Operation Piso

It's one in the morning on day two (feels like day three...we're sure that extra day is floating somewhere over the Atlantic) and we have officially found a piso!  We have never stepped foot in it.  We have seen limited photos on the web.  But we're certain it's the one!  Very Spanish of us I think. The story begins this morning when I bravely christened my handy dandy little movil (cell phone) to call our apartment locator Sylvia.  After stumbling my way through phone Spanish and trading a few texts, we finally agreed upon a time (11:30am) and a place (46 Carrer Sant Pere Mes Alt) to meet.  She said she would show us the first apartment there and then she would explain the rest.  I wasn't quite sure what she would be explaining but we went with it.

We wandered over to the Sant Pere district and opened our minds to a little Spanish flexibility.  We really had wanted to live in Eixample based on feedback from friends and previous students, but we assumed we could at least meet up with the woman and reiterate that in person.  Of course, we didn't anticipate the next hurdle.  In grand Spanish style, as soon as she arrived she informed us that, sadly, we wouldn't be able to see the apartment because it had been temporarily rented for a few days and wouldn't be unoccupied until Saturday.  There we stood at the main entrance to the building.

But with a smile and a flick of her cigarette she told me "no te preocupes" (don't worry), she had another that she thought might fit our taste.  So we put our faith in our sassy Spanish amiga and her cute purple top and coordinating lipstick.  And before we knew it we had trekked past Placa Cataluna, caught a cab, and were going arriba, arriba, arriba to a neighborhood far, far, far from where we wanted to live.  Think Georgetown when you want to live in downtown Austin or the Woodlands when you were planning on midtown Houston.

I'm sure the three of us were quite the sight in the back of the cab flipping feverishly through our guidebook maps trying to discern street names and figure out where in the heck this woman and this cab were taking us!

When we finally arrived at the piso, it was in a VERY quiet neighborhood where little old ladies and pharmacies outnumbered bars and restaurants at least 10 to 1.  We tried to keep our open Spanish minds and at least humored her by looking at the apartment.  We really tried to like it, but aside from the odd smell and the fact that it didn't have a washing machine (no pasa nada, there would be one when we moved in....hmmmmm/) and that it wasn't available until the 15th, we gave a nod of agreement in unison to the Universe and told Sylvia we just didn't think it fit our needs.

Bless her heart, she tried to sell us on the safety of the neighborhood, the accessibility to ESADE (no metro stops, mind you, only bus!) and how many rich people lived in the area.  But after traipsing down the hill, past the short bus stop and into civilization again, she was finally picking up what we were putting down.  This wasn't the place.  She called an associate who might have some others for us to look at.  And she did! Three pisos, it turned out.  All in Poble Sec.  Again, not Eixample, but at least it was in a district with subway access and restaurants.  So off we went.  More walking.  More chatting with Sylvia in espanol.

The next three went from ick to totally doable, but just no zing yet.  Her American boss joined us at this point, along with the associate showing the places.  So there we were, Brian, Shab and me with Syliva, her boss Mark and the cute Espanola with the keys.

After seeing the three places in Poble Sec, we had our second or third coffee of the day and revisited the idea of the original piso they had wanted to show us in Sant Pere.  Mark had his iPad so we could see photos and assured us it was amazing, spectacular, clean, comfortable, modern and overall the best thing we would find.  After the three of us had spent weeks scouring the internet and a day seeing four so-so apartments, we leaned towards agreeing with Mark.  It was nice as well to get to speak plainly with the guy in English after a long day of trying to communicate all our needs and wants in Spanish.  Definitely some new vocab words learned today.

So we negotiated over cafe con leche in the afternoon and handed over the deposit over vino tinto later that evening.  We had to extend our stay in our hotel for another two nights since the place won't be ready until Saturday, but if we're unhappy Mark said he would gladly refund the deposit and help us find another place.  We toured the building itself so he could point out the quality, the architecture, and the brand new glass elevator (a luxury in Spain where most apartments are multiple-story walk-ups).  The architect that designed our building also apparently did the Palau de la Musica Catalan...a stunning building right down the street from our new home.  So we're feeling pretty good.  Excited!  Ready to be settled and unpack.

