We start out with Janice heading down to Starbucks for internet access while I hang with the kids. The plan is to meet an hour later. Turns out that Starbucks doesn't have wi-fi, I go there looking for Janice after a while and we miss one another, and end up outside of the apartment, ultimately locking ourselves out. DOH! Well, more precisely, what happens is that I put one of our sets of keys inside the apartment door ... actually INSIDE the deadbolt lock. Turns out that these locks won't open from the outside if there is a key inserted INSIDE. After arguing with the apartment rental coordinator about who was going to pay the bill to fix this, he ultimately pulled out the papers and ended the discussion ... apparently, its written in my signed contract that I have to pay the locksmith if I make this specific mistake
. Double DOH! 80 Euros later. OUCH. Grrr. That never makes for a good start to the day. I was a grouch for a good hour or so, but after that ... things got a lot better.
While we wait for the locksmith to arrive we get a chance to check out the nearby Santa Caterina Market (just three blocks away), a really neat indoor market with an uber colorful tile roof, vendors with fresh fish, meat, and veggies, and some nice shops and restaurant. We also walk to La Rambla for some people watching and some grub. Rick Steve's guide recommends a place that "has over 40 different tapas to sample, each costing 1.4 euros", ...so we give that a try. On a scale of 1 - 10 (where a 10 is San Sebastian Quality) ... this place would get an 8. Good quality, fair prices (albeit 1.8 euros now), clean, and friendly service.
Then, we walk back to the apartment, get changed, and head to the Metro ...down two stations to the beaches of Barcelona. Short version = we were very underwhelmed with the beach experience here. Excellent weather ...maybe a tad windy, but still really nice in terms of temperature. The thing is ... the beaches are all man made. And with how packed the city is with people, the beaches are that much fuller. Discarded cigarettes and garbage everywhere, sand that feels more like small rocks than sand, and an unnatural current in the water. We hung out for a couple of hours, did some walking around ... and then started back to the apartment.
I took the kids upstairs for baths while Janice got some ice cream for everybody from the local shop. Then, Janice headed to Museu de Picasso on her own. Our Barcelona Card gets us 20% off the tickets, but I had a feeling the kids wouldn't like it much ..
. and Janice had mentioned several times she wanted to see it. Turns out, she got her wish ... and better yet, got in for free! She was asking around for instructions on how to get in, and apparently one of the staff members assumed she was already paid and showed her a back entrance. Cool!
Me and the kids just get cleaned up from the beach, and I set them up with another showing of The Neverending Story, this time with popcorn, candy, and some soda. Janice returned just as the movie was ending and after a little more relaxing, ...we all headed downstairs to the pizza joint immediately next door to our pad: Pizza and Love. We were doing it for the kids really, but it turned out to be AWESOME pizza! We loved it even more than they did! Janice and I shared slices of spicy pepperoni, a tuna and onion, and potatoes and sausage pizza. Really really good stuff. And very nice waitstaff as well.
I play some 'eye spy' with the kids in the little plaza nearby (I pick out objects and they race to tag it first) ... and then everybody goes upstairs to get ready for bed, while I grab the laptop to get some work done. One frustrating thing about this place is that there is no internet access in the room. I've been able to leach off neighbors wi-fi signals, but only if I'm out in the streets
. Last night, I wondered around a four block radius of our apartment looking for signals and found a couple spots. Tonight, I return to the best of those I found and start working away. I'm getting some work done as it gets darker ... and darker ... and darker. And suddenly it feels a bit like a back alley that I'm in. As a matter of fact, my buddy Chris is on Skype at the same time I am and I send him a chat message joking, "dude. In a back alley in Barcelona. Thugs nearby. If anything goes down, i'm texting you and you call the cops. : )". We trade some more joking messages back and forth ... and then I see some young guys (19ish?) walking down the road towards me. Not tourists. Not friendly locals. Young local punks. I make eye contact with the one kid who has a big puffy bit of curly hair with a baseball cap on top and greet him with a firm, "Hola.". He gives me the upwards head nod and walks on, both his and his buddy's eyes shifting from me back to straight ahead. I put my head down towards the computer, but sneak a glance up at him and catch him leering back at my computer and backpack. That was warning 1. .... About five minutes later, I hear somebody coming from the left and look up to see who it is (each time I hear somebody approaching, I'm looking up quickly to judge friend or foe all day while traveling in this city, so this is normal) ... and I see another kid of the same age, sort of sneaking around the corner near me, and then he changes course once I see him. I wonder if he was seeing how close he could get to me, maybe to grab my laptop? Thats warning 2
