Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Worst Things About Barcelona

Although there's many wonderful things about the city of Barcelona, and once again, Spain in general, some of the things here just don't stack up to the United States. Naptime sounds like a good thing, yes, until you realize stores aren't open and you can't get what you want at 2:30 in the afternoon!

Siesta and Closing Times

Naptime generally sounds like a fun idea, right? In the US, we would relish the idea of having a couple hours mid-day to have time to ourselves and relax. In reality, it's not so special. If I need something mid afternoon, it is probably not open. In our 24 hours a day world, this just does not cut it. To further add to the distress, just about everywhere that is not a bar, restaurant, or nightclub is closed before 10PM. Feeling the munchies and want to make a WaWa run at 1AM? Sorry, they're closed. I guess the Spanish like their time to not do much, which leads me to my next issue...

Everything Happens Slowly

The TV at my apartment stopped working in early January. The owner immediately told us he would get us a new one, since it was broken. It took over a month to get here, constantly going through delays and being told that it would be there int he next day or two. We hate waiting for anything at home, but here it's typical. They say that countries like the US work to live, whereas in Roman influenced countries like Spain, they live to work. That point gets driven home when you are trying to get a waiter's attention and he ignores you like you don't matter whatsoever.

6 Hour Time Difference Means Late Sporting Events

Sure, soccer is on at pretty regular times (9 or 10PM starts, typically) but that just means that in the US I could watch it at 3! A 7PM 76ers game, for those like myself who actually care to watch, does not begin until 1AM. Not to mention, finding access for the game isn't exactly easy. The Superbowl started at 12:30AM, and didn't end till after 4AM. Occasionally, Sunday games will start at 1 and I can watch them, but if there is any reason why American sports are just not that big in Europe, this is probably one of them. This is the biggest reason why I could never live in Europe. Nothing starts too late over here. A 10:30 PM start for a basketball game on the West Coast is only a half hour later than a start of an FC Barcelona game here.

The Lack of Sports Variety

No Sportscenter is killing me. At home, you can watch highlights all day on Sportscenter, and it'll show all four of our major sports. Here, you're lucky to find anything besides soccer coverage. Sure, the basketball team is pretty good and the average person might be able to recognize Ricky Rubio, but each team plays only 1-2 times per week like football. At home, I can watch a different basketball game, pro or college, every night of the week. I'm not sure what they do in the summer when soccer is on off-season, I guess they just vacation at the beach all day.

The Eating Times

In Spain, the typical eating times are 2PM for lunch, and 9 or 10PM for dinner. Lunch is an event over here, and typically people can spend from 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours just hanging out and eating. Dinner is probably less important than lunch, but having dinner only a couple hours before sleeping just feels really strange. A lot of the time, I end up having just one meal in a day or one quick meal at one point and a bigger meal later on. I know it's the culture to eat at those times and all, but years of dinner being the main meal have conditioned me to be hungry later in the day!

Lack of Variety in Fast Foods

When we think of 'fast foods' we typically just think of McDonalds and how gross it is. But we don't really consider just how many options we typically have in any given day. Here, there is Subway (gross), Burger King, McDonalds, kebaps, Starbucks, and a couple other chains (which really are not especially inexpensive). All of the US chains cost the same in Euros as they do in Dollars (so they have a 1 euro menu), which means that a 6.65 meal costs over 8 bucks. As if I'd buy that. Here, it's not typical to walk into a store, order a sandwich, and leave. If you have a craving for just about at anything at home, you can get it at a moment's notice. The ridiculous variety in our food selection is something we take completely for granted, especially in terms of fast food choices.


Barcelona is considered the 'Pickpocket Capital of the World'. Not exactly an endearing nickname. Here, you have to watch your pockets at all times. Really, you don't have to worry about being mugged (and anyways, most Spaniards aren't especially big or scary looking), but you do have to worry about having your stuff stolen. They will use any trick to get your money, from bumping into you on the metro in order to grab whatever you have from your pocket or bag, or using a distraction game on the big tourist street, Las Ramblas. In just a couple of months, I have heard multiple horror stories ranging from people leaving their bag unattended for a minute, to people just trying to reach into your bag to steal something. With the language barrier, it is really difficult to tell who on the Metro is a genuine person and who might try to steal your stuff. It is best to always be cognizant that someone might try to rob you, but it kinda sucks to have to constantly worry about that.

