The World’s Scariest Travel Stories: A Real Scream, #5 in a Series –– Losing My Way in Barcelona

Getting lost in a city of 1.5 million people can be a humbling experience. Especially if you’ve never been there. Even moreso if you don’t speak the language.

It happened to me in Barcelona.

As a first time visitor to Spain, Barcelona was our hub for a ten-day business-pleasure trip in 2002. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, this seaport city has blossomed into one of Europe’s hot hangouts. It’s also the capital of Catalunya, a region located in the northeast corner of Spain.

What this means is that even though everybody speaks and understands Spanish, they have their own spoken and written language known as Catalan. In other words, don’t expect to have an in-depth conversation with your waiter in English. I learned how to say three very important phrases in Catalan: Hola (hello), Gracies (thank you) and Cava (a yummy Spanish sparkling wine).

But I didn’t let my lack of linguistics keep me from enjoying Barcelona, Host City of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. This is a bustling berg, with art and architecture that will knock your zapatos off.

The head honcho of them all is Catalan artist Antonio Gaudi (no relation to TV sports broadcaster Curt Gowdy), and the city has gone gaga over Gaudi as it celebrates the 150th anniversary of his birth. His legacy is everywhere, from the wavy-gravy modernist building Le Pedrera to the inspiring spires of La Sagrada Familia. Construction of the cathedral began in 1882 and even though it wasn’t finished at the time of Gaudi’s death in 1926, the project continues on. Completion of La Sacrada Familia is expected in 2051…I may have to return and celebrate my 100th birthday with this hometown boy.

Barcelona is also the home of Museu Picasso, tracing the artist’s early years in Barcelona; and Fundacio Joan Miro, a permanent collection of Joan Miro’s paintings and sculptures and those of his contemporaries (including Alexander Calder’s very cool Mercury Fountain).

But Barcelona is much more than art. It’s scooters zipping through narrow streets in the Gothic Quarter; cab drivers who don’t know where they’re going and don’t seem to care; the Mediterranean Sea that is so green-blue; the not-so clean air on a sunny day; strolling La Rambla with its maze of mimes and musicians and myriad of languages from around the world; a sidewalk café across from Vincon, a design store on the Passeig de Gracia; jazz at Jamboree or La Cova Del Drac; eating dinner every night after 10 o’clock; wandering the stalls of La Boqueria, Barcelona’s Pike Place Market; leather goods, ceramics and tasty, affordable wine; and yes, getting lost.

It happened on our last day in the city. After slogging through the rainy streets to see La Sagrada Familia, we decided to head back to our hotel by subway. As usual, my husband was muchos metres ahead of me. As we descended into the depths of the underground Metro, a train arrived. Bob speeded up as I shouted, “Let’s catch the next one!�? He replied, “Hurry up, we can make it!�? As Bob slipped into the train the doors slammed shut. I was left standing on the platform outside.

“Where in the ___ do I go?�? I screeched. People stared at me, expressionless. My hubby looked shocked and waved his right index finger, which meant nothing to me. Stop number one? You’re number one? One is the loneliest number?

I had no idea where I was.

My first inclination was to ditch the subway. Being above ground seemed the best way to go; hopefully I would recognize some familiar landmarks. Plus, how hard could it be? I would merely retrace my steps back to our hotel on La Rambla.

That’s when I realized that all the landmarks looked alike. That café on the corner with the green and white striped awning…is that where we were? And that guy smoking a cigarette behind the newspaper stand, didn’t I see him before? After about six blocks, I realized I was lost.

With my street map back at the hotel, no Euros in my wallet and an ATM card that was rejected three times, I couldn’t even hail a cab. So I continued to walk, my nuevo sandals blistering my toes. I trudged on, stopping a friendly looking fellow and blurting out the name of the street where my hotel was located: “La Rambla?�? I said in my best Catalan accent. He pointed left and right and straight ahead, leaving me even more confused.

Too many blocks later, everything looked the same, yet nothing looked familiar. It was a sea of winding streets and ancient buildings. “La Rambla?�? I cried to a messenger boy hopping onto his scooter. He must have sensed my panic and lack of lingo, as he told me in halting but perfect English that yes I was going in the right direction but La Rambla was a long, long ways off.

Nearly two hours later, I staggered into our hotel. My husband was waiting for me in the lobby … a familiar face never looked so good. We hugged and realized that even though we had a grand ten days in Barcelona, it was time to go home.

Vidas de Catalunya!

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  1. The Daniel says:

    Sue: Am enjoying your site…a lot! The thought occured to me that I should send you a sample of my “travelogues”….did Louise ever share? I will go back through my “personal” file on my trust Irish Red Cross computer and offer up one of my meagre meanderings. Keep up the good stuff lady.

    The Daniel
    Emissary Most Extraordinaire
    Erin go bragh!

  2. Hi The Daniel: thanks for the note, always nice to get “nice” reader mail! Sure, I’d enjoy seeing one of your travelogues (who is Louise?). And what’s a “trust Irish Red Cross computer”? We journalists need to keep up on the latest tools! Cheers, Sue

  3. Well Sue, I know WHO The Daniel is…and I know who Louise is too… the Prewitts of Edgecliff. Dan is IRC001… the big kahoonah heading up the Irish REd Cross in Indonesia, rehabiliting the area after the tsunami. And Louise is our very own wonderful Whidbey Islander, League of Woman Voter, etc etc etc… isn’t she also on the board of Good Cheer? I know you know these dear folks…just a lil brain fade on your part? BTW, The Daniel is a heckova compelling and amusing writer. Cheerios – Sharen on First, Nov 02.06 Langley Town

  4. Hi Sharen … Yes, the “Daniel” part threw me as I of course call him “Dan.” And then the Louise part threw me too! Stacie from WICA e-mailed me to clue me in so now I am up to speed on all the peeps. Yes, they are quite the amazing duo, aren’t they? Thanks for staying on top of these things and yes it was a mini-brain fade on my part. 🙂 Sue

  5. hi Sue
    i’ll never forget the sight of your blistering feet in these sodden (summer!!)-sandals of yours. who on earth would’ve thought of pouring rain in barcelona in may! at least you had a good excuse to spend the afternoon with us in that tapas-bar instead of getting soaked in a terribly long queue of some museum or other.
    XOXO monica

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