Saturday, July 30, 2005

Day Twenty-Eight

Time to flee the country once again. This time to Andorra. What? Where is that, you ask, furrowing your brow and suddenly feeling a lot less confident in your knowledge of world geography. (Don't feel bad. I didn't know it was a country either.)

Here is everything you would like to know about Andorra. With that out of the way, you are no doubt aware that Andorra is landlocked between France and Spain.

Being not too far from Barcelona, and being its own country and all, you can imagine our dismay upon discovering (a) there are no trains to Andorra and (b) the only way to get there is via a four hour overpriced bus ride.

Since this was obviously yet another deplorable conspiracy by Eurail to hose us on our already-purchased railpasses, Rob and I were not going for it. We came up with our own plot to get to Andorra.

There was a train that went to Latour De Carol, a sleepy little town just over the French border. According to our map, Latour de Carol is a mere half-centimeter away from Andorra. Surely there will be a bus from there that will take us the rest of the way, right? right? hello?

Latour de Carol is tiny. The lady at the train station has no idea how to get to Andorra from there. All she knows is that there is no train and no bus. As I am nodding, I look out the window and see a bus with the unmistakeable words ANDORRABUS.COM printed on the windshield. We go out to the bus and some old man is arguing with the driver. We decide to come back in a couple of minutes, after checking at the tourist information center. It's closed in the middle of the day, of course, and by the time we return the bus is gone.

I could go into painstaking detail but basically we wandered through this ghost town for a couple hours looking for something that was open where we could get some food. It was pointless, as most French country folk take a three hour lunch break in the middle of every week day. These three hours happened to coincide perfectly with our two and a half that we spent in this little town.

There was one very mediocre cafe open at the station. The food wasn't very good, but it must have had brain-enhancing properties. As we were eating, I got a brilliant idea!

I pulled a blank white 8x11 envelope out of the trash and borrowed a marker from the cafe. We wrote ANDORRA LA VELLA S.V.P. on it (svp=please), attatched it to my pack, stuck out our thumbs and set out walking for Andorra la Vela, which was 50km (not half a centimeter) away. After about 40 minutes of walking and sweating, a couple of Frenchmen on military leave (do not insert political commentary here) picked us up and took us into Pas de la Casa, on the edge of Andorra. This little town looked like it was nothing but shops and a couple hotels. It was more like a giant strip mall than a town. The weather was nice and cool but sunny and the air was clear. Pas de la Casa was a little bleak and had no budget hotels, so we took a €5 bus ride to Andorra la Vella.

What a strange place to build a city, much less the capital of a nation. Lonely Planet, which is usually reliable, describes Andorra la Vella as in a valley, but I would call it more of a ravine. I think this is a place where someone's claustraphobia might act up a little.

Tourist info gave us the lowdown on budget hotels and hostels as well as refugi. More on that wonderful invention later.

The lady at Hostal del Sol spoke no English, but we got a very cheap private room there since we were in the off season. Then we set off to find some dinner. Rob was quite keen on trying paella, but nobody was serving it. We found an alright place to eat and managed to order some good food, even though everything in Andorra is printed in just three languages: Catalan, French and Spanish. In fact, we met no Americans the entire time we were in Andorra.

Tomorrow: best day of the trip!

Day Twenty-Seven

Rob has to go see the Sagrada Familia, which I have already seen, and David has to tend to his girlfriend today, so I go on another solo adventure.

There is a street in Barcelona that has several buildings by Gaudi and as a four-day-old Gaudi enthusiast I decide to go see them. They were well worth the visit even though I didn't have time to go inside them. Except one, which was this cool apartment building that looks like it was built by Ewoks sub-contracted under the Anasazi. And in the middle of a city. I went into just the free part, which had a free art exhibit including works from Dali, Picasso, and others. I got to see the original of Picasso's Don Quixote.

I ran out of time quite quickly, and after using this ultra-hip square toilet they had in the gallery's bathroom I was on my way back to the basilica.

