Friday, February 6, 2009

Espana - 1 down, 12 to go

     We arrived in Cadiz, Spain on Wednesday, the 28th at about 6:45 in the morning. Everyone was filled with jubilation to finally see land after spending 8 straight days on the ocean. You could almost taste the excitement. On my way to breakfast that morning, I actually jumped up and down and yelled out loud when I first sighted land through one of the portholes. After disembarking from the ship, Blair, a friend I met on the ship, and I took a taxi to the airport in Jerez. There were about 3 points in that 30-minute trip that I thought I was going to die. The driver was going 150 kph, or about 90 mph, on the freeway. At one point we stopped for gas. We had been told a story about a student who had taken a taxi and when it stopped at a gas station, the driver turned around and offered him drugs. Right at that moment, a police officer walked up and was going to arrest him if he didn’t give him $500. It was a scam. But who picks up on that in the heat of the moment? So when we stopped for gas, everyone in the cab looked at each other and we immediately had this consensus. If that driver turned around and offered us drugs, we were ready to jump out and just run…run away as far as possible until we could find another cab. It was fine, though, and we ended up getting to the airport about 3 hours early. Needless to say, we had a lot of time to kill. I ate a baguette with cheese on it. That’s it. The Spanish aren’t very extravagant with their eating habits. It was hardly a Subway foot-long, chicken teriyaki on honey oat with lettuce, cucumber, green peppers, cheddar cheese, a little mayo, and salt and pepper. The only thing that could’ve rounded out the “meal”was a bottle of wine or a pitcher of sangria.

     The flight to Barcelona was embarrassing. There were at least 40 Semester at Sea students on the flight. It was basically an SAS-chartered Spanair flight. Not only did we completely take over the airport and the flight, but we totally overwhelmed all of the Spaniards. The SASers (a derogatory term used to describe the kids who just drink and party from port-to-port for 4 months) were so loud and obnoxious. No wonder everyone hates Americans. Well, when we landed, Blair and I darted off the plane to get as far away from them as possible. We took an airport bus into the city center, to Plaza Catalunya, one of the major squares in Barcelona (comparable to Dam Square in Amsterdam or Times Square in New York). We headed down La Rambla, which is one of the main streets in Barcelona that is centered within a lot of tourist sites, shopping, restaurants, and nightlife. La Rambla is also famous for its street performers, vendors, prostitutes, and scammers. Street performers we saw included Edward Scissorhands, a pink fairy, a golden queen, a beheaded convict, and many others. All of their costumes were very extravagant and some would jump out and scare tourists as they walked by. Every man standing on La Rambla carrying a 6-pack of Coke also tried to approach me and offer me something (I assume drugs). After a little searching, we found our hostel, Kabul, which was one block past the KFC and McDonalds. The hostel was awesome. We stayed in a 6-person room with two American girls from Minnesota, a Brazilian guy, and an Argentinean girl. One of the Americans had just finished two years in the Peace Corps in Morocco and currently lives there. She was really interesting and it was fun talking to all of our bunkmates. The hostel was comfortable, the accommodations were great, the staff was really friendly, and it had a great atmosphere.

       The first night, Blair and I met up with our mutual friend, Irine, who is studying abroad in Barcelona this semester. I know Irine from college and Blair went to high school with her. We went to a restaurant for tapas (a group of appetizers) and sangria. We tried fried crab leg, Russian tuna salad, potato and egg cake, and a few other dishes. The sangria was also really good. It’s different at every place, but there it was made with champagne as a base to give it a lighter and bubblier taste. After having tapas, we went for some drinks at a bar called Cyrona and met some of Irine’s friends from her program. Estrella is a type of cerveza (beer) that is tantamount to our Budweiser; it’s just the common, everyday beer. Afterwards, we went to a bar called Dow Jones. It’s actually the coolest bar I’ve ever seen. The prices of the drinks are traded like a stock exchange. If more people buy a drink, the price of that drink goes up. If fewer people buy a drink, the price of that drink goes down. Sometimes, if the price gets too high, the “stock”will crash and everyone will rush to buy that drink really cheap before the price goes back up. The outside of the bar had 4 clocks that showed different time zones where major world stock exchanges were located. The inside had a big Wall St street sign and a history of major stock exchange crashes on the wall. It was the coolest concept I’ve ever seen.

