I’m Going on an Adventure 

“What the hell am I doing.” 

These words played over and over in my head this morning as I drifted in and out of sleep on a seven hour train ride from Barcelona to Burgos, a city in the north of Spain. 

You see, I have decided to do the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the bones of St. James are, allegedly, buried. 

In the next 21 days, I will walk over 300 miles. I have only my backpack, thrown together last night, with an extra change of clothes, some documents and a few other essentials. 

I’ve known for months that I was going to undertake the Camino, but this morning it started to really hit me. I had gotten home at 6 am and had to be up at 7:30 am to catch my train. I laid in my bed this morning thinking about who the hell I thought I was, to just hop on a train I booked only yesterday, without any idea where I would even sleep tonight or how exactly to go about starting the Camino. Also, I couldn’t figure out why I thought it was a good idea to go dancing in five inch heels for eight hours the night before such a hike. Although I do look as adorable as Reese Witherspoon with her backpack in The Wild, real life isn’t a movie and 300 miles is quite the stroll. 

Then, a beautiful thing happened when I arrived in Burgos. Any anxieties I had, immediately dissipated. 

I hopped on the first bus I saw outside of the train station, strolled into town, got a hotel room and had some frozen yogurt. I entered the Gothic cathedral in Burgos, and immediately felt at peace inside its intricate walls. 

The town was bursting with life and everyone was dressed in their weekend best. There was a book festival in the main square, a wedding being held at the church and little Spanish girls pranced around in white dresses after having their first communion today.

After I visited the cathedral I went to the city’s pilgrims office to pick up my pilgrim passport, where I was helped by two little old men, who encouraged me and told me that I was going to be okay. I felt as though I could explode from joy, because I knew a great adventure was about to begin. 

Their last words to me, were also the very first and most important of my journey, 

“Buen Camino.”

 

Everything I have for the next 21 days

  

The cathedral in Burgos

 

When People Visit

Visitors are exhausting.

You walk around all day, spend more money than you normally would on entrance fees and metro passes and you eat constantly, and I mean constantly, just so that they can have the best possible experience in Barcelona.

Over the last few weeks, I have had three visitors. I have re-visited all of Barcelona’s major sights, from Sagrada Familia to Park Güell, I can recite Antoni Gaudí’s life story by heart and I have perfected a Barcelona sightseeing itinerary, which I am more than happy to share. Also, I have been to Brunch & Cake, a local bistro, four times this week with my visitors. That means I have eaten brunch four times in a week.

That is not okay.

Well maybe it is okay, because as tiring as it’s been, I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up my semester.

You see, visitors are actually the best.

They allow you to experience your city in a fresh way, as if you were discovering it for the first time.

Once you’ve been living somewhere awhile you tend to forget the city’s magic. You walk past the same things every day and they become mundane even if they are really special. Parisians walk past the Eiffel Tower daily, unfazed, and Romans apathetically speed past the Colosseum. And here I am, strolling down Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona, absolutely oblivious to Gaudí’s Casa Batlló or Casa Milà because I see them practically every day.

The joy of  showing someone around is that you can actually look at what you’ve been seeing this whole time; you pause and you think,

“Whoa. How lucky am I to be surrounded by something this beautiful?”

Showing Kristi around Park Güell

Showing Kristi around Park Güell

Fútbol, Confetti and Tears- Visca el Barça!

Kristi, or KrIstanbul, whom I visited in Istanbul in March, came to visit this weekend and accompanied me to my first FC Barcelona game this past Saturday.

I had waited all semester to go to a game, and with only two weeks left in my stay, it was now or never.

FC Barcelona was playing Deportivo de La Coruña, and ended the game in a tie. However, it was an incredible game to attend because the club had just won the Spanish League Championship and was celebrating that win after this game. On top of that, FCB’s midfielder and captain, Xavi, was leaving the club after 17 seasons. The stadium was full of people paying homage to a man who spent 25 years in a Barça jersey.

FCB fans are truly something special. I was expecting rowdiness and chaos, drunkards and maybe a fight or two. Instead, I saw an entire stadium-full of people intently watching the game, and occasionally cheering. Old men speaking Catalan commented on every play, and kids sat with their families, chanting along with the crowd. You could see everyone was just keeping their eyes fixed on the players and truly relishing the sport, a huge contrast to American sporting events. In fact, the stadium doesn’t even sell alcoholic beverages, and not a single person was visibly intoxicated.

What a beautiful concept. People at a sporting event actually watching the sport.

After the game, all of the players accompanied by their adorable children made a lap around the field with the Spanish League Championship trophy. At the end, Xavi took a solo victory lap through clouds of confetti, and made everyone cry with his final speech.

I had never seen so much confetti and so many tears in one place, it was an honor to attend.

Visca el Barça!

