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Monday, September 10, 2007

24 Hour Bike Tour

I was afraid to leave the rented, big, Dutch bike I rented outside of my apartment at night because the chain they gave me with it was fairly unimpressive. They gave me two rather unimpressive locks for it, not including the built-in lock for the rear tire. If I were a professional bike thief I would target these bright orange monsters to steal. You can buy a bolt cutter at any Chinese Wal-Mart here in Spain for about 7€; these would cut through most bike locks quite easily. Instead of leaving it on the street I decided to keep it in the apartment. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

My apartment is on the top fourth floor. The staircase winds around the elevator shaft and it was difficult going up this narrow spiral when all I was carrying was my backpack. The elevator seemed like the prudent choice and this old model is actually deeper than the one where I used to live in Valencia. These Dutch bikes have a terrifically long wheelbase which I didn’t factor in but I was able to get the monster in the elevator. The problem was that I had a hell of a time shutting the doors. There are two doors that come together inside the elevator and then an outside door. I guess that I need to start doing more yoga exercises to help me through these contortionist routines, but I did get the doors shut and I was on my way to the fourth floor.

Coming out of the elevator proved to be a bigger challenge because the door to my apartment is only about three feet directly in front of the door to the elevator. Trying to get that bike out of the elevator I couldn’t help but think about all of the problems inherent in childbirth. When I finally did pop out I cried just like a newborn. The next morning I thought that I’d try taking it down the stairs. That would have to be easier than the death-trap elevator. I got so stuck I considered calling 911 but then realized that they don’t use that over here. What’s the number you call when you are stuck in a coal mine? I blame the American public school system for not teaching me more about geometry, or calculus, or physics, or whatever damn science knowledge would have prevented me from making this quixotic gesture and realizing that the stairwell was too damn narrow for the big, heavy, monstrous, rented Dutch bike.

Early on Sunday morning is a great time to explore on a bike. The Spanish are never early risers and especially not after Saturday night. I used the natural slope of the city to tack towards the north and the cathedral of Sagrada Familia. I had been by here earlier in the week but I just saw it from one angle as I was too lazy to walk all the way around it. There is a beautiful boulevard that approaches the cathedral from the north that was all but deserted on this morning. I hate the fact that mankind is still devoting endless resources to the construction of churches when there are so many things needed by so many people, but this is a cool-looking church. It looks like a Disney castle.

I really notice how incredibly clean this city is, especially when compare to Valencia. Everyone cleans up after their dogs which hasn’t caught on yet where I live. People also seem to take great pride in their city—as they should—and I even saw a man pick up garbage off the ground at a beachfront park and throw it away.

Barcelona is an easy city to explore because you can’t get lost. All of the streets run on a grid. Just walk down the hill and you will get to the waterfront. In all of my meanderings I was never lost or even slightly confused about my location. I didn’t need a map to tell me where I was, just to identify what I had passed.

The bike trail system is fairly extensive and there are plans to make it much bigger. They also have bike racks all over the city. Most apartment buildings have bike racks in front of them. Traffic here is a lot friendlier to bikes. People in cars will always give you the right-of-way, even mopeders—the scum of the earth—are courteous towards cyclists. Overall, Barcelona is a very bike-friendly city as we say in the cycling world.

Some Spanish tourist in a car looking for directions stopped me in the street and asked if I was from Barcelona. I told them (in Spanish) that everyone in Barcelona now was a tourist. The internet café by my apartment is always filled with Australians for some reason. The old city area is filled to the brim with out-of-towners. Unfortunately, there will be one less tourist in Barcelona when I leave today at 14:30. I just check my train ticket and I like the part that says that boarding stops two minutes before departure. I’m sure they make lots of exceptions to this rule. I remember getting scolded by airline employees because I arrived late for a flight. I was an hour early!

P.S. I was watching a program on French soccer sensation, Thierry Henry, who now plays for Barcelona. It was obviously produced while he still played for Arsenal as it was in English with Catalan subtitles. He is amazingly articulate in English, much more so than most athletes are in their native language. During the program there was an anti-racism ad featuring Henry and Ronaldinho. There wee holding up placards with stuff like “I love football” and “I like the sound of the ball hitting the net.” Then they held a sign saying something like “People still judge us by the color of our skin.” Then they were joined by Pujol, a white Spanish player, and they said in English that if people are making racial slurs “Stand up! Speak up!”

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