Friday, September 19, 2014

Changing Cultures

Genova Train Station

 “'Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?'
'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to'"
~Alice to the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll

I tried to get out of Genova early. Our Vueling Air tickets allowed us to take an earlier flight scheduled for the same day.  All we had to do was go to the airport two hours before the new flight and see if seats were available.  We might have actually done it if we had been willing to get up and get to the airport at 5 am. We might not like Genova that much, but we didn't dislike it enough to cause us to wake up at 4 am and head to the airport just to see we *could* leave earlier. Had the flight been full, we would have had to spend 16 hours in a 50s-era airport that has 8 gates and one small coffee bar.

Barcelona Taxis
As it was, we slept in and wlked the city. The most interesting thing is that I discovered that there is an Eataly in Genova, so we headed there in the afternoon.  If you aren't familiar with Eataly, you can visit their website by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. Let me just say that it's an Italian market on steroids with fresh produce, meats, cheeses, breads, fish, and all of the Italian products you could ever want.  Mario Batali is part owner, and there are Eatalys in New York & Chicago.  (For my LV friends, Batali wants to open one in LV and is looking for land.)

On advice of the receptionist at our hotel, we decided to take Volabus to the airport because it stops in front of the train station which was a block from our hotel and because it cost 12 euro instead of 35 euro.  she told us to buy our tickets from the bus driver, but as we waited, a young girl who was also heading to Barcelona told me that we needed to buy the tickets from the news stand up the block.
First view from our living room

"Hurry because the bus is coming in two minutes," she urged me.  I obviously made it, but I was not too happy with the hotel receptionist, and if I ever go to Genova again, I'm going to give her a piece of my mind.

"Something makes me think she has nothing to worry about," Mike said. He's right, but I'm not letting him know.

As I mentioned, we took Vueling Airlines, the  low-cost carrier owned by Iberia Airlines. If you buy your tickets far enough in advance, you can fligh for as little as 19-49 euro one way depending on the route you're flying.  Vueling has three levels of ticket— Basic, Optima, and Executive. Each level allows you one carry-on.  Optima allows you to check one bag that weighs no more than 50 pounds, to choose your seat when you book the ticket, and to move your departure up same day if available.  While note refundable, it is transferable to another flight if you have to postpone. Executive gives you the Optima benefits plus supposedly bigger seats and priority boarding.

"We invite passengers holding business class tickts to board now," the gate agent announced at 8:50.  About 10 people got up and started down to the plane.  When the last headed through the door, she added, "Everyone is welcome to board at this time."  Of course, there was a mad rush to the gate even though everyone had an assigned seat. One guy pushed in front of me, and I said to Mike that he was probably afraid the plane was going to leave  him if he didn't break someone's foot on the way down.  Geez. (Side note: The inside of the plane looked just like a Southwest plane. In other words, there were no business-class seats. We had no idea what the business class tickets were all about.)

Mike and I had window and middle seat.  "I hope no one sits here," I said to Mike because I was in the middle.  Of course, I had no sooner uttered those words than a guy about 35-40 fell into the seat  beside me.

Las Ramblas
"Allo," he said.  We both returned the greeting.  A couple of times before the plane took off, he got out of his seat, fooled around with his carry-on, and fell back into his seat.  At some point a few minutes into the flight, he started talking.  Mike closed his eyes and pretended to sleep, so I got to listen to the dude go non-stop for the more than 90 minutes we were in the air.  In his defense, he did offer to buy me a beer (BTW, Vueling does not give any drinks to snacks to passengers.) or, when I refused that, anything I wanted.

Here's what I learned (Sorry, but if I had to listen to him, you can at least read his story):

• He's Australian and was going to Barcelona for a three-day weekend.
• He's staying in a hostel because, you know,  those people like to party.
• He shouldn't have worn a white shirt because it would be full of beer and whiskey within two hours of our landing in Barcelona.
• He's a steward on a private yacht owned by "three very rich guys."
• He does all the laundry on the yacht and has three washing machines going constantly fro 8-5 daily.
• He's been all over the world because of his job.
• He wished he'd been a better student in school and studied Spanish because it would have helped him in his job now.
• He got the job because his friend knew the captain who knew they needed to replace two crew members.
• There are 15 employees on the yacht.
• The yacht was in Savannah, GA for almost 12 months last year.
• His favorite stop was Mallorca because the beer is great there.
• He hates the beer they serve on the yacht (NO ONE on the crew likes it.), but they have it because the owners own part of that company.
• He had chicken and crunchy rice and the crappy beer for dinner on the yacht.
• The chef on the yacht used to be better, but he fell in love with some gal in Savannah, so now his cooking is suffering.
• He's going home to Australia for 12 days next month and refuses to fly Qantas airlines because the flight attendants aren't cute and fun.  "Believe it or not, there are some old men working as attendants." 
• He should have let me sleep like my mate, there, but was appreciative that I let him talk.

The view around 6:30 pm

Mother of God, I was so happy to land. We got the baggage and headed to the taxi stand which is an area separated from the rest of the airport exits.  As we started to go through the door, a man stopped Mike.

"Taxi?" he asked.  Mike nodded, and the guy asked where we were going.

"Hotel Alfa Aeropuerto," I replied.  He asked to see the paper with the hotel address.  I showed it to him, and he started walking toward an exit that was not where taxis were.  "Wait.  Are you licensed?"  He nodded and took out some piece of paper that he flashed in front of me.  He asked us to follow him.

"Wait, Mike said. "If the taxi sign is there, why are you going over this way?"

"I don't think he's legit," I said to Mike.  "Let's go to where the real taxis are.  I think this guy is a fraud."

Turns out, we were right.  The taxis in Barcelona are all black and yellow (Second photo above), and our driver told us that guy was pirating work from legitimate taxis.  "They're not allowed to do it, but they don't get caught," he told us. "The government regulates us. He would overcharge you, and there's nothing riders can do."

We dodged a bullet on that one.

This afternoon, we checked into our apartment which overlooks Las Ramblas in Barcelona (Photos above of the view).  It's great, and we've enjoyed just watching the wave of people walking up and down the street.  Luckily, I haven't seen the Aussie dude, but he's probably stuck in some bar somewhere.

Dude, I know an Australian looking for a party

Unluckily, we glanced up and saw this dude on a balcony a few buildings from ours.  Mike thinks he just wanted people to take his photo.  I think he ruined his shirt with whiskey and beer and was waiting for an Aussie to join him.

Tomorrow: The Boqueria (I think...)

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