Chapter 3: The Blank Spaces on the Map

A First Taste of Europe: Expectation vs. Reality

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while; I haven’t had good wifi, which of course means I was experiencing good life.  I haven’t neglected to write, however.  I have a few posts I’ll line up for the next few days.

Written September 3, 2015

Our bus emerges from the Barcelona airport parking garage and into the early morning light.  My body has the empty buzzing feeling it gets when I drink coffee as a substitute for sleep.  It’s just past 1am at home.

We had cruised through the airport in record time.  The man barely glanced at my passport before he stamped it without asking where I was going or how long I was staying.  We hadn’t been given immigration forms, and the customs station was deserted, so even if we had had something to declare, we wouldn’t have been able to do so.  Turns out it’s much easier to get into the EU than it is to return to my own patria.

Barcelona slides by the bus window.  I note the tall buildings with apartment balconies and the motorcycles with good-looking young people on them, and wait for the this is different feeling to hit me.  It doesn’t.

Once we disembark from the bus in a clean pretty plaza, we follow the directions to the hostel, only getting minorly lost once.  As we walk, I feel more like I’m in New York City than anywhere else, but without the pizzazz of being in the big city for the first time.  Nicely dressed people walk nice clean streets or sit outside nice cafes drinking coffee.

When I had arrived in Costa Rica, on my car ride from the airport, I was pressed against the window, overwhelmed by the colorful houses shouldering up against one another behind iron bars and twisting narrow streets lightly sprinkled with trash.  The current running through that city was so alien and new and strong that I could already feel my self as I knew it starting to be pounded into another shape.

Barcelona didn’t feel like that.  Over the next couple of days I waited to feel the new current, but I never did.  It felt like going to New Orleans or something—like a gentle change of scenery rather than a rough tumble down a waterfall to an unknown destination.

I guess I had associated travel with reevaluation of self and life and humanity.  Maybe Europe is too much like what I know, but with enough differences to be interesting.  Or maybe the paths are so often trod that I feel like just another drop in a sea of backpackers rather than like I’m forging a new path for myself.

DSCF1673 Whatever the reason, I’ve had to reevaluate what this trip is and change my expectations.  This first month is a holiday with the person I love most in the world, with a sister who understands that when we fight, our apologies don’t come with an “I’m sorry” or a “You were right,” but are sincere and intentional nonetheless.  It’s being immersed in a sea of French and not understanding a syllable, but not being afraid or overwhelmed.  It’s realizing that the pictures on postcards were actually taken somewhere and submitting to a sister selfie.  It’s learning the difference between gothic and neogothic architecture and feeling incrementally more cultured.

–However, I must acknowledge an exception to this nice box I’ve built for the European experience, namely la Basilica de la Sagrada Familia.  It’s a church that could never be captured in a photo nor painted by words, so I’m not even going to try.  I will, however, say that it is a grand structure designed by the genius Spaniard Gaudí in the late 1800s and is still under construction; it is also the closest thing to a physical representation of my faith that I have ever seen.  My advice is to go—go without looking at pictures first or doing any research, buy the ticket to go inside without hesitation and spring for the extra five euros for the audio tour.  It is the architectural equivalent to Les Misérables to me, which is the highest praise I can give it.–

Anyway, right now I’m on a train between Nice, France and Cinque Terre, Italy.  It sounds surreal but feels cotidiano.  But, you know, in a I’m-looking-at-the-Mediterranean-beating-up-against-cliffs kind of way.  So yeah. No complaints here.

So as it turns out, a lot has happened since I originally wrote this, and you can probably expect a more exciting follow-up.  Stay tuned, my friends.


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