That one time in Barcelona

This is a true story. 

Picture it, Barcelona 1999. It was the end of my time studying abroad in Seville. I had a plan to travel around Spain a little with my buddy Jeremy. These plans were scuttled when his girlfriend surprised him there to travel together. So, was on my own. I was fine with it and it was pretty exciting. It sounded like a nice adventure. My flight was actually Seville-Barcelona-NY-Hartford and I decided to just skip the Seville to Barcelona leg. This gave me about three weeks to meander my way from Seville to Barcelona. I had a great time doing so and Valencia was a highlight but the story I am telling you now happened in Barcelona.

It was the end of my trip and the end of my six months in Spain. I figured it would be good to spend a few days in Barcelona. I was particularly interested in the architecture and nightlife there and had big plans to experience both. I scheduled around three days and three nights there, not counting my day of departure.

I wasn’t exactly being super responsible about money on this trip. I had a budget sketched out but I didn’t do a great job following it or even keeping track of where I stood. I took out cash from the ATM whenever I needed it and didn’t give these transactions much thought. It was with that type of thinking I decided it was a good idea to splurge on a room in my final few nights in the country. I guess I paid 50 bucks, which was more than my usual 20 in this pre-euro world. The place was nice enough and it provided a good stepping off point for the hunt for absinthe that ensued for me that first evening.

In my second to last day (again, not counting the departure day) I had a lovely day touring around the city. I took one of those tours where you pay a certain amount of money and you can get on and off the tour bus wherever you like for the whole day. It is a convenient way to see all the sights. While on the tour I met some American tourists. One of them was a Spanish teacher in NYC and his traveling companion, his brother-in-law, was a businessman who was interested in sports and history. We hit it off and had a nice time and some nice chats. They even bought my lunch. A funny example of their kindness is that they were trying to introduce to me to fellow travelers who might want to have dinner with me because they determined I didn’t want to have dinner with “old” guys like them. I was a bit embarrassed by such moves but they were appreciated. I enjoyed their company and we made plans to meet the next day at 10:00 am to do the second part of the tour.

When I woke up the next morning I decided 50 bucks was in fact too much for a room on my final night because I wouldn’t be staying there long and it was just a place to crash for a few hours. I thought I’d be out late and busy during the day with the tour. I decided to try a new and cheaper place recommended by the good people at “Let’s Go: Spain.” The lady at the place was nice enough and was friendly when I didn’t happen to have enough cash to pay for the room at the time. No problem I thought, I’ll just run down to the trusty ATM. I conveyed this message to the lady, gave her my passport and ran down to get some money.

At the ATM I figured since it was my last night it might be a great idea to live large to the tune of 200 dollar withdrawal. The machine didn’t allow this transaction. I thought maybe there was a problem with my balance so I tried a smaller figure. 150 bucks, not accepted. “No problem I don’t need all that money anyway, it is just one day,” I figured. I tried $100. No luck. A least I could get $50? Nope. I decided it was not much of an emergency with the $20 I had if I could get $20 more. I knew I’d need to pay 5 dollars to get the the airport and figured I could have an easy day. I also figured if worse came to worst I could borrow money from my new friends. I imagined sending them a check in the summer to repay my debt. It was not an ideal situation but it was fine. I felt some solace that I new people, and especially people who would know I’d be good for any money I borrowed.

I apologized to the lady, got my bags and passport back and headed to the bus station to deposit my bags. It cost about 5 dollars to do this, bringing my total to about 10 dollars when the 5 dollars to the airport the following day was factored in. As I continue this story I will just factor that money into the total. This total did not include any money I’d borrow from my friends when I met them at 10:00. I continually played conversations in my head about them insisting to pay and refusing to tell me their address. I was not going to accept this and I felt a bit strange imagining or hoping they’d be so kind anyway.

After dealing with my bags and my lack of a room I set out to meet my friends. My upbeat mood shifted when I found I could not meet them because of the Barcelona Marathon happening that day. Crossing the street was impossible. There was a sea of people  I could never part and the result was I’d never see those friends again. Maybe getting their email addresses would have been a good idea.

It was 10:15 am when I decided meeting those friends was not going to happen. My flight was 8:15 the following day so I had 22 hours in Barcelona. Lots of time. I also had 10 dollars. I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d do but after some time I thought it would be ok. One day without eating was not going to kill me. I wasn’t worried about getting robbed or anything like that. I had a few books the backpack I had with me as well as some notebooks to scrawl random thoughts as they occurred to me. It was going to be an ok, if boring, day.