No Dryers

Throw your clothes in the washing machine. When they get done, just transfer them over to the dryer. Not here. Most washing machines are relatively small, and take fairly long. If you put the settings too hot, they can easily damage your clothes. However, the worst part of the lack of a dryer. This means you have to hang-dry everything. Not only do they dry sort of stiff and uncomfortable (especially my socks), but they also take a long time to dry. Again, in a world where we want everything instantly, waiting a day for clothes to dry can feel like an eternity at times.

Are all of these things tolerable? Absolutely. However, at these times I wish I could get what I want!

Best of Barcelona

After nearly two months of living in Barcelona, I probably do not have a completely accurate view of what is best and worst about this city. Nonetheless, I'm incredibly opinionated and enjoy asserting said opinions. Barcelona (and I'd imagine some of this could be extended to Spain as a whole) some really awesome aspects. On the other hand, at times things about this city can drive you crazy.

The best parts:

The 'Metro'

At only 39 square miles, Barcelona is a pretty small city. By contrast, New York City is 468 square miles. This small size makes things quite convenient. Most places are walkable, but for anywhere that is not within a reasonable walking distance, you can easily hop on the metro and get wherever you need to go in a very reasonable amount of time. Trains run pretty much always completely on time, and on Fridays and Saturdays, the hours are extended. Nonetheless, getting wherever you need to go in a reasonable manner does not require any sort of personal transportation, is relatively inexpensive, and cheap. Does this mean I don't miss my car? No, but it is a solid second option. Besides, having a car in Barcelona would be completely unreasonable. It's all about the motorbikes.

The Sports

Coming from Philadelphia and someone who loves sports, let me start off by saying that the 6 hour time difference that keeps me from being able to watch American sports would stop me from living in Europe permanently. Despite this, Barcelona is a pretty damn solid sports city. Having the best soccer team in the world (despite their recent loss to Arsenal) is obviously a huge plus. Soccer is not especially popular in the US, but people obviously love it here. Going to a game, you can see why. Similar to baseball, soccer is a sport to watch live in living color. Watching on TV just does not do the sport justice, which could help explain why we in the US don't typically care much for it. Besides thinking that the players are weak and love to dive (which a lot of them do), we do not get the best product domestically. The MLS is sort of like watching the NBDL...or worse, the WNBA. Who wants to do either? Barca plays a style that is incredibly exciting to watch, rarely turning over the ball, and scoring goals at a record pace. Besides, watching Messi play live is not dissimilar to watching any other great athlete play live; it is an experience.
The most underrated aspect of sport in Barcelona is the basketball. The Spanish league, the ACB League, is arguably even superior to the Euroleague. Like soccer, Barca rules. The Barca team has many solid players that either could or have played in the NBA. They recently beat Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey (foreshadowing the same for soccer?), and are 4-0 in the Euroleague round of 16 heading into their matchup against Maccabi Tel Aviv this Thursday. In the ACB League, their record stands at 18-3. Probably the biggest reason to see this team play is because of Ricky Rubio, the #5 pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 20005. He has not been especially impressive statistically this year, as he has struggled with his shot. The statistics do not tell the whole story here, as the European game is played much differently than the US game, and Rubio looks like someone who would be most apt in a fast breaking offense, dishing to cutters down the lane. If he develops a better shot, he can be a really solid player in the NBA...that is if he would ever come. I am not as down on him and some in the US are, and think that any team who gets him will get a pretty solid point guard.

The Weather

Hearing about constant snowstorms and freezing rain, slush, weather, etc back home makes me appreciate the consistent weather in Barcelona. No, it is not especially 'warm' here at the moment, but I'll take 60 degree weather during weekdays in February. In Philadelphia, the high today is 45, probably with a windchill. Today, a not notably warm day, the high is about 60, and feels that way for most of the day. It makes it a lot more pleasant to walk around the city when you don't feel like exposing any part of your skin to the outside world will freeze you instantly. Missing out on the winter at home is an experience I won't forget!

The Wealth of Supermarkets

It seems like there is a supermarket on every corner! Sure, they are not as large and well stocked as a typical US supermarket, but I can walk out of my apartment with 5 different options for shopping. Most places have just about the same exact things, but there is some variation in the prices. Stores typically have a solid selection, and you can buy meats and bread (staples of life) for pretty solid prices. I do miss the huge supermarkets at home, but it is actually really neat to go in a store and note all the differences between there and home.


