Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tuna Does Europe

This whole blog thing started as a way to remember some of the best stories from my year in South Bend….and now, a week after graduation, I suppose the proper thing to do would be to dedicate a whole entry to some kind of reflective, one-of-the-best-experiences-of-my-life, yada yada yada kind of a thing. Ah well, yes maybe, at some point, I’ll come back to wrap up the whole ND thing. But for right now? No time for any of that reflection crap…only time to live in the moment...

And at this very moment? Coming to you live errr, correction - on tape delay - from somewhere in the northeast corner of Espana, on board a train traveling east from Bacelona to Montepellier. Landed in Barcelona Tuesday morning circa 10:30am after a pretty brutal transcontinental flight from Philly that packaged a 2.5hr delay with a crying - no screaming - baby two rows back. Glad to be finally on the ground, I was ready to find destination numero uno. Instructions seemed clear - take airport bus to Urgell, address 538 on city’s major throughway, the name - Rambla’s Home Hostel. No problemo, right? Wrong. Two stops after Urgell, I realize this here bus don’t stop at every stop unless the passenger rings the bell - DUH!!! Got it. Ring bell = get off bus. Steep learning curve for ya boy. After walking past the entrance maybe 8 times (It‘s gotta be here somewhere!!!) and now fully convinced to have been victimized by an internet scam, finnnnnalllly from down the block I see a couple of younger dudes wearing packbacks ring a door bell somewhere between #‘s 534 and 540.…ah, of course - the second level! Sure enough, on the call pad next to a big ol’ nondescript wooden door, “Rambla’s Home”. I, too ring the bell and a second or two later Hugo greets me at the door to show me in and get me all set up in my room. Bacelona - 2; McEvily - 0.

Tired from a long flight but anxious to make the most of a short stay in Barcelona, I showered and hit the streets…a self-guided walking tour of the touristy La Rambla - a wide, scenic, tree-lined street running from a pier on the Med Sea up toward the center of the city. I’d guess it’s about ¾ of a mile long with shops, restaurants, and souvenir stands lining both sides while street vendors hit you up for whatever flying, singing, flashing, sure-to-break in your hotel room toys they have these days. I may look, act, and think like a total tourist but surely I am no sucker for the crap-toting street vendor….famous last words….after a couple of hours aimless ambling, I head back to hostel for quick nap. That quick nap quickly changes to long nap and I wake at 8pm to rain outside my window. Without time or patience for rain, I dress, grab poncho and head back to La Rambla to find dinner. Instructions from Hugo - find an alley off the main drag for food better and cheaper than what‘s on La Rambla. Got it, Hugo. On my walk back to La Rambla, the drizzle evolves to a steady rain before fully maturing with a total downpour. Cheap poncho proves insufficient. “Hey - street vendor kid, how much for the umbrella?” “5 Euro.” “No way, I’ll give you 3.” “How bout 4?” “Fine.“ It’s continuing to pour and I’m now on the verge of total jean saturation. I give 10 euro. He hands back 5 while hopelessly searching in his suddenly short pocket for that extra buck…shocker, he has no change. “Whatever, just gimme the umbrella”. Barcelona -3; McEvily - 0. Eventually, with soaked socks and tired legs, I stumble in one of the few corner bistros that actually has patrons…a nice enough, authentic enough looking place for a decent meal and a beer. I retreat to Home for the evening resolved to end the shutout tomorrow.

Day 2 - better day. With some help from Hugo, I set an aggressive itinerary and got to it at about mid morning. The rain had passed. This day - Wednesday - a beeeeeeautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky. Got off train (GREAT metro system) at day’s first attraction…Oh, what’s this coliseum-looking thing with people standing on top taking pictures? Must be some historic Spanish arena…I head to the desk out front eager to learn more about it’s interesting history. “Can I have a brochure?” The woman looks surprised and confused. I try again, this time pointing to the brochures on her desk. She skeptically hands one over. I open it as I walk through the doors. The brochure has no history of some great Spanish sporting arena as I was expecting. It does, however, have coupons for face moisturizer. And that historic-looking arena? A brand new modern mall with a car-giveaway promo in the lobby. Nice. Good thing I took two pictures of this place outside just a second ago…Stay focused, buddy. Don’t stray from the plan. First stop - Fira de Barcelona-Montjuic. On this particular day, it’s a museum hosting some kind of carbon-emissions conference. Neat building. Great views from of the city.

Next stop - the Olympic village and stadium. Situated on a picturesque landscape that overlooks the city on one side and green countryside that eventually gives way to the Mediterranean on the other. It’s a shame this stuff just goes to waste after 18 days of use….Back on the train. Next stop - Parc Guell. Lonnnng hike up to the top but toootalllly worth it. Even better views of the city from atop the top the mountain where the peak is marked by a cross rooted in the ground. On the trek down, beautiful gardens and more interesting architecture…a bright flashy monument in the shape of a dragon-snake right next to a plain looking house that this guy Guidi (some artist or something) lived in...idk, people seemed interested. Boy, wish I could take some pictures to show you guys…but, alas, the borrowed camera I was using had a battery life of single digit minutes and the only good pictures I got were of a damn mall! Be not too concerned though, by day’s end I’d found another battery and have the situation rectified for many more pictures to come. Now, where was I…Oh, right, the gardens and stuff. Take my word for it - a must-see in Barcelona.

