Monday, August 19, 2013

Silence In the Library: Borrowing Books in Barcelona

Barcelona has an excellent library system. There are 36 libraries in Barcelona, which may seem like few until you actually think about the neighbourhoods and how small, in my opinion, the city is. According to the official website of the library system,  there are on average 2 volumes per inhabitant in the collection (meaning approximately 3 million books); 27 libraries out of 36 have multimedia collections (read: DVDs of movies and TV shows, CDs, videogames), and each and every library has free Wi-Fi. The whole library catalog is naturally available online. Ayuntamiento (the city government) spends 15€ per inhabitant to fund the library system: that's a lot of euros from the city budget well spent, in my opinion.

And get this: anyone is allowed to obtain a library card in Barcelona. Anyone. You live in Barcelona or elsewhere in Spain? Have it. You live in Europe? Have it. You are visiting for three days? Have it. You are here illegally? Have it, I guess, no one will ask you how long you are here for and why. To get a library card, you need a valid ID, which could be your DNI, NIE or a passport - any passport. You do not need to prove you live in Barcelona, you do not need to provide a permanent address, you do not need to explain why you want the card. I am not sure if this is due to upholding the human right to information and knowledge, or the Barcelona library system is just so all-inclusive just because, but basically, if you are here and you want to borrow books and movies, you are free to do so.

You can fill a form online to get a card or go to the nearest library directly. The card will be made on the spot for you anyway, so whichever option you prefer for whatever reason works fine. As I said, you will need to provide a valid ID with the name matching the form filled and the picture matching your face, along with a local address, but nothing will be actually mailed to that address, so it could be temporary accommodations or your friend's mailbox. So you show up at the library, ask for a card, give the librarian your ID, and they print the card out in 5-10 minutes, which you are free to use right away. With the card, you are allowed to borrow 15 books or magazines, 9 DVDs, and 6 types of other media (CDs and videogames for example), for 30 days, from any library in the system. That's 30 pieces on entertainment for a month. In Spanish, Catalan or any other language you can dig out. For free. It is truly very impressive.

You can renew each borrowed item three times, provided that it is not reserved for another library user. If you fail to renew or return the item by due date, each day you are late is marked with one penalty point per item. Once you accumulate 50 points, your card is automatically blocked for 15 days, during which you cannot use it to borrow other books, reserve a computer or use other library services. If you lose an item, you need to buy an exact replacement for it, and if you can't find one, the library will indicate the material or cost necessary to reimburse the loss. Sounds pretty fair to me! Oh, and one last thing: you don't need to present your card when returning the borrowed materials, so you can ask a friend or a relative to return them for you if for some reason you can't make a trip. Cool? Very cool.

I personally have started using my card already: I have three books and one hiking map on loan at the moment, and I'm in love with the future possibilities, considering how impressive a DVD collection in my local library (Poblenou-Manuel Arranz) looks. I'm a bit afraid to forget to return the books, but the library website helpfully tells me that I will receive an email reminder three days before the due date.

Great job, Barcelona libraries.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Infecting Europe with all the good things

Barcelona, like any big city in the world, has a fair share of places catering to any possible hobby you could have. Dance schools, gyms, tango, painting, wine pairing, opera signing, ballet, even hockey (yes, in Spain), what have you - there is tons to occupy your free time if you have it, and so many options to spend it, if you only look for the thing that interests you.

Of course, martial arts are no exception, being the highly regarded and followed sport around the world. There is a lot of variety in the world of martial arts themselves, even more than you could imagine: lots of people have heard of boxing, karate, and possibly kung fu, but there is also kick boxing and Thai boxing (Muay Thai), jiu jitsu and Brazilian jiu jitsu, capoeira, jeet kune do, wresting, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and many many more. And basically, if you want to try any of it, you are in luck, because in my experience every big city has at least several studios, gyms or dojo that offer martial arts training in one or a few disciplines. Yes, even for adult beginners.

Barcelona being no exception, it didn't take a lot of time to find a martial arts school just for me. I was looking for a place to continue training in Muay Thai that I started in Canada, preferably close to where I was going to be living in Barcelona - no small feat because, alas, you can't count on the gym being close to you, only on the fact that it exists somewhere. As luck would have it, I found an academy 10 minutes away from my apartment. Barcelona Martial Arts Academy had a website (!), it was close by, it looked good, and I laughed my ass off at their awesome headline, "Infectando Europa con Fuerza Técnica" (I still laugh at it, but now I love it, because I know it's true).

