Saturday, March 14, 2009

Buenas Noches Barcelona

Some things we have fine tuned, like finishing the day with a piece of sweet pan pain and a cup of hot chocolate. The city rushes by, and we savor the warm drink... the consistency is like liquid silk, smooth, soothing, luxurious.

The train ride from France was longer, slower, than the ride to France. Have I mentioned this already? Pardon. It took a toll, and the rest of the day we allowed to be a bit slower, a bit easier on the feet. We walked to Las Ramblas, seeking out Golum, but he has gone back to his cavern. We did find the very street where mom saw a scarf she wanted, and we found paella... the best meal of this journey... a seafood and rice paella and with cold beer and pain normal, I could see coming back to eat there again. We meandered some more, until we found our way to the little toy store that is within view of our room. I found a few treasures there, while mom went inside for a rest. I continued my gentle explore, making my way back to @, the Internet cafe where I have had good luck... it's on a small street parallel to the Picasso Museum. So, I posted a long and rambling account of our trip to Avignon, deep thoughts and other musings. My cup of chamomile tea was a nice touch.

Finally, my internalized GPS is functioning... I found the same funky hole in the wall where I can call home for eighteen cents a minute... my call home only cost 3Euro, and I am finally caught up with my family. The robot is only in our home during the school day, so that Geoff can resolve some programing issues and better mentor the only programming student in the robotics club. Robotics has continued to be an all consuming activity, something that will probably last until Phoenix next week. Maria asked me to please come home. She told me I have been gone too long... she broke my heart... I so want to be there with her. I love you Maria. The passion that I lack for going away, for adventures abroad... that passion is very strong for my children, for my husband, the things we share and do together, the stories we tell, the songs we sing. I passionately, dearly, look forward to being in their company again.

The boys were in school. I miss them. I miss bringing them home from school and our conversations and observations. I miss seeing them in the evenings, reading, drawing... sigh. I love you William. I love you Alex. I love you Max. Let's make pizzas when I am home... the one with all the chopped veggies and garlic, olive oil and a bit of cheese. We make good pizza.

Hearing from home was good, and I stepped out of the shop feeling bolstered and curious. Curiosity led me to something fated and fun. A childhood friend, Peter, grew up to be a world traveler and a neurosurgeon. I remember his amused assertion that adventures abroad are always highlighted by meeting someone from home... from your country or state or best of all, from your own hometown. In spite of our efforts to immerse ourselves in foreignness, it is the familiar that can be delightful and strangely reassuring when we are out of our element. My moment came tonight when I was drawn in to a yarn shop... All You Knit is Love. Isn't that a clever shop name? Oh, the yarns! The colors! The textures! The possibilities! And the brightest, softest bundles of wool, so inviting and so tempting. And the shopkeeper, as friendly as could be, was bright, cheerful and full of encouragement... she found me tutorials for making those clever little wool balls. She had that certain light and presence that makes me think kindred spirit, so I introduced myself... she has been in Spain for many years, but Jennifer is American, like me, and recently returned from a visit to Tucson, Arizona. Arizona is where Peter lives now, where we will be next week. It's nothing and it's something... it's the connecting that makes life brighter and sweeter. Now I will always think of the lovely yarn shop in Barcelona, where a blogger lives and works, where I made a happy connection and confirmed for myself, Peter's belief about what makes us happy. And one more thing, I think I will go back for more wool... it makes me happy too.

Dear Geoff, try to get some rest, real sleep. I know the pressures, the deadlines for robotics, are real and demanding, but you need to last for the long haul. And while I do dream of some day having a clean home, order and balance... none of that matters as much to me as being in your arms again, with the children near and sharing our songs and stories. I love you. Buenas noches mi amor.

Wool on the Brain
Saturday, almost 7 AM here.
Friday, almost 11 PM there.

So, I imagine Geoff and Alex are up, maybe at the metal shop, trying to stay awake and trying to get the turret camera to function. I imagine Max is sound asleep, his homework complete. William, you are probably adjusting one more texture in 3D StudioMax... diligently playing at perfecting your graphics. I hope Maria is asleep, but you never can tell with that little owl... her initials are MOV, which is fittingly close to MOVE and move she does!

We are waking up a bit later everyday. Barcelona never goes to bed. I hope they have some kind of consensus about sharing the shifts... they cannot all be walking, talking, drinking, shouting, laughing, singing, and buzzing 24 hours a day. It's Big City Energy in Barcelona, like San Francisco, like Mexico, DF and like I have heard about New York City.

We took a taxi from Barcelona Sants, a main train station, to our hotel... and remind me sometime to tell you how naïve and ignorant and gullible I am. In the cab, we were introduced to talk-radio, Espana style. Wow. It makes U.S. talk-radio sound like a recording at a state dinner. There were three, maybe ten, commentators talking at once... it was like rapid fire cuetes shooting off in a stand-up comic death match... ceaseless talking, interjections, crossfire and banter, dirty jokes, rhymes, mockery, songs on the fly, and all of it while our cab was whipping across town like a black and yellow pinball. Traffic-high-speed pinball, matching the pace and brusqueness of the radio personalities, narrowly missing obstacles. We paid, not for the ride, but for the relief of getting out.

