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

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.

 

Lincoln and the Naked Lady

My best friend, Alex, came all the way from London to visit me this week. She had good timing, as she got to tag along on my class excursion to the Dalí Museum in Figueres, a town about an hour and a half outside of Barcelona and the artist’s birthplace. Side note, excursion is just a grown up way of saying field trip. The only difference between the two is that on an excursion you get wine with lunch.

From my Spanish art class, I am officially an expert on the sex life of Salvador Dalí. I cannot tell you too much about his actual works of art, but I can lecture on the man’s personal life all day. Therefore, I was rather pleased to see an entire museum’s worth of the depraved Spaniard’s drawings, statues and painting. At everyone corner of the museum, something was twisted and dark and naked and confusing and beautiful and I liked it.

There was one painting in particular that stood out. It was that of a naked woman, the love of Dalí’s life Gala, contemplating the Mediterranean Sea. When you step back from the painting and try to take a picture of it, BAM. Abraham Lincoln. No really, the head of Lincoln fills the entire canvas. It was real weird, so naturally I was real into it.

I am not an art critic, nor do I claim to be, but I think that Dalí was quite the talented guy and he absolutely blows my mind.

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Hail to the President.

Turkish Hospitality

I loved Istanbul for many reasons: the rich culture, amazing food, friendly cats and gorgeous mosques. However, what made me fall in love with the city was the Turkish people; I have never felt more welcome in a foreign place than I have this past weekend in Istanbul.

I wandered out of their mess of an airport around four in the morning, and hopped into a cab. The driver didn’t speak a word of English, but he smelled nice and we listened to Smack That by Akon and the Turkish version of I Will Survive. When we reached my friend’s apartment, without me having to ask, he gave me his phone so that I could call her and even waited at her staircase until I was collected, which I thought was very kind and a great first impression of Turks.

For the next few days, everywhere Kristi and I went we were greeted with smiles and an eagerness to help and to give insight into Turkish culture.

One night, we were smoking hookah at a water pipe cafe when we struck up a conversation with two Turkish men, Serkan and Ismail. Within minutes I was seated next to Serkan learning how to blow smoke rings and getting local food recommendations. They later joined us for dinner, and in the spirit of authenticity, ordered sheep intestines and fried mussels, which were surprisingly delicious. After dinner they insisted that no trip to Istanbul was complete without a stop at Karaköy Güllüoğlu, the most famous baklava house in town, and happily drove us there on their way home.

Usually I am rather cautious about the whole getting into cars with strangers in foreign cities thing. But, by that time they were no longer strangers, they were friends, and you could tell that they genuinely wanted us to enjoy and to understand their city.

On Monday, while exploring Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, I wandered into a lamp shop and met Ozzy, who immediately invited me in to have tea with him. The Turkish say that a cup of tea bring fifty years of friendship, and it is very common for shopkeepers to offer you apple tea. We chatted for a while about life and travel, then he took me out for hookah at an incredible 300 year old cafe, filled with only locals. Afterwards, Ozzy proceeded to accompany me on my shopping trip, haggling for the lowest possible prices in Turkish.

Ozzy taught me a Turkish saying that I will never forget, “Çok okuyan mı bilir, çok gezen mi?” which means:

“Who knows more, reader or traveler?”

When I travel, I talk to locals as much as I can because there are things that you simply cannot learn from a book or TripAdvisor. The people of Turkey showed me great kindness, and helped me discover many of Istanbul’s hidden gems, and for that I am forever grateful.

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My poor attempt at learning how to blow smoke rings with Serkan.
Just chillin in fron tof
Hanging out with Ozzy in front of his lamp store.

Conservations with Strangers: Juan from Barcelona

How we met: Juan and I met while boarding our flight to Istanbul Thursday night. We ended up sitting in the same row in window seats on opposite sides of the plane and insisted on obnoxiously yelling to each other in Spanish across the aisle for most of the flight. Needless to say, the other passengers were not particularly pleased about it.

About him: Juan is a fashion designer and wine connoisseur. He had a bruise on his nose because the other night he was laying in bed wearing a new hat and decided to take a selfie using his laptop, but dropped it on his face. We’ve all been there.

Coolest experience: The most incredible thing that has happened to Juan is when he got a puppy, a yorkie named Roque who helped him through some tough times and whom he loved dearly.

