Are you American?
Herein lies Post One of what I am hopeful to be a fine travel blog, at the very least a regularly updated one- filled with pictures and ponderings by yours truly.
I had plans for getting to Barcelona. Mostly to battle jet-lag through sheer exhaustion. This wasn't so much a 'plan' as what happened, so I adapted. I was gloriously sleep deprived when I got on the plane in O'hare, which seemed perfect. I would sleep the entire way to Europe and wake up refreshed and ready to tackle my day when we landed at 9 am BCN time.
That was a lie. The plane was insanely cold and I barely slept, the only giveaway that I did at all was the string of drool I found in my hair. I'm sure the gentleman sitting next to me was impressed. If he wasn't in awe of my sophisticate jet-set appearance already, he surely was after- let's just say you shouldn't watch HBO with any percentage of a chance for raunchy sex in the viewing forecast while captive next to a strange man for 8 hours. I quickly switched to the map screen and watched the plane hover over the Atlantic for the rest of the flight.
I have nothing but nice things to say about the Barcelona airport. Everything there was astoundingly silent, flooded with bright light, open spaces. No pushing people or screaming kids, just sunlight and glass. Stumbling drool covered and embarrassed off the plane, it felt a little bit like heaven.
I feel compelled to mention how tiny the elevators here are. With a primal last show of effort and some guttural noises, I heaved 8 months of supplies through the door to what I could only describe as a 'cozy' 2 person elevator. The doors attempted many times to close before I managed a new contortion that allowed us all a spot. In my usually graceful fashion, I also hit every button in the elevator. Watching the doors open and close with heartburn 4 times before we finally spilled out warrants a chuckle. Now. Not so much then.
In the end my 'strategy' of being exhausted worked. A night of incapacitated slumber found me bright eyed come morning, and with open eyes got my first real view from the apartment. Not shabby.
Everything was new. The sights, sounds, the way people move through the streets. I'm not sure I really had an expectation for how things would be, but this isn't quite like anything I have experienced before. After walking for a while I realized how famished I was after a full day of sleeping and moving. I ordered a numero seis breakfast with juevos, bacon, y bravas.
Breakfast has always been my most beloved meal, so this was a small comfort to me.
But as I had my coffee my reading was interrupted with jeers of 'Desayuno ehhh??'
A very American breakfast...
Slightly embarrassed but refueled, it was time more exploring, and a slow, dawning realization. After passing a few underwear stores, latex retailers, countless handsome and shirtless men looking at me from advertisements, and sex shop in my building, the Boys BCN bar made me start to wonder... 'am I living in a gay neighborhood?' The answer is yes, and HP apparently has eclectic taste in corporate housing. After chatting with a colleague I learned this neighborhood is referred to as Gaixample (a play on the name of the neighborhood, Eixample).
Exhausted again by the end of the day, I found one of my greatest disappointments in the aisle of the supermarket. Or should I say, didn't find. No Peanut Butter. Excuse me for a moment while I rearrange my food pyramid. I can't complain about not having peanut butter while I'm living in Spain though. C'est la vie.
I've spent most of my days getting settled wandering the city, reading, and enjoying cafe con leche. Tough.
I have one concession to make: Grammie was right. Barcelona is an easy city to get lost in. There are diagonal streets all strewn cutting normal intersections in 5 or 6 ways. There is a somewhat octagonal shape to the blocks which gives the sensation you have turned a corner to get to the crosswalk. If you are familiar or paying attention isn't too much to handle, just problematic when you are neither familiar OR paying attention... Among other navigational mistakes of the week is my €50 train ride.
I've been hoofing it since. Not so much out of hesitation to get back on the train, but mostly to see the city.
If you aren't careful, it is easy to only skim the surface of the city and see 'tourist' Barcelona. One of the first traps I landed in was Las Ramblas. Essentially, this is an outdoor mall with similar shops to the US. Obnoxious pop music, street sellers hawking fake Michael Kors, selfie sticks galore. But if you are willing to get a little lost, wandering through the turning streets of Born, Ravel, and Gotica promise a more authentic view. Locals complain that Barcelona is losing it's identity, and it is easy to see why.
I walk around, half afraid to take out my camera, plagued by my own insecurity of being seen as an outsider in such a proud city. Hell, while I'm at it I should strap on a fanny pack, a visor, and some sandals with socks (not sure if tourist or Hunter S. Thompson..). As it is, I walk in to a shop with my shiniest Spanish and helpful locals ask with a sweet, "Oh Bless Her Heart" expression- "Are you American?"
But by the end of my week of wandering and binge drinking espresso, I am walking confidently through the city blocks, knowing when to skip up or over one because of schools letting out, the timing of the lights, taking the metro without getting a ticket, and throwing that 'th' in where there has always been a 'c'.
This will eventually be my city too. I live here. Yet I continue to be torn between being an extended tourist and wanting it to feel like home. When is the transition from visitor to local?
When will people stop looking at me and asking "Are you American?"