It was pretty cool riding the train here from France along the coast, skirting the mountains that have long separated the two countries and stopping at a couple of little harbor towns along the way to change trains. One pharmacie sported the odd sign touting "Doctor Bobo"... not sure I would want to get my prescriptions filled there.
I always pictured Barcelona as somehow more Spanish, more mediterranean, than the big, bustling city it really is. It has some nice sights here and there, Gaudi's Sagrada Familia cathedral most notably, but it doesn't have that sense of history, of distinct culture that cities like Rome and Paris have. There are too many modern buildings, condos, offices and hotels surrounding the tiny Barri Gotic (old quarter) to give it much flavor, and the shops hawking tourist trinkets and fast food in the middle of it don't help. Even the Familia was surrounded by scaffolding and cranes, and I heard that the inside was also under construction so I didn't pay the high price to go in. I saw some of his other buildings; very unique, but he's a bit too eccentric for me.
The city has a modern harbor complete with ugly modern shopping mall and IMAX on a pier, a huge shopping street (los Ramblas) that seems to go on forever, where you can ramble down and find just about anything, including skinned goat's heads on ice, complete with eyes still staring. (I took a photo but I'll be nice and omit it). I even found a great organic vegetarian food stall in the open market and had to beg the guy to stop loading my dish with food, he gave so much. I noticed only young Americans and Brits were in line; everyone else was eating tapas and kebabs and the like. Hopefully the enlightened youth visiting will begin to spread a new "tradition" of vegetarianism to the area.
As usual for southern Europe there were lots of stray cats, and as usual, I walked too much instead of paying for a sightseeing bus; but I did make good use of the fantastic metro system. The trains were even air-conditioned, thank Neptune. A two-day pass gave me unlimited rides and I made use of it! The second day I visited even more sections of town including the Olympic stadium area. There is an interesting-looking tower that caught my eye; it looks like something from a Star Wars movie. I was too late to get into the zoo, but perhaps it was for the best as I don't see how they could cram so many different species (according to their brochure) into such a small area; I probably would have gotten kicked out for complaining.
I walked 11-12 hours each day (stopping occasionally to eat or rest) so by the third day I just had to rest. My hotel was next to a pretty nice shopping mall with a 16-theater multiplex, with plenty of the latest American movies that I wanted to see, but every single one was dubbed into Spanish, so I wouldn't have understood what they were saying. The same with television, except for CNN and BBC news. At least I'm up on current events! But I think when I get home I'll have to movie-hop for about 3 days to catch up.
Rested up, I took the train down the coast (Costa Dorada) past Valencia and by smaller and smaller towns until I was the only gringo on the train and wondering where I was going. I was met at the tiny train station in Tatona by Gail and Andrew Hurrell, a wonderful couple from the U.K. who now live down there, along with lot of other British ex-patriates. They have been volunteering for the Noah's Arc animal rescue full-time, and I had contacted them by email and offered to help if I could. They generously invited me to stay in their house, which I gladly accepted, having spent far too much on my Barcelona Ibis hotel.
They don't have an actual sanctuary, but keep the dogs they rescue either at theirs or other volunteer's houses, or pay to keep them in kennels. Another volunteer, the busy Andrea, drives the groups's van and answers the many calls they get, and still had time to show me around. We made a couple of home checks which was fun because it meant we got to chat with really nice people who've adopted dogs from them, including one cool dog who needed sunglasses for the bright Spanish sun. We also had a nice evening out at the pretty harbor in Port Mazzaron.
All these volunteers are incredible, because they work long hours not for money but simply to better the lives of what local dogs (and two burros) they can save. They mostly take in greyhounds (galgos) which are used by the Spanish hunters to run down rabbits and such; for some reason many of them are abandoned, shot or worse, usually after hunting season. Some Spaniards, just to save a bullet, will cruelly hang them rather than pay for their upkeep until the next season. Such abuse is beyond my understanding.
Anyway I was finally a bit useful when one of the Hurrell's foster greyhounds took a tumble and cut his leg pretty badly. We bandaged it and took him to the same vet's clinic where I worked and the Argentine doctor on duty there did a good job of patching the poor thing up. He's fine now but has to wear his 'collar of shame' for a bit; oddly enough, he seems to actually like it, and milks the whole "wounded dog" thing for all the extra attention he can get! Gail and Andrew lavish as much love on their foster dogs Oscar and Lucy as they do their own greyhounds; and in a few weeks they are due to be adopted by people in Holland. They can also be sent to America; if you think you might be interested or are just curious, check out their website at http://www.noahsarcmurcia.com/
We also stopped by a little circus during the day to video their animals in their shabby conditions [see below]. Even the Noah's Arc folks, used to seeing cruelty, were saddened by the dreary little cages the big cats and baboon were in; as for the sole elephant, he looked miserable, and Gail couldn't bear to look at them any more. I can only hope videos like the ones I took will help spread the word how badly circus animals are treated behind the scenes.
All too soon it was time to leave, and after saying a sad farewell to the Hurrells and their doggie family, I hopped the train for Madrid, which comes next. See you then!