Although Barcelona was an amazing city I really couldn’t wait for these two days. Paris – my teenage dream destination. I knew I have to visit this city.
After getting to the hotel I didn’t even rest for a while, I didn’t want to lose a minute of my time here. So I left my bags, grabbed my jacket and camera and went out.
I chose to not tick the boxes with all sightseeings but rather to experience this incredible city, without any particular plan.
For half a day I was just wandering around, walking the streets, observing people and imagining how it would feel like to live here. I loved the rush and crowd, although the number of tourist was really overwhelming. They were everywhere. You could see them even in some small streets that have no tourist attractions. Well, I’m one of them as well. What I loved the most were all the bakeries, coffee shops and little stores. It’s so different from our mall culture. And the architecture is just beautiful. Even not knowing a lot about Paris you can feel the surrounding history. All the bridges, gates, buildings. This city is just beautiful.
I had so much pleasure just walking the streets and parks, simply observing everyday life.
Of course I couldn’t resist a small stop in one of the enchanting cafes.
I sat outside by the small table and was just happy to be here. First I ordered a board of cheese and a glass of wine. I wanted to feel like a Parisian at least for a while. It was delicious, and every cheese had completely different flavour. I tried some delicious macconais and a bit of creamy camembert. I loved the Tomme de Brebis.
However French servings seems really tiny so without any guilt I ordered something sweet to fill my stomach. I was thinking about creme brulee but since it’s not my favourite desert I figured it won’t make a big difference even if it’s the original one. Instead, following recommendation of a waiter, I ordered Clafoutis. Oh, Grandma, it was scrumptious. Black cherries sinked in something resembling light creamy pudding was just perfect. It was definitely the highlight of my day.
From there I went for a walk through famous Champs Elysees. Although it’s a beautiful promenade, it was much too crowded for me, so I decided to change the route and went to see the Eiffel Tower. It was different than I thought. After seeing all that beautiful streets and buildings, this steel construction somehow didn’t impress me. It’s big and unique, for certain, but apart from the size i didn’t find anything appealing in it. However my lack of love to the tower might also be caused by the fact that I was climbing the stairs for almost an hour to get to the top. I was exhausted. But the view was absolutely worth it. I was lucky it was sunny and the panorama of the city was wide and clear. I was just standing on the observation deck and absorbing the city for a long time. I definitely love Paris.
It was enough for me for one day. I was tired already of walking for most of the day but also because of an early flight that I took from Barcelona. So I decided to call it a day and came back to the hotel. I just bought a baguette with ham and cheese on my way, and after return I literally absorbed it and went straight to sleep.
I woke up fresh and ready for another day of exploring. I decided to continue my previous pattern and just wander around. The only place I absolutely needed to visit was Louvre Museum.
It took me a while to get in as the ques are extremely long. But inside I took my time and went slowly from room to room stopping by by every piece that I liked. When I finally get to the place where Mona Lisa was exhibited I was surprised how small the painting is. And with a crowd of people in front of it I thought it’s very overrated. Until I managed to get through to have a closer look. At that moment I understood all the interest. There is something magnetic about it, that doesn’t let you take your eyes of it. Maybe it’s the depth of her eyes, or maybe that mysterious smile, but you really want to stand there and stare. I am sure it has that impact not only on me.
After a while I moved to make space for other people to see Mona Lisa at close range but I didn’t want to leave the room yet. When I was standing in the corner I noticed a woman that was not much less magnetic than Mona Lisa. She was standing close, so I could have a good look. She was rather short, slim, had blond hair tied in a ponytail, was wearing dark blue pants and beige sweater. Her nails were short and painted with transparent enamel. She had no cleavage and obviously was far from American canon of beauty but she seemed so interesting and feminine. Suddenly she noticed that I was looking at her and approached me.
- Hi, I’m Marie, is there anything I can help you with? – she asked.
I’m certain that my face was red as an apple, I was so embarrassed.
- Hi, I’m Kate – I introduced myself – I’m sorry for staring. I’m here for just two days and am really admiring french culture and alo french femininity. I love how beautiful minimalism can be, you don’t show off with clothes or lack of them – I laughed – but when you enter a room everybody notices.
- Thank you – said Marie and smiled. – It has nothing to do with minimalism, but all with self esteem. We don’t need flashy clothes to attract attention.
- It seems so easy, yet it’s so difficult. – I replied – I’m quite sure that if I wear the same clothes as you do, no one would even look at me.
- Never say such things about yourself. Clothes doesn’t matter. Even in sweatpants you are still a woman. Just make sure they are clean – we both laughed.
- But how do you do it? – I asked her
- First of all I don’t question my femininity, I know I am attractive but I don’t spend my days thinking about it. I wear clothes that I like, that I feel comfortable in and on a daily basis I don’t put attention to anything more than to look decent and comfortable. – she said.
