July 19, 2004

Barcelona: day 1

Well, I'm in Barcelona.

The adventure started yesterday at about 3:30 Boston time, which was when Evan generously drove me to Logan airport. There was no traffic and checkin was almost painfully easy---I swiped my credit card at one of the auto-checkin places, typed in my passport number, and it printed my boarding passes. There was no line at security, so I just had to dig out my computer and kick off my shoes, and that was done. (Well, almost; they swabbed my computer, to test for drugs or something I guess. Whatever it was, it was negative.) I bought a copy of Rolling Stone for the interviews with Gary Trudeau and Bill Clinton. The flight boarded uneventfully and took off on time. After finishing the Rolling Stone and leaving it for the next person, I returned to Necronomicon and about this time the drinks service came through, and shortly after that, the dinner. By the time they got back to row 35 they had run out of the regular entree and apologetically handed me their "Indian vegetarian" option which, frankly, I'm considering ordering intentionally in the future.

Then it was nap time. We were a bit less than halfway through the flight, so it was either 9pm, midnight, or 3am, depending on how you looked at it---it was dark, at any rate. I slept decently until shortly before landing. Unfortunately, it was relatively cloudy, so I didn't get much of a view. :P

Amsterdam-Schiphol International Airport is fascinating. I'm still not sure I've figured it out. When we disembarked off the plane, we were dumped off into a relatively empty corridor, which I figured was to keep us in the "international" part of the airport, but evidently not, because it dumped out onto the main concourse from which one could enter any of the gate lounges without any barriers. I followed signs to my gate (which was different depending on whether I believed my boarding pass or the departures monitors, but fortunately the signage had both gates in the same direction). This sent me through passport control and customs, which I thought was a bit odd since I wasn't actually doing anything in the Netherlands, but I suppose that all the Schengen signatories can do passport control for each other, so they can put intra-EU flights behind the inside-the-EU passport control area, saving someone some hassle.

Inside the area, I decided to scout out my gate before finding breakfast. It directed me up an escalator, which seemed odd since we were already on the second floor, but then at the actual gate I was to go down the stairs to the glassed-in waiting area. The gate itself actually has a different number, which corresponds to the waiting area outside the glass, but which has access to the same gate. But to get to the downstairs waiting area (i.e. if I hadn't been directed up that escalator earlier), I would have had to go through a different passport control area. So my best guess is that the main inside-the-security area is ambiguously either an international area or inside the EU (Schengen signatory region), and that they use the gate number of your flight to carry some state as to which it is. Except that the gate number isn't a per-person thing---the flight didn't have a mix of people from the two different gates---so I'm still not sure exactly what's going on there.

It's easy to find your way around, though, as all the signs are in English. In fact, there are only a very few signs that are even translated into Dutch, and I don't think Dutch is ever the top-listed language.

Anyway, they checked us in and boarded us and the second flight was similarly uneventful. And then I was in Barcelona! The train to the city was oddly difficult to find, but eventually I did see the sign with the train logo on it, and headed on over. I was glad I had gotten money in Amsterdam, as that made buying my train ticket easy. The train to Plaça Catalunya was smooth and fast. I came out on the surface and decided to walk down La Rambla to the hostel I was hoping to stay at, just to orient myself. Naturally, I went the wrong way (down Rambla de Catalunya, which is not the same thing). After I'd walked further than I thought I had to, and got to a different Metro stop than I was expecting, I broke down and pulled out my map. (I hate to do that; I feel like such a target.)

The remedy was easy: take the Metro L3 down to the stop I was looking for. Of course, I got on L5, but rather than try to reverse it I just took it three more stops (to Sants-Estació) to where the L5 and L3 cross again. It was the long way around, but I chalked it up as a learning experience. :)

From Liceu station, I was looking to find the HI youth hostel Barcelona-Ramblas. I found it; it was full. Fortunately, in one of the Metro stations I noticed an ad for another hostel not far from there. It was also full. Fortunately, on the way to that hostel, I noticed another one. It was not full, so I took a bed for two nights. Oddly enough, it's less what I usually think of as a hostel and more like a really budget hotel: I have my own room with a sink and a mini-balcony. (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) Cheap sheets, but that's never bothered me before. I don't have my own bathroom, but the bathroom is right across the hall and is just a one-person bathroom, so really it's not a problem. I took the opportunity to change clothes and divest myself of the monster backpack, keeping only the little one, and I went back out.

