It’s Friday, I’m in love

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It’s been a long week.  I spent most of it in Dallas busy with a work trip, and I’ll talk a little about that next week.  Thanks for all your lovely comments on the posts about Spain.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be there right now?  Especially since there may be more snow in our future.  Oh well, I guess it means more time for snuggles and naps.

Here are a few last photos from Barcelona.  Hope you have a great weekend!

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Wanderings: Daytripping from the mountains to the seaside

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When traveling alone, I tend to pick a busy city with lots to do and easy public transportation.  For most of the trip, I’m energetically taking in the sights and exploring the local culture, but as the end of my travels near and my to do list grows shorter, I can’t help but wonder what there is to find just outside the city bounds.  Despite the curiosity, it can be hard to muster up the will to go out past the city.  So much of your energy and courage is already expended walking into restaurants alone, navigating unfamiliar streets, and struggling through conversations with strangers in another language, that the thought of venturing further can feel like too far of a stretch.

Though organized group travel isn’t usually my cup of tea, this is when I find myself scrambling for a guided tour.  Spending a day with a local foodie, for example, has changed my perspective on entire cities, taking me through neighborhoods and cuisines I’d have never found on my own.  In Spain, I booked a last minute spot with a small group taking a day trip out of the city, and quickly made friends with some of the other travelers.  We spent a morning exploring the vineyards at Torres Winery, then headed for Montserrat where we hiked around the mountains, visited a monastery, and sampled lots of the locally made chocolates and liqueurs.

Torres vineyard tour

Torres vineyard tour

Torres vineyards

Torres vineyards

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When the sun finally began to set, the group made our way to the tiny seaside city of Sitges, exploring all the glittering shops, and watching the town and the sea glow a rosy pink as the sun dipped down over the Mediterranean.

Montserrat

Montserrat

Santa Maria de Montserrat

Santa Maria de Montserrat

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Santa Maria abbey at Montserrat

Santa Maria abbey at Montserrat

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Sitges sunset

Sitges sunset

Wanderings: Making friends on the Gaudi Trail

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As comforting and reassuring as it is to have a travel companion, there is nothing quite like the experience of fast friend-making that goes on between solo wanderers.  I made several friends while in Barcelona, the most memorable of which was Tim, a sweet, energetic Englishman about 20 years my senior.  Tim and I chatted a few times in the common room of our hostel, and decided it would be fun to see how many of Antoni Gaudi’s architectural landmarks we could cram into one day of sightseeing.

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We set off early one cloudy morning, grabbing coffee’s and getting to know each other better while taking in La Pedrera and Casa Batllo.  I learned that Tim had been down on his luck and was leaving England for good.  He was a passionate mountain climber, and planned to spend the foreseeable future working small jobs and climbing the Pyrenees.  We wandered, awestruck, through the nave of the Sagrada Familia and took an elevator to the top of one of the spires and marveled over the views of the city, then made the long, vertigo inducing walk down the spiral staircase of the spire, taking turns leaning over the edge and laughing because of the way the drop turned our knees to jelly.

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After a few hours clambering all over Park Guell, we warmed our frozen fingers and toes over coffee in a tiny old fashioned cafe, then beers in a hip new bar.  Tim told me stories about finding wine for €1.00 in some shop, so we decided to go in search of this mythical cheap wine and assemble Barcelona’s greatest cheapest dinner.  Our quest lead us to at least a dozen tiny neighborhood mercados, and though the cheapest wine we found was €2.50, we managed to pick up tomatoes, pasta, and fresh bread for less than €5.00.  Back at the hostel, we cooked up a storm, and served ourselves a huge amazing meal back in the common room, and others lingering in the room joined us, sharing wine and chocolate and stories.  It was one of the best nights I spent in Barcelona.

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Wanderings: On my own in Barcelona

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There is a period in my mid-twenties that I think of as The Brave Years—a short span in which, over and over, I stared down my own fears and started to live life the way I wanted.  Traveling to Spain is one of the standout markers of those days.  For years I had wrestled with frustration and impatience trying to get others to travel with me.  Money and timing and nerves always seem to erode the best laid plans, and I was tired of waiting.  So at the end of my first year in DC, I bought a plane ticket, booked a cheap single in a hostel, and took a deep breath.

Barcelona was an easy choice.  My Spanish was good after a year of practicing with international roommates, and the mix of modern culture and gothic architecture appealed to me. The metro system was easy to figure out, and soon I was wandering the dark winding streets of the old city and feeling very brave.

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Still, the first two days I ate nothing but almonds and oranges I bought at a little store near my hostel, too intimidated to go into any restaurants and order alone in another language.  All the walking eventually had me starving, and that hunger wrangled my courage, first at the open air Boqueria, then a casual falafel place, little coffee shops, and eventually amazing tapas bars.

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Traveling alone is liberating and lonely.  It can be wonderful to set your own agenda, to linger in or bypass a museum, a street, a bar, a shop, with no consideration for anyone or anything other than your own mood.  There is also no one to lean on or commiserate with when you meet challenges, and nobody to celebrate with when you absolutely nail a conversation entirely in Spanish, or to turn to when something you see is breathtakingly beautiful.

These days I’m much more comfortable traveling alone.  So much so that, when we travel together, the Mister and I will separate for a day and go on our own little adventures.  And while I did eventually make friends in those days in Spain, something I’ll touch on a little more tomorrow, the most enduring experience of that trip was the aloneness.  Separation from television, news, media, internet, conversation and companionship.   Culturally we often think poorly of aloneness, but being left to nothing but my own thoughts and experiences was by turns exhilarating, frightening, focusing, and powerful.

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Caga Tió

Caga Tio

Caga Tio

Since we’ve been together, the Mister and I have adopted our own little hodgepodge of holiday traditions.  One of our favorites is Caga Tió.

I first experienced Caga Tió, or Tió de Nadal, while spending part of the holidays in Barcelona.  As I wandered the Christmas markets, I kept seeing these adorable wooden logs with smiling faces and red caps.  This was Caga Tió, which in Catalan translates roughly to Poo Log.  The tradition works like this: leading up to Christmas, children offer Caga Tió little gifts of food like nuts and candy, and cover him with a blanket so he doesn’t get too chilly; then on Christmas, they entice him to “poo” out presents by beating him with a stick and singing songs.  The presents “appear” under Caga Tió’s blanket.

Caga Tios at the Christmas market in Barcelona

Caga Tios at the Christmas market in Barcelona

Spanish children beating a giant Caga Tio

Spanish children beating a giant Caga Tio

While in Barcelona, I saw children lined up in the market square to take a turn beating a giant Caga Tió with a stick, much like other children line up to visit Santa.  I thought this was a pretty delightful tradition so I bought a small Caga Tió as a gift for my mother, who likes to fill her home with Christmas decorations.  She loved it and every year our family dutifully feeds it treats during the holiday season.

2011

2011

2011

2011

2012

2012

When I started to bring the Mister home for the holidays, he was equally enchanted with the idea of Caga Tió, so one Christmas a few years ago, he surprised me with a homemade Caga Tió.  We adore him, and he takes the place of honor in our little apartment that would normally be reserved for a Christmas tree.  Every year we feed him treats, and every year we give him a good beating with a stick so that he will “poo” out our presents under his blanket.  We’ve even gotten friends and family to participate, and it has become one of our fun traditions.

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