The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Barça, Barça!

Monday, May 4, Late Night

After our long and frustrating day on the trains, we took the Metro and followed the directions to our hostel, and found it quite easily. We were welcomed in by Marina, who is one of the owners of the hostel. We had a great feeling about the place immediately, because the owners and their family called it home as well. It was a pretty small hostel and Marina and Totti (the owners) made an effort to get people to socialize by hosting free meals and group activities. We happily signed up for the outing to Parc Güell and the free meal on the following day, then hit the sack.

Tuesday

The next morning we met downstairs for free breakfast and our park outing. Totti was there, and while he didn't actually come with us, he gave us directions and sent us out into the world. I think there were about 18 of us or so in the group, but we managed to make it to the park together, and actually managed to stay somewhat together throughout the park, though we were all randomly wandering. On the way to the park from the metro stop, Daniel made friends with a Japanese tourist named Tomoya who just happened to be headed our way. He was happy to have an opportunity to practice his Japanese, and I got to know some of the other members of our group. There was Mai, Candice, and Michelle from Australia, Martin from Argentina, Carlos from Portugal/US, Stephen from Canada and several others. It was a beautiful day but quite hot and sunny, and there were about 823,431 other tourists in the park. In keeping with tradition, Daniel of course insisted on climbing to the absolute highest point in the park, which was pretty darn high. I think I climbed a couple thousand steps before we reached the top and I headed straight for the water fountain.

After our exertions, we were ready for some lunch. Parts of the group were breaking off, but Martin, Carlos, Stephen, Daniel and I stuck together and headed for La Rambla, the main drag in town. We first went to an amazing market that Tomoya had recommended, and just as he promised we found an incredible fruit juice stand deep in the heart of the place, which was half the price of the juice they sold at the entrance. Now, in case you don't already understand this, I *love* fruit and I *love* fruit juice. This market was heaven for me. The juice stand had plastic cups packed in ice and stacked in towers according to which delicious variety of juice they contained. Each tower had a gleaming display of halved fruit on top to show what kind of juice it was. I wish I could remember all the varieties, but there were at least 15. I think I had something with blackberry the first day... blackberry kiwi? Strawberry melon? Raspberry mango? These are all possibilities. For only one euro, bliss was mine. As soon as I tasted the juice, I told Daniel we had to come back every day we were in Barcelona. I have never seen such beautiful, vibrant, absolutely *fresh* fruit in my entire life. Besides the juice stands, there were also vendors selling small plastic boxes of freshly cut fruit chunks, with tiny plastic forks attached. I couldn't help thinking that if someone set up Fast Fruit places like that in America the way they do McDonald's and Starbucks, our lives would be so much more healthy and delicious. Then again, I don't know if you can even get fruit that amazing outside of Barcelona.

After our fruity detour, we started searching for a place to eat lunch. We put Martin in charge, and he and Carlos soon found us the perfect place -- authentic, delicious, and reasonably priced. It was a set-menu course lunch, so we each got a started/salad, main plate, and dessert or coffee. I had a seafood-laced salad and a simple dish of chicken in olive oil and herbs. I think most of the guys started with beef carpaccio and followed it with a meat skewer which I will admit was *delicious.* The guys all had beer, I think, but I opted for a wine drink called a something "fresca," which the waitress said was a great summer drink. It was delicious, the whole meal was great, and we enjoyed the company as well. It was so nice to get back into the hostel groove of meeting new and interesting people from all over the world, and share a table with new friends.

After lunch, most of the rest of the group broke off again, but Carlos stayed with me and Daniel as we wandered through the old quarter a bit, then all the way down to the beach. It was rather warm, and Carlos was worried about his buzzed head getting burned, so we stopped at a pharmacy and got some sunblock. We wandered all the way down the beach, and discovered the swimsuit tops were optional. For everyone. It was a pretty thin slice of beach, though it did stretch on for a while. Perhaps my expectations of beach width are skewed since living in Berck, but still, it did seem quite small. The sand was thick and yellow with a really large grain, *almost* bordering on very fine gravel. Again, I'm used to the superfine gray sand at Berck Plage.