I basically just wandered around the old city and started taking lots of pictures. I was getting hungry, so I had a panini and coffee at what was probably a chain, but a local one so I didn't mind. The menu was in both Catalan and Spanish, so I tried Catalan ("Un entrepan pernil serrà i formatge"), but the worker taking my order clarified in Spanish ("¿serrano y queso?"), so I just ordered the coffee in Spanish ("Café con leche") instead of Catalan ("Cafè amb llet"). It was €4,40, which is not bad. (The coffee was excellent. The sandwich, enh.) While I ate I perused my guidebook and figured out where to go next.

Park Guëll had been recommended to me, so I figured I'd make my way up there. First I had to figure out where exactly I was, and I realised I was close to a church (Santa Maria del Pi), so I had to go check it out. There were less pine trees than advertised (I saw one), but the façade still looked nice, if a tad run-down. (·) My way out of there took me past a string quartet out busking (now there's something you don't see every day), so I had to listen to them. (·) (·) Their second number made me laugh out loud, because it was the "Minuet in G" of Music Man fame. Anyway, then I walked past the cathedral. (·) (·) I was going to not pass that up, but they seemed to be charging admission, oddly enough, so I figured I'd skip it until I figured out when their free hours were.

On the way out, though, I noticed the diocesan museum, which also charged money, but (inconsistently enough) this didn't bother me. I paid my €3, and after surrendering my camera and bag I wandered around in there for a good hour. (·) (·) There were a couple pieces that really caught my eye, for reasons I can't really even explain. That seems to happen at every museum, and it's almost always the pieces that nobody else seems to like, and that aren't highlighted.

After leaving there, I finally made it to a metro stop to head up to the Park Guëll. Immediately after leaving the station, I started seeing signs for it (always nice), and I followed them; they led me to turn on the longest, steepest street I can remember seeing. (·) I went on and on, and just as it seemed to not be going anywhere, there was to my right a "street" with steps on either side and a series of escalators up the middle---that weren't running, alas. (·) (·) About two-thirds of the way up, there was a random pay phone, so I took the opportunity to call home, it being around 10am there by now. At the top of all these stairs, I realised that the entrance to the park involved another several flights of stairs, metal ones up the side of a hill. And from there the climb was taken over by winding, switchbacked footpaths. The view, though, was absolutely incredible. (·) (·) (·) (·) (·)

At the top was an art installation by Antoni Gaudí involving three crosses made of stone atop a big tower of stone on top of the already-quite-high hill (some would undoubtedly call it a mountain). (·) One can climb this, and I realised that the views I had gotten on the way up were mere appetizers for this main course.

(·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·)

After I stared out at that for a while, I tried to go down a different route. The terrain is decently varied, and various paths are gravel-paved, stone stairs, or just dirt paths through the woods. (·) (·) (·) Eventually, I came upon a bit of path work that was edged by stones that had clearly been arranged by humans, although you might miss it until after the double-take. (·) This is the upper end of the Portíc de la Begruda(sp?), which is a bizarre path of stone archways not quite like anything you've seen before. (·) (·) (·) (·) The other end is what I guess you'd call the main part of the Park; there is a wide plaza that sits atop a vaulted gallery with 80-some Doric columns that was originally intended to house a weekly open-air market. (·) (·) (·) Flowing down from this are a series of three fountains, each in its own unique pattern. (·) (·) (·) The whole place---the whole modernista style, really---is a bit bizarre, but really cool, and it's all over Barcelona, if you look for it.

At this point I bought a water so as not to die of dehydration, and commenced to walk back down the hill. I'd actually lost a lot of altitude just getting to the main entrance, but there was still a ways to go. I made it back to the metro in one piece, and came back to my room. Then I did the most daring thing: I plugged in my computer. The one power outlet in the room, I noticed, took both the continental round-prongs plugs and the US-style flat-parallel-prongs plugs. (I still haven't gotten around to buying an adapter.) Now, I knew that just because the plug fits doesn't mean it's supplying the right power, but my power supply says it can take input anywhere from 120--220V, and 50--60Hz; that's why I was going to be able to just use an adapter without a transformer. Still, I'd never actually tested the theory before, and this was my computer I was testing it on. And indeed, it seems to have worked: I've been typing this post for the last hour and a half with no ill effects. Now I need to see if I can summon the energy to go get dinner, or whether I'll just conk out for the night.

Other related pictures: (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·) (·)

Posted by blahedo at 9:45pm on 19 Jul 2004
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