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Mediterranean Journal (part 1, arrival in Spain)

Wednesday (leave Denver 8:40 pm)Thursday (arrive in Barcelona 6:30 pm)

I was impressed when I first weighed my backpack and it was 28 lbs. Naturally I rewarded this accomplishment by packing just a few more things… (What a clever, practical girl I am.) The airport weighs in kilos which made the weight seem more reasonable than it was, but I’m pretty sure the backpack weighed-in about 38 pounds when it was all said and done. Just about a third my weight. I guess it could’ve been worse. Jessica managed about 10 pounds less. Good girl.

I’ve been on a few big planes, but this was definitely the biggest. It was kind of awesome. We settled in and I got the window seat for the first leg of the flight. Nine hours to London, change planes, two more to Barcelona. Ain’t no thing. I surprisingly didn’t leave my seat once during the flight. (I pee about every four hours. Ok, possibly more than that, so this was an accomplishment.) Small seats and long flights make me grateful for short legs and the ability to sit cross legged when I get uncomfortable. The lady sitting next to Jessica was from Germany. She’d been visiting her 16 year old daughter, who is currently an exchange student in Denver. She was easy company, wanted to chat a bit, but not too much. I think I managed to sleep about two hours of the flight and watched one movie, “The Social Network”. On our three hour layover in London we got yummy sandwiches and enjoyed some prime people watching. It was noted that Europeans have great taste in shoes. Seriously fantastic. We were so caught up in conversation we ended up running to catch our next flight. Whoops. Missing our flight, with such a generous layover, would’ve SUCKED. (It is a testament to our friendship that we can get lost in conversation AFTER a nine hour flight together. I love us.)

I slept the entire two hour flight to Barcelona, well I tried. There was a bachelorette party a few rows up from me… oy, they were obnoxious. In and out of sleep I kept waking just a bit and thinking, “Did she really just say that? Oh my, and THAT?” Their chatter was not the best soundtrack for my dreams. We arrived in Barcelona around 7 pm on Thursday. We had no problems with our luggage. I got my first (yes, my first) passport stamp by a VERY handsome customs officer who waved me over to his line. He gave me a friendly welcome to Barcelona, wanted to know how long we were staying and when Jessica walked over he asked if we were sisters. (We get asked that ALL the time. At some point I think I’ll just start saying “yes”.) Then we were on our way to find a bus into the city.

It was drizzling when we hopped the bus to Plaza Catalunya. The rain continually increased as we got closer and closer to the city. When we arrived at our destination, it was a complete downpour. Welcome to Barcelona. The plan was to find a place to eat and then call Katelyn in about an hour. She’d be getting off work and come to find us wherever we were. The rain made finding a place easy… we got off the bus and went into the first place we saw. Kilimanjaro Café. We grabbed a table and tucked our backpacks under our feet. Our first Barcelona meal and we had Paella and Sangria. Win win. Both were OUTSTANDING. (Note: this was the best Sangria of the whole trip.)

At 8:45 pm I ran across the street, splashing in puddles, to call Kate from the pay phone. She answered the phone, “hello *pause* hola?!”. Ahhh. SO GOOD TO HEAR HER VOICE. She was on the train headed our way. I told her where we were and she said she’d see us soon, but the pay phone cut off before I was really sure she knew where we were. After fifteen minutes, no Kate, I went out to call her again – knowing that if I did this, she would arrive. And she did. I saw her come out of the restaurant to look for me and met her embrace mid intersection.  And yes, it was   s  l  o  w   m  o  t  i  o  n   running, just like in the movies.

Let’s take a moment here and get inside my head a bit. This is my girl. In the arms of my Katelyn for the first time in three years. I find myself at a loss for words when I consider how to describe our friendship. I often wonder how many people truly know what an intimate relationship is? How many people have experienced it? I think it’s a rarity for a person to deeply know themselves, much less have the privilege of coming close to fully knowing someone else. Intimate friendships are few and far between. At least, in my experience. I share my soul easily and as often as possible. I guess you might say I like the feeling of exposure that follows. Being honest and even vulnerable is like a purging for me. It keeps my burden light. I have no secrets I’m trying to keep hidden. I’ve been both ways. Guarded. Thick walls protecting my heart. Hesitantly loving and cautiously private. I cherished the carefully constructed obstacles I surrounded my inner self with. I’m not sure what happened, or when, but I quit. It was just too much work. Chances are if you know me now, if we’ve conversed even a little, you’ve seen glimpses of my soul. I consider it a great honor to have the favor returned, to get to walk around in another’s head, to be privy to their memories, to touch their scars, to hear their heart beat and see their soul. I know Katie like this. The good, the bad, the ugly and beyond. Beyond in an infinite sense. She’s growing and I’m still learning her, but I’ve seen the shiniest parts of Kate’s soul. I’ve seen the shadowed parts, too. I know her potential. I’ve seen her intention. I’ve shared in her childlike innocence. I’ve been intrigued by her knowledge. I’ve been captivated by her passion. I’ve seen her glowing and comfortable in the radiance of her beauty. I’ve held her in my arms when the sky fell in. I’m seven years older; I love her like a little sister. I’m fiercely protective of her. She’s soo much like I was when I was younger. In the strangest way I knew her before we’d even met. I remember, vividly, our first conversations. I had this overwhelming feeling of, “Oh. It’s YOU.” Like I already knew her, I’d just been waiting a long time to see her again. There’s a marvelous scene in the Robin Williams movie, “Hook”, when one of the lost boys is examining the face of a long lost and very grown up Peter Pan. After much consideration, he stretches (Peter’s) cheeks out and then he SEES him. The recognition of who he is clicks into place. He breathes, “Oh, THERE you are Peter.” It was just like that when I was getting to know Katie.

