“What you are thinking I am…I am,” the tour guide at the head of our bus introduced herself. She had large glasses, a long dull-colored dress and a mass of messy hair spiraling down from the top of her head. She looked something like a cross between Harry Potter’s Professor Trelawney and your average grandmother.
The whole bus chuckled uncomfortably at her declaration, but listened as she continued to introduce herself. Her name was Joyce and she gave this bus tour of Barcelona to Rotary exchange students from our district every year. It wasn’t long, though, before Joyce cut her introduction short to snap at our Slovak bus driver.
“Doprava! Always doprava unless I say differently!” Trying her best to tell him to go right in Slovak.
Joyce was taking us on a tour through the historic areas of Barcelona, to the Olympic stadium in the hills on the edge of the city and then down to the Basilica of Sagrada Família. Why Rotary hired her to take their students on this route every year, I couldn’t imagine. She had to be the (best) worst tour guide ever!
My evidence – (more or less accurate) Joyce Quotes
- “That is the city swimming pool. How do I know? Because I can read it right on the sign there.”
- “We should all do the drugs Guadí was doing.”
- “And this is an office building—No! It is a bank, because it says bank on it.”
- (We were told earlier in the day that our guide would explain the current politics surrounding Catalonia’s desire to secede from Spain, but she said little more than) “Catalonia doesn’t like Spain…”
- “That was a police officer. How do I know that? Because I can read it on it on his car!”
- (Looking out the window at the people around some benches) “They should have brought a towel! Now the benches are all wet and they are thinking, ‘I should have brought a towel.'”
As we arrived at the Olympic Stadium—only driving by as we were on a tight schedule—Joyce directed us onto a road where access was restricted due to a marathon being ran that day. After hanging out of the door of the bus to inquire of a police officer who was (conveniently, as we shall see) stationed there, she instructed the bus driver to reverse, but as we did a light “thunk” reverberated through the vehicle and furious honking ensued.
Almost everyone of us students pressed our faces against the windows to see what had happened. Some motorcyclist had stopped her bike just feet from the back of the bus and as we reversed the tail end of our vehicle had crushed the fender of her bike.
Insurance was exchanged via what must have been a horrible game of telephone. The girl and officer spoke to Joyce in Catalan, Joyce then turned to the Rotarian to speak in English, and the Rotarian then spoke Slovak to our bus driver. After the situation was resolved, Joyce once again boarded the bus, acting like nothing at all had happened.
When the tour ended and Joyce departed, laughter immediately broke out and everyone began doing their best impressions of the cooky guide. One of the exchange students went to a Rotarian and asked what the deal with Joyce had been. Their response, “Yeah, she did seem a little drunker this year than normal…”
While in Barcelona, we had the option to visit a replica of a traditional Spanish village—or rather many different replicas! Each building in Poble Espanyol represents or is a copy of one from a real village, all of them assembled into this gorgeous, folk amalgam set right in the midst of Barcelona’s urban sprawl.
At every turn, some new gorgeous site awaited. Stunning mosaics, verdant orange trees, compact side streets or vistas across Barcelona and to the sea beyond.
Even—no especially!—amidst this beauty, I was panicking. I had forgotten my camera battery on the bus. Before entering, I kept reassuring myself, “You don’t have to document everything.” “Just make memories here, not photos.” Nevertheless, as soon as I entered through the town gate and saw Poble Espanyol’s main square a despairing “Oh, please…” escaped my lips.
I had to find some way to take photos, but with only a broken phone camera and powerless-camera, my options were few.
I settled on the only solution I could come up with. I asked our trip supervisor if I could use the official Rotary camera he carried. Fortunately, I know Ondrej well. He is from my club in Poprad. I cannot thank him enough, for he saved me by permitting me to swap SD cards and use his camera that day. Without him, I couldn’t have shared the splendor of Poble Espanyol.
I wish my first dip into the Mediterranean Sea was more of a story than it is in fact. Essentially, in late-April, the water was still exceedingly cold, so much so that it was only allowed to swim for short intervals. On top of that, dead jellyfish bobbed in the water and piled on to the seashore. Not just a few either, but thousands! It was impossible to avoid them.
Just one of these two cons would have been fine with me. Warm water and jellyfish? Tolerable. Clean, cold water? All right.
As it was, I stepped ankle-deep into the Mediterranean and (capable of saying I had “swam” in the sea) backed away and sunned myself for the remainder of our time there.
Pickpockets and Card Games
Before you fret, I was a hawk in protecting my things all through EuroTour. No thief could have or ever did get past me.
Yet, a friend of mine had the misfortune to encounter a couple. A group of four of us were walking down La Rambla, enjoying the displays from local artists and the smell of Catalan cuisine, when two men tripped my friend as we passed by. He only stumbled and the two crooks acted as if it were a joke. A shy soul, my friend only laughed weakly and quickly turned away.
Fortunately, one of our other companions, Meg, thought quicker than us all and spun around, making eye contact with the thieves. “Where is your phone?” she asked, on the face of it addressing my friend, but in reality intimidating thieves with a very obvious threat. The two men grinned sheepishly and returned the phone.
We probably should have told a city officer about the event, but we were just too relieved it had been resolved and anxious to get somewhere less crowded.
We found a quiet Cafe, ordered coffees, teas and croissants and chatted until someone produced a deck of cards and introduced us all to a very special game.
It is called Mao and you play by—[REDACTED].
(First Rule of Mao: Don’t talk about Mao.)
A few Rotarians recommended, to me and the same group of friends, a grand, but local, market that sits along La Rambla. It was our last evening in the city. We would be passing that night on the ferry to Italy and over the nearly 20 hour voyage only one meal was provided, so we desperately needed to stock up on food.
We must have passed the market twice before finally spotting it. How we managed this feat of obliviousness, I have no clue. Right off of the La Rambla, a colossal metal roof covers a maze of hundreds of stalls of endless varieties known as La Boqueria.
Right as we walked in, we were all simultaneously seduced by a vendor selling freshly cubed fruit and delightful smoothies of odd flavor combinations. Spice vendors competed for attention, pedaling equally exotic spices from all reaches of the globe and the local, Barcelonian specialties. At the center of the market, dozens of seafood counters were busy chopping and icing large sea creatures, the likes of which I have only ever seen in aquariums. As the only one among us with the stomach for the smell, I took a turn around the seafood stalls wishing I could be a Barcelonian and get my produce from such a charming location.
That was the amazing thing. La Boqueria is reputed to be one of the largest tourist attractions in the city, but as we got deeper and deeper into the market it didn’t feel like there were many tourists wandering the cramped and dimly-lit aisles. The granite counters and professional illumination of the front section gave way to wooden stalls and haggling locals. They squabbled over meats and produce in what must be a regular routine for them. I felt privileged to experience something so authentically Barcelonian.