Thursday, June 07, 2012

up there

Airplane travel is like moving on a game board where someone else is rolling the dice. You’re just the pawn – you can put yourself on automatic and let the chips fall as they may. Sure, there are places for using your smarts. If your airport passport control line is long, you can switch to one that’s moving faster. You can watch a movie in flight or read a book – choosing the one that puts you to sleep seems like a good idea.

But for the most part you move when you’re told to move, you wait at all other times.

People complain so much about air travel and I find that fascinating. I’m more aligned with the person who wrote recently in some article or other that we should pause and consider the wonder of it all: up, 30,000 feet, up in the air, sitting back in a more or less comfortable chair, eating (in the case of this morning’s flight) and English muffin with grilled cheese and sipping tea, while someone else is doing the work of zipping you some 600 miles an hour, only you can’t really tell because it feels like you’re in your living room.

I mean, that’s just nothing short of incredible!

We had the usual little permutations. A complicated trip to Madison’s airport (it’s always a challenge to figure out a cheap way to get there given the awful public transportation to it), a short delay getting into Detroit, a long delay getting into Amsterdam, a frowning agent there as she spies my debatably within limits carryon, a bad sandwich here, a good snack there – all silly details of any day anywhere.

Except, it wasn’t just any day. Wednesday afternoon we’re at the farmette, watching deer scamper across the yard...


...Thursday afternoon we’re in Barcelona. Modern, old, beautiful, quirky, artsy Barcelona.

But let me not neglect to post this fantastic photo:


Fantastic, because I take it as we start our descent to Barcelona. The clouds of France part and I see right under us Sorede! It's always easy for me to recognize it. It's a small village, yes, but it stands alone, up against the hills that spill into the sea -- the end of the Pyrenee chain that separates France from Spain. (You can't actually spot Sorede proper in the photo -- the window view is to its east -- to the ten kilometers that separate it from the sea.)

I can't stop smiling. 

And now we're in the  Barcelona airport -- which is such a contrast to any other urban airport, because it always feels quiet. And shiny. 


A bus takes us to Barcelona. From the Plaza Espanya, where it drops us off, we walk (travel light!).

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I’ve written previously about this crazy wonderful city, so maybe you remember that it is in Spain but it’s really Catalan. Spain is quaint in that it has these autonomous regions: Catalonia, bordering on France (and on the French side, by the eastern Pyrenees, people also regard themselves as being fiercely Catalan). AndalucĂ­a in the south (where we traveled this past winter). The Basque region on the Atlantic side (where “fiercely” takes on a whole other layer of significance; and by the way, that's where we'll be heading after Sorede). One country, many national identities.

And so here we are, boosting the Spanish economy so that our markets back home would quit crashing and eating away at our pension plans.

We’re staying at the same winner hotel that offers such good deals if you book ahead and prepay. The exchange rate between the Euro and the dollar is, for once, deliciously in our favor. So, hi again, Villa Emilia with the cool rooms that sometimes bend in odd directions (ask for a corner room!)...


...And with the free drinks at the bar, if you book from their website. And with the free coffee and pastries for everyone and believe me, more than anything right now, on this late late Thursday afternoon, I wast a cup of coffee.

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Once again we’re spending only one night here. We’re impatient with big cities, especially early on when the desire to get close to village life is, for me at least, intense.

But, no one, not even Ed can argue that Barcelona has the great food. My oh my, does this city have the great food! And so you may be surprised to hear me say that I find it hard to eat here. Oh, I’m sure if you want to spend money and go to conventional restaurants, you would have no issue at all. But if you’re craving the tapas menu, you can find yourself staring at long lists of dishes that, on paper, mean nothing at all. If they’re translated, it’ll be from Catalan to Spanish. But so what, even if  one of you can read Spanish it’s still one huge mystery. Prawns this, eel that... Some tapas dishes come straight out of a can others are exquisite and freshly made that day, some are fried, some are in delicate sauces – most with the running theme of olive oil – it’s all so terribly confusing that you can walk away feeling either ecstatic or merely satisfied, vowing to come back, except next time you’ll be sure to order what the people at the other table were eating.

I’m writing this before we set out for dinner. I’ll let you know tomorrow if it all came together. We’ve been modestly lucky in the past. But I can even now write with confidence that it’s going to be a thrilling meal and the accompanying Cava will be delicious.