Alright. My Chicken Abroad Naiveté Admission: Taxi drivers see me coming and they say, Gracias a Dios. I am the Christian, and they are the lions saying grace... for what we are about to receive, may we be truly grateful... Some walks are too long to make with luggage. Our first cab ride was to the train station. The meter said 4.50 Euro, but he demanded seven, explaining the extra fare was because we called him. I have not confirmed the BS factor here, but this would be a cultural point of contention if it proves to be true, that us hiring him means we are penalized. Seriously. Our second time in a taxi I was real smart, not. We joined the other legions of tourists and got in to one of the hundreds of cabs in queue... by not “calling” the cab, I figured we were in for huge savings. The cab ride, like an E ticket at Disneyland, landed in front of our hotel and I pulled out 9 Euro for the clearly lit up 8 Euro fare on the meter. Presto-chango! He pops a button and a 16 Euro fare appears. You see, he grabbed our luggage from our capable hands and flung them in to his trunk and even though he wasn't lifting his a** to unload our luggage he figured his services were worth doubling the fare. Right there in front of his Santos and Jesus, he bilked me big time. ***Note to self: Comfortable shoes, half as much stuff and luggage with wheels. Imperative.

Is it any wonder that today, when faced with navigating the metro and purposely stuffing as much culture, sights, statues, architecture, museums and vistas in to our day, I am thinking of going back to All You Knit is Love? Jennifer was wearing a beautiful green shawl that she probably knit herself, and I keep thinking how wonderful it would be to sit and chat with her, maybe get a few yarn and knitting pointers, definitely enjoy her insights on local culture. Museums and plaques have their place, new sights and taking in significant historical monuments can be worthwhile... I think of those as the bones, the skeleton, of a place and it's culture. They are the lasting remains, the solid and tangible evidence of history and events of the journey of a people. I am drawn to the spirit and the marrow. I am content to listen and observe, to witness the daily lives, the domestic comings and goings... the gardens, and the house pets, the school children on field trips, the rush to work, the lingering in cafes. Meeting people, talking to the locals, discovering that in France taking home leftover restaurant dinner is very wrong... these are the things that I enjoy. I do not want to take home a FlamencoT-shirt, or a toro shot glass,or to read the entire history of Catalunya in one afternoon, but if I can learn how to make a local dish, or understand why the Jaume chef wore all black, even his toque, then I would have a meaningful, lasting and informed impression. If I could learn a new crochet stitch or the words to a new song, I would have a very nice souvenir to bring home and share.

We saw sights and found goodies, and walked and walked and walked and we conquered the Metro. The Metro is good... efficient, affordable and fast, but it does have the Labyrinth theme that is recurring, and there are a lot of stairs, both up and down. It's not that we are lazy, but
please consider where my Mommy was just last summer... I think her body is still in recovery mode, so it's not nice to impose undo strain. We agreed to be gentle today and I think we made a good start, but we kept adding one more stop, one more sight and now we are pretty whipped... whooped?...pooped? We are tired.

Sagrada Familia: Amazing. Massive and unique. An artistic vision that I felt depicted the emotion and spiritual beauty of the Nativity, and the anguish and pain of the Crucifixion.

Barceloneta: The 'working class neighborhood with good seafood.' We went to see the Mediterranean, the yachts and sand, the vibe. Very crowded, very full of European tourists, very good people watching and cultural awareness opportunities.

Is there such a thing as Quixote's Revenge, or something like that? I am feeling... mmm... a bit urpy... kind of queasy-wheezy... it may be too much second hand smoking.

Not to end on a downer, but I think I need to lie down.

Friday, March 13, 2009

To Avignon

Bonjour mon amis. Delia and I stayed up until midnight reading her French phrase book and having lots of laughs about our pronunciation, and the variety and nature of subjects covered in the small book. I cannot say whether my French is any better than before, but I sure did enjoy laughing out loud. I think I will resort to politely pointing to appropriate statements in the book and saying merci.

So, I do feel a bit sheepish about saying so much in my very honest first post. I really did let it all hang out. Keeping it real etc. It is less than flattering to admit my faltering start, my trepidations at the onset of this trip and in the first 24 hours, but I am not naturally inclined to trek, to venture across oceans in search of the most exotic destinations, and especially not without my family. Chicken Abroad is not about an adventurous woman who has always dreamed of flying here and there, who is at ease or even desires to go forth without her children and husband.

Chicken Abroad is about me, a homebody who enjoys driving her own car, and backyard picnics. It's about someone grateful for new sights and opportunities and equally content to stay home, reading maps and listening to her children's stories. I almost think to say I am not brave, but on second thought, I am very brave. I am navigating narrow and winding streets and missing the sounds and familiar comforts of what I know, what I am at home with. I like what I am doing, while also trying to accept the challenges and frustrations. I like that I am sharing this with my mother, that we are enjoying a new chapter in our family life. And I like that I will return with something brand new and special to give to my own family.