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Steps away from the Barça babes

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Barça players and their young ones

Conversations with Strangers: Pabloski from Wrocław

About him:  Paul, who goes by Pabloski because he is half Mexican and half Polish (Pablo-ski get it?), manages Funky Cycle, a rickshaw business in Barcelona. He has been living in Spain for about 16 years now, and his hidden talent is guessing what country people are from.

How we met: My friend, Kristi, is visiting from Istanbul and after a whole day of walking we decided to treat ourselves to a rickshaw ride. I came up to a group of rickshaw bikers and began fiercely negotiating when Pabloski approached me and began arguing with me about prices. Then, through a hot mess of English, Spanish and Polish we somehow ended up on his bike bonding and having a great time.

Coolest experience: The coolest thing Paul has ever done was move to Barcelona. He loves the people, the atmosphere, the climate and his lifestyle in general. But, can you blame him?

Life dream: Pabloski’s big dream is bike around the world. Aside from biking people around all day on rickshaws, he bikes competitively, so I think he could totally do it.

Just riding around with Pabloski

Just riding around with Pabloski

 

About that Wallet Again

About a month ago, almost to the day actually,  I wrote about how I had left my wallet in a taxi. Since then, all the credit cards had been canceled and replaced, the cute leather wallet completely forgotten and the incident forgiven.

Today I got my wallet back.

Out of the blue, I was informed that it had been returned to Barcelona’s lost and found office yesterday, so I went to collect it first thing in the morning.

I was absolutely baffled when I picked it up, thinking there surely must have been a mistake. It was, in fact, my wallet and still contained all my IDs, cards and photos. Naturally, any cash I had left in there was missing, but somehow that didn’t matter. What baffled me the most, was that someone somewhere cared enough to turn it in.

See, I’m a firm believer that if you are good and you are kind, then good things will happen to you. Barcelona is funny like that, good things just kind of happen here.

I would love to know where my wallet has been for the last four weeks. Who helped it find it’s way back to me. What story about my life did they piece together from the clues within my wallet? How did it take this long, and who can I thank?

Truth is, I will never know. And that, in itself, is pretty cool.

The moral of the story is that with a little bit of time and a little bit of faith, everything will work itself out in the end.

Also, people don’t suck.

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Just another act of kindness from Barcelona strangers.

 

Lessons from Jellyfish and Deserts

Today I got stung by a jellyfish for the third time in my life. Once was in Belize, once in Honduras and now here on the beach near Barcelona. I didn’t even know they had jellyfish here this time of year.

I limped out of the water, slightly annoyed thinking, “just my luck,” and also annoyed because I knew that someone would offer to pee on me, which is absolutely unnecessary.

Then, I started laughing to myself, because no matter how unfortunate it was to be stung by a jellyfish again, I was still a happy little lady.

It was last weekend, watching the sun set over the Sahara desert, that I came to a very important conclusion: Life is good. Being abroad and traveling has taught me to be mindful about each moment and to be grateful for this beautiful life. After all, nice things are happening every day.

I slept outside, under the stars, in the desert that weekend. With no cities, houses or lights for miles,I saw more stars than ever before. There are about 5,000 stars visible to the naked eye, isn’t that incredible? Whether it’s the beauty of a sky full of stars or the sting of a jellyfish, life is full of tiny delights and surprises that remind you how good it is to be alive.

I really don’t mean to get all “one love” and “namaste” on everyone, but I implore all of you take a moment of each day to pause and feel grateful for our beautiful lives, because in the wise words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Have a lovely day, all.

Somewhere in the Sahara, watching the sunset.

Somewhere in the Sahara, watching the sunset.

On Children and Mothers

The other day, my father and I made our way into the Sahara desert to round out our Moroccan experience. On the way to our desert camp, our driver asked if we wanted to visit a nomadic Berber family that had set up camp nearby.

Nomadic family? Berber locals?! Observing a rare gem of African life? CULTURE?!

Naturally, I jumped at the chance. It was every traveler’s dream come true.

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Africa, our driver pulled up to a wicker hut and a mess of patched together blankets, which resembled a tent. We were invited inside the hut and served green tea by a cheerful elderly woman sitting cross-legged on the ground, who was warming up a teapot over a charcoal pit.

A darling little boy appeared from behind her, smiling shyly at me, and suddenly the Angelina Jolie complex kicked in.

The Angelina Jolie complex is what I like to call the compulsion of most American travelers to believe we are all superstars and that every impoverished foreign child wants to come home with us to a better life.

I swooned over the four-year-old, Mohammed, as he stared at me from behind his grandmother and then latched onto his mother once she entered the hut.

When it was time to leave, I jokingly asked our driver to ask the boy in Berber if he would like to come home with me.

The boy responded without thinking twice, “Okay. But, only if my mama can come too.”

My heart warmed at the honest response that only a mother’s child could muster and I smiled at the boy, because I understood exactly what he meant.  

Happy Mother’s Day Mama Kulka.

Sunset in the Sahara

Sunset in the Sahara