Tag Archives: Barcelona

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Twenty-two and Four Months: Going Home

A spider traveled the world to see where she should make her home. She left her heart in so many places, she created the world wide web.

If you thought that was corny, you should see the children’s books I’m trying to publish.

I made that video two years ago and had forgotten about it until last night. The individual clips were never intended to be anything- had they been, I would have held the camera steadier. I was just playing. That said, the sentiment matches tonight’s.

This is it. One day and three plane rides separate me from home. I’m the oldest of five children. I took these photos in August just before I left.

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I’ll have to come up with another group photo idea – thoughts welcome. The last time I came back from a trip abroad, I got them to do this. They were 3, 9, 11 and 13 at the time.

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California, August 2009

I went on this trip with no plans, no itinerary and very little knowledge about any of the places I’d be going. I had no agenda for the trip or this blog, no preconceived themes and not even the confidence I’d stay the whole four months (which, looking back, goes quickly). I left with just enough money in the bank, no job lined up upon return, and even so, the full support of so many of my family members and friends.

I arrived in Europe one day shy of my 22nd birthday. I remember talking to people that were at the ends of their trips, talking about how wise they felt, how different they felt, what they had learned and their nerves about going home. I remember thinking how far away that point – home – was for me, and how cliche the “This is how I’ve changed” comments seemed.

I’m twenty-two and four months old, and I think I’ve changed.

Here’s what I know.

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Cafe Zurich

I like that I don’t give a damn anymore what kind of milk is in my coffee. You’d never sit outside Cafe Zurich and order a “cafe con ‘skim’ leche.” I’m happy I’ve been pushed to be flexible. To deal with minor inconveniences, and not feel inconvenienced. To accidentally stay on a train too long, and roll with it. To say “pork Hungarian style? No idea what that means, but sure!”

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Bulgaria, September. I don’t have a webcam. This was a response to someone needing an explanation of when I said my hair was “getting big.” E-mail subject line: This is where I’m at.

I like that I’ve put on mascara six times in 122 days. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll buy a tube and it’ll get used when I get home. I’ll do it because I like that look, too, not because that is what makes me feel like a complete, acceptable female. I like that I’ve made friends everyday regardless of cheap backpacking t-shirts, no foundation and hair that air-dried.

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Today, Park Guell, Barcelona.

I like that the photo above wasn’t posed. I like that real life can look like that, and it’s just a matter of how you approach it. How you frame it. What you see when you really start looking at people.

I like that talking to strangers gives me more inspiration that the best Hallmark cards.

I like that I sat next to a man on a train yesterday for three hours without speaking, offered him gum, fought my way through fifteen minutes in Spanish and when I asked him to repeat something, he said it in perfect English. I like that we both laughed. I like that I said my school is known for basketball and he asked if I played, then said, “Well, maybe you will still be a playmaker.”

I like that the girl from Mexico I talked to in the cafeteria last night talked of her problems traveling, and said, “You know, sometimes I think things happen and it’s destiny telling you something.”

I like that I tell people where I’ve been, but at “no, not Asia, no, not South America,” I’ve been told I haven’t seen anything yet.

I like that the world is so big.

I like that I met a man in Istanbul, who a month later recognized me in Bucharest. Backpackers I met in Göreme, Turkey, who I ended up at a bar with in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, before we recognized each other. My Milan roommate again in Pisa, six days later. A college friend studying in London, in the Museum D’Orsay in Paris. Clinton and Sally on a train to Nice. Clinton and Sally again in Paris.

I like that the Brazilian cashier at dinner last night said he lived in California once. It’s a big state and I figured it would be one of those “You go to Massive State College X? You know my cousin?” moments. But no, he lived just two major streets over from my family.

I like that the world is so small.

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Göreme, Turkey

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Assen’s Fortress, Bulgaria

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Füssen, Germany

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Sintra, Portugal

I like that guardrails stopped being necessary. I’m not patting myself on the back like I climbed Everest. I like that I have faith that getting on hands and knees and holding onto tree roots is an okay route to something great, and that I’m capable of doing it without a clumsy moment. As one American said at the top of the castle in Sintra, “This would never pass code back home.”

