It's 7:09 am at home. I'm on a plane somewhere high over the Atlantic ocean. Cruising at 40,000 feet. The plane is dark. It's 1:10 pm Barcelona time. I've been awake since 5:30 am or 11:30 pm for those playing at home. We've been in the air about 2.5 hours. We've had lunch and the boys have watched Frozen. Now they are on to the Hobbit. Eyes are looking a little heavy...
Having spent a week in Barcelona I've noticed a few things. First, I must commend the FC Bolts Celtic organization for arranging this trip for the boys and to their coaches for their tireless dedication to our boys before and during our trip. They were more than coaches, but surrogate dads for the week to a bunch of the boys and they were fantastic. They looked out for their safety on and off the field. They found the positive and humor in a devastating loss for the boys their first game (with a dose of reality) and helped them emerge from this trip proud of their accomplishments. I am grateful.
I also want to commend the boys of this team. While yes, they are 11 and 12 year old boys, and at times, behaved as they were (and should), the degree of maturity and respect they showed the soccer teams they played against, even though they did not speak the language or have a skill advantage (which they are used to back home), they spoke the universal language of futbol and they became much more fluent in it after a week training with some amazing trainers and putting into practice what they'd learned. They've been commended for being polite and sweet and 'nice' boys. They've been wonderful little ambassadors for their club and for American soccer.
I'd forgotten how much I loved Europe. It's been 15 years since I've been, not counting Ireland a few years ago. Having previously been to London, Ireland, France and Switzerland in the past, Spain was never on my short list of places to see. I'm grateful for this trip for I'd likely never have known the beauty Barcelona held otherwise. I've written about the treasures Barcelona holds in my previous posts. I only wish I'd had more time (in longer chunks of time) to take in more of it. I don't really have any regrets per se. I wanted and needed to balance seeing the sights with spending time with my boy and watching him play. I'm not sure I'll ever have the opportunity to return. Still, I saw more than I ever thought I would! I'm grateful to my boy and his love of the sport for leading me to this opportunity to see a bit of Spain.
Spending a week in Europe has also made me question the ways of the U.S. Some observations:
- the police are very visible here. They are on foot, in pairs. They wear fluorescent yellow shirts/jackets. Their guns and clubs are visible, some with bullet belts around their waist. Riot vehicles are visible near potential 'problem' areas like at the FC Barcelona game. They ride bicycles, scooters, cars and riot vehicles. They are in and around the Metro. They are easy to find and plentiful. Violent crime is nearly non-existent according to the natives. Pickpocketing in tourist areas is the most common and pretty much only crime. One can't help but wonder if it's because of their tremendous visibility, friendly nature, and visible display of their weapons.
- I did not see one overweight person who was of Spanish descent. People walk or bike or take the Metro nearly everywhere. There are beautiful bike paths throughout the city. There are bicycle stands that locals rent on yearly basis. They are red and white and they can use them for a half hour each day for their annual fee or 1 cent/minute over the 30. Many use them to get to/from work.
- The Metro. Why, oh why, can't Boston get their act together? These trains are like clockwork, with 2-4 min between trains and they are always on time. Signs display when the next train will arrive. Signage is clear to follow, even if you don't speak Spanish. There are stairs everywhere (in places, escalators and elevators, too). The stations are clean. The tickets are all purchased electronically. It's so easy!
- Work hours. Works seems to begin at 10 with siesta from 1-3 or 4 ish depending on the venue. Many shops close for these hours. Tapas is popular. Then, back to work until about 8 pm. Dinner is late, after 9, with the city staying up late and enjoying leisurely meals and sangria. The influence of a Mediterranean diet likely contributes to the health of the general population.
- The culture. Granted, we were in a very tourist driven city, but nearly everyone in Europe is fluent in at least 2, often 3 or more languages. We are so embarrassingly behind in the U.S. on this. Our kids should be learning a second language from Kindergarten so they can compete in a global market and be savvy travelers when they get older. I felt so inept at my ability to communicate in any language other than English. Although I did use some French such that France is not that far to the north and many also spoke fluent French. Sadly, I do not remember enough of my 5 years of French now to speak more than the simplest of phrases.
** note: boy is now sound asleep on my right shoulder. His head is heavy! **
-Futbol: this is less a sport and more a way of life here. Soccer fields are everywhere. Beautiful sponsored turf fields, sand fields at inner city schools, rooftop fields, fields in the middle of apartment complexes, even a gorgeous field in Parc guell! There are signs on open grassy areas that say 'no futbol' because where this is open space and kids with a ball, here is futbol! I swear every child in this city's first shoes are teeny cleats from FC Barcelona. They all play. Whether elite or not, they all know how to play the game it seems. They are active and thus, fit and healthy. In touring Camp Nou, there were also trophies for basketball, hand ball and other sports. This is an active culture. Not a sit on the couch with your video game culture. In fact, we played a game at a school entirely dedicated to soccer players. I imagine there are many of those around this country.
- tolerance: There was not the arrogance of the French here with regard to Americans and their presence or lack of mastery of their language. They seemed, for the most part, happy to try to accommodate. They love our tourist dollars but they also seem genuinely interested in our boys and their soccer team and their experience here. They wanted to make it a memorable and good one for them. Our attempts at speaking their language were appreciated. Most were patient and kind. Even the airline crews were delightful for the most part.
-Cleanliness: The city is amazingly clean. There are street cleaning crews out every single day. Sweeping, emptying trash cans, making sure the streets are pristine. There are trash cans with clear bags on every block. They power wash the squares and bring out the street sweepers every day. There are large recycling bins on the streets for trash and all manner of recycling. There is absolutely no reason one would need to litter but if you did, it would be picked up pronto. Shops are clean, windows are clean, everything is neat. Dogs are everywhere and picked up after religiously. Again, I wonder what this says about the city, it's people and the culture in general. A clean city, with friendly and active people, and prominent police, is a safe and happy city. With no visible poverty (a few beggars but they stand quietly, usually by churches), I wonder if the appearance of the city contributes to the low crime rate.
-Traffic: Driving in Europe is a mystery at times. There are lots of tunnels on highways. There are both 'mini' cars and regular sized cars as opposed to many places in Europe where the mini cars are what most people drive. I did make note that the police riot vehicles were Mercedes. Here, they drive on the same side of the road a we do but have different ways of making turns an navigating rotaries. There are multi-lane one way roads and a tram (above ground metro style train), bike paths and wide and clear crosswalks especially at major intersections. Their walk/don't walk is a red or green man symbol. One of the interesting things is that even if there is a 'green man' indicating safe to cross, cars can still drive on some of those roads and through those intersections however they must yield to those who are in the crosswalk. Amazingly, they do! There is little jaywalking and I heard most pedestrian deaths or accidents are due to people crossing on a red man or not in a crosswalk. I wonder how many of them were from the U.S....
**insert nap for Kim**
While I enjoyed Barcelona, I'm glad to be heading home. The transition of the mind from vacation mode to home/work mode is depressing. To think of all the things I thought I'd get done on the plane (reading, writing, planning) and to realize I've done none of it. Thinking of all I will need to do tomorrow, sleep deprived and jet lagged. I had the foresight to take the day off from work, especially since because I don't anticipate being home much before 6:30 pm tonight EST (1;30 am to my body).