Tuesday, June 24, 2008

And now, the conclusion

Back when I was a youngster and my family would watch Star Trek: TNG every night, it was always tough at the end of the season when they would do the cliffhanger episode that ended the season with "To Be Continued". Then when the next season started, they would start the first episode with "And now, the conclusion". Unless it was one of those three part episodes, in which case they'd say "And now, the continuation." And you'd be like, damn, I had to wait all this time for the end of the cliffhanger, and it's still not going to be over after all that?!? Well don't you worry, there will be no continuation here, only conclusions.

Apparently, from the last post, I indicated that we spent night 9 in "some nice hotel along the way to Barcelona". My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I think that puts us at June 18, the day we were supposed to arrive in Barcelona. And what an ARRIVAL it was!!! But before we get to that, there was some climb in very southern France that we considered doing before deciding we were all tired and it'd be best to go straight to Barcelona. So just keep that tidbit in the back of your mind as you read about.... THE ARRIVAL IN BARCELONA!!

Here's the setup: I'm in the passenger seat of the minivan with Jay driving and the bikes in back. We're leading the way, since I have the maps and the GPS unit. I repeat, I have the GPS unit, so we're navigating. Meanwhile, Nelson is driving the BMW SUV behind us, with Jayme, Tiff, and Mary all riding with him and the rest of our luggage. Did I mention that I had a GPS?

So the GPS tells us how to get to the hotel we're looking for: Arc de la Rambla, in the heart of oldtown Barcelona. Sounds quaint and quiet, don't it? Ho ho ho.... Anyway, we're heading Southeast on C-16/E-9 and everything is going fine. Then all of a sudden we cross B-20, we're about 4 miles from our destination, and the population density quintuples and quintuples again in a matter of a minute. I'm staring at the GPS trying to figure out which street we should be turning on, but there's a new street every 50 meters, and it's really frickin' hard. Somehow we ended up on Avinguda Diagonal (thank you google maps, where the hell were you when we were driving!) and that's when the shit really hit the fan.

The GPS is telling us to turn right on Carrer de Balmes, but the right lane (on a huge, busy street teeming with every conceivable mode of transportation) is advertised as for taxis and busses only. But, we're stupid Americans, so we ignore all the signs and barge right into the lane, preparing to make a right turn. But we get stuck at the light, right before we turn. And then some dude on his bycicle comes up to our car and is like "No puedes something something en la calle a la derecha!! I know enough to know that means "You can't something something to the street on the right", and being the next Sherlock Holmes, I put two and two together and figure he means, don't turn right here, idiots. So we decide to skip the right turn, but tremendous traffic (did I mention it was rush hour!!!!) made it impossible for us to merge to the left. Meanwhile, Nelson was unable or unwilling to merge into the taxi/bus lane, so he had to speed ahead of us (that's right, ahead of the car that was navigating!) when the light turned green. Like I said, we couldn't merge, so eventually we decided to just go for it in the taxi/bus lane, traffic laws be damned.

Things were totally hysterical at this point. We couldn't even see Nelson's car anymore, and to make matters worse, another, almost identical BMW SUV showed up a little bit behind them, confusing us even more. We stayed in the taxi/bus lane for probably a mile, with the GPS continually screaming at us to make a right turn, then recalculating the route when we missed it. At one point, it told us to make a U-turn to the right, directly in the face of oncoming traffic. Whee! I don't even remember when we finally managed to turn right, nor do I remember how we caught up and passed Nelson's car (that was a real miracle), but somehow we made it and didn't hit/kill anyone/anything.

And that's only the first half of our ARRIVAL story. Now for part two.

