barcelona the city of magnificence

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[Remember the wall story? This is from that.]

My friend and I are in Barcelona! So, for the next long while this blog is now a travel blog. Expect a lot of photos of food and possibly also of myself stuck on top of things.

This is the first time I’ve traveled with a friend, and I’m excited to see the differences between this and traveling alone, which is what I normally do. So far, this has some pretty awesome benefits, like, “Could you watch my stuff?” and “We Each Know a Handful of Spanish Words and Together We Know TWO Handfuls!”

We had two flights yesterday from Japan. The first, to Amsterdam, was about twelve hours. It was pretty eventful. There was a very pretty Japanese manga artist sitting diagonally across from me so I got to watch him draw some manga, then switch to watching Friends, then switch back to his baseball manga, then back to Friends. My friend J was sitting next to an older Japanese couple who found us very entertaining, especially when J ordered the Japanese food option and demonstrated a profound skill in chopsticks-usage.

I was sitting next to a cheerful-looking Japanese girl my age and her mother, who seemed offended by the very oxygen around her. Although she put the effort into speaking English throughout the flight since it wasn’t a Japanese airline and English was the bridging language between the Dutch flight attendants and the various passengers aboard, she did so wearing a deep-creased frown and a general air of disapproval for life as we know it. I’ve gotten used to Japanese people trying their best to be polite to a fault, so I was intrigued by this woman.

When the flight attendant asked what she wanted to drink, the woman scowled and said, “Japanese green tea.”

The flight attendant said, “Sorry, we’re only serving that later, after the meal.”

The woman turned her head and stared deep into the seat in front of her, grappling with this devastating turn of events with the dignity of a dictator on trial.

“Would you like anything else?” the flight attendant asked.

The woman didn’t respond, and her daughter started to look harried. She whispered, “Mom,” in Japanese, and the woman returned her attention to the patiently waiting flight attendant.

With a great effort, the woman said, “No.”

I didn’t have any personal feelings one way or the other until about an hour later. I was asleep with my computer nestled comfortably in my lap, and I woke up to sudden intense pressure in my lap and a squawked, “SORRY, SO SORRY.”

The woman, instead of waking me up and asking me to move, tried to step over her daughter and myself, tripped, and sat directly on my computer. She scurried away before I was completely awake, leaving her daughter to apologize for her and me to check that my computer was all right.

It was fine, but the woman had lost a significant amount of happy points with me. When she returned from the bathroom, she didn’t look at me, but I made a point of standing up to allow her passage. A kind of How to Get to Your Seat Without Assing Your Fellow Passengers tutorial. She stood up another four times throughout the flight, which sort of begs the question Why Did You Choose a Window Seat on a Twelve-Hour Flight if Your Bladder is Akin to a Leaky Thimble, but according to my friend she made two of those trips while I was away throwing things out or visiting the facilities myself.

I felt for her daughter, though. She seemed genuinely friendly and we shared a few smiles over things like, “Oops, dropped a thing on the ground,” and, “Oh, hey, the plane is shaking like it’s going to drop out of the sky, hee.” Had she been without her mother, I think she would have been a fun seat companion.

A very minor setback during the flight was the television screens had a little bit of an error. They had a movie menu, but in place of pictures displaying the movies’ cover images, there were only blank white squares. So that meant we had to click preview and watch the trailer to figure out what movie each was. Again, a very minor problem. J told one of the flight attendants early on in the flight, and a few other people mentioned the same problem, so the flight attendants reset the whole system. At the end of the flight, J mentioned to a flight attendant that it hadn’t fixed the problem, and it had actually gave my working TV the same problem after the reset. We weren’t really put out by it, because the movies still worked, and we did have fun leaning across the aisle like kids cheating on a test to whisper, “5 is Frozen. 16 is an Australian porn movie,” to each other. Nevertheless, the only Japanese flight attendant dropped by our seats at the end of the flight and handed us each these little porcelain Dutch houses that are usually only given to business class passengers and apologized for the trouble. “I had no idea it hadn’t fixed the problem,” she said apologetically. “Please don’t hate us,” she added, laughing. We assured her we hadn’t been traumatized by such a tiny inconvenience, and that we loved everything else about the flight, including her.

When we arrived in Amsterdam for our connecting flight, we all stood up and waited for the plane doors to open. J and I danced in the aisle to the song on the PA. Then the doors opened and we were free!

