Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Taking Risks and Reaping Rewards

Each week I feel like I’m making progress as far as settling down and getting used to the in’s and out’s of living abroad. The language, while still a challenge, no longer scares me. I communicate enough to get my point across most times and while I’m still studying and trying to improve my speaking skills, I actually find that I can understand more and more as time goes by. Though I often find that I just smile and say “si” or “vale” (ok) as a response if I can’t think of anything else at that given moment, but it’s a start. The point being, I’m not scared any more. Right now the only thing that I need to tackle that scares me, is driving here and I’m still not there yet. Someday, but not today.  Oh and speaking on the phone to someone who speaks Spanish...and I'm a long ways away from that one!

I think one of the realizations that has hit me recently and has been a huge help in my transition here (which I feel has been kind of painfully slow) is the fact that just because this is not my home in Attleboro, doesn't mean that I can't enjoy my time here and take advantage of all that Spain has to offer.  I felt a lot of guilt about leaving home - in a sense abandoning our friends and family to go on this new adventure.  And I've realized that they are still my friends and family, even from afar and there is no reason to feel guilty about this opportunity we have been presented with.  And that in fact, I should be embracing our lives here and so that is what I am attempting to do.  It's not going to happen overnight but I definitely feel progress.  And with the high speed of technology these days, most (not all) of them still feel close - thank goodness for Facebook, Skype and Vonage.  They make me feel close even when I'm far away.  So now is the time that I'm going to start taking some chances.  Doing things that may be slightly out of my comfort zone - at least for here.  The weather is getting nicer and between travel and sick kids I feel like I haven't done much exploring lately so that's definitely up there on the list.

So since I don’t drive, I had to take the train out to the burbs to make a trip to Premia del Mar last week where my friend Leigh lives. It’s on the coast about a ½ hr north of Barcelona.  I haven't left the city on my own til now and I thought it would be a pretty simple achievement though 2 months ago I would never have dared to attack this one on my own but I think I’ve become pretty proficient regarding public transit here. Or so I thought. Leigh told me that I needed to take the Renfe (like the commuter rail) out of Placa de Catalunya. So getting a head start that day, Liam and I set out on the metro to go down to the Placa. In our station that we always stop at, Passeig de Gracia, there are signs for the Renfe. And given that Placa de Catalunya and Passeig the Gracia are pretty much next to each other, I figured the signs were taking me over to Placa de Catalunya via underground (most stations are pretty big underground and you could walk forever).

Well that wasn’t really the case I guess. I thought I was doing so great. I went up to the kiosk and pressed Premia del Mar and got my ticket with a return fare pretty quickly. But then I went to the main desk to find out which platform I needed to go to since I couldn’t see it on my ticket. She replied that that train was not leaving from that station that day. Hmmm… ok well I have a ticket for it so I find that odd. Apparently I needed to take the train one stop and then switch. I called Leigh to ask her if this was correct. She replied that no, she’s never had to switch trains before and confirmed once again that I was in Placa de Catalunya. Of course I am! I’ve lived here for almost 4 months, I know where Placa de Catalunya is versus Passeig de Gracia. Apparently I assumed too much and no I was not in Placa de Catalunya. I asked a guy just sitting on a bench and nope, not in the right station. When I got to the correct station, the process was much easier. And well, now I’ll know how to do it for the next time right? And during this whole thing I did not break down and cry or freak out about asking someone. To me, that’s progress. A few months ago this would have set me over the edge and I probably would have given up, gone home and cried. Actually no, a few months ago I wouldn’t have even attempted to leave the city on my own. So we’ve made some big progress. And I have to admit, I’m proud of that. Simple things I know, but those simple things add up. Sure it took me an extra hour to get to Premia del Mar but the point is, I got there, on my own (ok, with perhaps a few calls to Leigh to make sure I was going the right way).

