Archive for October, 2009

An American in Paris

October 29, 2009

meI had come to realize that Barcelona had run its course and it was now time to move on. So I said my goodbyes (do they ever get easier?) and off I went. Destination: Paris. I realized that I chose not such an ideal time of year to visit the city of lights, where I envisioned myself snacking on wine and cheese while people watching along a charming little outdoor sidewalk café. I had also hoped to take advantage of the city’s brilliant bike rental system and bicycle my way around the districts getting wonderfully lost along the way and, perhaps, in a moment of temporary distress, a dashing Frenchman would notice my dilemma and stop to offer his assistance, which I thank him for, and he then takes me to a romantic dinner after watching the light show at the Eiffel tower… but I’m getting ahead of myself. Where was I? Ah, Paris in the fall. As soon as I arrived, I knew that I had, in fact, chosen the perfect time of year to visit Paris. Though, yes, it was a bit chilly. Too bad I left most of my warm clothes at Andreas’ flat in London. Too bad Andreas from London turned out to be a sociopath. Yet, once again, I digress. My first day in Paris, I checked into the St. Christopher’s Inn, where I met up with Patty, one of my fellow volunteers from Pueblo Ingles II who was at the beginning of her year long trip around the world. After checking in, Patty and I stopped at a market where we grabbed a bottle of cheap red wine, a couple of Baguettes and some cheese and had a little picnic besides what Patty had believed to be the Seine River. It turned out that it was not, in fact, the Seine, but rather a small, man-made quay, but the picnic was lovely all the same.  The next day, exhausted after being kept up all night by several teenagers dancing in the disco along with hostel’s very own DJ, we both happily agreed to check out and move to a nice little hotel on the other side of town.  Near the real Seine incidentally.  So we once again packed our backpacks and off we went. As we emerged from the metro, we looked up and standing proudly before us was the majestic Arc de Triumph which, pardon the pun, trumped the one in Barcelona. Now I felt like I was in Paris! Since this was Patty’s fourth or fifth time visiting Paris, and my first, I decided to leave the map reading and tour guiding in her capable hands.  After checking into our hotel, we decided to take a stroll along Champs Elysees, every now and then stopping and marveling at the sights before us. At one point, we came up to a large, impressive building that Patty informed me was the Louvre. I grabbed my camera and began madly snapping away, taking in the beauty of what stood before us, until Patty, after re-examining the map, realized that the Louvre was actually on the other side of the (real) Seine, and that the building standing before us was actually… well, we’re still not sure.  Later on, we finally came upon the real Louvre, which was even more majestic and impressive than the fake one. The next day, Patty, my capable tour guide, had to leave Paris to continue her trip around the world, and I was once again on my own. But not for long. I decided to go check out a local improv troupe which I had heard about. The two hour show was completely in French, and, being that I don’t speak French, I understood nothing.  But I did manage to meet an adorable Frenchman named Cedric whose English was as good as my French. After the show was over Cedric began to speak to me in French. I replied, “I have no idea what you’re saying but it sounds lovely.” When he looked at me blankly, my friends reminded him that I did not speak a word of French and, therefore, did not understand what he was saying. He then managed to ask me out in English. I said ‘oui’. We planned to meet the following afternoon. The next morning, before meeting with my new French friend, I ventured over to the Oops Hostel where my friend Angela, who was flying in from NY, was staying. As usual it was nice to see a familiar face and to be brought up to date on all that’s been happening in my home city. “So, what’s been going on? How is New York? What’s new there?” , I bombarded her, feeling like an ex-girlfriend checking up on her ex, secretly hoping to hear some good dirt. I suppose like any hung up ex, I was hoping to hear how much NY misses me and how it’s not the same without me. But, to my dismay, as if finding out that your long lost soul mate just became engaged to someone else, I learned that the heart of the city, in fact, beats on without me.


Twelve Angry Men (and women)

October 27, 2009

Today’s theme of the day: Anger. I began the day filled with excitement and anticipation. It would be one of my last in Barcelona and I had lots to do; places to see, people to be…Anyway, my agenda went as follows: Parc Guell in the afternoon with Juan, a fellow traveller from NY I had met the previous day; then, coffee with Lidia and Chus, 2 of the spanish students from Pueblo Ingles II; followed by a free meditation class I had stumbled upon during a quick internet search, (what is it they say, nothing is ever free?); and finally, if I still had the time and the will, a few hours at the Harlem Jazz Club later in the night.

