Tuesday, August 17, 2010

From Spain… Back Home

Well, what do you know. First post after the Get Lucky extravaganza, in my all-purpose blog which, from now on, is going to serve as a fine container for whatever nonsense I feel like writing.

So, welcome.

I’ll tell you a bit about what happened since the Get Lucky tour came to an end, on July 31. Jeroen and I woke up early on August 1 in Avila, as we had to drive back to Madrid and split up – Jeroen flying back to Amsterdam and myself… well… that was still up to debate at that point. Woke up, quick breakfast and we set out on our way back to Madrid.

On our way there I started thinking what it is that I wanted to do.

My original plans (from a few months ago) were to spend a few days in Palma de-Mallorca after the tour, by the beach, to unwind from the craziness; therefore, my flight back home was scheduled to depart Barcelona on August 6. Back then when I ordered the ticket, though, I didn’t know much about travel in Spain, and what it would be like to fly domestically; having my luggage lost once, and all domestic flights in Spain delayed, rendered going to Palma out of the question. Not gonna happen. Barcelona sounded better in that respect; there’s a beach there, and it’s the same city from which I’ll be flying back home six days later… minimum risk.

I then had (what I thought was) a brilliant idea. On my BlackBerry, I checked for flights back to Canada from from Madrid for the same day. Turned out that there’s a flight leaving shortly around noon, at around the time we were going to be at the airport (to return the car). I started thinking… should I go back home now? Or should I unwind by the beach? Which beach? Barcelona? Maybe take a train up to northern Spain?

Knowing that my father is waiting for me back home, I decided to give it a shot. Upon arriving at Madrid’s airport, I ran towards the departures floor as if a Jalapeno was stuck up my ass. That happened 30 minutes to departure time; I figured I may be able to do the ticketing and board on time.

Alas, again… this is Spain. The terminal was full of people in much the same way that the moon isn’t; scores of people wandering around; standing; sitting everywhere – on the floor, on seats, upside down, sideways. Managed to find the information desk, and I had a very simple question. All I needed to know was where Air Canada’s ticketing office is (so I can revise my travel plans with them). Here’s what I asked:

- “Air Canada’s ticketing office?”

Four words. She seemed very confident in her response.

- “Three hundred and twelve”, referring to a check-in counter.

At that instant I already knew that I have very little chance finding anything useful there – yet I started running… and running… until I arrived at counter 312. Of course it wasn’t a ticketing office at all; it was a regular, unmanned check-in counter. I started wondering why she gave me wrong instructions… then I said… well… three words:

THIS IS SPAIN.

25 minutes to departure… and I realized I should better hurry up to the train station. Three subway lines from the airport to Madrid Atocha and I arrived there at 1:10pm.

Train leaves on 1:30pm.

That’s 20 minutes which should be plenty of time to buy a train ticket.

Of course it is…

… Or is it? Well, lets test that hypothesis. Always remember, guys; always remember; TIS. This Is Spain.

1:10pm I was ready to storm through some automated doors on my way to the departure platforms, only to realize that I have to go through security first and – lo and behold – you have to buy your ticket first, and that’s one floor down.

Not a problem. Went there, entered the door and saw people standing in two short lines, and two million people standing in lines at a nearby room. Something didn’t seem very good in that picture; distant (one week old) memories of Barcelona-Sants crept in. If there’s a longer line nearby, I probably belong to it. Of course, it turned out that the shorter line was for “information only” while ticketing took place at the nearby room which just happened to contain the entire population of Madrid in it.

Took a number and started counting the minutes patiently.

On 1:20pm – ten minutes before the train’s departure time – my number finally appeared on the screen. Fantastic! Ten minutes left for departure, so I should be able to make it. I took one step towards the booth that called my number.

- “One moment, please”, called the attendant in that booth.

Turned out that the two lousy bastards that were there in front of me suddenly realized that they have another question to ask, or another request to fulfill. Needless to say, everybody there appeared to have taken their time. My unpleasant looks didn’t appear to impact the attendant in the slightest, as the minutes passed…

1:21pm… 1:22pm…

At around 1:24pm, I decided that this is too ridiculous and attempted to approach the next booth to the left. I explained the situation to him in English; he didn’t understand and replied something in Spanish that I took as “get the fuck out of my face”.

1:25pm. Oh no, we’ll have to be quick.

