Onto Barcelona

Here we continue a description of a side trip from the motor tour of Italy described  in the previous entry, Roaming Around Italy--A trip to Europe.

May14. The Fits and Starts of the Train to Barcelona

Art returned to Florence to pick up his car as I set out for Barcelona. I bought a second class ticket to have plenty of pleasurable conversation with the locals, which would be French most of the way. The train stopped at the French border. The usual French railroad strike made it impossible for us to continue. So we were taken to Nice by bus, from where we could continue when the labor dispute was resolved. [Since then I have found out that strikes are a way of life in France, and are almost scheduled events.] At the train station, I made arrangements to continue my journey. I had a certain amount of time to spend in Nice. From their itinerary, I knew that Art’s parents had taken the train to Nice, as I had. At his folk’s hotel, I spent an hour with them before I returned to catch the train, which was scheduled for 8:20 PM.

The train left a bit late. I shared a compartment with a Catalan couple. The husband said that hey had been honeymooning for twenty days on a  tour of Europe. The wife was blond, tall, freckled and blue eyed—more Scandinavian looking than Spanish. The husband was also tall, swarthy and had dark wavy hair. We spent the whole night on the train. [I remember a curious thing that I did not write down in my log. There was an empty compartment across the aisle from ours. Each of us could make a separate row of seats into a bed to sleep on. I was about to go into the next booth to leave the married couple alone in their own compartment, but the husband, in a move uncharacteristic for a new husband, insisted on his going into the other booth, leaving his wife and me in the original one. I thought nothing of this at the time, but now I think that it may have been a scam.]

15 May

I was awakened abruptly in the dark of night. We had arrived at the Spanish border. We were advised to leave the French train; cross the border by foot; and board a Spanish train that was waiting on the other side. A fellow passenger told me that the rails did not connect at the border. The Spanish rails were a wider gauge than the French ones, which was no doubt an echo of some ancient mistrusts.]

An Inexpensive Room

Sagrada Familia

Antoni Gaudí's "Sagrada Familia" in Barcelona. Public domain, photograph by Germanramos,  June 2001. From Wikimedia Commons.

On arriving at Barcelona about noon, I began searching for a place to stay. I approached a kiosk that dispensed information for travellers. In a conversation all in Spanish, I told the middle aged woman at the desk what I was looking for, and how much I was willing to pay. When she heard me say that I was willing to pay up to four Dollars per night, she half chided me, that for that price, I could get a suite at the Hilton Hotel. "But wait," she said,"I can get you a better deal." She told me that she had a large piso (flat) that she had subdivided into apartments. An American couple was renting a room from her that was next to vacant one available one that would be rented to me. She told me to follow her, and she would show it to me to see if I approved. Although her building was nearby, we very quickly came off the paved streets to a dusty, unpaved one. The neighborhood looked run down. The plaster on the walls of the buildings was worn, faded and cracked. The mud bricks showed through. We entered her building through cast iron gates beyond a high mud wall. In a short distance we were walking down a cool, tiled hall that led back to the entrance of her building. Once inside, the environment was completely different than on the street side. We took a lift up to her piso. The flat was luxurious. The room rate was 40 pesetas a night (about $ 0.75)-not even a dollar; and the room included services of a shower which I very much welcomed. I made a quick decision and rented the room.

The lady I rented from gave me some very helpful advice about the best places to see in Barcelona.

After becoming settled in my room that afternoon, I took the subway around town. Most memorable was may tour of Poble Espanyol or Spanish village, which featured the architecture of houses from all parts of Spain. I went on to Catalan Square and walked to the beach along the boulevard Las Ramblas. Jewelry and leather goods on display were great bargains there, the cheapest in Europe! An American that I met on the street told me that he wished that he could have come naked to Spain, and bought everything he needed along the way. Everywhere I went, I looked for a place to eat. I had not eaten the whole day and I was very hungry. All the restaurants were closed. Did not Spaniards eat during the day? All I could find on the street were the offerings of street vendors, churros, fried on the spot. Somehow, I could not bring myself to buy one of the to eat. I wanted a full meal.

On returning to my room, my landlady invited me to visit with her and a young friend, a nice, pretty girl. At first,s he seemed nervous to have me there, but after a while she became at ease. I enjoyed having about an hour’s conversation with them, which ended when the girl had to leave. I also left to find a place to have supper. All the restaurants were closed, and were not scheduled to open until that evening.

I walked about half a mile from my place, looking for the earliest opening restaurant. I found one that fit the bill. It advertised a full meal for 50 pesetas. The restaurant served me much more than I could eat. The appetizers alone were enough. Then came the paella, a rice plate heaped full of sea food and seasoned with tomatoes. It was piled high on a large plate, enough to feed several people. I was so famished that I ate it all. After that came two small, beef chops. They were very lean, mostly bone, but by then my hunger was sated and they were enough for me. For dessert there was ice cream. The meal was topped off with coffee. I returned to my room after midnight. I had been eating for two hours.

May 16

I did my sightseeing by subway to cover the scattered points of interest. My train would leave at 5:10 PM. I had to hurry to see everything-a bad thing in Spain. I cannot say that I saw all there was to see in Barcelona, but I did see enough to get a general impression of the city.

The main avenues are very broad, lined with trees and contain a central walkway the width of an ordinary street, also lined with trees. There are many parks and fountains along the way. The city also has some frayed edges.

Some very narrow cobblestone streets littered with papers and dirt climb steep hills. On the outside, many neighborhoods appear rundown, but inside the walls, the homes are beautiful.


The train pulled out very slowly, heading for the frontier. After we had been going for a while, or pace seemed to  be very slow. The train went clack, clack ... clack. A Spaniard next to me joked, “Hear those clacks? Each one of them is a meter.” The train was traveling about a meter per second.

I chatted with some Catalans who speak a language distinctly different from Castillian. Although it sounds a bit like French, it is not. I can speak a bit of French. It is a language different from either French or Spanish- so said a Swiss lady in our compartment who spoke French.

In our compartment, people began telling about where they were from. When it came my term, I said, "Can you guess?" "You are from Spain of course, but from what part?", someone said. I replied that I was not from Spain. The guessing went further east: "France?", "No"; "Italy??", "No". The guesses were always farther east along the forty degree latitude circle. Finally, someone said in desperation and surprise, "You are from Russia!". I finally answered that I was from the United States, that I was an American. From the collective assessment of a mixture of Europeans in the train compartment, I gathered that I looked like a Spaniard, but if not that, like some kind of European from the Mediterranean region.

The Spaniards left our compartment, and were replaced by two girls, one American a the other Canadian. They had been hitch hiking all over Europe; but now they took the train. Setting down their heavy knapsacks on the floor, they pulled out sandwiches and began eating. The Canadian girl had flaming red hair and was quite pretty. We spent half the night chatting while the American girl slept.

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