Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Barcelona to Abu Dhabi: We Revel in Barcelona

We know we are getting old, no matter how young we feel. We delight in our hotel room, modern, not the kind of hotel I would normally choose, but this was chosen for us, and . . . it has a young vibe, a modern vibe, and Barcelona has that same vibe, so we decide we are going to be just fine. It is ALL done with electronics. Dim the lights, use a remote. Close the curtains, use a touchpad. Call the desk on a mobile phone provided. It’s a little intimidating because it’s not the way we do business.

The artwork was all very abstract, but the next day after we visited Sagrada Familia, the abstract became concrete, as we recognized details of that exquisite, imaginative structure.

This little couch cracked us up. Just about a foot off the ground, very low, we couldn’t imagine it was comfortable or how we would get up once we sat down. Actually, it was both comfortable enough and easy to get up from.

Once we would have headed straight out to begin our Barcelona adventure. Now, we settled into our hotel and took a brief nap, then headed out around sunset to explore a little of Barcelona. Our hotel, the Hotel Almanac Barcelona, is very modern and wonderfully located near many of Barcelona’s attractions. Tonight, a Saturday, we headed to La Boqueria, a huge market on La Rambla, a major pedestrian street, full of nightlife. 

We knew we needed to stop at the Carrefour on La Rambla; Carrefour carried just about anything, and we found what we needed – manicure scissors, a corkscrew, and three bottles of wine. We resisted Barcelona chocolates and other delicacies; our cruise ship is said to cater to foodies. Carrefour was full of local people grocery shopping, so much fun to see what they were buying. The check-out line went almost the full length of the store, but it moved surprisingly fast and we were out, with everything we needed, in no time.

I don’t have a lot of regrets, but I regret not buying a few little boxes of chocolates to sample, and to share with family on our return. The boxes were so interesting and could be used in a lot of ways.

I’m sure there are Spanish supermarkets that will do the job, but we have a comfort level with Carrefour from several other places we have lived and knew we could quickly find what we needed. I got such a grin out of the children’s games on sale – we know these games, AdventureMan has played all of these with our Grandchildren – Connect 4, Battleship and Monopoly. We love strange Monopoly sets, and have them from the WWII Museum, from Pensacola, and from Doha (!)

There were crowds of people in the streets, from the language we could hear, mostly local (it is November, a wonderful time to be here.) It was girls-night-out, guys night out and date night, with families and friends’ gatherings thrown in – Barcelona was one big party. 

La Boqueria, a large open market with booth after booth of specialties,  was colorful and exciting. There are a few places with chairs and tables, a few with bars, but mostly there is a lot of takeaway food. One was a paper cone of the famous jambon Iberica, a very tasty, thinly sliced ham.

AdventureMan bought a fruit drink with coconut, then I bought a spicy meat empanada, which we shared and decided it was delicious. Then we both bought raspberry-blueberry-(something) drinks, which were also wonderful, blended but full of pieces of fruit and it felt like drinking vitamins, only delicious.  Then AdventureMan bought a mixed vegetable empanada, which we both found boring, and I bought a pumpkin empanada, which we both thought was also boring. So much fun, so colorful, noisy, and exciting. 

We were amazed at how many delicious foods and drinks we tasted, and how little it cost us. When you travel, you aren’t always so hungry at the appropriate meal times, so we were delighted to be able to sample and snack for our first meal in Barcelona.

We loved the look of these delicately sliced potato snacks, below. Aren’t they beautiful?

We wandered and got a little lost on our way back.

We don’t speak a lot of Spanish, or Catalan, so we would ask “La Rambla?” and throw out our hands with a look of “Where is it?” on our faces and people would point us in the right direction.

Once back at La Rambla, we quickly found our way back to the hotel, and headed up to the roof bar for a drink and to look out over the city.

This was a perfect way to end one very long, exciting day.

Now that we don’t have to pack for the airplanes, we are reorganizing our bags and looking forward to Monday when we will go aboard the Nautica and unpack for the next three weeks. 

Somewhere, in the next twenty-four hours, I lost / misplaced / or someone took my little AirTag, tucked in an outside pocket on my duffel bag. I never missed it until we were almost home, and I discovered it is traveling the world without me!

January 14, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Food, Hotels, Photos, Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Great Sea Voyage: Barcelona to Abu Dhabi

So, my friends, I promised you a new trip, and I apologize for making you wait. We got back just in time to step back into our normal Pensacola routines and then to whirl into the celebrations of Christmas. I like to plan, I like to execute, and I like to give myself time to process. It’s time to begin.

We chose this trip three years ago. We loved the destinations, and we loved the idea of this journey, especially going through the Suez Canal. We love the idea of visiting new places, and we loved the opportunity to revisit some old favorites, especially Wadi Rum, in Jordan, where we lived in another life.

The trip itself took three weeks. We went early to Barcelona. I had been to Barcelona for an international quilt show years ago and loved it; I’ve been so eager for AdventureMan to experience the aliveness of Barcelona. We chose to go a few days early to enjoy the city.

We were traveling with Oceania, a line we haven’t sailed with before. People handle air reservations differently; we choose to let the cruise line set up the travel so that if there are changes (and in the last three years we saw lots of changes) the cruise line is ultimately responsible for getting us where we need to go.

It’s tough giving up our autonomy. This time, it was a struggle, and we finally paid extra for “custom” reservations when they kept offering us bizarre routes we didn’t want to take. At one point, we had reservations that were direct, and we liked, and then they changed, again, because of an airline time change, and we found the new ones unacceptable. At some point, we gave up. We accepted a bizarre routing and the fact that we were responsible for getting ourselves to Atlanta and back, not such a big deal, except for when things change. Right?

