Thursday, October 15, 2009


So what I may have forgot to mention yesterday is that for the first time since Iceland, I had to go through passport checks. And not just one. Or two. And not just normal ones that took place by windows, or in lines. Nope, the best was the one in the urinal. Yes, I may have forgot to mention this yesterday, but it's worth mentioning now, I think.

So there I am on the train. Wake up it's 8:00am! You're in Spain, here are the police! And so everyone on the train breaks out their passports. Very well, why not. So they are shown. And then we hop off the train to meet our connection. But first, of course – as it had been a long ride – I went to the washroom. This was effective, because I entered through a side door that no one else saw, allowing me to avoid any lines.

So I walk into the bathroom, drop my shoulder pack, toss my bag on the ground, and begin to make proper utilization of the washroom “SIR! PASSPORTO!” Oh you have got to be kidding me! There are few worse times to have a police officer bust in on you, demanding that you take your hands out of your pockets (they're not in my pockets!) and show your passport.

Welcome to Spain!

Eventually this task was acompished, and after copying a great amount of information onto a pad, he sent me on my way. To the main waiting area (you'll remember it as the room where none of the screens worked, and everything was broken, because – of course – it is Spain.) Yes, he sent me right towards “Passporto!” Again? Really. I've been in country for like ten minuets. O.K. sure, why not. Why not just hand out copies to all the locals. That's how it works here, yeah?

But then for the next hour waiting for the connecting train I was lulled into a silly sense of security. Even on the train they tried to trick me, but two hours later, inutes before Barce... “PASSPORTO!” Ahh! O.K. here, can I hang out in your country now? Look – I'm only here to help raise local economy by emptying my pockets to those what work the main strip. And then it hit me.

The reason crime is so rampant here in Spain isn't because there aren't enough police. It's because the police keep checking passportos every bloody twenty minutes. Think about how many officers it takes to blanket the country demanding this foolishness at all times. Honestly, think of it. Now put them on the streets, looking for the pickpockets that I can spot without much effort (although I'm sure, like raptors, I'm meant to see those ones, while the others get me.)


Well, that's in the past. I'm in Barcelona now. And it's my first full day. Up I get for breakfast. At 8am. Ugh. Oh good, breakfast is bread. That's nice. Bread. Hardy food, that is. But, I shant complain, because there was a juice machine, and a hot chocolate machine. And if there's one thing I love, it's juice. I effin'(!) love juice! And hot chocolate is growing on me too. In fact, I will wake up early for my juice buffet again tomorrow. Because, man do I love juice!

But this feast of bread could only last so long. And then it was to the streets.

I picked up a T10 ticket. Ten subway tickets, for only seven euro seventy. Which is the best metro value I've come across in my life. It's just over the price of five tickets. That too makes it a steal. So off I went to my first stop. The Olympic Park.

You see, Barcelona is a city that only exists because of the Olympics. How they were chosen I have no idea, because they had nothing but an unfinished cathedral before that time. Right now some Spanish people are getting mad at me, but prove me wrong people – prove me wrong. I just relate what I've learned, and what I've observed.

Olympic park is something worth seeing. First you walk by the magic fountain, which only gets turned on a few times a week – yeah, why keep your huge fountain on all the time? That would be ridiculous. It's not like it's a main tourist draw. Oh, it is? Hmm... In fact you'll notice a number of fountains, and waterfalls, and other water related things turned off. I could not say why, but there they are, doing nothing.

After walking past the fountain you'll go up five or six elevators. Yes indeed, five or six elevators. You take the stairs if you'd like. Not this guy. There's a reason they're there. You can almost feel what it would be like back in 1992, so fresh and so new. And so jam-packed with people that you probably couldn't have moved anywhere.

1992, it should be noted, is the first Olympics that I remember. And this is in no doubt due to the summer and winter games making their way to SNES in somewhat playable forms. Really, I had no choice but to come here. That, and it's one of only four things worth doing in Barcelona. Yes, I did indeed, do them all today.

So there you are at the top of the elevators, and you cross the street, and bam, you're at Olympic stadium. I assume it's always open to the public to enter and walk around, but I'm not sure. I joined a tour bus group, and followed them in. It's a stadium, like any others. But it's an OLYMPIC stadium. There's some weight there. And outside is the funny shaped scepter pointing towards the sky. Take your pictures, and you're good to go.

But I'm not one to backtrack, so I didn't head down the way I came up. Instead, I walked down a little, and found myself in a maze of staircases, and gardens, and parks, all hidden amongst the hillside. There were statues here, and places for dozens of people to sit back, relax, and overlook the entire city. Bright coloured birds chirped overhead, flying from tree to tree, drawing your eyes to the wide assortment of plants perfectly framing the picture postcard views.

From one secret garden to the next, you bound down stairs, turning at the nearest statue, then climbing up a few into another garden. And then it hits you. You're standing in the middle of a most beautiful location. The type of place that should draw tourists and locals alike to enjoy their days in peace, and harmony. But you're alone. There is nothing more disconcerting than all of a sudden realizing that if other people are not here, there is probably a reason for it.

