Diary of an Expat, Part 25
Stranger in a Spain land?
Yes, I know I already used Heinlein as a Diary subtitle :P

I have nothing to report about Berlin today, because I spent very little of the previous week in Berlin at all. On Saturday I flew to Barcelona, Spain, for Mobile World Congress, and I flew back Friday afternoon.

So instead, let's talk about Barcelona.

I landed at Barcelona Airport in the early afternoon; the first thing I discovered was that, much like any other extremely geeky convention, MWC apparently encourages dressing up; someone dressed as an Android was greeting people at the airport.

Then I discovered Barcelona's cabs. This is a mixed thing. On the one hand, Barcelona taxis are very nice because they have a bright green beacon when they are available, so you can see them from a long way off and flag them down. You do not need to do this at the airport — there's a long queue of them, and an equally long queue of people waiting (being directed to open cabs by a uniformed officer, no less) — but it's helpful when out and about in the city.

We left the airport; then the driver put on some Steppenwolf and, to the tune of "Magic Carpet Ride" we pulled onto the freeway, accelerating towards a city that seems to have been built directly into several hills. It was an enjoyable ride right up until the end, which is where I discovered that cab fares in Barcelona are essentially arbitrary, subject to rules about time of day, number of bags, destinations and so on. If you are a tourist, this means that the cabbie can push a little button on his computer and charge you €whatever-the-hell-I-feel-like.

(Of course, I am certain that no cab driver would ever do this, and they are all upstanding citizens, and it is only coincidence that led the same journey from the airport to the hotel to cost wildly different for the different people I talked to when we were comparing notes)

If you don't want to take a taxi, Barcelona has an excellent mass transit system. It feels a lot like the Tube; the stations are buried well underground and can occasionally be labyrinthine, but the trains are quick and they come quite often. Transfers are announced clearly, and direction of travel is marked on the platforms. Charmingly, the current station is indicated inside the train cars by a ribbon of lights that illuminates beneath station labels to show the stations that have already been reached and flashes to denote the current station — a system so intuitive and user friendly that I dearly wish it would show up here in Berlin.

Mobile World Congress packs 60,000 people into one convention center, which means that the taxi stand out front is a constant madhouse. Taking the train places is much cheaper, often faster, and requires less time packed into a crowd of irate people; needless to say I recommend it highly. It's how I got around; by the end, I was reasonably adept with the transfers and directions of travel, and the stations are so incredibly well labeled that I'd go so far as to say it's almost more painless to take the metro than to try to deal with the taxis.

If none of this strikes your fancy, you can just walk, because Barcelona turns out to have really lovely weather (well. I'm to understand it can be rainy — mostly such precipitation is confined to the plain on the Iberian peninsula, but Barcelona is a coastal city and you know how coastal cities are). My flight from Berlin to Barcelona was not direct; we transferred in Munich. Flying into Munich, the plane descended bumpily over snow-covered fields and beneath grey skies; flying into Barcelona, with the sun before us, the shadows of our wingtips brushed the wakes of sailboats and the waters of the Mediterranean.

In late February, Barcelona was warm enough to be walkable completely without a coat, even in the evenings; this was such a rare luxury that I availed myself of it as often as possible, although in point of fact I spent so much time at the actual convention that I didn't have much freedom to be out and wandering. I hadn't really considered that anyplace in February would demand sunglasses, but there you have it.

The thing is, you almost want to walk, because Barcelona has a lot going for it. It feels like San Francisco — even the less nice parts feel like the Mission or, on a really bad day, the Tenderloin. The architecture is familiar; the only difference is a propensity for parks and wide, walkable spaces that is absent from the more automotively inclined California city. Oh, and the buildings.

Barcelona's architecture is stunning and grandiose — the hotel I was staying at was in walking distance of the Sagrada Familia, and I strolled down there once, but even beyond that the city is packed with massive old buildings and great fountains that make it seem stately and civilised in a way that, to be honest, Berlin somewhat lacks. Berlin has its architecture, to be sure, but much of it is cleanly modernistic and, dare I say it, a bit sterile. I think, perhaps, it's the kind of architecture that you get when your city is leveled and then recolonised by two great powers seeking to show the world how modern and great they are.

So Barcelona is a city that practically begs you to relax, stay awhile, and appreciate the sights. This I did not do, chiefly because I had no damned time, but the city has made enough of an impression that I'm going to try to get back for a couple days when I can — hopefully this spring, as I have the nagging suspicion that what appears to be pleasant weather now will become muggy and oppressive in the fullness of summer.

Either way, I enjoyed it (and MWC, incidentally) a great deal, but it was just as nice to be back in the Bundesrepublik, with its bustle and its cobblestoned sidewalks that make dragging a rolling suitcase an exercise in great frustration. And its radiators, even though the weather has been on a nice kick lately and it very nearly reached 10 degrees today.

Pics from Barcelona via Klisoura on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/klisoura/sets/72157629498407477/
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