I went up and down Las Ramblas numerous times drinking the free water from the fountain nearly every time. I still had my guidebook and tried to find nearby attractions. Well, free ones. At one point I sat on a bench and read for a while. At another I talked to some British tourists and ended up giving them my guidebook. What a generous fellow I was to be giving away a book with only 10 dollars to my name.

ramblas 2

Las Ramblas by day

I don’t remember too much from the day except a ($3) baguette and a monument to Christopher Columbus. The night was much more memorable. I remembered something about an all night shopping mall and decide this would be a decent place for a 21 year old American without accommodation in Barcelona. Window shopping got boring pretty quickly. People watching was still interesting so I made it a point to sit down and watch people whenever I could. I think there were places to spend time and money like mini-golf and a bowling alley. Unfortunately, these luxuries were out of my price range because I only had 7 disposable dollars remaining.

Boredom set in and I went to a bar slash nightclub. It was a nice enough place and the music was not too loud. I ordered a Coke which set me back 2 dollars. It was about 9:00 pm, which gave me about eight hours till I’d want to get on the airport bus. I convinced myself that killing seven or eight hours was no big problem and that drinking Coke in a bar in Barcelona was exactly what I wanted to be doing that evening. I set out to enjoy my Coke and scribbled some inanities in my notebook, while people-watching and pretending to be much deeper than I was.

While wondering if I wanted to get another Coke I thought a good time waster would be to use the lavatory. When returning to my perch at the bar I was asked by an attractive woman if I was American. I am not sure if it was the backpack or the New Balance shoes or my general demeanor but I answered that I was. We got to talking and she asked if I wanted to sit down. I did and I did. She was with two friends from the US and they were headed to Ibiza some day soon. They were all in their late 20’s and were friendly, funny and fun. One of the girls was extremely attractive. She looked something like the image that might be conjured up by the words “blond bombshell.” She had worked as a model in the past. The other girls were attractive in a more girl-next-door sense.

They asked me if they could get me a drink. I debated how to answer but I really wanted a drink. I told them I’d love one but would not be able to return the favor. They seemed to find my tale of woe (and perhaps me)adorable. We had more drinks and more laughs. I regaled them with tales of my extensive travels over the last two weeks. They were very open about their lives in Washington DC and the frustrations they faced in the real world, the world I’d be joining in a year when I graduated. I enjoyed their company and I was glad they offered me a place to sit and a chance to talk to them.

The night got even more interesting when other people joined our table. We were having some laughs and this plus the girls’ (and especially one of them, I believe) attractiveness might have drawn people to our table. One Swedish guy came to the table bearing vodka Red Bulls. This was before I’d even heard of Red Bull in the US. The Swede brought 5 vodka Red Bulls, one for each of us. I was pretty happy I was part of an us at the table. The drinks kept coming and I never managed to reach for my remaining money or to drink another Coke. It was a fun night filled with random and drunken conversations. I met lots of people. I danced and laughed. I was so happy I’d met the girls and I made sure to get their email addresses and other info in DC, then a city I was likely to spend some time in.

At about 1:00 am the girls were headed back to their hotel and asked me if I’d walk them home. They said I could sleep on their couch. I met their request and took them up on this very kind offer. The shower in their hotel room was glorious and sleeping in a non-public place was very nice too headed out for the bus station just in time with a nice story of my final night in Barcelona to tell.

I don’t know if there is any moral to this story or anything similar built in. I just thought it was a fun story that I wanted to share. I have told it a few times and maybe next time I want to tell it I will be a strange person and refer people to my blog. 

In other stories on this blog I have offered ideas for using this in class. I am not sure this story would be a good fit for that.

This story is as true as I remember it to be. I told all monetary figures in dollars just because that is how I remember them in my mind.

And for those with active imaginations, I slept on the couch and showered alone.

I thank you for reading.

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One comment

  1. Andee

    Why do study abroad sessions always have something like this? I recall mine fondly…


    You can make this fit for class… I’m not very imaginative after several hours of transcribing spoken data, but I am imagining that cutting the story into sections at key points and going with the ‘What happens next?’ / ‘What should he do?’ / ‘What would you do?’ kind of thing would work in the classroom. Adding a bit of fiction and reworking the text a bit could make a nice ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ kind of thing, too.

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