Posts Tagged ‘Barcelona’

48. Party Hostels… with your parents

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

One day, when I get old, will I hate something I used to love dearly? Will I become jaded or just realistic?

These are questions I asked myself when I recently saw the Kabul Hostel listed among The Guardian‘s 10 Best Hostels in Barcelona.

Kabul Hostel, Barcelona: "An institution in the best possible sense."

Kabul Hostel, Barcelona: "An institution in the best possible sense."

I have stayed at Kabul on two occasions: Once, when I was 22, on my first backpacking trip to Europe, and a second time, when I was 30, on my first backpacking trip with — get this — my brother and my parents. No joke. My parents are cheap. They didn’t want to stay in a hotel. They wanted an “authentic” backpacking experience. They were also the only people over 30 in the entire building, cleaning staff included.

The receptionist took pity on us. He at least put is in a room with only four bunks; our family had our own room.

The party atmosphere was a shock not only to my parents, but also to the young people we met in the hostel bar.

“We’re here with our parents,” my brother told an American girl we met. “You’re fucking kidding, right?” she said. “Nope,” I said. “They’re upstairs sleeping, or trying to sleep. They have earplugs.” People were incredulous.

“Why on Earth would your parents want to stay here?” she asked.

“Well, I stayed here years ago and loved it,” I explained. “The location is perfect and it’s dirt cheap. I warned my mom that it would be a little crazy and the funny thing is, her eyes lit up when I told her that. I think she wanted a glimpse of what the young backpacker scene is like.”

We asked for it.

“A Barcelona institution in the best possible sense, the recently renovated Kabul has been housing backpackers since the pre-Olympic days, before the sailors and prostitutes patrolling the nearby Rambla were replaced by Geordie stag parties,” writes The Guardian‘s Sally Davies. “It’s an unbeatable location, right on the arcaded Plaça Reial in the centre of the Barri Gòtic, but is really aimed at hard-core party people –- the cheap beer and all-night comings and goings of the clubbers make it less fun for anyone here for a quiet weekend of sightseeing, especially in the larger rooms (mixed dorms sleep up to 20 people).”

After three sleepless nights in Barcelona (which my brother and I thoroughly enjoyed), my ‘rents had seen enough. Or maybe they’d heard enough: girls shrieking in the hallways, people shouting, listening to loud music and drinking boxed wine in the adjacent rooms before going out (with all the windows open, as there was no air conditioning).

“This is unbelievable. These kids do not sleep!” said my mom, on the second night. My dad grunted from behind his sleep mask. The earplugs offered little relief.

But we were operating on opposite schedules. Mom and Dad were getting ready to go to bed, just as we were all getting dressed to go out.

We stayed in a private guest house in Venice, the next stop on our trip. No more party hostels for Mom and Dad. NOW, they realized the peace and quiet was worth the extra money.

Honestly, I don’t hate the Kabul Hostel. I had a blast both times I was there. My parents hate it.

Growing up kinda sucks. And so, I resist (see 44. Finishing school/Quitting your job).

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41. Not knowing a thing about soccer

Sunday, June 20th, 2010
This is a decent reason to get into soccer.

This is a decent reason to get into soccer.

I am sitting in the Kabul Hostel (which is a party-animal zoo, but that’s for another post)  bar in Barcelona right now, watching the Brazil-Côte d’Ivoire game and the place is packed with Brazilian backpackers, along with other travelers watching the game. Brazil scored to go up 1-0 about 15 minutes ago and people were having fits. I mean, once the ball hit the back of the net, these Brazilians were screaming, jumping up and down, waving flags and doing everything short of having a seizure. The frenetic display lasted four minutes*.

It’s clear I’m not a die-hard soccer fan because I’m sitting here on the Internet while this whale of a match is being played, just glancing over at the screen instead of giving it my full attention. I don’t even know what that says about me. I suppose I’m pretty self-absorbed. No wait, I’m chanelling my inner journalist; I like to stay informed about world events and my friends’ business on Facebook. Yeah, that’s what it means.

As a Canadian who doesn’t even watch much hockey — I’m more of a basketball guy — I know next to nothing about soccer. Sure, I played it as a kid, but so did everybody in North America who knows as little or less about soccer than I do. We call it “soccer” for chrissakes. It’s pretty obvious we know dick about soccer. That said, I hate when North Americans pretend they’re hardcore into soccer. Fine if you’re an immigrant kid or you played mad soccer your whole life. No, I’m talking about people who go traveling or live abroad and come home pretending they’re absolutely mad about international football. It’s a joke, like coming home and using UK slang with your buddies in Buffalo (see 19. Coming Home with a Lame Accent).

Christian Lander writes,

“Most white people choose a favorite soccer team based on either a study abroad experience or a particularly long vacation to Europe or South America. When they return, they like to tell their friends about how great ‘football’ is and that they are committed to ‘getting more into’ now that they have returned home.

“Some white people take this charade so far as to actually play in adult soccer leagues or attend a local professional match.”

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, upon going back to reference the above post, I found that Lander’s most recent post is about the World Cup. So to not inform the rest of this post as I’m writing it, I haven’t read his last one yet.

So what more can I say? Well, sitting here watching these people take in the game makes me wish I had an appreciation for the lack of scoring in soccer. I’ve often felt that watching soccer is like constipation. You’re rocking back and forth on your seat, trying to squeeze a long hard deuce out and it just refuses to come out, or in the case of the ball: it refuses to go in the fucking net. Go in the net. It’s your home, ball. Go to your home.

How can a game end 0-0? Riddle me that. That’s not a game. That’s a two-team aerobic workout. I don’t buy tickets to a sporting event to see nothing happen, with no clear winner determined. Unbelievable, these people.

