Barcelona: a city said to have been founded by Hercules 400 years before the building of Rome; Antoni Gaudí’s city; a city brimming with elaborate, vibrant, boisterous Catalonian spirit; and a city in which I knew no one and had no place to stay when I arrived at the train station at 11pm on Saturday night.
Barcelona had never been part of my itinerary for this summer. When I found myself stranded at Belfort, forced to lodge in a cheap hotel for the night, I considered the option. Perhaps it was the annoying but very catchy song from the movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona that did it. In any case, I found next morning that because it was Saturday I would have to wait till the afternoon to get a train to either to Paris or to Ronchamp where I half wanted to return for another day. Incidentally, there was a train leaving very soon for Avignon, a train that required no reservation, and one whose final destination was a place called Port Bou. I diligently checked my Eurail map and found Port Bou to be a small beach town just south of the French-Spanish border. Barcelona looked so close from there.
So I spent the day reading the last few hundred pages of Les Miserables on the train.
I was thinking of spending the night at Port Bou but when on my arrival at 8pm I inquired about the next train to Barcelona, the lady at the counter urgently gestured to me, indicating that I should get on the train right opposite us. I did not have a ticket and asked if I could buy one but she wanted none of that. She was very intent: “This is the train to Barcelona. It’s leaving NOW! You have to go now!” And so I got on.
And now as we rolled down into Spain, with mountains on one side and the endless sea on the other, the ambience changed. People were speaking more loudly, and in a different language that sounded more organic with the rolling of the Rrr’s, and there was more laughter. And luckily, the conductor when he came to check our tickets didn’t peruse the list of countries on my Eurail pass.
The train pulled into the Barcelona Sants station. The reassuring thing about underground train terminals is that they all look similar -- I could just have been getting off an RER train in Paris. As I emerged into the station, I saw a sign pointing toward a McDonald's. It gave me a strange sense of orientation in a new place. I was in a world I knew well, even if I didn't speak the language.
Perhaps it was a good thing I didn't know then that the information booths in train stations in Spain can be unreliable and frustrating. For now, I just followed the advice of a man in some kind of uniform who said I would find hostels and hotels if I walked out the station and toward a certain direction for ten minutes. I knew not to be alone this late so I tried to keep close to a couple who were also walking in the same direction with their luggage. Barcelona, though, was full of life and lights, and the voices of joyful people. It was a Saturday night and groups of dressed up young people were walking by. I arrived at the
Mies and Gaudi