Hola from España! Sorry it´s taken me so long, but I lost a huge long posting I wrote due to a mysterious computer error. Computer time is expensive, here, as is my time, so I didn´t have the strength to reproduce it on the spot. But here I am, now with several more days to describe, so I´ll settle in.
I arrived less than a week ago, on Thursday the 5th, in the Barcelona airport. The flights were fine, but I was tired and a little bewildered. I´d managed to sleep quite a bit, but it´s interesting what 17 hours in airports and on planes, watching bad Jennifer Lopez movies, sleeping upright, eating bad airplane food (and vegan at that--there was no pescatarian option when I signed up), and dealing with various foreign airports will do to you. For me, it´s something like PMS. Let´s leave it at that.
So in my tired, over-emotional, cranky state, I searched the Barcelona airport, once I´d picked up my backpack, for an ATM, since I had no Euros, only about $12 in American cash. Unfortunately, the baggage area had no ATMS and there seemed to be no way to get back to the terminal I´d just left. I found a change machine, which was exactly that, a machine that changed foreign currency into other foreign currency. But it would take a minimum of $23. I found myself on the verge of tears, sitting by the change machine, wondering how I could get to Barcelona with no money, how I could call Barcelona to get a room with no money, how I could deal with Barcelona if I had no room and no money. It was a bad moment.
Ultimately, I decided to go through customs and just see what happened. Turned out, all I needed to do was slip through customs, that´s exactly what it was--no one blinked an eye at me, checked a passport, nothing--and on the other side of customs was a big entryway to the terminal, with ATMs galore and phones and a TI and everything. All was well. I got money, found the Aerobus into the city, even managed to ask the woman in front of me, in clear Spanish, if I needed exact change. She said something along the lines of no--I´m still a bit better at speaking than understanding--but I got the idea.
I arrived in Barcelona and the next hurdle was trying to call to get a room. I got off at the Plaça España and picked up a phone. Then I had to figure out how to pay, what to pay, where the coin went, what each coin amount was, whether I had to dial some numbers or all the numbers, etc. Spanish phones are not fun, and many of them aren´t working to begin with. Of course, that´s not much different than American payphones. But oh, was I missing my cellphone. Next time, I´m getting a global phone, no doubt about it. Anyway, every place I called was booked, though most of them spoke English, which helped. I finally decided to just go to a place which had promised they could find me someplace to sleep when I´d called from America. So I headed for the Metro.
The Metro to me is the least confusing of all Barcelona things I had to deal with. The Metro is easy--as they´re pretty much the same as every other city with a Metro, including SF. The great thing about Barcelona is the trains come every two minutes, approximately. It´s amazing, you never have to wait 45 minutes for the N Judah in the Powell Street station at 8 p.m. like I have done innumerable times. So I got to Las Ramblas, where the Hostal I was looking for was and found the place. It was booked, and no sign of the helpful woman from the phone. The young men sent me down the street to some other places. After several more failures, I found a place, Pensión Dalí, which had an expensive room, but it was a room. I took it. Cost me 29 euros, quite a bit more than I´d been meaning to spend. The room was brown with yellow fluorescent lights, not very pleasant. It did have a TV though, which I thought might be interesting. And it had a tiny little balcony where you couldn´t really stand out on it, but you could look out and get some breeze, as well as noise. I needed the breeze more than I disliked the noise. If anyone told you Spain isn´t hot in September, it might have been me, they lied.
I showered and changed and wandered out onto Las Ramblas to get some dinner and try to give my parents a call to tell them I was alive and well. Unfortunately, I couldn´t for the life of me figure out how to use the American calling card I had. It was 10 times more confusing than trying to call locally. So I wandered up the street and found an internet cafe and emailed everyone to say I was fine, though cranky. Frankly, Barcelona was not working for me, in many senses of the phrase. It was crowded, hot, filled with tourists (of which I am one, I know) and all the hostels were full or trying to bilk me. I made up my mind to try to go somewhere else in the morning.
