“The pressure of adversity does not affect the mind of the brave man… It is more powerful than external circumstances.”
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, Citizenship In A Republic, delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France23 April, 1910
Without hesitation, I can freely admit that my español is terrible. Maybe “middling” at best. Weekly Spanish lessons have propagated a sharp increase in my everyday, conversational speech, but the eureka sensation has yet to sprout. On my own, I read poems written by the likes of Federico García Lorca and Alejandra Pizarnik, with the aid of SpanishDict! and Google Translate. Actually, this is how I came to the realization that when compared to English, Spanish is completely backwards! When everyone around you is speaking the language that you’re still in the process of learning, it’s almost impossible to be immune to the pangs of inadequacy, or even stupidity. The common Spanish phrases that are used to inoculate these pangs are “tranquilo” and “poco a poco”. The sentiment is present, though if you’re anything like me, these phrases will frustrate more than alleviate grammatical vexations.
I am ambitious. I fancy to attain fluency in a matter of weeks after first initialization, so maybe I’m more impatient than anything else. However, if I have learned anything about language-learning whilst traveling and living abroad, it would have to be that to learn, one must practice.
Fail at speaking the language!
Practicing What I Preach
The plane alighted in Sofia, Bulgaria around 1AM. De-boarding was relatively easy since I only travel with carry-on luggage, as well as the time was late enough for the tiny airport to not receive too much air traffic. I managed to find a taxi driver almost immediately, or rather, he found me. The drive to the hostel was super quick and light. Neither the taxi driver nor I had much to say to each other. In fact, even when we got to the hostel and I was duly ripped-off on the price — a price that is extremely laughable — I didn’t exchange more than a few words with him. This isn’t because of the time, our individual moods, nor due to a mutual, instantaneous disdain for one another. The onslaught of silence was perpetuated by the lack of possible words that we could’ve said to each other that would be understood. It may come as a surprise, but the Bulgarian dialect and the English language are completely different! The alphabets are different from each other too! How could we possibly have had a conversation when I couldn’t even say “hello” in the native tongue?
Well, when I got inside the hostel, I was determined to right that wrong. For five minutes upon first introductions, I had the hostel receptionist repeat “hello” in Bulgarian until I could accurately pronounce it. This was at 2AM. Bless her soul, she is a trooper for dealing with my curious antics at such an early hour.
Over the following two weeks, I acquired some basic words, greetings, and questions to add to my Bulgarian language repertoire. I committed a TON of errors, but I wouldn’t have progressed without asking questions and speaking the language.
I then translated this working theory into learning basic Turkish, Italian, and Slovenian. While I am not fluent in any of the four languages, I was able to understand the conversational flow for each of them. This was incredibly eye-opening, as well as entertaining, considering the amount of time I spent in each country.
Ambition doesn’t prohibit humility or modesty.
Re-read that last sentence again. It can be tailored for any and all goals and aspirations.
I might have a dismal Spanish vocabulary and grammatical knowledge, but I am comfortable with speaking, writing, and reading in Spanish. I might not have attained fluency yet, but I have accepted my own deficiency.
Fallar, preguntar, probar, y mas importante, estar humilde.
pizarnik__alejandra_-_poesia_completa – Poesia Completa by Alejandra Pizarnik. A huuuugggggeeeee pdf to read at your own leisure.
http://www.hostelmostel.com/ – The best hostel in Sofia, as well as Veliko Tarnovo. A bit biased, but oh well!
http://www.spanishdict.com/ – AHHHHHH, the more precise and accurate alternative to Google Translate. This company has a mobile application that works offline as well! Perfect for wandering through any Spanish-speaking country.
Здрасти (‘zdrasti) ZDRAHS-tee – hello (informal) in Bulgarian.
I am terrible at updating this blog.
I apologize, friend.
Taking this website too seriously has led to its temporary demise. The more criticizing and meticulous I am about my writing, the less I publish. To be frank, I have a smorgasbord of article drafts written, just without the confidence to publish them. I am terrified of the permanence of the Web. Nothing is meant to last forever, although, that statement is proven erroneous in the Digital Age. Nonetheless, I will strive to write and publish at least one article a week. Anything more will be a bonus. Be prepared for some egregious outlines; some unfiltered language; please don’t eviscerate me in the comments. If I love to write, then write I shall! This blog was designed for the public, when all along, the stories were my own.
