Jan 18 2008
The unwelcome turn of events on New Year’s Eve was the first (and hopefully last) moment on this trip that I’ve genuinely feared for our safety. It was surreal: imagine riot footage you’ve seen on television, with protesters desperately scattering while being chased by cops wielding weapons. Not a scene I ever saw myself being a part of.
When we’d safely made it back to the apartment, our fear turned into bewilderment: why in the world would a cop attack an innocent, trapped tourist?
So we did what every person of our generation does when confronted with the unknown: we googled it. Turns out the Spanish police tend towards violence — a vestige of Franco’s time when the police were less like police and more like the personal security force of politically extremist factions. Since the Spanish political front has calmed, we assumed such violence was anomalous in contemporary Spain. But upon consulting the next day’s newspaper, we realized that no one considered the event newsworthy. Nor were any locals surprised when we explained the incident.
We decided to occupy our New Year’s Day with family-friendly and hopefully police-brutality-free activities. The Barcelona aquarium was noted in our guidebook as being one of the best in Europe. Of course, every tourist attraction touts itself as the best something. It seems that public relations reps simply fill in the following statement: “the best/most ____ in all of _____!” and have it printed on every brochure and in every guidebook. The best (worst) example of this was a museum on Crete that claimed it was the best naval museum in the eastern Mediterranean. What geographical region does that even encompass??
If the Barcelona aquarium is one of the best in Europe, that doesn’t say much for European aquariums. First, it was insanely expensive. Second, it was tiny. Verdict: skip it.
However, I did make a discovery at the Barcelona aquarium that may have justified the price for me. The aquarium had a tank full of clown anemone fish a la Finding Nemo. Maybe I’m an idiot for not knowing that Nemos actually exist – this could be just another tidbit of common knowledge that I’ve been completely oblivious to. I’ve decided that I will own clown anemone fish upon my return. They are the cutest, eensiest fish I’ve ever seen (in fact, the only fish I’ve ever seen that could be called “cute” at all), and I stood with my nose pressed against the glass cooing at them until I realized families behind me were staring.
It was kind of disturbing that we chose to eat another giant seafood menu del dia after visiting an aquarium, but this did not occur to us at the time. And it was really great calamari! What was less impressive about this menu was the dessert Abby and I chose to get, which turned out to be a plastic container of unflavored and unsweetened yogurt standing on a saucer. Oh, with the exotic side of packet of sugar.
After lunch, we took the funicular (isn’t that a great word?) up to Montjuic, a giant mountain on the edge of Barcelona proper that affords great views of the city. We visited an old castle atop the mountain and took pictures of the spectacular harbor view. Montjuic is a huge place that boasts many museums and attractions, but to visit them would have required a lot of walking, and that’s not really our style. So we decided to get hot chocolate instead.
Spanish hot chocolate is rich and thick, whipped up in giant pots by ancient Spanish women. Although as a general rule, the Spaniards don’t really do sweet stuff, so don’t be surprised when your dessert isn’t as sweet as your palette is accustomed to. In fact, most restaurants only offer a bowl of fruit as dessert. Flan if you’re lucky. And if you’re really lucky, the delicacy known as cup-of-plain-yogurt.
The next day had been declared shopping day by Janet (Ben’s mom), Abby and I. I was giddy – there are girls here! And I can go shopping with them! I might even get new things!
The day started out on a high note with Abby and I bargaining at a shop near a local market for two pairs of shoes for ten euros. As the day wore on, and we moved on the mall (yes, we found a mall!), we realized that our luck had ended: the crushing value of the euro made budget shopping with our measly dollars nearly impossible.
I was not going to let my day of shopping go wasted, though, and at our last stop I was easily convinced to splurge on a dress for the price of 17 euros. And this is when the fun began (because for some reason, no day in Barcelona could pass without something traumatic happening). It started when my debit card was denied at the shop. Strange, I thought, because I am certain Ben and I just deposited money into our European checking account. I chalked it up to faulty machines at the store and went to the ATM to get some cash. There, I was informed that I had zero dollars in my account. Interesting.
Upon returning home and checking our online statement, my worst fears were confirmed: Ben and I were victims of credit card fraud. There were charges on our statement that we physically could not have made, as they were made in Spain while we were in Prague. The thief had cleaned us out, taking nearly $2000 from our account (of course, that’s only like 15 euros).
Turns out that one of the apartment companies Ben and I had contacted in order to reserve a place in Barcelona (a place that turned out to be “double booked”), had decided to take all of our money instead. THANKS “ALEXANDER NAVA” of “SOUTH STAR COMPANIES.” You can blame it on an errant employee all you want but I KNOW THE TRUTH. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send him hate mail.
And now I will write an overwhelmingly positive review of our bank, HSBC. We opened an account with them because their ATMs are all over Europe, and all along we’ve been consistently impressed with their customer service. When I called them from Barcelona, nearly in tears, they could not have been kinder – they gave us all our money back, promised to investigate the bad guy, and overnight-ed us new debit cards. HSBC rocks my world!
Unfortunately, since our new debit cards had to be sent to America first, our current situation was not good: we had no cash and no means by which we could get cash. We put on our best we’re-starving-and-penniless faces and Ben’s dad bought us dinner. Thanks Craig! In fact, if Ben’s family hadn’t been visiting, the situation would’ve been immensely worse.
Not wanting to risk any more drama, we decided to stay in that night and play cards. I don’t even want to know what would’ve happened had we left the house – flood? famine? plague of locusts?