Bon Viatge!

Meg and Grant go to Barcelona & beyond

Month: April 2015

We have an apartment in BCN!

As of today, we officially have a place of our own in Barcelona! We just signed a 9-month contract to rent a furnished apartment in the hip neighborhood of Vila de Gràcia!

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Vila de Gràcia

Gràcia is a very distinct neighborhood within Barcelona. It actually started out as its own village outside of Barcelona and was absorbed into Barcelona as it grew. However, it’s maintained its own character and small-town feel. The streets are even more narrow than other parts of the city, so there isn’t as much car traffic. Barcelonanians joke that once you move to Gràcia, they never you again, because you have everything you need there.

We have been staying in the Old City and El Born areas, which are very fun areas! They are just a little crowded/noisy/touristy/busy for us on a daily basis. Sipping sangria in a sunny plaza in Gràcia is more our speed. Plus, we wanted to actually have a chance to get to know more local people here.

Gràcia does have its fair share of expats as well. It is known as a more “hipster” part of town and there is lot going on in terms of art, craft, fashion, DIY, and co-working. If I had to compare it to a neighborhood in San Francisco, I would say it is closest to the Mission – but more family friendly.

We fell in love with the neighborhood just walking around. Here are a few shots from a stroll around the barrio:

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The apartment

The apartment is what they call an “interior” apartment, meaning it is not directly on the street. This is awesome because it cuts down on a lot of noise. Hands down my favorite thing about the place is that the back wall of the apartment out to the small balcony is a huge sliding window that can slide fully open. The weather is great right now here, so we can just leave that open and enjoy nature’s air conditioning.

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Visit us!

Come see us in Barcelona! This baby folds out into a sofa bed, so you have a free place to stay. I’m just sayin’.

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In sickness and in health

In order to get our visas to Spain, we had to purchase private Spanish health insurance. We selected very thorough coverage (for pretty cheap compared to the U.S.). The company we chose had a good reputation among expats for having online services and English-speaking doctors. Sounded good to me.

Having worked on web marketing for medical and travel insurance before, I am fully aware it is one of those products that no one wants to think about. It is hard to sell peace of mind. How do you convince people to think about worse-case scenarios without bumming them out? I was a pretty typical consumer in that way.

My point is, we had not thought too seriously about using health insurance here.

That ended abruptly on Friday.


At the risk of taking away from the suspense, I feel like I owe my readers an aside here: everyone is ok.

Fever in the morning, fever all through the night

Grant and I have been sharing a (what is to us who are accustomed to queen-sized beds, a tiny) double bed. Let me tell you, you don’t know your spouse fully until you have shared a double bed with them in a small room filled with luggage being lulled to sleep every night by the musical stylings of a harmonica player who seems to only know Twinkle, twinkle little star and just when you think you have relief because he’s called it quits, a pack of teenagers drunk for the first time come bounding down the street and through the center of your forehead. Where was I? Ah, yes, basically whenever Grant or I turn in bed or even bat an eyelash, the other is fully aware of it.

So when Grant woke up sweating with a fever early on Friday morning, I was wide awake too. Harmonica man had gone to sleep a while ago and we were well into drunk-teenager-zone. Grant’s skin was burning up, so I went on the hunt in the dark for the small medical kit we had packed with us for emergencies. He took a couple of ibuprofen, and we tried to go back to sleep.

In the late morning, when I finally dragged myself out of bed after a few hours of patchy rest, Grant was still feeling badly and trying in vain to fall asleep. I went out to try to get him some medical relief and something comforting for lunch. There are pharmacies on every corner here, and the pharmacists are comparable to family doctors in the U.S. They know how to treat basic symptoms and illnesses.

I went in and explained that Grant had a fever. They sold me some paracetamol, gave me a regiment of paracetamol and ibuprofen, and convinced me to buy a thermometer to monitor his fever. I’m so glad I did!

Side note about pharmacies here: they will give you prescription-level drugs on your word. I say my husband has a fever – wa-la! I have 50mg ibuprofen tablets. You had birth control in the U.S.? No problem, here you go! It’s kind of amazing.

