Trip Start May 04, 2006
62Trip End Mar 05, 2007
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Before I get into a few things Iīd like to share about Barcelona, letīs take a step back and look at Spain as a whole. What are some of the first things you think about when you think of Spain? Bullfighting? Sangria? Ricky Martin? First things first, Ricky Martin is from Puerto Rico so if thatīs one of your first thoughts then you are headed in the wrong direction. If you know a little about Spanish culture and way of life then some of the first things you may think of may be siestas, paella, sangria, flamenco and who knows what else. These are all part of the culture but there are also little idiosyncrasies that are embedded in the culture that make the Spanish way of life unique.
First, the pace of life is most definitely in a lower gear here than not only the US but many other places in Europe. People are just not in much of a hurry to get things done. Not that they donīt get things done, they just arenīt in a frenzied rush to do it. Along with that, most everyone takes an afternoon break called a siesta. In the middle of the afternoon most shops close down for a couple of hours only to reopen and continue their day. If I had a dollar for every time someone used the excuse "well...itīs Spain" along with a shrug of the shoulders to explain why something hadnīt gotten taken care of or why it was going to take so long, Iīd have about $93. Scratch that. If I had a Euro for every time then Iīd have about €93...which comes out to about $120. Much better. It is just the way things are and people are used to it. People donīt seem to get upset with it and just accept it for what it is. It sometimes requires a bit more planning because you have to think ahead and make sure things are taken care of beforehand because God forbid if you need to buy something from the market around 4 because WHOOPS they are all closed for siesta. Siesta is pretty much a long late lunch break that Spaniards take to break up their work day. Typical schedules run from 9 in the morning until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. They then have siesta for about two hours where they close up and do whatever. Some go home. Some go to a bar and mingle with amigos. You can do whatever you want. Itīs Spain. Itīs siesta. Do your thing. They then return to work and finish their day around 7 in the evening. Personally, once Iīm at work Iīm in it to win it. I want to get my things done and get out of there, no need to prolong the day by breaking it up. Different culture. Different attitude. Different schedule.
Just to give you an idea of having to deal with "Spanish time" and not exactly having the quickest of customer service, Iīll lay down a couple of examples. When you go to cafes or restaurants to eat or have a drink, the waiters donīt come and attend to you right away like in most US restaurants, but rather they take their time and get to you as soon as they can, or as soon as they want to. If you just want to sit there and sip on one beer for 4 hours, go right ahead. There is no pressure to turn tables and get people in and out the door. This attitude can apply to a lot of European cities in general but is exaggerated in Spain.
A good example from my experiences with the punctuality of professional services was when the hot water at the hostel went out in mid-December and of course, with 152 beds, there were quite a few complaints. The owner, who is very professional and gets things done, called companies to come fix it ASAP. Unfortunate for us, we live in Barcelona and it was a Friday. Granted itīs a tough spot to need to fix that kind of problem on a Friday or weekend but there wasnīt even the possibility of anyone coming out until Monday at the earliest so we just had to fight off the cold water for a few extra days.
From my experiences here in Barcelona I know not to take the Spanish for lazy people. While they may take certain things at a comfortable pace, the social life might as well be at hyper speed. It seems like they never sleep and I would have to guess that they sleep max 5-6 hours on average and always seem to be on the go. They spend their days at work, class or wherever. By night they gather with friends and head out to restaurants to catch up but donīt be caught trying to go to dinner before 8PM because odds are most places are closed. Normal times for dinner reservations are around 10. After dinner they head to their favorite bar for a few drinks and the younger people continue from there on to clubs to dance the night away, literally, until the sun comes up. From my typical experiences in the States we would tend to gather at someoneīs house, say around 9 PM, to shoot the breeze over some cocktails before going out on the town until around 3 AM and then calling it a night. Here they meet at bars around 11 or 12 and hang there until they close around 3 or 3:30 and from there they head out to any number of clubs, many located along the beach, and party until, at the very earliest, 5AM when the metro reopens.
The pace of life, while drastically different from what Iīm accustomed to, is quite contagious. Especially when you are hanging around people that do it for a living. My daily routine while here in Barcelona has been like nothing I have ever experienced before, some because of the Spanish culture and some because of my night work schedule. If there is anything to get done, do it in the morning and then take a siesta. No worries. By the time I am done with work around 1AM, my nights are just usually starting and Iīm usually not in bed before 4AM at the very earliest, but there have also been quite a few very late nights that have turned into very early mornings. What are you gonna do? Sometimes that happens in Barcelona.
