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

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

Jesus and Jolie

I spent my birthday weekend relaxing with Mama Kulka in the beautiful country of Malta.

Don’t know where Malta is? That’s okay. I’m not completely sure either, and I just spent five days there.

Malta is a little country below Italy, half way between Siciliy and North Africa, and it encompasses five islands. It is the world’s most catholic country, second only to the city-state of the Vatican. Also, the film industry is a big deal there; Troy, Gladiator, Pompeii, World War Z and Game of Thrones were all filmed on Malta.

In fact, the Maltese man who picked me up from the airport informed me that Angelina Jolie had sat in the exact same car and the exact same seat as I was sitting in. He then told me all about how nice of a lady she is and how stunning she is in person. The news on Brad Pitt is that he’s aged significantly, but is also nice.

Almost everywhere you go, you are bound to see a signed photo of Angelina Jolie or have a native tell you about the time they met her. For such a devout country, I wasn’t sure who was more important: Jolie, or the big J.C.

Anyways, I think that the reason why it took me so long to write about Malta is because nothing really happened.

Well, lots happened. My mother and I toured the main islands with very pleasant tour guides, ate at great restaurants, sampled local liqueurs and had relaxing massages at our resort’s spa.

But nothing really happened.

There were no flights that were almost missed, no peculiar strangers to talk to, no crumpled maps to decipher. In fact, things were almost too easy. We even stumbled upon an International Fireworks Festival, with competitors from all over the world, that just happened to be going on in a village we visited.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved having another relaxing vacation from the vacation that is my life, and I enjoy massages, nice restaurants and sitting in the same Mercedes Benz as Miss Jolie herself. But, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing.

Clearly, I’ve been spoiled by a steady dose of adrenaline running through my veins these past few months.

Resort
Resort life isn’t too bad I guess…

About a Wallet

On Sunday, while heading to the beach for lunch to celebrate a gorgeous day and running a 10k, I left my wallet in a taxi.

Yes. All of the nights that I have been out at clubs and bars, and of all the pickpockets on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, the metro in Paris and the trains in Italy, this is how my wallet met its demise.

It all seems very anticlimactic. I felt that if I were missing all my credit cards and IDs, then I at least deserved a story to tell.

But I suppose this is the story: I lost my wallet and everything was okay. My cards hadn’t been used, and I was able to order new ones immediately. I had emergency cash and secondary IDs back at my apartment. I still had my passports. The sun was out, and I had just ran a 10k.

With wallet or without, it was still a great day to be alive.

Incidents like that are a lesson in being grateful for what you have and not sweating the small stuff, because every situation has a silver lining. We are human, and sometimes shit happens.

The other lesson, of course, was to not leave my wallet in cabs.

A beautiful day in the neighborhood.
A beautiful day in the neighborhood.

When It’s Not All Fine and Dandy

I thought it would be dishonest to pretend like everything is sunshine and butterflies when you’re a woman traveling alone, so I decided that I had to share a moment that was unpleasant and in all honestly, a little scary.

I believe that people are good, I genuinely do. But, I’m also not naive and I know that there are people out there with bad intentions.

After my evening trip to Portofino, mentioned in my previous post, I had to take the train back to the town where I was staying. That’s how I found myself in a rather unsafe situation. I was a young female at an empty train station, traveling alone at night.

I pulled out my wallet to buy my train ticket at a vending machine, and a Moroccan man suddenly appeared and stood next to me, against the machine. In a mix of Italian and broken English he started asking if I was an American and tried to convince me that the machine didn’t take cash and I needed to use my card.

I looked him dead in the eye and told him to leave me alone. For the first time on my trip, I felt uncomfortable. I wasn’t afraid that he would physically hurt me in any way; he was scrawny and slightly inebriated. I was, however, very aware that he was going to try and rob me.

I proceeded to buy my ticket with cash, which of course worked just fine, and the man would not let up. He kept coming closer and closer to me.

Little did I know that there was another man at the station, a large older Italian man, who I believe was homeless. Upon witnessing my altercation with the Moroccan, he got up from a bench on the far end of the station and came over. At this moment I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen, but I presumed it wasn’t going to be good.

To my surprise, the man started telling the Moroccan off in Italian. He blocked him from me and proceeded to walk me to a bench to sit with him. He had a kind face, and for some reason I knew I was safe with him.

His name was Antonio and through a mix of basic English and made up Italian, we started getting to know each other. He asked where I was from, asked about my travels and told me that I really ought to be more careful. He noticed that I was still distressed by the situation, so he tried to lighten the mood by telling me he use to be a boxer and that he was going to protect me.

When my train finally arrived, he walked me to my platform. Upon seeing that the Moroccan, now joined by two shady teenage boys, had followed me onto the train, Antonio got on the train too and sat in front of me. For the next hour, we chatted some more and he made sure I got off safely at my stop. He gifted me a handful of mint bonbons for the road, and I thanked him dearly for coming to my rescue that night.

You see, most of the time people are good and they are kind, and they will help you.

The town of Portofino by night
Portofino at dusk

The White Tiger

A white tiger: something extremely rare, but not altogether impossible to find.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I was looking for an apartment in the city center, within walking distance to the University, with lots of natural sunlight and a balcony. And, I wanted it all for less than $500.

Jesus must be reading my blog, because I found it. My white tiger.

I found a listing online for an apartment two blocks away from my university in the neighborhood of L’Eixample. It was love at first visit, and I moved in earlier this week.

I live with Pablo, a lively Argentinian man who owns an art gallery and theater, and Laura, a masters student from the north of Spain. They are both wonderful and kind souls who speak only Spanish to me and thanks to them, I’ll be completely fluent in a few months.

Pablo is hands down the chillest human being I have ever met, and I aspire to be more like him. I swear nothing phases this man; he is Bob Marley.

Laura let me give her a haircut just three days into knowing me. Considering I had never cut another woman’s hair, I was both honored and terrified. It was like one of those trust exercises they make you do in gym class, except you have scissors and there are consequences.

You walk into our apartment and are immediately greeted by four naked women, painted in white and blue. You travel down a narrow corridor, into the living room, which also has a balcony. Next to it is my bedroom, a breathtaking space with vintage tiles, high ceilings and a spacious private balcony.

The best part is the view. I have a gorgeous church in front of my apartment. Basically, Jesus is watching at all times, and that gets real awkward when I’m naked.

Life in the apartment feels like a 90s sitcom about a sassy blonde, an artist twice her age, and a spunky Spanish sidekick. I’m looking forward to calling this home for the next few months.

Cue theme song from Friends.

Lazy afternoons in my room.
Lazy afternoons in my room.