I left the cafe and wandered down Las Ramblas looking for food. Every place I saw was either too expensive and clearly for tourists or seemed to difficult in my fragile state. I ended up eating at a chain sandwich store called Pans and Company (yes, written in English like that), and had a bocadillo--a spanish sandwich, which I actually like quite a bit. I´ve had about 10 of them since I arrived. I got one with Atún (tuna) and lechuga (lettuce). They serve them on small baguettes, like french Casse croute (my French spelling´s worse than my Spanish), and they´re very tasty. So I was relatively satisfied and went back to my room. I got in bed and looked through my guidebook for a bit, watching the end of Men In Black dubbed in Spanish, then a bit of Alien 3 dubbed in Spanish before the jetlag caught up with me and I just passed out.
I woke up in the morning to a Spanish cartoon which had the look of a Pokemon cartoon but was about soccer playing kids. I had no idea what they were saying. I packed up and wandered off to find a new hostel or to leave town, I wasn´t sure which. I had bought a phone card the night before, but the man had given me one with an access number rather than one that you stick in the phone. I managed to use it once, to call a place in Barcelona that said they were full, then the operator decided to refuse to recognize my access number. After some creative swearing, that card became a bookmark. I used coins to call a few more places, at which no one would admit to speaking any English at all and seemed to have a hard time understanding me or speaking slowly enough for me to understand them, except I got that they were all full. Finally, on the verge of tears again, I bought a new phone card and tried one more time. I called Figueres, a town about 1 1/2 hours outside of Barcelona, and the woman there was very very nice and, in fairly easy spanish, told me to come, that she had space. I was so grateful.
I had a bocadillo at a tourist restaurant off Las Ramblas then headed for the train station. I got my train with no problem, and breathed a sigh of relief when I arrived in Figueres. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. A very cute little town, with no crowds, and charming stone streets and cool buildings along them. It was very hot, of course, and I carried my bag up streets trying to find my Pensión. I asked for directions from a young woman in a cafe and together she and the owner woman got a map, found the street, and the young woman came around the counter and outside to point me in the right direction. It was like people from the big city say it´s like going to the Midwest, where everyone´s very nice and in no rush, willing to help. Mind you, my experience of the Midwest isn´t always that, but it´s a good analogy.
I found my Pensión and the woman was very nice, gave me my little single room, which was small but cozy with a window that opened onto a shaft with a skylight kind of thing at the top of it. I immediately took a siesta. I got up in early evening and wandered around the streets as the sun was starting to set. I followed signs for the Teatre-Museu Dalí, which was the reason I´d come to Figueres, and it turned out to be about a block away from my pensión. The Dalí museum is hard to describe. From the outside it´s pink and covered with eggs. The story is that Figueres, Dalí´s home town, asked him for a painting. He was so honored by the request that he gave them a whole museum instead. The plaça around the museum has statues done by him or for him, the side of the building has a particularly odd installation with his huge head with TVs in the eyesockets, and that sort of thing. Just walking around the outside was great.
I walked up the hill from the museum and saw the sunset over the hills of the countryside. I wandered around the big cool church that is right next door to the Dalí museum, taking a few discrete pictures inside, away from where a service was going on. I kept wandering the streets, looking for a restaurant that had been listed in my Let´s Go, but Figueres isn´t big enough to warrant a map in Let´s Go so I had some trouble finding it. After getting myself lost, I eventually stumbled on my Pensión again, and a few blocks from there found a restaurant that was also in my Let´s Go, but I hadn´t intended to eat in because it´s Argentinian. My feet hurt and I was hungry at that point so I went ahead in. It was the first time I´d actually gone in a real restaurant, I´d been a little nervous about dealing with the strangeness of a Spanish restaurant, not knowing the right words, ending up with a pile of meat, that sort of thing. But I went in and while it was ostensibly Argentinian, they had a lot of pizzas. I got one with anchovies and olives on it and it was lovely. I was proud of myself for leaping that hurdle.
