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Monday, August 2, 2010

The Horrors of Barcelona

Sagrada familia festooned with cranes and a woman beggar outside

If you want to try a taste for the diabolical, try a one day visit to Barcelona. We did it and it was truly diabolical in every possible dimension - pain, fear uncertainty and sheer madness although the temperature was cooler and the city itself has a lot of style and grace.

We managed to ditch our rental car straightforwardly in Sevilla, after a very hot brief visit to look at the historic center and a quick glance at a couple of the architectural 'treasures', including the cathedral and Alcazar palace. The Span air flight was uneventful enough, but when we got to Barcelona airport at around 6.30 things began to get really torrid.

The Mellow

Firstly the airport is away out in the country miles and miles from the city. Secondly, although there is a train, it doesn't run from terminal 1 so you have to take a shuttle bus to terminal 2 which is about 20 minutes bus drive away right round the perimeter of the airport. Then when you get there you have to pass across a long walkway to catch a train that runs every half hour and takes about 40 minutes to get to any of the metro stations from where you can theoretically connect to any point in the city.

That said however, each of these stations presents hideous obstacles to anyone traveling with luggage and particularly one person with a heavy luggage trolley and the other on crutches, because although Barcelona has been claiming it intends to install escalators and lifts in each of its metro stations by 2007 according to Lonely Planet, the critical ones where all the transfers take place Barcelona-Sants and Passeo de la Gracia can still only be accessed on long flights of stairs.

So after arriving at around 6 pm we found ourselves still struggling with the luggage up and down flights of stairs, only emerging into the light of evening at 9 pm just in time to buy food before the supermarket we saw closed. One very good thing we did however was to buy a T10 ten trip metro/bus/train ticket which covers all routes inside the airport.

View from the Mellow showing how high we had to climb

From there things got even more torrid. We had managed to book a room for 2 at the Mellow Hostel, which is a trendy and very nicely run hostel in northern Barcelona after finding a couple of days before our arrival that every hostel in sight was full to the brim without even room in a dorm for an additional guest.

We had some maps of the approach which I had ingeniously photographed on the computer screen in the internet cafe we had used to make the bookings due to a lack of wi-fi in Priego de Cordoba. We experimented with trying to hail a taxi for the last local ride but all the taxis were parked and apparently driverless, so we set off dragging our trolley firstly down hill and then increasingly steeply uphill towards a convoluted set of suburban streets.

After climbing ever steeper roads which left Christine near physical exhaustion, we finally came to what should have been a pedestrian walkway through to where the hostel was, except that when we got there, after having to stop for emergency repairs when one of the wheels came off the trolley, we discovered to our horror that it was an immense stairway with about eight flights of 13 steps impossible to climb with the luggage, so we continued the long way up further contour streets, at the encouragement of a young local guy until finally at around 10.30 we made it in a thoroughly wiped out state to Mellow which even had a lift so we didn't have to ascend another flight of stairs.

You can see from the pictures of Mellow and the view of the surrounding city just how high Christine had to drag our 80 kilos of luggage and how far I had to stump on my increasingly painful supposed to be repairing broken hip!

One very nice break from agony to ecstasy in the morning was our first real bout of good love making since I broke my hip after a series of fitful efforts to keep the spark of the sexual flame alive while temporarily crippled - a proof of concept that full-blooded passion hasn't been destroyed and something to easily make up for all the rest that was to follow.

Charmingly to our chagrin, just outside the hostel as a bus stop, so next day we took the 39 bus which heads right down to the historic centre, however this also proved futile as the bus route runs all over the most obscure areas of the city miles from any metro stations, and today was the day of the mens marathon which meant chaos in the central city and the buses all diverted around the route resulting in traffic jams which became so bad that in the end we got out of the bus to walk ahead of it to the one station downtown within reach of the bus route.

Cathedral and the famous arch in the old city

By that time the Cathedral was closing for the siesta, so we just had time for a peek in the doors and a walk around the historic district and then took a metro to look at the famous Gaudi 'church" the Sagrada Familia or sacred family.

Bum biting good! (see right)

However when we arrived we found it completely festooned with cranes and the interior also under reconsctuction, so after taking some shots and getting an idea of the interior from the book shop, we took a further metro to another of the Gaudi buildings, Casa Battlo, in a section of Passeo Gracia called the 'apple of discord' because a string of famous architects have built buildings in one block in imaginatively conflicting styles.