Down the stairs you bound, all the way to the bottom. It's the heat of the day (I'm...!) and not quite as comfortable as it was an hour ago. But that's alright, because you're off to the subway. In the subway tunnels it may be warm, but unlike the French, the Spanish know the pure unadulterated delights of artificially cooled air. Ah, how sweet it is.

Switching lines, I made my way to the only other thing of note in the city. The unfinished cathedral, started in 1882. La Sagrada Familia. I'm told it perfectly captures the Spanish way of life. We'll finish it tomoooooorrow! And then the saying loops. It's the type of thing a YakBak (if you can remember those) would be perfect for.

Not only is this the only building you actually want the construction equipment in frame for when you take the picture, it's also significantly creepy. All the sculptures are just a little – wrong. The shapes are disconcerting. They're geometrically stressed, and look like they belong in a mid nineties video game, equipped with the SuperFX chip. The longer you look at it, the more distressing it is. And then you see the crucified Jesus Christ, not quite like you've seen him before. And that's it. That's enough. Time to move on.

To the beach. The third thing to do in Barcelona. Here I walked all the way up the beach, and then all the way down the beach. Finding the most ridiculous McDonald's ever, in a tent with a flag flowing atop. Yes, this was the McDonald's for the yacht club. Spanish are to be highly regarded for this nonsense. Still, a one euro cheeseburger is a one euro cheeseburger.

The only moment of note came from walking back down the beach. Not to be outdone by the naked men yesterday, a new challenger appeared. This naked man hobbled his way around the beach on crutches, for he had only one leg. A naked, one legged, old man. This was definitely something I never thought I would see. Travel – it has a way of surprising you.

And then it started to rain.

Yes, my day at the beach was cut short, and I had to flee back to La Rambala (the fourth thing to do in Barcelona.) There I walked back to the hostel, and bunkered in for the night. For I will not explore the night life here in B'lona. No, there will be other cities, and other nights. I need not go out in this crime infested area.

I heard two more tales of theft today. One was of a hosteler who had his cellphone stolen last night (there's a 100%PPP still going here) and the other was from the tour guide who has some local friends. They have informed her that every night they walk home there's about a fifty fifty chance they'll get held against a wall and have their pockets searched through. The trick? Spending all the money you bring out with you on beer, because you won't keep the change anyway. What is wrong with this city?!

Imagine a city where you have to come up with strategies to deal with the fact that you will – not maybe, but will – get robbed at least once a week. And just being o.k. with that. Turning to someone and saying, yeah – the city is safe. You'll just get ripped off.


Oh Barcelona. You are pretty – but I will not be sad to leave your borders.

Though I hear Madrid is just as bad – and Rome will be worse. And Italy as a whole is not a good country for leaving un-robbed. Buenos Aires in February will be a delight too, I'm sure.

Any tips? I'd love to hear them!

1 comment:

  1. hahhaahhahahahah! Passport check in the midst of a piss! That's epic. What the fuck though dude, I was in Spain for a month and NEVER had a passport check.

    Regarding tips about crime: petty theft is the biggy, and what you need to watch out for are gypsies. It sounds cliché but it's true. They'll fleece you faster than a cat'll jump out of a bathtub.

    The main tactic is distraction. They work in teams and will use a variety of tricks to keep your eyes of one of them while the other grabs your bag or picks your pockets.

    For example, when I was in Madrid, a young gypsy girl approached me with a clipboard with a bad UNICEF photocopy on it. She asked me to sign it for "charity." I pretended to be stupid for a minute or so, and even offered her a 2 euro coin. She was insistant that I sign it. I knew something was up the minute she approached me.

    I reached for the board, and then above on the stair case someone yelled, causing me to take my sight off her. I figured it out afterwards (she gave up and went to find someone else) that the trick was that to have your hands occupied holding the clipboard, then her accomplice yells, taking your attention away, while she rifles through your pockets.

    Rome is notorious for this type of shit. KEEP YOUR BAG ATTACHED TO YOUR BODY AT ALL FUCKING TIMES! A common tactic is for someone to spot you sitting somewhere with your bag by your side. They'll ask you for a light, or for directions, while the partner swipes your bag.

    Another scam is run by (I think) other travellers. They'll approach you in Metro stations and ask "Do you speak English?" As soon as you hear that, get your guard up. They'll ask you for a couple euros/whatever for the train or for food. Don't buy it--I gave this chick (perfect American english, blonde, well dressed) a euro in Madrid. She actually had the gall to ask "Do you have any more?"

    Then I watched her walk around, then go back to the ticket machine and ask another person for money. I walked up to them and told her not to give her any fucking money, she was scamming.

    The shame on that girl's face was worth that Euro.

    Hmmm, what else. Obvious shit like don't change money on the street, don't buy ANY electronics or anything on the street (they'll switch the bags and when you get back to the hostel you'll open the box and find a brick or bag of sand).

    Hope this helps.



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