Chapter 09: Remember The Muffin

Uncle Jimmy!

Hey, I’ve always wondered … what does grass look like from your side? Still green? Or do you only see roots?

Do you remember my daughter Kimmy? She was really young last time you two met (single digits, maybe?). Anyway, guess what? She’s an adult now. And she came to Barcelona.

This was her first time stepping foot outside of the United States, unless you count a cruise ship excursion many years ago. I was anxious as hell during her trip inception and planning, as well as a complete basket case during its execution. Turns out, with some reason on both ends.

An interesting idea had come to me back when our current jaunt to Europe was in its planning stages. Neither she nor her brother were really much into traveling. So, thought I, why not be their springboard and try to give them both a taste of the traveler life that I so enjoy?

It started with me taking my son Danny to New Orleans for a long weekend, where we had a grand old time. And then one day I saw a notice that the FIFA Women’s World Cup was being held in France. Which was only one country away from Spain and was being held during the same months that we would be there. And since Kimmy is a really HUGE fan of soccer/football, it seemed that her travel baptism had to involve crossing an ocean.

So … I’m honestly not sure how to continue this letter. Things did not initially go as I had planned, and I don’t want to just scratch out quick random words that might be misconstrued or misunderstood. Not because I’m afraid someone might steal the envelope and steam open the flap, and thus read my true thoughts on the experience. But rather because I’m still not sure what went right and what didn’t.

Bottom line, regardless, is that I believe she did have a great and incredible experience. But it was probably in spite of me.

Before she came, everyone and everything was all excitement. Her professing no need for sleep, rather wanting to see and eat and do it all. So I made the really poor presumption that she would instantly be just like her old man, an extreme traveler who was known to put anything in his mouth if you said it might be food. I had figured she was asking to dive into the deep end over and over without respite. And I was completely wrong to make those assumptions.

In my last letter, I compared adventurers to tourists. Kimmy is the latter, it turns out. Which is not a bad thing! Not at all. But I had erroneously set up her trip for someone of a different persuasion. So it turned out that I was able to chastise myself a lot for being a misguided host. She is not really an adventurous eater. She gets tired and overwhelmed rather easily. Which is all perfectly normal, until your dad pushes the wrong agenda on you. But eventually I did figure out her correct pace, albeit just a few days before the end of the journey.

I honestly doubt that she saw my conflict, but still, I’m just a little too much of a worrying perfectionist when it comes to hosting. Especially to someone close.

Anyway, despite all that, we did have quite a bit of fun. And we also had a very scary experience as well. Actually, I’d like to start there, even if it’s out of sequence. You see, I kinda helped my daughter get swept out to sea. Yea, really.

Early in the trip, she had seen some folks paddle-boarding out on the Mediterranean Sea. She thought it would be fun. So we planned an afternoon to do it, just she and I, with Nikki watching our things on the beach and taking photos. When the day arrived, the weather was perfectly warm and calm near our apartment. So when we got to the rental shop and were told that surf conditions were seriously not good, we were surprised, and perhaps a bit too skeptical. So we decided to go anyway. We rented our equipment for just an hour, donned our wet suits, and carried our boards towards the water.

It was way more than an hour when we returned.

As we left the shop and walked onto the beach, the high winds picking us up and shoving us across the sands should have been our first real clue. Carrying a board is like carrying a sail. A really, really efficient sail. The sand blast from the wind was also a joy. Once we got to the oceans edge, the strong breakers pounding us should have been another clue. Missed that one as well. So I’m showing her how to mount the paddle-board, how to kneel and use her oar, and I pointed her towards the breakwater for some easy practice. And the moment I let go of her, the wind and tide carried her the opposite way. Out.

I have never before felt true fear. That day I did. She was quickly swept out past the buoys marking the safe zone where folks should stay, and out to where the boats were sailing. With nothing in her arsenal to reverse her direction. I watched my daughter until she was a speck heading down the coast, with rocky outcrops jutting out here and there to hinder her possible return. And there was nothing I could physically do. No way for me to paddle out and save her. No way at all.

I ran to one lifeguard and told my story, but he was unimpressed. She wasn’t on his section of beach, so he didn’t really care. Nikki had gone to another tower, and by the time I joined her they had eyes on Kimmy through their binoculars. And she was apparently upright, kneeling, and paddling, doing just fine. But me playing the role of the distraught father, I felt otherwise. And I may have over-reacted a wee bit. I wanted boats in the water and right freaking then. I wanted my daughter rescued, and I was going to kick some wholesale Spanish ass until it was done.

Well, my histrionics aside, she did eventually make it out. Apparently a boat came up to her and said they could help. She actually politely refused at first, stating she was fine. They replied that she really wasn’t. That with the tides, there was no way she was going to oar back to shore under her own power. So they carted her and her equipment back. Pulled her out maybe a mile down the coast from where she started.

I didn’t know about the rescue at this point in time. 🙂

So there I was, standing at yet another lifeguard station being me, when suddenly she walks up and says ‘hi’. What the …. ?? “Hi”??? I went from scared to I don’t know what. Relief isn’t a word that describes it. I wasn’t upset, just happy that it was over. And over safely. Because I knew better. I’m a diver and I understand the water. Mother Ocean always wins. But I didn’t speak up and dash her desires to try paddle-boarding in Spain. I should have. Twas not my finest parenting moment.