Travel, they say, is a chance to learn about the world and to learn about one's self. At 42, I figured I mostly knew my strengths and interests, my weaknesses. I figured new experiences would file simply in to areas of my beliefs and feelings, without any startling revelations or disruptions. In fact I am as capable and adventure able as I knew, and I am also as tied to my family and the happy rhythm and connections that I enjoy there... I was concerned that going away without them would be hard, but I suppressed those feelings in order to fulfill an idea of who I 'should be.' I thought I should deny my reluctance to fly, to go far away without my family, so that I could dare to be adventure woman the kind of person people admire... the kind of woman that writes great travel stories and knows how to negotiate a Paris subway and find a sublime dinner in Florence. Not only am I not like that, I don't even have any passion or natural inclination to desire to be that way... that is what I am learning about myself... that I like being here and I like narrow, winding streets and Gothic balconies, but I cannot profess to confidently, eagerly need or desire Europe and flights, and time away from the house and children.

It is hard to explain... do not think that I do not like to travel, that I am not excited about the amazing history and art I am enjoying or that I do not like walking through markets, finding out how to ride a metro or manage a Catalan keyboard... it is just that seeking these adventures is not as strong a motivation for me as it is for others... I am learning this, maybe I knew it already, and now I am accepting that about myself. Accepting that I am truly a quiet homebody, that I can be content on familiar paths, does not mean that I am not capable of enjoying adventure... it means that a trip that is eagerly pursued and desired by some, is for me a dare, a greater step out of my comfort space. And initially my anxiety and frustrations may have seemed to be about culture shock or discomfort with changes. I actually enjoy the adventure part that includes language and sights, culture and coping with train connections and strange experiences... my anxiety came from trying to manage all of these strange experiences and challenges, while denying my innate inclination to be with my family, to have my children by my side, to reflect in quiet places, instead of trying to negotiate Internet-cellular phones, and tech wizardry. It is not enough to learn about myself and know myself, I also need to accept myself... shy me, family me, Mommy me, hesitant me, reflective me. I struggled to be adventure woman, managing Geoff's communication's center, while still reeling from months of crunch-robotics-single mom mode and it was too much... it was disingenuous.

I accept that I do not like to fly. I accept that my favorite adventures include my husband and children. I accept that I am very good at, sooner or later, finding my way and making things work. I can arrive in new places and enjoy being there, enjoy the difference. I like to observe and I like to witness, to marvel at the sounds and words, the way everything can be different and everything can be so much the same. I accept that being a mother is fulfilling and gratifying and that I am happiest when I am immersed in that role... it's not even a role... it is my life, my truest being. I accept that I am here now and that I can enjoy this and find a means of bridging my desires with my reality... I am myself and I am becoming, evolving... a work in progress. I accept that time out of my comfort zone will strengthen who I am, so forward!

Forward to Avignon! Just when Barcelona was getting familiar, when I found a way to reach Geoff and enjoy the sights, we are off to meet a new country and new challenges. I think this is funny timing. So, two days in France, to see the rats that swim in the polluted Rhone River, to use the French phrase book and take lots of pictures, to learn again how to communicate with Garage Mahal. It's all good.

So much introspection... hey, it's my journey...

Dear Geoff, Maria, Max, Alex and William,

Grandma and I stayed up very late and then I was awake at 2 AM thinking and thinking and thinking and by 4AM both Grandma and I were up and preparing for the train ride to France. Even though you called me before 6AM, I was wide awake, showered and dressed and even beginning this blog post... and I must say I was thrilled to hear your voices. Isn't it funny that you were all getting ready for bed, that I have time traveled to the future?

And now we are traveling by train and it's really delightful. The Franca station in Barcelona is very big and yet very simple, efficient. We had no trouble at all finding our train, boarding and settling in. It seemed like something that could be elaborate and complex, traveling to France in a second class car, but it has all been delightfully straightforward and pleasant. I think you would enjoy this very much. I even saw a castle with classic towers and the wall that would have enclosed the town, which has now grown up, in and out beyond the castle. We are following along the coast of the Mediterranean and seeing farms, towns, beaches and coves, ancient buildings and other sights that make me want to open a history book, Google. For a while we could see snowy mountains, the Pyrenees, I think. It makes my brain tingle and my soul wonder. I cannot help but feel tremendous curiosity about the thousands of events and passages that these places have witnessed.

Cerbere... that is where we are right now. Wasn't Geoff brilliant to get this Netbook, so I can ride and write, so I can try to keep some of these views and ideas with me, to bring home to you? As I learn how to manage the software and different applications... ah! We are in France! Here are the French police and they are checking passports and speaking French! It's so pretty and they are so friendly. Yes, I am glad that we will come here, or go anywhere, together. Adventures are tres bon.

Besides being thankful for the Netbook and talking to you this morning, I am glad that Grandma is with me. I think God made a gift for me, by facilitating all of this, her company. We can laugh and observe and laugh some more, together. Later, when we are home, it will be nice to confirm what we saw and did, to say “remember when?” We look out for each other and consider what would be fun and interesting for you children to do.

Montpelier, Franco, 2:45 PM
Everything changed as the train entered France. Suddenly there were vineyards everywhere... up and down the slopes, and stone houses with painted shutters. And when we got to Montpelier we switched to a commuter train. While we waited for our commuter train, a beautiful sleeper train was in the station, bound for Lyon and Paris... you know I love trains... well this one was almost impossible to resist, it was so lovely and inviting... aha, maybe I do have a kind of wanderlust... trains make me weak.