I know these are popular in many countries, but Kebaps are pretty damn good. Why we do not have them in the US is pretty much beyond me. A sandwich type thing that comes with meats shaved from a big-ass chunk of meat, some salad type stuff, and some sauce. Pretty simple, but filling and easy on my wallet. You can find McDonalds and Burger Kings here, but the food at Kebap places is definitely better tasting. Probably not the best for you, and definitely not 'authentic' Catalan cuisine, but this stuff is good.

Menu del Dia

I don't have money to go out and eat very often, but the Menu del Dia (Menu of the Day) is pretty solid. It gives you an appetizer, main course, and desert for a pretty reasonable price. It honestly feels like food just continuously comes to you. It typically tastes pretty good, and makes me wonder why people think American food portions are so large. I'm not sure I could finish a traditional Catalan meal.

Presence of English

As a single language speaker, the presence of English in a lot of places makes my life much easier. The amount of English here is much greater than the amount of any other language in the US (Spanish speaking places notwithstanding). The English is not always translated perfectly, but it is easy to figure out. Plus, many people speak at least a few words, allowing for simple communication. Barcelona historically has many international influences, which make the city very interesting. I know about as minimal Spanish as you can know (never a single Spanish class in my life), but I have no issues in getting what I need. I can't converse with people, but fortunately numbers and names (ie Metro Station Names) transcend language. It's kind of nice to be on the other side of the language barrier at times, and makes me appreciate how difficult non-English speaking people in the United States must have it. It also makes me incredibly impressed listening to non-native speakers speaking fluent English.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Regal FC Barcelona

So I went to my first European league game on Thursday night. I would best describe it as a cross between an NBA and NCAA game, with some soccer infusion. Overall, the closest comparison would certainly be an NBA game. The game featured Regal FC Barcelona (FC Barcelona's basketball team) and Lottomatica Roma. Familiar faces in the game for Barcelona included Ricky Rubio (duh), Juan Carlos Navarro, Fran Vazquez, Kosta Perovic (formal Warriors draft pick), Boniface N'Dong, Alan Anderson, and Terence Morris. On Lottomatica's side, Darius Washington (now Macedonian apparently...who knew)....and that's about it. Barcelona came into the game as heavy favorites, heading in at 2-0 in the Euroleague, and widely considered the best team in Europe.

Like some US complexes, the Palau Blaugrana (where the team plays) is right next to the soccer stadium, Camp Nou. This made it quite convenient to find, however figuring out how exactly to get in took some ticket flashing at security guards. I found the exterior entrance quickly enough, though. Similar to Camp Nou, you are assigned a gate to go through in order to enter the arena. The numbering system appeared to make just about zero sense, as the 90 and 80 sections were on either side of the 70 section, running contrary to the crazy thought that they would follow some ordinal pattern. Nonetheless, to figure out where in the world I needed to go I played dumb and walked up to the wrong gate, tried to scan my ticket and had the security guard point me to the correct gate. Good thing pointing directions is pretty universal. Once I got to the right gate, my section was right there. Walking in the doors to the section, I walked down the steps to my row two seat....and kept walking until I was nearly on the court. Typically at a 76ers game, I would have been able to hear players call out plays and yell random things, however, this place was far louder (I'll get to that). The seat next to mine had a Lakers sticker on it, and I immediately noticed the darkened lights surrounding the court (although unlike Staples, this place was pretty full). Like a college game, there was a clear supporters group called the Dracs (or Dragons/Devils) in the upper bleachers. Since the Palau is pretty small, they were loud. I'm not even sure they cared to watch the game, but they sure were having a hell of a time chanting and performing various cheers among the group. It seemed all pro-Barca, but then again, I had no clue what they were actually chanting. I'm sure I'm committing a soccer cardinal sin here, but the atmosphere here was actually more energetic than a game at Camp Nou. Maybe it was the intimate surroundings, but I can kinda see why Ricky Rubio isn't exactly getting the next flight to Minneapolis. No scoreboard here to tell us when to chant de-fense or pump up the volume. These guys were bringing it just as hard as Barca was.

