Lost and Found: Barcelona, April 4

IMG_1676I’m so screwed. This city has me sprung.

It’s like when you’re in love and everything they do is endearing. And it doesn’t even have to be anything extraordinary, but to you it’s beautiful because it’s them. To me, Barcelona can do no wrong.

I’m in love with Barca for the simple things others may not appreciate…for the peace I feel when I’m here. This city is alive and loud and bustling but I’m part of it – I’m not an outsider. Everywhere I go, I belong.

I’ve gotten more comfortable being phoneless, so I wander around a lot more. And it has resulted in the most beautiful accidents.

I’ve allowed myself to get lost in order to find the heart of the city.

LaPlataCounterFor example, when I discovered Bar La Plata, I stood at the counter elbow-to-elbow with fast-talking Spaniards drinking vino rosado from tiny cups. The place is no larger than a livingroom, with only four tables which are always taken. But the best “seat” in the house is standing at the counter. An old man runs back and forth from the kitchen serving everyone. And there is no menu because they only make four things. One of the simplest but best meals I’ve ever had.

IMG_1648And when I randomly came across a marching band parading through the El Born streets at sunset. Children instinctively followed them, dancing their little hearts out as their moms chased after them. As they made their way down Carrer de Sant Pau…

I looked up and saw windows begin to open, one at a time, as neighbors popped their heads out to listen.

Or when I got caught in a freaking DOWNPOUR that resembled the end of days, and ended up laughing and chatting with locals as we huddled in a doorway and waited for the storm to ease up.

Or when I got lost trying to find the Cathedral of Barcelona and stumbled upon the beautiful plaza of Placa Nova. I ended up forgoing my plans and soaking up the Mediterranean sun on the plaza stairs instead, along with 100+ others, as street musicians plucked away at their guitar strings and time seemed to stand still around us.

My best days have been complete accidents.

The days that my plans didn’t go as planned.

The days I left my flat having no plan at all.

And sometimes, that’s the best plan of all.

Being phoneless isn’t so bad.

 

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A dream deferred: Barcelona, April 3

JarofDreams

My dad first showed me La Sagrada Familia church in a world architecture book years ago. From then, I became a fan of all of Antoni Gaudi’s work – the man was an architectural genius. I remember promising myself that one day I would come to Barcelona and visit the church…for me, but mostly for my dad.

I toured three of Gaudi’s works so far: Park Güell, Casa Batllo and Sagrada Familia. But needless to say, the latter is the reason I came here.

SagradaFamiliaIf your eyes don’t well up with tears while standing beneath Sagrada Familia’s towering columns that resemble groves of trees leading to a ceiling of giant blossoms, I would worry you have no soul.

Just kidding…not really.

It looks nothing like the pictures in the books my dad and I used to marvel at. It’s beyond spectacular.

And then, all of a sudden, I had a moment. I really wished my dad could be here. When I first got to Barcelona, I called him and could hear the excitement in his voice as he asked,

“So did you see it yet, mija?”

I’ve always felt the pressure to live out my parents’ dreams for them. My parents are happy and comfortable in the life they have – they go to work, come home, watch their favorite shows, maybe go out to brunch at Denny’s…they have their routine. And as much as they say they would love to travel the world like me, I know they probably never will. It’s not their path.

This isn’t a sad story by any means. If they hadn’t made the sacrifices they made, working 7 days a week at times, yet still finding time to practice math and writing with me after school so that I could excel, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

CasaBatllo

Casa Batllo imitates nature with hallways like caves, curved windows revealing a stained-glass underwater kingdom, narrow arched hallways that make you feel like you’re in the ribcage of a giant fish, and chimneys like dragons.

So in a sense, this journey is for them and my grandparents. To show them the sacrifices they made, the years they worked to immigrate to the United States to provide a better life for their children, was not in vain. Because someday their children would see the world for them, and take the risks they could never afford to take.

 

We get to live out the dreams they had to put aside to raise us. And because of it, we would not have to struggle like they did.

Wow. I’m really here.

Papi, I’m appreciating this moment for you. For all of the cities in that book you haven’t gotten to see. For every dream you both put on hold. For the way your eyes light up when you look at these places in books, or when you ask me a hundred questions about each new city I visit. I’m happy to be the one you live vicariously through.

Right now, I’m thankful.

Disconnected: Barcelona, April 1

Murphy’s law states that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. So naturally, my iPhone starts flipping the fuck out. I knew I should’ve exchanged it before I left California when it first started acting up.

