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First Adventures in Barcelona

First In, Last Out. Not a military exercise but my recollection of what Barcelona was for us. It was our first step into Europe and the beginning of discovery. Barcelona was an exciting point of arrival, the center of our departures outbound for the Mediterranean, and inbound back to the U.S. So this is the story of Barcelona adventure, where discovery began and memories remain.

Imagining what this city would be like began the adventure. Barcelona was to be our gateway not only to Spain, but also to the countries of the Mediterranean. A two week cruise sailing from and returning to this port would take us to ports in France and Italy. So we didn’t start out seeking adventure in Barcelona at all. As a matter of fact I would have preferred to skip it altogether.

My predisposition to Barcelona was negative and related to a perception of loss. Not being able to use the Spanish language my education and life had perfected was a big loss. I love the language and especially look forward to using it while traveling.

The language and culture of Spain are intertwined in my experience, until Catalua and Barcelona enter the game. Don’t speak Spanish, don’t worry, neither does Barcelona. Castellano (Spanish for Castilian) becomes Catalan (Cajun Spanish) Personal adventures were going to be getting the Catalonian Spaniards to understand that this guy from Arizona was trained many years ago by a Castilian professor, Dr. Andres Sendon, from Madrid, the capital and number one city in Spain.

My wife is the ultimate internet researcher; was inspired by the prospects of our first European adventure to a degree beyond my expectations. She has always praised my ability to gain advantage in Spanish speaking countries. So we landed at El Prat de Liobregat airport. Advantage, Catalan.

Getting a taxi to downtown was a really easy experience and began a welcome series of discoveries that in Barcelona the averaged working man speaks Castilian. Advantage, Arizona. Fully comfortable with the exchange, the cabbie also set the tone and disposition for people we experienced throughout Barcelona. He was interested, eager and conversational to the point that we felt very at ease and welcome. He also liked to experiment with his English, which was rough but comforting to my wife who doesn’t know Spanish or Catalan.

The airport is considerably out of town by some 18km, 11 miles, or 20minutes in our taxi. So we had time to get insights from our driver along with the seaside scenery. It looked a lot like Miami freeways except for the castle looking structures, Montjuic, on the mountain west above town. On the same hill is the Olympic stadium used in 1992.

As we descended down a hill near the Port of Barcelona we got a wonderful glimpse of ships in the harbor as well as hundreds of yachts and sailboats in the Marina. But the outstanding feature was the towering statue of Christopher Columbus pointing out to sea. Or in the native tongue, Monument a Colum. He is centered in a round-about traffic circle at the end of Las Ramblas, the world famous boulevard locating our hotel. From this seaside point forward things just got more interesting.

The neighborhoods surrounding Las Ramblas are very Gothic. In Catalan that’s Barri Gotic, short for a maze of cathedrals, 2 foot walkways, and captivating monuments, vine covered buildings, fountains, and historical class. The streets are prohibitively complicated and narrow for taxis or even pedestrians at times. There is no way to get there from here. Luckily the progression is from Gothic to chic on your northward trek.

So you just don’t drive down La Rambla, the Spanish word for promenade (Catalan:Les Rambles). It is a tree lined pedestrian walkway, a little less than a mile long, populated with enchanting stalls, entertainers self created, and thousands of strollers marveling at the carnival of people pulsating along the via connecting the statue of Colomand the harbor with Placa de Catalunya, the beautiful city center and central plaza on the mountain end. It was at a bookstore on this plaza that I made a stress relieving discovery in the form of a Yale Guia de Conversation: Espanol Catalan or a Catalan dictionary referenced to Spanish.

The driver navigated around and finally alongside the promenade to get to the hotel. It truly is an adventure just arriving. You will see many people rolling their bags along La Rambla looking for their hotel. This is a statement of the various transportation modes offered to downtown. From the airport some take taxis or buses and others take the subway. We were lucky enough to be driven up on the sidewalk of the Monte Carlo hotel for the unloading of a considerable number of bags, some of which had been passengers in the cab’s front seat. This was quite an experience for us since in Arizona a bold move such as this would probably set off ‘road rage’ somewhere. But we were to learn that Barcelona is a city frequented not only by unlimited nationalities but a very compassionate liberality as universal language.

We were to spend two days here which were the stuff of memories, sail the Caribbean furthering our international education, and return for another two days with a much closer relationship with our Catalan lover, Barcelona, even if she isn’t Spanish. Such is the nature of adventure.