Saturday, August 16, 2014

Visit to Europe - Part 3: The Nine Circles of Barcelona

Our arrival at the Orly Airport outside of Paris for our Transavia flight to Barcelona offered a foreshadowing of what we would encounter the next couple of days. Approaching the check-in desk we saw an impossibly long line at complete stand-still. Lauren went ahead and discovered that, yes, this was our line. We settled in for a long wait, the line inching along, the time until our flight drawing nearer and nearer. Josh referred to this as the First Circle of Hell, but we weren't worried. We still had an hour and a half before our flight. Then we had an hour. Then 45 minutes. Eventually an attendant strolled past asking for passengers going to Barcelona. Identifying ourselves, the attendant escorted us to another shorter, but equally immobile line.



"Second Circle of Hell," Josh observed.

Another ten minutes passed and a second attendant strolled past asking again for passengers bound for Barcelona to wait in one final, very short line. Third Circle.

Once past the mobs of families wheeling their worldly possessions on tiny carts, we made it to security. Lauren emerged on the other side, I had my shoulder bag searched, and Josh basically had every bag he owned opened and searched. We were now ten minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave.

Lauren left Josh in the Fourth Circle to repack his luggage while we raced to our gate, to tell them to wait for him. Eventually we all reconnected on the plane, sank into our seats, as the plane taxied to the runway.

Barcelona's weather upon our exit from the airport might be described as room temperature. When we finally arrived in Barceloneta, the beach community where we had our Air BnB apartment, the impression I had was of an older Miami with really narrow streets. Our taxi finally maneuvered his way on to the Carrer del Baluard, making microscopic adjustments to avoid pedestrians, bikes, other cars, and trucks on a street barely wider than the car itself. Anyway, we were all happy to be out of the car, the apartment owner was already there to show us our home for the next four days.



Compared to Paris, this apartment was a huge disappointment. It was relatively close to the beach, as advertised, but didn't have AC, or working washing and dryers. The wifi was obtained through one of three sketchy addresses. Not all of this was apparent to us at first or we may have made a bigger stink while she was there.

"Is there no AC?" we asked, to which the owner replied, "No, no AC, just the fan."

The fan in question was about the size of a softball and made a menacing metallic sound like a saber being honed. We all decided to give it the night and then see if some of the more obvious problems could be resolved the following day. The beach beckoned.

The beach was the best thing about our first few days in Barcelona. It was basically the perfect temperature and when we were done we found a number of small open-air tapas restaurants for dinner. We missed Paris, but Barcelona was already finding ways to make us comfortable with the change.





Then we returned to Hell. Somehow, even as the evening had cooled off, the apartment had grown ever more stifling. We left the front door open while we unpacked to air out the room which meant that the apartment was filled with the din of drunk beach-goers returning to their apartments. Eventually we found our beds and tried to get to get some sleep inside the Fifth Circle. This was made more difficult by the street noises which never entirely ceased. Pedestrians, dogs, cars, street sweepers, and then around four am, the sounds of a work crew in the apartment across the street smashing tile and drilling into concrete.

The next day was better in that we left the apartment for a bus tour of Barcelona. I was struck by how large the city was, and we all found lots of places we wanted to return to, particularly the Gothic Quarter which despite a shocking lack of people loitering in the corners with dark clothes and eye-liner seemed interesting.

















One thing that struck me was the sense of Barcelona being very big, and very diverse in appearance. The Gothic Quarter was old and stained with age, but other sections wouldn't have looked out of place in Paris, with rows of apartment blocks, ironwork balconies. Other places were very modern, the steel and glass monoliths common to business districts of every metropolis on earth. Eventually we returned to Barceloneta, went to the beach, and had some very fishy meals at a local seafood restaurant.








Then, back to Hell. Our day had been so busy we hadn't really gotten around to dealing with the whole apartment situation. It was even hotter than the day before and as Josh sent out a very nicely worded, very polite, but firm email we tried to get some kind of sleep. The response from the landlord was not good. It may have been an issue with language but we got the impression she thought we should either suck it up or move out. During our final night in Barcoleneta, we basted in the sweltering heat, lulled to sleep by the dulcet tones of relentless traffic and jackhammers. The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Circles of Hell in slow procession.

So we moved out. This occupied most of the next morning: repacking, hailing an Uber taxi, getting lost, and checking into the Barcelona Hilton. I have never been so appreciative of AC as I was walking into our room. We all decided to put the past couple of days behind us and just give this challenging but very photogenic city another chance with the final few days.


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