leaving paris / barcelona, day one

After our little breakfast at our local bistro, I decided I'd take a stab at the Rodin Museum. Allan was happier not to go, so he stayed in the room to pack up. The weather was beautiful and I set out with high hopes... but quickly found myself further away from the museum than when I started. I usually have a good sense of direction, but I found our map didn't always correspond with reality. And then I looked up, and there was a beautiful, full-on view of the Eiffel Tower, and I thought, Allan should see this on his last day here.

So I walked back to the room, collected Allan and the camera, and took them both to this great view, not a five-minute walk from our hotel. There was also a peace memorial or sculpture, in front of the Ecole Militaire (Military School) and framing the Tower. Some Tamil people were setting up for a vigil or a protest.

Paris, au revoir.

After checking out of the hotel, we took the metro to the RER (suburban trains), and took that straight to Orly Airport. It was easy and inexpensive - although not always accessible. There were several places where we had to get our luggage up or down stairs. But it was not a big deal. Orly was quiet and civilized. There was real food for sale. Kind of an otherworldly airport experience.

The flight to Barcelona was quick and easy. Using instructions I got from our hotel, we took a very inexpensive airport bus to the center of town, then walked for 15-20 minutes to the hotel. We could have taken a metro or a city bus, but thought that seemed like more trouble than it was worth. When we found the address of the hotel, I was a little iffy. It doesn't look like a hotel - there's no ground-floor lobby or awning. It's a regular apartment building in the European style, someone buzzes you into an old marble lobby, and you take an elevator up two storeys. You get buzzed in another door... and there is a very casual information desk. I'm thinking, this is the hotel?

Luckily I didn't give in to that little voice, because it's a great little place. Our room is larger than the one in Paris, tiled in the Spanish tradition, including the spotless bathroom, which is twice the size and generally nicer than the one in the Paris room. There's free internet (not always the case in Spain), a big fridge where guests can keep food or drinks, free coffee and tea all day and night, a 24-hour desk... and at 80 euros a night in a very nice neighbourhood, it's a great bargain: the Barcelona Center Inn, also known as the Hostal Barcelona Center.

We were completely hot and sweaty from walking with our luggage, and needed to shower and collapse a little. After that, we just wandered into Barcelona. We very quickly found ourselves in the old quarter, known as the Bari Gotic (as in, gothic barrio). Near the Cathedral, we stopped for caffeine (me) and alcohol (A) and sat and watched crowds of people streaming by. It's crowded, but so far it's cool. We walked through very narrow streets with beautiful architectural details. Most of the streets are lined with shops, and they are mostly not chains. There are a million stores and a million tapas places, some looking wonderfully inviting, others looking hideously touristy, but at the moment, it's all good.

We passed a sizeable demo in front of a government building. After a while we realized it was in support of an Catalan independence. Many of the signs here are not in Spanish, but in Catalan. In the airport, the signs are trilingual: Catalan, Spanish, English, in that order. Now that we know what the Catalan flag looks like, we spot it in windows and on balconies as we walk around.

Our guidebook made it sound like nothing gets going in Barcelona until at least 10:00, and that if you go out earlier, the streets will be empty, or only populated by tourists. I know that's the Spanish tradition, but it seems a bit exaggerated. At least on this cool Saturday evening in Barcelona it was. The streets were packed and the restaurants were all busy, and it was "only" 8:00 or so.

We went into an appealing-looking tapas joint where dishes were displayed in double-decker cases at the bar, and ham hocks were hanging from the ceiling, also a Spanish tradition. People pointed to what they wanted, either making a plate of 3 or 4 choices, or ordering just one item. Sangria was on tap from an enormous cask, and there was wine, beer, and everything else. Your tapas comes on a slice of crusty bread, and a bit of olive oil is poured over it, and it's put briefly in the microwave.

We had two glasses of vino tinto (red wine) and sampled a variety of tapas - chorizo, jamon et queso (ham and cheese, but think prosciutto and brie), a potato croquette that tasted like a knish, brie and roquefort that melted together in the microwave, and a plate of patatas bravas, which are fried potatoes drizzled with a spicy tomato sauce. We didn't know how the prices would run, but were pleased to see 2 euros per plate (about $3) and 3 euros for a glass of wine.

After the tapas, we walked around more. As the twilight came on, the streets got even busier. This town is hopping with both locals and tourists. I'm not sure how much nightlife we'll actually see, but I'll try to start our day a little later. (Allan will be very pleased with that.) At the moment I feel like I'll never get a good night's sleep again, but that's the price I pay for enjoying coffee and wine at any hour.

Around 9:30 I suddenly ran out of steam. We looked at a map and were a very long way from the hotel, so we took a cab back. My feet thought it was the best 10 euros I ever spent.

At the room, we spent some time with the guidebook to give a rough plan to the next few days. I am very excited to see La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell tomorrow.

Barcelona is apparently notorious for pickpockets, so we're taking a few extra precautions: keeping cash and a credit card in our front pockets, but leaving our passports and wallets in the room safe. Our only concern is our camera, so we are careful to wear the camera bag over the opposite shoulder so it can't be snatched.

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