A broken phone may not seem like a big deal. But when you’re traveling alone, 6,000 miles from home, in a new city every few days, your smartphone is your lifeline. I use it to navigate new cities, figure out public transit, to translate when necessary, and to communicate with home so I don’t feel so alone.

Without my phone, I feel lost.

Well, THIS is awkward...

Well, THIS is awkward…

Rather than giving the Apple store 579 euros I don’t have (roughly $806) I opted to leave it in a repair shop for a week.

One week without a phone. Holy shit.

It’s amazing how much we rely on our smartphones. Now I’ll have to look up directions on my laptop before I leave in the morning. I’ll have to use my sense of direction to backtrack my way home, or read metro maps to plan my routes. I’ll be unreachable until I get home at night.

Maybe my antisocial ass will actually strike up a real-life conversation with strangers. Come to think of it, I’ll need to work on softening my BRF (bitchy resting face).

I feel like this happened to teach me a lesson. Maybe I’ve been too caught up Instagramming and Snapchatting that I’ve been viewing the world through my phone instead of my own eyes.

The average person now checks their phone 150 times per day – that’s roughly once every 6 1/2 minutes if you’re awake 16 hours. Surveys have shown that one out of four people will even admit to checking their phones during sex.

We’ve allowed something that is supposed to aid our lives to define our lives.

How many of us are guilty of thinking in terms of a status update? Like, “Wow, that was an amazing/funny/inspiring moment that just happened – but how can I translate that into a post?” Sometimes it can feel as though an experience isn’t validated until it’s acknowledged on social media.

I am willing to admit that I have a hard time talking about my feelings, or anything that makes me feel vulnerable, unless it’s in electronic form. Like telling my friends and family that I love them. Or that I’m lonely on this journey. Or that I have no idea what I want to do with my life once I’m back in the States. I have a hard time saying these things out loud because I haven’t had to. Because I can more easily send a WhatsApp message.

But real life doesn’t happen on a phone. I know this seems hypocritical coming from an online blog, but I figured if I could admit my electronic dependencies to the world, perhaps others could recognize it in themselves as well.

That’s why traveling has changed me. Even when I had a functional phone, I am restricted to wifi. And being 8-9 times zones ahead of California makes interaction less frequent by default.

And now, for one week, I’ll have no phone. A small part of me is relieved to be free from the expectation that I should be accessible at all times, like I am in the United States. And as terrified as I am to have to navigate Barcelona my own, I am also afraid I might like being disconnected too much…

Disconnected from the social world, but connected to the real one.

To be continued…

Bittersweet Symphony: Barcelona, March 29

Barrio Gotic, Barcelona

It was love at first sight, me and Barca. I was barely here an hour and I felt the city breathe life into me…

…with its wrought-iron balconies (and the laundry and Spanish flags that often accessorized them), the distant clanging of church bells, the echoing conversations that resonated up my 8-feet wide street…the sound of life from every direction at all hours of the day and night.

I didn’t expect to have this many roommates. Or to live in such a loud alley. But I’m excited by it. I’ve never felt like more of a local. This is real life as a Catalan, all at my front door.

As a native San Franciscan, I find comfort in Barca’s chaotic urban symphony of sounds. I don’t even mind sleeping with earplugs. I’m a pretty heavy sleeper, but even I need them to sleep here!

Roaring motorcycle engines, the mini-market owner on his cell phone, and late-night barhoppers singing Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers theme songs at 4am as they stumble home: This is my moonlight sonata.

I spent my second night in Barca at Fontana Montjuic, a historic fountain with a nightly lightshow timed to a musical soundtrack. Thousands make the trek here every weekend night.

At first I found myself taking pictures of it on my iPhone. Then I looked around and noticed dozens of couples, and groups of friends dancing in front of the fountain, laughing, and taking pictures.

And although I was happy to be there, in that moment I felt lonely.

Because I didn’t have anyone to share it with…to laugh with…to sing Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” off-key while taking strategically angled selfies in front of the fountain.

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Fontana Montjuic

I don’t have pictures of myself at Fontana Montjuic. When you travel alone you get used to not being in your pictures. But I know I was there. And I’d like to think I etched these memories into my brain more deeply because I didn’t have anyone to recount the memories with.

I think that’s why I felt the need to keep this journal. So I can read back and remember feeling the fountain’s cool mist on my face…and the sound of thousands of people from all over the world singing in unison under the fluorescent glow of this beautiful fountain.

 

Here goes nothing…and everything: London, UK

NoIdeaDoggieUntil today this blog existed as a virtual diary in the Notepad app of my iPhone.