Barcelona is a metropolitan city with a little of everything to offer; beautiful architecture and scenery, broad pedestrian avenues with restaurants, cafes and almost a 5th Avenue selection of great shopping, all highlighted by a long strip of beach to relax and catch some rays while gazing out over the Mediterranean. By night the city comes alive with a completely different aura. Iīll use the street Las Ramblas as a perfect example. Las Ramblas is the major pedestrian avenue of Barcelona and is most likely one of the first things people who visit Barcelona see. Las Ramblas is considered the backbone of Barcelona as it runs from the main plaza in the center of town, Plaza Cataluņa, all the way down to the harbor on the Mediterranean. Cars are an afterthought on this avenue as only two lanes of traffic run on either side of the pedestrian walkway that is equivalent to a 4 lane road in size.
Las Ramblas is a live representation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By night, the street transforms to a seedy and sometimes dangerous thoroughfare teeming with people selling alcohol and food, promoters trying to sell you on various clubs and bars, pickpockets, drug dealers and prostitutes. The street is such that you donīt even have to pursue anything and by just walking along the street you will most likely come across at least one of each.
I love Barcelona and have had such an amazing experience here but the one thing I hate about this place is the amount of petty crime and the seediness of some parts of the city by night. Petty crime is such a problem and at least once or twice a week I overhear
Knowing Las Ramblas can be seedy still doesnīt deter people at night. I may make it sound worse than it is because you still find plenty of people up and down the street either making their way to or from any number of bars or clubs located along the street or harassing or getting harassed by any of the number of aforementioned distractions. Besides, isnīt the point of visiting new places to see and be a part of the way of life in that spot. When in Rome. With this in mind, my friends and I, along with the thousands of other tourists flocking from every corner of the world to spend New Yearīs eve in Barcelona, prepared to spend a long night out on the town to bring in the new year.
As for the tradition at the stroke of midnight in the States goes, most gather with friends and family and watch the ball drop in Times Square and upon the stroke of midnight you kiss your lover, your friend, that hot girl/guy you met two hours ago or that random girl you happen to be standing next to. Wait...you don't do that? Nevermind then. Anyway, as with any clock, at midnight the clock strikes 4 times signaling the top of the hour and then twelve times, once for each hour, signifying midnight and the arrival of the new year.
As Spanish tradition has it, everyone watches anxiously as the time ticks down while holding a handful of 12 grapes. As the clock strikes the hour everyone awaits the 12 chimes and with each, they pop one grape into their mouth. Depending on how you do it, by the end you either have 12 whole grapes in your mouth or a mouthful of half chewed grapes that you try to wash down with champagne because someone forgot to tell you that the grapes have seeds in them. Happy New Year! ĄFeliz aņo! Spanish style.
With our grapes eaten and our champagne drank we decided to hit the streets and see what was shaking on Las Ramblas before heading to a club to bring in the new year with some dancing. Las Ramblas. Did I mention it can be seedy and sometimes dangerous? We left with a group of about 20 or so from the hostel. By the end of the night, only 8 people made it back alive. Just kidding. Itīs not that bad. However, although we knew things were going to be hectic, packed and crazy, we were not quite ready for what we came across. While doing our best to keep the group together we entered Las Ramblas after a 10 minute walk from the hostel and literally not 30 seconds after we entered the crowd we saw a fight. Two drunk guys scrapping which progressed to another guy getting thrown over a bike rack and almost into the street and another guy getting a bottle broken over his head and blood running down his face. While we may have been willing to put ourselves in the midst of Las Ramblas with the masses on New Years Eve, weīre not stupid enough to stick around that mayhem to see who won so we quickly slipped away and continued our journey through the Barcelona night and into the Gothic Quarter. We wandered around there for a bit before ducking into a club that played some random rock music from anytime and anywhere. The music definitely wasnīt the highlight but the people and the party made up for it. After the club we strolled through the streets and back to the hostel where we hung out and shared stories of the night until around 8AM when I called it a night, or day, and layed my head to rest for the first time in 2007. Overall, my New Yearīs Eve in Barcelona was a top notch, new adventure and a great experience and one I will definitely never forget.
From seeing the city at the height of activity on New Yearīs Eve to spending a quiet night at the hostel relaxing and shooting the breeze with Joe Traveler from Anywhereville, Iīve seen, experienced and learned so much while living here. I not only had the best job at the hostel but maybe one of the best jobs in the world. Every night my only agenda was to serve drinks for a few hours which was easy as can be. The bonus of the job was I got to interact with so many different people from so many different places, lifestyles and cultures. There are so so many people out there, each with their own story, passion, ideas, drive, lessons, advice and experiences. Even if I take only one little memory, piece of advice or bit of knowledge per night from any one person for the whole time Iīve been here, imagine how much that ends up being.