My reaction when I finally did make it to Premia del Mar? What a cute little town! It’s situated right on the water though the train and main road that goes thru the town both run right along the water which is nice for those traveling, but probably not so nice for those who once had waterfront property that now need to look at the train wires and passing traffic. Regardless, it was incredibly quaint and had historic detail that I would have expected of a little old coastal town. It was very very quiet which is different for me now. We didn’t see a lot of people and the streets were very quiet as well.  And because it's such a little town there weren't 50 pastry shops within a 2 block radius or a cafe on every corner but I can easily see how you could become a regular in a town like this where everybody knows your name because these are the places you patronize regularly.  We took a stroll down to the beach and sadly I was disappointed (I think Leigh was too) that it wasn’t cleaner. The sand was more pebbly than I expected as well. But Liam really could have cared less and just played and played til it was time to go back for Emma’s nap.

I absolutely loved Leigh’s home which has a setup similar to ours with the two floors and being long but narrow (like everything here – stores included) but with actual Spanish detail. While I like where we live, it’s only a few years old and the owners did not put in one architectural detail that would lead you to believe it’s in Spain. We enjoyed a few sangrias and brownies out on her patio which was just lovely and full of plant life (we need plants desperately!) while Liam entertained himself with Emma’s toys. All in all a great day and I did it on my own.

Feeling pumped by my travel outside the city on my own, I decided this was the week I was going to go to the mom n tots group hosted by BWN (Barcelona Women’s Network). It was kind of an iffy, coldish, cloudy day and it really took some motivation to go to this play group. I just joined the BWN a few weeks ago and haven’t been able to make it to any adults only events since I have Liam with me the majority of the time – and that’s fine – he’ll start school in the fall and I’ll have all the time in the world. But part of the reason I joined was for this weekly mom n tots group.

So every week the mom n tots is held in a building in Sarria, not that far from Aidan’s school. Probably 15 minutes closer to me. I hate going to groups for the first time and being in that awkward newbie stage. But I needed to do this for Liam. He needs some friends here and the fact that he’s not going to daycare doesn’t help. The poor kid needs more than his family to play with. And I need some mom’s to talk to. So I needed to suck it up and just jump into the group. And I did. I got there just before 10:30, the published start time. I didn’t see anyone else with kids, anywhere. Hmmmm… I walked around for a few more minutes. Nope, no one. Finally, I asked at the front desk and they told me where the playgroup is held but that no one was there yet. Finally at 10:50, a full 20 mins after the start of the group, someone shows up. Ahhh Spain. Why does this not surprise me.

The first woman I met kind of scared me from the group I’ll admit. I’ll leave names out to protect the “innocent” who may read this blog at a later day. But she and her very tough two year old made me want to just walk out of the group within about 2 seconds. But no, I’ve got to stick this out. She was abrasive, very forward and just a tell it like it is kind of person. Sometimes I like that kind of personality but with her, it was more just annoying. And her kid beat up on all the smaller kids – Liam was the only “big” kid there at almost 3 and so this kid stayed away from him. He must have realized Liam would totally take him on or something. Regardless, the other women were lovely and from all different areas, some the US, Denmark, England, etc etc. They all spoke English and the kids were cute. But like I said, Liam was the oldest and only one of two children even old enough to talk. And I don’t know if it’s that he was being shy or not feeling 100% (he’s still not fully recovered from Paris and now is sporting some fabulous boogers these days) but he wasn’t that into the group. We’ll give it another try though and hope it will go better the next time.

Wednesday was also the day that Aidan decided it was time to start his chore chart again.  I think he forgot how much he likes earning a little cash and so he decided it was time to chip in again.  However, sadly his enthusiasm has been short lived.  While he's still helping out each day, we can not top this day where he even vacuumed for the first time.  And of course, Liam has to do whatever his big brother is doing too!

Later in the week I met up with Cristy and her friend Liz who was in town visiting. We did a quick hike up to Parc Guell and then took a cab over to Sagrada Familia which is more in my ‘hood and finished the morning meeting up with Jami & Gina for a fabulous lunch. It was also my first time having cava sangria which I must say is mighty tasty and I highly recommend it!
Church at the end of Gran de Gracia.  It was just a pretty spot and I needed to take a picture of it.
 The hill gets so steep that there is an escalator at the end - enlarge this picture to see it!

Just left of the center of the picture you can see some of the spires of La Sagrada Familia.  I live just a few blocks north of this amazing church.  When you are in front of it, it certainly looks large, but you don't realize just how big it is til you see how much it stands out from the rest of the city.  It was foggy that day but you can still get an idea.  LW, the two twin towers by the horizon, your hotel is one of those.

