Cervezas y Café Americano

By the numbers… I just began my 20th hour in transit home from Spain. Doing stretches in the second airport of the trip and, while I wish more than ever I had set my literary with direct international flights, I still keep thinking one thing: this is completely worth it.

4 cities in 2 countries visited over 10 days. 1 work trip.

I can’t believe how lucky I was to be paid to take this journey. Yes, I worked. I worked quite hard actually, with a 16-hour final day. I was sucked back into my “old” life as a Production Manager… but this time I was on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean. On balance, not a bad life and it was educational to see what working while traveling felt like. I need more time to think about that and digest that trip but I was able to take 2 days in Barcelona before embarking on the Epic and that will be this post.

I was incredibly nervous traveling to Spain. This was the first time I traveled internationally alone. And the last time I went to a Spanish-speaking nation I kept trying to use my limited French. And I had little time to prepare. And I had life and school-work running right up to my departure and didn’t have the time and energy to really think about it. And And And…

I booked a hotel and headed for the airport – that was the extent of my research. So I was… apprehensive setting out on this trip.

I settled into the routine of domestic travel. Parking. Tram. Self-Service Boarding Pass. Picking instinctively a security lane and prepping my bins. Ok. I can do this.

I have to give a shout-out to my TSA metal detector man. The woman walking through before me was a scarily-slight woman wearing pink. She went though wearing a baseball hat and he very nicely stopped her and asked, gently, to inspect the cap. He asked after the fact instead of making her take it off and send it through the x-ray as I know is procedure after having to “suffer” hat hair for 3 minutes of my last trip. It was obvious that this woman was battling cancer and her hat gave her some manner of… comfort or protection? I know it was hard for her to surrender it Mr. TSA Guy was nice and made her smile through a difficult requirement. For a usually cattle-like process, this was a touching human gesture of care that made me smile in turn and give him an extra heartfelt “good morning” and “thanks.”

Through my easy connection and onto the long haul. I settled into my seat worried about battery life. I had a 20 page paper due in 4 days and wanted to knock out as much as possible on the trip. I chastised myself for the 10th time in the past hour for not at least asking about an upgrade. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and I was sorely wishing I had gained a seat with an outlet. Count my blessings, I was charged up and running on adrenaline.

I managed to catch about 2 hours of sleep after knocking away at an internationally information policy comparison and before a beautiful sunrise. (So beautiful that the lady next to me kept leaning across me and taking pictures and saying ”beautiful beautiful”)

Seriously again? Round about the time we were asked to turn off our electronic devices and re-stow our personal items the man in front of me spilled his water. Thankfully I had taken off my shoes to feel it trickle down between the seat, onto my toes and also into my bag where my laptop was sitting. I could do little but laugh and the coincidence and wipe off the few drops on my case. About 36 hours earlier I had similar laptop hydration issues when my waterbottle leaked in my backback and that time I was not as lucky in catching it early. A hasty excuse to the media archivist under whom I have been volunteering, a mad dash home, a mantra of “it’s fine, it’s totally fine,” and a hard-drive switcheroo with my sister’s old machine and I was back in business… and reminded by my friendly neighborhood universe that things can always get more interesting (read: stressful) so may as well just roll with it. An evening of downloading paper-related resources and late night pack and that, my friends, is why I was ill prepared for landing and amused that I was again worried about water. “Franken-Skunky” — I also had to replace the battery on the way to the airport and the store only had white batteries for my black MacBook— survived the in-flight spritz and all of a sudden I was on very foreign soil.

No bars Through customs and at baggage claim I flip on my iPhone. Nothing. “Huh.” Wireless? Nope. Slowly I realize that I am quite disconnected. And for the next 48hours I am without my life-preserver. Attuned to it because of my own wants and also because of my in-process paper, I was surprised at the lack of WiFi and general tech in Barcelona. To crib from that paper:

I have noticed far less people using cell phones and computers in Barcelona than one would see in a US-comparable city. While pay phones and mobile cell phone stores are in evidence, I have no cell phone signal and initially had trouble finding a place to access the Internet. Despite the copious number of cafes, in two days of walking residential and commercial areas, I have seen only one that advertises WiFi. And it was only at then end of that second day that I saw my first Web-Access storefront. I was only able to get online using a pay-for-access computer at a hotel and the rates are pretty steep, even by hotel standards. The average has been 1Euro (about $1.80) for 10 minutes of time, although that one Internet “café” (no coffee served) charged 1Euro for an hour. I was also surprised that I have seen only a handful of (mostly younger) people wearing headphones or seemingly listening to music or radio. Perhaps the populace accesses technology in the privacy of their homes or businesses but I do think that speaks to less access or at least use than (at least I) expected in a “developed” nation.