Later that evening we enjoyed Totti's free meal at the hostel, which was spaghetti with tomato sauce. It was delicious, and we once again had a good time eating with new hostel friends. We heard that the group would be heading out to a bar after dinner, and Daniel and I happily went along. It ended up being an English-pub style bar, but that didn't stop us from ordering about 8 pitchers of Sangria (a big group!) and having a great time. We eventually wandered back to the hostel and collapsed into bed. Something to note: we were out a bit late a few times while we were there, but no matter how late we got in, there was always someone (actually, most everyone) who got in later than we did.

Wednesday

After rolling out of bed roundabout noon, we headed out looking for some lunch. Despite the skeptical look on my face, Daniel opted for a very "authentic" looking place in an alley off La Rambla. It *was* authentic, and we both ordered paella, complete with shrimp, mini-squid, and (ew) blood sausage. Daniel happily relieved me of my (ew) blood sausage and I took a bit of his seafood, but he forced himself to power through that mini-squid, which he ate whole. I think it was one of those force-yourself-out-of-your-comfort-zone-for-the-experience travel moments, which I can respect. I usually just prefer that my "out-of-the-comfort-zone" travel moments involve dancing or jumping off of something, rather than mini-squid. After, I got some Carte D'Or ice cream, which was very gelato-esque. He had a few bites of the tiramisu flavor to get the squid taste out of his mouth, and we went shopping. On the way we stopped for More! Fresh! Fruit! Juice! at the market and once again, it was amazing.

Daniel (though he may disagree on this point) had been in need of new pants for quite a while. Ever since his backup pair of khakis had ripped somewhere in Scotland, he'd been traveling with *one* wearable pair of pants (again, khakis) and one pair of pajama pants. I asked him what his plan was if his last pair of khakis also got ripped/wet/stolen etc. What was he going to wear to go buy new pants? HMMM???? Anyway. Despite his aversion to shopping, my logic and persistence won out in the end and I dragged him down La Rambla looking for the H&M mothership store of the area. This was difficult because I think I passed about five H&Ms, and most of them were multi-level. I finally settled on one that had a full guy's floor, though I wasn't sure it was the mothership. Turns out it wasn't, but that's okay because I was successful in finding him a suitable pair of *jeans,* which I had convinced him were far superior to khakis both in a practical and fashionable sense. He also got some cargo shorts for our trip to the beach the following day.

That night, FC Barcelona was playing Chelsea in the Champion's League Semi-final, and our hostel was hosting a party downstairs to watch it on the big screen. Daniel really wanted to watch, but I was less than enthusiastic. I agreed to attending, however, because I am nice like that, and he had agreed to go to the beach the next day. Before the party, however, we went out to grab a quick dinner. We had our teeth set for this thing we'd seen earlier called a "Pizza Cone." Yes, whatever you're picturing, that's what we were picturing. In the photo outside the shop, it looked like a giant dough-cone filled with melty pizza goodness, cheese and sauce and meat all swirled together in hot perfection. The reality was extremely disappointing. It was really small, microwaved, and lukewarm verging on cold. It reminded us of Jim Gaffigan's "hot pockets" routine, and we made fun of it all the way back to the hostel. In fact, we were still hungry enough after that puny snack that we stopped at the KFC near the hostel and ordered this thing called a "Boxmaster," which we had seen advertised in the metro. It was basically a really big chicken wrap, but it soon became legendary with us due to its deliciousness and hilarious name. We took it back to the hostel and shared it as the game began.

Now, as I mentioned above, I was not enthusiastic about the idea of watching sports for two hours. Frankly, I usually find sports rather boring. However, just a few minutes into watching, with Daniel explaining all the rules and calls and such to me, I got really into it. It helped that I was in a room full of Spanish men rooting for their home team. The energy was great. However, things were not looking very good. Chelsea had scored a goal early on, and Barça, despite many attempts, just could not seem to score. I would get really excited when they almost made a goal and then really upset when they missed it. By the middle of the second half I was getting depressed. They still hadn't scored, and everyone was getting demoralized. Finally, with less than two minutes left in the game (in overtime!) Barça scored FTW. I jumped up and screamed with everyone else in the basement; it was an incredible high. I became a FC Barcelona fan that night, and watched them eagerly a few weeks later when they played Man United for the Championship. They won that too, btw, because they're AWESOME.

After the game there was talk of going out from several people in the hostel... groups were leaving and we started to feel like we were missing the train. We ended up going out, all right, but it wasn't exactly the post-game fun-fest we were looking for. More on that, we re-join our intrepid heroes in the next episode....

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