I started taking Grant’s temperature every 30 minutes or so and recording it. His fever went up very quickly that afternoon to 102. At which point, I kind of maybe sort of…panicked. I was pacing our small room and thought, if his temperature keeps going up at this rate, I’m going to have to take him to the hospital.

I called the insurance company and explained what was going on. Thank goodness these people are trained to deal with crazies like me. I was asking how much an emergency room visit would cost – and they dumbfoundedly responded “it’s included.”

You mean I can take him to an emergency room and not have to worry about a co-pay or how much that will ultimately cost me? Gahh, this medical system is so much better!

Then the most magical thing happened – they sent a doctor to our house for the appointment – all within an hour and half.

I cannot explain to you how much stress that relieved right then and there for me – no having to figure out the address of where to take him or how we would get there, no having to help him get dressed and ready to go out, no gathering all our important documents, etc. Instead, we got to wait in the comfort of our home. If I could change something about the U.S. medical system, I’d say let’s bring back home visits!

Doctor, doctor, gimme the news

The doctor shows up, and it is immediately clear that she doesn’t speak any English. She goes to work checking Grant’s vitals and miming what he should do next. She had a backpack with a whole medical kit in it for running basic tests. I’m busy translating (wrong, most of the time) what she is saying.

The highlight of the visit, though, was me discovering I had been taking Grant’s temperature “wrong” the entire time. Apparently, even though the thermometers look EXACTLY the same here, people use them differently. While we put them under people’s tongues in America, they put them under someone’s arm in the armpit. I swear the doctor looked at me so strangely when I started to go put the thermometer in Grant’s mouth.

Diagnosis: the flu, gripe

Treatment: More aggressive alteration of ibuprofen and paracetamol to lower his fever. Let his body fight it out.

Hotel, motel, holiday inn

Did I mention that there is noise constantly on the busy street outside our window? Between that and a raging fever, Grant could not get any rest. By the time Saturday afternoon had rolled around and he was still running a fever, I had concluded that splurging for a hotel room for the night would do us both some good. We ditched the airbnb for what felt like a luxurious change – I had my own sofa bed and Grant had sweet, sweet silence (although he claimed he could still hear that damn harmonica). There has never been money better spent.

One more time

Despite the comforts of our new abode, Saturday night was rough. Grant’s fever was still pretty high. Since it got to 102 again early Sunday morning, I called the insurance company again. They sent an “English-speaking doctor.” Now, when they say English-speaking, they really just mean that this person can make pleasantries in English. When she started to make her diagnosis, I was relieved that she was seeing something else wrong that the other doctor hadn’t seen. However, she could only say it in Spanish and point. Ahh, the suspense! Some Spanish words have similar sounds to the English word, but unfortunately, amigdalitis does not sound like tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis.

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What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

The doctor prescribed a slew of pills to treat the bacterial infection as well as treat side affects of the medicine. Of course, none of these medicines were to be taken on the same schedule (that would be too easy). I had to write out his schedule of pills and verify it with the pharmacist to make sure I understood what to give him when. The doctor also had specific instructions about what he could eat. As Grant likes to point out, I was very pleased to be busy doing something to help him feel better – going to the pharmacy, getting groceries, etc. It is hard to sit next to your loved one and just watch them suffer and feel like all you can do is rub their back or run your fingers through their hair. Plus, I’m a rule-follower, so it made me feel better to have instructions and a concrete plan.

While I was walking around going these errands, I got to see the Joan Miró park in Barcelona. It was only a few blocks from our hotel. It was such a colorful and reflective palette cleanser for me.

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On my way back to the hotel, I sat on a bench for a few minutes just watching other people walk by. While I was sitting there, an old man approached me and asked me in Spanish what are you doing? and can I sit here with you?