Parc Guell: A Gaudi wonderland, with its winding paths, gingerbread houses, it resembled a sort of Alice in Wonderland meets Candyland. (Alice in Candyland?) It was a spectacular sight. In between marvelling at our fascinating surroundings and snapping photos of each other, we decided to take a break and grab a coffee at the ubiquitous tourist snack bar. The 2 men behind the counter, clearly not from Spain, were taking orders (or rather snapping orders) from the customers in line. The one guy, a short, angry looking little fellow with a large chip on his shoulder barked at me, “Can I help you?” I asked him about the type of coffee that was available: hot vs iced, cafinado vs descafinado. He quickly became frustrated when I didn’t order right away and decided to bypass me and move on to the next customer. Fair enough. However, when I had decided what I wanted, and nicely asked for his attention, he ignored me and continued to help the couple behind me. When the couple realized what was happening, they kindly informed him that “Ella esta proxima” (she was next). He then became even nastier towards me. At that moment, my patience and kindness beginning to dissolve, I turned to the poor couple behind me and said, “Como se dice ‘asshole’?” The gentleman in the couple, so taken aback with my comment, timidly responded, ‘um, asshole.” I thanked him, and being the bigger person, purchased my coffee and told the asshole to have a nice day.
Later on that afternoon, as we left the park and headed back to the center of town, where I was to meet up with Lidia and Chus, Juan offered to walk with me (or rather invited himself to walk with me). Throughout the day, and even during our first acquaintance, I had noticed an edge to Juan which I simply chalked up to him being a naturally cynical, yet harmless New Yorker. Nothing wrong with that. However, during our walk, when we began to talk more about our lives, his apparent harmless cynicism seemed to turn into something a little scarier. He was talking about his last job that he didn’t enjoy and from which he was fired because, according to him, his boss didn’t like him. I then innocently asked, “Were you glad, or relieved in some way to be fired since you didn’t really like the job?”. At this point, he looked at me as if I had just asked him if he enjoyed microwaving puppies, and shouted, loudly, “WAS I GLAD?? OF COURSE I WAS GLAD….MY BOSS HATED MY GUTS!!!”. Gee, I can’t imagine why. It was at that moment, that I realized it was time to say goodbye to angry Juan, and to all angry, toxic people that I may come upon, because there have been too many, and life is too short! But I digress.
Finally, after a day filled with angry outbursts and negative vibes, I was more than ready for my free meditation class. The class would take place at the apartment of a woman named Alicia, who is a … well, I’m still not quite sure what she is, but the class was free so…. When I arrived, Alicia greeted me with a hug and a warm welcome and told me that it was a pleasure to have me in her home. I then entered her living room where 4 other souls awaited their fate. I mean, free class. Alicia began the session by going around the room asking everyone the definition of yoga. When one of the students apparently got the answer wrong, Alicia snapped at her, “No!! That is not what yoga is. Did you read this week’s assignment at all?” The poor student looked terrified and didn’t respond. I prayed that since it was my first class Alicia would bypass me, especially since I didn’t read any of the ‘assignments. What was this? Anyway, she continued lecturing and at one point asked me if I understood her since she was speaking in Spanish. I proudly exclaimed that I understood almost everything! At this point she exclaimed, “Almost?? No!! You can’t understand almost. You have to understand EVERY WORD! This is important material, and you cannot only understand some of it. If you miss even one word, you are missing the entire essence!!” I was now shaking on my meditation pillow. “Laura, please sit next to Allison and translate to her in English.” So Laura sat next to me and translated while I silently plotted my exit. 3 hours later (because I was too scared of Alicia to leave early), the ‘class’ was finally over and Alicia thanked me for coming and reminded me to purchase my 108 bead mala, and to make sure to count the beads before I buy it because it MUST have 108 beads, not 104!! I dutifully agreed, thanked her, and then got the hell out of there. Life lesson #57: (and this one deserves to be repeated) Nothing is ever free!!