       The next day was our tourist day. We first visited the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family), which is the HUGE Gothic church in Barcelona, one of its most noteworthy attractions. Not only was this church gargantuan, but it was impeccably beautiful, intricate, and detailed. I would worship there and I’m Jewish. I could’ve stood there for hours and just gawked at it. The pictures I took don’t even do it justice. They’ve been building it for about 120 years now and it still isn’t projected to be completed until 2026. There are four massive spires that make the church so tall and apparently they’re building another one in the middle of those four that’s going to be twice as high. Ridiculous. The Sagrada Familia was designed by an architect named Antoni Gaudi, who is very influential in Spanish architecture. He worked on this project for 40 years and he dedicated the last 15 years of his life solely to this church. When asked about the extremely long construction period, Gaudi is said to have remarked, “My client is not in a hurry”. Gaudi also designed another building we visited called La Pedrera, an apartment complex that looks like it belongs in Whoville (from the Grinch). It’s beautiful and really interesting. The building is characterized by curvy and rounded borders and walls. When you go onto the roof, there’s an amazing view of the entire city. You can see the Sagrada Familia, the ocean, the hills, the soccer stadium, some huge palace off in the distance that looks like the Sultan’s Palace from Aladdin, as well as the Torre Agbar, a controversial skyscraper in downtown that just opened in 2005. It’s controversial because it looks like a huge penis. It’s the 3rd-tallest building in Barcelona and when asked in an interview, even the French architect described it as having a phallic shape. Then we went to Parque Guell, which was also designed by Gaudi and built from 1900-1914. To get up there, though, we had to hike and take a series of about 8 or 10 escalators. It was quite the trek. The park was originally intended to be a housing development, but when that failed, they turned it into a municipal park. It’s very peaceful and overlooks the entire city. Beautiful view as you can imagine. It’s also where one of the season finales of America’s Next Top Model was filmed, the one with the wedding gowns I was told. Maybe you’re familiar.

       That night we went to an Irish bar to grab a bite to eat and some drinks before heading to the FC Barcelona football (soccer) game. At the Irish bar, we ate margarita pizzas and had a couple of beers. At the bar, they had a “shot of the year”, which was an Obama shot. They also had “pop shots”for Britney, Beyonce, Rihanna, J-Lo, Jay-Z, Lil’Wayne, Justin Timberlake, as well as some other noted American artists. Then we headed to the game, which was insane. There were about 95,000 people there all screaming and cheering. It’s amazing how into their soccer the Spaniards are. Everyone was into it, from the teenagers to the old fogies who looked like they were ready to croak. It was also a really important game because they’re getting close to the playoffs in the Copa del Rey (Cup of the King or King’s Cup) and so every game counts. When we were walking around the stadium to try and find our seats, there were about 40 police officers all decked out in riot gear. They were protecting this mass of people who we eventually realized was the opposing team’s fans. The Barcelona fans were shouting expletives at them and giving them the finger, and they were dishing it right back. It was intense. Even inside the stadium, they had a section way up at the top, and they were surrounded by at least 20 cops in bright orange jackets. FC Barcelona ended up winning 3-2, but I started getting nervous because they were up 3-0 and then the opposing team, Espanyola, came back to score 2 goals. When the game was over, everything went crazy. Imagine trying to shuffle through 95,000 to get home in a crowded city; it was hardly a football Saturday at Michigan. We made our way to the metro stop despite the thousands of people on the street and hundreds of other people zooming by us on mopeds. The metro ride back to the city center was the ride from hell. We were literally pushed and smooshed onto the train. Transporting that many people ain’t no easy feat. Someone tried to pickpocket me on the metro but luckily I realized what was up, albeit it a little too late. Thankfully he didn’t get anything.

       Then after the game, we just went to this really chill sangria and beer bar. It was a little hole-in-the-wall place off La Rambla, and there was a good mix of Spaniards and Americans. The atmosphere was lively but the worst part was the smoke, which was actually the worst part about Spain in general. I couldn’t go into a restaurant, bar, or anything (even the stadium) without people lighting up all around me. My clothes reeked; they still do. It’s awful.

       The next morning, we flew back to Cadiz and we spent the last day just touring the old city looking at churches, monuments, statues, buildings, a park, the waterfront, and the ocean. It’s a very beautiful and historical city. One noteworthy site in Cadiz was the Plaza de Espana and the Monument to the Constitution of 1812. The Constitution of 1812 is regarded as the first example of classic liberalism in Spain and one of the first worldwide. It served as model a model for the Portuguese Constitution of 1822, the Mexican Constitution of 1824, and several other Mediterranean and Latin American countries.

       After our tour around the old city, I hopped back on the boat and waived goodbye to Spain as we headed out to sea once again and off to Morocco. More to come soon!

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”–Dr. Seuss

Quote of the trip
Me (at an ATM in Cadiz): Hey, do you guys have euros?
Random SAS kid: No, I’ve got American Express.

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