I am now in Milan, couch surfing with a friend that I met in Istanbul. As early as last night, the plan had been to head south to Selçuk, Turkey on the overnight bus, but a problem loomed large: my bus left an hour earlier than expected, leaving me at the bus station dumbfounded and slightly buzzed. Fate works in mysterious ways, such as bringing me to Milan to reacquaint myself with a new friend. After the catastrophe at the bus station, I called my friend at the hostel and he secured me a place to sleep for the night. If you ever go to Istanbul, I highly recommend Hostel Big Apple (http://hostelbigapple.com). You’ll book with one of two owners, either Aslan or Dan. Both are the homies, for real – mind my colloquial American speech. Tell them Christian recommended this place, and a conversation will inevitably (hopefully) materialize. Anyways, I return to the hostel and am greeted with expressions of mass confusion. I had dramatized a grand goodbye, which made explaining my mishap all the more embarrassing. Nonetheless, the friendly atmosphere of the hostel welcomed me back for the night. For hours, I was lost as to where I should go. Should I continue on the path already planned, or diverge to new pavements? I had a friend that was willing to travel to Olympos on the Southwestern Coast of Turkey, mainly because I had relentlessly talked about it throughout El Clasico. I was tempted to go, but temptations do not necessarily transpire. Instead, I booked a ticket to Milan at 4AM. Here I am now, awake at 3:06AM, stroking Rufio’s fur. As a warranted disclosure, Rufio is my friend’s cat. I believe I have a plan now, but I will keep it secured in my mind and notebook until I act on it. I will be in Milan for only a day until I travel North. The plan for tomorrow is to attend a festival outside of Milan, one that was disclosed to me over gooey pizza and creamy risotto tonight. Don’t get me started on Italian food. It is my new passion, my everything, reinvigorating memories of Grandma’s house when I was little.
Anyways, I just wanted to update this blog since it has been over a month since I published a post. As informal as this post is, this format will be seen again in the future. As I stated in the first article that I wrote (https://theblueofdistance.com/2016/07/27/preparing-for-a-life-of-travel/), this website will and does consist of an eclectic mix of writing. Buckle up and prepare for the joy ride.
Aridity strikes me upon first entering into the furtive, literally underground, art gallery. I shouldn’t be too surprised though, since the location of this gala was imparted to me through sideways glances and hushed whispers. This is one of the last places to go to in Madrid that has not been industrialized nor soiled by heavy tourism. This is the real, seedy, creatively prosperous Madrid.
Finding the massive gray door was surprisingly a challenge since it’s placed in a location that goes unnoticed in plain sight — comparative to one of the many same-colored doors in Manhattan that most people tend to walk by without a glance, unless you are a resident, of course. I was fortunate that the door was unlocked and unbarred, for I had been forewarned that the location is closed off occasionally. The aridity of the plain manila walls upon entrance was underwhelming. The room was host to a barrage of embattled and tattered clothing that had been donated and strewed across white racks, white tables, and the dirty, white tiled floor. I had walked into an alcove of secondhand treasures and I kept on briskly walking past it. Today was not the day that I was to grapple with a Madrileño over a torn t-shirt; nein!
After ascending a small flight of stairs, I was greeted by sticker-ridden dividers that separated the two rooms. Sucking in one last breath of air, I pushed aside the flaps. The succeeding room opened up into a dark, damp, abandoned space. Graffiti marked all available space, exactly what I had been promised. The word ‘graffiti’ doesn’t do the markings and murals any justice however — this was true art. There were depictions of a swimmer performing front strokes around the circumference of the room fused with bright, vibrant clothing squeezed together to emulate faces reminiscent of a Picasso painting. I was astounded and awed, standing stolidly in the center of the room, swiveling my body in a perfect circle to soak in the view. Banners of black and white tags littered the ceiling, carving a path to the dilapidated stage in the back of the room. I didn’t dare hop on stage and perform a little jig, but I sure-as-hell felt like moving. And moving I did, at least, moving down the ramp and into the basement.
The basement broke off into two different pathways; one veering left, the other veering right. I chose the right path since I could see around the corner. Every inch of these walls were demarcated with vivid paintings, bold fills, and dark, counterculture themes. Fluorescent lights cast spotlights onto the artwork, leaving me to slink through the shadowy middle of the lane. The archaic lanes resembled the labyrinthine maze of Ancient Greece. I half-expected to walk upon a rampaging minotaur! I was in luck since no minotaurs were found, but I did stumble upon a rampaging garage band at a dead-end in the puzzle. The music was blaring in their neon-orange lit room that was tucked away in the back of the maze. I listened to their jam session for a few minutes and then continued my trek through the labyrinth.
