Tuesday, August 18, 2009

'Til Death Do Us March

I wanted to name this post: Friday France, Saturday Switzerland, Sunday Spain—but since I technically arrived on Monday it just didn’t have the same effect!

So as most of you know I made it out Sunday and bought my tick
et(s) to Spain. The direct Zurich to Barcelona train only runs a few days a week so I had three transfers and an extended trip. I didn’t mind because when I studied abroad I loved the trains—perhaps that’s because I was on a train with two of my best friends but I was sort of excited to go solo. My friend Allison told me that when she took the train to Barcelona she met a group of peers and they stayed up all night drinking and having fun, so I guess I was expecting more of the same. The first part of the trip was a breeze but when I landed in this dingy station in Mullhouse, France I started to get nervous... Then my overnight train pulled up. It looked like it should be the train to hell. Literally I thought at any moment the thing was going to break apart—so much for making friends, I was just praying that the train would make it. There were a few good things though; I was sitting next to a French woman though so I got to practice my French and we were near the bathroom which should have been a good thing but, because it was me traveling, it wasn’t. There was a group of about 5 guys who went to the bathroom area to smoke cigarettes, well actually I don’t think they ever really left the area (these guys were smoking as if the stuff they were inhaling was air). They stayed until about 5 am when I hear the distinct sounds of wretching… I guess all that smoking and whiskey drinking really took a toll on one of the guys. So I spent the last couple of hours trying not to breathe the fetid air. I was definitely glad to be off in Cerbere, France the next morning, except I didn’t have a ticket from Cerbere to Barcelona.

I went to the ticket counter to try and get a ticket for a train that leaves in 10 minutes when I hear the girl in line behind me go, “Shit.” I knew that A) she had to be American and B) she must be trying to go to Barcelona. So I struck up a conversation and we chatted the whole ride to Barcelona. We made plans to meet up later that evening at her hostel and I went off to find mine. Now, as many of you know, I have a pretty great sense of direction. I’m not boasting, it’s just a natural talent. So I read my map and found my way to the hostel no problem. I was loving Spain! I checked into my hostel, dropped my bags off and decided that my jeans weren’t going to cut it in the heat so I was changing in the bag room (couldn’t get into my room until 2) and naturally someone decides to walk in right when I’m at the critical stage of jean removal. Luckily this 40 year old Japanese woman didn’t seem to notice my lack of pants, she just kept telling me to keep my bags zipped because she got pick-pocketed the day before… So with that friendly reminder I set off to see some of Barcelona’s sights. Of course my first stop was shopping. Everything in Spain is really inexpensive (compared with Switzerland) and everyone was having a sale. So in my first half hour of being in Spain I had found my hostel, embarrassed myself, bought a cute belt and managed to communicate to the shop keeper put four more holes in it so I could wear it higher—I was feeling great. Then, of course, things started to go down-hill. I went the wrong way EVERY time (I think it was my faulty map and not me) and I realized I know NO Spanish so I didn’t know how to get on the public transportation (what usually saves me) so what else could I do but stop in the cute boutiques and shop? Finally I sat down at the Place Espanya, hot, sweaty and annoyed—though happy with my new cheap purchases. This Spanish man came up to me and though he spoke no English he did manage to whistle the entire American national anthem. So having had a good laugh I decided to find some Gaudi! I took the metro (careful to hold my purse) and eventually found the Sagrada Familia and a new dress. (Now you’re probably wondering why, a girl who’s luggage was 30 pounds overweight to begin with needs more clothes… but how neat is it going to be when you say, “Jill! I love that dress!” And I can say, “Oh this? Oh I just got it at some boutique in Barcelona… for 3 Euros!”). Later that evening I met up with my American friend and one of her friends from some travel website who is from Paris—more chances to practice my French! We went out for tapas and sangria right on the bay and when we had finished dinner I was surprised to see that it was 1:30 am—not much like the Swiss who are in bed by 11 on a wild night! I walked back to my hostel and was thinking that I felt pretty safe walking by myself in a strange city when all of a sudden a homeless man stops at the bin in front of me, digs out a cup and proceeds to drink the rest of it’s contents…

