Learning to navigate in a foreign city is one of the more scary, exciting, exasperating, and comical experiences I’ve had. It was true with Rome, Brussels, and now Barcelona.
First day and night in Barcelona? You must try traveling by car, train and metro within your first 12 hours in the city!
Gregg and I arrived in Barcelona at 2:15 pm local time after a red eye flight from Detroit to Paris and after a confusing trip through the enormous maze of the Charles de Gaulle customs and airport to hop on our final flight landing us in Barcelona. Once in Barcelona, we found our car rental office to pick up a manual shift, I’ll say it again, MANUAL, as in stick shift, Ibiza. I could never navigate a manual transmission in a bustling unfamiliar, foreign city, but Gregg did just fine, despite my back seat driving. (Although, he did have one crazy sharp left turn in a heavy traffic area, that I held my breath through, but in all fairness, my iphone maps told him to!).
After making it to our Hotel, we cleaned ourselves up, and decided to head to the Block of Discord on an overcast, breezy, end of winter day in Barcelona. Our hotel is across the street from the Barcelona Sants, which is basically the Grand Central Station of Barcelona, so we headed over. This is our first time in Barcelona and we know zero Spanish, so why not?
With map in hand (we didn’t look like tourists at all) we knew the name of the street we needed to get to, so after a brief stop at an Information center, where we were told we needed to get to Platform 13/14, we headed toward the row of self service ticket machines. This machine was not kind to us, even though we continued to choose the English symbol, it seemed to switch to Spanish, and at one point, Gregg put in his debit card and the machine seemed to be telling us that we couldn’t have any tickets and was not giving us back our card! We thought it was gone forever, but we continued guessing at the Spanish prompts until it spit it back to us. Having it back and being very relieved to have it back, we decided to try it again, why not? We did successfully retrieve it once, so we knew it was possible, so after choosing English again and having the prompts turn to Spanish, we did figure out that “Secreto” meant that we needed to put in the PIN number.
With our Train Tickets in hand, we proceeded toward Platforms 13/14. Once on the platforms, and spending several minutes starring at each Platform’s monitor information, and then looking at each other in puzzlement, we could not figure out which platform we were suppose to use to catch the correct train. Neither one said the street we needed, Passeig de Gracia, so after checking our Rick Steve’s and Frommer’s travel guides and scratching our heads, Gregg began going down the line of people waiting on the bench on Platform 13, asking if anyone speaks English. Thankfully, about the forth person on the bench, a young man with long hair, knew enough English to convey to us that Platform 13 was where we needed to be and our stop was just the next one on the train route.
Upon emerging from the train station at the Gracia stop, we found no visible street signs, but after huddling together over a map, we found our way to the Block of Discord. Barcelona is a bustling, vibrant city, and we saw the beautiful and imaginative architecture of Antoni Gaudi lite up against the dark, cloudy Barcelona Sky. First with a stop outside of Casa Batllo, then to Casa Lleo Morera, and a few blocks further at Casa Mila.
Of course, we couldn’t go back the same way we got there, so after an adventurous Tapas dinner, we once again broke out our maps, this time for the Metro. The Metro was a bit easier than the trains, since the various lines are color coded. We found the nearest station for the Blue Line back to Barcelona Sants, and once again found ourselves at a self service machine that seemed to only show options in Spanish, but we managed to purchase our tickets, and we knew we were finished because a short woman just stepped in front of us to use the machine while we were discussing if we needed to press any other buttons to complete the transaction. As we are purchasing our tickets, I’m enjoying the Spanish music that I assumed the Metro Station was providing as ambiance. As we walked toward our platform, I realized it was a street performer, with his boom box playing the music while he was set up with his microphone, singing and dancing to the music. I wished I had a Euro to throw in his collection plate, but we hadn’t stopped at a bank yet, so I just smiled to show my appreciation.
We found the correct platform after much laughing and map checking almost missing getting off at Barcelona Sants, since we both were lost in people watching and thoughts of our days journey.