Also, I like that I’m wearing the same shirt in two of the above photos. I like that I “need” less now.

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Lennon Wall, Prague

I like, though it scares me, how this trip has changed the way I think about writing and future. I’ve never been one to embrace being an “artist” or choosing any route toward publication. I have a degree in public relations and political science and intend to use it. Art – writing, for me – is such a scary concept. You put so much time and effort into something hoping someone will want it, but there are no guarantees until it’s done… And there are a million people just like you doing the same thing.

Some 150 posts, 5 children’s books drafted, 2 Freshly Pressed days and a few poems later, maybe I’m up for the challenge now.

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Göreme, Turkey

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Budapest, Hungary

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Salzburg, Austria

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Florence, Italy

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Nice, France

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Paris, France

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Lisbon, Portugal

I love that I learned the value of getting above the consumer junk, which is probably a literal and figurative life statement. Tourist shops and luxury stores are ugly.

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East Side Gallery, Berlin, Germany

I have been overwhelmed by the support from family, friends and strangers over the last four months. People ask me how I handle being alone so much – well, I spent a lot of time looking for more to share with everyone. I never felt alone, and on walks where I might have, I had good thoughts of home to distract me. I have always been impressed and in awe of the backpackers who go just to see for themselves – their own heads, their own satisfaction. No blogs, no personal websites. Of course, I did this trip for myself, but I needed to fill time with writing and photography. It kept me company, it kept you all close.

2,400 hits later, the post Freshly Pressed the other day has gotten just one negative comment, and this one comment has made me think a lot today. It certainly didn’t ruin my day, nor do I put much stock into his opinion, as the comment made fun of my first name along with its critique (and it wasn’t even witty). Also, accused me of “downloading” photos, as if I didn’t take them.

That said, the comment made me think and provided the perfect way to sum up my rather long thoughts.

It accuses me of being naive, dismissing responsibilities, hiding behind “freedom” and running from family and friends. At 22, it accuses me of already being behind in taking responsibility for myself.

I’m twenty-two and four months old, and this is what I know.

I am blessed to have the closest friends and family I could imagine, who have supported this trip from the start.

They’ve read every post, every e-mail, seen every photo, and barely questioned it when I brought the idea of this trip up as a thought in January.

At points, they have had more faith in me than I have.

They push me to see more. Write more. Observe better. Dream bigger.

I have parents who put up with the questioning their peers and friends had for them, questioning why they’d allow this to happen.

I have siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins who are a constant source of inspiration.

I had a summer romance to rival the best scripted ones in Hollywood, and yet, on this once-in-a-lifetime trip, dare I countdown the days to a reunion, I get harshly admonished.

And after all this, if I told them I wanted to go this route again, I’d have their support.

So NYTimes, MSNBC, CNN, National Geographic, Time, USA Today, Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, PR travel agencies throughout the world, send me where you need me. All I need are new shoes and a new pair of jeans.

And if mass pleas for employment don’t do the trick, I have family and friends who lead beautiful lives, and capturing their special moments, and being there to share them, is a far better use of my time than television.

“May God bless you and give you the wisdom to settle down someday.”

Someday, this travel blog, life blog, might be a road to wedding blog, and with all my heart, I hope I get to author the best darn Mommy blog out there. But those are goals, and those are dreams, and they will never happen because I’ve settled.

You know, I haven’t been to church a lot lately, and I tend to focus more on being a good person whether it makes me a good Christian or not. I believe a smile can change someone’s day and laugher is the best medicine, that volunteering at a hospital on a Sunday morning can be as gratifying for me as church is for another, but…

I’m twenty-two and four months old, and this is what I feel.

In 2011, I graduated from a great school with a dual major, magna cum laude, with experiences I’ll remember for a lifetime. I had the honor of co-chairing an event raising $174,000 for the American Cancer Society that, more than being a personal or professional dream, taught me that each day is a gift and life should never be taken for granted. I have a personal blog with 20,000 hits in four months, and I have no complaints.

I have friends I became closer with even as I flew 8,000 miles away from them. I have friends who have put up with terrible Skype connections, rambling stories and far too many e-mails.

