Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Tapa Tapa; Sidewalk Dining in Barcelona

Have you ever noticed it’s never the issues you worry about that happen? I had a concern that with jet lag we would be hungry when places weren’t open. As it turns out, our own schedules are so off that we fit right in with the Barcelona late-dining set.

We wanted something light for dinner, so decided to walk around the corner.

Just out the door and around the corner of our hotel, we came across this:

It’s just a little convenience store with a variety of small things, matches, snacks, little laundry detergents, etc, so you must wonder why it mattered to us? After all our years of living in the Middle East, our grandchildren adapted “Baba” as their special name for AdventureMan. He loves being Baba (a common for a father or grandfather in Middle Eastern communities) and he loves having a little grocery store named after him in Barcelona.

A couple blocks up, near the Gaudi house, we found Tapa Tapa, and what hooked us was they had pictures of the tapas. I ordered mussels, my husband ordered stir-fried vegetables, both were delicious (we shared) and light. By the time we walked back, we had done almost 14K steps.

Gaudi House

So much garlic! It’s a good thing we were sharing!

We were really hungry for vegetables, and these were tasty and delicious.

Can you see the pictures of the meals on the mats under our dishes?

It was a lovely, mild night as we strolled back to the hotel. Sometimes you really are just happy and you know it.

As we packed our bags for a 0900 pickup and got ready for bed, we decided we didn’t need to get up early and go to the Santa Catalina Market the next day. Santa Catalina had been the one market I really wanted to see, a market area where real people shop for groceries, or have a little breakfast, not like Boqueria, which is a very social quick-food place. Santa Catalina closes down Saturday afternoons and is not open on Sunday, so I didn’t get to go and I was disappointed. There is a part of me that would have liked to get up early and rush to the market to experience it, then rush back to the hotel for our transfer to the ship.

Sometimes I hate being older and wiser. And the grown-up part of me knows that rushing and not giving yourself time to pay attention to the details is a recipe for disaster. I used to take more chances. When did I become this person with good judgement?

January 14, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Cultural, Eating Out, Food, Restaurant, Travel | , | 1 Comment

Wandering in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter

We return to Place Cataluñya. We got off at La Rambla (now you can see it in the daylight, above) and we need to figure out how to get to the Barcelona Cathedral, in the Gothic section, where I had thought we might have lunch.

We’ve had three years to research this trip and there aren’t enough hours or days to do all the things we want to do in Barcelona. And every now and then, something happens that no amount of research might have prepared you for.

When we got to the cathedral, there was some kind of elder celebration. There were big circles of people dancing, having a wonderful time. It was unexpected. It was joyful!

I love that this was some kind of church-sponsored activity, not for tourists, not for us, but for them! And they were having a wonderful time, dancing!

The famous Not-Roman arch . . . not even old, not antique, more a seasoning.

We wandered, then found a little tapas place, not one of the places we had so carefully researched, but at this point, we are REALLY HUNGRY. It is cute, and full of antique Spanish antique pieces. AdventureMan, full of courage, did the ordering. I had a plate of thin jambon and cheese and he had a bowl of sausages with bread. This is not the kind of food we normally eat, but this place had nothing resembling a vegetable. It did have olives.

The beer was Estrelle, really good and cold.

And here, AdventureMan ventured to have a glass of vermouth. I wish you could have seen his grimace! He did not like it at all. We were glad we hadn’t picked up a bottle from the Carrefour to take on the ship. It would have been wasted on us!

Now that we are not urgently hungry, we have time to look for the place where AdventureMan wants to have Barcelona chocolate with churros. He knows exactly where we need to go.

On the way, we run into a large demonstration for a separate Basque nation. It is peaceful. I guess we all have our divisions.

The Gothic quarter is fascinating, full of unexpected messages and art, so we wander, but with purpose and direction. We find Petritxol Barcelona, for hot chocolate and churros for AdventureMan. I had some kind of coffee and chocolate heaped with non-sweetened whipped cream, chocolate overload. We’ve done 10K steps today, 11K yesterday. I feel no guilt eating this decadent, lucious chocolate. Later, I only wish I had bought more chocolate to take with me.

The sidewalk and street surfaces are very hard and after the chocolate, we were ready to wander back to the hotel for an afternoon snooze. My husband is talking about taking it easy tomorrow – breakfast, packing up suitcases for delivery to ship, bus to ship, checking in, leaving again for lunch in Barcelonetta, then reboarding. I am eager to get unpacked, check the wrinkling of my clothes, and get acquainted with the spaces on the ship. 

The walk back is full of interesting sights, places, were we not so tired, we might linger, have a glass of wine and watch people, buy some local cheese.

A modern take on a Spanish penthouse. You can almost guess how elegant it must be inside.

I’ve worn the same navy striped linen dress for three days – with a T-shirt while we flew and a different t-shirt in Barcelona. It goes everywhere. It has no nationality. I had put on the green French terry dress to wear today, but when we went to breakfast, I discovered it was too hot, so I changed back into my linen dress. Very comfortable. Tied my navy hoodie around my shoulders, and was glad to have it riding on top of the bus. It is sunny, but cool in shade or breeze.

Back in the hotel by mid-afternoon for a rest, my husband snoozing. So far I have felt no effects from jet lag. I will try not to nap so I can sleep tonight. Sleeping on the overnight flight worked well for me. 

January 14, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Arts & Handicrafts, Cultural, Food, Photos, Political Issues, Restaurant, Travel, Weather | , , | Leave a comment

Hop On, Hop Off in Barcelona

The first time I ever rode a Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) bus was in Barcelona. I was attending an International Quilt Show with two other friends, and we had a ball. I’ve raved about it for years, eager to get AdventureMan to Barcelona. I knew he would love it.

