Arriving at the airport you always seem to be a bit concerned about where to go next, which is the logical way to go. Not so in Barcelona, the bus terminal is right outside the airport's exit. When a bus pulled up, I asked in my best Spanish if this bus would go to downtown, or "ciudad centro". The bus took us straight into town and the bus stops were announced by a display visible to the passengers. We left the bus at Plaça de Catalunia and started walking. We had a reservation at a hotel just off "Las Ramblas", the main drag through the city. Hotel Moderno is a three star, very comfortable place and comes highly recommended. Our walk lasted only ten minutes and we had arrived at our home for the next four nights. Once settled into our room we wasted no time and got to exploring the city...
Along the Malecon
It becomes quite clear that the city's main drag "las Ramblas" divides it into a left and right, or yin and yang. The west side seems to be more seedy, where sailors look for entertainment, and the east side seems more touristy. We strolled along the narrow side streets, looking at everything with wide open gringo amazement. Graffiti all over the place, but it is beautiful graffiti. Not just simple tagging.
Damn good graffiti
A few hours of sauntering brought on an appetite and we soon found a place to rest our laurels and order some vino tinto and a pizza. The small plaza contained a random selection of visitors from all over the planet. Our pizza was delicious as was the wine. During our dinner we were entertained by a couple of quite talented musicians playing guitar and accordion. As time progressed the sides of the plaza became occupied by people waiting for a place to sit and order drinks and food, some people would leave and their seats would be filled immediately. It is a brisk business, this wining and dining in Barcelona.
We were immediately at home in this city, the cultural energy is enormous and you can't help but to be enveloped by it. Young artists and musicians are everywhere as well as travelers with backpacks loaded to the brim with stuff, pots and pans dangling from beneath, looking for the local hostel or just to sleep on the beach. Strolling along Las Ramblas you come upon "tableaux vivants" or living statues, people posing motionless, 'till someone drops a coin in their basket, then they come alive and take on a new frozen stance. Vendors selling anything from cheap kitchey tourist crap to budgies.
Las Ramblas is a wide centre walkway with traffic on both sides. Restaurants have tables set up "al fresco" in the center and the waiters serve you while dodging traffic, playing "frogger", with your order from the main establishment across the street. The service is old fashioned European style, where the waiter will bring a dish from the kitchen and serve it onto your plate. We ordered a couple of Sangria and a large Paella to share. The food and wine were excellent although a bit pricey.
We were told by my brother Bart, and his wife Wilma, that there are two tourist bus systems operating in the city; the red line and the blue line. During our first day strolling through town we came upon a kiosk selling tickets to these busses. The tickets are valid for as many days as you purchase and are quite good value. One system stays closer to the coast, while the other goes more into the hills. You can hop on and off at any stop, and the route covers pretty much all of the things you would want to see in Barcelona. At some stops the red and blue lines converge and you can step over onto the other line.
Our first afternoon in town was amazing and once back at the hotel we crashed into bed with big plans for the next day...
Just a few things Peter didn't mention, Our first impression was mixed, squalor amid beauty. Then our cottage was the last one on the property and was at the perimeter wall with a barbed wire fence. Why? I wondered and feared, what had we gotten ourselves into. It was also so hot and humid. Fear and panic were in the back of my mind slowly clawing their way through. Just give it a try, to heck with the garbage piled up in places, try to turn a blind eye to the mangey dogs, just get past this. By dawns early light...(song) things looked so differently. The staff at the resort were so kind, the food amazing, the pool!!!!!!! That was the first time in my life I thought I could be one of those resort people that lounge about all day. Never, never before this. After all how hard is it to wave at Maria and order two large or small Balinese beers and satay sticks while sitting in the shade between swims in the pool. Also the fellow guests were ever so nice, not being a super fancy 5 star you get a good cross section of people. One friendship is now in its 15th year. Quick things to mention; I almost had a really nasty fall, the hookers saved me. Just nice people. Look down while crossing the street, the road may have pieces missing. Check your merchant's calculator because it is rigged, 1+1= 649,000 rupiah. Also enjoy those beautiful smiles from the locals that are everywhere. When they call out Mister Peter or Shelagh will you shop with us today, seriously set a date to do this. We did this on our last day. James Bond, his tourist name, was really my watch agent. Chairs appeared out of nowhere, all other vendors came close to see what we would buy. I selected six, knock off, good quality watches including a couple of Rolexes. We negotiated our price to both our satisfaction. A collective sigh was heard by all. James Bond didn't come to work again for two days. The last pictures in my head are of loads of the locals wearing shower caps on their heads with bags of hotel shampoo and soaps and good used clothes from my new friend's husband. The girls with used makeup and nail polish so they can keep on doing manicures on the beach etc. The thing I learned, is kindness is a two way street, and traveling is a good reason to clean out your closet.
