Once on the other side of security at Terminal A of the Philadelphia International Airport, I found a collection of screens and checked when Allison, my travel companion for the next two weeks, was to arrive from Nashville. According to the board, she was expected on the ground in ten minutes somewhere in Terminal F. I spent a full three minutes pondering a relocation to meet her beforing having a what-if anxiety moment. What if I mess up and have to go through security again? What if her already late arrival is even later than noted and we both end up missing the flight out to Barcelona? What if I get all sweaty and gross while walking between the terminals with my over packed carry-on? I decided to bypass a panic attack and took a seat at a gate for Frankfurt because it provided a good view of the hallway Allison was to come prancing down. My attention bounced between my watch and my cell phone as I awaited her arrival.
With around fifteen minutes to spare, she appeared in the distance and we walked the rest of the way to our gate. We settled in and as the half-full aircraft climbed to 37,000 feet, we started in on the salads I’d retrieved earlier from Wholefoods. Chews of lettuce of were randomly interrupted by giddy commentary about the two weeks that lay ahead of us. There was the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, the beaches of Mallorca, the Prado in Madrid and the Pena Palace in Portugal. There was Paella, Parma and every other ethnic food we had interest in sampling. Seven and half hours later, we landed in Spain and worked our way through immigration and out to the curb. Per guidebook instructions, we hailed one of the black and yellow cabs to ensure we wouldn’t be charged something incorrect. Allison pointed to our Barcelona hotel information that she’d neatly typed up in an itinerary and we were off.
As the diesel Citroen careened down the highway, I soaked in my surroundings. And then I started to have second thoughts. I’m not saying that anyone flying into Newark en route to New York would be met with a lovely first impression of America. There are offensive odors and unsightly towers of fuel. But the roadway leading into Barcelona was reminiscent of the sites I’d seen of Kosovo. Everything was gray. I kept my mouth shut and blamed the pessimism on limited sleep and an overall feeling of travel filth.
“Welcome to Hotel Monte Carlo of Barcelona! Your room isn’t ready but you can stow your bags here and come back later. Check in is at three.”
Allison and I simultaneously looked at our watches and calculated how much time that truly meant. Six hours. Disappointed but accepting of our fate, we gathered our travel books for Spain and headed out the door and down Las Ramblas in the direction of some breakfast spots the hotel suggested. With the exception of the phrase book Allison had grabbed, there really was no point to toting the tour books. None whatsoever. We were tired and there was no way either of use was capable of making a decision about what activity came next. Beyond a plate of eggs, a shower and a nap, nothing seemed relevant.
“Menu?” Allison asked while pantomiming the act of opening one as I searched her phrasebook for the Spanish equivalent.
The waiter who had passed us by at least ten times in the fifteen minutes since we’d arrived finally took note of our presence and five minutes later returned with menus. It had pictures. I never eat at places that identify food with pictures. That’s like the first rule of Foodie-ness. But I kept my mouth shut and ordered a plate of scrambled eggs with a croissant and coffee because I didn’t want to officially make my doubts known.
Maybe the Spanish folks don’t eat breakfast? Maybe the place where we landed didn’t know how to cook breakfast? Either way, when the plates arrived, I was relatively speechless. The eggs were coated in oil, the croissant was stale and my lukewarm coffee had a mountain of hardened whipped crème floating on top like an iceberg. Allison’s plate of morning sustenance looked no better so I opted to put the food before me in my mouth so as to avoid words coming out of it.
“Cuenta por favor,” we asked in a horrible accent after cleaning our plates, the china still glistening from the oil that had been used to cook everything.
“Eer iz zee check. I added zee water on at zee bottom,” the waiter announced as he placed the piece of paper down.
I waited until he was out of earshot before saying, “that little shit speaks English? Like he couldn’t have hinted at it when we struggled to ask for salt?”
We paid the bill, leaving a 2 Euro tip as suggested by one of the books and headed back out to Las Ramblas to kill the next five hours. The street had a large walking path flanked by two narrow lanes of roadway. We strolled down the sidewalk, taking in the scenery. There were tourist shops with t-shirts and fans pouring out of the doorways as enticement to stop in. There were eateries, most of which had photographic summaries of the food they sold. There was a McDonalds with a long line out front as people both Spanish and not Spanish waited for the manager to unlock the door. I was jealous of the meal that awaited them. Over all, it was a curious collection of crap.
Our feet led us down to the Harbor and there we strolled some more before taking a seat on a bench in front of Barcelona’s famous mall, though I’m not quite sure why this random collection of mediocre shops is considered worthwhile. A modern hotel stood before us with a British battleship partially obstructing the building. Other commercial boats beaten up and rusty cluttered the waterway to our left and really unimpressive private boats were in the marina to our right.
“I miss France,” I finally announced.
“Me too,” Allison replied.
“The ‘official’ cab driver fucked us royally, I’m sure of it. No way in hell the meter fare is per person. The streets are dirty and breakfast sucked ass. Speaking of ass, the waiter was a huge one with his holding out on English until the very end. And why the heck is a random mall on a dock considered a site worth seeing?”
“How about that drive in from the airport?”
“Don’t even get me started. The pathway from the airport looked like a scene from a war torn land.”
“We should head back and find a café. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll last as a site seeing gal.”
Up we got and off we went walking back down the planked pathway leading back to Las Ramblas which in turn led back to our hotel where we intended to retrieve some books as entertainment. I took a deep breath and lifted my gaze from the wood beneath my feet. The view before me was a collection of beautiful buildings fronting the water. There was elegant detail found in the masonry and ironwork that dotted the facades. And as the sun crept up higher in the sky, a warm glow reflected off the buildings. A few feet in front of the roadway were palm trees that gently swayed with the movement of the breezes.
“Wow. You know, the distant view Barcelona from the water is actually quite pretty. Sure as heck beats the view from within it.”
Allison agreed, pausing for a moment to take it all in before resuming our pace and disappearing back into the city streets.