The next day I went to the museum and it´s much to hard to describe. Briefly, the first thing you see when you come in is a circular courtyard in the middle of the several stories high building. In the middle of the courtyard is Dalí´s own Cadillac, probably from the 50´s or 60´s, shiny black, with a statue of a woman on it, of course it´s not just a woman, but she´s hard to describe. Inside the Caddy is a figure who might be meant to be Dalí, I´m not sure, and a lot of vines in the back seat. All around the Caddy along the walls are vines. There´s another statue on the back of the Caddy with a boat on top of it. The walls of the courtyard are covered in windows and in each of the windows is an almost identical statue of a person, but each is slightly different. And on the far side of the courtyard is a huge stories high window which shows you the next room you are supposed to go to, and you see a huge Dalí painting through the window. That room has a coin operated sculpture, a painting of Dalí´s wife Gala which turns into Abraham Lincoln if you look at it through a telescope they have available for a euro, and Dalí´s completely unmarked tomb in the middle of the floor. As you go through the museum you see innumerable drawings, paintings, Christmas cards he did, ads he did, the Mae West room--which is made up of furniture meant to be parts of Mae West´s face which when viewed from a camel overlook at the back of the room transforms fully into the woman, holograms, pictures that turn into other pictures when you look at the reflection in a bottle that´s been placed at the top of them...There´s just so much. It was the first time I´ve left a museum and instead of being gratified that I´ve seen everything, I was disappointed that there wasn´t more to see.
After the museum, I schlepped up a hill in the midday heat, to see the Castell de Sant Ferran, an old, largely disshevelled castel up at the top of the hill above Figueres which was supposed to have nice views. I got up there and started wandering around the place. Aside from a wedding that was going on, I was one of only a few people up there and it was kind of a nice feeling. I was alone most of the time I was walking around, no one in view. It was nice and a little eerie at times, and the view was great. There was a wonderful moment when I was walking through the catacombs or dungeon below the castle. It was cool down there, away from the sun, and it was this long area with arches all down it, slightly lit along the way. And through a speaker in a room off the main area they were playing classical music. So I was walking alone through this cool, stone walkway with classical music echoing along off the walls. It was one of those perfect travelling moments you get. I think it was my first one, where everything just feels exactly as it should. I´ve had several more since, but you never forget your first.
That night I found the restaurant I´d been looking for the previous night, thanks to a map I got at the TI, and with a deep breath went into the mostly empty restaurant. They were playing Spanish pop music videos and there was an old man, who I think was the owner and grandfather, dancing around with a little girl who must have been about 2. The place was called La Llesca and specialized in a sandwich of the region called a llesca. When the woman brought it to me, she asked if I knew what to do with it, which I had no idea. It was not what I´d expected. It was a very large piece of toasted bread, some toppings--in my case anchovies and sheep´s cheese (I´ve eaten a lot of anchovies since I got here), and a bowl holding two whole tomatoes and a couple of cloves of raw garlic. The woman cut one of the tomatoes in half and started spreading the juice, pulp, and seeds on the bread. I got the idea. I cut off pieces of the toast, covered it in tomato innards, put some anchovy and cheese on it, and ate it. It was very good and simple. I was a little afraid of the raw garlic, so stayed away. I also had a copa de marqués, a little more expensive than the house wine, hoping it would be a little better. It was ok, not fabulous, but it felt nice--the strange good food and the wine. When I left, the grandfather called after me,¨Adios, bonita!¨
As I left, I saw it had started to rain, big drops. It was still warm out, so it was like one of those summer midwestern rains I miss sometimes. It started to rain a little harder after a few blocks, and though I didn´t mind, I worried about the waterproofness of my daybag so I went into a café. I ordered Orxata which wasn´t as good as Mexican Horchata, but still pretty tasty. It had started to thunder and lightning and I was really enjoying the rain. After a bit I went back to my room, where I could still hear the rain and thunder and read through my guidebooks about where I would go next.
The next day I took the train back to Barcelona, stowed my big backpack at the train station in a locker, bought a ticket to San Sebastián on the night train, and headed into Barcelona to go see La Sagrada Familia. I had missed it the last time I was in Barcelona, in ´95, and was determined to get a look at it. It´s this enormous, elaborate church started in the late 1800´s by Gaudí, a local architect/artist. It´s still to this day under construction, using Gaudí´s original plans. It´s really stunning and impossible to describe. It´s so elaborate. I recommend doing a search for it on the internet to get a look. Or wait for my pictures, of which there are plenty. I even went up to the top of the towers and got the greatest view of the city. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the bottom of the stairs, there are a lot of stairs and they spiral down very narrowly, my legs were spaghetti. I could barely walk. So I sat down and looked at the church for awhile. Then I went down into the museum where I found a nice airconditioned film with comfy seats where I sat through the end of a Spanish version of the history of La Sagrada Familia and the entire English version. I felt much better after, and of course, well-informed.
