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Barcelona: Past & Present Dispatches

Barcelona, SpainIn 2007, I spent six months in Spain, and only 36 hours of that in Barcelona. Those 36 hours turned out to be incredibly eventful — long enough to stand outside the Sagrada Familia and wish we could afford the small entrance fee, long enough to get tricked into eating 15 euro frozen-dinner tourist paella, long enough for me to break down and eat the first macaroni and cheese I had in six months at a Hard Rock Cafe, long enough for Chad to lose his debit card and me to get panicky and furious when he wouldn’t let me dig through his bag to help look for it, and long enough for it to become clear why he didn’t want me digging through said bag. Thirty-six hours in Barcelona was long enough to see the most heinously touristy few miles I’ve ever experienced (hi and bye, Las Ramblas), and long enough for 20-year-old Chad to propose to 20-year-old me. It was long enough for me to realize that I had just paid for my engagement dinner of Hard Rock Cafe macaroni and cheese with my mother’s credit card that I was only to use in emergencies.

Barcelona, Spain

This time was much different. We had more than 36 hours, and though our time there was nothing short of spectacular, it was a lot less life-altering. There was less time bickering about lost debit cards and a lot more time spent getting lost in El Born. There was less time wishing we could afford to go into the Sagrada Familia and much more time spent being blown away by its interior.

Sagrada Familia — Barcelona, Spain

Never before in my life have I experienced architecture spiritually. Walking through the Sagrada Familia somehow feels like walking through a sacred forest. They literally had to kick us out at closing time.

Sagrada Familia — Barcelona, Spain

Sagrada Familia — Barcelona, Spain

Sagrada Familia — Barcelona, Spain

There’s something so magical and natural about the cathedral. It’s highly stylized, yet somehow organic.

La Barceloneta — Barcelona, SpainWe also had time to briefly hit up La Barceloneta and walk towards the Olympic Village. We tried to approximate the spot where Chad proposed, but it was hard to tell. I suspect it may have been along this stretch of beach or a little beyond.

The city itself is full of art and curious nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered. It feels like everyone’s an artist, eager to share their work. Like these two, who hang out by the line to the Picasso museum.

Barcelona, Spain


What I Learned in Spain

Salamanca, SpainWe’ve been back from Spain for a couple weeks now, but I immediately dove into a barrage of freelance work and trying to put the (not-so) new place together, which left little time to reflect and craft a story worth telling. Still, I wanted to share some snippets of our trip. I’ll follow up with a fuller guide to Salamanca in a few days, but for now, this is what I’ve learned.

Salamanca, Spain

  • I like to introduce Chad to new places. Often when I’m in a new situation, I let him take the lead until I get my bearings. This time, I really enjoyed pulling him along and reintroducing him to different vocabulary words, my favorite nooks in Salamanca, and funny Spanish idiosyncrasies. Perhaps I should lead the way more often.
  • I love my Swedish Hasbeens, but wood sole shoes do not play nicely with cobblestone.
  • My favorite drink at my favorite dive bar is still delicious and still embarrassing (Agua de Valencia — vodka, champagne, and orange Fanta. Remember, I was 20 when I studied there. It’s better than it sounds, I swear), though the clientele is no longer 18 year olds. It feels like the same people who went there 7 years ago are still hanging out there. They’re just older now. The vibe is still plenty grimy.
  • I need to figure out how to eat more Spanish tortilla & ham croquettes on a regular basis.
  • I can still speak Spanish well. My accent had gotten worse, but it came back by the end of the week and I was very comfortable conversing with anyone.
  • My favorite vacations include lots of walking and eating.
  • Spanish trains are awesome, but when you can afford it, it’s sometimes nicer to fly. It maximizes exploring and relaxation time.
  • While inconvenient, a missed flight is not the end of the world. Everything will be ok.
  • Salamanca still feels like home 7 years later. The same man with the same scruffy dog still plays the same beautiful violin in the same plazas every day. The crooked, nonsensical streets are still imprinted on my heart. The things I loved about it then are the things I love about it even more now.