He lives in the neighborhood and was on his daily walk to Placa Espanya and back. I started out clutching my purse tightly, as I am always on the alert for pickpocket schemes, but I soon relaxed because this guy was the real deal. He just wanted my company for a few minutes. He told me all about what his Sunday traditional dinner meal is and how he always buys a cake with fruit on it for dessert. The cake costs 18 euro, but it is worth it for him. He was very friendly, which surprised me, because I have been told by several people that Catalan people tend to be closed to foreigners. This has not been my experience to date. Grant thinks its my cheeks that make me easy to approach. The walk and my conversation with this man re-energized me.


It’s a few days later, the antibiotics have kicked in, and Grant is feeling much, much better today. He is on the road to recovery.

Reflection on our wedding vows

Will you love Grant, comfort him, honor and keep him in sickness and health and forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?

I will.

This weekend was definitely one of those in sickness moments. What amazed me was how my patience grew, my selflessness grew, my love for Grant grew while we were battling this sickness. It was unquestionably easy to put aside everything else when he wasn’t feeling good. When I thought something might happen to him, I felt the hugeness and depth of that. Even in his sickness, Grant was sweet and kept trying to insist that I go out and see the sights, especially the Picasso Museum which I had talked about going to see on Friday. He didn’t want me to miss out while taking care of him.

I wish I could access this well of service on a more daily basis, but I can already feel some of the perspective slipping away as he starts to feel better. It is a paradox how we become super-human under stress but have problems accessing patience and grace daily. On a day-to-day basis, we take our health for granted, and we take each other for granted. I am looking for ways to treat Grant with the same tenderness, kindness, and care every day that I managed to channel when he was sick.

How amazing would that sort of love be, and what would it look like?

Feliç Diada de Sant Jordi!

The capital of Catalonia was alive with festivities today for the celebration of Sant Jordi! This is the first holiday we have been in Barcelona for. Spanish people know how to celebrate! As someone told us here: Spanish people work to live (not live to work). For example, during the Summer, many business hours are reduced to 9-3 so people can enjoy summer afternoons with their families. This was our first taste of many festivals to come this year.

Anyway, Sant Jordi on April 23 is significant for people here for several reasons:

  • Saint George is the patron saint of Catalonia
  • This day honors the death of Cervantes, the great Spanish writer
  • UNESCO has declared this the World Book Day

All of these things collide together to form a Valentine’s-like tradition with strong Catalonian pride undertones.

Key to this tradition is the custom that couples give each other a book and a rose – a book for the man and a rose for the woman (because, you know, women don’t need to tax their mind thinking about things. KIDDING.) Anyway, there are stalls everywhere setup in the streets selling books and roses – in all sorts of creative forms!

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This meant that one of the main streets by where we are staying was packed with people:

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^WHYYY? My new philosophy on getting through crowds is to NOT move out of the way of other people but just to continue straight in my path. Tourists’ walking paths are too hard to predict! 

Everyone rolled out their Catalan flags today, as well. As legend goes, St. George slayed a dragon, freeing a princess and converting an entire town to Christianity. The flag of Barcelona actually integrates the cross of St. George. People were also selling dragon paraphernalia to remember this legend.

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^Dragon selfie!

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^Even Dunkin Donuts commemorated today with Catalan flag icing and rose icing. Side rant: People here keep thinking that we’ll like Burger King, as if Americans eat that all the time. Sure, yes, Burger King is the food of my people.

Grant and I participated in the traditions, because you know when in Rome. He’s been gunning for some Douglas Adams books in English, so I found the (I’m convinced) only English copies of the book in Barcelona. Grant got me a beautiful rose especially picked out for his mujer.

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We ended the day with some delicious sangria and patatas bravas:

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^Will this ever get old?

The restaurant we went to is owned by a couple. There was a quotation written on the wall by them:

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 I wish we had met earlier…

– Fred

We met and that is what is most important.

– Elsa

 

This touches me and reminds me of the importance of the NOW – not the past and what has happened and not the future and what will happen – not why’s, not what if’s – just now. The culture of celebration here, I think, is ultimately tied to the NOWness attitude of people. The willingness to suspend concern, worry, and fear for a shared moment of happiness.

