited. I was enjoying not needing a jacket. I sat and read and wrote a little. Later I walked back to the hostel, only to find someone had opened my bookbag as I was walking. Nothing was taken, then again, I donít suppose anyone would want the junk I had in there. All the same, it reminded you that this town was full of pickpockets and petty thieves. They were everywhere. The most common scam was right outside the hostel. These guys would come up and ask you a question in Spanish. If you responded that you didnít speak Spanish, they'd know you were a target. They'd ask "Americano?". If you replied yes, they'd ask, "So, you like football???". At this exact moment, they'd kick an imaginary soccer ball at your feet. You look down, they intertwine their feet with yours. You get confused trying to figure out what's going on. They reach in your pocket, grab your wallet and run in to the maze of streets to which you are totally unfamiliar. Easy scam. Basically, someone told me about it my first night there. I was also told what to do. When these guys come up to you, by the time they ask "Football?". You just forcefully push them away. This happened to me on my second night there. These aren't big guys. They're bums, and guns are illegal in Europe. There's not too much of a risk. You just push them, and yell at them, and they'll leave you alone.

I met a couple of other Australians (Kristine, and Justine - right) who were extremely nice. We ended up hanging out for a couple of days, and had a pretty nice dinner when I got back from my 'vacation day'. After dinner, we decided to get some Sangria, as that is what Spain is famous for. It is a fruity type of wine, and tastes pretty good. We went out and got two bottles, and finished them between the three of us pretty quickly. We decided to get three more. Those went down pretty easy as well. By the time we had finished all of these it was about time to go out. We assembled a pretty large crew of people looking to go out from the hostel, and all headed to a club. The club was pretty cool. They played a cross between techno and dance, and had a small upstairs room that played 70's music. One of the people that went with us was a girl by the name of Tamara. She was from Canada, and since I couldnít remember her name, I just referred to her as 'Canada'. She responded, so I kept it up. In fact, had I not asked for her e-mail address before I left, I never would have known her real name. Anyway, we drank a mixed drink called RedBull and Vodka. It was made from RedBull and vodka. RedBull is a super high energy drink that they sell all over Europe, but it's really popular in the clubs, because it will help you stay awake all night. Well, add some vodka to it, and you get a drink that gives you energy, keeps you up, and gets you really drunk. Well, after 2 we were both pretty gone, so we headed back to the hostel. Neither of us were going to sleep anytime soon, so we ended up staying up until 7:30am talking (we had only really left the club at 4am). She was a hairdresser, and we had lengthy conversations about hairdressing, which she would later refer to as 'deep'. Oh my. She was staying in Barcelona until new years and asked if I'd like to do the same. I told her I couldnít as I had plans in Florence, and on top of that, my plane left out of Rome at 2:30pm on the 2nd, and I likely wouldnít make it.

The next day was Christmas, but it was rather uneventful in terms of doing things (sightseeing). A few other people that I had met at the hostel decided to go out to a church (right). We went in, but weren't allowed to stay inside as the mass was half over. We did see some traditional Spanish Christmas dances outside of the church, which was pretty neat to watch. Later on in the day, I did make it to see the Sangrata Familia (below), which was by far the most amazing building I saw on my whole trip. I was designed by Gaudi, and was just amazing. It looked like a different building from every side. It had almost no straight lines, and looked nothing like any other building I've ever seen in my life. I can't say any more. You have to see it to know what I mean.

That night, we had Christmas dinner at the hostel. Normally, it would be called a holiday dinner to be politically correct, but I guess as Christianity is so prevalent throughout Europe, they just called it Christmas dinner. It was real good. We had soup, chicken, and champagne. All home cooked. Yum.

After dinner, I walked around with two girls from New York (Val and Amy), going up and down the main drag, called Las Ramblas ('Canada' was no where to be found). There are street performers everywhere. Many of them are doing still life poses, and will move only when you throw money in the hat. Others have neat little skits, and almost all of them are pretty neat to see. One lady (I donít know she could be classified as a performer, but she was among them) was stitching a Salvador Dali print on to a 5foot by 7-foot piece of cloth. Someone said that she'd been working on it for about 2 years. Looking at it, that sounded about right. In the 4 days I was there, she was working on it EVERY time I walked by, and I saw no change noticeable to the naked eye.

Val and Amy were planning on being in Florence for new years, so I had other people to meet up with. They liked the idea of meeting up, and I gave them the name of the hotel I'd be at. They were going to Nice tomorrow, and I was headed to Cannes.

A few things that I took note of when I was in Barcelona. There isn't anywhere that you can't smoke a cigarette in all of Europe. Even in the ever-rare non-smoking sections, there are still people smoking. But any public building, store, train station, restaurants, bathroom, hostel, hotel, mall, club, barÖ.. you name it, there's people smoking. Also, you can bring your dog any of these places too. And many people do. It makes you think that if you took your dog in to one of these places, and it had a cigarette, no one would really think it to be peculiar.

The trains in Barcelona are all pretty cool. They donít have doors in-between the train cars, in fact there's no walls between the train cars. It's just wide open, as the whole train is articulated. Itís a real weird feeling, like you're riding in a large caterpillar with wheels.

Kabul was by far the best hostel I stayed at on my trip. They had a huge bar, and the rooms were really clean, and a great location. Very central location, in a cool plaza (left).

Another thing that hit me in Barcelona was being homesick. I missed the holidays with my family, although I was able to call. More over, I was missing my friends. I had met so many cool people, but it was starting to get to me that all these people that I liked so much, I'd say goodbye to 3 days later, knowing I probably would not see them again. I started missing having people to hang out with that I knew would be around longer than 3 days. I wouldnít say it got me too down, it just sort of crossed my mind for a little while.

The next day, I boarded my train for Cannes. I enjoyed the trip, as the train followed the coastline almost the whole way. The trains were nice, and not really packed. As I began to near Cannes, and consult my "Lets Go" guide, it said that there were very few places to stay in Cannes, and many of them shut down in the winter. Conversely, Nice had quite a few hotels. I decided to go to Nice, as it was only one stop past Cannes.