Even though it was a long day of running around the city, we made new friends in Mark and Sylvia and feel like we saw parts of Barcelona we might not have seen if we hadn't ventured out.  Silver lining!  (Or Tracy lining as some of us like to call it...)

And even after all this we managed to pack in a Kings Day Parade and dinner with new friends.  Quite the productive day!  Below are a few photo highlights starting with our metro ride at 9:30 this morning...

The Holiday Inn Express where we're staying is in Poble Neu, which is 6 metro stops from Passeig de Gracia and Placa Cataluna where all the action is.  So our morning and evening routine has been taking a 10-minute ride on the metro. I have a feeling we will have public transportation down to a fine art by the time we leave.

You buy tickets for the metro from these machines, which are in Catalan.  It was quite the hilarious experience figuring out which ride pass to buy the first day.  I stopped two passersby for help, speaking in Spanish of course, asking if they could help translate the Catalan.  Success!

Shab is staying in a hostel more toward the center of town so we met her outside the metro station this morning to look for pisos with Sylvia.  This was only slightly posed; she was actually reading her guidebook waiting for us and I was able to snap this cute photo.  :)

Unbeknown to us at this time, this is actually the street we will live on!  Carrer Sant Pere Mes Alt.  We were waiting for Sylvia and decided to check out the area...

...where we found what will most likely be our go-to neighborhood coffee shop and bar just a few doors down from the piso.

I just love the statues at the roundabouts and intersections.  I can't remember if this was on la Rambla Cataluna or the Passeig de Gracia but we've passed it several times and I finally snapped a photo.  Yes, I'm THAT American with a camera, but the funny thing has been the TONS of Spaniards with cameras too.  Since today and tomorrow are the big Christmas-like holidays, it feels like there are lots of Spaniards visiting Barcelona too being tourists just like us.

El Corte Ingles is the biggest department store in Spain for pretty much everything under the sun.  This is the flagship, but there are three different locations within just a few blocks.  I'm sure they probably all cater to a different product or audience, but the sheer size of this store blows me away.

Kings Day is bigger for Spaniards than Christmas. Tomorrow is the day when the kids get all their presents to symbolize the Three Kings presents to Jesus.  And tonight is the fiesta!  Families crammed into the streets to watch the parade and catch the candy sailing from the floats.

This float was my fave.  I think it looks like a camel dragon!

We learned from Mark that Cafe Zurich is an infamous meet-up spot because of its prime location on the corner near Placa Cataluna.  So what better spot to meet our new friend and ESADE classmate Kyle!  Shab is the resident self-nominated social coordinator and has been communicating with other US students as they arrive.  Ironically Kyle is from Austin, went to Westwood High School, graduated from A&M, worked in Dallas, and is now getting his MBA at Cornell.  Texans are everywhere!

We met another new friend, Jennifer, who is from....drum roll please....Texas!  She grew up in Crockett, also went to A&M but has lived in New York City since undergrad and is now getting her MBA at Fordham.  After Cafe Zurich and the parade we wandered a few doors down to Cafe Catalunya to eat tapas and catch a little of the Bilbao/Barcelona soccer match.

Shab has been educating us all on the world of soccer.  Mainly she knows a lot about the cute ones.  ;)

The metro closes at midnight, so Brian and I left the restaurant at around 11:40pm to catch the subway and head back to the good ol' Holiday Inn.  We have about a 3 or 4 block walk once we get to our stop, and he liked this graffiti.  It's weird - for as safe as everyone says this little area is, there is a LOT of graffiti.  I guess the rule-breakers are just artistic and not violent.

Who ever thought we'd be staying at a Holiday Inn Express in Spain?  Thank you Priority Club for reward points and saving us a few bucks.  This hotel was like a shining beacon after the day we had.  I swear we walked 5 miles today.

The tired but elated look of success!  Cell phones, check!  Piso, check!  Two extra nights at the hotel, check!

With all our business taken care of, it's off to Parc Guell tomorrow (one of my favorite Barcelona spots) to see another Gaudi masterpiece.  Shab has reached out to a whole host of new, new friends, and we're ready to enjoy the holiday.  Happy Kings Day!