Everything that I have now – this opportunity to live abroad, a wonderful relationship and life with an amazing man, family and friends who support us and send their love – that is what is most important.

Eso es lo importante.

Montserrat, Spain

This past weekend Grant and I had the opportunity to visit the Catalan countryside area around Montserrat. It was a big contrast to cosmopolitan Barcelona! Being in nature was so serene. There is something about mountains that makes me feel suddenly small. It helps me gain perspective when I look across the vastness of nature and realize that I am just a very tiny part of this world – just an tiny part of God’s intricate creation. This smallness brings me comfort. It reminds me of the Bible verse: Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 

We stayed with our Airbnb host from Barcelona and her boyfriend. I wish I could share photos of the place with you, but out of respect for our hosts, I’ll refrain. My words will have to suffice. The place was situated down a dirt road, remote from the main road. It overlooked the whole range of the mountains of Montserrat. We stayed in a house built cerca 1880, and most of the house had been used to keep animals at that time. It amazed me how old the house we were staying in was – yet how heartily its stone structure withstood time and weathering. There was a sweet dog that also lived there who gave us her constant company and dog-grin’s. The whole scene was utterly romantic.

On Saturday morning, Grant and I biked up the mountain to a monastery. The whole way up there were sweeping views of both the mountain and the valley of the elevation we had conquered.

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^Grant all fueled up from our bocadillos breakfast. The Spanish eat light sandwiches called bocadillos in the late morning to get them through to a proper lunch around 1:30-2.

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^Grant zooms ahead as I am awed by the scenery.

IMG_1023^ACTION SHOT!

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^Sweeping scenery as we went up, up, up 

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^Almost there!

When we made it, we were actually surprised. We thought we were biking to the very top of the mountain, but as it turns out, the monastery is not at the tippity-top. We asked a pair of bikers how to get there and they responded, you are already here! that’s it!

Beautiful views of the valley and Montserrat greeted us there.

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We got to zoom down the mountain on our bikes, which was the really fun part!

That night, Grant and I offered to cook dinner for everyone, and we attempted to introduce them to a Texas classic – Frito pie. No fritos were to be found at the countryside market, but we did find Bugles, which are kind of similar. So we had Bugle pie instead! Pro tip: Bugles get soggier much faster than Fritos!

On Sunday, our friends hosted a BBQ. Grant’s grilling expertise came in handy as he stepped in to help man the grill! Another couple came over for lunch, and it was a really good feeling to feel like we had friends here. It is interesting to see which mannerisms cross cultures – for instance, the inclination of everyone to NOT take the last piece of food on the plate but to keep splitting it, splitting it, splitting it until there is …. only a fraction left.

It never ceases to amaze me how diverse people are here. We were sitting around at the BBQ and someone made the observation: We are people from Germany, Italy, China, France, and America, all sitting together in Spain. 

That has really stuck with me.

Now we are back in Barcelona, hot on the apartment hunt. Grant started Spanish classes yesterday – they are intense! They only speak in Spanish the entire time, and classes last four hours every day. He is picking up Spanish quickly! I am really proud of him.

Learning the contours of Catalonia

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Before I tell you all about the start of our cycling adventures in Spain, I need to take a moment to tell you how much biking means to me. Cycling has helped get me in shape, taught me how to push myself physically, given me a great hobby to share and experience with my husband, and has taken me to places that I would never have seen otherwise. I used to scoff at people who talked about a “runner’s high.” It wasn’t until I biked long distances that I understood what this feeling was – the beautiful rush of endorphins! I never imagined that I could bike 130 miles, but last year, Grant and I trained for this and completed it on our first wedding anniversary. That day, I thought, “there is nothing that I can’t do with this man beside me.” It was a no-brainer for me to take our bikes to Europe with us. I am so excited to grow as a cyclist and see some amazing parts of the country that we would never have seen otherwise!

Setting up bikes & our first group ride

We unpacked and re-assembled our bikes this past weekend (and by “we”, I mean Grant)! There was only one small plastic part that got damaged during the transport. Thankfully, all it took was €6 and lots of hand-waving and repeating “no funciona <it doesn’t work>” at a local bike shop to get a replacement.

