The Barcelona Blizzard of 2010

Now you probably thought two things when you read that heading.  1.  It snows in Barcelona?  2.  A blizzard is a lot of snow…just how much did they get?  To answer your questions… it rarely snows here.  From what I’ve read, other than the occassional snowflake here and there, “significant” snow only falls maybe once every 4-5 years.  I’m not 100% sure what they mean by significant snow because today’s snowfall was approximately 2-3″ and completely paralyzed the city.  As in completely paralyzed the city to a point of chaos that I have not heard or seen since the Blizzard of 78″.  I read an article that stated they have not seen this kind of collapse of the highway/roadway system since 1985 – that’s a long time.  And of course, it’s during our 2 year stay here.  Why we wouldn’t be here in year 3 or year 6 is beyond me, no, we need to be here in years 4/5.  I’d also like to point out that in this article it said that they had 19 plows out maintaining the city roads.  Seriously 19?  For an entire city????

I will say that while my trip this afternoon was complete misery and at moments, almost terrifying because of the chaos, I’m glad I was there.  You see, I had to go up to Aidan’s school for Liam’s entrance exam (exam for a 2 1/2 year old???) for nursery school.  If I weren’t up there for Liam, Aidan would have had to deal with this all by himself and after our escapade on Thursday where he was lost on the bus, we would have had no choice but to pack up our bags and move home because there would have been no way this kid would have stayed here if he’d had to hack this alone today.

I noticed a few stray snowflakes this morning but didn’t make much of it.  Yeah, it sucks that it’s snowing in Barcelona where the average winter temparature is around 50 degrees, but like most of you, this has not been your average winter and I guess today just exemplifies that.  When Liam and I headed out of our apartment around 2, it was starting to come down more consistantly but not sticking to the ground…yet.

We got to school just before 3 and it was starting to stick, but we were also at a much higher elevation which is what I chalked it up to.  Little did I know what was in store for us just 45 minutes later.  I believe that Liam aced his entrance exam (whew!) and we went to grab Aidan from his classroom.  One of the administrators told me that school was already canceled for tomorrow and that they were suggesting parents come early for their kids.  I was only 15 minutes early to get Aidan but figured might as well get him and take the bus / commuter rail / 2 trains home rather than having to wait another 45 minutes to take the school bus.  So off we go to get Aidan and wow, it’s slippery now!!  And I’m so not wearing appropriate shoewear but at least I have my winter coat on, as does Liam…and I did bring a hat and gloves for Aidan – way to be prepared (I say this because I brought no beverages or snacks so really I wasn’t all that prepared)!!

Aidan’s school is on a steep part of a hill.  So steep that we needed to walk on the grassy area (ok muddy area) to get down because they don’t have salt or sand at the school to make the walkways less slippery.  So far, not a great sign.  In the hour since I’ve entered the school, we’ve now got a bit of accumulation going.  And no signs of stopping…hmmm…how odd for Barcelona…

Being a New Englander at heart, this snow isn’t that big of a deal.  Yeah it’s no fun in a tropical paradise but it’s a little taste of home and isn’t that great?  It would be if this little bit of snow didn’t bring an entire city to it’s knees!!  Since we wanted to get ahead of the storm, we figured we’d hop on the #30 bus which is pretty much across the street from where the school buses pick up the kids.  We stayed under the little hutch (similar to those in the US) for a good 20 minutes freezing our asses off, getting covered in snow and just plain old soaking wet and freezing.  If I’m freezing and can’t really feel my toes, I hate to think of how the kids feel.  I’m debating walking downhill to the FGC (commuter rail) stop – but it’s a steep downhill and given how the schoolgrounds were, I’m unsure of a stroller with a 2 year old and my 5 year old walking downhill like that.  So I stick it out for a bit.  Finally feeling like we’re getting no where I tell Aidan (who’s in tears and just wants to get home – if only he knew what was in store) “let’s go get on the school bus, at least it will be warm”.

