4 July, 2015
I was in Barcelona for two days. Hardly long enough to see everything, and no where near long enough to really know the city. But I fell in love with it. I fell in love with Barcelona’s grand and vibrant architecture, with the music which floated in the air of open squares, with the humidity and the chaos and the young men and peddlers who shouted out as I passed. I fell in love with it all.
However, I am not going to lie to you all. My first day in beautiful Barca was most definitely one of the most terrifying and frustrating days I have ever experienced. Not just while on exchange. Ever. I know, big call! But I’ll tell you why.
The flight was smooth enough. I have jet-setted enough times that planes and airports don’t make me nervous at all. The only butterflies I get when flying are caused by the excitement and anticipation of going somewhere and experiencing something.
So the airport was fine. When I landed, I politely asked where to find my shuttle and hopped aboard, luggage in hand and prepared to conquer the Spanish world. At this point in time, the only thing bugging me was the intense heat. It seemed that the Spanish summer had pulled out all the stops and was blasting us with all its might. But I was still enthusiastic – I was young, I was adventurous, I was Australian! A little heat could not knock me back.
But then I got off at the square so that I could catch the underground metro to my hostel and … there were no elevators. So I dragged my bags down what seemed like a very long flight of steps and a corridor which dragged on endlessly. There were offers from friendly men to help me with my things, but I was also aware of my vulnerability as a young and adventurous Australian, and refused with a nice smile.
When I finally got there, I purchased my ticket, awkwardly navigated my bulky baggage through the gate and quickly caught the elevator as it was descending to the platform. Upon my arrival on the platform, I realised that I was in fact on the wrong platform and should be on the other side of the track. So I turned right around and stepped back into the elevator before it could close. At which point, it refused to move and began to speak to me in terse and mechanical Spanish. It took the translations of a young girl walking by to explain to me that the elevator had suddenly taken it upon itself to shut down. So I then lumbered (more than a little sweaty) down the platform and up a flight of stairs, and then reached a gate which – upon passing through – I realised was the exit. So I purchased another ticket to let myself back in, conquered another set of stairs and finally, FINALLY got on the train.
My hostel proved another challenge. I was at first befuddled by the street numbers – which seemed to be in an order deliberately designed to confuse tourists – and this only served as a prologue to the terrifying revelation that the address of my hostel applied not only to the student block in which I was to stay, but the whole university campus.
Once I had poked my head into a couple buildings and wandered around for a while did I accidentally find the correct building. I thought my trauma would end there. But as it happened, luck was not on my side.
I was let in and then ignored by the receptionist for 25 minutes while he dawdled in his office and chatted to some other people in the foyer. My single room had somehow been converted into a shared room with two other girls, and then he had no confirmation of the deposit I had paid or the remaining sum to be paid. Then I had to drag my luggage up to the third floor (no elevators) and then my electronic key wouldn’t work. I swiped, and my door remained firmly shut. It was at this point, sweaty and tired and alone in a foreign city, that I lifted my face to the heavens, leant back against my luggage, and tried to push away the tears in my eyes.
Two seemingly nice young men in the corridor – they appeared to be students – were hanging outside their dorm so I asked them to help. One barged the door open, informing me smilingly that some doors didn’t even lock. I was not amused – much less so when I found that my own door now did not lock from the outside. I dumped my bags on the tiny bed in the tiny room, called my mother and cried.
Reception didn’t have much to say about the inexplicable issues with my room key, so I took my valuables with me to the shared bathroom every time I needed to pee and internally locked my door at night.
The next morning when I got up to shower, I was confronted with one of the boys who had helped me enter my room the previous day walking nude in the corridor and texting on his mobile phone. When he glanced up and realised that I and another girl were laughing, he ran back into the dorm, to the great laughter of the other boys inside. No, I do not understand. No, I don’t want to.
I set off to my shower thinking that Barcelona was perhaps the most crazy place of all, and maybe it may be the city to finally drive me mad. I couldn’t wait to join my tour that afternoon and finally retrieve some sense of equilibrium. After my stressful and unconventional introduction to the city, I was well prepared for someone else to take the reins and guide me along my travels.