Oh, while we’re on the “oops” portion of the trip, let me tell you about … The Terror On The Stairwell. 🙂

There is a cathedral here called the Sagrada Familia. It’s this huge structure designed by Antonio Gaudi and is quite impressive, to say the least. An optional part of the tour is an elevator ride to the top of one of the towers, with this grand view of Barcelona all around you. However, there isn’t an elevator ride in the opposite direction. Nope, it’s 450-plus steps down. And not wide steps like you would see in a grand ball room. No, we’re talking about a spiral stone staircase inside a narrow eight foot wide tube. With no center support. Just triangular steps hanging off the sides. As you descend, you can peek right down through the middle (where there is no hand grip, only air), straight down to the ground, far far below. It’s kinda dark in that spire too, with very little natural lighting to illuminate the tiny steps. Oh, they do thoughtfully provide a small little handrail on the outside wall (that periodically disappears), but basically the whole experience is just a way to coax out your deepest fears.

Kimmy and I were seriously unhappy with the building planning once we got to the bottom. Plopped right down on the stone floor and clung there for blessed relief from the heights and vertigo. Nikki of course was fine. She’s apparently built of stronger stuff, damn her. 🙂

So, if anyone ever asks you for recommendations in Spain, tell them to read the signs before buying those tickets.

Actually, the cathedral is very beautiful. It’s turned inside out, in a way. Outside, it’s extremely ornate, with curved and flowing stonework everywhere. The interior is truthfully rather simple, comparatively. The columns inside remind you of trees reaching up to incredible heights. And the windows are huge. But with them, the designer did something really special. The panes were stained, as expected, but they were mostly of a single color. One wall was blue-green, and the opposite side was yellow-red-orange. And the light coming in was just amazing. You could take a photo and never again see just that light again. It changed constantly. Twas absolutely gorgeous and mesmerizing.

On our way to see the cathedral that day, we also had a special education session. And by that, I mean we kinda sat in a virtual classroom and learned something about pickpockets. We got to watch them in action … albeit from a safe distance.

Up until this point in the trip, we had been drilling the basics of pickpocket security into Kim. What to do and what not. So as we’re standing in the center of a train car, I pointed out a team to her. Strange thing was that she had already identified them. One was casually leaning against a door, the other maybe ten feet away, eyeballing everyone.

Every now and again, the two would make this glancing eye contact with each other. Apparently the spotter didn’t see anything he liked, so he just walked to the next car, followed shortly by the door dude. The sad part was that only Kimmy, Nikki, and I noticed them. Maybe because we were the only ones eyeballing the eyeballers. All of the other passengers were oblivious. Eventually, those two dudes would find an opportunity.

As sorry as I am to admit this, we were fascinated. I had never before been able to watch the game in action. We had to leave the train before they could seal a deal (and we would definitely have made a loud fuss had we seen a snatch), and we almost missed our transfer point because we were so into it. Not because we wanted someone robbed, but because it really was an education to see without being seen.

So the several times we rode the subway after that excursion, we all played the “who can spot the assholes first” game. Kimmy was good, but I think we finally all landed in an even tie with our identification counts. Never did see a grab though. Maybe we aren’t that good yet at spotting the action.

As I mentioned, the highlight of this trip was seeing Team USA play in the World Cup. Which meant flying to Paris. Which also meant me not looking too deeply into the discount airline tickets I bought to get us there. Seems that Ryanair doesn’t quite fly into the city. Just kinda … near it.

As soon as you step off the plane in this farmers field kind of airport, you are greeted with a line of kiosks, where you need to buy a bus ticket to Paris. And hour and half ride away. Looking around, there were no other options. Now bear in mind our flight from Barcelona took off at 6:30. In the morning. Meaning we were up at 3:30 walking out the door to try and find a cabbie. We were seriously tired, and a little confused. So an unexpected bus ride into the city (that took the same amount of time as the actual flight was in the air) brought us to a … parking lot. Which was also not quite in Paris yet. We’re still several miles from either our AirBnb or anything else we might want to see. So, next transportation step for this extended journey was a taxi. Piloted by a rude driver. (Well, it was Paris, right?). And thus we finally found our home, several sightseeing destinations, and the soccer match.

There really isn’t much else I want to go into detail about, to tell you the truth. We did the usual tourist stuff. Went up the Eiffel Tower. Did a river cruise on the Seine. Walked and ate and found more rude cab drivers. And we watched the game. (Which Team USA Won!). But other than that, there isn’t much else worthy of more paragraphs. We reversed the taxi – shuttle bus – airplane – taxi schlep and made it back to Barcelona after just a few days away.

My feelings for the City of Lights? Actually, kinda meh. Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful. The food was fantastic. And I’m so glad we went. But the city lacked the warmth that attracts me to a place. It didn’t feel welcoming. Most locals were very standoffish, many incapable of hiding their disdain. (Although we did encounter a few who were quite the opposite). Bottom line is I loved visiting, but I couldn’t live there.

So, that’s about all the stories I have. We dropped Kimmy off at the airport this morning. I was sad, she was sadder. Despite my earlier statement of her being a tourist, she did have a grand old time, and she seriously didn’t want to leave. She discovered how easy it is to meet new people in this city, and I think she understood that with only ten days she had barely scratched the surface of Barcelona. She may not ever travel like me, but I can see her coming back one day and making this city her own. Just in her own way.

OK, nap time for Daddy. The daughter is in the semi-capable hands of American Airlines and I need to decompress. More soon, uncle of mine.

Love, Rick

LETTERS TO A DEAD UNCLE

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