Mid afternoon. Back to the metro. Red line to changeover for Blue line. Blue line to Green. 20 minutes later, pesto - Sagrada Familia. Easy. Huuuge church designed by again this guy Guadi. Huuuuge freakin church (technically I suppose it‘s a minor basillica…as designated by Pope Benedict anyway). In fact, it didn’t feel much like a church at all, really. From the outside, visitors are immediately alerted to first, it’s sheer size. Something like 170 meters high. Then, it’s impossible not stand in awe at the incredible detail of the various facades and bell towers - each with some important meaning...kinda forget all that stuff. Once inside, again - the size. Big, huge, open spaces and incredibly high ceiling, lots of columns coming down from that ceiling. Apparently, this dude Guadi had a thing for nature and all these columns were meant to represent trees in a forest…and all the other designs, in some way or another, are supposed resemble some distinct facet of nature. Some really deep stuff. Maybe too deep for a guy who’s wondering how Dirk shot the ball in game one. Annnnyway, after close to 150 years (ground first broken 1866), this thing still aint done!! 3 cranes surrounding it and a full crew working on hoisting and moving steel around. Turns, out this guy Guadi died a tragic death in some kind of accident only like 40 years into this project and they’ve been workin on it ever since. Some estimate that it’ll be done in 2026. OK, sure, there was some damage to the thing and a minor pause during the Spanish Civil War and yea they may not have been working round the clock for 150 years straight, but still! 150 yrs later, not done??? This dude was clearly a big thinker…but it seems to me he coulda done used maybe a dose or two more of some pragmatic thought...with respect to this particular project anyway. Lemme give an example - lots of bleachers surrounding the cathedral from the second level. Enough for a choir of 1,000...and who, might you ask, gets to listen to the kind of beautiful song that can only come from 1,000 strong? All of, oh I don’t know, say the 50 parishioners who might be in attendance. There can’t be more than 10 pews (and albeit hundreds of folding chairs behind them for tourists) laid out before the alter. Segrada Familia - definitely a must-see. A piece of architecture designed and partially erected by a true genius. But, I don’t know…I can’t say, like many others who‘ve recommended it, that it was my favorite place in the city. I just had a hard time imagining actual prayer in this “Basilica”.

After Sengrada Familia, it’s off to another round of sightseeing on the other side of town - Arc de Triomf, Parc de Ciutadella, and a walk by the Picasso Museum. A glorious day. People everywhere taking in the weather. Running, jogging, laying out in the park. It’s close to about 5pm when I finally make it down to the beach. Shoes off, toes in the sand and a walk down the coast - North to South. Volleyball, weightlifting, beach bars at every block, and believe it or not, even surfers waiting for the right wave. Having only ever visited the Tuscan coast in Italy, I knew the Mediterranean to be no less tame than a lake and was shocked to see waves rolling in that broke a couple of buoys out. Cool beach. More than I expected.

With this, just my second and final night (for the time being) in Barcelona, I wanted to enjoy a real authentic Tapas dinner and a glass of Sangria. Home to shower and right back to La Rambla to find some place to eat. Terrrrrrible idea. I fell for every trap in the book. Went to the most touristy part of town. Was lured into an all you can eat “special” at a reasonable price. I signed up for whatever the “Tapas” meal was that day - a laundry list of things that sounded great on a menu…and you’re saying I get to have as much as I want of each dish on this list? Sounds too good to be true…and, sure enough, it was. The 20 dishes I was supposed to receive were served in rounds of 4 or 5. The bland, right-out-of-the-freezer chicken wings in the second round had me beginning to think this might not be the authentic experience I had hoped for. Dining by myself, I had with me the latest SI to page through as I waited…and waited…and waited. Without exaggeration, 45 minutes had passed from the time they took the second round dishes away. It was clear they had forgotten about me. By the time I finally picked my head and made eye contact with my waiter, it was obvious that he had completely forgotten about me. In haste, he rushed over and with an update, “Cinco minutos, no problemo”. Cinquenta minutos after the one, out comes round three - two different varieties of cold anchovies, a cold dish of octopus, a week attempt at vegetables, and a cold quiche dish. I had one bite of the octopus and quish. Didn’t touch either anchovy dish and I was done. I SURRENDER!!! Got up, went to pay the bill at the register. “Tell me what I owe ya…” My waiter notices the quick departure and rushes over to snatch the bill from the girl working the counter. “No food; just drink. I don’t charge you for food, OK?”. Just when I thought this couldn’t get annnnnnny worse…you go and toooootallllly redeem yourself!!! I pay the bill and head out…Holy Crap - 10 Euro ($14) for the Sangria!

Great sightseeing. Not so great dining experiences. Es O-K. I’ll give it another try on the way back. It has to be better…right?

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