Three years ago I went on an international adventure as a middle-aged woman …ALONE. This is the tale, told in a series of blog posts, of how that magical trip filled my spirit in unexpected ways…
Kirana has some clients for her body rolling clients in Barcelona today so she suggests I come to town and take the tour for which I have already paid a part. My plan is to tour the three tour ways to get a better idea of the city. Kirana and I part as she gets off at the first train station on the line and I continue on to the dreaded station at Passeig De Gracia with instructions to meet her at 5:45 at the Cassa Batllo. I take the first exit I come to out of the smelly catacombs of the Passeig de Gracia Station onto the street to navigate my way to the Placa de Catalunya to catch the bus. I wonder if I will run into Ricardo today- rather silly thought considering there are several million people in this city- but still I have this nagging feeling. I remember our last encounter, tired and cranky and his words when he refused to come up to my room, “I’ll see you on Friday,” all at once a blow-off and a reassurance.
There are several tour companies that run buses from the Placa de Catalunya. So many double decker buses that at first I try to get on a bus owned by a different company than the one for which I have a pre-paid ticket. The Barcelona Bus Touristic is marked with a giant eye on the side. Each bus is painted one of three colors, blue, green or red to denote which section of the three basic tour routes it takes. I begin on the Blue Line with every intention of taking all three during the day in order to get a connected visual picture of the city. It is not yet hot so I sit on the top level of the bus near the front in order to get the best view. We begin the trek up the Placa de Gracia. The tour company provides headphones upon payment for one’s ticket that can be plugged a small sound box located on the back of the seat in front of each seat. Recordings that describe passing points of interest in several different languages may be accessed like stations on a car radio.
The morning is pleasant but I can tell that the day is going to be hot and I forgot a hat. I feel my hair color fading with every minute my head is exposed to the sun but the view is too good to move inside the bus just yet. The bus rambles past the fancy stores and several examples of Gaudi’s architecture as it goes into the area called Dreta de L’Eixample. We turn left onto Avinguda Diagonal and go around a bit before passing Estacio de Sans the on to Montjuic (literally translated Jewish Mountain). Montjuic is the site of the 1992 summer Olympics. There are spectacular views of the city and I am especially intrigued by the equestrian are where there are obviously some riding lessons taking place. There is a fair amount of green space in the Olympic Village which is atypical of Barcelona as a city. In fact there are so few parks and green areas that there is an old Barcelona joke that my friend Jerry told me later in my trip that illustrates this point rather nicely. It goes like this: “Two boys are meeting up to play one morning and one boy says to the other, ‘I was playing in the park yesterday and found a condom.’ And the second boy says, ‘Oh really! That’s cool but what’s a park?’.
The Olympic Village is now used as a park and a place to have events. There is even a “Poble Espanyol”, Spanish Village. On the way down the Montjuic from the Olympic Center is my first stop of the day, The Fundacio Joan Miro on the Avinguda de Maramar. I am a fan of Miro and thanks to my soon-to-be-ex –husband, house two signed lithographs from the artist. It is about 10:30am and I have not eaten yet this morning due to the rock still sitting in my stomach from the previous nights awful Basque dinner. But I am beginning to feel a bit wobbly and after paying the eight Euro entrance fee, I shuffle directly to the café for a croissant and a juice and green tea. I am beginning to fall further from my gluten free diet but have not yet delved into the sin of coffee. The café is nice though my guidebook suggests not eating there but opting for something else further down the hill. Modernist architecture as one might imagine at the Fundacio Joan Miro – plenty of cement, rectangular shapes and walls of glass. A charming courtyard adjoins where one can enjoy a snack from the café and watch little sparrows flit about begging for crumbs. The menu consists of bocadillos, muffins, croissants and such light fare.
Somewhat refreshed, I begin my artistic adventure. The collection is quite impressive reflecting styles I had not seen from Miro including some early impressionistic paintings. I walk past and around paintings, sculptures, and textiles featuring the wacky combinations of eyes, hands, spikes, lines and circular shapes that earmark the artists style. My favorite painting in the collection (and now perhaps my favorite Miro altogether) is a large work called “Birds in the Morning” or something to that effect.
The hour-and-a half of fabulous art is just what I needed and I hop back on a blue seeing eye bus to discover more about the city. The gods of fortune allow one vacant seat on the entire bus- up top and next to a nice looking middle aged woman. After about ten minutes she begins speaking in a perfect American accent to her friend in the two seats directly behind us. I ask where she is from and they respond California. Her name is Nancy and she is traveling with her four friends from San Diego; Gayle, Susan, Maria and Connie. They range in age from 46 to 55 in varying degrees of marriage, separation and divorced. They get together once a year and travel together. This year they are touring in Northern Spain and a bit of France. In a few short minutes it is learned that Connie’s daughter is moving to Richmond in a few weeks. She is seated two rows back and we cannot chat about that at this time but she is clearly thrilled to meet someone with a connection to her daughter’s future home. We all chat and enjoy the sights as we move down to the Passeig de Colom, a monument to Christopher Columbus who ironically with arm fully extended, points supposedly to the new world but actually to the Mediteranean Sea. From our perch we pass places of interest as we chat. I explain my inspirations for coming to Spain- Kirana and the yoga connection, Ricardo, a need to fill my spirit- and that I hope to sell my stories of this trip to national publications and reach the next level of my writing career. Connie recommends a book, THE SHADOW OF THE WIND which luckily I jot down in my little notebook. Nancy and I are having such a great time chatting away that she invites me to lunch with them at the Quatro Gatas, The Four Cats restaurant where Picasso liked to hang out when in town. I accept and as the bus pulls up at the end of the tour at the Place de Catalunya I see the dark soft hair that tops Ricardo’s head walk past the stopped bus. I call out but he does not know to look up. He hesitates ever so slightly but then keeps walking. He is with a young woman and man dragging luggage and I remember that his cousin is due to arrive from Portugal today. I explain to my new friends that this is the 24 year old muse who just walked by and they wonder if he will stop. As I descend the bus steps to step out to the street my phone rings. It is Ricardo. “Are you in the Place de Catalunya?” he asks, “I thought I heard you.” He says as our eyes meet. He has stopped just a few feet away from the bus. His cousin and her husband looking a bit confused. We do the double cheek Spanish kiss and make introductions. I explain that I have just met these traveling ladies and we are headed for lunch. The women are all smiling knowing that I have kissed him and am agonizing over our night to come in Sitges. I have an inner giggle.
