Hi, dear readers. The big post about our recent trip to Barcelona is going to need to wait a little bit longer. I’m still a bit jet-lagged, and I’ve just barely started going through the 1,700+ photos from our trip. But I have a lot to say, and I’m eager to get it down. Especially since I leave for Canada tomorrow to run Around the Bay and meet some wonderful people. I seem only to be able to think about one thing at a time, so it’s best to get it out of the way before embarking on a new adventure.
Speaking of tying up loose ends, here are a few follow-ups to recent posts.
I. What to listen to next? I wanted to listen to something new, but I wasn’t sure where to go next. Then yesterday on the way home, I heard an NPR segment on U.K. reggae. (It’s okay. You can admit that you listened to it to, and that you occasionally discover new music via public radio. Your sense of being special and nonconformist is safe here, friends.) One of my earliest memories of music that made me sit up and take notice was hearing a bit of calypso, so it feels a bit like diving back into the music of my early youth. Years later, when I first started listening to some early 80s British music, I was amazed at how much reggae and ska influence there was in it. (And then there’s this.) So why not dig into reggae for a while?
II. No hablo español. Turns out, you don’t need to know Spanish to have a good time in Barcelona; most of the shop clerks, hotel folks, and wait staff knew enough English for us to communicate. And the locals are at least as friendly as the French to people who try to speak a few words of the local language before asking if they know English. (I will grudgingly say the Spaniards are perhaps even a little friendlier.)
Often people could tell after my first few words of Spanish that I wasn’t very proficient, and they just switched to English. Evidently, Lisa and I don’t look Spanish either. One woman at the Madrid airport tried to say something to me in Spanish, which I didn’t understand, so then she asked, “Nicht verstehen?” (“You don’t understand?”) After I answered, “No,” she proceeded to try to speak to me in German. She could have also said one of the two or three things in Arabic I remember—”لا أفهم؟”—and my answer would have been the same. (I was telling Lisa how bizarre it is that I can say “I don’t understand” in Arabic and German but not Spanish.) So I countered with “¿Habla ingles?” and “Parlez-vous français?” with the same result. My helping her was not meant to be. Anyway, I guess that we look more German than Spanish.
Thanks to “Sesame Street” and my mom teaching me a few words as a preschooler, I can count to twenty and be on the look out for “entradas” and “salidas” and “peligro.” When we had to use Spanish, we were still able to buy things and order food, and I even gave directions to a woman looking for the street she was walking on. By the time we left I had the simplest of conversations with the check-in agent at the Iberia desk in Barcelona, which only broke down when she asked what kind of seats we wanted for the flight back to Boston. I laughed when she said that I speak Spanish very well, and she seemed amused when I said that I don’t speak Spanish at all.
And then there’s Catalan, which was everywhere in Barcelona. It’s a beautiful, funny thing that sounds not quite French and not quite Spanish. At any rate, I found the Catalan menus easier to read than the Spanish ones. Boy oh boy, did I want to speak French a lot on this trip. . . .
III. City Running. I have decided that big cities are not easy places to run in unless you’re willing to make a commitment to travel to a nice place to run: along the Seine or Thames, Central Park in New York, the Domain in Sydney, the waterfront in any city lucky enough to have one, etc. Suburbs are easy enough to manage, but if you’re staying in the city where all the action is, there’s just so much stopping and starting.
Except Boston. Somehow Boston has been blessed with plenty of long streets with minor side streets, meaning you usually don’t have to stop at every corner. And these streets take you quickly to the Charles River trails or to the Emerald Necklace and its parks. I’m trying not to sound parochial—especially since I don’t run in Boston often—but the number of people running all over Boston at any time of day just helps prove the point that Boston might be one of the best running cities in the world.
Nevertheless, I needed to run on our trip. This vacation was a perfect time to taper, but I still had to put a few miles in every other day just to keep my legs fresh and ready. (My orange New Balance shirt and I have now run in five countries on three continents.) So if you’re staying in the L’Eixample neighborhood of Barcelona and you need to run a few miles, what to do? First, use the Passeig de Gràcia or the Rambla Catalunya to head to La Rambla, the super-touristy pedestrian area. If you finish your run before 9:00AM, you don’t have to dodge many people. Also—and this seems true for most European cities—head to the old city where the streets are one-way, windy, narrow, and designed for pedestrians. You’ll often get lucky and an early-morning delivery vehicle will block traffic, letting you run in the street without too much worry.
Just have a good idea where you’re going and don’t get lost.
IV. Pool ladies. Honestly, it would be easier if the four of them weren’t trying to swim in my lane.