Next up, parque de guell again to show Rob around. We ate an eclectic lunch of crackers and such as we sat on Gaudi's ridiculous tiled bench and tormented pigeons.

Realizing how childish this was, we switched to using the pigeons to torment other humans, which is obviously much more sophisticated. I'ts very simple:
1. Lure hordes of pigeons to your vicinity with cracker crumbs, pringles, bread, whatever.
2. Wait for some innocent person to pass within a close proximity of your unknowing accomplices.
3. Toss a tennis ball, wallet, Pringles can, whatever a few feet or even inches into the air and catch it in your hand again. (For some reason pigeons find this terrifying, much more so than stomping or flapping your arms or opening and closing an umbrella like Sean Connery....wait, that was seagulls).
4. Watch in glee as innocent person shields own face in terror of swallowing an entire pigeon and contracting avian flu.

The beautiful thing about this excercise is that nobody, even if they saw you toss your small object into the air, ever makes the connection that you are the one who caused their public humiliation, much less that it was intentional.

Returning briefly to David's house to change our clothes, it's time for the beach! Woohoo! Beach! Yeah! Woo!

The weather is perfect and the beach is not too crowded, but the water is full of medusas, or as you Americans call them, jellyfish. Personally I like the Spanish name better.

Sun was bathed in. Frisbees were thrown. Selves were dipped. Skin was burned.

Medusas are not too difficult to avoid, it turns out. What was difficult to avoid was topless women. They were everywhere. And when we tried to move somewhere else away from them, more came!

My fellow heterosexual males, you might be tempted to call me a weirdo for not thinking that this was the greatest thing ever and the highlight of my trip. Honestly, as great as you might imagine it being, it was just gross. I didn't feel guilty or uncomfortable or anything, it was just kind of unexpectedly gross.

The sun went down and we walked back to David's house and got cleaned up before going out to this restaurant on the beach. I'm sure David would have joined us, but he was still on the phone with his girlfriend.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Day Twenty-Six (TR)

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

I ate a small bowl of Spanish cereal that was really good. Imagine Cookie Crisp, except imagine it tasing good instead of gross. That's what I ate.

Church was good. I missed Priesthood meeting because I spent the whole time in the hallway talking to the missionaries and to David and his friends. Sunday school was good and I understood almost everything that was said. The teacher's Spanish had this cool accent that I hadn't heard before. As I walked into Sacrament meeting I realized how many Latinoamericans there were in this ward. Most Church members in Spain are Latinoamericans. For some reason I found it impossible to stay awake during sacrament meeting, so I cannot really tell you much about it.

David's Grandmother and Granfather, though divorced, were back at the house cooking us this great paella. Man it was good. I ate twice as much as anyone else, and Abuelo seemed flattered while I fattered. Man, Rob sure missed out on that.

Speaking of Rob, he calls us a little while later from the Masnou train station after his ferry came in from Citavecchia. Rob comes back to the house and we all watch The Simpsons in Spanish. And let me tell you, the Simpsons are three times as funny in Spanish, even though Homer's voice is really weird.

While Rob slept I played this funky card game with David, Sarita, and Abuelo. It was like hearts or Rook but its four suits were Gold, Swords, Cups, and Clubs. The clubs were not like ours though. They were actual clubs for smashing things. David got really impassioned during the game. He shouted all kinds of words I had never heard before. And watch out for little Sarita. Don't be fooled by that sweet little smile. She is a ruthless card player.