PS by Peter:
When visiting places like Indonesia, where women do hair braiding and manicures on the beach, consider going to your local dollar store and buying some nail polish and such to give away to these ladies. They will be overjoyed.
On a cliff at the south side of Bali sits the temple called Uluwatu, on the Nusa Dua peninsula. A more picturesque site could not have been chosen for this small temple. We left our hotel in the morning with Jan and Michelle as our companions in a taxi hailed from the entrance. The drive is not too long but it was hot and humid on this November day. When we arrived at the temple the taxi driver offered to wait for us to return us to our hotel, probably to avoid having to toil in the heat and take a welcome nap.
Friendly monkeys at Uluwatu
Note the Sarong and Sash
The Temple from the hiking trail
At the entrance there are the usual routines of having to rent a sarong (we already had several in our hotel room, but just could not remember to bring them along) and a sash and to buy some fruit for the monkeys. The monkey treats were soon devoured and we went for a walk along the cliff's edge. Placing the temple in the center you can walk along the cliff in either direction, viewing the Indian ocean below. The surf down there is one of the best for wave riders, and quite a few surfers hike down there for a day of fun.
The Temple on the cliffside
We had a good look at the temple and decided to take a walk along the cliff's edge. Along the walk the heat and humidity really went to work on our unaccustomed bodies and we were properly soaked with sweat at the end of the trail. To our great surprise we found a couple of stalls selling refreshments and another selling costume jewelry. We bought a couple of bottles of water and Shelagh found some lovely eyeglass straps. When we returned to the starting point Shelagh poured the remainder of her water over her head to cool off. Back at the hotel we wasted no time and dove into the pool to loose the heat in our bodies. Dinner across the street was lovely, traditional Indonesian fare, followed by a night in the hotel lounge with new friends. The next day we said goodbye to Jan and Michelle, their holiday was over. We have stayed in contact with Jan and she and her husband Jim have since visited us in Vancouver. Bali was once a place of many micro kingdoms. When the Dutch took control of Indonesia, they put an end to that and formed a single government. The kings still remain, albeit quietly. One evening we went for a walk to one of these king's home, just around the block from our hotel. He now runs a modest bed and breakfast. We chose a palapa on the beach and soon a waitress walked up to take our drink order. She brought us two beers and warned us that the rain was coming soon and to take shelter in the bar. We stubbornly remained where we were and soon the rain came down, then the wind piped up and the rain became nearly horizontal soaking us to the skin. "I'm soaked and I can't open my eyes" said Shelagh, "Mine have been closed for nearly 10 minutes" I replied. So there we went defeated by mother nature off to the bar where some locals and some Aussies greeted us with big smiles. We lingered for quite a while chatting with the people and sharing stories. Something to watch for on this island are the money changers. Other than bonafide banks, who will give you the lowest exchange rate, money can be exchanged at private businesses all over the island. Some will use slight of hand trickery to short change you while other have rigged calculators that will show your how many rupiahs you will receive. Always do the math yourself and re-count the money you have been handed. If you catch someone cheating you, they just shrug and smile, and they expect you to move on. Everybody tries to make a buck. Bali is a lovely place and I recommend a holiday there, you will not regret it.