I didn’t really intend to create a blog. But I live inside my own head a lot and needed a place to record my thoughts on this crazy journey I’ve been on. I figured one day, when I’m older and am possibly tied down by the responsibilities of life, I’ll want to read back and relive a day in the life my younger, carefree, partially selfish-self. The one who divorced and ended a 13-year relationship, left San Francisco where I had lived my entire life, and walked away from a career I spent 10 years building.

All so I could “Wing It.”
My life, that is.

So I could throw out the script that no longer worked for the movie of my life.

The old me would’ve been like “Bitch are you crazy? You make good money at that job!” In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what my parents secretly think.

Few people really get why I had to do this. But I’m okay with that. Because since I began living my life for me, I’ve never been so happy, fulfilled and terrified all at the same time.

I had to have faith that I already had all the answers even if I didn’t know what they were yet.

I started this journey back in September when I came to London as an underground hip-hop journalist – a gig I fell into in what seemed like a beautiful accident. The people I met during that time would change the course of my life, even if they don’t realize it. And 8 months later, I’m still in London where I’ve been living off and on for the past 8 months as I’ve hopped around Western Europe. My passport and Instagram pages are fuller, my bank account is emptier, but my mind and heart are richer than I ever could’ve imagined. Had I not gone on this journey, I never would’ve met and fallen in love with a man who treats me like a queen every single day. Or realized I can enter a new city as a stranger, and leave with amazing new friends.

“But love don’t pay the bills, dumbass!” says Common Sense.

Yeah I know. I haven’t quite figured that part out yet. But based on what I’ve learned so far, you can’t find your way to your destination until you look down at the path in front of you. So I’m winging it – taking it one step at a time and allowing the pieces to fall into place as I go along. Which is the complete opposite of how I lived life before

If you’ve read this far, I’m humbled. You’ll soon realize my sarcastic, assholish exterior is just a cover-up.  Cause deep down I’m hella sappy and a hopeless romantic.

I’ve cried more often on this trip than I care to admit, but I’m okay with that because sometimes you have to break down in order to build yourself back up to the person you want to be.

And although I’ve been lonely, at least I know I can stand alone. And for someone who had never so much as eaten lunch in a restaurant without someone’s company, that’s a pretty big deal.

So that’s what’s brought me here, to this blog. After months of feeling disconnected from friends and loved ones, I’m connecting by locking myself in a room and publishing these iPhone notepad posts – seems sort of backwards, but it’s worked for me so far 🙂

Travel like a BO$S, don’t spend like one

BallinonaBudgetI’ve learned alot of traveling lessons the hard way. And by the hard way, I mean the expensive and/or extremely frustrating way. If I can help someone avoid these mistakes, then it was worth it.

Also, just because someone has traveled to alot of countries doesn’t make them a traveler. Taking cabs, staying in hotels, and going on pre-planned tours is “nice”, if you have the money. But then you miss out on the real experience of the country you are visiting.

Wherever I go, I live like a local. I rent a room in a local person’s house, take public transit, go grocery shopping, and eat at hole-in-the-walls where they don’t speak English. Because of this, I’ve been able to travel for 3 months on what many people spend on a 2 week vacation.

So now I pass this wisdom on to you, my little buttercups. Stay connected, travel, navigate, eat, and live without emptying your bank account.

Let’s hear it for living that champagne lifestyle on a boxed wine budget!
/flips hair

Conversion Confusion

FuckMathBeaStripperDamn you, math, you sneaky little bastard. If you don’t pay attention when you travel, you’ll find yourself wondering how a 200 euro withdrawal turned into $289 US dollars.

That’s cause conversion rates are a bitch. – it’s a percentage you’re charged for withdrawing money from a foreign ATM because it has to convert your US dollars to the local currency.

Before you travel, sign up for a credit card that doesn’t charge conversion rates, often a travel rewards card. Otherwise you’ll get hit with 3-5% conversion fees each time you use your card.

That £7 latte and pumpkin bread you just bought?

Yeah. You just paid $12.82 for that (£7 x 3.5% conversion x 1.77 exchange rate to US dollars).

The exchange rate to euros and pounds still sucks, but any little bit helps.

Call your bank to find out what (if any) associate banks your home bank has in other countries.

Why? To avoid an ATM fee. You’ll still get hit with a conversion rate, but you don’t wanna get hit on both ends with a costly transaction fee.

Which reminds me, avoid multiple trips to the ATM unless you know for certain you’ll have access to an affiliate ATM. Otherwise you’ll pay the ATM fee multiple times.

Yup. Math can suck a fat one.