Weaving my way through room after room, I came across an entrance to the outer walls of the building: the courtyard. It was drizzling, but that didn’t stop me from going out to explore the hidden gems in the massive backyard. Larger-than-life murals were painted on walls and garages alike, but what stuck out to me the most was the verdurous garden growing in the back of the backyard. A substantial amount of plants had apparently been growing for sometime now, leading me to conjecture that it is a community garden. I wandered through the brush and then sauntered over to an entrance of a gloomy building.
Inside, I was greeted by a saturnine fellow perched on a rickety white lawn chair. I said my courtesies and then proceeded to snap some shots of the spacious room, which I believe was previously a gymnastics gymnasium. This proved difficult and uncomfortable though. Difficulty lay in the dismal amount of lighting; uncomfortableness resided in the frosty, unrelenting stare of the pseudo-bouncer in the chair. After getting a shot that I was OK with, I gathered myself and briskly walked into the room at the end of the building.
PSA: If you ever feel uncomfortable because of the presence of a mysterious, shady character, NEVER, I repeat, NEVER walk into a room that only has one exit.
Lime green pillars trickled down to meet the burgundy floor, all cast in a late afternoon shadow provided by the slitted window. It is an eerie experience, a seemingly haunted room. I’m relieved to find that it is still in use, ghosts or not, when a squadron of dancers enter moments later. The space is apparently used as a dance studio, to my utter surprise. I vacate the premise due to the fact that I had left my ballerina pumps back at my apartment.
The sun began to set outside, thus sparking the desire to find my way out of this maze. The murals twisted and turned, my vertigo spinning with each bend. I came across a myriad of dilapidated rooms, all of which were in use. I walked into an art studio, where creatives were hard at work constructing prints on an elongated mahogany table; a recording studio, where Senegalese were blasting reggae, dancing away their troubles (and the smoke); a bathroom, where the toilet was indistinguishable from what went inside of it. All of this warrants a certain attention that I happily doled out. Now that I was lost in the labyrinth again, all sense of time withered, as well as my aforementioned panic.
After what felt like an eternity, I came across the entrance from whence I came, and reemerged into the dank, dark room. I peered around one last time, and then stole my farewells with me back out onto the streets. Outside, it was as dark as it was underground, although bereft of all the amazing art that I had just witnessed.
In the city where it always smells like rain, and the abundance of water inoculates the pain of all residents: humans, animals, and plants, alike. The depreciation of cars compensates for the appreciation of bikes. Christmas lights wrap around the trees of March, but for every season, the diet here consists of beer and starch. Oh, pour me another glass, my new friend, of that Rogue! We'll sip it in style since this old town is in vogue. Walking the bustling streets of down town, there is no style of food that cannot be found. We'll stroll through a pod and decide upon a cart. From there, we'll pay, eat, laugh a bit - and with satisfied stomachs, our night will start! ◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊♦◊ written on 03/17/2016
“Attention passengers! As some of you may have noticed, the plane has performed an 180 degree turn and is heading back to Newark.”
I, for one, had no idea that we had turned around and was completely shocked! We were a few hours into the flight and to turn around rather than trudge on towards Madrid seemed absurd.
“Without getting too technical, there is a crack in one of the layers of the front windshield. As a safety precaution, we have to turn around to Newark since the journey across the Atlantic is too hazardous.”
Well, that doesn’t seem too serious, right?
“We’ve slowed the speed of the plane down drastically because of the damaged area. Don’t worry, we’re probably not going to crash.”
Okay… not exactly the most encouraging pep talk ever incited by a pilot, but it will have to do. At this point, there is a nervous tension amongst the passengers and flight attendants. The pilot does not do us any favors by consoling us with,
“If we feel as if we need to land the plane as soon as possible, we have already notified some nearby airports. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but we will know more when we land.”
Of course we’ll learn more when we land! Whether it be enflamed when we nosedive into an unsuspecting town or whilst drowning in the Atlantic, we’ll know the severity of the problem soon enough. I was just hoping to finish my complimentary film before the crash.