I just spent four months in Europe, three months alone, and I never had one issue. Not a pick-pocketer, not an overwhelmingly frightening situation (rush hour man in Istanbul, you sucked but it wasn’t traumatizing), not a lost passport or ATM-eaten debit card, not a sprained ankle or open blister.

So you know, I think God and I are on pretty good terms.

I think He approves.

Thank you all for being here, and coming on this journey with me… We did it!!!

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What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

-Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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Interlaken, Switzerland

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Repeat the Sounding Joy (December in Barcelona)

I’ve adequately set myself up to not sleep tonight. At only 9p.m. in Barcelona, I wandered across the street to get a small hot chocolate and ended up with a medium peppermint mocha. Tis the season. Tomorrow, I’ll rise early for a three hour train to Madrid and I am getting myself on the night train to Lisbon no matter what the rail company tells me the price is. I’m so excited for Lisbon.

I just went online to look at hostels in Lisbon. I’ve been a hostel snob, always picking a top-rated one (never more than $25 a night, generally picking one of the lower-priced but still top-rated). The top-rated ones come cleanest, best showers, internet, but most importantly, the best chance of being bedbug free. Usually in every city, there are a couple in every city that hit the 90% rating mark. In Paris, it was 82.

I might backpack through Lisbon hostels.

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I’m so excited for Lisbon.

A few quick things promised from yesterday- my darling Toulouse hostel bedroom, what replaced the red purse (Nancy says I must be ready to get home, it’s “pretty”) and my new knife.

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Back in Barcelona, where holidays are in full swing. As I said yesterday, so much has changed since I was here last. I remember the day Dad flew home. I walked from our hotel, checking out hours after he left for the airport, backpack on in blazing heat across town. It was my first resistance of public transportation and it was hard. The bag was heavy, I broke a sweat within ten minutes and I felt like all eyes were on me. All I could think was This is really going to be something. This is hard. I didn’t post pictures back when I was in Spain – I only found a memory card adapter existed by chance while I was in Istanbul. I can’t believe I went into this trip thinking I’d never post pictures. These were the first backpacking friends I ever made – two being Ron Weasley and Neil Patrick Harris.

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Today, I sat out on the lawn of that same last hotel Dad and I were at. It was a gorgeous day – enough wind by the water to give me goosebumps but otherwise perfect for reading On the Road and thinking.

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I liked this couple. If oddly positioned, comfortable with each other.

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The thing I’m going to miss most about this trip is the conversations. I had such a fun time chatting with Pele. Short on details last night, the reason I felt safe were the multiple references to his twenty-one year old son and wife. The offer to stay in my own master suite in Bangkok “and hang out and talk to my wife about all the girly stuff you want, I’ll just be there to give you the key to the house.” I’ll never forget one moment. He was telling me about a trip to Southern California “in 1990, so that would have made you how old then?”

“1990? An infant.”

Pele broke into giggles he couldn’t contain. He obviously knew I was young, but I think 22 surprised him. He’d already called me an obviously very social and brave person and told me law school would be a very good future for me… But at “an infant” he was off laughing.

Today, I woke up at 7, listened to some songs and wrote a few emails…and fell back into a deep slumber. I woke again at 11:15. An hour and a half later, I’d walked far too far without food or water when a waiter talked me into an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for 9 euros. I’d wandered into the otherwise very expensive Port Vell area and the only other option was going to be equally expensive McDonalds fast food. I said okay to the buffet.

Oh, it was such a good call. Not just because it was all you can eat greens and pasta and soup, main course chicken and paella and pizza, dessert… But the waiter serving dessert made me laugh. Out of the blue, he asked if I was a part of “the Obama party.” I laughed and hedged, saying technically yes but semi-jokingly said I don’t really like any of them at the moment. He asked me if I thought the future was good.

I hope so. One of my favorite pictures from this entire trip sums up my feelings right now – Barcelona in August.

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I ended up at Cafe Zurich, where Dad and I shared so many coffees, and it really is the best cup of coffee I’ve had on this trip. I sat at our exact table, wrote down some thoughts I’d been thinking over all day, people watched.

