Lisa and I have worked diligently to get past the typical sins of the tourist class. We still have blind spots, I’m sure, but we do our best to learn more than just the first three pages of the phrase book. We try to eat in the neighborhoods where regular people eat. We do as much as we can to have authentic experiences, partially to do our part to dispel the “Ugly American” stereotype and partially because it’s actually a lot of fun. We’ve received enough positive feedback from the universe (in the forms of having a great time and meeting a lot of lovely people) to make us think that we’re at least on the right path even if we’re still making a lot of mistakes. So, all that being said, you can surely guess what we do now on our first day in any new, big city, right?
You got it – the Hop On/Hop Off bus!
I can tell from your frank disbelieving faces that you think I’m kidding.
Story time: our first overseas trip together was in 2007; we went to London (with a brief excursion out, but mostly the city). There are a thousands stories of us being babes in the woods, but the relevant one is that on our first day, we ended up with a lot of time to kill before the thing that we planned to do – a concert in a lovely old church. Without boring you (and reliving some painful memories) let’s just say that we did not use that time very productively and, in fact, had a fairly exhausted and jet-lagged tiff in the courtyard of the church. [We got married several years later, everything’s fine, don’t worry about it.] On the very last day of our trip we visited the Tate Modern Museum and then walked across the Thames on a fancy pedestrian bridge to end up at St. Paul’s Cathedral. As we walked around the building we felt like it was all awfully familiar. Sure enough, we were about 20 feet from where we sat through that misty, chilly morning on our first day. We never realized that we could have stood up, stuck our arms out and spun in a circle, and we’d have smacked several amazing sights worth seeing.*
Ever since then, we’ve happily used the Hop On/Hop Off bus whenever possible, although we rarely actually hop, because the route of these buses invariably is in a rough loop that encloses much of what is interesting in the city. If only for the geography lesson, these things are worth the price of admission.
Sure enough, with the investment of a few hours we saw numerous sites, plus got a starter sampler platter of street life, fashion, customs etc… of Barcelona. The bus also knocks out stuff that we’d probably never make time for but at least we now have in our vocabulary to talk about. For just one example, I can make relevant observations about FC Barcelona’s stadium experience and how it stacks up to your typical NFL stadium (short version: advantage Spaniards). I never wanted to do that, but it’s in my bag now if it ever comes up. And thus it goes for a dozen bits and bobs of life here.
We timed our eventual Hop-off to give us time for dinner before catching an evening walking tour. As it turned out, we didn’t time things quite as elegantly as we’d hoped and had to make decision – push 3 hours on our feet having not eaten since breakfast, or punting the tour and eating. We punted. This actually started to make real something that we’d talked about in the abstract many times. Yes, we are on a special trip, but it’s not exactly the same as a “vacation”. In the old days, when we saved up vacation time for a few years to take a special trip somewhere, we’d have pushed to keep to our itinerary. Naturally, we’d want to make the most of the precious time. Now, however, this is just… well, life. A cool life to be sure, but then that’s the whole point of this, right? Chances are, we’re going to be in Barcelona a dozen times or more – it’s a frequent if not ubiquitous connecting point for travel out of Portugal. So, we weren’t missing our one opportunity, ever, to see whatever was on the walking tour (I’ve forgotten already, I think it was maybe a tour of a particular neighborhood? Lisa says: Yes, the “Gothic Quarter” whatever that means). We were just kicking the can down the road until next time. Realizing this, we opted for keeping ourselves in balance, getting a nice meal, and regroup for tomorrow.
Speaking of a nice meal (you suave devil, you), Lisa is posting restaurant reviews to our facebook page. It seems more timely to pop them in there, plus it lets her get them out of her head while her thoughts are fresh. So if you’d like to see those, please do give a look-see at our facebook. Just a reminder – this isn’t a commercial venture, we’re not trying to soak anybody for ad revenue. We just enjoy writing these things and it’s always more interesting/rewarding when other people are reading along.
*As a point of fact, the Underground map in London is a huge tissue of lies for figuring out where things are above ground.