We found a group of expats that organize lots of road cycling events on Meetup, and so we went on a ride with them this weekend up along the coast outside of Barcelona. It is a very diverse group – Americans, Canadians, Brits, Brazilians, and Australians. The leader of this ride actually used to live in San Francisco, so it was really fun to exchange stories with him. He and his wife made about the same move we did a few years back – and they are still here!

Side note: At the meetup, when we told people we were planning on staying about a year, they responded with, ‘So you’re going to be here about 3 years?’

We haven’t ridden in a few months, so I have to admit it was pretty tough, even though it wasn’t a particularly hard ride! Everyone in the group is really nice, though, and it is great to find people we have something in common with. Here is the route we took outside the city and a pic at an espresso stop with the group:

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Biking culture in Barcelona

Biking is a pretty popular form of transport in Barcelona. It is very cool to see how the city has adapted to a bicycling culture. The city has a huge bike share program calling Bicing, which can only be used by local residents. Once you have a card, you can unlock a bike from its parking spot anywhere in the city, ride it somewhere else in the city and leave it there.

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Barcelona also has an extensive network of separated bike lanes (with barriers) and raised bike lanes. Traffic lights include bicycles in them for signals. Here are a few shots of the great dedicated bike lanes (including one on a roundabout, which I had never seen before!):

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By far the most impressive thing to me, though, was the Parque fluvial del Besós. It provides 5km of space by a river & greenery for walking, running, or biking. It is easy to get on it from the bike path along the ocean, and it is so refreshing to ride in an urban environment without any cars getting in the way.

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Discovering BCN bike lanes on a sunny afternoon

Yesterday, Grant and I went on a leisurely ride around some of the bikes lanes around Barcelona. As you can see, we didn’t make it around the whole city, but I wanted to share what we discovered and the fun we had!

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Pre-ride meal

As all bike rides should start, we had some delicious tapas and a glass of white wine:

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^whose fork is that sneaking in to get patatas bravas? Grrannnnt!

Parc de la Cituat

Then we we started off biking by the Parc de la Ciutat, the city park.

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Torre Agbar

Views of the Torre Agbar followed us during our next stretch.

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Random plaza #1

I’m sure it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Spain has TONS of plazas. Here are some goofy shots of me biking in one….somewhere.

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^that is pure joy, folks

Skate park!

Skateboarding is very popular here, thus there are a lot of skate parks. With Grant’s prodding, I tried out some super steep courses and even did a 360!

Nope. That did not happen. But I did go over the humps. We look pretty intense in the photos, anyway.

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^don’t worry, these daredevils have Spanish health insurance

Parc de la Diagonal Mar

Apparently, this park is kind of a big deal. I just thought it looked cool. What refined taste I must have! 🙂

Water that flows through the raised tubular structure that spiders its way through the park. This moving line occasionally coils around suspended plant pots which are reminiscent of Gaudí’s organic architecture. In addition to being the linking element of the jigsaw puzzle of the park, the tubes also convey groundwater which irrigates the gardens.

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Off to the beach!

Did I mention that Barcelona also has beautiful beaches right here in the city? There is a bike path all along the ocean. It is gorgeous on a sunny day.

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Parque fluvial del Besós

After riding around the rather abandoned Olympic facilities (BCN hosted in 1992), we hit the 5km no-car path that I talked about earlier. So peaceful.

Detour because Strava led us astray

Strava is the program we use to record our rides, as well as plan out new routes. They have this useful feature with which you can create a route based on the most-trafficked routes that bikers have recorded. Apparently, not many bikers had recorded in this area, because Strava wanted us to get on the freeway after the Parque. Yeah, no.

So we took a detour, involving seeing an outskirt of Barcelona where there is an escalator built into the landscape (wha?) and a short stint on a mountain bike path. My poor road tires were balking.

