I landed in Barcelona after surviving three delays and four separate flights over the course of just one day.
I had been drifting in and out of consciousness since we departed Newark, staring mindlessly at the little TV that was attached to my seat and wondering just exactly what it was that the flight attendant was thinking when she caught me looking at her multiple times over the course of the seven hour flight. I swear I was only hoping for a cup of water, which wasn’t even included in my ticket price. Although I wouldn’t have complained if a little bag of pretzels or peanuts or sedatives had found their way into my hands, either. I really didn’t sleep despite it being a red-eye, but when the people who manned the window seats throughout the plane all collectively raised their blinds to let the midday Spanish sun burst into the plane, I forgot that I had been awake for more than twenty four hours. And I have to apologize to the nice looking family that was seated to the left of me – I wasn’t staring at you, I was simply craning my neck to catch a glimpse of the Pyrenees Mountains off in the distance.
I collected my single carry-on bag from the overhead apartment and threw it across my back. For the next three weeks my life would be stuffed and folded and crammed into one humbly-sized 40L backpack. I’d come to learn that you really don’t need much more than what you can carry.
I looked one last time at the flight attendant, hoping for a number or an address to find its way into my hands now. I would have even settled for a smile (after all, I could buy plenty of water in the airport). But all I got was the generic, “Thank you for flying Norwegian,” and I made my way to the gate. (Actually she just said, “Nice try, now get the hell off my plane.”) Defeated but only temporarily heartbroken, I now found myself staring out through the intimidating glass windows that rose from the ground to the ceiling of the El Prat airport. As the wave of fellow passengers swarmed and floated past me, all I could see was an expanse of dust and blacktop and heat and construction equipment covering the tarmac. And I had never felt like I had accomplished more in my life.
How easy it was to simply buy a ticket and make your way onto a plane to find yourself half the world away? I couldn’t tell if what I was seeing was real or simply a mad trip of the mind. Was life all about where you are or where you could go? Simply who you are or who you were able to become?
I had a feeling I’d be asking myself that question a lot over the next few weeks.
I found my friend, Harman, waiting just beyond the Customs counter in the lobby, looking just as exhausted as I did, waiting to greet me and congratulate me for successfully leaving my old self behind for at least few weeks and finding my way to Spain.
“Meet me in Barcelona,” I shouted, reverberating across the linoleum. He smiled and told me that he knew I would say that. (It was the catchphrase I had been using since he and I first planned the trip last winter.) We hugged like every good bromance and took turns watching the bags while we each threw some water on our faces in the bathroom. We were both hungry and thirsty (I was still looking for that water) but we decided to head over to our hostel first and check-in before anything else. As we exited the airport we made our way through the parking lot (or deck – I can’t remember which) aimed for the Metro line. Midway through our walk, however, we stopped and said, almost simultaneously, “We’re not in the United States anymore.” Saying that felt surreal. But we both smiled, knowing that we had a glorious couple weeks ahead of us before we had to make our way home. At that point in the trip, however, I was still unsure as to whether or not I’d actually catch my return flight in Paris. I joked that instead I would run off to the Italian countryside and make wine for a living, surviving off of nothing more than good bread and a decent-enough WiFi connection. For those of you concerned as to whether or not you’ll have a place to stay one day in Italy, I’m still looking into it.
But once we got to the Metro counter and bought an all-inclusive travel pass (unlimited use of the Metro system for two days for only $15 – steal of a deal), we hopped on what we hoped was the right train and headed for the city of Badalona, the location of our hostel just about an hour outside of Barcelona’s own city centre. Exiting the train station we looked like I assumed all weary travelers do – wide eyed and excited, but with the slightest glow of total and utter confusion. But we eventually got ourselves turned in the right direction and checked in at the Be Dream hostel.
For what it’s worth, the Be Dream wasn’t the worst hostel we would come to stay at over the course of the trip. (That title would belong to Switzerland, but we’ll get to that later.) It provided the basics – a bed, a sheet, a roof – but nothing more. The WiFi cut out the second we reached our room in the furthest corner of the furthest hall, and when I asked the receptionist if there was a water fountain to fill my bottle, he said to just go into the bathroom and use the sink.
I made sure I had plenty of change on me to buy water from the vending machines.
Staying in hostels meant we’d be sharing rooms with strangers for the next few weeks. I loved the idea, excited to meet new people and hear new stories and gain new perspectives. But the first set of fellow travelers left a lot to be desired. There was the stereotypical couple – the one that is joined at the hip and spends the majority of the time in bed waiting for the room to clear out, and a pair of French girls – one of which had the most heart stopping snore I’ve ever heard. We also met a wonderful woman from New Zealand but neglected to decipher whether her name was Penny or Pini, and we ended up hanging out by ourselves for those two days.
That afternoon we took the train to see the city centre of Barcelona. The second you walk up the stairs from the subway you are greeted with the intimidating walls of the Sagrada Familia. I remember Harman asking, “Where is it?”
“I think that’s it,” I said, turning around 180 degrees, and we both just started laughing at our own cluelessness. The level of detail in the statues and stained glass windows made my jaw hang open for just enough time to let everyone around me realize that I was, in fact, yet another tourist. Now I am not necessarily a religious man, choosing to believe that spirituality and a connection to something (whatever that is) greater than ourselves can play a role in our lives – without having to define it or bind it by some set of ancient or arbitrary rules. But despite the labyrinth of scaffolding surrounding it, standing in the shadow of that cathedral with the countless biblical narratives all beautifully constructed from stone, suspended hundreds of feet off the ground, it was easy to see why anyone within the city (past or present) could call themselves a believer.
Also, conveniently located across the street was a Taco Bell.
Harman and I chose first to try a local restaurant that was literally a hole in the wall. The food was delicious and the margaritas were strong, but we hadn’t yet adjusted to the European-sized portions, so we decided to make a stop at the Taco Bell later that afternoon. (And if you were wondering, that Spanish T-Bell location may have been blasphemous but was absolutely majestic.)
We spent the rest of the day roaming the city and checking in and out of souvenir shops. I also kept trying to remind myself that just one day ago I was nearly stranded in the Boston Logan airport with no guarantee of getting to New Jersey or Spain on time. We circled what we thought were the same handful of blocks for a few hours, sampled a local bakery, and attempted to keep our heads up – literally. I had my camera with me, but despite being in one of the biggest, most popular cities on the planet thousands of miles from home, I had no desire to look through the lens of my Canon and only wanted to look at the inside of my eyelids.
We were both exhausted and chose to save our energy for the next day when we would be touring Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s football stadium. Back at the hostel that night we divided our time plotting our travel arrangements to Marseille, France in a few days and where to get the best cheap-eats late that night. We settled on a FlixBus that left at around noon in two-days time, and a wonderful little empanada shop just a few blocks away. The flavors ranged from shredded chicken to bacon fig-jam, and were all delicious. And I finally got myself some water to wash it all down.