. .... Another five minutes, and from the right I see the original kid plus six buddies. I'm a little nervous now. They are all joking around a bit with each other, but I have a sense its put on ... it feels like they are edging towards my little 'work cove' I'm sitting in ever so slowly on this small street. I make contact with the same curly haired kid again and say "Hola." ... firmly. With a little anger in my voice to fend off the fear I feel and let him know I am not a TOTALLY ignorant tourist. I see a couple of his buddy's look at me, then back at him, ... and he keeps walking ... but now slowly away from me. I breathe a sigh of relief, and a watch them walk out of sight around the corner nearby ... and a couple of seconds later I see the last of his homeboys creep by (presumably the clean up kid, or perhaps they are sending him to grab the stuff and run/throw it to them type of thing). Again, I let him know I see him and he sort of half smiles in a creepy way and starts texting on his phone. I'm wondering if he is giving his buddys a hard time like, "You let him scare you off? You wuss...". I call that whole incident warning 3. ... And the last warning is the one that tells me its time to go. A guy about my age, but more 'street' looking with tats and a short beard, comes by walking quickly, gives the two fingers to his eyes and then to my laptop, and say, "Cuidado, eh?". ... "Si...", I acknowledge. "Gracias." ... and I put my laptop in my back pack and head towards home ... and just as I see the door to my apartment building, I see the damned thugs gathered together still, in the shadows, ..
. and now walking toward me. About seven of them. I'm bigger and taller and stronger, ... I could take one or two ..., but not seven. And I wouldn't be fast enough to outrun any of them. The ringleader kid is the closest to me. As I walk step by step closer to my apartment (and the still open two restaurants nearby) ... he picks up his pace. I see him fumbling with something in his right hand. Its a knife. Great. Now the adrenaline is REALLY pumping. I look at him, point at the knife and say with the most commanding and rebuking voice I can muster, "No!...." ... a couple of steps more, breaking my eye contact with him as if I'm not scared to death, ... and now wagging my finger a bit as if halfway scolding him for thinking he'd get away with THAT with me, "No ... no." ... And now, I'm half facing him, half walking sideways on to the safety of the lights of the nearby restaurant. I'm getting closer to the large gathering of people and the lights by the second, .... and just like that, the knife disappears and the thugs walk on.
I'm am PUMPING with adrenaline right now as I write this up in the apartment. I've just finished giving Janice the blow by blow ... and I've spent some time looking down from our balcony looking for the punks (nowhere in sight). I'm so angry and part of me feels like going down there and yelling at them or calling the cops or something. But really, I'm in an absolutely foreign land
. I don't know up from down in terms of culture. I understand the ghettos of California pretty well. But here, ... nothing. ... And from what our apartment greeter Martin tells me, the thievery that occurs here gets nothing more than a pat on the hand (that is to say not even a proverbial slap on the wrist!) ... usually locked up for a couple of hours, released for free ... and off to do it again the same night (unless there is weapons or violence involved, than the penalties are stepped up a bit). But I don't know this kids name. And I've seen a dozen that look just like him across the city today, so no way I could ID him.
Its really too bad that this gorgeous, culture rich city is so full of crime. If they don't do something about it, I can't imagine Barcelona maintaining its rapid tourist growth over the coming years. Nobody wants to go to a city and feel threatened. And thats the reputation the city has earned recently. Everything I've read about it, ... even their own brochures and travel literature say it. Signs at the beach ... its obviously a problem. Even before this scary incident at night, every time we've left the house, I've had to pack REALLY light ... no extra cash, only one credit card, my ID, key to the house. It sucks to be in such a culturally rich city and not be able to pack a camera for fear it will be stolen. Bah!
Anyhow. That's today's adventure story. A good lesson learned I suppose. No internet = a good excuse not to work or blog. And I need to just leave it at that. Not worth risking my safety or sanity to check some emails!
And now to bed, if I can get my adrenaline levels down a bit. Tomorrow we are celebrating Sam's 6th Birthday with a surprise trip to a local amusement park. Should be fun!
Yesterday was a great day. We hope today to be similar.