2005-12-25: Christmas Day

25th December 2005 - Spain Day 1

Our day begun with a the sound of traffic roaring through our window. The window isn't double-glazed and sounded like it was open most of the time. We had a huge Christmas breakfast. It was a buffet style meal, with cereals, eggs, sausages, bacon, fruits, lots of sweets, juices, teas, breads and all sorts. The breakfast room also gave us our first dose of Spanglish, telling us "For your security take care of your values". Just what sort of city is this Barcelona?

We went out at 9am. I tied my loose backpack strap to a ring higher on the shoulder and the strap holds, so I have a bag to wear around town. We didn't expect to see anything open today but Edyta had planned for us to visit monuments and parks anyway. We went to the Metro. I bought a T-10 ticket and expected it to be like the French Carte Blanche ticket, where you get 10 separate tickets. Instead I got one ticket with ten trips. Edyta didn't think we'd use that many (I only bought it thinking we could share the trips) and so only got a single trip ticket. We rode the line one stop and then changed to another line. This must have been a different company because we had to validate our ticket again and Edyta's didn't work as it has already been used. Edyta wasn't happy that the we had to buy another ticket so soon. The station hand came to help but his English wasn't the best. We figured out he wanted us to buy a T-10 ticket. This we did and then continued our underground journey. The Metro system in Spain has large, light terminals that are clean. Far better than anything the English or French have under their cities.

Arc de Triomf, me on the other side

Our first stop was the Arc de Triomf. This is a big monument to something (a triumph I'm guessing). We walked from it along an avenue to the main park of Parc de la Ciutadella. The avenue had a few joggers and dog walkers out. One man was walking both of his dogs, but rather than holding the leashes he just lashed the dogs together. As the two animals could never agree in what direction they were going they never strayed to far from him. The park looked like it was closed for repairs. All of the green areas were behind wire fences so the grass could get a chance to grow. Most of the trees had shed leaves making the park look a little bland. The buildings in it, such as the Museu de Zoologia and Parlament de Catalunya were good (but shut). The zoo was open but we didn't plan of going in there (though in an attempt to find an open toilet we may have, Spain is worse than France when it comes to public services, or Servicio as they are called in Catalunya). Past the zoo we found a huge gathering of stray cats. They were going into and out of the zoo through a hole in the fence. We weren't sure if they were zoo animals allowed to roam or strays. We finished the park with a visit to the cascading fountain, a huge edifice to over the top design, and the first of many fountains in Barcelona that were not turned on. It was also covered in graffiti but this seemed standard in Spain already.

Fountain at Parc de la Ciutadella

We left the park and walked to the old Olympic Village. We still hadn't found a public toilet and when we saw an old man with pants at his knees squatting behind a bush - but in full view of the road - (while his wife in Sunday best was holding him steady) we began to despair at finding a toilet anywhere. We passed walls covered in more graffiti and past modern buildings that all seemed to be competing for the most unusual bit of architecture award. The Olympic Village didn't look like much so we turned down to Port Olimpic, the harbour area of the town. We walked up past some restaurants but they were closed. We did find more stray cats. When we reached the edge of a long beach we turned around and headed back into the city. By this time many places were starting to set up for Christmas lunch but nothing was open yet. A group of stray cats had decided to have a fight and they filled the harbour with a noise the devil himself would have been proud to have made.

Twin towers of Barcelona

We headed into Platja Barcelona, the seaside part of the town. A hospital cafeteria was open so we used the toilets there. Signs had been pointing to public toilets along the beach somewhere, but after walking the whole length of the beach we never saw the toilets, only signs saying they ahead or behind us. We didn't eat at the cafeteria as it was full of smokers, including people lighting up in the non-smoking sections. We did stop at a food place and fumbled our way through food ordering (no English at this place). I had a meal described as Rabbit and potatoes and expected a stew, instead I got a greasy rabbit leg and some pathetic chips (and a green thing they may have been seaweed or capsicum). Edyta had the paella, a mixture of prawns, shrimp, mussels, chicken and rice. Well feed we continued on. The day was warm, about 13 degrees or so. Many people were starting to come out now. One old lady even decided it was worth a swim, so in her skimpy two-piece she went off into the water. We cut through Barceloneta to the marina side and followed Port Vell. The carnies had set up a show. The place was shut (even carnies have Christmas) but you could watch the seals playing in their water tank. There was a large group of us doing this. I decided it was time to move on before the carnies tried to supplant their income by visiting the crowd.

Turf war

This meal comes up later

The statue of Christopher Columbus stopped us following the beach (plus the sight of the mountain in front of us convinced us level ground was better).Normally you can take a lift to the top of the statue but this was closed today. Stretching for a kilometre or so from this point was La Rambla, a big market and performer street. Normally in summer it would be packed, but given it was Christmas day it was a little empty. Market stalls were set-up for the tourists and some performers had set up (mostly human statue stuff - one guy did an invisible man routine that seemed to get most of the girls over for a photo). Most of the tourist stores were staffed by Arabic people who all knew how to say "Hello, 10% off today". After just a few of these stores even Edyta didn't want to go into any more. She recognized that the stores sell the same crap and about the same rip-off prices and that nowhere actually does anything traditionally local, it is pretty much the same crap world wide.

The statue of Columbus

Just off La Rambla

The old quarter

It was mid afternoon by now and Edyta needed toilets again. Burger King was out, you needed a door code on a receipt and Edyta refused to buy anything just to use their toilets. Over to Subway were a couple in front of us had been waiting about 5 minutes for the toilet to be free (and I wondered if you would want to enter a place where you had to wait that long for the current tenant to leave). We crossed into Placa Real, a famous plaza in the city, but the one restaurant there looked to exclusive to enter. An Irish pub one street off was open so we went in there. When Edyta came out she was loudly telling me that the people we were meant to meet hadn't shown up yet, so we should go find them some place else. Nice cover story.

Placa de Catalunya

The end of La Rambla is Placa de Catalunya (for those wondering what Catalunya is it is the area in Spain, where they speak there own language and have different customs to the rest of Spain, which is actually about 4 different ethnic groups making up one country). This plaza was full of pigeons, not helped by the fact people came here to feed the pigeons. We headed back into the city to find the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic). We stopped for a bite at Pans and Company, a Spanish version of Subway and McDonald's in one. We then entered into the old and cramped Gothic area. The Catedral de Barcelona (Cathederal) was closed and hard to see as you were always at the base of it.

We were back at the hotel as it was getting dark, at the respectable hour of 6:30pm! It felt good to have a whole day of sunlight to explore with. Our luggage hadn't arrived but I figure it is Christmas day, it will show by tomorrow.

On TV that night we found the Nanny in Polish, but not the American sit-com version with narration but an actual licensed remake using Polish actors. Not surprisingly the Nanny was changed from being Jewish to being a Catholic girl. The Christmas special either didn't use a live audience or Polish people don't laugh (or the jokes were just crap), instead a laugh track was added. This version of the Nanny is noted for Mr Sheffield having a goatee (and we all know what characters in alternate dimensions with goatees mean).