Spanglish 2 …continued

October 23, 2009

So my second program with Pueblo Ingles turned out to be just as fabulous an experience as the first, just with a different cast of characters. For instance, we had Dominique, the sexy frenchman, Mikel, the Spanish player, and our very own Heidi Fleiss. And many more, upon which I shall expand at a later time. Since we were situated in the middle of nowhere, our program director decided to take us on an excursion during the week, to another abandoned town a few miles away from Valdallevilla. We were informed that as this was an abandoned village, there would not be any shops, or any other signs of civilization; however, there would be mobile service! So, after about an hour’s worth of hiking up the mountain, we finally reached the old village. At this point almost everyone on the hike pulled out their mobile devices, frantically pointing them towards the sky, begging for a signal from the gods, in hopes of connecting with the outside world. Poor Amelia, our hard-working tour guide had to postpone her lecture while everyone reconnected with their long lost real lives.

The rest of the week proved to be fulfilling and unforgettable. Friendships would be formed and connections made that would stay with us for a long time. Unfortunately, as do all good things, this too, had to come to an end. So we said our goodbyes (in English) and parted ways. After spending only 1 evening in Madrid, I decided to continue my love affair with Barcelona, so I boarded a plane and off I went. After arriving in Barcelona at 1am, I headed to Barceloneta beach where my friend Bea, at whose place I would be crashing, would be meeting me. High on xanax (from the flight) and 8 days of non-stop talking, all I wanted to do at this point was sleep. That would not happen. When I met up with Bea, she was in the happy company of Dan, a cheeky Brit and Dan’s 2 friends Carlos and Juan (whose names have been changed to protect the innocent) and who, I would come to find out later on, were former workers for a Columbian drug cartel under the guise of pizza makers, and who were now selling real estate in Barcelona. Okie dokie. So, despite my protests, sleep would have to wait. The rest of the night would be spent dancing until the clubs shut down and sitting on the beach waiting impatiently for the sun to make her appearance. (After which, I would once again begin my hopeless search for an American diner in Europe…What do they say the definition of insanity is?: Repeating the same thing over and over again, each time hoping for a different outcome? Hm) So, the madness of Barcelona would begin (or resume), and this night would mark the beginning of Barcelona Part III. Stay tuned for more.

Spanglish Part II (Pueblo Ingles, La Valdellevilla, Oct 2- 10)

October 22, 2009

I had so thoroughly enjoyed my first English Immersion volunteer program with Pueblo Ingles ( that I signed up for an encore, this time in La Valdellavilla. La Valdellavilla is a restored abandoned village in the Soria region of northern Spain, apparently designed for hobbits as all of the doors of the houses were about 3 feet high, and the ceilings not much higher. During our 4 hour bus ride from Madrid to the village, Amelia, our lovely MC, explained to us that the village was actually quite remote and that there would be no internet or mobile service available, nor any restaurants or stores within reasonable walking distance. Furthermore, the closest village, or civilization, was at least 15 minutes away by car. Given the fact that most of us did not have cars, this would mean that the 40 of us (20 Anglos and 20 Spaniards), would basically be stuck with one another 24/7 for the next 8 days (so I guess that would be 24/8?).

When we arrived at the village, after a divine 3 course lunch, complete with a bottle of complimentary red wine, we each checked into our rooms. To my pleasant surprise, I was given my very own chalet. Ah, peace and quiet for once. So I foolishly thought. After foregoing that evening’s after-hours party (at which I supposedly missed a whole lot of craziness and international debauchery.. Oh well.), prefering to get some sleep so that I may begin my 16 hours of work the following day, I unknowingly locked myself into my house. When I awoke in the morning, I realized what I had done. As I heard voices outside the chalet, I began frantically knocking on my own door yelling, ‘Hello! Please let me out!’. When the door finally opened, our program director Pablo and about 3 of my fellow anglos and several spaniards stood before me and we all had a good laugh at the absurdity of the situation. I then knew it was going to be a good week!