Onto the game. Barca won handily, 80-56. This wasn't a quiet 80-56 win either, they pretty much made it look easy. The most obviously prominent player in the game is Ricky Rubio, so I tried to follow him most closely. He obviously starts, and judging by promotional posters around the stadium, is regarded as one of the most integral players. I had a really tough time to get a great grasp of him- on some hands, it's really clear why he was the #5 pick, and on some aspects you wonder why he was even drafted. He got noticeably beaten twice in the first quarter by Darius Washington. To be fair, Washington is a pretty solid player in his own right, and they were both from 1-1 matchups, but they looked like plays he could have defended. He also gets substituted at really odd times- the coach seems to realize that he should be on the court for important minutes, but it never really seemed like he was able to get in the flow of the game. While he was in the game, it seemed like Barca always took control. He did play well, with 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals, but the guy went 0-2 from the field for 0 points. He either has no confidence in his shot and is afraid to shoot (which is what it looks like, as he pass off multiple open shots), or feels completely like he needs to pass the ball off every possession and only initiate the offense and create chances for other players to score. Nonetheless, there was a few times when he had a favorable chance to score in the open court and instead chose to slow it down and pass it off. I know he's shooting a terrible percentage this year, but part of that could possibly come from the irregularity of his shots, since he refuses to take them. He also seemed to favor his right hand, but that was not particularly a big deal, as he didn't seem to lose anything going left. Nonetheless, he had somewhat of an it factor. Whenever he was on the court, he was the first player you noticed and seemed to have complete control of the game despite his lack of shooting, and being beat a couple times by Darius. If he gains confidence in his jumper, he will probably be Minnesota's starting PG if he ever decides to come over.

Some other player notes: JC Navarro looks skinny. He supposedly weighs more than Rubio, but he definitely looked smaller. Nonetheless, he had an off shooting game but plays in the Ray Allen style in that he will keep coming off screens and putting it up, knowing it will go in eventually. Not surprising why he plays so well in international competitions, and he must really like Barcelona because he is definitely cut out for the NBA. If any NBA team is looking for a tall white stiff to take some fouls, look no further than Kosta Perovic! He would definitely be really pretty good for 6 fouls, a couple rebounds, and maybe a couple points. Although I do think he threw one down during the game. Alan Anderson led Barca in scoring, and consistently looked more athletic than the rest of the players on the court. Darius Washington was clearly carrying the Lottomatica team, and looked incredibly frustrated by the end of the game, trying to constantly create something and typically having to do it himself. He finished the game shooting 8-12, so he obviously succeeded somewhat.

Some other things I noticed: Once again, all the music is in English. They love Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi. At halftime, everyone pulls out bocadillos (sandwiches). Why don't we do this in the US? The chanting was pretty cool, especially in the beginning when it was still relatively close. By the 4th quarter, it got a bit tiring. On one hand, it's nice to have fun support, but on the other hand, I thought people went to games to actually watch them (crazy). I'm pretty sure I was sitting directly behind some sort of sports reporters or analysis, because at halftime they filmed something for about a minute. Not sure what they went over in that minute, but they were somebody somewhat important, I think. This was a really good basketball crowd, and you can see how much the players appreciate it (they clapped towards the fans as they walked off the court).

So, maybe this is why Ricky doesn't want to go to Minnesota.

Friday, January 28, 2011

My First Soccer (Futbol, Football) Game

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to attend an FC Barcelona match. This was the first professional soccer game I've ever attended (unless you'd count the Philadelphia Kixx, but I wouldn't). I wouldn't call myself a huge soccer fan, though I have played a lot of FIFA. Nonetheless, the sports fan in me needs something, and I've been learning more and more about soccer, reading both How Soccer Explains the World and Soccernomics in the free time between coming to Barcelona and the plane ride. As per usual, they won 5-0. What really intrigued me, besides the mesmerizing play of Messi, Villa, Xavi, Pedro, and Iniesta, was the experience of attending the game. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, other than American sporting events that I have attended.