Well, as a rational soul might have conjectured, we did not crash. The plane touched down safely on the runway a few hours later. It was the beginning of a new day, so there wasn’t a restaurant open. I think I speak for the rest of the passengers by stating how upset I was when I didn’t receive the promised complimentary dinner. With grumbling stomachs and attitudes, we vacated the faulty airplane and entered the terminal from whence we left. Once safely inside, we all huddled around a stout customer service agent and awaited his speech. All of us fell from our high hopes and steep expectations as his short speech trailed off. The airline had no idea when the flight was going to resume and that it was in our best interest to get comfortable. Well, that didn’t sit right with some passengers. As the frustrated individuals mobbed around the hapless agent, I took advantage of the chaos by finding temporary accommodation. I am no stranger to falling asleep in airports, and I was in the mind to prepare for the worst. After a quick scan of my options, I settled upon an isolated row of seats near the flight status board. To my furtive dismay, I was followed. My unwanted companion plopped down on the seat next to me – half of my bed – and huffed and puffed as if he was trying to blow a house away. I said the obligatory few words,
“Well, this sucks dude.”
A surefire method of making friends is to always state the obvious in the midst of an emotional crisis.
He agreed, naturally, and we proceeded in a conversation. It turns out that he is the same age as me and is a native to Newark, New Jersey. A student of Economics, he was planning to visit Madrid to visit his girlfriend whom was involved in a study abroad program. He had Monday and Tuesday off, so he thought, ‘why not visit Madrid for a few days?’ This delay was eating into his four-day, $1,000 extended weekend. As a college student, it is unheard of to spend that amount of money at once, unless you’re a little league drug dealer or couldn’t make up your mind whether to get a tattoo sleeve on the left arm or the right arm, settling for both instead. This lovebird was appropriately upset and I felt for my unwanted-now-wanted companion. An hour eclipsed in the conversation until we were finally told that there was another plane ready to take off at a terminal on the other side of the airport. Oh, and it was only available until 1:45AM, otherwise the flight would be canceled.
The ensuing 30 minutes were utter chaos. A horde of humans stampeded towards the new gate, reminiscent of the Running with the Bulls. Every single one of us were extremely nervous about making it onto the plane in time, and our nerves were not calmed by the presence of only one ticket checker. People were pushing and shoving, screaming and shouting, but somehow managed to form some semblance of a row of lines. It was ordered chaos. I felt sorry for the misguided soul that asked where the line for “Boarding Group 3” was. To censor and summarize, he soon learned from several people that everyone was just trying to get on the plane, so it didn’t matter which line he stood in, just so long as he was seated on the plane before 1:45.
I don’t know how we all managed to find our seat and stow away our bags in a matter of 25 minute – an airline record – but it happened. Of course, the plane didn’t begin to move for 20 minutes. We were finally setting off for Madrid! It could’ve been much worse, but all works out in the end!
We sat on the runway for an hour until we retreated back to the gate. The astonishment that washed over the passengers was apparent when were informed that all operational systems were down, and that the flight to Madrid was officially canceled. We all felt as if we had been duped, hopping on and off the plane to no end. Furthermore, it was past 3AM in the morning and none of us had any idea what to do. My thoughts were centered on running back to the same row of seats that I had claimed before as a bed.
Like a pack of sheep, we were herded to this help desk and that help desk, all in pursuit of a customer service agent and the promised accommodation package at a nearby hotel. After 20 minutes of searching in agitation, we all managed to locate the lone agent. I have to give credit where credit is due, for she is one of the toughest individuals that I know, and I never even officially met her. To face 200 enraged passengers at 3:45AM was beyond my capabilities. She managed to stifle the crowd by using the desk’s phone as a shield to deflect the prying voices and obscenities of the long line of passengers. This ruse turned into mere folly, as a crowd of customers began to shout,
“GET OFF THE PHONE! GET OFF THE PHONE NOW!”
I was waiting in line with an elderly couple who had pre-booked a tour and were fearful of being left behind; I sympathized for their bank account. Luckily, they were able to get in touch with their tour company and were told that the tour would wait an extra day. It turns out that there were quite a few other tour-goers on the flight. However, this did not appease their vocal discontentment, nor should it!
I felt like I was waiting in line to buy festival tickets; an arduously slow line filled with complaints about how slow it was. It didn’t help that every five minutes there would be an individual who thought him/herself privileged enough to head straight for the front of the line and demand answers, curse at the ill-fated agent, or futilely attempt to obtain a coveted accommodation package before the other passengers. Each time this happened – which, as I stated, was every 5 minutes – the line would remain stagnant since the agent would defend herself and attempt to console the angry passenger. Not to mention, it took her near 10 minutes to help each individual customer since she had to input all information manually.
After an hour, the line had managed to move by 5 paces, each pace representing the number of passengers the agent managed to help. My feet were almost off the linoleum and on to the carpet! A small prize, but one that was greatly needed. More and more people began to trail out of line and off to who knows where. I don’t even know why I remained in the line, only in hopes that I would receive a new ticket and find some answers. Another half hour eclipsed when we were greeted by another 200 enraged passengers. It was becoming a real party – ahem – riot!