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm…

October 21, 2009

My second night in Barcelona (this time around), I decided to go on a pub crawl, hoping to meet some interesting fellow travellers while at the same time getting to know the nightlife. Well I got to know the nightlife. Just kidding. I also met some interesting people, including a group of Scots and a few Canadian girls. At the beginning of the night, someone asked one of the girls if she was American. Given her repulsed reaction, it would appear that that assumption could be considered a great offense to some Canadians. “Oh my god, I can’t believe you thought I was American. Didn’t you notice the Canadian flag ironed on to my backpack?”, she said, setting him straight. I thought this would be a good time to introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Allison. I’m from New York”, I said, as friendly as can be. “Oh my god. I totally didn’t mean anything by that. I just hate it when people confuse us with Americans. Oh my god, Bridget, this girl is from New York.” “You’re from New York?”, asked Bridget. “I’ve met a few people from New York and they were actually really nice!” “Really?? Imagine that!”, I said in feigned shock. “Yeah, I know. They’re really not that bad”, replied my new Canadian friend, apparently not getting my (NY) sarcasm. After a few cocktails and cheap shots, the Canadian girls turned out to be pretty okay, and the rest of the night was spent with them, the Scots, and my friend Amir (hi Amir!). After the crawl was over (or we were over the crawl), the 7 of us decided to roam around Barcelona looking for a diner. I know. Here we go again. Looking for a diner in the middle of the night in Europe. I realize its just a pipe dream, but a girl can hope. While walking along the port and deciding which Yacht we would crash, we came upon some amusement park rides that were part of the La Merce street carnival. Unfortunately the rides were closed, being it was 5 o’clock in the morning and all. But that didn’t quite stop us. So, the girls excitedly jumped over the barrier and climbed onto the merry-go-round. “Take my picture!”, I shouted, as my inner child emerged to play. Then, after sufficiently tiring ourselves out, we decided to call it a night. I said goodbye to the Scots and to my new Canadian friends, who once again, expressed their delight at meeting a nice New Yorker. “No problem. Be sure to go home and tell all your friends.” and then maybe I can stop defending my nationality once and for all. But alas, stereotypes will live on. And we will survive. Yes we can!

Barcelona Nights (Part II of III)

October 12, 2009

After a lovely week in London, it was time to return to my adventures on the road. With Susie gone, Mara back in the states, and everyone I had met throughout my European summer returned to their so called reality, I was now truly on my own. The fear of travelling alone that I experienced before I left and at times throughout, was now gone. After 3 months of revolving travel partners, visits with family and friends, and ne’er a moment to myself, I longed for solitude. So, off to Barcelona I went. Note to self (and life-lesson #18 of trip so far): If it is alone time which you seek, do not to Barcelona go. I chose Barcelona for many reasons- familiarity, the culture, the sea. I envisioned long days by the beach followed by quiet nights by myself. Now, anyone who’s ever been to Barcelona will tell you that quiet nights in this town are nothing more than an oxymoron. And just as if the gods themselves were laughing at me, I came to realize that I had arrived on the first day of La Merce, Barcelona’s own Carnival- one of the biggest annual cultural festivals and street parties, honoring one of Barcelona’s greatest patron saints (apparently there’s a lot of them). Picture late night outdoor concerts in every plaza, light shows and fireworks at night, music on the beach, carnivals along the port. And that was just the first day!
After checking in and dropping off my bags at my hostel, which was a converted primary school, (in more ways than one), I set out to find some food. I was starving. As I walked through the streets in a desperate search for food, I noticed that almost all of the shops and restaurants were closed. What was going on? Then I remembered. Ah, siesta. But alas, I finally found a small coffee shop that appeared to be open. At the counter sat the only patron, a boy of 12 or 13, who was talking to the woman behind the counter. When I asked the woman for a menu, after describing what a menu was, she informed me that the kitchen was closed. I thanked her and left. A moment later, the boy at the counter emerged from the cafe and began running towards me. ¨Senorita! You looking for menu?¨ ¨Um, yes, I´m looking for a restaurant¨, I replied. ¨Ok, I show you¨, and before I could respond he was running down the street ahead of me. So, in my broken Spanish and his broken English it was determined that he would help me find a place to eat (or at least help me find a menu). I continued to follow him as he led me down several blocks, eventually coming to a large median in the middle of a busy street, which he of course, being a boy of 12, jumped over. Looking back at me and wondering why I wasn´t jumping the barrier, I thought, why not. So in my sundress, in the middle of the streets of Barcelona, I jumped the barrier. Yes, I did. A few moments later, one of his little friends rode up on his bicycle and my new friend explained what I was looking for and that I was a ´turista Americana´. ¨Ah, you want McDonald?¨ he asked. At this point, I would eat anything, so I replied, ¨Yes, perfect¨. So, after they pointed me in the direction of Mickey D´s, I thanked my new friends for their help and said adios. I then waited for them to round the corner and I headed back towards my hostel (I was hungry but not that hungry, and I didn´t want to hurt their feelings after all their trouble). Back at the hostel I began chatting with a young German student who was part of a school trip. ¨So, are you 19?¨, he asked. Confused, I looked behind and around me, and when I realized he was talking to me, I began to laugh. I thought he was kidding. But he wasn’t. He was serious. ¨Uh, no, I´m not 19.¨ I corrected the poor kid. ¨I´m actually 20¨