The metro, like many other city subway systems, takes you only a couple blocks from the stadium. Oddly, this part of the city is pretty quiet, and definitely does not seem like it is one of the nicer parts. There's a few bars along the streets, but there is a few bars along just about every street in the entire city. I knew it would not be like Philadelphia in that there would be tons of cars packed in parking lots (though there were many motorbikes alongside the street), but I expected it to be not dissimilar to other cities in which the stadium is in the city. There was relatively little going on around the stadium. I guess it just isn't a happening part of the city, which isn't that surprising considering that the stadium was built in the late 50s, and the city didn't really see a major renaissance until the 90s and the Olympics. Or maybe I wasn't near the exciting part, who knows. The stadium is encircled by many different gates, and each ticket has a gate number listed for entry. Not really sure why they only let you come in certain designated gates, but maybe it's to diffuse the amount of people coming in a single gate? It really didn't seem to serve too much of a purpose, honestly. The ticket window looked like something straight out of the 1920s. Small, wooden stations. Kinda seemed out of place for a team as prestigious as FC Barcelona. Maybe at Real Betis, not Barca. I guess they really wanted to push towards the 'no frills, just soccer' approach. Once getting in the first initial gate, you were simply on the outside of the stadium. Now you have to go to another gate that also corresponds with your ticket. This gate gets you inside the stadium, near where you are sitting. After the man at the first gate ripped my ticket stub, this time I had to go through a machine that would scan the ticket. Seems like it would have made much more sense to just scan it the first time through. Oh well.
After getting in the actual stadium, I then made the long and arduous hike to my seat in the 500 level. Unlike US stadiums, Camp Nou was clearly not built for comfort. The stairs were steep, and there was a lot of them. I guess they need to be to sit about 100,000 people. After climbing Camp Nou Mountain, I got to my seats. Certainly more comfortable than Fenway or Wrigley seats (though just about anything is), but they were pretty no-frills. No cup holders, armrests, cushioned seats, or attentive servants. My seats were obviously pretty high up, but I was just about mid-field level, so the light lines were pretty damn good. Soccer, like baseball, and basketball (if you're on the lower level), is one of those sports that is undoubtedly enhanced in person. Even with the quality of HD-TV today, cameras can't capture the entire field constantly. To watch how everyone is moving around all the time, and how everything fits together is well captured watching the game in-person.
The actual game was essentially over in just about 10 minutes (though some might argue that it was over before it started, and who could doubt them?) Lionel Messi scored what looked like an easy goal past the Almeria GK, though 'easy' for Mess is a pretty relative term. Just two minutes later, David Villa had the ball looking as if nothing would come out of it, decided to poke it past the defender and run past him then proceeded to shoot the ball easily past the goalie to make it 2-0. Only a few minutes after that, Messi scored his second goal on the night, effectively sealing a victory that was not in question. Roughly 15 minutes later, Pedro headed in a free kick to extend their ridiculous lead to 4-0. The rest of the game was essentially just practice, and the game ended 5-0. For the season, Barca has outscored Almeria 13-0 over 2 games. Ridiculous. The same Almeria that recently tied Real Madrid (though Barca has outscored Real 5-0 head to head).
What I REALLY liked about the game was the lack of other shit happening. I like to think that as a fan, I do not need a gigantic jumbotron telling me to "Get Loud" or "Clap Your Hands" or "Make Noise." The most intrinsic part of a sporting event is standing there and noticing the entire crowd completely pumped up, deafening any other noise. I've seen it happen many times, and it never has taken a stupid jumbotron with annoying music for it to happen. Also, I don't need to watch a SEPTA bus race in between innings of a playoff game...nobody does. That was the most refreshing thing about watching the game. It was just about watching the game.

One of the probably fundamental differences between soccer and a lot of American sports is that soccer teams are not really ran as businesses, whereas American sports are out to suck every last penny out of you and make games into more than just a game, but a spectacle. At halftime of the game, there was no dance team or cheerleaders or whatever, just random music and commercials on the scoreboard (in English, mind you). Everyone pulled out their sandwiches, smoked their cigarettes (you can still smoke in soccer stadiums, I guess) and waited patiently for the next half to begin. I know this will never happen in the US, but I really wish it did, at least for the playoffs. For the regular season, sure, do whatever you want to create some excitement, but the playoffs should be ONLY about the game. Though, they do love to do the wave during the game, along with many other chants that I couldn't understand (which were pretty cool actually, it probably intimidated the opponent even more). I always hear about the passion that soccer fans have towards their teams. I don't think that they're any more passionate than other fans, but here it is different. The stadium is the place to come see the game, not the couch while watching the HD cycling between the 6 other games that are also on TV. Also, because the stadium is so geared towards just simply watching soccer, and the late starting time (10PM), it did not seem like a particularly appealing family event. Nonetheless, there are a lot of elements of Camp Nou that I wish were brought to the US.