Four am came very early Thursday. Especially since neither of us slept the night before. I think it was excitement about moving forward with food truck. And nervousness about traveling on a plane for the first time since the pandemic.
We drove to SCQ in the dark on icy roads. We were there an hour before boarding our flight to Barcelona. Totally unnecessary. Yes, the flight was nearly full. But there appeared to be just five flights taking off before noon. Nearly all for warmer climes. Its not a hive of activity at Santiago airport these days, as we were the only people going through security. More security personnel than travelers.
Still, they are ready for the pilgrims that will begin to deluge this corner of Spain starting in March. Correos is here, too. The Spanish postal service. Although their offer for shipping things for Pilgrims post-Camino is nice, after nearly twenty trips to the Melide office to retrieve a box sent home to Germany by a Pilgrim friend, then summarily returned to the Melide office for no apparent reason, while getting lost for months along the way, I am skeptical. All this since October. They finally handed it to me last week. The package looks like it has been through the wars, with tales to tell. When I messaged my friend to say I had finally gotten it back for her she was so relieved. I am unsure if I would trust Correos post-Camino. A Pilgrim’s Compostela is irreplaceable.
The Santiago airport is where the mask challenges began. An entire fútbol team from Lleida, near Barcelona, seemed unable to figure out how it was supposed to be worn after two years of pandemic. Chin guard, nose peeking, or not at all. We were shocked. But it wasn’t much better after landing in Barcelona.
The Barcelona airport is very big. I like El Prat much better than Madrid-Barajas, which is a monstrously long marathon of a building, requiring 45 minutes just to get from a domestic connection to an international flight through a maze of floors and with copious sweating. Barcelona is much easier and with more services readily available, and open for business at all hours. Why the difference in approach? Autonomous regions run them differently. And it shows. But in downtown Barcelona the flouting of Covid protocols continued. Indoors. Outdoors. It didn’t matter. Masks are legally required everywhere. In reality, 25% of people had no mask. Another 25% had their nose sticking out or it was on their chin. My favorite is the taking the mask down to talk to a friend. Or to cough, which is the point of the mask. Surprising
This would not happen where we live in Galicia. Masks are such a part of our lives, you would be shouted at if you took off your mask in a shop or at the bank. Funny how in two years Jeff’s and my perspective has changed. But I tried to focus on the positive.
We took advantage of being in a big city to have some of the best Thai food we have ever had. Thai Rico. Yum! If you are traveling through Barcelona-Sants train station in the centre of the city, give it a try. It’s just a few blocks away. The people are wonderful and the food is top shelf. We had the place to ourselves but it quickly filled up.
If I miss anything where we live it is international food. Thai, Indian, Chinese, Mexican. And I miss hot and spicy 🌶. Yes, I have learned to make much of it myself, but its always best to have this food made by people born and raised in the country, learning to cook in the family and producing dishes like grandma used to make. I would eat here every day if I lived near by.
We took a walk before meeting our train to head to see our food truck fabricador. It was 60 degrees out but everyone was bundled up for the arctic. I forgot what it was like to live on the Med and feel cold at 60 degrees.
Sants station has undergone some transformations during the pandemic. I was last here in spring of 2019 with my niece, Melody, who was on a school trip from the US. Could that really be three years ago?!?
One innovation they installed has me conflicted. I’m against pay toilets in airports or train stations. I feel like this is wrong and should be a human right. Especially when you have just hopped off a flight and are running for the ladies room. Searching for change isn’t your first priority. I’ve encountered this in Paris-CDG and at the station in central Stockholm, amongst many others in Europe. When the bathroom matrons took no pity on me by unlocking the turnstile while I pleaded with them. In one, I had to use a credit card to charge the one euro. Not joking. No change in that moment is a disaster.
But the new One Hundred bathrooms in the Sants train station are so clean and nice that I’m pretty sure you could do open-heart surgery in there. They are cleaned immediately after each use and are the most pleasant part of the entire train station experience. I took my time and when I returned to where Jeff was sitting he gave me a funny look.
‘You have a spring in your step.’
‘For good reason. You need to go to the bathroom before we leave.’ I told him.
‘No thank you, I’ve been to the bathrooms here before. I’ll skip it.’
‘You’ve never been in a bathroom like this. Smart mirrors and cleaning teams. It’s lovely in there. Soothing music and it smells like a spa. I didn’t want to leave. It costs a euro, and you know my stance on pay toilets. But afterwards you can use the QR code to get .50€ off a drink in the tienda. So you can go back and experience it all over again.’
Jeff just shook his head. He’s forgotten what it’s like to travel with me.
Yesterday made me realize a couple of things. I will never want to live in a city again. I love the energy and the convenience. But I love the peace and solitude we have now, even more. And I love how green it is. But there are times I miss the Med. The Mediterranean near Valencia City is not that pretty, but up here, near Barcelona and just south, is stunning. Pine trees, craggy cliff, and blue water. So perhaps a few weekends a year, just to dip my toes in and to look out across the water, is what I need to sustain me. Just until the next time.