The taxi driver was quiet but heavy metal blasted out of the radio in Spanish. Then “Back in Black” by AC/DC came on, which brought up fond memories from high school. Then a song in Spanish; up next — “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” by The Police. I tapped my foot while the taxi driver drummed the steering wheel with his palms.
And Barcelona was unfolding on all sides of me. It was 8:45 PM Thursday night.
Earlier, after I’d gotten my checked luggage and made my way to the taxi stand, I had shown the driver the address of the bed & breakfast. He nodded his head — yes, he knew it. We drove for about 40 minutes.
He pulled over and stopped in a busy high-rise area. I looked around but couldn’t see the bed & breakfast. “Is that it?”
He pointed at a glass-fronted entrance. “There it,” he said in broken English.
I paid him the fare (33€) then he unloaded my luggage. As he walked back to the driver’s side I told him, “Your music?” I gave him a thumb’s up. He beamed and put both of his thumbs in the air, then drove away.
I walked inside — it was a high-energy place loaded with people. Since the B&B serves food, I thought — hmmm, I hadn’t expected a full-fledged restaurant downstairs…
The woman at the front asked me in Spanish if I had a reservation. I hesitated and she immediately switched to English. I smiled appreciatively and nodded my head yes. I pulled out my passport since she was having difficulty understanding my name. She said, “We don’t have a reservation for you.”
I said, “… I called the owner from the airport — for the bed & breakfast?”
She said, “This is a restaurant.”
I gave her a cracked face. “The taxi driver said…”
“But…” she motioned toward the street.
She opened the door and I dragged my luggage back out and she walked me over to a huge wooden door. She pointed at a bank of buttons then pressed one. The loudspeaker came on, she spoke into it in Spanish and soon the door opened. I thanked the woman and she left.
The guy took my bags. I warned him — they’re heavy. We went up two flights of stairs and he asked me about my reservation. I showed him my passport, and he said, “But no reservation in that name.”
I told him, “…but I called the owner from the airport. He’s expecting me.”
He asked, “Which place?”
He said, “This isn’t Barcino 147.”
I smiled weakly. I tried to gather my thoughts. “… this is the address… I copied and pasted it directly from the website.”
He asked if I had a phone number; it showed in my Recent Calls. He telephoned and spoke in Spanish. When he hung up, he said, “You should be another place.”
I started laughing. I don’t know why.
“The owner comes for you,” he said.
I put my hand on his arm and thanked him profusely. He smiled and said, “Be quiet.”
I think he meant something like “no problem.” But it struck me as funny. (From this point forward, if someone thanks me for something, I know what I’m going to say.)
My phone rang — the owner said he was already downstairs waiting for me.
I pulled my luggage down the flights of stairs. The B&B wasn’t far. He handed me off to a young Chinese woman named Quynh, pronounced “Quinn.” She explained how the place was run. Finally, she said she would take me to my room. “You have mini-suite.”
We got into a tiny elevator and went up to the 6th floor. My luggage was larger than she was, but she insisted on rolling it for me. She opened a door and I saw a beautiful room. I thought — nice. Sweet. Then she took me into a large kitchen, and said this is where breakfast is served. And I realized that this wasn’t part of my mini-suite at all.
And then I remembered my first experience of being at a bed & breakfast in New Mexico in 1985. Michael and I had decided to go to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Back then, it lasted three days and featured 100 huge hot-air balloons ascending at once — quite a sight. Today, it’s the largest festival of its kind in the world with more than 500 balloons going up each morning during the ten days of the festival.
Anyhow, Michael had found a bed & breakfast for us and I couldn’t wait! I had never stayed in one before.
But when we arrived, it was like a bedroom in someone’s home. We closed the door and we could hear the other guests in their room and in the hallway. It felt like staying at a stranger’s house. I looked around. The room was cute, but small. I felt… cramped. I didn’t like the lack of privacy.
I remember telling Michael: “I hate it.” Fortunately he laughed. He knew I was making a joke and telling the truth all at once. I determined then that I would never stay at a bed & breakfast again.
But (ack, ack) that was a loooong time ago, and I had forgotten.
So Quynh opens the door to my room, and it’s about 10′ X 10′. Quynh is very pleased. She said, “This is best room. It silent. It the mini-suite.”
There was a closed door, and so I waited for her to open it. I thought, that must be the entrance to the living area.
It was the bathroom. She said, “You lucky — you get your own bathroom. That what come with mini-suite. All the other people…” She pointed down the hallway. “They’re sharing one bathroom.”
I would include a photo of the bathroom, but there’s not enough room in there for me and the camera at the same time.
I asked Quynh if there was a restaurant close by. She suggested I go to El Nacional about three blocks away. I wasn’t sure I could find it, but she said it was open really late and they had good tapas.
Once she left I unpacked what could be accommodated in the room (one sock.) I laid down on the bed — it was very comfortable. I opened the window and a fantastic breeze blew in, and I knew everything was going to be okay.
I had skipped breakfast, had a small lunch — it was now 11 PM and I was famished.
I hoped I was in a safe neighborhood. And off I went. The streets were bustling. I found the restaurant relatively easily.
It was huge — and so cool — with hundreds of people inside. I stood in line then the hostess seated me.
I ordered a glass of Fortunato — it was crisp, dry, with the taste of grapefruit and apple. Delicious.
Every table around me was filled; people were having a blast. I felt like I was floating in a glorious sea of Spanish.
I ordered a plate of grilled bread with olive oil and a salad with three kinds of cheeses including manchego and a goat cheese that was the best I think I’ve ever had — smooth and creamy but with that unmistakable tang of chevre. And toasted walnuts.
She brought tiny Spanish olives. I ordered a focaccia with melted mozzarella and loaded with rocket (arugula) — one of my favorite greens.
It was a fantastic meal. And I ordered another glass of Fortunato, which I lifted in the air and said, Salut. I had been in the city for a couple of hours and already three people had been kind enough to go out of their way to help me out.
Hello, Barcelona. It’s nice to meet you.