Day 6: A Beautiful Day for Hunting Produce

by Eli Hodapp

Before I get started in on today’s activities, I feel like I should do some catch-up from yesterday as when I got home late last night I was both too tired and drank a little too much. Anyway, since I’ve been here I’ve learned a bunch of crazy things about Spain that you just never hear about in the American news cycle. I mean, we hear about the Euro crumbling, Greece’s economy failing, and things like that, but that’s where it stops.

Apparently, Spain is in similar to Greece with its financial and political turmoil, you just never hear about it because the government sponsors the newspapers. Whenever a right-wing government is in power, they only fund similarly aligned newspapers so the left-leaning papers suffer or flat out go under. The same thing happens when a left-wing government is in power, only with the funding reversed.

I’ve been told that this creates a really sterilized news cycle, where things that the government wants to keep under wraps are only reported by the minority news organizations, which lack the funding for any kind of real reach. So, anyway, what people are worried about right now is the richer autonomous communities, which is roughly the Spanish equivalent of a state in the US, are going to try to break away from Spain and become independent. Catalonia, where Barcelona is, has the army mobilizing and embassies are keeping track of where people are in the country in case anything happens.

Any actual fighting taking place seems highly unlikely, since more than anything else these kind of succession threats are just political power plays, but who knows. This is just part of an even larger problem with the European Union which I was also intensely naïve to: Everyone in the EU now shares a common currency, which has tied the values of nearly everything in every country together. The tricky part is, all of these countries share in the EU economy, but they all have different financial regulations, business laws, and more. This allows countries like Greece to essentially invent wealth through shady banking, while countries with tighter regulations keep things on the straight and narrow.

It’ll be interesting to see what eventually happens with the Euro and the EU as a whole on a much longer timeline. The couple I’m staying with believes that the somewhat inevitable long-term conclusion to all this is a unified EU government, which initially seems sort of far-fetched but makes a lot of sense for the stability of the Euro. These sort of things are intensely interesting to me, and I’m really looking forward to learning more about what’s happening here.

So the main goal today was to find an actual Orange store to get a prepaid SIM card for my unlocked iPhone 3GS. AT&T’s international rates have gotten significantly better over the years, but they’re still ridiculous compared to just buying a SIM card for a local carrier. Orange seemed to be the best bet, as they offer a prepaid SIM that gets you unlimited internet access for €3,50 a week. The catch being, you only get full 3G speeds for the first 100MB, and after that you get booted down to EDGE.

That’s pretty perfect for me, since using iMessage, Google Voice SMS, Twitter, Google Maps, and Beejive use almost no bandwidth. I should be able to stay under that 100MB cap without issue, but at the same time, even EDGE speeds are fine for the things I’d use my phone for. The actual calling rates aren’t too shabby either. Just for activating the SIM I get 10 free minutes of international calling, then after that calls are €0,09 a minute. I wish plans like this existed in the USA. I’d save so much money if I could just pay for a barebones data package and then pay as you go voice.

Heading to the Orange store, jamming my credit card into their machine, and popping the SIM they give me into my phone seems simple enough, right? Well, first you have to find the Orange store. One of the hardest things about being an English speaker in Europe is searching for things locally. By default, Google will try to route you to the Spanish version of their site, which provides slightly more relevant results but obviously is entirely in Spanish. Kicking Google over to English mode seems to skew the search results towards English things.

I thought I knew where I was supposed to go, as I found what seemed to be an Orange store. I figured out how to get there on Google maps, and headed out for the forty minute walk to get there. The first issue I ran across is that in Spain, there are streets and then there are what you’d think of as an alley. The problem is, Google Maps isn’t really clear in differentiating between the two.

I reached my intended destination, roughly, and flat out could not find this street that the Orange store was on. I walked around the entire block twice, the second time looking for bricks I had to tap or secret levers to open whatever crazy passage is required to actually access this street. After asking someone, I got pointed to this huge metal gate that I had to walk through. Never would I ever have found that on my own, I’m not sure I’ve ever been down a street that has a door you need to open. It reminded me of the gate to get into the village of Bree in Fellowship of the Ring. I feel like there should have been someone standing guard.

It all made sense why this was in such a strange location, as it wasn’t an Orange store it was “orange monet venta al mayor,” which as far as I can tell is the head office of a produce wholesale outfit. I was at a complete loss as to what to do at this point, since this was the only thing that was coming up on Google maps when searching for “Orange”. Defeated, I decided to swallow my pride and head over to the tourist information desk that I saw over at Plaza Catalunya when I first got off the aerobus.

They pointed me to an Orange store without issue, and even drew me a nice little map to get there. Once I got there I found myself in line right behind a couple of obviously very confused American girls trying to figure out what they needed to do to get their Blackberries to work in Spain. I piped up and explained the different kind of SIM cards, but the concept of needing an unlocked phone was completely lost on them, so I’m really not sure what they were even able to get done there.

I got my SIM without issue, loaded it up with €40 which should be more than enough for while I’m here, and was on my way. The person helping me spoke almost no English, so it was pretty fun bartering the whole deal utilizing a combination of my horrid Spanish and their non-existent English. Regardless, it all worked out in the end. One amusing thing that came out of it was I think the woman helping me was telling me that the actual data plan won’t be active until 9:00 PM tonight, and when I tried to ask why, she said in English while pointing at the computer, “Is French, is bad, always broken,” then rolled her eyes.

The best part of this whole adventure, which turned into a few hours of randomly wandering around, was that on the way back I passed no fewer than three Orange stores which were all closer to me. I have no idea why they didn’t show up when I searched for them. It’s starting to seem like if I want to find something in Barcelona I just have to walk for a long time, almost give up, then walk back home in a different way and I’ll find it only a few steps outside my door. Not that I’m complaining though, just aimlessly walking around this city is amazing.

That more or less concludes my plans for the day, as the American business day is just about to begin and I have tons of things to do for TouchArcade. I might take a break to go on another run, and I haven’t decided what I’m going to do for dinner yet. Maybe I’ll finally get some kebab, or break down and gorge myself on a huge pile of paella. Regardless, I’ve got a fantastic bottle of wine and a sunny rooftop terrace waiting for me. Time to wade through a weekend of emails.