Habla Espanol?

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
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54
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Trip End Nov 21, 2006


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Monday, September 4, 2006

Spain was my first real experience abroad. Up until the time I went there with my parents when I was 18 I had never been outside the country aside from Canada, and honestly, that doesn't count at all. In fact I didn't even have a passport until that trip. I was a naive, starry-eyed, baby-faced (more than I even want to admit it, but there's no hiding it when I pull out that passport, it's awful, I look like I'm about 13 in my picture. The security guard at the consulate in Budapest, whose job it is to look at bad passport photos all day openly giggled when I showed him mine. It's bad. And I'm stuck with it for another five years. That's right, I'll be 28 and still showing a picture that makes me look almost pre-pubescent), not the battle-tested traveler I am now, but I still saw enough of the country back then that it never really figured into my travel plans for the present trip. The one place I would've loved to have seen but didn't on that holiday was Barcelona, but initially I figured it was too far away from anything to make it worthwhile. Once I was settled into Ios though and the possibility of La Tomatina was there and I had plenty of empty hours to daydream over a European map, Barcelona became more realistic. I've already said the experience of La Tomatina alone was worth the hell of overnight trains to and from Italy. Well, getting five days in Barcelona was an excellent bonus.

The city just has one of those special vibes, the sort of feel that's sorely lacking from the oppressively touristy Italian cities. It's exceptionally walkable and you don't feel like you're wasting time at all spending hours doing laps up and down La Rambla, the tree-lined, mainly pedestrian boulevard that runs from the waterfront to Placa Catalunya. I would never compare Barcelona to New York in terms of atmosphere or feel or attitude, anything like that. However, Barcelona did strike me as a city -- in the same vain as New York -- that the more time you spend there and the more you walk the sidestreets and alleyways the more secrets you discover. Both cities have great things to find right on the main streets, but what makes New York so special is the hidden treasures that you could only possibly find by living there. I have the feeling Barcelona is the same way.

What I enjoyed about Barcelona personally was the opportunity to speak Spanish again. I took Spanish in high school (why Spain was the choice for a holiday 5 years ago) and then my first semester at North Carolina, and the second I had fulfilled my requirement I stopped studying the language. Part of it, I'm sure, was I wasn't mature enough to recognize the importance of knowing a second language, but I blamed my ambivalence about learning Spanish on the awful way in which it was taught. The more I've traveled the more I've wished I spoke a second language, but that doesn't change the fact that it'd been pretty much five years since I'd spoken Spanish at any level. I found that the more time I spent in Spain, the more it came back to me. Sure, I was still crap at speaking, I could barely express anything. But I did find that my comprehension was still pretty good. There was a local who for whatever reason was living in my hostel. Every night he would cook way too much for himself for dinner. He played it off innocently every time, like it was some sort of mistake, but I think he just wanted an excuse to be able to talk to somebody. Our conversations were broken and overly elementary but if he spoke slowly I could understand most of what he wanted to say to me. Even on my last night, when he fed me and Jay and Evan, two Aussies I'd become friends with, I was able to play translator between them and him.

One other thing Barcelona has going for it is an excellent beach, certainly as far as cities go. It's not going to draw comparisons to some of the pristine beaches I've seen in Australia or Asia, but considering it was a 5-minute walk from my hostel that was located right in the Gothic Quarter, well, that earns it some points.

It also has a great night life, but I couldn't tell you per se. All the bars and clubs seemed cool, but I hardly went into any of them. Why pay 5 euro for a beer when you can pay 1 for an even bigger one in the supermarket or under a euro for a can from the sketchy characters who roam La Rambla with six-packs? Plus, it's way more fun to haggle with those guys, trying to get tres para dos (three beers for the price of two) and negotiating in broken Spanish until they lose their will and then start speaking English and then give you the price you want. My first night out with Jay and Evan, who I met bumming around the common room after all my pre-Tomatina friends had left my hostel, that's all we did, and it was more fun than you could imagine. Jay was having way too much fun with it, keeping us at a breakneck pace just so he could haggle again. Of course it was even better because he was so drunk and spoke such shit Spanish that when he wanted to tell the beer sellers he had no money he was saying 'No manana,' as in 'no tomorrow.' He also pulled that stunt with a beggar outside of La Sagrada Familia (Barcelona's famous, massive, yet-to-be-completed church that was designed by Gaudi, but was such an ambitious project that it isn't expected to be completed for another 20 years -- so big that it won't even fit into frame if you're taking a photo) and I had myself a solid 5-minute giggle before I could regain my composure enough to tell him what he was actually saying.

I only needed a day or two, going at a slow pace to see all the 'sights' of the city, much like just about any other city in Europe. But Barcelona had so much more to offer than your average city that I didn't want to leave. If I didn't have to meet a friend in Rome, maybe I wouldn't have.
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