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Dec 00

La Rambla

Finally, affordable net access in Spain. I’m currently typing this up in a huge Net Café called EasyEverything. It’s actually a large chain of Net Cafés found all over Europe and they are incredibly massive. The one I’m sitting in currently has over 150 terminals – each equipped with a flatscreen LCD screen with everything hooked through a fat fibre optic connection. The capital outlay to start up these chain of stores must have been massive. Their billing model is slightly different as well – the cost of access is a flat 200 pesetas (AU$2), but the amount of time that buys you varies with the current number of computer terminals in use. I’d say 80% of computers are in use right now, in the evening and my 200pts gets me 45 minutes. In the morning, it would buy me 3 hours.

We have bunked in “Hostal Paris”, a clean hostel with daily room service and a TV(!) and the best bathroom we’ve had out of all our accommodation so far (even the 3-star hotel we stayed in in London!). The hostel is located in one of the narrow pedestrian-ways just off La Rambla, the main street in this part of Barcelona, the “old town”. The local language is actually not Spanish, but a dialect of sorts called Catalan. Not that it makes much of a difference, but our knowledge of this has got a few reactions from people – Kev requested the bill in Catalan (courtesy of the Lonely Planet traveller’s phrasebook). The waiter’s eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “you speak Catalan! Not Spanish!”

La Rambla runs the length of a couple kilometers and its two narrow one-way, one-lane roads are split in the middle by a wide pedestrian strip upon which most people walk. Spain is my type of city – it’s a night city. In the morning, the weather is a mild cold and La Rambla is not heavily trafficked. The trees that line the side of the pedestrian strip have not lost their leaves like the other deciduous trees that appear throughout Europe. Old men silently sit in chairs that line the road, apparently in trances of sorts. People walk their dogs, and a few shops start to open. The sounds of birds fill the air as bird shops on the pedestrian strip sell their wares which include parrots, budgies, and even roosters and pigeons!

By night, La Rambla has changed altogether. The road comes alive as people line the streets. Buskers set up their activities comprising of an array of human statues, puppeteers, magicians and even a Jazz pianist who somehow wheeled in a piano. Newsagencies, shut during the afternoon re-open. Every 50 metres, there will be either a “Lecturas” or “Clara” stand. They are not your everyday newagencies, for they have an impressive collection of porn magazines and porn “literature” – all on open display, none of this shrink-wrapped 18+ packaging. In fact, it even seems that the Spanish are a more passionate people than the French. Based on empirical observation, couples walk slower, kissing and cuddling is more common, and Spanish is a sexy language as much as French is a seductive one. Then again, it could just be because France currently is freezing its ass off while Spain is enjoying a somewhat balmy Winter and couples prefer to have a snuggle inside where it’s warm.

There are plenty of scams along La Rambla as well. I’ve seen the infamous “Where’s the Ball?” game, where a dealer shuffles a ball between 3 boxes and you have to pick which box it is under. An unwinnable game. I also encountered another group of “rose ladies” today which I deftly sidestepped. Next time I’ll be a little more verbose with my reaction…

All in all, Spain is a place I’d like to revisit… along with France and the UK! There’s much I haven’t mentioned – the food, the markets and the other attractions, but that will have to wait until I have more time to write about it.