“It’s 370 Euros for the seven nights, pay ahead,” the guy at the front desk said. Making a quick calculation, I frowned: “We don’t have so much money with us now, but in any case, when we talked on the phone you told me it was 50 Euros per night, so this doesn’t add up.”
“No, I told you 60 Euros.”
“You already charged my credit card for one night, 50 Euros as we agreed.”
“No that was just the deposit; the rate is 60 per night, due on arrival for the whole stay.”
“Now… you may have said something about the payment being due on arrival, I think I remember, but it was definitely 50, not 60 Euros per night.”
“Ok, ok, 50, I don’t care, I don’t want to argue. You can pay the whole sum tomorrow morning.”
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or here for the Barcelona set
This conversation was taking place at 1AM on our arrival night in Barcelona, at the hotel Rembrandt, first in Spanish, and then in English - the guy nursing the reception desk at that late hour was an Indian and all three of us naturally drifted to the one language we could best use for arguing. He was clearly trying to scam us (later on I found the notes that I took when I booked the room on the phone, and I had indeed written down 50 Euros for the room with bathroom, and 40 for the one without) but we didn’t agree on what to do: Angela became angry and wanted to leave immediately; I advocated sleeping there for the night and leaving the next morning - it was already late, and finding another suitable hotel at that hour wouldn’t have been easy. To minimize the damage, I made sure the guy agreed he wouldn’t ask for more money besides the 50 Euros he had already charged us, and I made clear we won’t pay before the next day, if we decided to stay. I had my way, but not without getting an earful from Angela, how “this isn’t right and we should have left immediately!” I appreciate people with principles, but only when it doesn’t imply dragging a 50-pound backpack about the streets in the middle of the night… The moral of the story: don’t go to Hostal Rembrandt in Barcelona, even if it’s featured in Lonely Planet. It’s a dump, and you can find better budget hotels at a cheaper price. Besides, you’ll avoid an argument with your wife, if things go sour…
All ended up fine the next day as I found the Hotel Principal (two stars), which, for being more pricey (80 Euros), offered all the comforts longed for by backpackers who had been sleeping for too long in cheap hostels: a large, tall room, a view to the street, a gigantic bed, TV (although all channels except for EuroNews were in Spanish), hard-wood floors, silent air conditioning that actually responded to the temperature controls, and a bathroom with futuristic showers that required a PhD to operate. It even had “original artist paintings” (touted as such in the hotel brochure) on the walls – maybe that’s why the extra Euros… the starving artists who had sold their hearts to the necessary evil of corporate design had to make a buck too. No breakfast was included, but internet access, including wireless, was. I didn’t balk when I heard the price; I got it as soon as I saw the room.
For us, after so many cities visited, Barcelona was just another big town, albeit one that you can fall in love with in the long run. It isn’t a flashy poser like Rome but a city that slowly grows on you because of its very distinct personality. Food… well, food just kept getting better. You can’t be wrong if you had three shots at the culinary art of a country (Madrid, Seville and Barcelona) and things have steadily gone from better to best. Spanish cuisine is now definitely the sweetest of my love-affairs with food.
What do you do if you’re a tourist in Barcelona? You climb up the escalators to Montjuic and snap some uninspired panoramic photos of the city below; then you sit and relax watching the kids at play in the beautiful terraced gardens that take you back into town; you walk the never-ending blocks with “shaved” corners in the Eixample and get lost in the all-identical streets; you visit the Picasso museum and stare in amazement at the many cubist studies of Velasquez’s Las Meninas; you stroll up and down the Ramblas and enjoy the crazy crowd of passersby, gawkers and living statues; you cannot miss a visit to the Sagrada Familia temple, and if you still have energy and taste for architecture you go and see the Gaudi houses – Casa Battló and La Pedrera - at least from the outside, if you’re not willing to spend the money to get in. And these are just some highlights…
In Barcelona I met Robert again, my Dutch friend that I knew from my Nuremberg days in 1999/2000, when we both worked for Lucent Technologies, and with whom I somehow kept in touch all those years. He brought along the lovely, wry, sharp-tongued Eva, his Spanish long-distance girlfriend. We went out every night, taking the city by storm, one restaurant at a time and got home mostly drunk, defeated by the abundance of exquisite tapas and good wines. To them I owe the fact that I finally saw the “Bodies” exhibition. If they hadn’t insisted that they wanted to go and that Eva could get cheap tickets using some “points” from previous purchases, I wouldn’t have bothered dishing out the 17 Euros for the regular entrance. This exhibition had been on display for months at the convention center, two blocks down the street from our apartment in Seattle, and I didn’t bother visiting – not because of the price (in any case it was lower than in Europe) but because of lack of interest. I had to admit it was in fact very interesting and instructive, although by the time I got to the second room I had developed an uneasy feeling that didn’t leave me for the rest of the time I spent inside: I became aware of my heart pumping blood, my bowels working and my nerves trying to transmit vital impulses… If you are still smoking, the Bodies exhibition will make you want to quit… at least until you get out and light one up…Published from Cluj-Napoca, Romania.