Someone important and I think Asian once said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Sophie and I believe that the spirit of the law is more important than the letter, and so we decided to begin our day’s journey with a single step into a Chinese restaurant. I know that we’ve eaten a lot of Chinese food on the trip so far, but the fact is it’s almost always cheap, delicious, and vegetarian-friendly, and the bill from La Tertulia had me feeling a bit faint. Practically all of my favorite food involves fermentation of some kind. In Europe, to eat, they ferment meat and dairy. In Asia they ferment seafood and vegetables, and they put all of the umami-laden fermented sauces on top of the vegetables that they don’t ferment. So when I want really delicious vegetables, I tend to turn to Asian food. I want really delicious vegetables a lot.
My first experience with La Rambla, Barcelona’s main tourist-laden boulevard, was actually in high school. I went on a trip to France and Spain with the APU Early Honors program my senior year. Our unofficial mission was to find the Holy Grail. We didn’t. We did, however, manage to be robbed on La Rambla. Here’s how.
Just so you know in advance that I’m not exaggerating, Pricey, Sophie’s English uncle, explicitly warned us that Barcelona was pretty much the best place in Europe to get your wallet lifted. In spite of that, it is Europe’s best loved city by visitors, according to some random survey I read, and Pricey’s favorite as well.
When you exit the metro, or hotel, or whatever, and enter La Rambla, you will often see small crowds of stationary people and occasional yells of “Ho!” and “Aiya!” If you walk a bit closer, you will see a man at the center with three cups and a ball. The man takes some money, and if you guess which cup the ball is in after his tricksy swirling, he pays you back double. It looks like a game.
It’s not a game. It’s a trick. The crowd is actually divided into two groups. One of the groups is called “Tourists,” and the other is called “Gang of Criminals.” In order to attract attention, some of the Criminals are dressed like Tourists and play the game noisily and excitedly. They are the only people who ever win. The actual tourists are either cheated with sleight-of-hand or just have their money outright stolen, as was the case with one of the members of our group in high school. He foolishly took twenty euros out of his pocket with the intent to play the game. The money was taken and he was immediately pushed out of the crowd by the Gang of Criminals, whose identity had been revealed too late. Minutes later, as we all walked further up La Rambla with our hands in our pockets, we saw this sign, posted at ten foot intervals. The sign was bright red, had a picture of three cups and a ball, and said, in clear English, “It’s not a game. It’s a trick.”
I was all prepared to fight Gangs of Criminals with Machetes and Other Dangerous Weapons when we started walking down La Rambla, but to my great relief there was only one crowd of people and only occasional, soft yells of “Aiya!” We avoided them easily. To my great disappointment, the old red signs had been replaced with new white signs that said, again in English, that peeing in public carried a fine of between two-hundred fifty and one-thousand euros, depending on the historical importance of the item peed upon.
One of the stranger things we found on La Rambla was a vast array of pet stands. Fifteen or so Spanish men, both old and young, have decided to rent space on a touristy pedestrian boulevard and try to sell kittens, mice and birds. One or two were even trying to sell chinchillas in ninety-degree heat. The poor things looked miserable and were probably in danger of death. Sophie was not happy. The stand-owners were also trying to sell chipmunks, which look to be about the worst pet possible. Meaner and faster than squirrels. It’s real cute when they do synchronized running on a wheel, though.
Barcelona is known as a foodie city, and one of the symptoms of that disorder is a rash of open markets. I think they must have caught it from France. There are something like two-hundred fifty open markets within the city itself, and we found one that was particularly awesome. I think. We only went to the one.
They did so many things that would have been totally illegal in the United States. Sausages hanging everywhere in ninety-degree heat! Open-air candy stalls! Well, I guess those were probably the only two things. But the sausage thing was big. They really don’t let you do that at home.
Sophie bought a fruit salad and some fresh coconut, and I bought a cup of raspberry juice. Thems was good.
Now I will show more pictures of the market.
I have mentioned before that I am a really terrible navigator, and in Barcelona I found a new way to be bad at it: improperly research names of locations. After the market Sophie and I decided to walk to the Roman quarter, which I knew was called “La Barceloneta,” but which was in fact not actually called “La Barcelonata,” and was really the Barcelona projects. So it goes. No one was hurt, fortunately, and we turned up near the beach. On the way, we came across this.
It is a store that sells candy in pill bottles with little prescriptions. It is the best store ever.
We reached the beach and walked along it to the Olympic Village, which has a really cool building with a copper roof that looks like fish scales. How they keep it from tarnishing, I don’t know.
Our final stop for the day was Parc Montjuic, which is a giant hill just to the west of Barcelona’s historical center upon which the Spanish keep a castle, a botanic garden, a giant Olympic stadium, and a couple of other random things like slides and pigeons. The views of the city are unparalleled, and it is noticeably cooler than at sea-level. Also, for the lazy Americans (or recovering sick Americans, as it were) they have a tram that takes you right up to the top. I told myself that we were doing it for the view.
We had a relatively quick dinner of tapas at a restaurant near the metro that was tasty but otherwise unremarkable (it involved canned mushrooms) before we hopped on a train and headed home to do things like laundry and sleep. Up next: Collioure, the city that woke Matisse from crippling depression. What unsavory things might be done in its darkest corners? Read on, but beware! The truth is nice, but rather boring.