Jul 6, 2009 0 Comments, Leave Comment
With the reality of the end our Barcelona adventure heavy on our minds, we were doubly committed to planning, so as to fit in as many activities as possible in to the remaining day and a half of our stay. We decided that the first order of the day would be to check out (there not being any availability for the remaining night at Hostal Muntaner), followed by breakfast, and then a trip to our second hostel where we would spend our final night. With the assistance of the same wonderful Barcelona Metro rep who had directed us to the Beach the day before, we planned our route to the Catalunyan hills overlooking the city.
The trip required us to step outside our comfort zone of the Barcelona metro system and familiarize ourselves with the trains of the FGC (Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya). The directions taken from our hostel’s website (IN and OUT Hostel) reassured us that once we exited the train, the hostel was a mere 5,000 steps up the mountain. Sam and I weren’t sure if to be tickle or mortified… 5,000 steps?? That has to be a typo… right? Images of sure-footed mountain goats, the Von Graf family crossing the Alps and oxygen masks falling from overhead cabins began to dance across my suddenly hyperactive mind.
The ride from the city center to our Baixador de Valvidrera stop lasted a merciful 15 minutes, but it was already a little after 11 am by the time we got off and the sun was in its full morning glory. Sam carried his tote bag slung over one shoulder, while I was weighted down with my backpack, and up ahead of us a lay a short trip up Mt. Everest. Neither of us was counting, but thankfully the reality wasn’t as bad as we imagined.
The beautiful lush green hills were a welcomed departure from not only Barcelona with its urban concrete vibe, but Venice as well, quaint architecture, terra cotta shingles and stone pavers notwithstanding. We were slightly out of breath when we finally arrived at the reception desk, but all told the hike wasn’t that bad… certainly not 5,000 (500 maybe?) steps. Having secured our bags in the lockers provided at the hostel we turned right around and made our way back to the train station to begin a full day of sight-seeing.
Our first stop was the Camp Nou, the famed if charmless home of one of my favorite football clubs, FC Barcelona. It’s hard to describe for the uninitiated the passion that many “soccer” fans have for their teams, but it’s unlike anything we have here in the US. Myself I’m a fan of Liverpool FC, the team from the famed blue collar city hard on the banks of the Mersey estuary, whose fans share a unique bond with the team, having endured such dark periods as the Heysel Stadium disaster and the Hillsborough tragedy. It has also been the team of childhood heroes such as John Barnes, Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish. I’ve long been an admirer of Barca however, with their distinctive blaugrana uniform and fabled stars such as Diego Maradona, Ronaldo, Johann Cruyff and Luis Figo.
Barça also has an unmistakable place in Spanish history, and an indelible bond with the Catalunyan (Catalonian) people themselves. Catalunyans have long held to their unique identity, and over the centuries have resisted successive Spanish efforts to break their will and assimilate them into Castellano (Castilian) society. At no other time was this more the case than during the reign of the dictator Franco, for whom the subjugation of Catalunya became a personal crusade of oppression. If their fiery idealism was catalyzed during Franco’s reign, then much of the flame of that fire was fanned in the very offices of club FC Barcelona. Club executives were harangued by Franco, and in at least one infamous case one club president was murdered by fascist troops in 1937. The club itself was bombed at his command in 1938. The defiance of the club has thus become both a source of pride and symbol of hope to the Catalunyan people, for whom Barça remains “Més que un club” (More than a club).
Over the past century and a half Barça has enjoyed (and endured) a spirited and sometimes bloody rivalry with perennial Spanish powers Real Madrid, which was Franco’s club. Real in Spanish means “royal”, and the club’s title is fitting, in that this is the team which historically has always been patronized by the Spanish royal family… the King’s team, or as they are somewhat derisively known the “Galacticos”, in part due the perennial cast of superstars they often bought and stockpiled like so much spare parts, if for no other reason but because they could… as well as to keep such players away from their rivals. It should be pretty easy then to understand passion, and sometimes bad blood that exists between fans of Barça and fans of Madrid.
It had taken us a bit longer than planned getting to the Camp Nou, and our visit also lasted a bit longer than expected, and so it was late afternoon by the time we left. Sam desperately wanted to visit La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s yet unfinished masterful homage to the Holy (Sacred) Family.
We were somewhat turned off by line for individuals, and so decided to make ourselves content with just taking in the facades of the exterior. The building is an architectural marvel… even if somewhat indecipherable at times. From the seemingly grotto formations on the eastern façade, to the cubist statues to the west, it’s a bit hard for the lay person to determine exactly what the architect’s vision was. Sometimes however, it’s simply best to suspend the thinking process and simply marvel at the sheer beauty that we as human beings, are capable of creating. Lest we get too lofty in our appreciation, it also helps to have travelmates such as Sam, who helpfully pointed out “that gold guy hanging out up there…” Who Jesus you mean, Sam? Lol
After our visit to the shrine, I was desperate to try some authentic Spanish paella and so we headed back to one of our favorite neighborhood spots, Bodega Joan (corner Carrer de Rosello and Carrer d’Aribau, Barcelona), which I was convinced would have it on the menu. They did, but only in servings for two (made to order I presume) that started at €22… so I went to my excellent back up plan, morcilla con cebollas (black pudding with onions) and sandwiches it was.
Sam ordered his new favorite beer, San Miguel… and all three of us (Sam, myself and the pretty waitress) got a good chuckle out of my butchering the Spanish language when I tried to tell her that Sam liked the beer… and managed to tell her instead that he liked her, lol. I immediately corrected myself… but it made for good fun.
After dinner we headed back to IN and OUT, showered and made our way for the center of the hostel’s nightlife, the Cafeteria. There not only was there internet access, but PC stations set up as well… and as a consequence was the de facto meeting place for the largely twenty-something guests. We quickly made friends with Jeff and his Japanese roommate Nob (“like the thing on the door”) … Nob having come over and struck up a conversation with me. He told me that he was a former student in Japan (having “retired” from school, lol), and that he was now backpacking across Europe. Jeff meanwhile is a med student, originally from Chicago, now studying in Boston… also backpacking across Europe for the summer. Sam had a good laugh when they both recalled Nob’s reaction to seeing the topless women at the beach. According to Sam, Nob’s account was that he “observed carefully… very carefully”.
“…too carefully”, Jeff helpfully interjected, lol.
About the only thing funnier was when one of the hippie spawns decided that it wasn’t enough feeding bread to the wild piglet that sauntered up every evening at dusk, he had to actually pet it.
The startled pig let out a squeal that was matched in tone by the equally startled would-be Dr. Doolittle, as they both leaped about two feet in the air and ran off in opposite directions. The rest of the night melted away in a haze of warm beer, good times and great conversation.