In one hour we will be in Avignon. Maybe I have seen too many good French films... nothing surprises me. It all looks and sounds familiar, like a place we have been to before. There are a lot of dogs, pampered pets. And there are a lot of beautiful, well-dressed women and people just generally seem so... so French!

This train is just like the Hogwarts Express... well, not the pretty engine, but the cars have little rooms with facing seats and overhead shelves for stowing luggage. The windows are too dirty for me to take pictures of the countryside. Except for the very old houses, it kind of reminds me of the San Joaquin Valley... farm land and fields ready for spring planting.. Oh! Olive trees!

I am ready for a nap. Somehow I only needed to sleep for 2 hours last night, and then I had real coffee for breakfast, but now it's all catching up with me. In my last post I mentioned Grandma's nap and she thought that was embarrassing, so I won't mention that she is nodding off I don't blame her... the train is so smooth and it feels like it is gliding through the countryside, gently swaying and humming softly. I can imagine riding like this all the way to Paris, could you?

You guys got me so excited when you told me about your work in the backyard. I guess the weather is nice? Are you planting the seeds in the barrel in the back patio? Did you notice the tomato plant that started itself? I don't know if it will produce fruit, sometimes the tomato seeds only grow leaves and stems. The impatiens will like shade, which we get plenty of in the backyard. And you cleaned the grill? Maybe Geoff will make those turkey burgers I told him about.

Gracious. We may have to celebrate my birthday here. We just rode passed a giant party bouncy room... the kind you can rent for parties, and instead of it being a clown or dinosaur or castle, it was an awesome, brilliant chicken! It was definitely the first sight in France to surprise me!

So, did you try giving Maria some of those letters I wrote her? I hope they help her feel less distant from me, or at least serve to distract her when she is crying. And of course there are letters and surprises for you boys too.

I am also thinking about Phoenix and our second chapter of Robotic Competition. We need to figure out where to stay and whether it makes sense to follow the bus... I know Alex is thinking he would like to ride the bus. It couldn't hurt to see what the room rates would be at the place Kelsey arranged for the team. The way I see it, when we drive there, Geoff will be my captive audience for eight hours while I regale him with all the highs, lows and chocolates of this trip. Too bad we can't stay longer and take advantage of our proximity to the Grand Canyon... next time. Alex, your strategy ideas for the next competition sound good, and I thought the same thing... that your team is in a key position to greatly improve its performance over last week. You guys are going to just get better and better, and it will be a lot of fun to see it all come together, next week and in the years to come.

March 12, Avignon

Well, I took Delia on another one of my let's try this way circuitous walks, looking for Hotel Danieli from the train station. Eventually she intervened and said, “Let's get a map.” And now we know that, just as in Barcelona, street names often change from block to block. So, when we thought we were on the wrong street, it was actually the right street, but we needed to give it a few more blocks to show its other name. I take great pride in my internal GPS and rarely ever feel turned around, so my brain has been enjoying the challenges of deciphering new routes and unpuzzling the twists and turns of Old World streets... I think this is fun. I think it would be even more fun if my carry on bag had wheels! lol

It is almost midnight at Garage Mahal and it is morning here. Here being the two star hotel I booked for us. The travel agent didn't think I would like either the second class car on the train or a two star hotel. Both are just fine. Actually, the train was more than fine and I would not hesitate to ride that way again, which is good, because we do just that tomorrow morning. The two star hotel is on the main rue and in a building that is very old... everything here is very old. The woman at the front desk gave us our room key and pointed to the stairs leading up. Up looked daunting after our unplanned tour of the southern streets of Avignon, but c'est le vie,oui? Up I went to open the room... and lol did I have a sight to meet my eyes. The room was in total disrepair... everything was getting worked on and there were paint cans, tools, plaster, dust, drop cloths and open walls, so of course I took a picture, then hauled my bag back down the stairs to see the clerk. She was on the phone, but paused to see what was the matter. I showed her the picture and she gasped, apologized and fumbled for another key. So, it was back up the stairs, this time leading to the right. Now follow me:
2 flights of stairs up, then up 3 steps with no landing to a closed door.
Enter door, totally dark hallway, find light switch.
Proceed down hall, searching out light switches along the way.
Turn corner and descend 10 steps, turn on next light.
Walk 20 paces, ascend 5 steps, turn corner, turn corner, ascend, walk, descend.
Turn to right and ascend last step, with no landing, and enter room.

Delia and I were laughing all the way, and we are recognizing the recurring theme we have dubbed Pan's Labyrinth. Twisty-turny paths in to dark and narrow halls, with ascents and descents, so that one wants to start dropping bread crumbs or small stones to mark the way back.
No wonder my internal GPS is still searching for its connection!

The room has everything one needs to stay warm, dry and manage functions like sleep and le oui-oui. Don't look that last part up; I am taking liberties with my “French.” The windows open wide, without screens or bars or a cautionary sticker of a falling stick man, to a conglomeration and intersection of ancient walls and roof lines, and cooing doves on red roof tiles. Given the irregular and sloping nature of our room floor, I suspect we are on a, converted, roof top too.