The above are all from Parc Guell

Also on Friday our outdoor furniture was delivered!!! I was so excited – we can now finally spend time outside here. The kids spend time outside all the time but never Josh and I. Because I expected it to not be completely correctly, I was not disappointed. The lounge chairs wrong color – apparently roja (red) and lila (lilac) sound exactly the same so instead of getting my red chairs I received some very loud purple ones. They also sent us seat cushions that are too big for the table chairs we got. They work and are doable but definitely not the ones that are supposed to go with the set. But overall, looks great. I had ordered some wood panels to go over the rocks in the back area but did not order enough so instead of our table going out there, the lounge chairs live there instead. So we’ll make a trip back to get more of those panels at some point but it works for now and is definitely an improvement on how it looked before. At some point I will also need to add some greenery out there but one step at a time. The highlight though was getting a grill. It’s a no frills charcoal deal but it works and we’ve already bbq’d on it twice since then. The kids are especially excited about grilling!

My new patio furniture!  It's not fancy and the patio still has a ways to go til it's a comfy space, but it's a start!!  Also added to the mix is our new bar (which expands - probably should have taken the picture with it open for full effect... oh well)!

We overall had a nice mellow weekend which was much needed after the hecticness of the last few (Valencia, Paris, just crazy busy plans last weekend). As I said, we spent some quality time outside, really didn’t leave our house at all and just chilled. Perhaps even lazy. So Saturday night we had to fix that and we went out with a group of new friends – all with connections to Josh’s work. It’s funny how at home we never socialized with his work friends and now they’ve become our network of close friends.

View of restaurants along the waterfront in Villa Olimpica

We went down to Villa Olimpica to a restaurant called La Fonda. Apparently it is known for it’s paella and is supposed to have the best in Barcelona. LW, it’s close to your hotel so we may want to consider that when you come for a taste of Barcelona. We laughed a lot, ate some fabulous food and in general had a really great time. Josh apparently had a little too much of a good time and left without me, apparently forgetting that I had no money on me therefore leaving me high and dry with our portion of the bill (good thing for credit cards). Thanks Joshy… and yes, I know none of you are surprised by that. And thank you again Shawn and Cristy for the cab fare. Some things never change!!!

On the left - some of the appetizers (can't say I had any - not my cup of tea) that the group had.  On the right - this is a tribute to my Long Island Girls Weekend gals - you know who you are!!  Just had to take a picture for you!

Today I will say, I came alive again… I shopped.  The shopping bug has found me here in Barcelona.  And Josh will probably drop from the bill. But it had to be done. I need a Barcelona makeover – not Spanish mind you, but Barcelona. Totally different. On our trip to Valencia I realized that they do not dress nearly as daring as they do here in Barcelona. And I would like to say, my purchases today were not so much daring – I will not be mixing polka dot tights with a striped orange shirt or wearing gold leg warmers. But they were definitely out of my normal, preppy realm and I have to say I’m excited to wear them. I’ve been slowly visiting some stores and have made a few small purchases to date but I just haven’t been able to figure out how to assemble things to make them look even slightly European (other than my skinny jeans and boots). Thanks Gina, for taking my pathetic sense of style, guiding me and helping to make it just that little bit cooler. I look forward to Friday’s trip to look for shoes!!!

In other news, I’m sure you have all been seeing or have been affected by our European neighbor Iceland and the volcano. She’s affecting all the airline travel here which thankfully has not affected us, though has affected some that we know. You’ll be happy to know it was a very sunny day here in Barca today and no ash has come our way. I did hear our airport closed for some reason related to the ash but not really sure why and I have heard that people are travelling by train and car down here because it’s been one of the few airports that have been open. I find the articles amazing though and I think I’m more fascinated now that we live in Europe. They are saying that the transportation has been affected from the ash more than from 9/11. And my favorite thus far “Mission Impossible: Escape from Europe”. I was secretly hoping that this standstill of European travel would mean the euro would drop in relation to the dollar but unfortunately for us (Josh still gets most of his pay in dollars which we then have to convert to the stronger euro) it has not really been affected. To my friends in the US, I hear the ash cloud is heading your way… well Canada at least. After the floods you just had, I wish you luck!


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