Sagrada inside and out as it pretends and closer to how it is just now (2 cranes removed)

Gaudi's casa (right) amid the 'apple of discord'

Casa interior

After that we were pretty exhausted so rode back to try to find a better escape route in the early morning to catch our 9.30 flight for Madrid and then Rome. To our disappointment we found the nearest station had no lift or down escalators, and worse still we walked all through it heading away from the hostel by a couple of blocks then had to walk up and down hill before finding a supermarket and beginning the steep ascent to the Hostel which left my leg feeling like it had been put in a rack.

So this morning we awoke at 6.20. Christine had had a dismal sleep driven by a nightmare that she was missing the flight, ascending a stairway the converged endlessly to a point of no return. At 6.40 a Prius taxi promptly arrived to ferry us to the metro. We then carefully bumped the trolley down long flight of stairs only to find we had been dropped off at the wrong end of the station, so had to climb and descend further stairs and a two block underground walk to get o the yellow line to go to Gracia where the Renfe train to the airport stopped.

Scene of a garroting in the old city

Then we got to Gracia which we had researched and thought had an escalator only to find the escalator lead to lot of further flights of stairs which wound up and down and then entered a tunnel so long we literally couldn't see the other end. Time was getting later and later to catch the critical 7.32 Renfe train, but when we did reach the other end there was a bewildering set of directions which led us into a further green line platform which we had to walk the entire length of, before being directed into yet another tunnel with more stairs. I yelled out at passers by to get them to give Christine a bit of help, but then we reached a desperate point rather like Alice in wonderland where there were several tunnels with conflicting instructions and only after leaping ahead myself to check while Christine struggled, we finally found the underground connection to the Renfe trains and further stairs and a mad rush to the platform.

As if things couldn't get worse the first train that came in wasn't going to the airport and it was only because we had asked some others if they were going too that they told us not to take it and 2 mins later the airport train finally arrived. By this time Christine was shaking from hypoglycemia since we had had nothing to eat and busted our guts on enough activity to climb half way up Everest.

And the airport had put on a fleet of buses to meet the train so we got over to Terminal 1 in perfect time around 8.10 to find an absolute flood of Spanish travelers checking in to Iberia. That was fine, and we duly checked in drank the last of our liquids, passed through security and walked the seemingly oceanic distance to the departure gate. When boarding was completed, the plane took ages to move on the tarmac and then the pilot announced that we wouldn't be leaving till 10.30 because a delay had lost their slot in the departure queue.

This put the flight an hour late, arriving a few minutes after our second Iberia flight to Rome was due to depart, and when we did arrive it took a full 20 minutes taxiing to their satellite terminal where a single Iberia operative was directing people to a notice board with about forty ongoing flights to tell hapless travelers the fate of their ongoing connection.

Fortunately for us they had held the flight to Rome so we from marched on our crutches at full tilt away down the terminal to gate 44 where we were just about the last to get on the delayed flight to Rome which was a huge relief except that when we asked about our luggage they said cryptically that if it didn't arrive it would be on the next Iberia flight to Rome which happened to be in a bout an hour and a half.

When we arrived around 3 pm, we walked another mile and a half to the luggage claim where there was absolute chaos. The luggage from up to 10 flights was pouring off each carousel with so many people around them it was almost impossible to see let alone claim any luggage. The people on our flight were all waiting haplessly for their luggage when a carousel operator told them about 20 minutes later that despite what the computer screen said the luggage for our flight was emerging on another carousel.

But our luggage didn't emerge so I stumped off a few hundred yards to the Iberia baggage claim counter only to find a single employee syndicated for about 20 airlines facing an angry crowd of about a hundred passengers who had all lost their luggage none of which could register an effective complaint because so many were stuck in front of the small counter. I filmed it and began to take a video of the operator arguing in staccato Italian with the passengers until he noticed and dived for cover.

Chaos at baggage claim

So while Christine waited at carousel 9 that was supposed to be offloading the luggage from the following Iberia flight I managed to get through security to go upstairs to make a claim with the Iberia departure counter, only to find that the people checking in Iberia were only syndicated operators who took no responsibility for Iberia's problems, telling me in no uncertain terms that there was only one real Iberia employee in Rome Fiumicino airport, who was behind security at the boarding gate and wouldn't be available until 7 pm.

Finally as I returned to try to get in backwards through security, Christine emerged with our beloved luggage and we made it to Avis to pick up our dinky silver Peugeot 107 and made a perfect traverse of the Rome freeway ring road to Camping Tiber a green grassy high class super expensive camp site (32 euro) to have an pleasant early night of recuperation albeit sore as hell from my over-stressed leg which I am beginning to get worried is having its healing continually disrupted by this kind of nightmarish experience.

1 comment:

  1. The street music band, they were there during my last visit ;)...OMG, they have been performing at the same spot for 2 years now!!!