Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Barca, Baby!

Tonight, I am sitting in my room before bed, watching a weird French movie (is there any other kind?) about Christmas. Tomorrow, I meet Ian at the station at a quarter to 7, and I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight. I spent the entire afternoon and evening baking Christmas candies and cookies with some of the other assistants, and listening to Christmas music. Despite the sun shining (relatively) hot through the windows, it felt very much like Christmas. Baking, of course, always puts me in a good mood, and today was no exception. Not even the problems with translating American cooking to a French kitchen (powdered sugar, it turns out, is not “sucre en poudre”—which literally means sugar in powder, and the red and white striped candy canes that I bought to make peppermint bark are not peppermint flavored, but rather some weird artificial tasting fruit) could deter my good humor.

I realize that I haven’t written much in the past few weeks that clues everyone back home into what I have been up to. I haven’t been up to much. When I have been in Perpignan, I have been planning classes, or teaching, or just kind of hanging out. I haven’t left Perpignan much since Madrid—I went on a failed day-trip to Collioure a few weekends ago (apparently Collioure, the city, closes down in the off-season) and then there was the weekend trip to Barcelona. Joanne reminded me a few days ago that I haven’t written anything about Barcelona yet…This is due in part to the fact that it barely seems like I was there at all, and partly due to the fact that since it was a trip to celebrate Karen’s birthday, the majority of my time in Barcelona was spent at least slightly tipsy…

But I’ll tell you anyway. We left our lycĂ©e at about 7:20 in the morning on Saturday, to catch the 8:30 train from the station. The train ride was 4 long hours, with one connection just past the French/Spanish border. French trains, apparently, have been spoiling me—once we got into Spain, I was incredibly uncomfortable for the remaining 3 hours of the trip. Hard seats, inane beeping at every stop, and punk-ass kids smoking underneath the ‘No Smoking’ signs…Once we got to Barcelona, we walked for what seemed like forever to our hostel, through crowds upon crowds of people. I have honestly never seen that many people before in my life. The population of Barcelona (the metropolitan area, anyway) is not much more than Seattle, but with that many people packed into such a tiny, tiny space, the crowds seems larger. There was hardly room to walk through the tiny cobblestone streets. The hordes of people were made worse by the fact that Spanish people are the slowest-walking people I have ever been around in my entire life, and also by the fact that everyone in Barcelona seemed to be out doing their Christmas shopping.

After checking in with the interminably slow concierge at our hostel, we went out into the Plaza de Reial to stand in line for around an hour for lunch/dinner. Karen was raving about this restaurant, and assured us that the food was definitely worth the wait, and inexpensive, too. It was cheap, and the paella was good, except for the lingering upset stomach it left me with for the rest of the evening…

After dinner (and surprising Karen with an incredibly French, incredibly fashionable handbag), we went Christmas shopping in Barcelona. I accidentally bought more for myself than I did for everyone else, but Barcelona is so cheap that is was definitely worth it. After shopping, I felt the paella turning in my stomach, so I retired to my bunk bed in the hostel to try to sleep it off before our night out. I managed to get in quite a long nap, because in Spain people don’t go out until like midnight…We headed to Karen’s favorite club called Razzmatazz for 6 hours of fun and cigarette smoke. While a dance club usual isn’t my scene, I humored Karen, and we did manage to have a good time, despite the hour.

The next morning (well, the same morning, really) I woke up far too early (9:30, I think?) and took advantage of the free hostel breakfast before heading to the Gaudi cathedral with Emma. To get there, we walked to the metro station along La Rambla, Spain’s most famous avenue. All along the street are newsstands, tourist shops, and performers busking—there was a man dressed like Jack from the Nightmare Before Christmas, there was a white guy dressed like a black soldier from WWII (apparently black face is only offensive in the U.S.), several fairies, a woman in silver dress and paint that never moved…It was quite cool really, and I wanted to take pictures but Emma said that I would have to pay them money.

The Gaudi cathedral was stunning. Absolutely stunning. I can’t really describe it, actually. Gaudi’s architectural style can be seen here and there around Barcelona, and is instantly recognizable. His unique style jumps out from a bank of buildings are in the same 19th century style, punching you in the face with its melted wax facades and tile mosaics. Gaudi is an architectural pugilist.

The cathedral is still not finished, almost a century after its inception. The projected completion date isn’t for over ten years, and there are at least 4 cranes surrounding the gothic-but-Gaudi spires. The intricacy and coinciding immensity of the building are breath-taking, and really all I can do is ask you to look up “Sagrada Familiale” on Google images…

After visiting the Gaudi cathedral, Emma and I found a little pizza restaurant, where we bumbled our way in French, Spanish, and English through the meal, and were incredibly proud of ourselves for our ability to function in a country where we didn’t know the language. Our pride lasted until the dashing smiling waiter came to pick up the check, asking “se peudo?” (I know I probably didn’t get that right…) and Emma and I stared at him like brain-dead deer caught in a semi-truck’s headlights. When he repeated himself in English, we knew that the jig was up, and that we were just another pair of tourists who hadn’t bothered to look up useful Spanish phrases in the guidebook before making it to Barca.

With lunch over, I had to book it back to the hostel and then to the station to catch the Sunday evening train home—during most of which I slept uncomfortably on the hard seats. The weekend was over before I knew it, and I felt like I spent more time traveling than I did in Barcelona. I am looking forward to heading back in the New Year, and getting to know the city better. It will be nice to more of Barcelona than the ceiling of a hostel, and the smoky insides of a bumping nightclub at 5 a.m.

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