Barcelona #1

My traveling companion and I arrived in Barcelona yesterday. We took the train from the airport (aeroporto), the up-side of which is that it is the most inexpensive option. The down-side is having the shacks and graffiti-covered hulls of buildings you see from the train as your introduction to the countryside of Spain.  And of course, this being Spain the lovely colorful subway map that comes in all the travel books and is posted on walls seems to have essentially no relation to the lines as the trains actually travel them.  We simply scratched our heads, argued a bit, and got on the train everyone else got on. What a relief to see that our stop was only number four (of course, when I say “our stop” what I mean was the connection we were going to attempt, which was in Spanish on the train and is in Catalan in all of the guidebooks).
At some point on the train a man with an accordion appeared in our car. When this happens in New York, people make eye-contact with you and roll their eyes theatrically. Here in Spain, local folks went into extreme no-eye-contact-mode, and the tourists smiled at their traveling companions with a half-wink, “Say, this never happens in Tokyo!” In New York, we have yet to have a man with an accordion get on our subway car, though we have had the rapper and fellows with guitars. I love music on the train, even when the musicians are not talented. It’s obviously people like me who keep these folks in business.  I usually let my Traveling Companion keep the Euro change in his pockets, but I had to intercept the 2 Euro coin from him; he is a true believer in tipping street musicians of all kinds.
Triumphantly we got off our train into a packed underground station with flights of stairs and tons of people, some wearing party masks, and one of them carrying an unhappy, meowing cat in a crate. We made our way to the huge paper posters of train schedules to discover that they were written in some sort of cuneiform script. Here, our triumph ended, and we ascended to the street.

At this point, you see, we were utterly unable to see how you switched to the subway train line, so we walked. Emerging on Passeig de G
ràcia (which also has a Spanish name, Paseo de Gracia), we immediately encountered an enormous Sunday political rally, complete with flags, party stickers, neck-kerchiefs, loudspeakers, a lingering helicopter hovering above, soldiers, police, and thousands of strolling, well-dressed people. My Traveling Companion wanted to know what they wanted and why they were assembled. I had no clue. Many of them waved a red banner with “CCOP,” which is probably Catalonian Communists. I have a history of encountering communist party rallies, and happened upon one the last time I came to Europe, near the open air market by our hotel in Venice.  This time, my Traveling Companion would never have tolerated me taking a picture, so I didn’t.
The hotel was not too hard to find. As in Italy, the street signs are attached to buildings at the corners of intersections so it took us a few blocks to verify that we were headed in the correct direction. I brought along an orphaned AT&T iPhone in case of emergency (Verizon phones are based on shorter string technology and do not stretch across the Atlantic Ocean), and turned on this phone to use the compass.  I was right about north (a skill I cannot always count on, but did inherit from my father). The iPhone is being covered by “Orange” wireless. Tempting to make some calls, send a bunch of texts, etc., but once I saw a $3000 mobile phone bill. 

Besides, I felt like a hero when I found the hotel (for about five minutes). We had to wait for our room until 3:30 pm, about 4 hours. We went and got delicious croissants and cafe au lait around the corner (being too simple-minded to be able to order anything more substantive). The wait for the room was actually excruciating! Stupid details of the timing of check-in and check-out are always so dicey. My Traveling Companion did not sleep on the plane but fell asleep waiting in the lobby and still sleeps now.

Our room is as strange and wonderful as I expected. Modern in the extreme, with three levels, two rooms and two baths. They have the bizarro key-in-the-light-switch deal here, which makes sense but also adds to the initial confusion of figuring out a room. The other hotel guests include a squalling baby and several commandeering adult men, who seem like they are in our room when they talk in the hall; this is never more startling than when you are sleeping off a headache and an overnight flight in coach. Housekeeping persistently knocked around 6 pm and I had to shout genuine nonsense at them to make them go away.

I logged on with the “free wireless,” which is 60 minutes worth of wireless, free every 24 hours.

We will rise soon and go eat tapas around 9:30 pm, enjoying sitting outside under a heater, listening to our fellow diners chatting in French on one side and Korean on the other.  We will enjoy the communal aspect of the Euro-zone, where our waiter will bestow the most marginal service imaginable, and expects no tip, and we will bask and eat in a plume of second-hand cigarette smoke. There will be fried white anchovies and a decent glass of red wine even though I will ask for white, and it will be a privilege.

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