Familiar Arrival

January 21, 2014

in Academic Year 2013-2014, Christian Gerhart, Europe, Spain

I blink. We’ve arrived in Barcelona. Hurriedly, I gather my things and lug my backpack off the train, trying not to hit anybody as my sneakers swing freely and uncontrollably. I make my way to the exit and pick up another sandwich on my way out. The automatic glass doors swing open and I exit onto the street, where a series of food stands and a seemingly unpopular amusement park rides sit. I pull out my phone, and begin to look for the screenshot I have taken which includes the address, directions and name of the hostel. However, it seems I’ve made a rather costly mistake and forgotten to take the picture. I decide that eating my sandwich will help me brainstorm a way to figure out where I’m going. I sit down on the floor near the exit and relax.

Ten minutes later I am satisfied, and have begun to figure out a plan. Since 3G would cost a fortune here, I need to find a place with Wi-Fi and search for the confirmation e-mail. I wander around outside before finding a McDonalds on the other side of the station. I stand casually outside and mooch their Wi-Fi. Elated that there is no password, I soon have the address in GoogleMaps and am on my way.

The distance is about a mile and a half. I shove my jacket in my backpack, roll up the sleeves of my plaid button-up and begin to walk. I make my way to the Plaça d’Espanya and remember why Barcelona holds such a distinct position in my memory; it is beautiful. The Plaça itself is a massive roundabout with a huge, intricate fountain placed in the middle. It connects five of the city’s main roads and serves a transit point for many of the busses. For me though, the Plaça is one of the images I have in my mind to represent Barcelona. Our hotel was very close and it was one of the first sights I saw in the city. The magnitude stuck me then and now is no different. Next to me, directly to my left is the old Plaza de toros (now a shopping mall since bull fighting is illegal in Cataluña), a coliseum-like structure, towering above me. Directly ahead, cars circle the glowing fountain. I begin to walk counter-clockwise and approach a broad, pillared building, spanning almost a quarter of the circle. It is a municipality building and as I continue I step through the Torres Venecianas, two massive towers, one on each side of the street, which guard the entrance to El Palacio Nacional. Between the towers, the palace sits elevated and shining, beaming down over the approaching street and stairs.

After stopping to marvel for a few minutes, I turn right off the roundabout onto Avenida del Paralelo. The avenue continues straight for some time and I reach the hostel without trouble. I buzz the door and am greeted by a hostel worker with a beautiful mustache. He shows me around, talking in Spanish but with a very strong Argentinian accent. “Calle” turns to “cashe” and “plaza” to “plasha”. I am tired and it is fairly difficult to understand, although I manage to pick up the most important things. I cook myself dinner from some food bought at the supermarket and chat with a girl from India. Exhausted, I begin planning what I should do tomorrow with my one full day, before going to bed.

My first stop of the day is La Sagrada Familia, the famous Gaudi church that has been under construction for over a century. I find it more interesting than beautiful and spend quite a while just staring at how different it is from any of the other of the (many) churches I’ve seen. The walk back to the center reminds me just how pleasant it is here. The streets don’t blow me away, but it is quite enjoyable to stroll aimlessly along one of the wide boulevards then sit and relax at one of the plazas. My stroll brings me to the sea, another gorgeous area, just in a different way. Seeing it makes me realize how perfect a run on the boardwalk would be. The only issue is I’ve forgotten any sort of athletic clothing. Thus I begin my search for the shorts in Barcelona.

You would think it would be easy. Barcelona has a moderate climate; during the day it is around 50 or 60 in the “winter” (the winter here would be the most beautiful spring Wisconsin has ever seen) and it doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me that somebody may want to buy new shorts, even though it isn’t summer. To understand my search, it is important to understand the Spanish shopping scene. In general there are two or three main categories (at least from my unsophisticated and fairly ambivalent viewpoint). First, you have the higher end stores, such as Zara, El Corte Ingles or Mango. These are great if you want to buy stylish jackets for 300 Euros, but are rather unhelpful for cheap running shorts. The next category is sort of an in-between. It includes H&M and Lefties. These stores are semi-formal and relatively low cost. Again, they are of little help since they generally just carry everyday or “stylish” clothes (I looked, there were no running shorts). The last category is what Spaniards generally call “Los chinos”. This of course is their way to say, “Chinese people shop”. It is not meant to be derogatory, but rather descriptive. A few years ago the governments of Spain and China signed an agreement, which limited taxes on new businesses, to facilitate the movement between the two countries, yielding a large group of Chinese immigrants. Thus the shops were a logical option for many who came to Spain. Los chinos, or sometimes Bazar, usually carry just about anything you could ever want. Cheap wine, spices, souvenirs, fresh bread, makeup, clothes and shoes are all fairly typical. The quality may not be that of Gucci or Prada, but it’s cheap. When I found one in Barcelona it was the biggest shop of this sort I had ever seen. I had no doubt it would have what I needed. However, I was informed with a look saying “duh”, that shorts were not sold now. Apparently they are “out of season”. My hopes rose again minutes later as I found an even bigger Bazar. However, I was let down again with a similar answer and stare.

Dejected and tired from searching, I decide to walk back on La Rambla, the most famous and touristy street in Barcelona, while I enjoy the colors of the sunset sinking over the buildings. As I begin dodging tourists, I see a shop that one of the hostel workers had told me about. I decide for one last try and duck in.

SHORTS ARE EVERYWHERE. I quickly buy some for four Euros and leave, elated. Turning back on La Rambla in a much better mood, I walk quickly south hoping to get out for a run before the sun sets. The street is packed with locals and tourists alike making it difficult to navigate. The sun begins to escape the sky and I decide to take my time instead of rushing. The hostel is not far. I arrive, buzz in, and head to my room to get organized. I figure sitting down on my bed couldn’t hurt. It will just be a few minutes…

I roll over. My contacts scratch my dried-out eyes as I blink to read my phone. Two hours have elapsed and daylight has long faded away while I slept. I climb down from the bunk and get dressed. Feeling more optimistic after some rest, I’m looking forward to the nighttime run. I splash some water on my face and slip my shoes on. Plugging my headphones in my ears, The Head and the Heart’s Down in the Valley softly builds and I step out the door. Looking first to the left, I go right instead and veer onto Avenida del Paralelo. Before long I’ve reached another roundabout with one of the marinas in front of me. I continue quickly around the circle, ignoring the no-walk signs and turn left in search of the boardwalk I remember vividly.

I follow the lights. The lead along the water and to a spiral stair, which feeds a bridge crossing the street. The area begins to look familiar and I allow my memory to guide me. Within minutes I see the walk and the symbolic statue of La Barceloneta greets me. As my feet hit the first slabs of wood that make up the boardwalk, I stop. The salty Mediterranean air caresses my face and I remember again to the summer three years past. It is cooler out now and the tourist mobs are less dense, but The W Hotel still glows light blue to the right and the lights of the elevated boardwalk still seem merge into the sea to the left. To me, Barcelona is still amazing, even in “winter”.


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