My first impression of Barcelona was fantastic. After the dead city of Marseille, Barcelona’s hustle and bustle is most welcome. I first arrived at the Mambo Tango youth hostel. A girl I met in Marseille recommended it, and since I didn’t have a reservation anywhere in Barcelona, I figured I would start there. When I got to the hostel, however, there were no rooms available. Martha, the woman at the front desk, called a nearby hostel, Hello BCN, and set me up with a room.
Hello BCN is a modern, well-maintained hostel. The locks on the room doors and lockers are all electronic. It has a large lobby where residents can be seen hanging out throughout the day and late into the night. After checking in and showering, I set out to explore the neighborhood.
I found a Chinese restaurant nearby that offered a lunch buffet for €5. To my starved body, this was a godsend. I ate as if I had never eaten before: noodles, chicken-pops, beef and brocolli, and fruit all found a place in my stomach.
Afterwards, I continued exploring the neighborhood. I love the urban design and architecture. The narrow allies with cobblestone and brick paths are most charming. I find it immensely enjoyable to turn into back allies. The anticipation of what I will find is most exciting. I am amazed at how clean the streets are. There’s little garbage anywhere. I’ve seen that a crew of workers patrols the streets usually late at night and power-washes the roads and plazas. It seems like a waste of water, but it must help prevent disease and other qualms that take root in unclean environments.
As I walked around, I came across a telephone shop. Since I needed to buy a SIM card still, I approached the sales clerk and asked him if he sold “Movistar” SIM cards (I had asked Mattheas in Marseille which I should get because he lived in Spain until recently). At first I spoke to the clerk in Spanish. When my Spanish failed me, I spoke in English. Then upon learning that the man was Pakistani, I spoke to him in Urdu. I ended up not buying the card because it wasn’t what I was looking for, but it struck me that there are a great number of Pakistanis here. You see Pakistanis – mostly men – everywhere. Many of the shops are run by Pakistanis and even have signage in Urdu. Moreover, numerous Pakistani restaurants dot the neighborhood. I eventually came across another telephone shop. This one, too, was run by Pakistanis. It was a much bigger store, and at least five gentlemen stood behind the L-shaped counter. I said “salaam” and introduced myself to one of the men, Rauf Raja, who ended up selling me a SIM card. I asked him why there were so many Pakistanis here. Just like the Americans have taken over Iraq, the Pakistanis have taken over Barcelona, he joked wryly. I dropped the topic.
I strolled down Las Ramblas later. It’s said to be the most famous street in Spain. I can see why. There’s a lot happening on this street. Tourists, street artists, street vendors all crowd the same space. Every few feet there’s something different to see. The street artists, especially, are quite inspiring. They appear in full body paint, usually as mimes, and there never seems to be a repeat act. I wonder if they’re all part of the same union or organization that helps ensure that they don’t encroach on each other’s acts. The street transforms itself at night when the drunk partygoers take over. South Asian men selling beer and hash suddenly appear every few yards along with African prostitutes who grab at the men passing by.
When I returned to my room later tonight, I met Steph and Kathryn. They are in the bunk beds across from mine. They are Canadian teachers, both about my age, traveling during summer break. Steph teaches in Canada while Kathryn is currently teaching in Bulgaria. They seem like nice girls. They invited me to join them on a bike tour of Barcelona tomorrow. I agreed to accompany them. It would be a nice way to see the city.