We crashed on our foam pad beds for 10 minutes, organized our bags and then went out in search of the famous Pont... the broken one, that once was the only one crossing the Rhone River in olden, olden, olden days. All of the old town, like our hotel and the Papal Palace are within the Palace wall, and as we followed a road in search of the bridge, we came face to face with our first view of the Palais des Papes and it was stunning. It rises up from the stone paved streets... the largest Gothic palace in Europe and the home of 14th century Popes. A large and ethereal golden angel tops the cathedral and looming gargoyles look over the plaza below. The sun was low and the Mistral (think of an icy Santa Ana) was blowing us over as we tried to take pictures and capture the bigness, the wow, the holy smokes of what we were seeing. It was sunset time when we reached the bridge crossing the river. We snapped some pictures then retreated in search of a warmer, sheltered route back to the town center and dinner.

We have just had tapas in France. Last night we had pizza.

Demain je passe ma derniere jounee ici and I still have not had a Provencal meal. Pas de probleme. It's been a wonderful day, full of long walks and a big blue sky... a big blue sky is the perfect backdrop for Medieval castles, gardens, bridges, outdoor cafes and discovery with new friends. We met friends of Anne's, and Olivier gave us a walking tour of the City, emphasizing the ancient wall surrounding the city, Rocher des Doms, Rue de la Bonneterie, Les Halles and his own home near the Rue Du Rempart de la Ligne. So, even though I will leave France tomorrow, without having had a genuine French dinner, I leave content, enlightened, inspired and hopeful of returning. We asked Olivier and Margrite to join us for dinner and we enjoyed good wine, good company and more lessons in local customs and culture... a lovely way to finish our stay in France.

And this post goes on and on... I have had no success finding a place to get Internet connection. In Olivier's home I was able to send off an email to Geoff and read some of Your comments... thank you for those! And after reading someone's suggestion to try McD's wifi in Barcelona, we popped into the McD's on Rue de la Replublique, but alas, there was no wifi there. Thus my posts will be as long and meandering as a two star French hotel hallway.

The train leaves at 6 AM. I hope Geoff calls me here before we leave. I hope I do not over sleep. I hope Geoff's email about “the robot is on the dining table” means that the house is exceptionally clean, and we have not publicly humiliated ourselves by having the robotics team over to weld and solder in our kitchen, and whatever the case, I hope he takes pictures, because the robot on our dining table is something I'd like to see.

Volver a Barcelona

Buenos dias. We are crossing the border from France in to Catalonia.. The Police have already been through to see our passports. They enter the car with a friendly Bonjour and ask everyone to please bring out their passports. I am glad for the ease of this transition... with my iTunes playing and my lovely Netbook open, I can resume writing and enjoying the swaying roll of Renfe... I am muy contenta riding the trains here.

By midday we will be back in Barcelona. The plan is to stick our feet in the Mediterranean... it seems too cold for a topless swim, ahem. We also want to return to Las Ramblas, in search of Golum... the creepy little street performer put a charm on us and we want to film him, so we don't have to keep explaining how ridiculously disturbing he is. And definitely I want to return to Felipe's cafe Internet @, so I can have a hot cup of chamomile tea and finally post on my travel talk. Geoff and I have been out of touch since the morning Delia and I left for Avignon... all except the email Olivier printed for me... the one where Geoff mentions there being a robot on our dining table.

Que mas? Gaudi. We need to make some expeditions in search of signs Barcelona's famous artist-architect. Modernismo. There are many fine examples, like Sagrada Familia and the Gaudi Park. As much we have done and seen, it is easy to see that there would be plenty to discover with Geoff and the children, if we decide to return. I am curious about the Aquarium and gee, we haven't seen the Museo de Xocolata... who would want to miss that? Mom wants to have paella... we've been warned that it's tourist food, but, hey, we are tourists. If I cannot reach Geoff by phone, maybe I will try calling my friend Karen... she could probably elaborate on the 'robot on the dining table' message, and direct me to her favorite paella place.

Last night mom and I grabbed chocolate croissants to eat as we walked to a far neighborhood in Avignon, and something happened, something I was worried might happen. Oh dear. I am going to miss those chocolate croissants, walking down cobble stone streets, following the Medieval walls, peering into courtyard gardens... gardens tended since the 13th century. I am going to miss quaint shops around any corner, window boxes, tiny balconies. I am going to miss the patient and tender regard shown to dogs on walks with their owners... it's not even 'ownership...' it's a relationship, affectionate and mutually respectful. I have never seen happier, more polite dogs in my life. I am going to miss hearing French, the brusque talk in the streets, the lyrical conversations in quaint corners. I am going to miss delicate, fresh, chocolate croissants. I guess these are the risks we take we when we travel... we discover new goodness, new music and sights, new flavors and paths, and then we miss them when we go home.

Siesta Time
This return trip seems longer than the one we made in to France. The train is full this time, and even though the seats are assigned, and I have had to remove myself twice, I have happily avoided sitting in my own seat, next to the beady-eyed man with troublesome sinuses. Not ideal circumstances for dozing, but with the bright sun coming in and the rocking lull of the train's motion, a nap is just what I crave.