Apparently, the same predicament had taken place on the United Airlines flight to Tel Aviv, and now all the passengers were sent and directed to this lone customer service agent. Remember when I stated that she is the toughest person that I know? Well, there were now 200 more reasons to back that up.
No one was in a cheerful mood. Well, maybe except for me, since I had finally stepped foot on the carpet. Matter-of-fact, I had both feet on the slate-colored carpet! I was so exhausted at this point, that I sat down and resorted to a half-crawl, half-crab-walk whenever the line started to move, which was rare. Most of my fellow passengers had either left with accommodation packages or just left out of anger and spite. I was almost towards the front, although ‘almost’ is an hour and a half away. I had witnessed full-on shouting matches, a monsoon of tears, and a surprising amount of police presence for 5AM. The line had also gained another flight’s worth of passengers from a Dublin flight that experienced the same problem. I am so glad that I was not an employee for United Airlines, and never shall I ever be.
By 5:30AM, two workers finally came into rescue the lone agent, although, they both were received with 200+ complaints and double that number in petty demands. People had been waiting in the line for 3 hours, all with conflicting and ever-changing information. Everyone was tired and there didn’t seem to be any resolutions being made except for the allure of the accommodation packages. The sad fact is that the agents had not even helped a single customer from the Tel Aviv or Dublin flights yet, since they were still working their way through the Madrid flight. At this point, I was a few people back, but devoid of hope. I had heard from the other passengers that new tickets for Madrid were not being handled yet. I wasn’t even going to accept an accommodation package, so I really began questioning myself of why I was really in this line.
As if a higher power was reading my dark thoughts, good news came in the form of a once-alone customer service agent. I was the last person from the Madrid flight to stay in the line, and there was only one other fellow survivor in front of me. We were both told that a new flight to Madrid had just been scheduled, and that it would leave for 9:30AM. Both of us were able to obtain tickets and that our seats would be upgraded since we were the last ones in line. I almost cried. The Spanish man and I shook hands (possibly embracing in a hug, who knows? I’ll never tell!) and promised to each other that we would catch up later. I never saw the man again, nor did I see some of the other passengers that I had conversed with throughout this catastrophe. They had either left in frustration, or accepted the accommodation package and were asleep by now, of course in frustration as well.
I am grateful to myself that I stood in that line, even though I really couldn’t tell you why I did. Either out of stupidity or some unknown clairvoyance, one more likely than the other, I had managed to endure the worst of the night and was finally able to get something to eat! Stay calm in the face of an unexpected disaster and definitely stay in line! Do it for yourself, and do it for the crazy memories that will stay with you forever. I mean, what’s travel without unexpected adversity?
I see the world.
I see the world from my tiny window.
The window may be tiny, but the scene is vast;
For the sea of clouds stretches to kiss the horizon,
Gently bowing at the mountainous base.
Oh, how the scene evolves with my forward motion,
But the profound beauty remains still.
I see the world from my tiny window.
I see the world,
But I’m only preoccupied with home.
My knees quickly gave up on carrying the weight of my body, and the next thing I knew, I was falling. An enormous weight tumbled on top of me, and I could feel the eyes of the witnesses staring with such immense passion, but no one dared to laugh. This was the most entertaininment we have witnessed in the last 12 hours and it unfortunately came at my expense. I hastily pushed my backpack up off of me, then got to my feet, slung my heavy pack on my shoulders, and exited the train with the little dignity I had left. The person that was snoring in my left ear for half the trip gave me a piteous glance as I walked by, but I ignored his unwanted stare as well as the watchful eyes of the rest of the passengers. My embarrassment was soon forgotten as I walked out of the station, instead replaced by a satisfaction that I had survived the extremely long and monotonous train ride to Santiago de Compostela. I was excited to explore the city and to finally experience Galician culture! My built-up excitement would have to wait until the morrow though since I had arrived late in the night. My youthful mind had harbored the idea that I would walk everywhere, but my exhaustion defied my thoughts. Once my weary eyes gazed upon a flock of taxis huddled outside the train station, my conviction to walk to the hostel withered to dust.