A snack of lentejas and chorizo and its time for bed. Poor Rob. He is totally lost during the conversation at the table. Now he knows how I felt in the Netherlands.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Day Twenty Five (TR)

David has the day off. What would I like to do, he asks. I have several ideas:
Picasso Museum
Dali Museum

The Picasso Museum is one hour away, and the Dali Museum is four hours away. Plus I am getting museum overdoses now, so that leaves us with Montserrat. This place is basically a monestary built on the side of a steep mountain. After a little probing of the people who sell tickets for the tram dealy to the top, we found out where the trailhead was to climb the mountain on foot (a much longer, less expensive way to get there). The hike was nice and took us up higher and higher, until we could see a lot of the rugged, undeveloped part of Catalunya. It was surprisingly desolate and looked a lot like Central Utah. There were several Catalunya flags on the way.
Well we got there eventually and it was really cool. There were several buildings besides the monestary, including a museum, and it was unexpectedly crowded with people who rode the tram (we only saw two others on the trail). Inside the ornately decorated basilica was a famous landmark--La Virgen Negra, the Black Virgin. I guess some monk saw a vision of a Black Mary and someone sculpted this in honor of it. There was a big long line of people who wanted to touch the orb she held; we waited in line but felt no compulsion to touch the orb, at least not sufficient to outweigh our concerns for hygeine.
It turns out there was a museum as well, which was kind of cool. A lot of it was boring, but we did get to see a couple Monets, and some Picassos from his "I Am So Famous That I No Longer Care What My Art Looks Like" phase.
Museums, as you might have noticed, are tiring. I think I took a lunch break if not a public nap after every museum visit on this whole trip. This time it was the former, and we ate these cool egg baguettes that David's abuela had made for us. Then down the mountain. On the way back to David's house he took me to this castle that overlooked all of Barcelona where some mad general had a standoff back in the olden days. It just closing when we got there, so we entertained ourselves with the climbable artillery.
I love Barcelona.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Day Twenty-Four (TR)

My checklist for today:

1. Eat churros y chocolate. You might think you know what churros are from your last day at Lagoon, where you paid two dollars for one that had been hanging in its little heat-lamp-illuminated glass box for three weeks, but you are wrong. The ones I eventually found had a similar shape but were only about four inches long, were fresh, and were not coated in granulated sugar. The chocolate (choh-koh-LA-tay) was not much like hot cocoa. It was more like a mug full of chocolate sauce. It was so thick that if you took more than a sip, breathing was difficult afterwards. A+.

2. Get a hold of David. The trouble, you will recall, was my total failure to communicate on the phone in Spanish, even though face to face communication seemed to be no trouble. I had his address as well so I thought maybe I could just show up at his house. Alella, the town or suburb that he lived in, was not on my tourist map of Barcelona and nobody at the train station had any idea where it was, but most of them confirmed to me that it did, in fact exist. I thought maybe the street name and the region had gotten reversed. Instead of Calle Catalunya, Allela, Barcelona, it could be Calle de Alella, Barcelona, Catalunya (Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya). This address did exist, and I went to it, and it wasn't them. Back to the phone. It turned out that the reason David's sister could not understand a word I was saying was not because of my Spanish, but because of my inability to use a public telephone. I guess you have to dial "#" as soon as they pick up to start the meter running. So I did get a hold of him. We agreed to meet at 6:00 at the Masnou train station. Also, he invited me to stay at his house for several nights! Hooray! No more drunks stumbling into my room!

3. Visit Parc d'Guell. After talking with David I returned to the hostel and got my backpacks, then took the subway to Parc d' Guell. This place is ridiculous. This article is good, but of course is nothing like the experience of visisting the park. It looks like a fantasy world. A+

So I meet up with David at 6:00. He takes me to his house and I meet his family, minus his parents who are out of town, plus his Grandma who is staying with them. Daivd has the coolest family. David speaks great English, his sister speaks well too, but his youngest sister and his grandmother speak none. So this is probably where my Spanish grew the most.
Also there was a youth activity that night at David's ward. I went with him and they basically had a short lesson and then talked. Loudly. So loudly that a woman working the geneology library came and shouted at us for about five minutes.
Spain is a cheek-kissing country. Men and women usually kiss each others' cheeks as a greeting and as a farewell. And since David introduced me to everyone, there was a lot of cheek-kissing. Travel certainly broadens the mind.
Poor Sarita. as a result of my visit she is displaced from her bedroom and is given her parents'.