So yes, a reunion was long overdue. Mid-intersection embrace, awestruck by the “home” feeling one gets when in the arms of a loved one. We are in Barcelona. We are staying with Katelyn, who is currently living alone in a friend’s vacant, largely unfurnished, four bedroom home. It’s for sale. We took the train, after she met us downtown, to her little town outside of Barcelona. We left the train station in search of mugs for morning coffee. This was difficult thanks to the late hour. Due to her living arrangements, though, she had little in the way of dishware. We tried two different markets, the only places we found open, to no avail. Katelyn stopped into a neighborhood bar to see if maybe she could buy some mugs there. It took a while to get it across to the bar owner that she was looking for coffee CUPS, not coffee. Kate speaks fluent Spanish, but not Catalan. When it was successfully established that we needed glassware, he generously gave us four Heineken glasses. Not fabulous for hot drinks, but a wonderful gift and much better than nothing. I consider any act of kindness like this a good omen. Things were off to a good start.

We continued towards her place, another 4 to 6 blocks uphill with our packs on. It was a hike. We arrived around 10 pm and even though we had just traveled, and should have been EXHAUSTED, we talked until after 4 am. There was laughter and there were tears. Nothing like diving right into the matters that are closest to our hearts. Good conversation is food for the soul and Katie, in particular, was in need of some nourishment. She spends her days, from 8 am to 8 pm on and off various forms of public transportation to teach English to an eclectic group of students all over Barcelona. She’s also been living alone for five months, with her beloved living countries away (South Africa to be exact). Katelyn and Jessica got along beyond beautifully for first time acquaintances. It was a lovely night.


Friday (Barcelona/Park Guëll)

Kate woke us a little after 11 am. She had already been out and taught her first lesson of the day. 6.5 hours of sleep after travel? I actually felt pretty good. I slept like the dead. I woke in the same position I fell asleep in, pretty sure I didn’t move once in the night. Waking up in Barcelona was good. Waking up in the company of two of my best girls was INCREDIBLE.

Katelyn had put together for us a breakfast of apples, bananas, grapes, cheese and different kinds of crackers. She made chai tea and had the Royal Wedding streaming live on youtube. It was a simple, beautiful, laid back kind-of-morning. My kind of morning, really. Even on vacation, with so many things to see and do, I don’t want to push. I want to move at the casual pace that has come to define me, soaking in every moment. I would rather have one fully appreciated moment (or experience), a moment that I explored with all five of my senses, thoroughly saturating myself in it, than twenty hurried moments that I only saw with my eyes. Does that resonate with anyone else?

In my book, our morning couldn’t have been more perfect. Kate had a few cancellations, so she was able to spend more of the day with us. She had to work again from 4 pm to 8:30 pm. After our leisurely morning (which ran well into the afternoon after having slept so late) we took the tram to Park Guëll. Katelyn had just enough time to walk us up to the park entrance and then she had to turn around and head back to the tram to make it to work on time. The park was beautiful. It sits on a hill overlooking all of Barcelona and the Mediterranean coastline. I don’t have adequate descriptors in my vocabulary to describe not only the wondrous beauty of the park, but the overall ambiance.

