Barcelona, Spain Day 1 - Arrival and La Rambla

Trip Start Jun 25, 2008
Trip End Sep 01, 2008

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Flag of Spain and Canary Islands  , Catalonia,
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Today we definitely made up for how quiet yesterday was! What a packed day today was ...

We woke up bright and early in Pie de Concha, scrambled around the house to tidy up and get things in order, and then packed the car. Mariangles said goodbye to us, and we headed out to Santander to pick up Martin's niece who escorted us to the Bilbao airport after a quick gas and bank stop. (Frustratingly, we found that one of the credit cards I had hoped to use while traveling is constantly being refused in both banks and atm's. Grrr....). It was a sad thing to be driving out of the hills of Cantabria, knowing that it will be quite some time before we will return. We really enjoyed our time there in a very special way. ... But, I will be honest, I'm also quite excited about the next leg of our journey. Next stop ... Barcelona, Spain ... just a quick 45 minute plane ride away.

As soon as we land in Barcelona, its clear that 'we aren't in Kansas anymore'. This airport is pretty darn big. The people are all different colors. And we are surrounded by languages from all across the globe. Sculptures and artwork all over the airport. The air so thick with culture ... reminds me of SF. Our first goal is to make good on some vouchers I have purchased ahead of time for "The Barcelona Card". It wasn't cheap. Something like $190 for all four of us, for the five days we will be here. It includes all buses, trains, and metros (including airport connections) ... as well as free admission to 16 different smaller museums, ... and discounts at other places. Time will tell if it was a good purchase. My guess is it will be a wash. ... On the positive side, we basically have unlimited prepaid Metro cards, so as long as we don't lose the suckers, it will add to the convenience factor which is pretty important since we are traveling with the little munchkins.

And then on to the Metro. What an amazing experience. Supposedly, Barcelona has a remarkably strong reputation for several things, one of which is that they have a great Metro system that is easy to use and connects the whole city. ... While that may be true, walking through the cramped tunnels that connect trains to busses to the Metro was bizarre. I guess the reality is that I don't have any public transportation experience other than some buses in SoCal when I lived with my Momma, and ten or so rides on the DART in SF. But here in Madrid, the Metro is shoulder to shoulder on most trams, the tunnels very from being damp and dark to bright and windy, and there is a unmistakable feeling of claustrophobia about the whole thing. So many people, such cramped quarters, ... and the signs indicating 'emergency exit' seem to be non-existent. ... Anyhow, ... we ride the various Metro trams to our destination where we meet our greeter named Martin. A Scotsman who relocated here to Barcelona 15 years ago, ... we find Martin to be gracious and helpful getting us set up in our rented apartment. (The place can be seen at

Our plan is to hit La Rambla for a stroll as the evening winds down, grab some grub, hit up some ice cream stands, ... etc. ... But, a quick pit stop as we head out. A quaint looking barber shop. Just what I need! Its been nearly two months since I've chopped the mop. But I'm not getting just any old haircut. I decided a couple of days ago (while lamenting the fact that my attempts to delay my balding are failing miserably) that now is a good time to do a test run. Now is good, because if I hate the bald look, the hair will grow back. Most of it will. I hope.
And the boy will join me.

And so we head in to the barber shop, tell him our story, and the ceremony begins. Laughing, giggling, a mohawk for 30 seconds, teasing, scaring Ella telling her that she is next. Its a grand time. First me. Then Sam the man. Its hilarious. ... First thought as I saw my shaved head self looking back at me in the mirror: "Its Richard!". I look SO much like my older brother now. Jeez. I really wish I hadn't teased him so much about losing his hair. Look where thats gotten me. Karma perhaps? : D ... I have like a million pictures and loads of video of the experience, but I'll just post a couple on here to give a taste.

And then, another Metrotrain trip to the top of La Rambla (which is actually quite close to our apartment, but we Metro it this time to try to conserve the kids' dwindling energy after a day of travel). La Rambla is a shoulder to shoulder, jam-packed promenade of tourists, thugs, tourists, thieves, tourists, ... and more tourists. Don't get me wrong. Its a grand experience. But its not exactly where the locals come to hang out. Perhaps they come to gawk and people watch. Its great for that. But traffic is slow, prices are high, and the offerings of the vendors have that unique feel of 'tourist junk' about them. ... Its a totally different world from all of our experiences on the northern coast in Cantabria and Basque Country. Not only was the pace of life slower and a lot less touristy up there, but we also had guides to show us around, which made us feel a lot more at home. ... Here in Barcelona, we are nothing more than guiris amongst a host of guiris. That being the case, and since Barcelona's reputation is 'the world's epicenter of pick-pocketing', I am now carrying around everything of value that I have in a money belt shoved half way down the front of my pants. Try to pick pocket THAT Mr. PocketPicker! Everywhere I go, I'm giving young thuggish looking people the evil eye of death, doing my best to look like a bad ass Neo Nazi (bald headed now, don't forget) to scare away thieves. I caught one guy on the tram eyeballing our luggage for 45 seconds straight.... when our eyes met, he had a look of guilt all over his face. The little punk.