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Random plaza #2

This city has beautiful art, design, and sculpture literally everywhere. It never ceases to amaze me. I’ll be walking to an “official site” and notice a designed detail that causes me to pause and look closer.

This sculpture is obviously not just a detail of the landscape, but it is a good example of art in everyday places.

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Sagrada Familia

On our way back towards home, we head towards the Sagrada Familia. It emerges out of the trees and street as we cycle towards it. It surprises me and takes my breath away. I feel like I’m in a fairy tale headed towards the witch’s castle.

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Arc de Triomf

As dusk is falling, we head back towards the city park and then on towards home. The lighting of the setting sun gives a new wrinkle and contour to this familiar site.

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^ perhaps the lighting was given a boost with an Instagram filter…

Parting words

The haunting of history is ever present in Barcelona. I see cities as organisms, as living creatures. To me, Madrid is a man and Barcelona is a woman. And it’s a woman who’s extremely vain. – Julie Burchill

Barcelona, I can’t wait to explore all your dimensions, contours, and curves. And I can’t think of a better way to do it than on bicycle.

A usted

In Spanish, gracias means thank you. In school, they teach you that the response is de nada, you’re welcome. Grant and I kept saying gracias to people, but we weren’t quite catching what they were saying back. We just knew it wasn’t de nada. As it turns out, they were saying a usted. This roughly translates to no, thank YOU.

A usted sums up my experience in BCN so far. As I am filled with so much gratitude in response to our new home, it’s like the whole city is saying no, thank YOU back.

I went to a modern dance class yesterday by myself. I was so nervous to go and meet people – plus, I’ve never tried modern dance. Plus, once I got there I learned that the whole class is conducted in Catalan.

I’m going to pause a second and explain the Catalan/Spanish thing here. It’s a very unique situation in the Catalonia region. Catalonia sees itself as a separate culture from the rest of Spain – as such, they even have their own language. It’s not a dialect, it’s actually a whole separate language. It’s called Catalan. The best I can explain it is that it sounds somewhere between Spanish and French to me. Confusingly, people call Spanish here castilian. Anyway, it is mandated that people learn Catalan here in school and Spanish as a second language. Many people also speak English as a third language. All the official signage in Barcelona is in Catalan. That being said, I haven’t met anyone here who doesn’t speak Spanish, but it technically isn’t the preferred language. I only know Spanish.

Back to the modern dance class. So, of course the class starts with all of us sitting in a circle doing a roll call and talking about our dance experience. This is when it became clear to me that: 1) Everyone was speaking Catalan 2) I was the only foreigner and 3) I clearly had not registered correctly for the class – there was a whole Excel spreadsheet with everyone’s name on it already. Whoops.

Thankfully, the teacher and all the students were so welcoming. The teacher of the class had studied in New York for a Fullbright Scholarship. I’m pretty sure she’s been in a very similar situation to me before, in reverse, so she had a lot of empathy for me. Throughout class, if I wasn’t understanding what was going on, she would tell me in English (only after trying several times explaining in Catalan). We had to work in pairs, and the other students would repeat things to me in Spanish for clarity. At some point in the middle of class, I paused and thought to myself people really are the same everywhere. Different language, different country, different type of dance, but really the same dance class. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be here and dance with these people, but they are all a usted a million times back to me.

I’ll leave you with some old school Shakira that reminds me of how small we are.  How we are all passing dust on this Earth and yet how that gives comfort – we are all fleeting dust together. If we can only learn to express gracias and a usted to each other more.

Perteneciste a una raza antigua / You belonged to an ancient race
de pies descalzos / of bare feet
y de sueños blancos / and white dreams.
fuiste polvo polvo eres / You were dust, dust you are
piensa que el hierro / Think, because iron
siempre al calor es blando / that remains under the heat is weak.

 

Learning how to just…not

One thing I have realized about myself in the last few days is that I crave structure. Along with that structure, I crave achievement, and with that achievement, the stress and hard work. I have a hard time not doing anything to pursue those achievements.

Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine
Together we can see what we will find
Don’t leave me alone at this time
For I am afraid of what I will discover inside

At my core, I do believe hard work is good. I think it gives us the power to create, to change, to transform – hopefully in all the best ways. I think in many ways that we as humans were made for work. However, I think rest, stillness, and pause, are all important too. I think true self-love is found in this rest state – this love with what you are without the stuff – the job, the skills, the achievements.

I am struggling with stopping – stopping worrying, stopping planning, stopping trying to figure things out – and just being. The stopping of all this other stuff allows the starting of discovery, joy in the moment, and the appreciation of life at its core – a single breath, a single snippet of God’s creation.

This trip has given me much more time to pause than my “normal” life. And I have to admit that I am fighting it – I want a lesson plan for what to do, who to be, and how to achieve it all. For my whole life, I have had a path laid out in front of me – or I have created one – and for the first time, I have no path in front of me.

I have started looking up many different things I could pursue with my time in Barcelona. There are so many opportunities to pick up new skills or get better at skills I already have.

It begs the question, though, of who I am without all these things – who do I want to be that can’t be expressed on a resume or Facebook About page? And what would I develop in myself if I pursued those things?

This quote has been floating around my mind all day:

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Here’s to rolling away my stone and finding a new life apart from “things” and “achievements”. Which maybe is only something I can find in a place totally separated from my expectations for myself.

Oh, I’m sorry, were you expecting some fantastical Barcelona travel story here? My bad. I promise I’ll also have some of those for you along the way 🙂

Grant and me in the park today embracing a snippet of God’s wonderful creation – the beautiful Barcelona weather:

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Hola Barcelona

We made it to Barcelona! Since we got relatively inexpensive tickets, the whole journey took us about 22 hours. I think it’s the longest continuous time I’ve ever spent traveling. We were very thankful that we had decided to just spend the first night at the airport hotel. For future reference for anyone who is considering coming to Europe from the San Francisco area, we flew Norwegian out of Oakland, and it was very inexpensive but also really nice.

I have gotten to use my Spanish a few times now. I know enough to have a conversation, ask questions, or get directions. I am looking forward to getting much better over the next year.

Our biggest challenge was getting all of our luggage around with the bikes. in order for me to have a couple hands free to help carry the bikes, we had to come up with some pretty creative luggage strategies, such as this one, which I’ll affectionately call my “luggage tail” (strapped the rolling suitcase the straps of my backpack so I had both hands free):

luggagetail

We are now settled at our airbnb in the center of Barcelona. We are close to many places but tucked away on a quieter street. In our room, we have a balcony that faces out onto the street.

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As Easter celebrations are still happening today, many places are closed and people are out in the street. We spent some time walking around through the streets this evening. The “old city” is quite manageable on foot. It is amazing how beautiful every street and square is, and there is an interesting layering effect of the “new art” on top of the “old city.” We successfully held out until 9 PM for dinner! We are adjusting to the timing here.

grantstatuebarcino

I am feeling much more settled about our move and decision now that we are here. Not really knowing the city or the place where we were going to stay was a big leap of faith. Now I am just excited to explore more!

Leaving on a jet plane

luggage

We are packed, ready to go, and about to head to the airport! Two Marvins, two bikes, two duffels, and one large checked bag (and a partridge in a pear tree).

A couple prayers/blessings come to mind to me today. One is in response to my own internal anxiety and excitement, and one is in response to my love for all our family and friends who we will miss dearly.

Joshua 1:9

A Bible verse that has stuck with me from the first time I left home for college, to going to Pittsburgh for grad school, to going to SF.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.

An old Irish blessing

A prayer from my Irish O’Brien heritage.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

SF goodbye tour

I have lived in San Francisco for the past four and a half years. This city has a very special place in my heart. Grant and I do plan on moving back to the Bay Area after our Spain adventure, but I have the need now to find some closure to my time spent here.

Here’s me when I first arrived:

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I spent a good part of my 20’s in SF. Living here, I found a little family of other people like me in a Friends-like apartment building, I got my first job, and I got married. I grew into myself as an adult and made choices (and mistakes) that were all my own.