Check-in had already come and passed by the time that I got to Roots & Boots Hostel, but thankfully, ________ had given me the code to get in and settled in my room. After locating the only empty bed in room 24, I hoisted my bag off my shoulders and on to the top bunk, which woke the entire room. Ashamed, I decided that I was awake enough to not want to go to bed since I had slept sparsely on the train. I fished for my unfinished book in the dark and snuck away to the downstairs lobby. Once there, I read the final few chapters and called it a night, in the silence of the surprisingly vacant room. On the way upstairs, I contemplated why there wasn’t a single soul up at 12AM, especially in such an allegedly gregarious place reputed as a hostel. I got my answer the next day.
I woke up rather late to an empty room. Where there were seven sleeping bodies lay seven beds ruffled with unkempt blankets. Looking around, I noticed that all the backpacks were gone, minus mine, thankfully. Groggily, I hopped down from the bed and retrieved shampoo and a towel from my backpack. There was a lone girl in the hallway, so I was able to have a guide pinpoint the location of the showers. I proceeded through my morning ritual, dressed myself in one of my few outfits, and then walked downstairs to meet the receptionists.
I was greeted with toothy smiles and warm voices, internally deciding that I was really going to enjoy my stay. I ordered a cafe con leche and stole a seat in the hostel’s garden, basking in the noontime sun and listening to the serene sounds of silence. The receptionists had gifted me with a map of the town, so I divided the city into sections that I would explore each day until I left. Satisfied, I finished the foamy remnants of my drink and retreated upstairs to gather my necessities for the day: my trusty camera, an additional lens, a book, and my treasured moleskine notebook are the only items I need for an adventure! After stuffing the items into my tiny daypack, I set off at once.
The Roman crenelations tower above the surrounding buildings, so it is only natural that I head towards their direction. I crossed various streets, walked up numerous stairs, all with my eyes to the sky. The crenelations were my fixed point and I was bound to wind up in front of them eventually. Surely enough, I finally made it to the famed Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Massive and looming above all else, the Cathedral stood alone on every corner. Cathedral walls met a flat plaza before any buildings reached to grasp the magnificent structure. I stood in awe of the building… with fifty-sum other visitors who all bore hiking backpacks and wielded walking sticks. I felt the odd one out, almost missing my heavy pack that would allow me to blend in with the crowd. Perplexed, I asked a slouched stranger why everyone was carrying their packs with them.
“I just finished the Camino, or at least, 100 kilometers of the Camino.” The Camino de Santiago stretches all over Europe, creating an interconnected web of historic trails. All the trails go through Santiago de Compostela to meet at the very Cathedral that I was at. Small wonder so many hikers still had their packs. Aspirants from all over the globe walk one of the many paths, not due to difficulty, but because of the extreme length of the journey. 100 kilometers is a substantial distance, but pales in comparison to the near 900-kilometer sojourn from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France. Originating as a holy walk for Christian pilgrims, in honor of St. James, the Apostle, it has become a journey walked by many for a multitude of reasons. Having been ignorant of all this history and knowledge upon entering this holy city, I felt extremely embarrassed. It finally made sense why people were asking me, “How far did you walk?” My once proud response of, “Oh, I was on a train for 12 & a half hours” seemed paltry in comparison to the weeks people have devoted to this walk. Learn from my ignorance, walk the Camino de Santiago if you are planning on visiting Santiago de Compostela!
After the history lesson in front of the Cathedral, I bid my temporary teacher farewell and walked past the structure, aimlessly. Past souvenir shops and restaurants, I was in search of something that I ran out of in Barcelona: toothpaste. I searched for a length of time that I care not to share, for it took me longer to find a farmacia than it should have. After what felt like a millennium, I squinted in the mid-afternoon sun to gaze upon the iconic green cross. Finally! I found the farmacia!
I meticulously inspected each toothpaste, though, I had no idea what I was supposed to look for. My Spanish tongue is meager, and my reading comprehension even more lame, but nonetheless, I strained to pick the most suitable toothpaste for my dentures. In the end, it came down to the price. Selecting the cheapest toothpaste, I proceeded to checkout. The cashier greeted me pleasantly, so I decided to strike up a conversation, albeit, a short conversation with scant Spanish lexis. After exchanging polities, I dipped into one of the only topic starters that I knew. “Where do you recommend to eat?” I asked. Her reply was Mercado de Abastos, a short stroll from the farmacia. Graciously, I thanked her, paid, and left with my toothpaste, content that I was able to hold a conversation for two minutes. Only a few meters to walk, yet, a hundred miles from where my Spanish should be; improving my knowledge on the language is a must.
