You should probably get comfortable. This turned out WAY longer than anticipated.
At what seemed like the crack of dawn on Black Friday, Dave and I got ready for shopping our impromptu trip to Spain. Our tickets said “registration” was at 8am and the bus station was about 20 minutes away by tram, so we left the house around 7:15 to make sure to give us enough time to grab coffee, go to the ATM and hop the tram. It was at this quiet, sun-is-barely-even-awake time that we discovered France is still sleeping. On a school/work day! At 7:30! Didn’t they understand we needed coffee?? Nothing was open. And we hadn’t even thought of snacks for the 5-hour bus ride that would occur during the lunch hour.
I was deeply disturbed by this.
But I still had the bus station. Surely they would have stands and carts open. But I had only assumed that the bus station of Montpellier would be a bustle of activity, with plenty o’ places to get coffee at this horrid hour.
The “bus station” is a slab of cement that runs parallel to the tram stop.
And did I mention it was really, really, really cold that morning, waiting in a semi-enclosed plexi-glass hut? Since we of course made it to the station with time to spare (we beat the bus there) Dave went on an adventure to forage for sustenance find coffee but even the places that were supposed to be open, according to the signs on the door, were still dark inside.
Finally, the bus rolled up and we boarded into the warmth and we hit the road. About 10 minutes in, the bus driver had to fuel up and Dave took the “diez minutos” we were given to scope out the quickie mart and raid its snack section. And, because he knows I need my caffeine, he emerged victorious with a coke, sandwiches, chips and cookies. We ate the “breakfast biscuits” (which is how I will now refer to cookies, in an effort to make them seem like appropriate breakfast fare) and I promptly fell asleep (refer to ungodly hour of awakening)…and I missed just about the entire bus ride/view of the countryside.
I woke up about 30 minutes outside of Barcelona and had “lunch” before we rolled into the bus station. In my defense, the driver made record time and we arrived about 90 minutes ahead of schedule.
At the bus station (which was more of what I had hoped Montpellier’s station would have been) I stopped in the ladies’ room, which I wouldn’t normally blog about, but they do NOT have toilet seats in Spain! For all the women out there, who get upset with the men in their lives who don’t put the seat down, thus leading to what could be a very unpleasant surprise, this is awful. Dave had previously warned me that I was lucky that it wasn’t just a hole in the ground, and I promptly told him that I would be departing back to America if that ever became our only option. I am a city mouse! Then I realized that I hadn’t taken toilet paper from the communal roll outside the stalls. Not to mention the first stall with its completely ineffective automatic flush device and the second stall, which was in overdrive. Picture this: a lady goes to sit, it flushes, causes said lady to jump up in surprise, wait for the auto flush to finish…she tries again and the auto flush goes off. Again. This went on for about 3 rounds before I got my timing down. As this happened, I could see Ellen DeGeneres incorporating this into her next stand up.
Gah. It was seriously traumatic and definitely not how I imagined the beginning of our trip.
After the bus station trauma, we decided to head towards our place for the weekend. We stayed in an area called Barceloneta and it’s right on the beach. The weather was perfect.
After getting the key from our Air B&B host and checking out our studio, we decided to start our adventure in earnest. We knew we wanted to see La Sagrada Familia on Saturday, but truthfully, that was the only thing we had planned for sure. Our first stop Friday afternoon was an old cathedral, Església Catedral de la Santa Creu. It was one of the few that were left intact during the Spanish Civil War so we spent some time touring around the inside, and taking the lift to the rooftop, overlooking the city. The weather couldn’t have been better for such things and we ended up taking a ton of photos, but here’s a sampling:
After the Cathedral tour, we walked (we walked a lot this day) down the main drag of the city, Las Ramblas, which is a huge, wide street with what any seasoned New Orleans native would call neutral ground. This was where all the carts and vendors set up shop and Las Rambas also intersected a huge marketplace, Mercat de Sant Josep, which housed so many produce, fish, meat, and confection vendors (to name a few). It was all under one roof but open on the sides, which was good because it was crowded for a Friday late afternoon. We took a few shots of the colors but I still think we didn’t do it justice.
After the market, we wondered around the city, ducking in and out of shops and boutiques as we went. Finally, we broke for dinner, where we had tapas (naturally). It was then that I was introduced to “bombas” which seem to be balls of mashed potatoes with a little bit of spicy bolognese-type sauce in the middle. Let me tell you something: Bombas are awesome. They were even better Saturday night, but I will get to that later. During our first meal in Barcelona, we were also treated to a local protest in the streets, where it looked like civil service workers were marching for something (what, we aren’t sure, as we couldn’t read their signs as they marched by). The protest was L-O-U-D. They were shooting off some sort of fire crackers and protesters were blowing into those loud, plastic tube things that make soccer stadiums in Europe the new high risk for hearing loss spot. It was quite colorful.
After dinner, we headed back to the room, got cleaned up for the night, but then had a change of heart and decided to throw some clothes on and go out on the town some more. We ended up at La Cerveteca, a local beer tavern, which had a huge selection of beer from around the world, much to Dave’s delight. We followed it up with a stop for some ice cream and headed home around midnight, trying to pretend we weren’t old and exhausted.
Saturday morning was La Sagrada Familia, which warrants its own post, so look for that one next. Saturday afternoon, post-La Sagrada Familia, we found a place for lunch that was next to another mercat and was supposed to be really authentic and fresh. Dave’s meal was indeed authentic-looking and fresh. He had octopus in some sort of tomato-based sauce. I however, did not get so lucky. Let me back up a minute. In Barcelona, they don’t necessarily speak Spanish. Besides Spanish (a language I’m actually halfway comfortable speaking), Catalan is extremely common and hard to decipher sometimes. For the most part, I was ok at communicating (hooray! I had almost forgotten what that was like!) but because Barcelona is a province of Catalonia, Catalan is the native tongue. So menus at authentic food places? Yea, not awesome. Some things I could guess but some things, not so much. So for lunch, I ordered jamon de bellota.