They left at 1:29pm. In those 9 minutes between my number was called and the time I was served, seven (!) other people were served in the nearby booths. I was so frustrated of the outright disrespect exhibited by the two idiots before me, as well as the stupid attendant, that I could actually hear and feel my pulse. That’s it, I’ll have to wait an hour now. An entire hour of my life was lost because of idiots.

- “Yes, how can I help you?” she said.

- “(In the most impolite and disrespectful tone I could emit) Well, I was going to buy a ticket for the 1:30pm train but I guess it is a bit too late now!”.

She didn’t even try to appear sympathetic.

- “Well, this line-up is not for immediate departures”, she said in a very peaceful voice.

WHAT??!?

- “… WHAT??!?”, I asked, “… So where is the line-up for immediate departures?!”.

- “It’s on the other side of the floor”.

You see, folks? This entire incidence encapsulates within it pretty much everything you have to watch out for when doing independent travel in Spain. Things work very differently here. People expecting clear-cut instructions and signage are going to be majorly disappointed here.

The flip side of this is, that if you can make it in Spain, then you can make it anywhere in Europe. If you can get yourself out of your own comfort zone to the point that you can feel comfortable and “flowing” in Spain, then really, you can make it anywhere in Europe – at least anywhere I have been to, which is 19 different countries.

Anyway, I used the extra hour for eating yet another baguette and then boarded the train to Barcelona. The last inter-city train ride… for a while.


Upon arriving at my first hotel in Barcelona – Zenit Barcelona – I decided that that’s it. I’m not leaving Barcelona – will stay there until my time comes to fly back home. The hotel was nowhere near the beach, but I couldn’t care less – it was booked only for one night, and I was dead tired anyway.

Entering my room I came to realize once again that there’s no concert to attend later on. I will admit that I felt somewhat empty and purposeless, however as soon as thoughts of purposelessness crept in, they were immediately kicked out; hell, these next five days are supposed to be purposeless. Just rest, damn it I said to myself. For five days in a lifetime, it’s quite OK to have no purpose whatsoever other than resting.

The next morning I went to a different hotel, Barceló Hotel Atenea Mar, located right by the beach, a bit north of the hustle. It was then when I started feeling really rested; didn’t spend any time in the beach though because it was cloudy. I decided then to move to another hotel (that’s three hotels in three days), closer to the “action” – and make that the last hotel stay in this trip.

Too bad, though, that my hotel of choice (Hotel Icaria Barcelona) was a bit disappointing. Perfect location, but way too high a price for what you’re getting. Nevertheless, the next three full days in Barcelona were characterized by total and utter relaxation, as well as a fair bit of sightseeing. It was then when I realized how beautiful the beaches are in this city; weather was perfect, and I spent a few days laying down at the beach, swimming and exploring Barcelona’s shoreline as well as its famous La Rambla (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Rambla,_Barcelona).


Only one thing separates Barcelona’s beaches from absolute perfection, and, unfortunately, it is something that Barcelona’s beaches will never have: a sunset. Other than a sunset, folks, this must be the best looking beach in the world. The entire walk from Port Olimpic all the way to Barceloneta, by the beach, is surreally pretty and it’s evident that the city of Barcelona put a lot of efforts into its beaches. Up until visiting Barcelona, I was convinced that the prettiest beaches in the world belong to Israel; that opinion has now changed and, unless Australia is going to surprise me beyond recognition, it’s very unlikely to change again.

My daily walks started in Port Olimpic all the way down to Barceloneta. Barceloneta’s beach is considered by many to be the best beach in the world; according to Discovery Channel’s 2005 documentary about the world’s best beaches, Barceloneta’s beach is considered to be the best urban beach in the world, and the third best beach overall (by “urban beach”, I believe they refer to beaches that really are a part of a sizable city. Tel-Aviv in Israel falls into that category, while I believe the beaches off California’s coast don’t. Need some fact-checking here).

Here’s what it looks like when it’s sunny and gorgeous:

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After about 25 minutes walk along the shore, you get to Rambla de Mar, offering a gorgeous walk along the port.

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Now look at the following picture and notice the people holding the big white bags:

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That’s another thing very commonly seen along the coastline. What happens is this: many people sell goods on the streets. What they do is offer their goods (sunglasses, gifts and other sorts of stuff – usually stolen, fake and altogether just fishy) by laying them down on a big white mat, so people passing-by could take a look, inquire and (hopefully) purchase.