Did I miss email? No. Did I miss IM? No. Did I miss text? No. I missed maps. I missed being able to immediately alert my family that I had arrived safely. And I missed the perceived security that my phone provides. From now on when I travel overseas I will be more technologically prepared because, as much as I am glad to have experienced it thus eased the habit of constant connection… it was unnerving to me to have no method of even emergency communication.

Amusements There are a number of small moments that make up a journey and they might not have any significance but to me but they are what ultimately made my trip… Pantomiming and broken-english-spanishing with Jose, the most patient cab driver in Barcelona to get to my hotel. The myriad of strange looks I got on my 1pm-fighting-off-jetlag run—due to the time, a woman exercising (I never saw any others and only saw about 10 runners and 20 bikers over 2 days), or my headphones (see above) I’ll never know – but I will one day talk to a Spaniard and try to find out. I love a country that doesn’t get going until 10am. Baguettes, croissants and café Americano on every block, if not multiple times per block, I didn’t understand the conversation but I enjoyed each place I stopped. I’m not sure if it is intentional performance art or rebellious youth but there were about 50 skateboarders by the Museum of Modern art; as they were very fun to watch I think the already fine distinction is moot. With the proper attitude, three hours to switch hotels via public transportation to see a little city and prove that yes, I can do it, is time well spent. I had a (very American) moment of walking around where I looked up and thought “Oh, look at all those balconies, how European.” Um. Duh.

Because of the referenced multitude of cafes, I did not have any trouble passing up the two Starbucks I saw in the vicinity of Las Ramblas. The latter is, to me, “Times Square with Trees” and while that might sound nice to many tourists it held no appeal to me. I couldn’t get away from the main drag fast enough and opted for a meander through the historic side streets instead. Therein I found Café Llibereria – like it was built just to be there for me – a purveyor of alcohol, books, and a mean café con leche; a leather chair to rest my feetsies and a very sweet bartender and I spent a very pleasant half hour.

My Goodness My… From there I found The Queen Vic. I could not pass up a British Pub in the midst of Barcelona and honestly it was worth it just to be called “Princess” in a Liverpool accent… in English. After 36 hours on my own and surrounded by words I didn’t understand it was incredibly comforting to have an actual conversation. And I had the best Guinness that I’ve ever had, yes it tastes different over there. I was encouraged to pass up local cuisine in favor of a “really good Vietnamese place, I don’t know the name but if you go…” which I did find and was quite good. With my Pho I had a Veltins… which upon stateside googling is apparently German. So I’ll have to get back to Spain to have a Spanish Beer.

Please Curb your Kid… On the hunt for the aforementioned unnamed Vietnamese behind the currency exchange really you can’t miss it… I found the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia—or as I knew it until 30 seconds ago “the very pretty gothic cathedral.”

I wandered around the whole thing and stopped to thank the universe while looking up at gargoyles and listening to the notes of a beautifully played Clair De Lune by a dapper man on an electronic keyboard bounce and play off stone in a small alley on one side of the church. I made my way back to the front to take the picture below. The tree smack center is intentional. Before circumnavigating I stopped at that spot to look with numerous others when a little girl of about 3 came running towards me, lifting the hem of her dress, pulling on her underoos and yelling “pee-pee! pee-pee!” Her assumed mother came loping after and scooped her up. Ok, cute. Mother then proceeds to pull underoos to ankles and, in mechanics I can’t really explain, help little girl straddle said tree and pee-pee on it. Um What?! Fellow wanderers and I did look-don’t-gawk maneuvers to try and comprehend what was happening until deed was complete and the pair, reconnoitered, strolled away. I don’t know where this is commonplace behavior but I’ll travel the rest of the world to try to find out.

27 hours of travel time to get home… And 7 days later and my luggage is still missing — or “delayed” in delightful euphemism. Yet I smile. I ordered and paid for my Café Americanos myself. I found my way in a foreign town by myself. I made my way and enjoyed doing it. I am proud of myself. I didn’t have any great epiphanies I just learned some small lessons and both satiated and fueled my want to do more of this… And I will.

In the meanwhile keep drinking, keep reading and keep enjoying the little-big surprising moments of life…


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