So in April I went there, intimidated like hell, because all I did in Toronto was fitness-oriented kickboxing. I was in good shape, could take multiple reps of abs crunches, seat-ups and body kicks, do cardio and more cardio, but technique-wise I was an absolute beginner, and I knew that. My first class was a complete failure, or so it felt like, - but it was no question if I was going to be back for more. I mean, eventually I would learn the difference between a jab and a cross and won't have to ask Natalia to show me how to do a hook, right?


BCNMA is addictive. In spring, I was coming three times a week for an hour, mostly because I had to commute from a temporary apartment I knew I was moving out of. In summer, when I came back from Canada straight into my permanent accommodations that were close to BCNMA, I started going four times a week without fail, week in week out, Monday to Thursday. At  some point I realized that it was not enough and picked up a personal trainer for Kali (a Filipino martial art that we do as part of the self-defense class) in the meantime: basically, a super-awesome friend who goes to BCNMA as well agreed to hang out and beat me up in the park or on the beach with bamboo sticks so that I could learn the basics faster.

And then, not very long ago, I was at last allowed to move up from the foundations level to what I call "everyone else level" (and what Michael calls "Combat Athlete Program " level, but I like my version better). All it means is that I no longer wear a grey T-shirt, but a blue one, and I am allowed to attend classes where beginners shouldn't go, for the sake of their egos among other things, because the stuff taught there is much harder. I am so damn proud of my blue shirt I now take my ass to the academy five times a week, doing two classes at a time on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That's the plan anyways; in reality, sometimes it turns to three classes per night, because hey, why not learn some Brazilian jiu jitsu as well?

We now have a gorgeous new space with two training areas, so now two classes can run simultaneously. We have awesome people coming in to train, mostly guys (not surprisingly), but quite a few girls too. All classes - be it Muay Thai, self-defense or BJJ - are really, really fun and educational. They are fun all thanks to the instructors, obviously, and BCNMA is a very special place, because it is run by people who make it so every single day. Michael and Natalia are the only ones teaching, and they are the owners, so there is no slacking, neither in teaching nor in being taught. I used to be intimidated by both of them, albeit for different reasons, but that feeling sort of went away, now replaced by endless respect and admiration.

If I don't literally have heart eyes (like so ), while at the academy, it does not mean I don't feel this way every single time when I'm there. Sure, there are bruises, and sweat, and hair getting in the way, and shins kicked, and insteps injured (ouch), but this is my favourite place to be in all of Barcelona. Well, maybe apart from my bed. Zzzzz.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Amsterdam: First Impressions

Amsterdam is lovely, but I didn't have to tell you that, did I? It is totally picture-perfect, making it impossible to put the camera away, because there is always some other canal, some other impressive boat, some cute fat cat or some comical Spanish restaurant to take pictures of. Amsterdam requires a lot of getting used to navigation-wise: any change of course may spin you in a new direction while going completely unnoticed... Having to navigate toward (really cute) bridges to cross canals, we took the wrong way numerous times, and we have only been here one day!

Today, Amsterdam was so choke-full of people that my friends and I had to hold hands so that we don't get lost in the crowd. Thing is, I had no idea that I will be visiting the city on Gay Pride 2013 weekend, and while super-duper awesome, it was also really tiring to get off sidewalks (for the lack of space) and jump away from bicycles to avoid injury, only to have to squeeze through colourful groups of dressed up people and having beer spilled on. Crowds get old really fast, but the general merriment and the definitely commonly shared feeling of "We are proud" was beyond amazing. Amsterdam, you definitely earned your right to be proud!

I have one random complaint though. Some places do not accept credit cards, only debit (but not Visa Electron) or cash. Some places do not accept cash, but take chip-and-pin cards. What's the deal? I am as of yet not terribly inconvenienced, but my limited supplies of cash are slowly dwindling! Please take my touristy Mastercard more, will you, Amsterdam?

Speaking of touristy, we visited Rijksmuseum, albeit briefly, De Jordaan, the Sex Museum (funny, tacky and a great way to spend 4 euros), and the New Church today. Does not seem like much, but we walked all across the city, got sunburnt and had a really light lunch, so by 9 pm we were beyond exhausted. Mid-afternoon Amstel and an early evening Kaldi espresso helped to balance out the day though. Plans for tomorrow: Rijk again, Stedelijk and Van Gogh!