Now the problem is that selling stuff on the street, just like that, is illegal in Barcelona. Therefore, you will always see that the white mat has a string stretched from each corner, held by the merchant. Upon noticing a police officer, it takes those people less than a second to pack the mat – upon whatever it is that was on it – into a huge bag and travel around with it. It’s quite an amazing thing to watch, how quickly they turn this bag full of goods into a white mat laid upon the sidewalk, and upon sighting some form of authority – collapsing it back into a bag; I’ve seen it happen a few times.

From there, it’s a short walk to the beginning of the world-famous La Rambla. La Rambla is as touristic as things can get in Europe – this long avenue is literally flocked with tourists from all over the planet, all the time. I very quickly lost count of restaurants, cafes, hotels, shops, street-shows – they’re all here, by the dozens.

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The walk back at night is no less impressive, especially along the beach. Barcelona’s coastline has no sunset to brag for but other than that, I can think of no better scenery.

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Somewhere along the beach, close to Port Olimpic, there’s a set of stone-made “seats” facing the sea. I found it to be a tremendously pleasant spot to sit down, look around and just relax.

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What I described above was my routine for the three days of relaxation. During one day, though, I decided to follow Julio’s advice and went to Park Güell (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Park_G%C3%BCell) – a very rewarding decision. This park, an easy 3-4 subway ride from Plaça de Catalunya (which is at the north-end of La Rambla), is built upon a hill offering stunning panoramic views of Barcelona.

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The building you see in the following picture is called Sagrada Família (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagrada_Fam%C3%ADlia):

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The Sagrada Família is a Roman-Catholic church that has been under construction since – get a load of this – 1882. Completion date? they’re talking about at least 2026. Antoni Gaudí, the famous Spanish architect who designed it, was known to respond to questions about the tremendous construction time with “My client is not in a hurry”.

I went there once in the afternoon – there’s a subway stop right outside it – but decided to not go in because the place was full of tourists. As you can see by the pictures in the corresponding Wikipedia article, this is going to be one hell of a beautiful church.

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Next to it, there’s the world’s largest vibrator.

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The park itself offers an endless number of pretty and winding trails with amazing views and structures throughout.

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Three days of relaxation in Barcelona passed quickly; August 6 then arrived, time to go home. Woke up early morning and took a taxi to the airport.

You know, there are those vacations that, when they end, make you feel a bit bad. You want that vacation to continue, and really aren’t looking forward to go back to what’s commonly referred to as “real life”. It may seem a bit surprising, but… I had no bad feelings at all. I looked forward to being home again. Not because I didn’t like being on vacation; it’s just that I felt like this long 4-months vacation was fantastic and fulfilling. I can’t even begin to describe how much motivated I was to go back home, pick things up where I left them four months prior, “grab life by the horns” and enjoy every minute of it. Hell, I even came up with an idea for a start-up!

Boarded the plane… Buckled up…

Eight hours later, a short layover in Montreal. Oh, here’s a Tim Horton's store. Starbucks is here, too. The atmosphere… Yes, this is Canada. A short while later, boarded another airplane and I was in Toronto at around 5:00pm local time.

Picked up my luggage and was quickly picked-up by my father – so great to see him. Two hours ride to Waterloo…

… Oh, here’s my neighbourhood…

… Turning to my street….

… Here’s my house…

Garage door opens, car parked. Opened the door, entered.

Closed the door.

I was so happy to be home. My house; my living room; my bed. My guitars! My piano! My espresso maker!

Home felt better than it ever did.


Signing-off this post while sitting on my deck. 10:00pm, August 17. Just finished working on some accounting year-end stuff – a huge load off my mind. Actually, that work I had to do is the sole reason why this post took two weeks to complete.

Other than that, getting adjusted to “real life” was a breeze… as you will read in the next upcoming post.

Later,
Isaac

4 comments:

Bill said...

Talk about a slow typist! 2 weeks to type this post! Lol

Anonymous said...

Welcome back.....xo Marjorie Jane

Anonymous said...

Quick question: How did you happen to be in Spain?

Isaac said...

Marjorie: Thanks :-)

Anonymous: ... Read my Get Lucky blog (http://gl.isaac.shabtay.com) and it will all become clear. :-)

(Unless I don't understand your question)