Barcelona & The GoCar Experience

I’m kind of a snobby tourist. I don’t like offices of tourism and find that, most of the time, the people who work there don’t want to help you. I understand their frustration – tourists are annoying. They’re the most annoying type of people. They are usually the most sheep-like of the sheeple. And it’s annoying. So I don’t want to associate myself with them. I don’t want to wait in line at some church I couldn’t care less about or eat at one more disgusting and over-priced tourist trap, where the waiters stand on the street, corral you inside, and then ignore you for the rest of your dining experience. Most of all, I hate tour buses. Why get on a bus? First of all, buses suck, period. Second of all, you’re flying past monuments and buildings, inhaling street fumes, and being gawked at by locals who think  you’re a big dork for riding on a tour bus with your camera around your neck and a fancy new hat you got at a tourist shop and wouldn’t dare wear in your own country. FUN!

But my parents don’t really like to walk around very much. Their stamina is pretty impressive for Americans from a city that literally doesn’t have sidewalks, but at the end of a day spent walking around, they’re complaining of pain that I hope I never have to experience. Given that my parents didn’t want to start a Vespa gang with me, we settled for a compromise: GoCars.

VERY excited

These little yellow scooters with a bumper car built around reach a maximum speed of 30 km/hr, according to the man who sold us our tickets and made us sign a “Yes, we know it’s not technically legal for foreigners to drive in Spain” contract. In practice, I don’t believe they move that quickly. The car is equipped with a GPS – but it’s no physical, interactive map: it’s a British woman who gives you directions from the car speaker terrifyingly late.

We took off from the “garage” and headed to La Sagrada Familia, which my parents hadn’t yet seen. Okay, now we’re ready to tour my favorite city, Barcelona! If you go straight, you’ll head toward the beach. If you turn right, you’ll go into the city center, our invisible tour guide said. As she says this, the beach is right behind us. The city center is to our left. Many times during the ride, she would get confused and start her directions over, obviously registering that we were going the opposite direction. Helpful.

Then we drove to Park Guell, Gaudí’s famous inner-city forest. Driving in front and leading my parents around a city that wasn’t necessarily familiar to us but was still a cluster of new to them, we gained too much momentum for one hill and turned a curve long before my parents’ car quit working and poor ol’ Mom was forced to get out and push my dad in the GoCar up the hill. Keep in mind, we’re looking for a place to park at this point, and tons of tourists are watching with delight and curiosity as my 5’4″ mother pushes this bumper car up a hill. No big deal. We park next to each other and explore Park Guell before heading farther up the city’s hill to a monastery.

After a while, I took my turn to drive.

Get in the far right lane. I know this is a bus lane, but don’t worry – you’ll be turning right soon. Turn right. Okay, now we’re on the main street in Barcelona. We’re in the left lane. Turn right here. Do not go into the tunnel. The tunnel was about 200 meters ahead and the traffic was busy – buses, taxis, and angry Barcelona drivers sped past us, locking me into my lane with a trail of angry cars behind my parents, who were behind me. Hearing her directions and seeing a short opportunity to move, I jerked the car towards the right, locking myself, and my parents’ car, into the median between the tunnel-directed traffic and the traffic of the street we needed to be on. After about 5 minutes of no breaks being given by city drivers, we made our way to the correct street. Kuba’s pants were soiled and my reputation as a terrible driver was strengthened.

“Are you done driving now?” Kuba asked. I recognized my last-born-child need to prove myself capable and decided it would be beneficial for all of our futures if I let someone else drive. This is where things went downhill. As we climbed uphill, we looked for a place to pull over.

Turn right here, and then immediately get into the middle lane. The right lane will take you to the motorway, and you do not want to drive on the motorway. We pull into the middle lane and are stopped at the light. Cars pile in behind and around, and mom and dad are nowhere in sight. Little do we know, their little engine couldn’t make it up the hill, and at this time, mom was probably pushing dad, yet again. We turn left into a gas station and wait for them to catch up. Seeing their little yellow car make it over the hill, I noticed they weren’t in the middle lane. I watched their little helmet heads bobble in the car as they cluelessly turned right, down to the motorway.

An hour later, we made it down to the garage and found my parents, alive and well, enjoying tapas and drinks outside in the sun. “Give me more credit than that!” said my dad in response to my fears of motorway death in a GoCar. He hadn’t turned down the highway after all, but went up to the next block and decided to give up and head to the garage before he got too lost.

Hours later, after sunset, we saw a very confused couple sitting in a GoCar, making a U-turn and yelling at each other.