Life dream: Juan’s big dream is to play the piano. Unfortunately, he has the fingers of a Chucky doll. He showed me his hands and I can confirm they are ridiculously tiny and would make piano playing quite the task.

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Airplane selfies always warrant a duck face.

 

A Day in the Life

You’re probably wondering what I do on a daily basis. Or not. You probably weren’t wondering at all. Which is all very valid, considering I do nothing 86% of the time.

I have officially mastered the art of doing nothing and everything all at once, and it’s the best thing to ever happen to me.

I have zero obligations here. I’ve been reading more, working on manual photography, and honing my writing skills. It’s like an extended “me workshop.” I spend my days lounging in cafes, people watching from my balcony, shopping the European fashions and exploring the beautiful city of Barcelona. In the evenings, I check out a new tapas place for dinner, or head to a bar for a beer.

I have learned how to be Spanish. Nothing really phases me; it is what it is and I’ll get there when I get there. I have learned that set times are just suggestions. For example, if class starts at 11 am, I don’t leave my apartment until after 11:05, and still get there before the professor usually does.

Today was a gorgeous and sunny day, so I wandered down Las Ramblas towards the ocean. I love walking down Las Ramblas, because it is the most disgustingly touristy street in Barcelona, and the people watching is prime. It’s like a melting pot, one which you desperately want to get out of because you’re annoyed by everyone, but simultaneously so fascinating that you can’t help but be in the middle of it.

I love watching tourists. They wander around, map in hand, trying to understand signs in Spanish while taking picture with their iPhones of literally everything they see. I watched a man teeter over the edge of the dock today to take multiple photos of the fish. It’s not like they were special or colorful, just regular fish that probably contained too much boat fuel to consume safely. I waited for the man to fall or drop his phone into the water, but to my dismay, he did not.

That’s pretty much what a typical day looks like, with a coffee and pastry stop somewhere in between, of course. I lead a very tranquil and relaxed life here, and I think it’s having a very healthy affect on me.

No, really, I feel like Buddha. Just as Zen, and slowly just as round.

A collection of Barcelonian noms
A collection of Barcelonian noms

La Vida es Un Carnaval

Last night, I was locked in a tiny, dark bathroom with mayonnaise on my tutu, with my friend kneeling in front of me, helping me button my leotard from underneath, while an Icelandic Pharaoh and a costume-less American waited outside.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Carnaval.

Carnaval is the festive season immediately before Lent and typically involves intricate parades, skimpy costumes, and general debauchery. And in Spain, Sitges is the place to be to celebrate Carnaval.

So I donned a sheer leotard, a feather boa and a red mask, and went on my merry way to Sitges. I also wore wings, which I constructed mostly from tissue paper and staples. My outfit was definitely a hit judging by the amount of strangers taking pictures of me.

The highlight of the night was the parade that went through the whole town, filled with half naked men and women, lots of glitter and a plethora of cross dressers, who walked better in heels that most women can. The parade started at 8 pm, and was still going strong by the time we left Sitges five hours later.

That’s a really long time to be parading, and I really don’t know how the dancers do it. But then again, each float had it’s own bar on board and many of the Spaniards walking in the parade had a cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other, so I think they were doing just fine.

I embraced Carnaval to the fullest extent this weekend, debauchery and all, but now I desperately need to detox. I think I’m ready for Lent to begin.

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Queen of the Carnaval

Valentine’s Day

In case you weren’t aware, it is in fact Valentine’s Day. And, for the first time in many years I don’t have a Valentine.

I often get asked why I don’t have a boyfriend, usually by random Spaniards on the street who then ask if they can be my boyfriend. I always think that’s such a silly question. It’s like asking me why I don’t have a cat. I don’t like cats.

Being in a relationship is hard work, and I’m not particularly good at it. Not that I have anything against it, nor do I have any resentment towards the happy couples sharing their love on Facebook today. I just firmly believe that now is not the time for me to be in a relationship.

Now is the time to go out with boys and never call them again, to make eyes at strangers on the metro just because you can and to flirt endlessly at the bar because that 20 euro mojito isn’t going to buy itself.

Therefore, I proceeded to celebrate Valentine’s Day like any self-respecting single lady would.

