Wednesday, December 23, 2009

First stop: Barcelona

Early Friday morning, we drove back down to Avignon to pick up the new, larger rental car for the trip to Madrid. Mary Ann woke up at 6, I slept another hour while she got ready.

While she dropped off the old car, I went across the street to Avis to begin the process for our new vehicle. Everything seemed to going well, until we were notified that the uncovered damage limits extended up to 15,000 Euros. Holy crap! Um, yeah, we’ll take the additional insurance. It was expensive, but probably worth it to avoid one less bit of stress on the way back.

We were told that we were getting a Picasso. I hoped it would be big enough, didn’t think he was famous for oversized works. It turned out to be what goes for a mini-van in France, mono space. The trunk was huge. Compared to the small compact cars we’d been driving for the past six months, it really felt like a semi. The ride was smooth though, and the diesel engine had plenty of pickup. The Picasso would be satisfactory.

I dropped Mary Ann off at work and returned home to finish the packing. First, I had to complete the digital packing, transferring all of my files off the MacBook that would stay in France with Mary Ann. Then, I went through the refrigerator and cleaned out all of the perishable food-stuffs. By the time I washed the dishes, cleaned off the counter and threw every last thing in the bags it was already 2:00. Packing went quickly - plenty of room in the Picasso. Lastly, I took Roxy up for one final visit with the Berards. A half hour later, we on our way to pick up Mary Ann from work.

Finally, while sitting in the parking lot and waiting for Mary Ann to join us, I enjoyed my first moment of excitement about the journey ahead. Up until then, we had been stressing about all the details. The time for saying goodbye to people, to Chusclan, to France… was over. We pulled onto the auto route and followed the signs to Barcelona.

With the exception of the setting sun in my eyes for two-and-a-half hours, the drive went smoothly until we reached Barcelona. Mary Ann had meticulously printed out all the Mapquest directions for the trip, but as usual, it was insufficient in the city. We tried to follow a half-dozen turns, winding through a maze of highway interchanges. Our undoing was to look for an unmarked street off the main drag.

Fortunately, the hotel reservation had a map included. Judging our location by proximity to one of the main highways into town and the name of the city in which we were staying, we course corrected back in the general direction. Each street seemed to throw us deeper into the maze. At last we found street signs to the hotel. It was difficult enough following these, however. By the time we pulled up to the Hotel, I was thoroughly disoriented. I had no idea where we were, but at least we were there.

Roxy was happy to get out of the car and check out the surroundings while Mary Ann checked in. The Sercotel Ciutat de Montcada hotel was nice and modern. It sported wooden floors and fancy bathroom fixtures. But we didn’t stick around the room. Having pressed on without dinner, during the five hour drive, we were starving for some tapas and sangria.

We learned from the concierge that the train into the city was just blocks away. It was easy to find, down the hill and through a shady undeveloped brown lot. I got the impression that our hotel and the connected mini-mall was a attempt to gentrify the neighborhood. Anyway, if the trains ran, it wouldn’t matter. We found a 20-something girl to tell us which side of the tracks to stand on and soon enough we were racing into town - quite a bit farther than expected.

The train conveniently pulled into a station at the top of La Rambla, the main dining and shopping street of town. We passed by the usual tourist stands and street performers looking for the perfect tapas place. I had one particular street in mind, but at night I wasn’t able find it, as we wandered substantially longer than our stomachs would allow. Finally, we settled for a bar that seemed not-too-shady. We ordered the house special tapas and a ½ order of sangria. What we got was a mug of sangria with two ridiculously long neon straws and the plates that no one else wanted. It was enough food to satisfy our appetite, but not much of a culinary experience. The meal was made slightly better when we discovered that we were sitting next to two current University of Michigan grads - small world indeed.

After dinner, I was still looking for something to quench my thirst and keep me warm. We happened to be in Barcelona on one of the coldest nights of the year. Looking for a sure thing, we got two chai tea lattes from Starbucks. Old habits die hard (even if they’re put on hold for 6 months). It was quite enjoyable to walk down to the pier and back reminiscing about the past year and looking forward to the holiday. As we approached the train station at midnight, we judged the day successful.

After buying our ticket and walking down to the platform, we were approached by a station employee. He said that the line was no longer running. What?! We had checked the times before making our way into town; there was a midnight train. Later we realized that the time was highlighted in yellow, whatever that meant. About a half-dozen other people were also turned away before we exited the platform. Well… now what? We had to cab it back to the hotel. Fortunately, Mary Ann had kept the address of the hotel in her purse - nice thinking!

The drive back seemed to take a really long time. Of course, the thought crossed our minds that the cabbie didn’t know where to go and was just taking us for a ride. His onboard GPS gave me a little more confidence, even if we could not communicate very well. 25 euros latter, we finally made it back to the hotel - quite an expensive ride given the exchange rate. At least we would have a nice night’s rest before taking up the journey again in the morning.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
This work by Ken Maschke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.