Liam is also now hysterical and they are cold and tired and I can’t really blame them because I feel the same way.  He cries on the bus for a good 20 minutes before he settles down for a nap (which he had missed due to his “interview”).  The bus sits waiting for another 1/2 hour, well past it’s usual departure time of 4:15.  Around 4:30 we finally head out… to where?  No where, that’s where.  We literally went around the rotary and it took us a full hour.  Yes, an hour.  And then the bus just stopped (on a very tiny overpass over the highway).  I wish I could have taken a picture of the traffic below on the highway but the windows were just caked in ice and fog and it wouldn’t have come out well.  But the traffic below was a nightmare – not that there were so many cars travelling on the roads, but that the cars that were travelling… well they weren’t travelling any more.  They were all spun out and people were walking on the highways, essentially abandoning their cars in the likes of nothing I’ve seen since the Blizzard of 78 (though sounds similar to last winter’s huge storm at home where everyone’s commutes were something like 4-5 hours).

After an hour on the bus, the driver has now shut off his engine (in the hopes of saving gas???) and it’s getting chilly.  I’ll admit, I’m a little panicky… we’re on a tiny overpass and on a huge bus and my neurotic thinking is going something like this “how long can this overpass hold this bus?  It’s used to vehicles in motion not constant heavy weight”.  Now I’m sure this makes absolutely no sense and I’m sure any psysicists out there will gladly tell me why this theory is wrong but it doesn’t really matter – in my mind, this bridge is going to collapse out from under us during this crazy storm.  But I must stay calm for the children…right?  And of course I keep my neurosis to myself and I’m sure that unknowingly, they are thankful for that.

Some of the older students are calling home and there is one other parent on the bus.  She tells me she is taking some of the older kids down to the FGC station.  I tell her I think I want to go too.  But of course I’m not fast enough with my two small children (that and someone is borrowing my cell to call their parents) and so she goes on ahead of me.  Armed with a plastic shield (thank god I bought that a few weeks ago!) for Liam’s stroller, the three of us head downhill.  In hindsight, shouldn’t have bothered with the school bus.  It was much closer than I realized (I’d always taken a city bus up the hill to the school) and because the snow was accumulating and apparently Barcelona doesn’t believe in shovels, sand or salt, the traction was actually not too bad, though a little tough pushing the stroller in.

However, what I saw on my way to the FGC station is only something I would have seen at home with an insane amount of snow on the ground, again like the blizzard of 78.  People wandering the streets.  Cars abandoned.  Others getting together to push cars up a hill – they would take turns – they would push one up, come back down, push another up, and so on.  Sucks that there are so many hills here in Barcelona huh?  Your little tiny eco friendly cars aren’t getting you far now are they?  Don’t you wish you had a big 4-wheel all terrain SUV?  Yup, bet sales for those go up tomorrow…

We arrived to the FGC a little after 5:30, now 2 hours into our journey home.  And we’ve made it now about 1/2 mile or so from the school.  Fabulous!  I figure it might be a little more crowded than usual but we’re on our way to being inside for the duration of our travels home up til those last 5 blocks, but that we’re good – we’re at the light at the end of the tunnel.  Oh how wrong could I possibly be?

First I’d like to say I’ve never in my life seen so many people in a train station before.  Shoulder to shoulder practically.  It’s a decent sized station (by Barcelona standards – we’re talking 1/4 the size of Back Bay probably).  I wanted to take a picture of it, but my hands were completely frozen at this time (nor could I feel my feet at all which was a little worrisome) and I didn’t want to let the kids out of my sight long enough to grab my camera.  I will honestly say that looking thru this station I could completely see how a stampede could happen.  There is no doubt in my mind that it could have.

We head towards the stairs (with my stroller in one hand, Liam’s hand in the other and Aidan holding on to my jacket) where people are not quite pushing their way down to the platform but not quite being gracious either.  Thankfully a woman helps me with the stroller so I can help Liam who’s hysterical in the crowd – apparently slightly claustrophobic. But we only get maybe about halfway down the stairs.  There are people crowded on the platform that are sholder to shoulder and I’m amazed that no one has fallen off into the rails.  This is no rush hour crowd either – this is absolute evacuate the city, armagedon is here, kind of a crowd.  Now I’m definitely feeling a bit anxious.  I’m not much of a crowd person as it is – don’t like clubs or places where I can’t have some personal space.  I see where Liam gets it from apparently… I thought I took a picture of the crowd but I must not have saved it well on my phone.

Alas I knew we were in for a long haul.  How long, one could only guess.  But it didn’t help that after standing on those stairs for 10 minutes with Liam crying and Aidan hanging on to me for dear life when all of a voice comes over the loudspeaker and all of a sudden the people start moving off the platform towards the stairs and up the stairs.  What the fuck is going on???  Why are these people leaving and what does this mean for us?  Fortunately the woman behind me spoke English (and became my new BFF for the afternoon) and explained to me that they were closing the station and we all had to evacuate.  Evacuate?  To where?  There’s a storm out there!!