I walked in the direction that I thought she told me to go, but ended up getting lost. Confused as to where Mercado de Abastos was, I walked into the nearest shop for directions. It was a dire mistake. Inside the shop, racks of hoodies, sweaters, and t-shirts were strewn around the store. The clothing store was a local brand based in Santiago de Compostela. The logo was embellished on all the clothing, Slow Life (how cool!!!). After taking a moment to resonate with the clothing, I expressed to the owner how much I admired his clothing. The friendly conversation that followed thereafter did no favors for my wallet, especially since it was an amalgamation of Spanish and English. I ended up parting with a black hoodie and navy blue t-shirt, but not before I asked for directions to Mercado de Abastos. He complied without hesitation and even walked me there himself, abandoning the store for all 20 steps. It turns out, I had walked past the destination when I should have turned right. Count that for another embarrassment in Santiago. He gave me his recommendation of where to get chow, and he did not fail!
Pulpo a feira is a signature dish of Galicia, consisting of chopped, boiled octopus on a platter, peppered with paprika and salt, with drizzled olive oil to finish it off. A delectably chewy texture follows with each bite. At this particular vendor, they sell a massive plate of pulpo for €8, which you can take to a nearby bar and wash it down with a glass of cervesa.
The sun was beating down relentlessly by the time I found a vacant table in the shade. Ordering a cervesa, I hungrily dove into the pulpo a feira with such ferocity, the neighboring table halted their conversation to glance at me momentarily – I didn’t care this time. Shortly thereafter, my cervesa was presented to me. I sat back in the metal chair with my cold beverage in hand, satisfied with my meal. Looking around, I watched as pedestrians, some with bulky bags, some barebacked, meandered through the street in front of me. The heat was intense today, but no matter – the people of Santiago de Compostela still came out to navigate the winding streets, or laze under the shade of a gigantic tree in one of the many surrounding parks. Such a short amount of time had passed in this town, with plenty of embarrassments, but I already had the notion that I was going to enjoy my stay (and I surely did!).
Barça to misinformed tourists and vagabonds alike, Barcino to the Ancient Romans, BCN to the airplanes that alight on the landing strip, The City of B’s to myself in private; but now it has been shared for all to see and use. It would be intolerably presumptuous to believe that this nickname would be unquestioned and ingrained in any future rumination of Barcelona, at least not without justification.
- Bars and restaurants are littered throughout the city. I don’t believe I walked more than two blocks without passing by (or stopping into) a bar. It would be unfair to state that all the bars were the same, but most seemed to have a similar menu. Similarity is nothing to complain about though – the food was surprisingly cheap, the alcohol even cheaper! Depending on which part of the city the bar is in, the price of a cervesa could reach as low as €1,10! On Carrer de Blai in Poble Sec, a spacious street that attracts a young, affable crowd, pinchos – small individual snacks of bread topped with a range of assorted meats, cheeses, fish, etc. – can be found for as low as €1. With a bit of searching throughout each bar, as well as deterring from the tourist haunts of the Gothic Quarter, a meal and a couple drinks in Barcelona can be extremely friendly to any wallet.
- Bocadillos are my go-to meal in Barcelona. Like a sandwich, bocadillos consist of an array of meats from salchichon to chorizo, nestled in between two slices of a baguette. The secret to an authentic bocadillo is to rub a tomato on the soft interior of the baguette, until all that is left in hand is the skin and pulp. Lightly drizzle olive oil over the baguette slices if you please, but the important thing to keep in mind is to add only one type of meat per bocadillo! This is so that neither one meat or another overpowers, allowing the flavors to stand alone as they are. Bocadillos are priced from as low as €2,50 to the upper range of €4,50, relegating it as a very budget-friendly meal.
- Backpacks are ubiquitous in this crowded city, especially in August when the locals leave on vacation, rendering the city in the hands of tourists and expats alike. Bulging backpacks are bedecked with hanging shoes, water bottles, yoga mats, and just about anything else that couldn’t fit in the interior. In Plaza de España, not a day had passed that I didn’t see a backpacker waving down a taxi or resting in the shade of Centre Comercial Arenes, a looming commercial center that offers a spectacular panorama of the city. The beaten path still runs through The City of B’s, with tourists and alleged vagabonds marching along the broad walkway of Las Ramblas. Not without good reason too, the city has a thriving nightlife and cultured history, fortifying a premier destination for all. If ‘clubbing’ is not your forte, Barcelona offers kilometers of vast..
