21.12.2012 - 21.12.2012 18 °C
We really enjoyed Valencia in every way and were a bit sad to leave. In the morning we did a last tour around and treated ourselves to lunch at a street-side restaurant counter next to the Mercat. These kind of restaurants seem quite common in Iberia and also in Morocco. The restaurant is simply a lunch counter that opens on the sidewalk with a few stools next to the counter (if you are lucky). It is designed for a quick cheap meal or snack. It was nice to get a sampling of Valencia Paella which is different in style than that found in Madrid (I prefer the drier saffron rich Paella of the south).
We finally hopped in the car and paid our steep parking bill and headed out on the road. We thought we had done our research correctly and would avoid toll roads without too much of a time penalty. Alas this was not to be and we had a 5:00 pm deadline to meet our host's mother at our new digs in Barcelona. We took the toll road to cut our travel time from almost six hours down to three and paid nearly $50 Canadian for the privilege.
Our Barcelona apartment was the first, and one of the few places, we booked well in advance of our trip to Europe. We saw online, that Barcelona was fairly expensive even in the winter and it was not clear whether or not there was an influx of tourists over Christmas (there is a bit of a year-round flow of tourists into Barcelona) so we booked it right away. We did not want to economize too much on a place over Christmas since we wanted to battle any kind of home sickness or blues that may occur being away from family during this special time. We booked the place because it had Wifi, free parking, three bedrooms and a full kitchen for any kind of holiday cookingand baking we might want to do and it looked bright and new. What we found was an apartment in a sketchier neighbourhood. It took us an hour an half to find it with problems with odd numbering no parking and no one there when we showed up.
The place was in very poor condition with the oven taped shut in the kitchen, water damaged wood flooring in the living room, a balcony jammed with propane tanks and an old washer, only two bedrooms available (the other was padlocked) a bathroom with peeling paint and very gritty looking tile work, no working WiFi and no parking available for love or money. The landlord's mother didn't speak English and may have only spoken very little Spanish--Chinese was her first language. We finally got our landlord on the phone but didn't get very far. We decided to cut our losses as it was getting late, we would take it up with the booking agency later--we didn't want to be indebited for any kind of service so thought it better not even to stay the night.
Walking a few streets over we found a better neighbourhood with a modern cafe where we had dinner so we could take advantage of their WiFi to search for a place for the night. We saw that our neighbourhood was not one for hotels so we needed to drive a few kilometers further which meant finding parking again. The first place we arrived at had no room for us even though the Internet showed well-priced rooms for the asking. Amazingly I found a parking spot which I just managed to wedge into. If the paintjob on the car was any thicker we would not have fit. I needed to move the car ever so slightly just to get the trunk open and not touch the car in front of me. Across the street we found the "Medium Hotel" and got a quad room that was as tight as our parking spot but it was clean and had WiFi. After a couple of hours of difficult searching we managed to secure a modern apartment a block and a half from the beach in a nicer neighbourhood with underground parking for a little less than the slum we abandoned. We had a lot to be thankful for.
We realize that we all are getting our travel legs since the whole situation didn't undo us or stress us out. It was more adventure then angst. Hannah and Abby did a lot in terms of navigating and legwork-they are no longer just helpers but rather equal contributers to the whole enterprise. The only thing bothering us is the prospect that we may have just kissed a week's rent goodbye.