I wish I had the appreciation internationals have for the “beautiful game”: its precision, its finesse, its teamwork, its short bursts of speed and athleticism… its flopping theatrics. As a fan of the NBA, and more specifically of the San Antonio Spurs, I’ve tried very hard to find joy in seeing players dive to the ground when somebody gently  brushes by them. I just don’t like it. That’s not sports to me.

Those are really the only two beefs I have with soccer. Not enough scoring and the diving is gay**. The rest is pretty sweet. I’m having fun witnessing this cultural international soccer experience in this here hostel. In fact, I’m gonna log off this wretched computer right now. What the hell am I doing? I’d better grab a beer and really immerse myself in this live phenomenon. I’m gonna damn well enjoy myself. But let’s get one thing clear: I’m not gonna come home and tell everybody I’m so into soccer. Like I said, I know nothing about it.

*Here’s a random social observation for you: Among the 50-odd Brazilians (aged 20-30) in this room, not a single one is a black Brazilian. All of European descent. What does that tell you about their poverty gap?

From Wikipedia.org: “Brazil has the largest black population outside of Africa with, in 2008, 6.84% classifying themselves as preto (Black) and 43.80% as pardo (Brown)[7], for a total of 50.64%.”

**Two main features of San Antonio Spurs basketball, coincidentally.

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6. Getting Pickpocketed

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

If you’ve never been pickpocketed before, you just wait. Perhaps you’ve heard stories, but it’s like they say on MTV: You think you know, but you have no idea. This is the story of getting pickpocketed.

Moneybelts suck, but more on that later. Your wallet is in the back pocket of your jeans. Your cellphone is secure in that trusty backpack strap pocket. You are now a target. It’s that simple. Pickpockets are watching you. You’ve been marked before you realize it; you likely won’t realize it until it’s too late.

They wait in train stations and crowded tourist areas, near signs reading “Beware of pickpockets.” As an innate response, people immediately touch their wallet locale upon reading such signs or hearing such announcements over the intercom. Pickpockets watch for this and therefore know where you’re hiding the goods.

But you’re a seasoned vet. You’ve traveled everywhere and heard all the horror stories. In Europe, you watch out for gypsies. In poor countries, you watch out for everybody. Consider the following scenario: A common pickpocket’s ploy is to approach somebody left watching a number of bags. As a backpacker, you’re often stuck with more than one bag to protect: either you’ve got two (Note: Double packers – huge one in the back, small one out front like a pregnant lady – are retarded.), or you’re watching somebody else’s while they take a shit, wait for train tickets, book a hostel room, etc.

Since pickpockets rarely work alone, a decoy will come up and ask you a benign question (e.g. Excuse me, what time is it? Do you know where the nearest ATM is? Where did you get that t-shirt?). In the millisecond it takes you to look at your watch/the ATM/your shirt, an associate has already snuck in from behind and snatched a bag. The decoy attempts to make small talk and holds your attention until the job is done, then graciously thanks you and continues on his way. You’ve been had.

No matter how prepared you think you are, you will not be ready: These people are professionals.

Nevertheless, I’ve attempted to break down the elements of a pickpocket heist, from personal experience (beenou), as a sort of cautionary tale:

  1. Crowds – The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Khao San Road in Bangkok and Las Ramblas in Barcelona are typical pickpocket havens. Naturally, if people are bumping into each other, it makes the job easier. And unless you grew up in downtown NYC or Tokyo, you’re pretty uncomfortable in a sea of bodies ebbing and flowing through the street. Pickpockets are like hyenas – they quickly single out the weaker prey. For example, if you’re wearing baggy pants, you could be in trouble (I was).
  2. Diversion – The main purpose of the diversion is to get into your field of view. Often, they catch you off guard with old women selling bouquets, children selling maps, or blind beggars stumbling into you. It may be as insignificant as a light shove in a packed subway car when the train sways unexpectedly. In my case, it was a gypsy/beggar dropping a handful of change in a mosh-pit-like crowd.
  3. Teamwork – As mentioned before, pickpockets rarely work alone. As the change – we’re talking pennies here – hit the ground, I was both baffled and surprised. I thought, “Why pennies?” Then, “This dude is dirty and scary looking, with piercing yellow-green gypsy eyes like the Afghan broad on the cover of National Geographic. I should get out of his way.” As I tried to step aside, he grabbed the base of my pant leg, insisting my foot was on some of his change. He started yelling in a foreign tongue. I shook my head and struggled to free my foot, but he twisted the material tighter and yelled louder. He refused to let go, so I reacted violently, punching him in the shoulder a few times.
  4. Forcing You to Make a Choice – I braced myself for a counter attack, expecting him to hit back. Instead, he let go of my leg and sprinted off. Again, I was confused. Then it hit me. I reached back to feel my vacant back pocket. They got me. I wasn’t forced to make a choice, but in cases where only one of your many bags is stolen, you may be. Chase after the thief, and you risk leaving your bags unguarded. Stay with your bags, and the stolen one is gone.
  5. The Aftermath – I went to the police station to file a report on my stolen wallet. A few days later, it turned up. Most pickpockets just take the cash out and ditch the ID, bank cards and credit cards with the wallet. Just another example of criminal ethics, like how rapists and child molesters get their asses kicked in prison. At the police station, there were so many similar pickpocketing cases, it felt like a support group. People were crying, consoling each other, and comparing elaborate pickpocketing scenarios. Cops shrugged and told us there was nothing they could do. I spoke with people who not only lost wallets, but bags containing cameras, laptops, passports – everything. Those people were going home. Their trip was over. So remember: Even when you think you’re in dire straits, there’s always somebody worse off than you.
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