- ..Beaches! Barcelona has superb beaches, the most famous being, Barceloneta, located at the end of Las Ramblas. If you follow the sand and sea along the paved walkway, you will soon stumble upon a plethora of volleyball nets. If you want to play, I recommend going there on a weekday in the morning because the nets will fill up quickly. I was honored to witness a game of volleyball that is played nowhere else that I’ve seen before: using the regular rules of volleyball, the only body parts that are allowed are the head, chest, and both legs. I was bewildered as much as I was fascinated. If you continue past the volleyball nets, you will reach the entrance of Poble Nou, a hip neighborhood that harbors an extensive street lined with restaurants that are frequented by locals. Make sure to stop by El Tio Che and order a scoop of their delightful ice cream, perfect for a day in the sand! When moving forward along the path, there is one entrance to the beach that I recommend to avoid if you are not one to bask in the sun with naked bodies… I made that mistake once, never again. Continuing along the path, you will reach a small park that is usually packed with people eating their lunches. If you would continue further (why stop now?), you will reach a skate park and an outdoor, public gymnasium, though rather sparse in equipment. Continue on a few meters more and you will have reached the end of the beach, a splendid time to jump in the sea after a long walk under the sun!
- Bare minimum clothing seems to be the approved dress code in this half beach town, half sprawling metropolis. Bikini clad women and shirtless men roam the streets. I feel apt to admit that ladies throw on low-cut shirts and gentlemen dress in tank tops further from the beach. Regardless, Barcelona is not for a prudish soul. The dress code is made difficult to discern between night and day, since partying attire is the same, if not, similar in the least. It has made this 2o year-old a very happy visitor to the city, as well as darkened my tan in the meantime. Little clothing is appropriate in this city though, with the strangling humidity and balmy climate, it is a wonder that people are able to withstand the tribulations of pants!
- Bustling streets add to the metropolitan vibe of this city. With every crevasse of the city seemingly occupied by humans, don’t expect to go anywhere fast! An endless stream of large congregations of pedestrians, reckless city drivers, stubborn bicyclists, rollerbladers, skaters, long-boarders, dog walkers, and more, constantly flood the streets at all times. Weaving in and out of traffic, as well as a couple trials of jay-walking, all become annoying and tiresome. Instead, get swept into the laid-back, slow lifestyle that the natives have emulated. Embracing this slow lifestyle is a great fragment of the charm to Barcelona. If not embraced, anger and frustration will surely be adopted, for the narrow alleys of the Gothic Quarter will attest for this. The Gothic Quarter is always crowded no matter the time of day. The streets are packed with people shopping during the day, whilst nightfall, the streets are packed with people attending one of the many bars that are scattered throughout. The Gothic Quarter is not an exception though – all streets are crowded day and night. Pedestrians, such as myself, gaze longingly after the bicycles that effortlessly weave through the crowds.
- Bicycles are the choice method of transportation due to the congestion of the city. The bike pathways in between the sidewalk and street are accurately marked, designating both oncoming directions their own respective lane. A recent addition, the city has also implemented a bike-sharing system called Bicing. With the swipe of a card, anyone is able to use a bicycle from any of the deep red bicycle stations. I have spent many a nights walking home after a few (too many) drinks, wishing that I was on a bike as riders whizzed past me. Next time that I have an elongated stay in Barcelona, I will make sure to participate in Bicing. Another option for those who do not wish to sign up for Bicing is to visit one of the many bicycle shops that rent bikes per hour. Biking around the city is highly recommended and these shops look to be a viable option for that action.
- Buildings (and structures) constructed by the likes of Antoni Gaudí, Joan Miró, and even Pablo Picasso are the main attractions in Barcelona. On the second day of living in the city, I was shown a building constructed by Pablo Picasso that is unbeknownst to even some locals living in the city. Now, the information has washed away with the cervesas on the night I learned that the building was Picasso’s work, but I still recall the very placement of the structure. If you would like to learn the location of the building and the history, I recommend taking a free tour, courtesy of Donkey Tours (http://www.donkeytours.es). From the famed Sagrada Família to the spectacular Casa Batlló, Barcelona is rich in odd creations of Gaudí. A visit to Parc de Joan Miró will bestow the eponymous artist’s audacious, phallic creation, Woman & Bird. Famed buildings and statues, as well as the architects and artists who created them, have been left unsaid because alas, there are too many to name and recall!
It would be uncanny to visit Barcelona for only a couple nights – there are just too many events going on! The city resides in it’s own galaxy; one wouldn’t journey all the way to the moon to leave a few days after! Stay for a week, embrace the city and it’s lifestyle, learn the culture, visit the attractions, drink with many of the tourists and locals alike, for there is no city like The City of B’s.