Galway to Dublin; Dublin to Barcelona; Weight restrictions; Lost in Barcelona

Our flight leaving Ireland was scheduled for 6pm from Dublin, so we vacated Tanya’s place early and went to sit in the park. We took turns running errands, and I’d come back from checking email and couldn’t find Sheryl anywhere. She wasn’t where I’d left her, so I stopped scanning for pink hair and started looking for our bags instead. When I found them there was some man sitting on them. I approached, hoping it wasn’t some instantly trustworthy stranger Sheryl had met. It was only when I got close enough that I realized it was Cameron the Aussie who had turned up unexpectedly once again. We had a nice chat and headed off to our bus. It took ages but it got us to Dublin airport eventually.

Check-in was no fun at all, though. We were flying Ryanair, an ultra-discount airline that has a 15kg weight-restriction on checked baggage. My pack, I knew, was about 25kg not counting camera and computer, so this was a bit of an issue. Especially since the charge for excess baggage was €15 per kilogram. Sheryl’s pack was already 15kg so no help there. I had already loaded my daypack with everything heavy I could think of before, and thrown some stuff in Sheryl’s carryon as well, but when I apprehensively put my pack on the scale it still weighed in at 19kg, so I pulled it off again, tore it open, and pulled out anything I could and stuffed it anywhere I could. Even after that it was still 16kg. Honestly. I hate carrying such a heavy pack anyway, but it’s mostly unavoidable at this point. The weight is mainly tent, computer and food. Once I’m finally able to ship the computer home my mind and my back will be a lot happier. There’s not much more than that I can sacrifice, though, except maybe for some small bits and pieces that don’t weigh that much anyway.

Speaking of shipping the computer home - I’d investigated it earlier and had been horror-struck by the prices. It’s going to cost me more than $300 to send it home via FedEx or DHL. It would be a lot less to use one of the national postal services - Spain or Portugal, say - about $100, but with a corresponding lack of surety and no guarantee of delivery or insurance. The only alternative is to carry the damn thing until South Africa, though. Maybe I can give it to Mike if we manage to catch up with him in Germany.

In any case, the Ryanair check-in clerk finally took pity on me and let it slide. I’m just thankful they didn’t weigh the cabin baggage as well, as there’s supposed to be a 10kg restriction on that. But we got on the plane and in the air. The flight was actually awful, but not through any fault of the airline - just that the plane was full of screaming children. Two horrible little bastards just across from us were having, I kid you not, a farting contest. It was a very long flight.

When we finally landed in Spain I had the belated, horrible realization that I don’t speak Spanish. It’s not as if I’d forgotten this fact, but it suddenly hit home for me in the passport-control line that if they wanted to engage in the sort of extended interrogation that usually happens at the Canada-US border, I wouldn’t be able to do much more than stare at them helplessly. Fortunately my speed-reading of the Spanish phrasebook turned out to be unnecessary as the entire exchange consisted of two words: “hola” and “graÇias”.

We picked up and repacked our bags and tried to find the bus into town. We couldn’t find the cheap bus our guidebook talked about and were prepared to hate the useless book even more until we realized that we were at the wrong airport. Ryanair, being a budget carrier, had flown us into Girona, an hour outside Barcelona. That mystery solved, we grabbed the bus. The first thing I noticed when we got off the bus was that Spain smelled good - spicy and green and warm. The second thing was that it really was warm. Ireland had been chilly, and the plane had been chilly, but outside it was beautifully, gloriously warm - at last!

The bus ride into Barcelona took about an hour. As we navigated the streets toward the bus station I tried to catch sight of some street signs to place us on the map, but with no success. The only landmark I could see was a big rounded building all lit with blue light, which reminded me of pictures I’d seen of that hideous gherkin building in London. When we got off the bus it was midnight and we had no idea where we were. Cautious reconnaissance revealed streets with names that bore no resemblance to those the map said should be around the bus station. Did I mention that, as well, we had no idea where we were going? We had a hostel booked and that hostel had an address, but we had no idea where that street was, beyond knowing that it was in the Gothic Quarter. Sheryl was too tired and hungry to put up with aimless wandering for long, though, and she bought a Michelin map from a gas station. We found our destination, which we’d never have found without a good map, it being at the centre of a maze of twisting old streets. Also, we found out why none of the street names were familiar. Barcelona has two bus stations, and we were at the other one, the one that isn’t at the centre of town and was, therefore, off the edge of the little map in our stupid guidebook. I suppose after the airport mixup this shouldn’t have surprised us.

In the end we only had to walk about twenty minutes to get to the area where our hostel was, through the darkened fragrant streets. I was quite enchanted by Barcelona at that point. I loved the warmth and the palm trees and the wide paved avenues (sad to say, the city very quickly lost its initial charm for me). We hardly saw another living soul on that walk, at least until we reached the Gothic Quarter, where we began to see tourists and locals wandering around with six-packs of beer dangling from one hand (and usually an open can in the other), trying to sell them. I wonder how desperate for a drink I’d have to be, before I bought an overpriced warm can of weak beer from some guy off the street? Following the map, we entered one narrow, claustrophobic street after another, each one smaller than the last. Finally, just as I was getting nervous both about the possibility of getting jumped, and about our packs actually fitting through the alleyway, we found the hostel.

Attracting the attention of the night attendant was a bit of a chore, but we managed to get checked in. Our sixteen-bed dorm room was huge, with two stories of bed-alcoves on either side. Each bed had its own little open cube with a lock-box, reading light and electrical outlet, and the top beds were reached by tall ladders - fun to climb with a pack on. Sheryl could only just touch the bottom of my ‘floor’ by standing on her bed and stretching out her arms as far as she could. We dumped our stuff and went looking for food. We were both starving, and it took far longer than it should have to find someplace that was open and would sell us a sandwich. We ate, took a short walk, and then went straight to bed.

Flourish

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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
This travelogue comprises 16,426 photographs and 402,515 words in 307 dispatches written from 335 places in 52 countries on 6 continents around the world.
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