Vacation Through the Northern Cities of Spain: Part 1

[Disclaimer: the following post was written on March 31, 2012].

Hey all,

Yours truly here, reporting from none other than a wifi-less bus on its way to Pamplona, Spain. As usual, I have much to report, but I can only write for as long as my battery will allow this time.

It’s been a week since my last post, but it feels like a year. Even thinking about eating breakfast this morning feels like forever. I guess I’ll start with last Saturday. If you do recall, I spent last Friday in Cádiz, Spain, for the second time. I took a four-hour siesta when I got home, went to bed early, and slept on and off for the duration of Saturday. Saturday night, Spaniard friend Gabriel invited me to dinner with him and his friends. Since I spent the entire day resting, I figured I would go out and enjoy the company of my Spaniard friends over a quick bite to eat.

We went to bed at 8 am. The night was something similar to Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist—at least in terms of the adventure. We first went up Las Setas, the touristy Parasol that I blogged about way earlier in the semester. Then, we ate at a restaurant that I actually suggested(!), landed at a bar in Alameda (I couldn’t even tell you how to get there and I’ve lived in Sevilla for almost three months now), Calle Betis afterward, and then we embarked on a 40-minute walk to find Gabriel’s roommate’s car to take us all back to Gabriel’s flat. I spoke the whole time to Gabriel’s roommate in Spanish, so I feel pretty accomplished about that. What with Spain’s “springing forward” on Saturday, we picked a fine night to lose an hour of sleep. =P

Sunday and Monday came and went, and come Tuesday I ran into somewhat of a dilemma. Kelsey, Trevor, Chuck, and I started planning our Semana Santa (Holy Week) trip on Monday afternoon—the one we’re on right now; stay tuned for details!—and apparently, the airline’s website kept rejecting both Kelsey’s and Trevor’s credit cards. So, Kelsey asked me to purchase Trevor’s ticket. I went through the motions of Ryan Air’s website, and bought him his 92 euro flight ($120-ish), e-mailed them the confirmation, and found out that I had booked a flight that they already did. It was a rough start to this week lol. Normally Ryan Air has a strict no-refund policy, but luckily they e-mailed me letting me know that I had a double booking. I was skeptical, but Wednesday morning (at 7 am, I might add), I spoke with one of the employees about receiving my devolución (refund), and she went through the motions to get me my money back! I should be receiving it sometime next week. As my dad says, “A-S-K, G-E-T.” Even if it has to be in Spanish!

We embarked on our journey to Barcelona on Wednesday morning (I mean MORNING). Our flight took off at 8:10, so we had to be at the airport by 7. Leave the house by 6. Breakfast by 5:30. Awake by 5:15. Funny considering just several days previous I had gone to bed at 8. The flight itself was fine, considering we all passed out as soon as we took off, but we didn’t get on without a little bit of a struggle. For one, Ryan Air in all of its splendor only allows ONE personal item/carry-on. So we all abided, I had to pry out my suitcase from the bin with one foot on the bin while violently yanking, but no pasa nada (“nothing happens,” “no big deal,” essentially). It was our sandwiches that almost put us to the back of the line. We ended up just stuffing all of the sandwiches into our pockets. I just giggled at the flashback of how ridiculous our coats looked, bulging with bocadillos.

Let me tell you something about Ryan Air. It’s affordable and all, but I think the system was designed for people like George Clooney in “Up in the Air” circa Scene 5. Only one carry-on? Why can’t I put a purse on the floor in front of me? Oh, because they can make 15 euro on a checked purse. And 50 euro for a flight change and 110 euro for a name change on a ticket. My friends and I came up with a joke that I am now in fact a member of the Mile-High Club, simply because Ryan Air screwed me over.

The fun didn’t stop there. We touched down in Barcelona, and we hadn’t even left the train station into the city when Kelsey realized that her wallet was missing. After reviewing all the details, we concluded that it was definitely a pickpocket who stole it as we were getting off the train. He separated Kelsey and me from the boys, and then closed the train doors. We were flustered (and thus distracted), and he snagged it before re-opening the doors. He definitely knew what he was doing. So, we spent a good half of the day hitting up the bank, the police station, and the American Embassy. By the end of the day, Kelsey had frozen her credit cards, filed a report, and been issued a new passport. That evening, we went up to the Parque Güell, where we saw a fantastic view of the surrounding city.


View of the Sagrada Familia from the hilltop:

We also made another couple of friends from our hostel, which was hella-legit, by the way. Its pluses included free buffet breakfast, wifi, and entertainment. Its minuses were that you had to pay for sheets and towels. So on principle I used my shirt as a towel. Judge me. My first impression of a hostel was this dark, scary place where serial killers stay (never even saw the movie, but yeah), but they’re actually really convenient. Even though it’s a little weird sharing a room with strangers, I’ve actually acquired an appreciation for the culture behind it. Everyone is there temporarily. Travelling for one reason or another. I like to hear people’s stories, and in a weird way, I get a kick out of the bare-minimum lifestyle. I’m usually a mega over packer, but this trip, I brought just a few shirts, 3 pairs of jeans, and enough shampoo and conditioner (that spilled all over my toiletries) to last me the next few days.