Speaking of cravings... everybody smokes. Well, not “everybody,” but lots of bodies, and I joke that by the time I get home I will have to start using a nicotine patch so I can quit. Even the elegant Spanish woman that sits across the aisle from me, classy in her tasteful couture, rolls her own tobacco and at each stop she disappears for a platform drag. She returns to her seat in a fog of second hand smoke. I consider the state of the many floundering and failing corporations, banks and governments in this economic downturn and reason that tobacco must be doing a brisk business, and one that should be a rare source of revenue through jobs and taxes. Am I supporting big tobacco? No... just thinking out loud. JTOL.

Sinus Man just walked by, again. I see staring is not faux pax. I try to appreciate respect differences in the cultures. The silent staring is not too bad, but I do have some questions...
Is there something on my face? Is my presence on this train, in this hemisphere, offensive? Are they remotely aware that they are staring, arms crossed sternly, and scowling unapologetically, looking me straight in the eye? Is this normal? JTOL. I hit them back with my aggressively warm and friendly Chicken Abroad grin. Vale.

Friday, Late Afternoon. We are back in Barcelona. It is warmer and more crowed than when we left Wednesday morning. I haven't kep track of how long this post is... it is a relief to finally have the chance to update the blog. Sorry for errors, typos, endless rambling etc.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Day 1, Barcelona

Day 1, Barcelona
It should come as no surprise, but it is like a foreign country here. I do not know whether it is jet lag, and the exhausting pace I kept up until this trip, or just the foreignness... but I am definitely feeling a rough landing. Also, I feel it is Geoff who should have made this trip. He enjoys museums and cities, the challenge of negotiating technological gadgetry. But it's my bag that is filled with maps and itineraries, an impossible to decipher international cell phone, adapters, converters, and a laptop.

Ah, and the guidebook... yes, the guidebook is home, beside my bed. BTW, I rejoice and regret that I have no guidebook. I need my notes, the in English suggestions for food and sights, but even after packing light and then reducing my luggage further, I am definitely overloaded... a fact reinforced by the labyrinth expedition we made to get from the airport to Calle Jaume.

Geoff should be here. He would have been amused(?) to learn that all the lights in the hotel room remain off, until you stick your room card in to an unassuming slot in the wall. I took a picture, but downloading images will have to wait. Geoff should be here, because he would not think it a daunting challenge to figure out what has to be done to find Internet... no Internet in the hotel, but the men at the front desk told me 'there is a place and a phone company and a service and it's not free, and the lobby, but get a card...' and they said all of this in Catalan and Spanish and possibly English. I am not finding my Spanish to be much of any use in understanding the the delightfully mixed up, conglomerate of Romance languages that is Catalan. Truthfully, when I hear the language spoken I have to suppress fits of laughter. It is, for my ears, a babbling brook of words, phrases and sounds, lisped together for the purpose of expression, but with little effect. If I hear it and do not try to translate the words, I can understand the meaning. If Geoff were here, they would offer their best English, I think, and he would be fine. Geoff should be here.

He is waiting for me to call. Our cell phone does not work here, and neither does the phone he asked me to buy when I landed at JFK. I am toting a lot of superfluous gear. Thankfully I did figure out the outlet-adapter-three pronged converter thing, so the laptop is getting charged... the laptop battery is insufficient to play one feature length movie, but I was able to finish watching “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” here in the room, now that the Netbook is on the adapted, converted, finagled outlet.... I am exceedingly proud of this accomplishment, and the movie was okay. But none of this helps with the fact that I have not called Geoff to tell him we landed safely, the Tylenol PM worked, I am exhausted, and I really, really wish he were here.

Mom and I agree that we could be in Mexico City. Meaning, Barcelona reminds us of Mexico City. Busy, noisy, old... a sophisticated and energetic city with allure and history, cosmopolitan people and sights and bordered with shanty towns, decorated with graffiti. I am anxious to get my bearings, wash my face and go out in to the city. Hopefully, without all of our gear, we will feel swifter and more at ease about being in the jostling crowds.

I see it is 4 AM back home. I think of Maria and me not being there to say Good morning star-shine. She is warm and smells like baked vanilla cookies, she is all smiles and hugs when she comes to my arms. And, so, is this Monday? The boys have school, and Geoff has a parent-teacher conference. They should be here, so we could resolve together to go out and find the Chocolate Museum and an Internet cafe. I suppose I cannot sit here all day writing my thoughts, though I can easily imagine doing just that. Instead I will get my act together and make the most of this first day in Barcelona.

We left the building. From the balcony, across the narrow street, I can see a game store and in the window are dozens of different chess sets. I think of Max and Alex. Up another street, pedestrian-wide, tiny Flamenco dresses hang in the doorway, they are layered red, with lace and black polka dots. I think of Maria. Around another corner we step in to a toy and comic store, with ComicCon style posters and softies. I think of William and Alex. I saw one Internet cafe and I need to go back there, so I can call Geoff or email him.

