Thursday, February 28, 2013

And where my unplanned plans fail


Pretty much the whole point of visiting Barcelona for sight-seeing is to see Gaudi's work and I head to the Sagrada Familia. At the end of my 2 hour slow visit/walk, my camera memory is almost full. Mind is sufficiently blown. I walk around more, go past Casa Batllo and La Pedrera and realize I must get the new memory card in before I enter either of those. I mean, who goes to those places and does not take a photo? I change plans (I'm walking around the city alone, so it's no big deal), stop by hostel and eat and head towards the Parc Guell.

Barcelona is an interesting and simple town to navigate. It's laid out in a rectangular grid and there is one street running diagonally (helpfully named Diagonal), and if you seem to be walking downhill, you are walking to the sea. It takes approximately 30 seconds to get your bearings if you have a map and can read street signs. The Parc is located on a hill (the one from which all streets head to the sea) and it offers a great panoramic view of the city. It also has more Gaudi architecture. At this point of time I'm going giddy on Gaudi (yes I planned this joke long time ago). As I head back in the evening, I realize I'm catching a cold. I shrug it off and head out at night with the hostel staff again. This time it's more of a dance-y place, which gets me bored. Everyone seems to be there to get drunk and dance and I head back to the hostel. Unfortunately it's cold and raining.

I'm loading up on my dose of wifi when a troika of French who I'd met the previous day stumble back into the hostel too. They want to continue their party and the hostel receptionist joins in too. We joke and drink around till late night, and I get a sneaking suspicion that my cold is gonna worsen. I sleep in the next day, lazily visit Casa Batllo and grudgingly walk around the Gothic neighbourhood. I decide to give the "experience non-touristy food" ideas a toss and load up on greasy chicken burgers and fries. It's my last evening in Barcelona, and I'm wheez-coughing. We play cards in the common room, watch the Banksy documentary and I drink loads of tea.

The next day when I wake up, my eyes are red, I can't talk without doubling up into coughs and I suspect I'm running up a temperature. I check out of the hostel and head towards the airport to go to Palma. When I meet my host I in Mallorca I gesture-wheeze to her that I can't speak. We go to an art exhibition anyway but when I finally crash that night, I realize that my trip is heading to a mess. I'd gotten a call for a job interview when in Barcelona, and I have to ensure I get back home in time for it. My health means I should account for recovery days too.

I spend one entire day in bed in Palma, not enjoying the sun out there. Finally the second day, I venture out, walk around the town, visit more stuff and contemplate about how my trip should progress. I had decided to wing it once I reach Belgium, and try to head north. I had not booked any flights/trains/buses nor booked any hostels or contacted couchsurfers. I decide to cancel off Brussels/Belgium from my plans and decide to head straight home. Booking a last minute return from Palma turns out to cost lesser than booking a last minute return from Brussels. Late in the evening I book a flight to Barcelona - the thought of buying the ticket at the airport crosses my mind and feels strangely adventurous, even though I'm just heading back.

I reach Barcelona, and have 5 hours to kill before a night bus brings me back to France. My cold and wheeze make just want to sit somewhere, so I sit down at the Barcelona Sants station. Years ago, in school, I had to write an essay on "1 hour at the train station". I smile to myself, remembering how I had hated it, how I had no idea what to write and how angry I'd gotten at the unfairness of it all.  My parents and cousins still tease me about it, so I actually do spend some time observing people. A fight erupts between a security guy and traveler. I note with relief that this being Europe, the security guy doesn't have a gun. People stand and watch, and then move on to their trains, metros or buses. Shifts at the ticket desk change, the workers at the numerous fast-food joints dump out the trash the umpteenth time. I pull out my novel and read. Couple of hours later, I head out to the bus, grab a seat and settle in for the 12 hour long ride back home...

My "grand trip" around Europe will continue some other time.

Where I walk a lot in Spain

It's 3 am in the morning, I've just been offered a place to crash by a group of Frenchmen (and Frenchwomen? ... or is the collective word just French?). They were intent on partying, and I was just tagging along. Finally they decide that it's time to head back to the apartment. The apartment is officially for 6 people, and they are 11. So, one extra person (me) doesn't really exacerbate the situation.

The next day, I leave early to Bilbao. S is there to pick me up and the initial plans were to visit Bilbao right away and head to S's place for lunch. But I'm too tired. We head to her home. Her parents have fixed the guest room up for me. I wash up and decide to walk around Getxo. Northern Spain is wonderful, green and the towns are totally unexpected from what I imagined them to be. The buildings aren't new, but they look "different" than the architecture one expects in Europe. We end up walking around a golf course, along cliffs overlooking the Atlantic (I guess this means I've visited the Atlantic on both sides now) and through different residential areas ... it's a 2 hour/10 km walk.

Later I walk around Getxo center, attend a birthday party and eat more good Spanish food. I notice that most people live in apartments - spacious ones - and kids (mid to late twenties are still kids, cos I refuse to grow up) don't automatically move out. The party moves to a pub when the hosts' parents come back but I head home to crash. Sunday, we walk around Bilbao and then Plentzia. Long walks and long conversations.

As I head to Santander to catch my plane to Barcelona, I relax. The Ryan Air staff has been chilled out about my bag sizes, and security has been sane. But at Santander, I see some people being pulled out of line to have bag sized. I panic but get stopped only by the security, who don't like me having my shaving razors (Yes, I thought carrying blades wouldn't be bad :P). The wikivoyage site has instructed me well how to cheaply get to Barcelona center, and train+metro+walk up to the hostel.

As I settle up there, free and unlimited wifi appears. I sprawl out on the bean bags in he common room, chatting with other travellers in the hostel, surfing the net. It's evening so I just wander around the Gracia neighbourhood and later we head out with the hostel staff to a shot bar where almost each shot involves alcohol, fire and magic. (Seriously, if you visit Barcelona, stay at Sant Jordi Hostels, they are great!) Later plans include people heading to a disco/club, which isn't my thing, so some of us head back before long, making plans to sight-see together the next day.