The kids LOVE La Rambla for one reason. Well, two actually if you include the fact that we gave them their second McD's stop of the trip. ... But what they really love are the plethora of street performers. They aren't particularly talented (again, being honest here). But they certainly are different than what I've seen in the states. Yes, you have the statue dudes, and you have musicians, and you have clowns and magicians. But also, there are people dressed in fairly elaborate costumes on stilts moving about in creepy, mysterious looking ways. One of the performers is dressed in a tree costume ... think Cirque du Solei type of thing. He didn't actually DO anything. But he looked cool. Another guy was in a tall, black Halloween type get up a la Tim Burton's Night Before Christmas. A drop in the bucket and you get his long scary fingers groping your head for a photo shoot. We passed the opportunity, but the kids where absolutely enthralled by the 'scary homeless dude in a box' routine.

If you haven't seen this one, its stupidly simple. But just like a fat kid falling down never fails to get a laugh, ... this thing is a sure winner. There are different setups, but basically a guy hides in or behind a box or blind of some sort. As an unsuspecting tourist walks by, the hiding guy jumps out and scares the hell out of him. Its hilarious to watch, and the previously ignorant tourist is now 'in' on the joke and finds a place to watch the next victim. Lots of fun. After watching several people get scared, we try to coax the kids in to donating some coins. This particular version of the hiding dude ... he has a little mask thing that allows him to bite contributors for a photo shoot, but our kids get nowhere close to waiting around for a bite. Ella is feeling a little more brave tonight so she runs up while holding mom's hand to put the coin in the bucket, and sure enough the guy pops out to scare her (and Janice!). Everybody laughs, she starts bawling. Its sad, and I run over to comfort her. Janice later tells me she thinks Ella was crying not out of fear, but because everybody laughed. Poor little thing. She is SO sensitive to what other people think about her. If somebody tells a joke at her expense, she just melts. Breaks my heart. ... Anyhow, back to La Rambla ... Sam is laughing like a maniac out of fear, but every time he gets close to donating, he pulls back in fear. He is genuinely scared. Even an attempt at bribery from me (a chance to play on his Nintendo DS later tonight) doesn't help. He eventually just throws the coin in the general direction of the black box before running back to mom. Such a precious little guy.

Other notable winners for the kids were The Invisible Man (Sam figured out the gig within 1 minute saying, "Dad, thats just a short guy hiding in the shirt!"), ... and the biggest favorite of the night, the singing and dancing Skeleton puppet. Very simple stuff. I've got tons of video of the Skeleton, but its too big to post online. Great fun.

We top the night off with a stop at The Travelers Bar. Its crowded (a good sign here) and the menu looks great. But alas, no tables. Just a couple of minutes after asking if there was a waiting list (there wasn't. its first come, first serve.), two college students from Austria invited us to join them at their table. Two guys drinking beer and tequila ... inviting a family of four (with 2 small kids mind you!) to their table. What a place this is. Such a hodge-podge collection of people from all over. All types in this city. Young, old. Australians and Chinese. Kind and evil. Straight and gay. ... ... Anyhow, one of the guys that we end up eating with tells us he invited us over because he has two young siblings just a year older than Sam and Ella. He couldn't stand seeing us stand around with the two kids looking tired and hungry. ... Pity us?! ... Sure, we'll take it! : ) The Travelers Bar closes its outside seating (where we are eating in a great little cove adjacent to an old cathedral) at 11pm, so we scarf down our amazing chicken sandwiches, fries, and soda ... say goodbye to the kind young Austrians (one of whom received never ending teasing from his buddy when I told them his English accent reminded me of the Governator of Sacramento).

Last stop before bed is for a dessert crepe. Its 1am. The streets are still full of people of all types. Families, club goers all dolled up looking to START their night, and people ending a long day of touristing (like us!). All of the side streets that were earlier filled with shops and vendors are now empty and a bit scary looking, but we navigate home without any problems.

First day pretty good. No bombs at the airport in Bilbao. A successful coordination for our apartment rental. No robberies on La Rambla. And some great memories.
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oliveteresa on

thug life
nice haircut.

did janice ever ride the metro in mexico city?
its like a can of sardines.

good job with the mad-dog stares.
remember, raise your head and show as much white around your pupils as you can. its a great deterrent!

styrsky on

Re: thug life
Yes I did and yes it is.
Miss ya'll!

Jake on

Scare off the thieves with bald head? It might work for you, but it doesn't work for Sam.. Instead he looks more like a cute little Buddhist monk

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