Thursday morning, Kelsey received an e-mail from a Good Samaritan saying that he found her wallet! She had booked a trip and kept her receipt with her e-mail in her wallet, so she was able to get her wallet back. Her cards and cash were gone, but everything else was there. I still can’t even believe how lucky it was that someone found it (and her) and she got all of her stuff back. Praise the lawd. Thursday marked an important day for Spain, as it was their Huelga General (General Strike) Spain-wide. There were servicios mínimos (minimum services: metro, bus, etc.), so we seized that opportunity to walk around the city and see everything there was to see. We had been amply warned about the strike (in Sevilla, at least), but the images we had in our minds were quite different from reality. I pictured clumps of people with signs yelling and marching, so when we stepped out on the streets and saw just that, we all shared the sentiment that the strike was being blown out of proportion. Ten minutes later, we were blown back to reality when an M-80 went off about ten feet away from us. It was off-putting to say the least.

With two of our new hostel friends, we didn’t let the strike ruin our day. We hit up parks, the port, churches, and the Cathedral, walked through the Arch of Triumph, and ended our journey with the famous Sagrada Familia church. All was calm and collected until we got nearer to our hostel, which was “conveniently located” on one of the main streets in the center of Barcelona. It was so congested that we were at times at a standstill. The crowd, though, was lively and animated, happy almost. There was music playing and people cheering. At one point, we had to walk directly into the march to get to our hostel (they were just marching at that point, we were safe, I promise).

When we were safe on the terrace of the hostel, though, things changed for the worse: garbage dumpsters set ablaze, more M-80s cracking in the streets, police sirens, smoke, yelling. Broken windows, smashed-in ATM machines, graffiti everywhere. It was definitely a different Spain than I’d ever seen before. The total experience reminded me of a short story that I had to read for my Latin American short story class called “La Lluvia de Fuego” (“The Rain of Fire”). It’s a story that parallels that of the Biblical Judgment Day of Gomorrah, where the sky is a beautiful blue, but a mysterious rain of fire comes from all directions. From the veranda, I could see the mountains, the pink sunset, and the skyline of Barcelona. Looking down, I saw chaos. It was an eye-opening experience for me because it was a definite reminder that the world has a lot of stuff going on, and it’s nowhere near perfect. Here are some memorable pictures of the huelga:





Safe to say we spent the rest of the night in the hostel. After using the hostel’s wifi to battle ISIS and the UF course registrar, I came up with somewhat of a plan for Fall’s classes (albeit I don’t want to think about it at all), and afterward my friends and I just split some wine and talked. Yesterday, Friday, we used up our last day in Barcelona to visit the Picasso Museum. I’m so glad that I got to go! We ducked into a cute side-street restaurant for the Menu del Día (Menu of the Day, which is always more affordable and delicious) before heading to the bus station for Zaragoza.

Wow, I can’t even believe that yesterday I was in Barcelona! Our bus ride yesterday was interesting, to say the least. Almost 4 hours without air conditioning (It was pretty much an incessant hot flash for me and my “firebody” as I call it), bellig Spanish girls yakking away behind us (and thus I felt the need to translate in my brain all that they were saying), and let’s not forget the raspy-voiced young girl who kept breast feeding her kid directly next to Chuck. We’ve had our fair share of setbacks and high-stress situations, but I (we) have pretty much perfected the whole “find humor in everything” thing. Thank God for sarcasm, ‘cause I don’t know where I’d be without it. For example, right before we got on this bus, Chuck said, “I really hope the air conditioning on this bus is broken again!”
We arrived to Zaragoza last night around 8:30, and I parked it in a café of the bus station to sign up for my classes. At least I didn’t have to set an alarm for 5 am or anything lol. I belted out Lady Marmelade on the taxi ride over to our hostel (obviously), and then, upon seeing the bunk bed situation in our room, proceeded to fight with Chuck for the remainder of the night over who would get the massive, fluffy, comfy bottom bunk.
He won unfortunately. It was only fair, though, because the last 3 times we’ve bunked together, he’s been on the top bunk. But still, look at this:


So today, we took a nice walk up to the more modern part of Zaragoza, where we climbed jungle gyms, swung on swings, and snapped some pictures of bridges and interesting-looking structures. We then walked pretty far to see the Palacio de la Aljafería, which is apparently the third Moorish fortress behind La Mesquita in Córdboa and La Alhambra in Granada. Afterward, we went to the market that was super close to our hostel, bought some chicken and vegetables, and then made the most heavenly stir-fry of life (advisory: don’t view the next picture if you haven’t eaten in a while).




Afterward, we then explored the older part of town, the Plaza de Pilar that surrounds the Cathedral, and then some newer side streets. Our feet were all hurting and we were all pretty giddy from fatigue, so we played games such as “Have you ever thought about…?” “Four things you really like: Go!” and, a new game that I just learned today, “Let’s-Take-a-Sip-of-Water-And-Whoever-Spits-it-out-First-Loses.” We all lost.

So now here I am, Saturday evening on a bus headed to Pamplona, the land of the bulls. I’m really excited for what’s to come. Although I’m not excited that tomorrow is April Fool’s; this group gets quite mischievous when we’re together, haha. I just wish my feet didn’t hurt so much! It’s hard work having so much fun ;D. After Pamplona, we’re headed to San Sebastian, and then our final stop, Santander. Updates soon!

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