Tuesday I met up with Alisha and we went to Park Güell, another park that Gaudi designed, with plans to meet her French friend to head to the beach in
the afternoon. While we were trying to find her friend I realized just how Type A I am. Now the signs were always there—I distinctly remember staying in our kiddie pool while Jack & our neighborhood friends ran around the lawn to clean the grass that they had trekked in—but I couldn’t believe just how anal I was! We were late and lost, the two things that give me the most anxiety in life, and I couldn’t find the corner where we were supposed to meet him. The miraculous thing is the second we found his car (he rented a car so we could go to the beach) and I wasn’t in charge of getting anywhere I couldn’t have cared if we ended up in Portugal! I think living in Germanic-countries has really spoiled me: everything’s on time, clean, and definitely not crowded. But we had a lovely day at the beach and I started to work on my tan! I was moving hostels to one that was further from downtown Barcelona (in Badalona) but closer to the beach and, of course, the metro line that takes you right to the hostel was not working. So they had a special bus (free!), but of course I got off at the wrong stop, walked about a mile trying to find the street, passing by murals promoting peace between people and the neighborhoods and started to get a little nervous about my surroundings. I finally went into a bakery to ask a girl and she pointed down the road and said “mucho, mucho”—even with my terrible Spanish I understood. I was seriously on the verge of a nervous breakdown and decided to just get back on the bus, which I then realized I hadn’t taken far enough and ten minutes later I was at my hostel—I didn’t think my poor map reading skills could have taken any more stress in one day! My hostel was really great though—exactly what one would think and hope a youth hostel would be, with events and tons of friendly people! I met up with Alisha and others again and we went out to some club (clubbing’s really not my thing) but we had a good time!
Where I spent most of my time
I beached again on Wednesday and in the afternoon we drove to Girona to another beautiful beach. That evening I decided to stay around my hostel. I really hate to be alone (as Howie & Caitlin can attest to) so I did what I do best and struck up a conversation with some English speaking kids and invited myself to have a drink with them. The girls were from Australia and leaving the next day, but the two boys were from Ireland and staying through the weekend. We ended up finding a big group from around the world and headed to the beach where, despite Britt’s shark week facts, we went swimming. Thursday was more of the same beach time and drinking on the beach, and Friday was a beach day (hey, I was on vacation) and we all went out again in Barcelona. It was such a blast, but I think a lot of it was because of the group I was with!My beautiful Brazilian friend, Gabriela

Saturday I had another overnight train but I decided to skip the last afternoon in Barcelona and head to Cerbere, a town right on the border and on the coast, to practice my French some more.
Although I had no map I managed to find my way to the city center (I think it was Spain that muddled my sense of direction) and spend a lovely afternoon in France. My overnight train home was a little better (no throwing up and not so horribly terrifying). I arrived in Mullhouse France at 7 am with almost a two hour layover until my next train. I was reading in the station when this man stumbles (literally) up to me and sits down. He begins to chatter away to me in French, and since I figure I can use all the practice I start chatting with him. The alcohol was still fresh on his breath and I couldn’t find a polite way to end our conversation and I was willing the board to tell me what platform my train would be leaving just so I could leave, but he did tell me I have a nice face (reminded me of when Ellen says, “I like your face”) so I guess it wasn’t all bad! Finally, after two announcements that you cannot smoke in a train station, a large French man (who knew French men could develop muscles) told him he needed to leave, a quick “Merci” and I ran to the closest track to avoid Jean-Claude in case he decided to return! What a way to end a great trip!

Despite being directionless I had a great time in Barcelona and I am definitely excited to return to Spain to see Cammie & Gill! I think I’m staying here this weekend—my first full weekend in Zürich I think!

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