A short work week has past, and after trying, and failing, to lounge around the pool in the 112 degree heat I figured I might as well post an update.
Over the previous long weekend I was fortunate enough to spend 5 nights in Barcelona. More than anything, it was a great way to relax before starting the last remaining month of a busy school year. The trip started off on the wrong foot with unnecessarily loud flight from Dammam International early Wednesday morning, followed by a long layover in Cairo. Even though I had attempted a promise to myself never to fly with them again, I ended up flying EgyptAir because of a number of time constraints, but more so because I’m cheap. I wound up landing in Barcelona without much incident and without spending too much at the bar in Cairo International, so it wasn’t all bad.
The Suez Canal
Egyptian Breakfast of Champions
The airport in Barcelona is beautifully modern, typically European, and wound up being bit of a tease of relative freedom, given what life is like outside The Kingdom. People were friendly, queues were followed, passport control was unsurprisingly ordinary, and the baggage arrived on the carousel within a reasonable amount of time. I met my companion, The Jew (she’s Jewish), outside customs. A bit frustrated and tired, we took a cab to our hotel in Sant Adria, dropped our bags and took a walk through the neighborhood. We lucked out with the location (I picked this one because it was cheap, and given my experience using this strategy in places like Cairo, I was a bit leery). Set a block away from a main metro line and just around the corner from a long stretch of cafes, patisseries, and butcher shops, it was a great place to experience a less touristy part of the City. Later that night, we met up with a few people in the city center, had great paella in a hole in the wall in el Raval, and caught the last train back to the hotel.
We spent the next few days walking the streets and exploring the neighborhoods; Cuitat Vella, La Rambla, el Gotic, Barceloneta, el Raval, Montjuic, Poblenou, and a bunch more places I really don’t remember or can’t really spell. Despite the overwhelming number of tourists, visitors, students, hippies, and petty thieves, it was a great place. The café culture and relaxed attitude make it easy to unwind. We spent a fair amount of time people watching from sidewalk tables with a few beers and plenty of tapas. It was nice.
The Columbus Statue at the end of La Rambla
Sagrada Familia. Very interesting Gaudi Basilica that's been under
construction for more than 90 years.
St. Josep Market on La Rambla
The view of Barcelona from Park Gruell. Not my favorite place.
The plaza outside the 1992 Olympic Stadium.
One morning after a walk though Sant Adria and a delicious breakfast of bacon and beer, we stopped at a corner butcher and picked out a selection to nibble on. It was a quaint little store chock full of hanging pork legs, sausages, cases of meat, and a wide selection of hard white cheeses. With the help of a few hand gestures and awkward smiles the Jew was able to use a little Spanish with one of the men behind the counter to pick out a few types of Iberian ham, a selection of chorizo and a really oily sausage with a hard casing with a name I couldn’t pronounce. We topped of our menagerie of pork with some Spanish cheese, stopped by a corner store for a selection of Spanish beer, then headed back to the hotel to try everything. Yes, the Jew tried them too.
The weather was nice, albeit much cooler than Saudi, and was enjoyable most days. It was a little chilly for lounging on the beach, and the Mediterranean was quite cold, but it was enjoyable none the less. We skipped the popular stretch of beaches near the city center, instead deciding on Plata del Bogatell towards the western end. It was a short walk from the metro, was largely free of people and was a nice change of pace from the garbage strewn beaches I frequent. We didn’t know it at the time, but the stretch where we sat with our picnic of pork, cheese, and beer was a nudist beach. It wasn’t as titillating as it could have been, and most of the skin we saw was of the leathery, elderly, male variety.
The Mediterranean, sans naked old men.
Barcelona was a nice place to vacation. It wasn’t too hectic, it was easy to find your way around and stumble upon different places, and there were ample opportunities to see touristy things if you wanted (Park Guell) and loads of others if you didn’t (Montjuic on a weekday).
Arriving back in Saudi at four in the morning and rushing home for a quick nap before heading to work was a bit more exhausting than I anticipated, but it could have been worse. Passport control was relatively empty, the drive back to my compound was peaceful, and despite the humidity it wasn’t overbearingly hot.
I opened the front door of my apartment and was overwhelmed by a wave of hot, stale air. In my absence, one of the air conditioning units sprung a leak (they’re mounted in the ceiling) and not knowing what to do my roommate turned them both off and went about his business. It was 93 degrees. It never dawned on him to call maintenance, but instead he left a sticky note on my bathroom mirror trying to explain what happened in his unnecessarily large, scratchy handwriting. I turned on both units, laid on the couch for a quick 20 minute nap, and was woken by the clip clop of his footsteps as he rushed to his bathroom. Walking past his room I realized he must have turned off the AC shortly after I left. The rude, musty stench coming from the pile of his damp sweaty clothes, and the large, wet, grey, sweat-body-print on his bed were evidence of more than a few days of heat.
I needed a break from the distractions and frustrations of living here, and upon returning I realized that the little things in life that pick away at your happiness really don’t ever go away. As of now, I’m finding a little solace in the fact that I’ll be heading back to the States in a little over 6 weeks, and upon my return and our subsequent move to our new compound, the man-sized toddler I live with will be someone else’s problem.
You never really get away...