Thankfully we only had to evacuate into the station.  Not sure what to do, we just kind of hung out amongst the crowds.  I wasn’t sure I could brave the elements with both kids for a 3 mile walk home – if it were just me I’d suck it up and deal with the elements but I can’t do that to the kids.  So now I’m feeling pretty stuck.  And by now it’s after 6PM.  We’ve been on the go since 3:30.  Susie, my new friend, offers to call a cab for me but I had to laugh.  It was very sweet but honestly if a cab showed up without a fare outside the FGC there would most definitely be a stampede for it so please don’t waste your dime on that call.

Another 1/2 hr or so goes by and Susie says she heard they are going to be running trains towards Placa de Catalunya but not towards Sant Cugat.  Thankfully we are heading in the direction of the former.  So we make our way to the stairs once again.  We stand on those stairs for oh let’s say another 20 minutes.  I really have no idea how long.  All I know is eventually we snuck our way down to the platform and found a little spot that was by the edge (not nervewracking at all with 2 small kids) but it was a dry spot that the kids could sit on which at that point was what we needed.  Oh and Liam needed a diaper change – hey you do what you gotta do.  Poor kid was probably freezing…though to backtrack a little bit – Aidan needed to pee on our way to the FGC so I just told him to whip it out and pee in the snow on the sidewalk – hey I knew we weren’t going to find a bathroom any time soon and I was right!!  Good thing he went!

But I’ve strayed from the story… we found our little spot of heaven – dry concrete and about 2 feet of personal space.  Turns out there was a reason why we had that space…because we were on the wrong side of the platform.  But the good news is, most platforms have a train that comes on either side and so we just had to shift to the other side – no need for going up or down the scary stairs again.  However getting to that side was not as easy as it looked.  While waiting for our train we had a few other trains come thru but what was weird is that they were kind of eiree… they never stopped to pick up passengers.  They were completely empty.  And they travelled very very slowly thru the station.  Aidan was calling them ghost trains and I have to agree, I could totally see them being haunted.  Hell, our day was haunted!

Finally, a train arrived!  But like I guessed before there was a total stampede and me with my stroller and other small child just couldn’t push thru.  I was too afraid of losing Aidan in the crowds that I hung back a bit.  And actually I’m glad.  I don’t know how the trains could even move with all those people on it.  They were bursting at the seams.  And you know what, if the people had just been a bit more patient, they would have realized the next train was really the one to get.  Another 10 minutes went by (the first train took 2 hrs to get to us so very very very glad this one came quickly) and another train arrived.  This one was pretty much empty as was most of our platform at this point.  Now it filled up quickly as we hit other stops but at least we got to sit and it was warm.  We said goodbye to our new friend Susie without whom I never would have made it thru this afternoon.  We’ve exchanged numbers and it would be cool if this storm brought me a new friend.

We flew thru the metro stations as we had hoped (at this point Josh was home and said the metro wasn’t crowded at all) and by 8:45 – a full 5 hours later, we were home!!  Never before have I been so happy to see my crappy IKEA furniture (oh I still have to post about my IKEA trip – another night!).  Aidan was surprisingly full of energy and hung out til 9:30 to watch some Food Network tv – he now wants to be a chef.  And Liam pretty much went right to bed, exhausted from the whole ordeal.

But wait folks, it’s not over… no, it can’t be that “easy”.  I’m writing this blog at midnight because I’m up doing laundry.  Why am I doing laundry do you ask?  Because at just after 10, Liam puked up everything he’s eaten today.  What a perfect end to a perfect day right?  So Josh and the kids are sleeping, Josh offered to stay up but there is no school tomorrow so maybe I can convince everyone we need a nap tomorrow and I know he has to work… so I’m up doing laundry.  And so far the power has only gone out once.  But that means that while my dryer is taking care of Liam’s quilt right now, the washer is silent.  So in another 1/2 hr when my dryer is done, I can finally put in the sheets he threw up all over.  However, the Spanish gods are looking down on me and at least they kept him from puking til we got home – can you imagine if he’d done it in a crowded train station?  Ahhhh I love Spain….

Julie

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