Mission accomplished, I Metro-ed over to Las Ramblas to find a travel store, I was having some converter problems which I´ve since solved, but had no luck. Instead I ended up at the internet café there again and that´s when I lost my last post. So we´re up to that date now. My, this is costing me a bundle. Hope you´re enjoying it.
Then it was off to the train station, reclaimed my backpack, got on my train, and it turned out the man had sold me a sleeper car ticket. I will be more specific when I ask for a billete next time. Still, it was actually very nice. I got to sleep pretty well and shared a cabin with some Spanish girls who spoke so quickly and giggly that I didn´t have a chance to tell them I had no idea what they were saying.
I arrived in San Sebastián (Donostia in Basque) early in the morning the following day, around 8 a.m., and felt pretty well-rested, though I´d probably only gotten about 5 or 6 hours of good sleep. I stepped out of the station and started into town and was just awed. I had to cross a bridge across a river to get into the town and the bridge was beautiful and big and ornate. The river was lovely and lined with buildings out of a movie about a European city. It was just stunning. And the sun was just finishing coming up so the clouds were still pinkish over the buildings. And as I walked, I saw the steeple of the Cathedral bathed in gold morning light shining between the buildings. It was absolutely gorgeous. I walked along, admiring the Cathedral which is huge, and just loving San Sebastián. I got to my Pensión, the woman had told me to come as it was tranquilo and there would be no problem with a room, and the room was really cute, small, but very European, with a great terrace behind double glass doors with a clothesline already there with clothespins. You have to be a traveller to understand how exciting that is.
I immediately took a shower, washed some clothes and hung them out, figured out where I wanted to go, and headed out into the streets. It was about 9:30. It was still cool out and traffic had started with a vengeance, as it was a Monday. The Spanish both drive and walk very very fast, especially in San Sebastián. I wandered through the streets, going into a few stores which eventually solved my converter problem, then headed to the beach. I think I´ve used up all my superlatives about San Sebastián already, but once again--it was just stunning. The beach is a big curve, Playa de la Concha, along the Bahía de la Concha (bay of the conch I think), and I walked all along it and over to the other beach, Playa de Ondarreta. The water was nice and not too cold, the beach was lovely fine sand, and there were tons of old crispy brown men and women walking along as well.
One of the things I love about it here is that maybe half the people on the beach are young and attractive or kids. The other half are older people, some very white, most somewhat unnaturally brown, in their swimsuits, walking along with no self-consciousness, some middle-aged men with lots of hair, in speedos with gold chains around their necks (you thought that was a myth? Oh, no, I can tell you...). And there are a lot of women in bikinis, some in half a bikini, many of whom in America would never have the guts to wear a bikini. There are women with potbellies, pregnant women, just overall round women, all just putting it out there. I love it. I wish I had the same guts, but no, you will never see me on the beach in less than a one piece. They just all look so comfortable with themselves. And the only ones who get a second look are the pregnant ones. And those looks are mostly smiles.
I finished my beach walk, during which I picked up a few stones for you Teresa, and realized I was at the base of Monte Igueldo--which I´d read had a funicular that went up to the top and was supposed to have a wonderful view and a small amusement park at the top. So I took the Funikular up, an old wooden thing that creaked a litte, and got off to see the gorgeous view at the top. You could see the entire bay. Then I went to the top of the tower that´s on top of the mountain. A full 360 degree fantastic view of everything. So gorgeous.