The ladies and I leave Ricardo and relatives to their hotel check- in activities and walk around the Placa to the Avinguda Portal de l’Angel and head south. 4Gats is on a side street just off this thoroughfare of shops, restaurants and bars. We walk a block or two and turn left onto Montsio to the restaurant. Connie negotiates a table for us in the back room. The décor is charming old European bistro. There are high embossed tin covered ceilings with chandeliers, dark wood accents, yellow walls and a big round table in the middle of the room supporting a giant floral bouquet. We are seated to one side of the center table between it and the small platform stage that features a grand piano. It is just fabulous. Connie and I interpret the menu until the waiter brings one in English. We all order from the menu del dia (menu of the day). Menu del dia is three courses served at lunch time with a drink. It features the chef’s choices for the day and is priced to sell. It makes choosing for the main meal easier and much more economical. The menu del dia at the 4 Gats features a first course of salads, soups, paella or carpaccio, a second of entrees like pork, roasted chicken or fish then a third course of desert. Wine also comes with the meal. I desperately want paella but it is in the same category as the salad I feel I should eat after my heavy meal of the previous night so I feel I must order a dish from the entrees list. My final order is dictated to the waiter as salad with a second course of roasted chicken. Nancy joins me in an opening glass of cava which she has never before tasted. She loves it and the conversation begins to flow about the table as wine softens our tongues. They explain how they take turns choosing the destinations and making the travel arrangements. One of them takes care of all the budgeting and money and they get a wonderful worry free vacation. They are filling their spirits. They glow with the excitement of their adventure and the bonding that happens along the way.
My salad is refreshing and delicious. When the second course comes out, Maria gets a second plate of paella and is disappointed by a miscommunication that resulted in this duplicate serving. I am more than happy to trade with her my roasted chicken and we are all happy with our lunch. A light sorbet for me for desert tops off the lovely and economical meal. Following photos we part, the ladies off to the rest of their day and me to search for sandals and return to the bus line for further touring. This time I decide to take Nancy’s advice and take the blue tour bus line to the suburb created by a collaboration between Antoni Gaudi and Eudebi Guell, the Park Guell. Gaudi designed the landscape of the area but was not intended to design the homes. Sixty plots were supposed to divide the garden neighborhood but only two homes were ever built one ultimately inhabited by Gaudi (followed by Guell) and the other by Martin Trias, a lawyer whose family still inhabit the property as the only residents of the park.
There is a nice walk up hill to the Park Guell from the bus stop at Travessera de Dalt to the crazy mosaic coated wall surrounding the Park. Enter a gingerbread world gone wild at the main gate where two Gaudi structures stand. Just past them is a double staircase that ascends to a columned pavilion designed to house concerts and other activities for the residents that never came. I recall the staircase from a scene in “Vicki Christina Barcelona” where Joan Antonio makes a chance meeting with the emotionally baffled Vicki. It is crowded this afternoon and it is almost impossible to get pictures due to the volume of people climbing and descending the steps stopping to pose at key sites for their own photos. I desperately want to snap the giant lizard fountain but each time I have a moment to get the picture someone else sticks their face, hand or head in mugging for their own photographer. I mill around enjoying the people watching and the tremendous views of the city. There are vendors selling scarves and jewelry, musicians drumming and playing guitar and plenty of twenty-somethings lounging around the curved benches following the sensuous contours of the walls surrounding the plateau.
During a nice stroll around the grounds I realize the time is getting close to meet Kirana. I walk with purpose around the trellised pathway passing young lovers so intertwined they look like a two headed four armed science fiction creature. I skip down the flowing double staircase and scoot down the hill to a waiting bus. After a few stops I realize that I will never make it around the rest of the tour and back to the Casa Batilio in time. I hop off the bus and hail a cab which is slow in the early evening traffic but gets me there in the nick of the designated meeting time. I rest on a bench in front of the famous example of Modern architecture musing at its beauty and the people around me. Kirana and Noah appear and we go catch the train back to Sitges.
When I get back to San Pere de Ribes I have a yoga class with Guiya, my first in Spanish and my first in Spain doing the physical practice. The Integral yoga philosophy is the same in Spain as it is in America and I can understand much more than I might have simply because the pattern of the practice is so similar to my Nora’s (my Integral Yoga teacher at home in Richmond). It feels so good to stretch and breath and practice yoga with other people after what seems like a long vacation but is really only a little more than a week. But what makes the experience even more meaningful is how my brain is stretched by participating in this routine activity in a different language. I must concentrate more on what I am doing using more of my sense of peripheral vision and hearing to follow the flow of the class. Thoughts of the day or the upcoming visit from Ricardo are barely allowed to pass through my brain. The experience is heightened. I am also pleased with myself at the end for having been able to follow and understand as much as I did considering my limited Spanish. The mind body connection explored in a new way for me, I feel more confident about the coming couple of days which will be more yoga intensive.
Feeling refreshed I eat a light supper of melon, black gluten free bread and cheese then hardly sleep- again.