For those of you who have seen the movie Blow where Deppīs character goes to jail for the first time and he says that it wasnīt as much jail as it was crime school. Well, working and living in this environment here in Barcelona for me really has been, in a sense, a school of life. Iīve met people that have strikingly similar ideas, goals and interests as me with thoughts and ideas I could relate to. On the contrary, Iīve also chatted with just as many other people either from places I almost didnīt know existed or with beliefs or ideas that I had never heard or thought of. At some points it was as if I was picking my course curriculum for college. For example, my roommate here at the hostel was a chef. I love to cook. So not only did I watch and learn from him but we also spent hours talking about his experiences in the kitchen. his years profession. Inspired from a few concepts from our discussions and my surroundings got me to thinking about how I might want to get into the restaurant business and open a restaurant down the line. Literally the very next night I started chatting at the bar with a guy from Virginia who was in the final steps of opening his own restaurant. He answered every question I had, walked me through all he had gone through, offered to send me his business plan, offered advice on anything I needed and suggested I swing by if in the area to try it out. After our long discussions it was clear to me that I wasnīt quite ready to try and dive into the restaurant business, but at least I got some insight into the ins and outs of how it works. I arrived here in Barcelona with a Bachelorīs in Business and am leaving with a Masterīs in people, culture and geography. Well, maybe not a Masterīs, but you get the point.
That is just one example of the myriad of people Iīve come across with some related knowledge or interest that has afforded me some great conversation. There are also just as many people that come through that open my eyes to ideas or subcultures I had never thought of. For example, graffiti, you see it all the time, well at least in Barcelona you do, but did you ever stop to think how it gets there? Obviously someone paints it at some point but have you ever caught someone in the act? When do they do it? How do they do it? Why do they do it?
I met a couple of guys that flew all the way from Holland to Barcelona for a weekīs vacation. Did they come to see Gaudiīs architectural marvels? No. Did they come to savor the wonderful seafood paella dishes and sangria? No. Did they come for Barcelonaīs famous nightlife and club scene? No. They came to Barcelona for an entire week solely to paint. Why Barcelona? It is considered one of the best places in the world for graffiti. There are famous pieces throughout the city that are so well known that while anyone could paint over them, they remain untouched just because of the person behind the piece and the respect among the graffiti community.
I got to talking to them and just became so interested in the shedding of light on this entire subculture that I had never even thought of or knew existed. Sure when you think about it you realize that there has to be some driving force behind it but I had never thought of it. In Holland they do pieces with maybe three or four colors because each can costs about € 6 - € 8. These guys were like kids in a candy store when they started talking about painting here because paint costs less than € 3 a can and they were ecstatic to be able to use anywhere from 6-8 different colors in a piece.
There are rules as to what you can and canīt paint over. If itīs just a tag, which is just letters basically written on something, you can paint your name or a piece over that no problem. If itīs just an outlined piece then you can paint a filled in full piece over it but you canīt tag over it. If itīs a filled in piece then you are not supposed to put anything over it. Obviously these rules are not concrete because there are only so many walls to be painted that eventually you are gonna have to double up, just make sure you donīt paint over a classic. People who are new to the game are called toys and the masters are called kings. These guys worked their way into a few friends in the painting community here and by the middle of their trip they were heading out with a small number of people to certain metro stops that were located close to train yards or good graffiti spots, all of which information is readily available if you know the right person to ask. Itīs a very secretive and underground community because itīs illegal. They would head out at various times of the night or even sometimes during the day but always very wary of what they carried on them when out, who they talked to about their whereabouts, what they took pictures of and who they showed them to. Daily they came back with reports of their day or night and how they had to run from this security guard or that cop or how they walked miles upon miles to get to a certain train yard just to be able to express their artistic talent and take a picture to share with their peers.
Living in Barcelona for nearly three months has been a dream come true for me. I was teased with the exposure to Spanish-speaking lifestyle and culture when I studied in Mexico for a mere two weeks over winter break before my junior year of college. I had such a great time over those two weeks and was just starting to get into the swing of things when I had to head back to the States. Ever since, I have wanted to return to a Spanish-speaking place and live for an extended period of time. Now, I have done it and it was everything I knew it would be and more.
Barcelona being my surrogate home for a while, I feel as if I know the city fairly well. I feel as a local in that I know places to go as well as where to stay away from. At the same time, as it is with anywhere, the longer I have stayed and the more people Iīve met and places Iīve gone, the more and more knowledge of the city I uncover that makes me realize just how little I know about the city. I love that I have become aclimated to the lifestyle and culture here and that most everything that was drastically different has become somewhat normal.
I may not have conformed to the grungy Spanish fashion sense or the unique hairstyles, my favorite being the girls with crazy bangs or the infamous dreaded mullet that rears its head from time to time, but I do have somewhat of a mini-mullet, only fitting in a place that I still take to be the mullet capital of the world.
The power of communication is immense and I absolutely love being mostly bilingual. I love walking into a store and having the person think I am just another tourist and talk to me in English while trying to rip me off, to which, much to their surprise, I rebut in pretty decent Spanish.