I remember telling Dad I’d be spending a lot of time everyday just writing. Maybe pick a bench, write a story about that person. Write a poem about that boat over there. Yes, I’ve done plenty of writing, but it never came in the fashion of daily hours sitting pouring over thoughts of a random object. I’ve been far more mobile than I ever imagined.

I said I’d be indoors by dark every night. Solo girl, I’d explore by day and stay in and read at night. False. So false. The nights (not necessarily night-life, but night-time) is stunning. I’m two-thirds through one book on this trip.

I also thought there’d be no pictures of me from this trip. False. It’s how I make half my contact with humans.

Those are just a few, but this post is getting long. I’ll leave you with Christmas lights in Barcelona because the city is stunning and life is magical.

And because I’m counting my blessings it was nighttime and I didn’t get mugged for these shots, because we all know I’m not pulling Pele’s knife on anyone.

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That Time a Man Gave Me His Knife in Barcelona

This is going to be the first time in awhile there are no photos. Once upon a time, these posts relied on words alone to be interesting. My iPad won’t connect to the hostel wifi and I’m on the hostel computer. I hope this will suffice.

I’ve been short on posting in the past day or two because the days have been relatively mundane. I spent five hours on a train yesterday to get to Toulouse. My hostel was a young couple’s home- a condo turned into a hostel. Their living room was my common space, their computer my computer. It was darling. Tomorrow I’ll share a picture of just how cute my room was. I ventured into Toulouse, walked in every direction before picking which of the seventy crepe places I’d eat at, and ended up at one of the first ones I’d seen. Ham, cheese, mushrooms… and then they served a Nutella one for dessert. It was the first time I’d eaten Nutella that hadn’t followed a friend saying, “You don’t eat Nutella???

I can’t find half the punctuation marks on this keyboard. Don’t mind me.

Today, one three-hour train to a one hour break to a three-hour train to Barcelona. I’d gotten on one of the local trains that stops at every single little stop between two bigger cities. It was tedious, but beautiful between Toulouse and Barcelona. Mountains, snow, land…

When I arrived at my hostel in Barcelona (9 euros a night!!!) I immediately threw all my clothes into laundry (11 euros a small load, how disgusting is that). The woman said, ¨You’re sure you need to do laundry?¨ I needed it five days ago.

Not wanting to sit around my hostel all day waiting for laundry, I put on the only clothes that had escaped the wash process. My black shorts and blue tank. Not bad a) if my black shorts hadnt shrunk to the too short stage months ago and b) if it was a respectable month to wear shorts. Its not.

But I ventured out. Broken Greek sandals, too-short black shorts, blue tank… snow coat.

Wandered, wandered, wandered. Barcelona is the first place Ive really returned to on this trip. Munich I did, but within a week, short of any big life experience happening between visits. A lot has changed since Dad and I were here three and a half months ago. A lot. In all forms, physically, mentally… simply reality…

The sun was going down and I still hadn’t picked the perfect paella to eat. I realized my outfit wasn’t going to fly much longer. Too many whistles were being heard and I was afterall getting pretty cold. I leaned in to read one more menu in the window, ten minutes from my hostel.

The man at the table asks me if Im Swedish. I said no. He guessed another nationality. No. American. ¨Youre kidding!¨ He said my red hair makes me look Swedish.

Now its red.

He asked if I was on holiday. Hes a middle-aged man. He offers to buy me a drink, I decline, we talk five minutes more. He says oh come on, please, I’m a happily married Swedish man with a big presentation here tomorrow, just throwing back a few whiskeys. One beer.

Such a funny beer. We exchanged travel stories. Wouldn’t you know I’m sitting drinking with the engineer featured on Discovery Channel’s Megabuilders – Bangkok Megabridge episode. Hes kinda a big deal. Without telling him my interests or last name, he tells me the head of marketing at his company is named Janae Russo.

He can’t believe I’ve been traveling alone for two and a half months. With no problems. No muggings. He tells of the last time in Barcelona when he had a knife put to his neck. Earlier today, he’d bought a knife so he’d been prepared.

Im weary of being in my too-short shorts for too much longer, after dark, and he says ¨You cant go out like that after dark.¨ I explain I know! That’s why I declined your first offer for a drink. He said we’re going across the street and buying you a dress. I crack up. No we’re not, my clothes are just in the laundry.

