July 22, 2009 > Travels with Margaret - Part 1
Travels with Margaret - Part 1
Submitted By Margaret Thornberry
Can there possibly be a silver lining during these cloudy days of struggling markets, failing banks, wars and global pandemics? Yes! The travel industry is suffering too and offering tremendous bargains.
I was deep in the doldrums, coming up on a big birthday - one with a zero at the end - when the mailman delivered a brochure from a luxury cruise line. Less than $100 a day for 12 days, sailing through the Mediterranean, the price of a few days at the local spa! A bit of research and a flurry of phone calls and e-mails later, my daughter Tessa and I were enroute to Barcelona, Spain where we would meet friends from New Orleans and board the cruise.
Hotels in Barcelona are just as expensive as in other major metropolitan cities, the dollar to Euro exchange isn't favorable and we didn't feel there was much fun paying as much for taxi and hotel as for the cruise. Keeping to our budget had become a game with us; we had arranged a room in a private home for the nights before our sailing. We used the train and subway to get there from the airport. Unfortunately the subway in Barcelona has few escalators or elevators, but many flights of stairs. On the bright side, there were a number of handsome and polite young men who volunteered to carry my luggage. By the time we reached our destination, we were exhausted. No one answered the door! What's more, the hotel where our friends were supposed to be staying advised us they had cancelled their reservation!
The best solution when you are exhausted, hungry and don't have a bed is to find a place to sit down, have something to eat and a beer... and do a bit of people-watching. There's no better place for this than the main pedestrian street in Barcelona, La Rambla. The city encourages street performers such as our favorite, a young man dressed as a tree, who rolled a crystal ball gracefully across his shoulders, and then freeze into immobility, balancing the ball on the tip of his thumb. The wide pedestrian-only median is set up with booths selling flowers, souvenirs and birds, the warm afternoon weather was glorious, and the streets were filled with people enjoying the Spanish version of a long Labor Day weekend. After a few tapas we recovered our energy, were able to reach our hosts by phone, and soon tucked into a very comfortable spare bedroom, sleeping the sleep of the jet-lagged.
We slept until 8 a.m. local time and after a warning from our host about pick-pockets, set off to La Boqueria for a bite of breakfast. La Boqueria is an amazing place that has been the site of a food market of one sort or another since the 1200's. Imagine the grandest farmers market possible, under a high roof, jammed with people swirling around what must be hundreds of little stalls, selling every kind of fresh food you can imagine, displayed in glowing pyramids. Fruit, vegetables, shoals of fresh fish, freshly baked bread piled high, cured hams hanging over wheels of cheese, and all around you the wonderful smells and sounds. Coffee! Oh, the cafe latte was wonderful... I did not have a poor cup of coffee the entire trip, and the cafe latte at a stall in La Boqueria set the standard.
Then off to the old quarter to explore - we are having fun - but the hotel still had no word about our friends and the cruise leaves in 2 days!