London Bridge is Falling Down

October 11, 2009

After saying goodbye to my new friends in Ireland, I was off to London once again, where my friend Andreas (see June posting) would await me. Although I flew from New York into London, I had tried to avoid the city throughout my trip, as I have come here to temporarily escape the hustle and bustle of what I left behind, and to spend any time in London would be to defeat that purpose. However, during my short stay at the start of my trip I did make the acquaintance of one handsome Brit for whom I would decide Britain may be worth visiting once again. I decided that I would spend one week with Andreas and then head off to Spain where I would perfect my imperfect Spanish. The week would be one of relaxation, culture and personal growth (but we’ll get to that later on). Throughout my 6 days, I saw 3 very different plays. The first, a gripping drama by the brilliant playwright, Kieron Barry, entitled, “Stockwell” about the aftermath of the London bombings Next we saw a one-man show written and performed by Mark Thomas, Britain’s own Michael Moore, entitled, “The Manifesto”, described as “a show that attempts to probe our collective creativity… The economy is bust, the environment broken and governments have run out of ideas, the only people who can save the day… is us!”, involving audience participation, where Mr. Thomas asks each audience member to submit one original idea or policy, social, political or economical, that they believe would benefit the world. Throughout the show, he reads out the audience’s ideas and at the end, the audience gets to vote on the winning policy. Being a socially conscious person, the ideas I came up with were along the lines of required licensing for the parenting of children, stronger penalties for child abusers, abolishing organized religion and replacing it with yoga (wouldn’t the world be a happier place?) However, my fellow audience members were a bit more creative (and a tad darker), proposing policies such as ‘hang one banker per day” and ‘bring back public stoning of hedge fund managers’. Bring back???! Other ideas included the forcing of people who shuffle their feet while wearing Ugg boots to sit and listen to the sound for an hour; having separate sidewalk lanes for fast and slow walkers and tourists who stop in the middle of the street to stand and stare at the buildings (Ironically, I used to despise those people and now I’m one of them); and everyone should be gay for 2 years. The winner was a tie between the following: 1. Set a federal maximum wage (Agreed!!!) and 2. Force potato chip manufacturers to fill the bags all the way to the top. Hm. It was an interesting night and I learned much about the Brits. My days in London were spent relaxing, site seeing and shopping. Speaking of shopping… my first full day in London, I spent walking along Oxford street, merely window shopping and fantasizing, until I found heaven. It was a place unlike any I had ever been to, It was called Primark. It was Bloomingdales meets Zara meets Sacs with the prices of TJ Maxx. Pure fashion heaven…backpacker style. It was moving. I could have shopped for hours. Well, actually I did shop for hours, but I could have shopped for days if I only had the time and the bank account. But alas, my spree had to come to an end. So, I made my purchases, gathered my bags and walked out onto Oxford Street where Andreas would be waiting to take me to the theater. On my final day in London, we decided to spend the day at a park just outside of London, where we saw herds of baby deer..little bambies, whom we were close enough to to pet. Afterwards, we picnicked under a blanket of clouds…. and suddenly…London didn’t seem so bad.