He says he’s walking me home. He’ll shake my hand at the door, points at his wedding ring.

We get another beer. He says he cant believe I have had no issues traveling yet, and then says two pretty cool things.

One, he’s realized if you’re going down a dangerous street and don’t realize it, they’re less likely to mess with you. You don’t know to be afraid, and thus, you don’t look afraid.

Two, I apparently look ¨leather-backed.¨ Like my backpack is made of leather, not some crappy nylon. Been there, done that, Im not an idiot.

Finally, he said, I know why you’ve had no problems. It’s that smile. You’ve smiled your way through Europe, haven’t you.

Gosh.

It was the funniest two drinks I’ve had. When the waitress came out, she said ¨God answered your prayer!¨and they laughed. Apparently, three minutes before I showed up, she’d asked how he was and he said fine, but drinking alone sucks and wouldn´t it be nice if someone, say a woman 1.65m and 53kilos arrived.

Hi.

Ridiculous. Our new friendship, these drinks completely unexpected, and now we’re walking back to my hostel. I promise, short on details here, I knew it would be completely safe. Plus, it’s realistically only six o’clock. I’d turned down the third beer because I’d only eaten a blueberry muffin and pain au chocolat all day. Beer and pastries.

ZARA. Next thing you know, he’s pulling me into the upscale clothing store. ¨You need a new pair of jeans.¨ Im cracking up. He’d just been flummoxed I have for four months what he has for four days. ¨You must be… size 24.¨ Yeah, right. 28 on the best day.

We’re giggling. I tell him we’re not buying me a pair of jeans, and luckily Zara seemed to only have jeans that came with built in spandex/underwear/something that made us laugh. We left.

He had to use the restroom and walked into a bakery. ¨Um, restroom for me and drink for the lady.¨ The bartender asked me what I wanted and I told him I didn’t really need anything. We chatted instead.

At the door of my hostel, Pele, as promised, shook my hand.

And then strongly insisted I keep his knife. His brand new, rather large, protection knife.

I now have in my pocket what I assume is a very expensive blade. Picture to come.

My life doesn’t stay mundane for long, does it.

***edit – for people who hadn’t read yet, I can upload the photos now… Pele’s knife. Now in my pocket.***

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Este, Esa y  el Otra Cosa:  Final Thoughts From Spain

One night, Dad and I got to a cafe and when I tried to ask for two minutes in Spanish, she said “¡Sí, dos mohitos!”

Stretching when you’re walking all day every day is vital to keeping you healthy and in shape for the next walk. And if you ask me, after watching Dad, there is no better room to do it in than a circular room at the Prado museum with a bunch of Roman statue men facing inward.

I had a great conversation in Spanish with a taxi driver, who asked me which was more beautiful, Santa Monica or Santa Barbara. When talking about how I live in NY (state), too, he said “New York. The city with all the electricity.”

Prostitution is legal in Spain, but the question that never needs to be asked out loud is “but do they hold licenses and certificates of good health?”

Waiter: “English menus?”
Us: “Yes, how did you know?!?”
Waiter: “…You said ‘two, please.'”

Best bad Spanish moment:
Cashier: “one of these?”
“Yessay!”

My last conversation in mimed Spanish: I reclined my seat on the plane to Istanbul, to the loud and talkative reaction of everyone sitting behind me in row 11. After profusely apologizing because I was certain I’d slammed the knees of the man behind me, but being confused because they were all smiling… Ahhh. They want to know how to recline their seats, and I will act out that they cannot, because they are in row 11 which does not recline because row 12 is the emergency exit row.

I’m such a nerd.

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Spain friends!

I spent my last night in Barcelona at a hostel, and immediately met fantastic people. 

Zach, 23, Florida, UCI and Fordham. Quit his job to travel.
Kat, Canada, traveling for a few months until she gets her nursing job assigned in Australia.
Ben and Hugh, Australia buddies, “on holiday.”
Arpie, Armenia.
Tau, Germany.
Raphael, Switzerland
Sebastian, France.
Jeremiah, SoCal, UCBerkeley.