Why SF is special, though, transcends me growing up here: it is special because in SF, anything (and everything) is possible. Some people even call it Neverland. I have to admit that at first, this was off-putting for me. I remember judging people for not feeling like they needed to follow what I considered “the responsible (or considerate?) thing”. That’s the whole deal with freedom, though – there isn’t just one path. And even if you do choose the well-worn path, you know there are other choices and paths. There is a pervasive feeling of freedom and exploration in this city, and it is like no other place I’ve ever been. There is energy in the air that says “whatever you want to do, you can do it”. I truly believe that is why the start-up culture here is so huge. And why everyone here has at least two job titles: web designer by day and DJ by night. 🙂 All of the little quirks of San Francisco (like the Seward street slides or the world’s biggest leather event) add up to a place where possibility and diversity are embraced. And it turns out, I love that. It has opened me up in so many ways.

For me personally, this “anything is possible” meant: moving out here without a job and having faith that I would find one, learning and performing hip hop dance, camping and backpacking for the first time, creating crazy-themed parties like a bike ice cream crawl and macaroni and cheese party, learning to ski, cycling over 130 miles over two days, forging and making my own wedding band… and you guessed it, taking the leap to move to Spain.

Ironically, the thing I love so much about SF is empowering me to move to Spain.

Before I leave, I am visiting 5 of my favorite places today and taking in as much SF as I can, while I can. I’m going on a goodbye tour!

I’m also leaving 5 notes around the city with some cash for others to experience parts of my goodbye tour themselves. I’m asking people who find the letters to take a picture of themselves enjoying the food or activity. We’ll see if I get any responses! I was very inspired by this love letter project and this 3D printing project, so I’ll be following suit.

My top 5 places to visit today:

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  1. Boba guys
  2. Gracias madre
  3. Humphrey Slocombe
  4. Philz
  5. Multi kulti 

 

 

BOBA GUYS

This store has a special place in my heart, because Grant and I discovered them while they were still a pop-up operation inside of Ken-ken ramen. We got to be a part of their journey and see them grow into a business with multiple locations. They still have the best boba tea I have ever tasted!

boba

 

GRACIAS MADRE

Think you could never live without meat or cheese? Eat at Gracias Madre, and I will assure you that you will walk away believing you could be a vegan. This is the best vegan food I have ever tasted and is solidly my favorite restaurant in San Francisco.

gm1gm2

 

HUMPHREY SLOCOMBE

Secret breakfast….an ice cream flavor? Whisky and corn flakes? Whaaa? This place has the most unique and delicious ice cream flavors. It holds a special place in my heart because it was the first stop on my bike ice cream crawl birthday a few years ago. We hit up about 5 different ice cream places on our bikes.

humphrey

PHILZ

As some of you may be aware, coffee is serious business in San Francisco. Find out more here from this mocumentary. Some may say you have to try out Blue Bottle or Four Barrel, but if you really want a fun SF experience, you have to go for Philz. When I first moved to the city, I looked at an apartment right next to Philz, and I am always brought back to that time when I go in. The iced mojito drink is definitely my favorite here…but I have to admit, by this time in the journey, I was feeling pretty sick to my stomach, so no coffee for me – just a visit!

Philz

 

MULTI-KULTI

This is probably the least-known place on this list to most people. It is a “dance accessories” store on Valencia that is easy to overlook. But let me tell you, I love this store! They carry amazing things here for so cheap – like a french fries t-shirt, stretchy pants with cats with lasers, and googly-eyed glasses. Here were a few items I had to pass up on my visit today:

mk1mk2

 

Since we are traveling a long ways, I decided on a simple ring to add to my collection:

mk3

 

I had fun distributing 5 letters out to random places, inviting people to participate…here’s a peak at a few letters hiding around the Mission:

hiding1hiding2

We will wait and see if I get any responses from the letters (I encouraged people to snap photos of themselves enjoying their treat!)

UPDATE: I got one response! YAY! See the pic below:

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