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Saturday, September 01, 2007


La Rambla, Barcelona

When I tell people that I am writing a book about living in Spain almost everyone is quick to remind me that Valencia is just one part of Spain and that people are very different in other regions of the peninsula. The regional peculiarities in Spain seem to be as important as DNA in their identity—at least according to them. You are defined as much by the very specific ingredients of the local cooking as you are by the characteristics of your parents.

When you read the biography of a Spaniard on a book jacket the most important aspect seems to be their place of birth. I think that Spaniards sincerely believe that people from another area of the country are almost as foreign as citizens of other countries. I guess that the longer I live here the more I can agree with the cultural differences within the country, but at the same time it isn’t as if the people around Spain are that different.

Barcelona, the capital of Catalunya, is only 293 kilometers from Valencia. Both cities have their own unique dialect, although from what I have been told Catalan and Valenciano are pretty much the same thing. Upon entering Barcelona’s Sants station it is immediately obvious that Barcelona is more deeply committed to its language than is Valencia. Catalan is on all of the billboards. Catalan is heard over the loudspeakers.

Not that I got much of a chance to look around at all inside the station as I was carried away in the currents and riptides of fellow travelers. I paddled through the station and made my way down into the extensive Barcelona metro system, purchased a 10 ride pass, and washed up on the number 3, green line as it cascaded towards Fontana Station in the Gracia District.

I feel like such a country mouse coming from Valencia as Barcelona is like an enormous beehive of activity. The metro system is very extensive here and, unlike Valencia’s tiny system that runs just beneath the surface, you are led through long passageways deep I the bowels of the city. I felt like I should have been wearing a miner’s helmet at times.

I had been looking for a new apartment in Valencia almost the entire month of August which meant that I had looked through countless ads online. This got me thinking that this would be a good idea when I travel around Europe. Instead of booking a room in a hotel I would rent a room in an apartment. I lined up a place here in Barcelona for the 11 days I will be here. I was given directions which turned out to be extremely easy to follow.

The neighborhood around the Fontana station is unbelievably charming. The streets are so narrow that some don’t even support automobile traffic. Almost all of the architecture is older, most dating back to the very early 1900s. I gave my host a heads up that I was coming on my new cell phone. I can’t believe how long I resisted buying one in the first place. I think that I was too timid to speak Spanish on the phone.

My new home for the next 10 days is on the top, fourth floor of a 100 year old building. I didn’t know if I would fit in the old elevator with my bulging pack so I hiked up the narrow stairway. After dumping my pack in my room I was given a quick tour of the flat. It’s a beautiful place with high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows that open up on to a small balcony. The best part is the roof that has a commanding view over the entire city. It will make a good perch for smoking a cigar and having a glass of brandy.

I still had a few hours of daylight so I immediately went for a very long stroll along some of the major thoroughfares in Barcelona. The good thing about this city is that the streets are on a grid, unlike the spiraling insanity of the streets in historic Valencia. From where I am staying I just had to walk down the hill to the east to intersect with some of the main attractions of Barcelona.

By the time I got to the Plaza de Catalunya there was a tremendous crush of pedestrians all channeled towards La Rambla, the main pedestrian attraction in Barcelona. I didn’t notice anyone speaking Catalan but I hardly heard any Spanish for that matter. I heard every other language on the planet as it seems that everyone in Barcelona on this last day in August is a tourist.

I don’t really miss not having my folding bike on this trip because the sidewalks are too full for bikes and the streets are too narrow. I’m sure that I will rent a bike while I am here but walking seems a sensible way to get around with a bit of metro thrown in for a rest. I would like to rent a bike and ride around early on Sunday morning like I do in Valencia while everyone else is sleeping off the late night before. I’ll work on that today.

I had a map I borrowed from my host and nothing more to guide me but it is all pretty self-explanatory right from my front door. My favorite site so far was the Plaza Real that I came upon right at dusk.

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