Savannah McDermott
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Country #3

October 10, 2010 @ 7:22 PM | Permalink

Country #3

 
After adding a day on to our stay in idyllic Nice, Lindsey and I have finally decided it’s time to move on to Spain. We’ve spent an incredible four days wandering beaches, shopping districts, and historic sites and now Barcelona, the centerpiece of our month-long journey, is waiting for us. We spend four hours on a train from Nice to Montpellier, an hour in a station, then another four on a rickety, battered, poorly-matched collection of railcars that pulls us slowly along the tracks to Barcelona. At the border, we wait for half an hour while the police forces of two nations search the car, checking passports, and confronting a series of dark-haired guys about our age, before finally discovering the Spanish twenty-something they’ve been seeking. He gathers his fedora and guitar and calmly exits the train, an officer on either flank. Lindsey and I spend the rest of the ride speculating. 

Over the last week, we’ve been subjected to a never-ending stream of horror stories about the masterful pickpockets in Barcelona. They’ll distract you on your left and grab your money from your right, we’ve been told. They’ll create a diversion on the street and slip cameras away from all the tourists naïve enough to look, we’ve heard. So as the train rolls into the dark station, the sun setting, all of our worldly possessions on our backs, we’re a little nervous. We find no comfort in the station; there is no tourism desk, just an enormous map on which we can’t locate our hostel and an incredibly unhelpful staff who respond only grudgingly to my Spanish questions. Catalán, a bizarre soup of all the Romance languages, is the unofficial but overwhelmingly dominant tongue here, and these people are loath to be considered Spanish, let alone to use the cursed language of the kingdom. Conversation proves a fruitless effort, and we instead dedicate a half hour to scouring the map and wading through shoddy wifi to track down more info on the hostel. True to form and despite lessons supposedly learned, we’ve written down nothing more than an address—no phone number or directions. Seeing no other options, we dip into the subway and head in what seems the most likely correct direction. Every minute we’re looking behind us, around us, keeping an eye on each other’s packs and refusing distraction. Stress and scary stories have made us jumpy.

When we reach the somewhat arbitrarily selected metro stop, we discover that pickpockets are no longer the greatest of our concerns. We are nowhere near where we’re supposed to be and, predictably, have not considered researching bus lines. So we walk. Twelve blocks. In one giant freaking circle. 

Long story short, I bumble us through some very strange Portuguese/Spanish/Catalán conversations, none of which I’m sure I fully understand, while Lindsey keeps us on track with the map. See, they don’t exactly believe in street signs in Europe, so you sometimes have to walk blocks before discovering what road you’re on. Makes using a map a decidedly more complicated process than it is in the rigidly gridded and marked streets of Indiana. At one point, we desperately ring the doorbell of a building at the correct address (wrong street), only to hear a confused “Uhh, nooo…?” when I ask her if she’s a hostel. We take a long break to contemplate our conundrum before finding a shopkeeper who steers us in the right direction. When we reach the hostel, we throw down our things and barrel for the nearest café, where we devour a pizza and some questionable lasagna and learn never to ask a Catalonian for the baño. 

I wake up early Wednesday morning to skype Levi, a ritual that has been an indispensible comfort during our weeks apart. We’re eight hours apart, so the bulk of our conversations are carried on while I’m groggily watching the sunrise and he’s losing consciousness over his keyboard after hours of lectures. Sometimes we can’t make it work—there are days when the Mediterranean wine or miles of walking have me sleeping late. It’s a delicate balance, keeping in daily contact with a love in Denver while living a surreal existence scattered across Europe. There’s a constant struggle to keep your head in the winding streets and stony beaches while a part of you keeps flitting back across the Atlantic. But we’ve done what I feel to be an impressive job, maintaining separate lives while remaining integral to one another. He’ll be in Zafra with me in three weeks, and sleepy mornings will certainly prove worth the trouble. 
 

We spend Wednesday exploring the city, walking the Ramblas, photographing the port. I love this city. There’s a spirit, a vibrancy to it that I’ve only ever felt in the Latin world, where trilling Rs and rolling laughter convey an impression of homey comfort even as trains and buses fly by. We make a ridiculous but yummy meal of salad, mashed potatoes, and pan-friend turkey lunch meat (don’t scoff until you’ve tried!) We’re headed tonight for a club on the beach, where a password whispered to us by our trendy hostel host will save us from the pricey cover charge. I love Europe. 

 

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