Our venture out in to the old part of the city was wonderful and interesting. It finally felt like we have arrived in a very far away place. There are architectural details that are remarkable and/or breathtaking in almost every building. There is a lot of traffic... every kind. Mopeds and bicycles, motorcycles, very small cars and very big buses. There are cruise ships docked in the harbor, and people every where. I cannot count how many unique languages I have heard. Grandma BooBoo and Iwalked quite a bit... from our hotel on Juame, down to the oceanfront Colomo (Colombo? Columbus....) and then mauka from the harbor, along the Ramblas. If you Google Ramblas, you will learn about the St. Josep Merqat... a very old and bustling open air market... lots of fruit and jamon Iberica (cured ham.) Las Ramblas is a bit touristy, as Paul warned me, but it is well worth the visit for all the people watching and amazing street performers. My favorite are the statues that suddenly come to life when you drop coins in the hat... they are alive!

We got hungry and settled on a cafe right on the street where we paid too much money for a delicious seafood paella, made with pasta instead of rice. Prices seem almost reasonable, until I remember that one Euro is only worth about .69 cents American. I will look for less expensive eats, like fruit and bread from the market, but I won't go to KFC, Burger King or McDonald's. Sometimes I can imagine the Medieval days, but there are plenty of reminders of home and familiar sights and sounds. One shop was playing Iz... Over the Rainbow. Everyone suggests churros and hot chocolate, so I will have to do as the locals do... I will tell you how that goes! There is even a chocolate museum here.

The one thing I am not finding is a way to reach you guys. I need the international code for calling the US, but I cannot figure it out. Downstairs the front desk guys are more or less useless. I may have luck at the Internet cafe, but Grandma fell asleep and I don't want to wander without her, or worry her by leaving. I wish we had figured out the cell phone... the best way to do things here is on your own, because every other way is so difficult. I even have an International calling card, but they only work outside from public phones and those are always crowded and VERY noisy... I worry I won't even be able to hear you guys if I do figure out how to dial the 42 different codes it will take to get through. And of course it doesn't help not having a guide book.

More fun stuff... In Barcelona most people live in apartments and small homes, so small pets are popular. On Las Ramblas there is a section where all the stalls and vendors are selling birds, like Steve kind,and canaries and doves and even Chickens! They also have chipmunks, turtles, adorable bunnies, hamsters and gerbils, guinea pigs, gold fish and mice. There are many tiny shops along the walk, almost like a street fair, but permanent. All the pet sellers are in one section and in another section are a lot of restaurants, then an area with plants and flowers and spread throughout are news stands called “Hola” and they sell all sorts of junk, like key chains, T shirts, postcards, candy. It reminds me of the ABC stores in Kona.

Oops! I forgot to put the room key card back in the wall slot. I realized this when I couldn't turn on the bathroom light. It must be late afternoon here now, it seems to be getting dusky and the chess shop, which closed in the afternoon, for siesta, is open again. Grandma is still sleeping. I have hardly slept at all... just a few fitful hours on the plane. Hopefully this means I will get a full night's sleep and in the right time zone.

Even though there are amazing things here and I appreciate the interesting sights, I cannot emphasize enough how much I miss you guys. It doesn't help to get depressed about it, but I feel sad not being with you all, and I cannot help thinking that Maria wants me. I feel unkind and guilty leaving her behind. Okay. I don't want to start crying, again. I know you guys are taking good care of each other. My next assignment, and the one I have been diligently working at is to make contact with you. I love each of you mucho, mucho, mucho.

Is this jet lag? Suddenly I want to sleep.

Tuesday, 10th of March, Barcelona

As you know my sleep did not go well. I woke up and felt utter panic, like nothing I have ever experienced before. I was in so much pain and despair, because I felt the distance and disconnect, like I could not ever reach you again. I do not want to think on it for fear of recalling the anxiety. Finally calling you was a tremendous relief and I know I sounded bad and completely unhappy... I was very unhappy. Communication and all the tech gadgets were such a pain, such a roadblock. I found it nightmarish to be cut-off from you. The stooped 10 minute phone card only gave me one minute and you could not hear me. The Internet cafe did not have wifi and I had no idea how to hook-up to their phone jack. I could not get in to our server, so I resorted to leaving a desperate message on Anne's blog (sorry Anne.) Then the cafe keeper allowed me to email home using his Hotmail. Finally, finally we stumbled on a place with phones, inside and private and easy to manage, because I pay them to call you direct... something I could not accomplish from the hotel, btw. Best .18 cents per minute I have ever spent.

Things are much improved. I am more at ease knowing I can call you. Later I will go back to the cafe where the man helped me with sending you an email. He was kind and sympathetic... he must have thought I was going to go postal. I doubt I was hiding my anxiety very well. BTW, sorry about typos... this is slow enough without worrying about punctuation and spelling. The keyboard in the cafe drove me batty, since it was all set up for Catalan.

We had breakfast in the hotel (included) and it was pretty good. There is a kind of salami that we like very much and my coffee was quite tasty. Speaking of tasty, after our call, we treated ourselves to xocolate and croissant. Oh. My. God. The hot chocolate was lightly sweet and almost more of a syrup... I assume it is made without milk... it is neither too sweet, nor too rich, but a soothing creamy textured delight. Vale.

Everybody says “vale.” Vale means I confirm or affirmative or yes, or “I agree, now continue...” it's funny how often we hear it. They also say “diga,” like when answering the phone or when they know you are going to ask a question. It's curt and slightly demanding... like saying “spit it out.”