Park Guëll, for me, was not a destination place to go to and simply make a visual sweep of the park and cross it off the list as “having done it”. Have you ever felt a kindred connection with a stranger? You meet someone and you just know you’ll be friends. There’s a friction, a chemistry, a pull. I have a crazy radar for this kind of thing. I felt this insatiable draw to Park Guëll. I needed to get better acquainted with it. I had to. Thankfully Jessica felt exactly the same way. *contented sigh* Just one of the many reasons she and I are such good friends. Jessica wandered around taking photos; while I sat down to write. We spent the entire afternoon (and into the early evening hours) this way. We moved around as the energy of the park shifted. There were some musicians playing, two groups taking turns captivating the crowd. The first was a guitar player and a flamenco dancer. The second was a group of five guys playing a guitar, a saxophone, a cajon w/ cymbal, a didgeridoo and something else…. I don’t know what you’d call it. It had an upside down trash can for the bottom and a string attached to a broom stick… My heart, soul and mind were totally and utterly at peace. My Katelyn did this all last summer. Took her guitar to Park Guëll and sang her lovely songs for spare change. She averaged about 40 euro a day. She and her love, JP, had an extremely difficult time finding work when they first moved to Spain, so for four months this was their only source of income. I wish I could’ve witnessed her playing in this park, playing her heart out for strangers. I love her sweet voice so so much. It was special though, sitting there taking in other music knowing we were in the spot Kate used to play.

It was mid-evening when we left the park, caught the metro, and headed into the city. We strolled around La Rambla, taking in the street performers and holding our purses near. Tourists are a huge target for theft in Barcelona. Katelyn warned us specifically to pay attention to any diversion or men trying to be friendly with us. Of course, I get not one, but two fellas circling me. The first was a pretty harmless, Bellissima, whispered over my shoulder as he brushed past me. He did linger a few feet away, raised eyebrows, trying to get us to make conversation, but walked away when we didn’t respond. The second guy was a little intense. He half circled me, passing on my right side, circling behind me to pause in my left ear, breathing onto my neck to murmur muy guapisima. He startled me, so naturally I turned to look. He was walking away, but slowly, and backwards, staring at me the entire time. He stopped about six feet away and continued to stare. This lasted about five minutes before he left to take a phone call. He returned a few minutes later, leaned against a wall no more than three feet away and resumed his staring. It was starting to make me really uncomfortable, so I pretended to see Katelyn and pulled Jessica away with me. Thankfully he didn’t follow.

Katie met us not long after in front of Café Zurich, our arranged meeting point. From there we went to a little Argentinean restaurant that serves empanadas that Kate is just crazy for. I will admit, they were pretty delicious. I wish I could remember all the kinds we tried. We shared a big salad and then had two empanadas each. We ate outside (it was packed inside), and though it was a bit chilly, we lingered, enjoying every bite and finishing with coffee and dessert. We headed to a market to buy wine on our way home and then took a scenic detour down “the Street of Young People” and stumbled on one of Katie’s favorite bars. L’Ovella Negra. We couldn’t take our wine in, so we asked the door guy if we could stash it somewhere… behind the door would do. We ordered a pitcher of Sangria and sat back to observe the Barcelona nightlife.

After just a day and half in Barcelona the one thing that really stands out, to both myself and Jessica, is how the locals stare. In the States if you are caught staring, you do one of two things: you smile, or look away! In Barcelona they do neither. They just continue to stare as though you can’t see them. It’s wild. This goes for both men and women. It makes no difference if you make eye contact and smile. Their expression doesn’t change. Jessica has done quite a bit of traveling. She’s visited eleven countries and lived in three of them. She said she’s never been anywhere like this. It could have easily been uncomfortable. We were definitely made to feel like outsiders. But truly, I just didn’t care. Let them stare. When we were hiking through the streets of Barcelona with our backpacks on, getting on and off the trains, I didn’t blame them for staring. We were a sight. At the pub we sat diagonal from a table of eight guys who yes, stared at us the whole time we were there. One of them had to turn around in his seat to look at us and he did this often. Jessica decided he looked like ‘Tiger’, the fat cat from the kid’s movie, “An American Tail”. And somehow, he totally did.

Two local guys were looking for a place to sit, and Jessica waved them over. They were super nice guys. Alex and Jose. Both spoke English and were excited for us to know this. Jose had lived in LA for six months. Kate conversed in Spanish quite a bit with them and it was fun to attempt to follow the conversation. Jessica did pretty well. I caught about one in every ten words. Maybe. My high-school Spanish has never really served me. All I can ever remember when under pressure is: Donde esta el bano? I can ask where to find the toilet, but I wouldn’t understand the answer! Both Alex and Jose lived on their own, a rarity for unmarried Spanish men in their mid-twenties not to live with their parents. I’m not sure how this came up in conversation, but they were apparently pretty proud of it. They were fun company, but I was more than ready to go home when our pitcher of Sangria was finished. We had to take the night bus back to Kate’s. We still had the 1/2 mile hike up the hill to her place. We were home just after 2 am and even though I was exhausted, sleep eluded me. It was after 4 am when I finally fell asleep. Ah. Yes. Five hours of sleep. That’s about normal for me.

continued…

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