This is how we were routed to Barcelona: (Pensacola) – Atlanta – Detroit – Paris – Barcelona.

And here are the bags I took, except at the last minute I took everything out of the backpack and put it in a duffel, not much bigger but the space was more flexible.

We decided to go minimal and to carry everything with us. It caused a lot of agonizing, but in the end, I had everything I needed. It was enough. I think carry-on is a great idea, except it is such a hassle, I like the luxury of checking a bag and carrying a purse and a book. Having had bags go missing so many times in my life (they always caught up with us – eventually), we opted for this illusion of control.

Our first travel day was, in almost every way, a breeze. Our son picked us up on his way to work and dropped us at the airport, giving us time for a leisurely breakfast after an uneventful check-in. The flight schedule was eccentric, even convoluted, but every flight left on time and came in minutes early. Our last two flights of the day were with Air France and were delightful.

Getting to Barcelona took almost two days. We flew from Pensacola to Atlanta on our dime and picked up our cruise-related reservations in Atlanta. We checked in and had time for lunch at PF Changs. Out of Atlanta, we flew to Detroit – I’d never been to Detroit before. I had never seen a Great Lake in person. I was blown away by the vastness of Lake Erie and Lake Superior – so HUGE. I thought of Detroit and its terrible water problem and crumbling infrastructure, surrounded by water, and it seemed so infinitely sad. 

Our flight out of Detroit was an Air France flight – we love Air France. Once we board an Air France, the vacation begins – they take such good of their passengers. 

We had a late dinner on board; Air France does a really cool thing. They serve an appetizer course, an entree, a dessert, and drinks. They also have an express meal which is just the appetizer, bread (with French butter, better than butter I have had anywhere else), and desserts, and the dessert course features really tiny tastes. We chose the express, and then curled up and went to sleep.

I usually sleep badly on planes, but on this flight, it was all grown-ups and somehow it was mostly very quiet. I remember vaguely hearing a bell once when the air got a little turbulent, but it only awakened me slightly and I went back to sleep. My quick breakfast was yogurt and fruit and coffee, and boom, we were at Charles de Gaulle.

Big difference from prior times. While we love Air France, we always dreaded the bag drag through CdG. In years past, there were crowds pushing and snaking for hours, people pushing in line, people crying that they were going to miss their flight – it was a kind of purgatory for travelers. This time, however, it was streamlined, a piece of cake. We had a close connection, which we made with time to spare. 

On the flight to Barcelona, we had a snack meal, and AdventureMan had wine, I had coffee. I asked for more, and Sophia, our flight attendant said “Oh, you like my coffee?” and I said “yes!” because it was really good. Then AdventureMan said “And I really like this wine” and she brought him a small bottle of white wine to take with him, then turned to me and said “And which wine would you like? White? Red?” and I chose a red Bordeaux, the start of our cabin collection since we don’t buy the ships drink package, but pay as we go.

We found the Oceania representative waiting outside the immigration door, and very shortly, she had us taken to our hotel with Ingrid and Juanita, who had also been on our flight. We heard Ingrid speaking harshly to Juanita, and Ingrid caught our exchanged glance and said “Oh I’m just bossy. Juanita is 92 and I have to keep her organized.”

While Juanita was toting two large bags, she might have a hearing problem and might need Ingrid’s explanations and organizing. I was amazed at how strong Juanita was.

This is a longer trip than we usually take, with a variety of temperatures. I have a small carry-on suitcase and a small duffel. They were not stuffed. Our airports are huge, however, and when you have to tote two bags from gate to gate, even take trains or underground trams and still walk a long way, those bags can get heavy. I told AdventureMan that it is different when we go West and wear jeans and casual clothes all the time and no one cares, a cruise ship is a different situation. If our future is carry-on, we will need to go on shorter cruises.

The upside is you just whiz through customs – no waiting around at the baggage carousel. So I like the carry-on idea, I just don’t like the reality of toting bags.

The limousine driver was kind and helpful and gave us lots of good information on the way to our hotel, the Hotel Barcelona Almanac.

December 23, 2022 Posted by | Travel, Family Issues, Adventure, Customer Service, Geography / Maps, Experiment, Quality of Life Issues, Air France | , , , , | Leave a comment

Errant AirTag Nearing South America

I love that as I age, I am learning skills I never dreamed I would have – or want! And yet, I am glad I have learned to live with mystery, with contradictions, with ambiguity and ambivalence.

I don’t know how my AirTag left my “backpack,” which is really my duffle. I know it happened in Barcelona. Maybe I dropped it? The duffle was taken from my room with my carry-on and taken to the port where it went through inspection all on its own. It then appeared miraculously in my room aboard the Nautica. I say miraculously, because I never take anything for granted. Yes, it was supposed to show up in my room.

No, I am not so trusting as to believe it will. I’ve been without baggage too many times. So, I am just thankful when things happen as promised, and I have clothing and shoes for the trip.

I’m so glad that it really doesn’t matter to me that much that the AirTag didn’t make it with me. Its purpose is to keep track of my bag, and as long as I have the bag, the important things are covered.

What a shock it was when I was in Montreal, checking on my carry-on, which had become a checked bag in Abu Dhabi, and discovered my AirTag from the duffle is still reporting to me. It made me laugh. And now, trip over, back to the routine life of Pensacola and the unsettled month of December, it gives me a small thrill every day that I check for its location and find it in a new spot.

I am living vicariously. Although I am not in motion (nomad that I am), a part connected to me is heading off into the unknown.

The Grapevine, TX location is a mystery. I’m inclined to think it is an anomaly of some kind, but I have no clue, truly, as to why I would have a brief report it was there, and then, a short while later, it is back on the ship. The mystery continues.

December 14, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Geography / Maps, Technical Issue, Travel | | Leave a comment