Tourists, the GoCar isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you have the guts and happen to be in one of the few cities where they’re used, I highly recommend it.

http://www.gocartours.es/

Kuba and I turning in front of the Arc de Triomf

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Spain

Somewhere between Málaga and Madrid, 280 km/h

Oh, hello there…

I’m currently traveling backwards on a train traveling at 292 300 kilometers, white cities on barren mountainsides passing me by like unregistered images in a dream. Olive trees line the tracks, but all I can see are the rows between. In the distance on mountaintops are wind turbines, but I can only see the white stems and the shadows the blades make as they turn between the sun and the land. White cities, red dirt, green trees, and shadowed mountains create the landscape for this 6-hour journey to Barcelona. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Spain.

 

I’m Pretty Much a Native Speaker

We waited in the glassed-in ticket lobby of the train station for our number to be called. As 387 flashed on the screen, we approached the woman. Once again, I was able to show off my excellent, and so infrequently used, Spanish skills to my parents in an effort to prove that the money they spent on my education and study abroad to Spain wasn’t wasted. Translated, I said a complicated “We need four tickets to Barcelona, for tomorrow, please.” Impressive! Let me explain a little about long-distance train travel in Spain:

The Train

If you want to vacation in Andalucía (the southernmost, and therefore warmest, region of Spain) and go from Valencia to Málaga, it will take you around 8 hours on the regular trains. The high-speed train (Ave) goes from Valencia to Madrid, and then from Madrid to Málaga, which would, in total, take about 4 hours. This costs about 700 euros for 4 people – or $925. For a 4-hour train journey. I do not recommend this. We ended up spending all day on the train and saving a few hundred euros. If you’re interested in traveling on the exciting high-speed Ave train but you want to save a little money, ask about sitting at a table. You’ll sit in a normal train car, in regular seats, but you can face the other two members of your party and create a sort of train picnic/mess on your table that you can deal with for 6 hours. If you’re comfortable and patient with each other, you can even share some seat space with the person’s feet across from you, as I’m doing now. (Thanks, Dad. Your feet smell great.) It costs half as much to sit at the table on the Ave as it does to sit in a row of two. I guess staring at the back of a seat is worth about 70 euros. If you’re traveling alone, you might meet someone. Or you might get awkwardly stared at. Depends. It’s a risky move, but it’s worth it.

Andalucía

When planning for this trip, I had the idea that I would lead my parents into the old cities of Granada, Córdoba, Sevilla, and Málaga. Travel proved herself to be unpredictable yet again, and things went awry when we realized the money and time spent on trains wasn’t worth the travel. We decided to settle for Málaga, the southernmost city on the list, and stay there for a few days, as we did come to Spain primarily for the warmth. (My parents left 80-degree Oklahoma in April and weren’t pleased about the cold weather in northern Europe.) The city of Málaga boasts that its biggest industry is tourism, and that there are many things to see, including the Alcazaba of Málaga, a ruined Roman amphitheater, and the Picasso museum.

Here’s some advice from an unbiased source – you can skip Málaga on your Andalucían vacation. It’s a pretty small city, and the history, architecture, and food can’t compete with some of the other cities in Spain. Granada has a more interesting alcazaba, with orange trees blooming on the patios and beautifully decorated corridors and arches. You can find Roman ruins in most Spanish cities, and, yes, Picasso was from Málaga, but even he didn’t go back after age 19. Barcelona also boasts a Picasso museum, which, if I remember correctly, was more interesting than the museum in Málaga. As far as warmth goes, we were not disappointed, as my sunburn will prove. If we had more time, I would have taken my parens to see the hanging houses in Cuenca, or the aqueducts in Segovia, or the mosque in Córdoba, or the tomb of Columbus and the Giralda in Sevilla. Another time, España. Another time.

Mom & Dad Come to Europe!

When my mom told me that she and my dad were planning a month-long trip to Europe, I was a bit shocked. My dad had only just last year ventured out of North America for a hunting trip to Argentina. Likewise, my mom had been to France for a river cruise trip with my grandmother for about 10 days last summer for her virgin European excursion. A month in Europe was going to be a very new experience for them. I feared culture shock would set in right away; that they would be jet lagged and overwhelmed. My fears were realized in true Yes-these-are-my-parents fashion, as you’ll see.

Don’t get me wrong – they’ve done great. But I feel like if my mom, who famously orders “lotsa ice” in her drinks, realized that ice would be hard to come across here, she would have packed an entire suitcase full of it (which, despite being a ridiculous impossibility, would only last her about a week). This has been the only real issue they’ve dealt with, so I am impressed thus far. Germany is full of beer (happy dad) and schnitzel (happy mom), so they are easily pacified if, say, a tour through a beer cellar goes a bit too long.

Instead of giving a play-by-play of the past few days, which nobody wants, I’ll present the highlights in the forms of pictures.

Thank you to our hosts, Jaqui in The Netherlands and Ian in Germany, for fitting us into your busy schedules and being wonderful guides and hosts. It’s been so nice to have familiar faces to welcome us to new cities! Thank you, thank you, thank you!