I left Igueldo and walked down the beach back toward my pensión, stopping to look at Palacio Miramar, where Queen Isabella used to stay when she was in town. Then I went back to my room, quickly changed into my swimsuit, and went back to the beach for a swim. The water was so fantastic, cool but not cold, with lots of really warm spots. And the sea is so salty that I could just stand upright with my arms out and float and bounce over waves. Just spectacular. That night I went to Parte Viejo, the old part of town, where I ended up when I was taking pictures of the sunset and noticed an old carousel. the carousel was very cool, from the 1900´s. I didn´t ride it, tho, as there were too many kids to make me feel quite bold enough. I followed the port to the end, taking pictures of the sunset which ended with the sun as a big red ball just next to Isla Santa Clara, in the middle of the bay. Then I wandered into Parte Viejo, the real part of the town, which immediately reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans. It was less filled with drunken college kids, but it had the same feel, narrow stone streets, neon signs for bars (though here they were pintxos (tapas) bars), and tourist shops. Then I was looking down one side street and the end of the street was filled with a brightly lit old ornate churchfront. I was stunned. My Let´s Go annoyingly didn´t mention this town had any churches of note, so each time I´ve seen these fabulous structures I´ve been in awe. This one was so out of the way, it was surprising. I had to sit down and just stare. Carved stone and statues and it was just huge.
I continued in, looking for a pintxos bar from my guidebook, which turned out to be closed. But I found a Plaça where there were several restaurants with terraces and pintxos that were reasonably affordable so I sat down at one. The night was cool but not cold. I sat outside and ordered my pintxos which were all just fantastically good. I had shrimp and calamares and smoked salmon and octopus. I also had sidra, a specialty up here which they pour from one arm up high into a glass down low to aerate it and you´re supposed to drink it down quickly while it´s still fizzy. It´s a little more bitter than the cider I drink normally, but very good. I also had txakoli, a local fizzy white wine that tastes a little like champagne but a little stronger. Also very good. I listened to the Spanish version of mariachis who were playing near us for a bit (tambourine, accordian, and a keyboard on a strap). There were people walking in and out, an English fellow explaining theories on marriage and divorce, a dog running around amidst the tables, and just general merriment. It was a very nice night, a great cap to a very nice day. It was one of those perfect days, something I hadn´t had in a long time.
Yesterday I spent the entire day on the beach, pretty much. Went down in the morning and swam in very cold water then sat on the beach and read. Went back to my room to clean up and change then went back to a beachside restaurant to treat myself to a nice menú del dia. Unfortunately the food wasn´t very good. Great helado (ice cream) though. I don´t know how they make it differently, but it was great. Then back to my room to change into my swimsuit and back to swim again in slightly less cold water and sit on the beach again and read. Last night I went to check on the train to Bilbao, where I´ll go tomorrow, but there´s no train, just a bus. So I have to check that out today. Then I ended up here, at Netline, where I emailed my parents but didn´t have time to post. The nice man at the counter didn´t kick me out when he needed to close and I was trying to finish my emailing. When I paid, he told me my Spanish was very good, which thrilled me to no end. I know it´s getting better, but I´m not so sure about good. Then I went back to the beach and ate at a beachside cafe where they served, amongst other things, sandwiches.
I ordered a Vegetal sandwich, which turned out to be very good, but odd. First of all, vegetal apparently includes tuna. Then when it comes, it´s three pieces of toasted wheat bread, with lettuce and tomato in one layer, tuna and egg in the other layer, and some mayonaise swirled on the top of top piece of bread. Good mayo, but on the outside. It was very interesting, a little messy, but very good. I also had a cerveza. And I looked at the lights on the bay as I looked over the beach. Nice night again.
Today has been shopping so far. I need a tank top, something I almost brought but didn´t but now I want of course. And I bought some postcards and ultimately ended up back here while I wait for a shop to download my memory cards from my camera onto CD. Yes, it´s techno travelling. As you can tell, I´m having a great time. I can´t wait to show you all my photos. I´ve really hit the travelling mode, where getting places seems like no trouble, just part of the experience, and where every place seems more beautiful and interesting than the last. Still, I love San Sebastián. I think I´ll retire here. Once I make some money. Small issue. Ah well. Time to go back to the beach, I´ve been here long enough. Hasta luego.
Posted by Alyssa at September 11, 2002 04:59 AM