We wandered through the terminal, amazed by the cheese in the souvenir shop and the freaking chocolate cafe we very nearly skipped out on the rest of our vacation to live in. When we got to our gate, I remembered I forgot to bring an adapter, so I asked J to watch my bags and ran to the gift shop to remedy this egregious mistake (and stock up on Smarties).

On our next flight, a relatively short two hour flight from Amsterdam to Barcelona, there was a two-year-old boy sitting with his mother in the window seat opposite me. I was in 7A, they were in 7F. He had a pacifier in and he was whimpering forebodingly into his mother’s shoulder while she fanned him with the emergency procedures card (probably the only use it’s gotten in years). He had the sweetest face, so I smiled at him and, when he noticed me, his whole expression transformed into this beaming smile. His mother, startled, looked up and saw me and smiled with relief. She whispered something in Spanish to the baby and he giggled so hard his pacifier fell out. I made faces at him for the better part of the taxiing experience. It was clear he was afraid, since every time the plane bumped on the runway or started suddenly he’d arch in his mother’s arms and kick at the seat just to squirm in discomfort. He never actually tried to get away from his mother – in fact, he spent a lot of the time with his face buried in her shoulder while she fanned him and murmured softly to him. Whenever he looked over at me, I’d make a face or try to distract him, and it worked for a while. I love entertaining kids – it’s also a huge ego boost because it takes hardly anything to make them laugh. As soon as the plane was in the air, he dropped right off to sleep. Sweet little thing.

We landed in Barcelona a little early. J and I walked through the airport and I fell in love with it all over again. Barcelona really does have one of the most beautiful airports I’ve ever seen. It’s bright and modern and beautiful and architecturally fascinating. It’s all glass and gleaming bright metal.

J exchanged some of her yen and we both balked at the exchange rate. Then we picked up our luggage from baggage claim and walked toward the exit.

The reason we’re in Barcelona at all is because of J’s friend O. A while back, J’s husband’s cousin had a nanny from Spain helping her take care of her triplet babies. That nanny was O. So J and O got to know each other, and when O went back to Spain, she gave J an invitation to come to Barcelona and stay with her. The invitation was extended to include her friends, too, and so J asked me and I said yes in half the time it usually takes to say “yes.” I’d never actually met O, but I’d heard good things, so I was excited to meet her.

Unfortunately and fortunately, O recently got a very, very nice job, so she wouldn’t be able to pick us up at the airport. She said her parents would be there instead. And, sure enough, as J and I walked to the open exit doors, we saw a banner with our names on it. I’ve never had anyone make a banner for me before since I’m usually meeting with family or friends who know what I look like, but it was a really warm feeling to see a banner made just for us.

J and I immediately realized just how lacking our Spanish is as we greeted her parents. Luckily, I remembered the kiss-on-both-cheeks greeting just in time, and then her parents led us to their car and we started the drive to their house just outside Barcelona.

In the car, we played the We Know Some Spanish Words and Here They Are game. The more O’s mother and father spoke, the more I really wanted to know what they were saying. It wasn’t until last night that I appreciated my level of Japanese. I’m nowhere near fluent, but compared to my Spanish…. Luckily, O’s mother does speak a little English and she’s pretty good! Also, like I said…somewhere, body language is king in situations like these.

O’s father stopped the car in a small square and J and I were surprised that the trip had been so short. While he went to park, O’s mother walked us to the front door of an apartment building just across the street from small open-air shops. It was around eight o’clock, but there were many adults and children walking around with an energy level suggesting midday. I remembered my trip here last year and how I’d been amazed by how late everyone stays out compared to the comparatively early winding down time of Japan.

We took the elevator up to their floor and were amazed to find that O’s family’s apartment is in fact a duplex. It resembles a house more than an apartment once you’re in side, and the decorating is just beautiful. Everything has a personal touch, from the framed fans in the entryway to the paintings that O and her mother painted themselves, to the trinkets placed here and there in every room.

O had just finished showering and from our very first meeting, she struck me as an excellent human being. She’s bright and happy and enthusiastic and her hair smelled awesome. Once J and I settled in, O’s mother was enormously kind and made us a snack: slices of baguette-like bread with crushed tomatoes on top, and sides of cheese and slices of meat to stack on top. We talked, mostly using O as a translator, and J and I decided O’s parents are phenomenal. J already knew O is awesome, so I made that decision last night on my own. Because she is indeed awesome.

Last year when I visited Barcelona, I stayed at a B&B where I was able to get recommendations from actual citizens of the city. This year, I’m lucky enough to get to stay with a warm, wonderful family in their gorgeous home.

A sublime vacation has begun!

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