So we arrive at L'Arc de la Rambla hotel, and it's nice and fine and everything. But we reserved two hotels online, one a bit cheaper than the other but is within walking distance (only 0.5 km). We figured it was cheaper because it didn't have internet access. HAHAHA. Excuse me, forget that for the moment. Anyway, after checking at L'Arc, we walked over to the second hotel, Hotel Barbara. It was a nice walk through old alleyways in a diverse neighborhood, although we kind of noticed a slight change in the apparent economic status. And then we saw the hotel sign. And then we saw a bunch of scantily clad women standing on street corners (more than a few of whom looked more like men, if you catch my drift). And then we realized why it was cheaper. We probably could have gotten an even cheaper rate if we asked for the "half-hour" pricing. It was really quite funny, although if we had done the bike ride earlier, we wouldn't have arrived until after sunset, and then it would have been much much less funny.

So we high-tailed it back to the original hotel and hoped that they would have two rooms available. Thankfully for us, we did. It ended up being good, because both Nelson and I (as well as Jay) needed to use the internet. And that was our introduction to Barcelona. Our ARRIVAL, if you will.

The next day we spent walking around Barcelona, checking out the beach (Tiff and Nelson went in for a swim), then this huge cathedral that's been under construction for hundreds of years and isn't scheduled for completion until another 20-30 years or so. That amounted to about six miles of walking, so everyone but me and Tiff took the metro back to the hotel, while we walked. It took about an hour (another three miles) to get to our hotel, but it was a nice walk. The area of town we were in was really nice, so long as you didn't go too far to the west (i.e. near Hotel Barbara!).

I had a plane to catch at 8:30am at the Barcelona airport, so naturally we went to bed early and... er, wait, no, we didn't go to bed early. After we ate dinner, me, Tiff, and Jayme and Nelson walked down to the beach for a little night swimming. It was a log of fun and there were far fewer people. Plus the moon was out, so it was really cool. Oh yeah, and they groomed the sand (wtf!!) for some bizarro reason.

After packing everything up, I didn't get to bed until 3am or so, and then had to wake up at 6am to catch my taxi to the airport. Things in the Barcelona airport went fairly smoothly, except when I walked up to the check-in counter and confidently said "Buenos dias!", and then the women responded and said something in Spanish I couldn't understand (oops). But other than that, everything seemed fine, at the time (queue ominous music).

After a two hour flight to Dusseldorf (yes, Dusseldorf), Germany, I arrived in a land where I really didn't know the language or anyone at all. But, thankfully, many Germans speak English (the reverse is not true, sadly -- stupid Americans). I had about 1.5 hours to get checked in for my flight to LAX. At first, I almost walked straight out of the airport, but suddenly saw a path on the ground for "Connecting flights", which I followed after talking to someone about where to go to reach my connecting flight. But I had a funny feeling about my checked bag, so I asked a woman behind a ticket desk at the Air Berlin counter what the deal would be. After looking at my baggage claim ticket, she realized that my bag was going to stop in Dusseldorf, since I didn't show the woman in Barcelona the documents saying I was ultimately ending up in LAX.

I still had an hour at this point, so I wasn't too worried. She told me to contact lost and found and ask them for help. Trouble was, I didn't know how to contact lost and found. The woman I asked gave me directions, but I assumed I was to look for a lost and found office, instead of a little buzzer and intercom to get their attention. So I set off for a fun trip around the Dusseldorf airport that had me leave the airport building at one point, go up floors, then down floors, and basically all over the place to the extent that I really started panicking. I finally found it with about a half hour to check in, and the people were really nice and explained they were wondering whose bag it was, since no one picked it up off the mat. Then I hustled over to the check-in counter, almost left my passport at a counter in front of the check-in counter (but fortunately I still had to present it for check-in, so I never went far away from it). Finally I arrived at the gate and bought a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels to celebrate surviving Dusseldorf.

The flight to LAX was cool because I sat next to this 14 year old kid that grew up in England, the Philippines, Thailand, and finally Los Angeles since a year ago. And he was fluent in German. Pretty cool. We had a good time making fun of each other for most of the trip and it made it seem a lot shorter than 11 hours.

And that's it for Europe (for me anyway -- Tiff and her family are still in Europe doing a bit more biking in France)!

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