I was brought a plate full of sliced (Spanish) ham, which was kinda like prosciutto. That’s it. No sides, no leafy bed of greens. Just a dinner plate that looked like the cold cuts section of a grocery store deli tray.
Don’t get me wrong, it was tasty…I was just expecting something with my jamon. Like bread, may and mustard. Or something. Anything.
After lunch, we wandered around the market next door, but I was starting to fade, so we headed back to the room, where we fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the street lights were on. After the nap, though, we ventured out to dinner at La Bombeta, a place right in our neighborhood that was touted as having the best bombas. In fact, they have a sign above the counter that reads: “No hablamos ingles, pero hacemos unas bombas bien!*” I was sold.
(*Technically they had another choice adjective in front of ‘bien’ but for the sake of Google searches, it basically translates to, “We don’t speak English, but we make really good bombas!”)
After our wonderful meal of bombas (I had bombas, among other tapas…Dave had cuttlefish. I’m noticing a pattern in that he often orders things he knows he has no shot of me ever making at home. Good move on his part.) we headed back out to La Sagrada Familia to see it illuminated at night. We took (more) photos and noticed things that somehow escaped us in our 3-hour tour (insert Gilligan joke here, but it really was about 3 hours) earlier that day.
We rounded out the evening with a stop at a wine bar we noticed the night before, where we enjoyed Spanish wines– cava (sparkling) for me and for Dave, a glass of Rioja (which is grenache and tempranillo, I think?) and we stopped for gelato before heading back to the room.
Sunday was our last day and while we tried to take in some more weekly markets, we came up bust. One market we tried was a huge used book and comic card sale (not what we thought) and the other market, an artists’ market, wasn’t set up yet. We had to leave by noon, so we killed some time at the local shopping mall near our place while we waited to meet our host who would take back the key. While at the mall, I found a little boutique with all sorts of soft, warm items, like fuzzy blankets, bath robes, and….drum roll…slippers!! I was so excited. I have been looking for slippers that are warm and fuzzy to wear around this cold house and I found some for 11€. Score.
I have been wearing them constantly and singing the chorus of the below song whenever I do, only I’m replacing the word ‘shoes’ with ‘slips’ and I think Dave is about ready to put me on a plane back to America if I sing it anymore.
But I can’t help it. I love finding that perfect something I have been after for a long time! I felt so victorious.
After my find, we headed back to catch the bus. Ahhh the bus ride home. The ride that, in my mind, should have taken 3.5 hours, given the ride TO Barcelona. If by 3.5 hours, you thought I meant 7 hours, you’d be right.
It started out as a pretty full bus, yet somehow, we kept stopping to pick people up in various stations along the way! I don’t even know where they were put on the bus. We were packed full.
Then, just before the Spanish-French border, we were stopped by Spanish border patrol agents, who made the bus pull over so drug-sniffing dogs could poke around the baggage area underneath. 15 minutes later we were back on the road, followed by another stop later on so the driver could have dinner. Dinner. At dinner time. The nerve.
He pulled over at some French version of a truck stop and told us we had 30 minutes. By this time, it was about 5 hours in and we were very close to the time the ticket had said we’d be home and I was not happy about this detour. I mean, a pilot doesn’t land a cross-country flight in Oklahoma so he can have a fresh cup of coffee. My anger subsided with Skittles, which I hadn’t yet seen anywhere else in France.
Then, as I began Google-mapping the distance to home to get an ETA, we were stopped by French border patrol agents! For crimany sakes! We had been in the country for a good two hours at this point and stopped multiple times already. Anything shady could have already been dealt with, really.
Except it hadn’t been.
The drug-sniffing dog was brought out and about bit off the corner of someone’s duffel bag. Dave and I watched the whole thing go down, right outside our window, so technically, we had the best seats in the house. Everyone was huddled around trying to see what they were finding. Finally, they matched the bag with the passenger list and called someone’s last name. Two older Muslim ladies disembarked and a customs agent began opening their bag, which seemed to contain sleeping bags in clear, plastic garbage bags. Stuffed inside the sleeping bag-like packs where some sort of small packages, but we couldn’t tell what…just that they didn’t look like thing. But tell that to the dog, who kept going after the bag even after it had been thoroughly inspected.
While the agents inspected the ladies’ bag, the dog was brought on board the bus. Much to the chagrin of the kid who had brought his weed on the bus with him. They carted him off the bus, busted him for that and then made him pull out his bag from underneath the bus for inspection. At this point, it was no longer eventful to watch and I was just plain mad. I was very angrily telling Dave that this might just be the day that that kid gets dropped by a girl for wasting her time.
Finally, after about 40 minutes of this nonsense, we were back on the road and within ten minutes we were home. So that whole time, I could have walked home…literally the same distance that I can drive a golf ball. I was so ready to be home.
By the time we finally walked through our front door, it was 7:45pm. We showered and I immediately put “my new slips on” and everything was indeed all right.
So Barcelona over all, was awesome. We’re planning to go back in warmer weather and hang out at the beach and maybe figure out a way to sneak off to Priorat for some wine tasting in the region but we’ll see. Either way, Barcelona gets my vote as a destination of choice. Dave and I both agreed that the city is just cleaner than Montpellier (which is interesting, because it’s bigger too) and the people are more laid-back and engaging, as opposed to here where everyone just seems to go about their business. Communicating, as I mentioned, was a lot easier for me, so that was a huge plus, as far as I’m concerned. AND, I got the best pair of slippers ever.
So yea, Barcelona is ok in my book!