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!



tara said...

It seems so bizarre that you are now in Barcelona. I cant even imagine doing what you are doing. What an adventure. I cant wait to see pictures.

Tiglizzyclone said...

I am looking forward to your pictures! You know the the saying a picture is worth a 1000 words!! Hope you are having a wonderful time!

Anonymous said...

It's so good to hear from you, Natalie. It's amazing that you found the time and energy to post this most interesting journal entry. Now that you've survived your initial exhaustion and culture shock, it sounds as if you're warming up to Barcelona a bit. What an adventure! We miss you, but hope you and your Mom will find your rhythm and have a wonderful time.

Aloha, Ruth

Gjo said...

Hi Natalie, it's Gretchen. Great to read your blog, and glad you're getting into the groove! Have fun! Relax and enjoy. Diga me! We stayed in a beach town outside of Barcelona and took the train into the city. Fun trying to figure it out! Things I remember enjoying were the Gaudi park, some gothic cathedral, the Sagrada Temple (??). Just walking up and down the streets by the Gaudi park. We also went to some HUGE museum. Plus trying new foods, yummy coffee and desserts. So fun! Have a wonderful time. Looking forward to your next post. Love Gretchen

Anna Banana said...

Hola, chica! You are so brave. I am so proud of you! Hoping France will be smooth for you. -Anna B

Geoff said...

Hi Honey,

Everything is fine here. Max did really well on his report card. The chickens miss you and hope that you won't be beguiled by exotic Spanish chickens. xoxoxo.

judy in ky said...

Natalie, I understand so well the desperate feeling of not being able to contact loved ones. For many years I have had a recurrent dream of trying to dial phones that won't work or not being able to remember numbers. It is such a lonely, panicky feeling. I felt that for you as you described not being able to reach your family.
I am glad you have it figured out now. It sounds like you are relaxing and beginning to enjoy your adventure. You did an amazing job of writing despite your jet lag and fatigue. You are dealing so well with things that would have had me in a fetal position.

Sara said...

Oh, I'm so proud of you for going and for slogging through those first difficult hours of strangeness and frustration....it sounds as if you are adjusting well. You are quite a trooper of a chicken to be sending posts already too! It's so good you have someone to share the trip with too. Enjoy, enjoy!

Laura Jane said...

I'm relieved to hear you getting oriented again, after a shaky start. Now you can relax and enjoy being a scout. I'm so glad you have your Mum for company.

Its a fascinating and strange thing to untether ourselves and launch out into the big wide world. And my husband laughs when I insist on finding an internet cafe with a phone, but they DO come in handy sometimes.

Look forward to the next entralling episode.

And hey, Geoff! Nice to hear your voice on Chickenblog!

nikkipolani said...

You are a courageous woman, Natalie. And a natural traveloguer - WONDERFUL! You capture exactly the frustration of language barrier and unfamiliarity. But I think you are quickly getting the hang of things and your summer trip is going to be fantastic!

lusks said...

Glad to see you enjoying yourself. You can get free wifi at Macdonalds you only need to buy a coffee.

village mama said...

hola Natalie! enjoy this journey, you don't need a guide book, you just need to pick the brains of locals. oh have fun!!! xo

Anna Banana said...

Glad I came back to read your comments. Now I can see your photos! Jacob's Spanish teacher says Vale. When I told him they really say it in Spain, I got a big smile. So thank you for that. He wants to study part of next year in Spain, maybe I will get to go too. You can give me travel tips!!

Jennifer said...

You are embracing your adventure, and your adventure is embracing you.