After breakfast we walked for an hour and then we went in to the Picasso Museum. I am not a Picasso fan, but as I hoped, I learned that he has done more than Cubist Women and Guernaca. His earliest work, even childhood paintings, are my favorite. The museum is worthwhile... if only to be in the very old Gothic building. Old buildings and quaint alleys with flowered balconies are around every corner and I am loving it. Any artist would be inspired here.

We walked a lot today, as we did yesterday. And now we are in for a rest again. It is about 3 pm and you must be getting up for your new day. We will go out this afternoon, maybe back to Las Ramblas, where we saw the street performers. We laugh about this one guy dressed in green paint and rags, like Golum... he crouched and scowled, just like Golum and made evil, guttural noises, while flicking his tongue and showing his teeth with devilish grins. The performers either move and behave in character or remain stone still, like a statue, until you drop money in their collection bucket, then they 'come to life' and invite you to pose with them for a photograph. And in Golum's case he stops harassing you and giving you the finger, with his spot-on evil Smegal persona... yeah, I should have filmed him... hilariously creepy!

Just a few yards from our hotel we stopped to look at an unassuming, but obviously old wall, tower and arch, then I saw the adjacent sign that informed us that the wall was Roman. OLD. Really old and all around us are very old buildings and gargoyles and amazing facades and details in stone and cornices. It is fun to walk and see the faces in walls, the old tiles and iron works, the ancient water fountains where people still fill bottles, and all the nooks and alleys where shops, inns, bars are waiting to be discovered.

I haven't bought much... a small Picasso book and a small plastic placemat with his more whimsical line drawings. Otherwise, I am reluctant to make my bags any heavier. I figure I can buy things at the last minute or when we return together.

Did I say I would not come back? Yes, well... I would not come back without all of you.

You were right. A scout, an advance party was a good idea. I am not sure I was the best choice. There is a lot to figure out about being here and adjusting to new fangled things, and the hustle and pace of a busy city... none of which a book can rightly prepare you for, so I am glad that when we come with our children, when we are jet lagged and turned around, I will know more or less what to expect and how we might make things easier. It was impossible to appreciate this when I was so sad and scared and tired of running in to impossible roadblocks. Now, I see my purpose and after finally sleeping well, and hearing your voice, I am breathing easy and learning as much as possible. Chicken Abroad is not molting any more.

Speaking of chickens... in the market there are stalls dedicated to the sale of eggs. Eggs of every bird species are piled in neat little pyramids... quail, duck, goose, chicken, emu, ostrich... even the eggs of different kinds of chickens are distinguished. I took a picture. Surprise.

I am having fun taking all kinds of pictures. I do miss my better camera, but heavy things are not fun on long walks, so I appreciate the little camera for being so easy to manage. I hope the pictures come at least a little close to what I am seeing.

Delia is taking pictures too, and I am so glad that we have each other... for company and for reflection. Sharing the experience of being here makes it more fun, more meaningful and we will also get to be in our own photographs... on a lone adventure my photo album would be all buildings and fruit-stands, but now we can have our memories confirmed with photographic evidence of our journey.

I hear the church bells. I heard them and a lot o f other noises all night long. It's all part of the city package I guess. As I tried to fall asleep, I realized that you and I are much more experienced in Island Style travel, laid-back aloha trips and small town Wisconsin adventures. I am not unfamiliar with big cities... having navigated LA, SF, Chicago, Minneapolis, Tijuana... but language and culture and jet-lag are formidable obstacles to comfort and ease in a city that prides itself on midnight dinners and fast driving. Traffic here is wild and everyone smokes. The people dress stylishly, and have Euro-essence... a kind of old world confidence. It's cool. I wore lipstick today and readily accepted siesta time as a remedy for the all night commotion.

Well, yesterday my writing began as a typical kind of Chickenblog post, but then I started to write directly to You, Geoff, and then I had my panic attack journaling session. So, my Chicken Abroad posts are going to be different. I cannot type fast enough to write separate journal-therapeutic-purges, personal letters, and brilliant travel updates, so these posts will be cut and paste composite bits, with apologies for many typos, writing styles and strange tangents.

As for pictures... we will see whether I can manage to email any to Geoff, then the tech-ball will be in his court; hopefully, he can insert them in the post from Garage Mahal.

I am in Barcelona, in a lovely and friendly cafe, with my Mommy, and a cup of tea. I am logged on to the Internet and about to publish my first Chicken Abroad post, from Abroad!


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Up-Up and Away!

My seat is in the middle. Oh my.
I feel compelled to introduce myself to the aisle seat passenger:
Hello, my name is Natalie. I am afraid of flying and I have a bladder like a nervous Chihuahua. Can I hold your hand?

Oh, and I want to mention one a few more things:
1. Our team, and you know who you are, Rocks! We got spirit, yes we do! We got spirit, how 'bout you?!

2. Alex, you Rock! Go Parrot Ox!

3. Max, Maria, William, Geoff: Best crew to the crew, and mentoring ever!

4. ¡Hasta la vista, vuelvo pronto! ¡Si se puede!