Salamanca, Spain

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SF IV: Golden Gate, Land and Sea

What’s a San Francisco series without obligatory Golden Gate photos? I certainly wouldn’t know.

We had lots of opportunities to take pictures of the Golden Gate. Chadoh found a nifty little sunset cruise for us to take on our second night there. It was an anniversary trip, after all. The Adventure Cat took us out under the bridge and past Alcatraz before turning around and heading back. I was not prepared for how freezing cold it would be on the water in the evening.

We met another couple on the cruise, Maurice and Debbie, from Ohio. They recommended renting bikes and riding over the bridge to Sausalito. I wasn’t that into the idea, so Chadoh found a place to rent electric bikes. It was fun to zip past other people struggling up the hills. I thought I might feel a little silly about the electric bike thing. But when we were flying up the hills, I yelled to Chad, “I don’t feel like a sell out at all. I feel like a girl who knows what she wants.” I don’t know what I would have done without the power assist going up those massively steep hills. Actually, I do. I would have walked my bike up the hills, whining all the way.

Even though it was sunny and warm where we rented our bikes, the bridge was cold and foggy. Intensely foggy. Like a cloud would feel. Regardless, I got maybe the worst sunburn of my life, but only on the back of my hands and a bit of my nose and scalp. It was so cold that those were the only parts of my skin that were exposed. Even now, a month later, my hands still hurt sometimes.

We took the ferry back from Sausalito. It was a pretty little boat ride.

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SF III: Flora and Fauna

San Francisco is a magical land where succulents grow like shrubbery outside.

For scale: Succulent next to man.

The types of growing things also changed dramatically from one place to another. Here, by the Golden Gate, everything looked like a dusty-colored version of itself. 

The sea lions were so very strange. I don’t know that I had seen a sea lion before. Their sounds were really funny. They slept on top of each other. It looked relaxing. Except, some of them were really awful and got in fights, throwing less dominant sea lions off of the docks. I’m wondering what it would be like to hug a sea lion. Maybe someday I will try to find out.

I don’t know why anyone would want a sea lion sound alerting them to a phone call or text message.

Garden kitteh.
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SF II: Dark and Light

San Francisco is a city of dark and light.

The murals were beautiful. The people and the community we found there were helpful and inspiring.

While walking through the Latino Mission looking for murals, we found a woman breaking a glass bottle to collect discarded cigarette remains to smoke.

On Monday night, after a beautiful day of enjoying the city, Chad was telling me about the missions trip he had gone on in high school. They had spent a day in San Francisco. The person running the missions trip was from California, and told the kids that he really liked bringing groups through San Francisco on missions trips because the spiritual darkness was almost palpable there.


I was scoffing at this idea. We had just walked around all day in one of the most enjoyable, fun, bright, hopeful cities I had ever visited.

Then we saw this.

And I stopped. And reconsidered. I thought about how systemic problems might be failing these women who need safe surrender sites. About how I can’t imagine being in the position to feel like anonymously giving up my child is the only option.

Everywhere we go, people and things and systems are broken.

But everywhere we go, we can bring light. Even in our own darkness and brokenness.

I love that tension.

Maybe that’s why San Francisco was such a compelling city for us. I’m sure that as tourists (even though we strive to be as non-touristy as possible) with only a few days to spend, we didn’t see the worst parts of the city. I know that everything we saw, even the parts I described as “dark” here, was really quite tame. I know that much, much darker things exist in the world, and I’ve seen them in other places. This wasn’t a missions trip. I’m used to seeing things I’ve had time to mentally prepare for. We were on vacation. But the same darkness that lives in slums in Mexico also lives in the suburban United States and San Francisco, no matter how beautiful the city.

What struck me so strongly was my sudden awareness of the dark-light juxtaposition, and the hope that the murals, the water, the people we met, and the yellowness of the city’s light, even in the fog, brought to this space. The murals themselves, and even their content, were visible signs of people working in whatever ways they knew to bring more light to the places around them. Without passivity. With passion and playfulness.

It was stunning.