Last night, I saw Cincuenta Sombres de Grey, also know as Fifty Shades of Grey. I went into it with rather low expectations, like most things in life really, and actually thought it was pretty good. The directing and cinematography were well done and it was basically a really high quality porno, like the kind you have to pay for. Now a few parts were a bit much, like the whole physical and mental abuse thing, but I thought the ending had some redeeming qualities.

To continue my celebration, I fixed myself dinner tonight: ravioli and wine, neither of which were very good, and binged watched Bates Motel on Netflix.

My roommate, Pablo, invited me to his theater to watch a comedy that he directed, which is where I’m headed tonight. Later, my girlfriends and I are going to a club called Razzmattazz. I know that’s going to be a good time, because Razzmatazz is also the name of my favorite crayola crayon color.

Anyhoo, I hope you all had a lovely Valentine’s Day with that special someone. Even if that special someone is named Jack, José or Johnnie, or even if you’re your own special someone.

Also, a dozen roses showing up at my doorstep doesn't hurt.
Is it really Valentine’s Day without roses?

 

Paris is Always a Good Idea

After countless macaroons, croissants and éclairs, and being dangerously close to developing type two diabetes, I have returned from Paris.

Even though I had been there two summers ago, I was excited to see it during the winter. Also, I love being called Mademoiselle and Madame, and where else can you get that but in the most romantic city in the world?

In one weekend, I managed to see practically the entire city and I am convinced that my hidden talent is making itineraries. A few highlights were the Arc de Triomphe, Moulin Rouge, Sacré-Cœur, Eiffel Tower, Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concorde, Palais Garnier, The Louvre, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Notre Dame and a day trip to the Palace of Versailles.

Our first day of exploring the city, my best friend and I decided that we were going to climb the Eiffel Tower. It was cheaper than taking the elevator and there was no line, so naturally it was a great idea.

In retrospect, how could climbing 704 steps during winter ever be a good idea?

I trudged up the seemingly endless stairs, thinking about how having three croissants for breakfast maybe wasn’t the best call and how I should probably start jogging again. Making it to the top of the Eiffel Tower was a rewarding, albeit disappointing experience. You see, what most people fail to realize is that you can’t actually see the Eiffel Tower from inside the Eiffel Tower. And frankly, Paris’s skyline isn’t much without it.

Later on, after a stop at Ladurée for their renowned macaroons, we visited the Louvre Museum. We went to see the Mona Lisa and Venus De Milo, because let’s be real, those are the only two things anyone actually recognizes there. I really did enjoy the museum, though. Mostly because there are so many naked people and I really like naked people. No really, you should see the butts on some of these statues of Romans and Greeks. Unreal.

We spent the next morning strolling through the Père Lachaise Cemetery, and I have to admit that this was my absolute favorite part of Paris. It is the one of the world’s most famous cemeteries and it’s residents include Frédéric Chopin, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. It was beautiful and eerie, yet calm and comforting; I could have easily spent a whole day hanging with the dead.

My final verdict on Paris is that it’s quite nice. What it lacked in handsome French men, it more than made up in croissants and macaroons. I would love to return one day, and hopefully experience the romantic side of Paris, because unfortunately there was no French kissing in France this past weekend.

Side note, from here on, please refer to me as Mademoiselle Pauline.

This is the view I enjoyed while sipping rose from the bar of the 56th floor of Montparnasse Tower. Casual.
The view I enjoyed from the bar on the 56th floor of Montparnasse Tower.

Conversations with Strangers: Jenica from Johannesburg

How we met: Jenica and I sat across from each other on a 5 am train to the airport in London and immediately started chatting. We talked about travel, how I would make the world’s worst spy and how many camels I would sell for in Africa. If you’re following the Conversations with Strangers posts, you know that this is not the first time a stranger has brought this up, and I’m not quite sure what to think of this reoccurring theme.

About her: First off, lets take a moment to acknowledge my first post featuring a woman. She’s also the second South African I have met. Jenica got sent to a small town near London for work, and was on the way to Dusseldorf for a client meeting. She’s also one of the sweetest humans I have encountered at 5 in the morning. 

Coolest experience: She once shook the hand of Prince Edward. I asked her if he had soft hands and she said that they are, in fact, quite soft.

Life dream: This was the first time Jenica had left South Africa, and she is now inspired to travel more. She would especially love to visit Belgium to discover her roots.

Having to take a 4 am selfie on a strangers phone, and she's still smiling.
Having to take a 5 am selfie on a strangers phone, and she’s still smiling.