Istanbul update comes tomorrow. It’s just a whole lot of love.

Day 3, the last part.

After our satisfying, yet so not what we intended, snack, we boarded the bus and opted to ride the rest of the stops and view from the bus. It was already getting late in the day – and how do you see everything in a day? You don’t. 

The hop-on-hop-off bus is great. Greatest from the exterior top deck. 360 degree views, fresh air… Dad and I agree to make the move up as soon as people upstairs get off.

The next seven stops, nobody upstairs moves. We know this because each time, I unplug our information headphones, stand up, say okay get ready to move. And each time, no one would come down, I would sit back down, and we’d spend the next two minutes detangling our mess of headphone cords, giggling.

We finally get upstairs, though two seats together aren’t available. I take the nearest empty seat next to a young man who turns to me, grunts, and points. He had apparently just seated himself as well… His girlfriend was standing above me. Oops…

We were upstairs for the entire port, Olympic and gothic areas. It was a beautiful drive, followed by naps, showers and a fantastic dinner under the moon.

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It’s dark and we’re fast asleep. The hotel room door opens and we hear voices. 

Someone is in our room. Dad: “What is going on?” My brain: “Oh my god drunk people are in our room because they got lost!!!!!!”

No. Gosh those blackout curtains are good… It was already 9:30a.m. on Day 4, and it was housekeeping.

Boca-idiot.

We got off the bus in the town of Sarriá for a snack. We stumble on a little place where a quick bite looks possible, and when led to the back dining area, I’m immediately in love. The walls are covered with old, antiquing newspapers and sayings such as “cheers!” and other (generally in Spanish) phrases written in big, bold, loopy cursive.

I get really excited. See, I’ve always wanted to order bocadillos, which really are nothing more than small sandwiches. I’d just never checked them off my Spanish cuisine list. I tell my dad I know what to get – it’ll be good.

I’ve been priding myself on being able to get around using my limited Spanish skills. I even did on this blog last night.

So, psyched for my croquetas and little sandwiches, imagine Dad’s eyes widen and my mortification when the plate comes out and I realize I’d messed up. 

I’d ordered boquerones, not bocadillos. 

A plate of four anchovies in vinegar.

Goodness gracious, Gaudí

I’m breaking these posts up, there’s just too much. Writing from a high-speed train en route to Madrid!

Yesterday we were up for another breakfast downstairs and out of the hotel by 11. We jumped on the hop-on-hop-off tourist bus and got our headphones and all-day passes. The bus stops at three dozen different landmarks around Barcelona… Seemed just right for two wanting to see it all and quickly.

First stop: Sagrada Família. A Gaudi-designed Barcelona landmark, it is an immense unfinished basilica already massive and majestic if yet even two-thirds finished. We walked the lap around the exterior, wowed by the detail, the height, and the long, too long line to get tickets. We agree to come back the following morning for a shorter line.

Back in line to hop on the bus, we made our first traveling friends! Janet (her family is originally from Sicily, she sneaks a smoke while her son goes to get gelato), her husband (I forget his name, family is from Greece), and son Nick (his favorite basketball team is Syracuse (!) and when they return from the Disney cruise they’re taking next, he has a championship game in Cooperstown – he plays 2nd base). They live in “upstate NY” Bedford Hills. Janet calls Saratoga “oh, WAY upstate.” Janet watches as men try to cut the bus line and says “Oh no, you don’t butt a Sicilian from New York.” 

I’m excited about making new friends every day for the next four months.

Next, Park Güell. You hear Park, you think grassy, flat areas where people hang out and play frisbee and/or guitars… This was one of the neatest areas I’ve ever been. Also designed by Gaudí, you walk through the entrance and climb steps and walk paths higher and higher for tremendous views of Barcelona. Each time you think you’ve reached a high point, a stopping point, you see a higher place to ascend set back further on the hill and so you climb and walk and climb until ultimately you’re sweating through your shirt, sunglass-wearing sunburnt… And twelve stone steps above the sandy ground with a massive stone cross and two dozen other tourists taking just enough care to not shove anyone to an untimely death. Overlooking Barcelona, facing the sea.

Pt. 2 to come…