Barcelona: three times a charm!
  November 2014

My 2014 trip to Barcelona was fantastic - my best ever there. It was my third trip to Barcelona, and my third attempt to make this third trip.

I had tried to go to Barcelona last year, needing it in particular after a horrible professional experience in Brussels, but French air traffic controllers went on strike, European pilots therefore would not fly over France, and I ended up in Antwerp instead, one of the most over-rated cities ever, without even the art museum for comfort (closed for renovations). Then, when Stefan and I booked our Germany vacation for this year, I intended to go to Barcelona for a week of that two weeks abroad - and then the Ireland opportunity popped up, and I went to Dublin instead.
Alex & firefighter t-shirt
We got the moves, ya'llSo, thank you, Poland, for bringing me to Europe so I could FINALLY see my Catalan sister after seven years apart! Even better: I got to meet her newly adopted daughter from Brazil, who had been with her for two months when I arrived. Oh, yes, we danced (see at left). Because - BRAZIL. I taught her the bump. They don't have the bump in Brazil?! The definitely have the Grind…

My Spanish got quite the workout in Barcelona. When I came in 2001, I didn't speak much Spanish at all. When I came in 2004, my Spanish was quite good. This trip, my Spanish was somewhere in between - but good enough to have a long conversation with my honorary Catalan cousin about his Africa Twin, my KLR, et. al.

My jet lag, however, was horrible. I've never handled time differences particularly well, but this trip, it's been awful: almost falling asleep in the late afternoon and early evening, no matter what I'm doing or how late I slept that morning, and then my eyes popping awake the closer to midnight I get after supper. None of my tricks worked this trip.

Each day, I got up after Alex and Ketlen left for work and school, and spent the morning in their apartment doing a little work, having some cereal, and writing. Then I would navigate the city on my own, meeting up with Alex somewhere for lunch. She's working just half days now, using her family leave time now to be with her daughter. It worked out SO WELL - I started joking that I would stay and Ketlen could have two mommies.

I took a bus every day, using just Alex's written directions. Mass transit without a map. It's like doing the trapeze without a net. I did end up picking up a couple of maps from a tourist kiosk, and it's a good thing I did, because one day, I missed the stop for Alex's mom's apartment, and ended up at the port of Barcelona. Luckily, I was able to figure out where I was supposed to be and how to get there by underground - something I'd never taken in Barcelona before. I hate getting lost - but, wow, I get such a rush from figuring out mass transit and getting where I need to be. I was triumphant when I got to Momma Sol's - Alex's Mom's.

It was fascinating to see Alex as a mother herself. It's a role that is absolutely natural to her. I don't want to say too much, because I don't want to violate her privacy in any way, but were I a stranger to this situation, I never would have guessed that Alex and her daughter have been together just two months. They already have a rhythm to their day, to their relationship. There is a lot of boundaries being tested, there are challenges, there is conflict, but is it any different for a mom of a seven-year-old she actually birthed? I didn't see much that I haven't seen with my sister and her daughters. Ketlen is so much more content than I ever expected - often, she loves just sitting and coloring while Mommy talks with friends and adult family, just happy to be there. I can't wait to see what she's like a year from now.

Jayne in BarcelonaOn previous trips, I've been to Sagrada Familia (twice), Las Ramblas (twice), the waterfront (twice) and Montserrat on previous trips, so this trip was focused on just being with Alex and her mom and her daughter, for the most part - but I did go to the Barcelona Opera House to see a performance of Mozart's Requiem, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Fundació Esclerosi Múltiple. Gorgeous opera house, and lovely performance (though I found the Requiem a bit rushed at times). Another day, I had some extra time and was able to see two exhibits at the Paulau Robert, Centre d'Informació de Catalunya: one, "Dones Mujeres Women Afghanistan" was about the violence and poor health care for women in Afghanistan, presented through photos of Afghan women and their stories. As I walked through the exhibit, I suddenly thought, "I bet there's going to be a photo of Rangina Hamidi somewhere." Yup, there was.  She was very amused when I told her on Facebook. The other exhibit was on the journalism and political career of Eugeni Xammar, whom I'd never heard of. Don't look him up - the information on the Internet in English doesn't even begin to touch on who he really was. The info on the Internet, compared to the info of the exhibit (in Catalan, Spanish and English) is so bad that I tweeted the exhibiters and begged them to improve at least the Wikipedia entry for him.

I admire so much about Barcelona, and Catalunya in general. Firstly, because it's a beautiful, livable city. That comes from the right priorities as much as it does from prosperity. Catalan nationalism is a celebration of their language and culture more than it's a protest against the Spanish. It's not an angry nationalism, for the most part. No one ever gets upset if you speak Spanish, not that I've ever seen or heard anyone talk about first hand, and most everything - museum exhibit information, bus information, etc. - is in Catalan and Spanish (and, often, in English as well). I find it interesting that Spanish politicians talk more about how they love Catalunya, as a way to entice the citizens to stay a part of Spain, rather than talking about them as misbehaving rebels (though some of the laws Spain wants to impose in Catalunya regarding language in schools are outrageous, IMO). In Ukraine earlier this year, I frequently wondered how Ukrainians might feel about the Catalan situation: if one frames it as Ukraine is Catalunya and Spain is Russia, I'm sure they would support Catalan independence; but if one frames it as Ukraine is Spain and Catalunya is the East of Ukraine, I doubt they would. I'm not saying the Catalunya situation perfectly matches either circumstance, nor am I saying that Eastern Ukraine should be a part of Russia - I'm just thinking out loud. Cultural identity, national identity - it's so complicated. And anything I say or think is going to piss someone - EVERYONE - off when I try to discuss it. So I usually don't.

After four days, it was goodbye to Barcelona: I took the bus from in front of Alex's flat to Placa Catalunya, near Las Ramblas, and then the express bus to the airport (Barcelona airport gives you a whopping 15 minutes of free Internet access. #fail), on yet another beautiful Catalan day… then back to Warsaw for one night, and then back to the USA… and I'm ready to be in Oregon for the rest of 2014.

Here are more photos from this Barcelona trip.

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