Caviar dreams on a fishstick budget: Nice, French Riviera, April 11

One week and 190 euros later, I got my phone back!

Too bad it DOESN’T WORK.

I didn’t realize this until I was at the Barcelona airport headed to Nice. So I spent my entire first day in Nice talking to AT&T Wireless customer service via my laptop (bless you Google for inventing G-Phone though Gmail), only to conclude my phone was officially dead.

I was so mad at myself for wasting my first day here in my room, worrying about a phone.

But since my next destination is in the Italian mountains, I need a phone to navigate. So I shelled out another $200 and had my best friend overnight me a phone from San Diego (Thank you Bev, I love you.) Until then, it’s back to technology-less exploring!

NiceFranceI always love the oldest parts of a city the most.

That’s why I find Vielle Ville (Old Nice) so charming. It’s a winding maze of colorful houses, shops, churches and cafes. The hills are so steep in some places that the streets are actually stairs!

Oh my God is that a little old French man playing an accordion?!

Yes. Wow, that really happens here. I feel like I’m in a romance movie. I must’ve stood atop the Chateau de Nice viewpoint for hours on multiple days, just listening to him play. And tipping him so he wouldn’t leave 🙂

I love this city so much. It’s not at all like I imagined.

When I thought of Nice, I imagined rich people spending their winters in the South of France, soaking up the sun in the grand French Riviera, eating caviar and a drinking fancy wine I can’t pronounce.

And then all of a sudden I hear Robin Leach’s voice in my head like:

“Oh good, you’re here. The Beckhams need their pillows fluffed! And why aren’t you in uniform? Do you even speak English?”

Even in my dreams, I am mistaken for the help. FML.

And while Nice has its fair share of Jimmy Choo-wearing, Hermes bag-toting tourists, it’s not exclusively for the rich…

…well OBVIOUSLY, cause my unemployed ass is here.

I never feel like I’m compromising anything by not arriving with a purse full of euros. By venturing a bit from the main restaurant strips, you can get dinner and a ½ litre of wine without breaking the bank.

I bought groceries at Carrefour and eat breakfast at home every day. My AirBnB hosts work during the day and let me use their espresso maker, so I have proper French breakfast every morning for only the cost of groceries.

And the beach doesn’t cost a thing. I pack lunch to take to the beach – and a yoga mat because the beach is all rocks, no sand.

So I save my euros for dinner. And gelato. Must have gelato.

IMG_0735When I was in Paris with my friend Jaime in October, we would buy baguettes from the patisserie and pate and wine from Monoprix. Then we would find an empty bench in a park or across from the Eiffel tower and have a picnic….all for just a few euros.

Nevermind that it’s “technically” illegal to drink alcohol in the street – the machine gun-armed policemen seemed to have bigger problems to worry about. So drink away!

Living caviar dreams on a fish stick budget, BITCHES!

The thing is, anyone can do it. Affordable alternatives are everywhere if you put in the effort and do a little research.

And reading my blog doesn’t hurt either, obviously. Look at you, you are SO smart!

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Put down your phone and start living: Barcelona, April 5

Smartphones are a safety net.

They prevent us from having to expose vulnerability by admitting we are lost. They help us to not feel awkward when we are having lunch alone, riding the bus alone, or when we don’t want to be approached.

We can revel in the comfort of the familiar glow of a 3 x 5.5” screen, and only occasionally look up to ask our server for the check, or make sure we’re not tripping on anything as we walk down the street.

We record beautiful moments on our phones instead of actually watching them.

Sound familiar? Yeah. You’re not the only one.

I’ve gotten better at navigating without a phone. At first I was afraid of getting lost in one of the million little winding alleys of El Barrio Gotic. But I had to suck it up and get used to the idea that I might have to actually TALK to people and maybe even…**gasp**…ask for DIRECTIONS!

Friday night I went to dinner at 9pm, typical Catalan dinner hour, at a Turkish hole-in-the-wall, Salterio. My AirBnB customer service representative randomly suggested it in an email, so I found the directions via my laptop, memorized the turn by turn directions from my house, and walked over.

The restaurant was small but it was rammed: there was a large group celebrating a birthday, several couples…all locals, it seemed.

There was only one seat left. It was at the bar, near the front door.

I quickly realized the entire restaurant was being run by only two people – an old Turkish woman and her son. He looked frazzled and warned me my order would take a while because they were so busy.

“Esta bien. No estoy de prisa,” I told him.
(It’s okay, I’m in no rush).

He gave me a look of relief and handed me a menu, as he continued to mutter orders frantically to his mother.

Seated directly in front of the old woman, I watched her intently. Her wrinkled, veiny hands trembled as she calmly sliced up one fresh tomato, onion, and mint sprig after another.

Her son’s frenzy seemed to have no effect on her. She noticed me watching her and smiled,

“Todos quieren todo al momento. Todo el mundo esta de prisa. Hacemos lo que podemos.”
(Everyone wants everything at once. The world is in a rush. We do what we can.)

The old woman offered to relocate me to a table if one opened up. I politely declined. Because what she didn’t realize was, I was enjoying watching her cook.

I walked past Salterio nearly every day and she was always here, chopping vegetables and greeting customers.

She reminded me of my abuelita (grandma) Chuy who passed away years ago. I used to love watching her cook, cross-stitch, or pretty much do anything with her trembling, yet steadfast hands. Her hands didn’t work as quickly as they used to, but they created magic, upholding multiple generations of tradition within them.

I sat at that bar for nearly two hours, completely entranced by this woman.

It felt like my grandmother was reaching out to me through her. And the crowded chaos around me slowly disappeared.

And do you know WHY I noticed these things?

Because I didn’t have a phone.

I didn’t have a phone to curb the awkwardness of sitting alone in a crowded restaurant on a Friday night.

I didn’t have a phone to prevent me from making accidental eye contact with a stranger.

I didn’t have a phone to Instagram my meal with, or check in on Yelp with.

And in that moment, I was grateful. I realized why my phone broke down during my trip and not before. The universe needed to show me that until now I was merely visiting these cities, I wasn’t really seeing them.

This was the beginning of a change in me that has lasted to this day.

When I Skyped with my parents the next day and told them about my dinner experience, I noticed my mom remove her glasses to wipe her tears. And then I kept talking to cover up the fact that I was crying, too.

During dinner, my five senses became a living canvas upon which the universe painted the masterpiece of this night…and every night that would follow from this day forth. Because I finally understood what I had been missing this whole time.

BarcelonaCathedralStairs

Stairs of Catedral de Barcelona

As I sipped my sangria, my ears picked up the clanging of distant church bells, the clacking of women’s heels on the cobblestone streets, to the guitarist whose distant tune sounded a hell of a lot like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”…

…which caused me to follow the music after dinner and find him playing in the plaza behind Barcelona Cathedral, to a small audience huddled along the cathedral stairs.

I would’ve missed it all.

Listen. Look around. Make eye contact. Talk to strangers. Smile at them, even.

Feel awkward and embrace it. Get lost. Ask for directions.

Live. Because no other moment exists except the one that is happening right now.