Leaving Sagrada Familia, we hopped back on the HOHO bus. It is the most beautiful day, sunny, warm but not too warm, and Barcelona is full of the most idiosyncratic architectural detail. I am in heaven.

People-who-know tell us we MUST drink Vermouth in Barcelona. I think my parents used vermouth when they made martinis, but I have no idea what it tastes like. We are intrigued.

Imagine, just for a minute, living in this house. It must have high ceilings and spacious rooms. Imagine the added space, up on the rooftops, where you can have drinks or dinner, or put out the clothes drying racks where no one can see.

Fresh roasted chestnuts! They smell so much better than they taste (my opinion)

Of all the jobs I wouldn’t want, replacing huge plates of glass far above the ground would be one of them.

Gaudi apartment building; the same architect who drew up the plans for Sagrada Familia.

We returned to Place Cataluna, starving. We had a great breakfast, but it has now worn off and we want something light to eat for lunch and some famous Barcelona chocolate!

January 14, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Building, Cultural, Living Conditions, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Barcelona, A Breast Cancer Run, and Sagrada Familia

I slept lightly but slept from 10 p.m. to 7:45 a.m., so good enough. We keep expecting jet lag to kick in, but I think we are so busy we are sleeping well at night from sheer exhaustion. We took our time getting ready and headed down to breakfast. What a surprise! Different, but beautiful and tasty and plentiful. I had a little cereal, some thinly sliced ham and sausage, and an espresso, then another. AdventureMan had bread and sausages, with some delicious jam and four fresh orange juices. The room was full of cruisers, some from Princess, so I don’t know who will be cruising with us.

From our room after breakfast, we could see hundreds of pink t-shirted women running. I know this race! Where else do thousands of women race in bright pink T-shirts in October and November? It’s a huge run against breast cancer, and it goes on and on. Streets are closed.

Where we thought we would catch the HopOn HopOff bus is closed off. We have to walk a short distance to the next stop, but we don’t care. This is lovely, and wonderful! They were still running when we went to Plaza Cataluña and we had to cross them going to the plaza, then come back from the place because the buses had to be caught elsewhere.

When we got to the bus, I didn’t have a mask and had to go back to the hotel to pick one up. When we got back to the bus, it was perfect timing, we got a great seat up on top.

We got to Sagrada Familia just in time for our 10:30 tickets. I was surprised we had to go through security like airplane security.

(There are many places you can buy your tickets in advance. We bought our Hop On Hop Off tickets and our Sagrada Familia tickets directly from the operators. Sagrada Familia has a very nice website: https://sagradafamilia.org/en/)

Sagrada Familia was beautiful; beautiful lines, like a stone forest holding up the ceiling. The stained glass windows were stunning. The colors were like Matisse, but without images. We just basked in their loveliness. There wasn’t a huge crowd, and it was quiet and respectful. I can’t imagine what it might be like in high season. 

It is a gorgeous Sunday morning, and these people have the most amazing location, just across from Sagrada Familia. What a lovely place to have your Sunday morning coffee and newspaper.

I love the beauty of the statuary, and – look at the frame! It looks like giant teeth!

This has to be a metaphor for the abundance of the Earth . . .

Look how tenderly this (King?) holds this precious baby

It is an artist’s gift, I believe, to use earthly materials to express the inexpressible and barely attainable. Gaudi combines earthliness and Godly tenderness and compassion in a remarkable and awe-inspiring way.

AdventureMan was not wild about visiting Sagrada Familia when there are so many great places to visit in Barcelona. He went to please me. He was WOWED. He still talks about this visit with awe. Best visit ever!

January 14, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Building, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

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

My AirTag Has a Life of Its Own

For our recent trip, I bought four Apple AirTags and was amazed at how easy it was to use them. You just Google “How do I set up my Apple Air Tag?” and clear instructions appear. Some people have even done videos that show you exactly how to enable and disable your Air Tags.

So I set one up to be for my Carry-on, and another to use for my other carry-on, called Backpack, except that as I was packing I changed to a duffel, and didn’t change the name.

My duffel has four outside pockets and no inside pockets. I tucked the AirTag deep into one of the pockets and stopped thinking about it. Then it came time to leave our hotel and head for the ship, so I put both bags out to be transferred.

Since I pretty much always had them with me, I never bothered checking. Not until coming back, I checked one bag on our complicated route home, and when things got screwed up in Montreal, I checked my phone to find my CarryOn. It showed me exactly where it was, and it made the next flight with me.

But at the same time I was checking, I noticed an anomaly. My “backpack,” which was with me, was shown to be in the Gulf of Lion, close to Montpellier. How could this be? Sure enough, I have the duffel, but I do not have the AirTag. The AirTag is gone missing.

But someone has it.

Honestly, to me this is hilarious. First – I have all my baggage and its contents. That’s what matters. The only thing that is missing is the AirTag. Second – my AirTag is traveling, I am thinking on one of the Oceania ships, and I could probably find out which one if I wanted to spend the time finding out which ship is in what spot (there are apps, I have discovered, which can tell you – and show you – exactly where any ship is, how cool is that?) Meanwhile, every now and then I check to see where my old AirTag is now, and it is always in a different location. It’s kind of fun for me to see where it is.

Why would someone carry around someone else’s AirTag?

Yes, I am planning to tell you all about our trip. First, I have to get through the jet lag, get my life in order, get Christmas under control (ho ho ho), and process some of what I experienced. Narrative and photos coming soon. It was a GREAT adventure. 🙂

December 1, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Air France, Christmas, ExPat Life, Geography / Maps, iPhone, Technical Issue, Travel | , , | 2 Comments