- But then how can you be sure that men find you attractive? That they pay attention to you? – I was really puzzled.
- My dear, I am not bothered by what men, or anyone else for that matter, thinks. I am who I am, I have a body that I was given so I don’t see a point of stressing out about it. I have so many better things to do. If I go on a date I put effort to look tempting, which I expect from a man as well. But I wouldn’t like to waste my time on considering what might men on the street think about my outfit every day. – said Marie. – I am me, I am unique, i have my work and hobbies, my life. I am interesting, like every human being.
- I guess you are right. – I must have sounded insecure, because Marie added:
- Look, people are like puzzles. Some of them fit well, others don’t. Instead of trying to please everyone, isn’t it better to be yourself and stick to people who like you and who want to spend time with you? For who you really are not for the role you are playing? What do you need the rest for? It’s you who have to be comfortable in your life. You have only one goal – to make your life happy. So let others do and think what they want, and just focus on yourself. You will see that it’s the best path – she said. Then she noticed that her friend just arrived and said goodbye.
I stayed there for another half an hour looking at Mona Lisa and processing Marie’s words.
I am certain that my memories from Paris will be not only great food and beautiful monuments but this conversation as well.
After visiting Portugal I am fascinated and so curious for all the coming destinations.
Arriving to Barcelona was very easy. It’s only a bit more than one hour flight from Lisbon. I also got to the hotel fast and was so happy that I actually understood and could talk a bit with the taxi driver. Although Spanish here sounds so much different that the one I learnt at school.
The previous night I made some research of what I want to see. As the time is limited I chose the absolute must see places and decided to see cathedral and one of the most famous Gaudi buildings.
I knew that Sagrada Familia is a great place, I red about it in the guide and internet but what I saw exceeded my expectations. Not only the architecture, which can’t be compared with anything that I’ve seen before but the size of the basilica is stunning. The building is not finished yet, although the construction begun in 1882. The machines spoil the view a bit, but still the high towers and overwhelming number of details are very impressive. Yet, it’s nothing comparing to the interior of the church. I have no words to describe it. It’s so spacious and tall, and the stained glass windows make the whole basilic to be filled with combination of colours. Truly unforgettable place.
From Sagrada Familia I went straight to see one of the other famous Gaudi’s masterpieces – Casa Batllo. What a strange building. On the one hand colorful and beautiful, like taken from a fairy tale, on the other hand a bit too kitch for me. It is impressive and seems unreal, but I wouldn’t be able to live in a place like that, I am definitely used to right angles.
After all that sightseeing I was a bit tired so I took a taxi to one of the most famous streets – La Rambla and decided to just have a coffee or hot chocolate and rest in one of the cafees.
However it was a siesta time and all the places were full. When I was standing in front of one coffee shop desperately looking for a free table, a woman waved at me and asked:
– Are you looking for a place to sit?
– Yes – I replied in my not so perfect Spanish.
– Sit with me, I’m alone and will enjoy a company.
– Thank you – I replied – My name is Kate. Nice to meet you.
– I’m Carmen. Nice to meet you as well.
That was such a kind gesture. We started talking and she told me that if I have only one day in Barcelona, I can’t leave without tasing a real hot chocolate. When we were waiting to be served I told her the story of my trip, and of you, Grandma. She was really curious and asked me so many questions. She told me you were a very wise woman to send me in this journey before I made my life choices. I asked her why, and she told me that it’s important to have experience and learn life lessons when you are young.
She was so beautiful grandma, had a perfect makeup and beautiful curly hair. She was slim but not skinny and she looked so feminine. But her eyes were very sad. I told her that. Then she smiled and told me:
– It’s so strange that you’ve noticed. All of my family and friends think I hit the jackpot and my life is like a dream. But the truth is, it’s far from that. I got married very young, being 21, he was my highschool sweetheart. We were in love and very happy, both studying. I wanted to be a biologist and my husband always dreamt about his own business. He set up his company when he was 23 and by 25 we were quite well off. It was hard to get a job in a lab so the only offers I had was teaching biology at school. I didn’t want to do it and because we didn’t have financial struggles my husband convinced me to stay home. I did enjoy it in the beginning. When my friends were struggling, hating their bosses and getting up early, I was sleeping long and going to the spa. I still do it. But now, being 45, I feel that my life has no sense. I didn’t achieve anything in life, I don’t have anything to do. I know it sounds terrible, but how much money can you spend? To how many stores can you go before you will be bored? I have a lady who takes care of the house, gardener. And a lot of free time to think. I read, but it only shows me how much time and opportunities I wasted. I’m just thanking god that we are a good marriage with my husband and I’m not struggling in this department. But neither he or any of my old friends understand me. They tell me I live in a fairytale. I know that, and don’t want to be ungrateful but that deep sorrow overpowers me lately. I could work in my field or set up a company or study more. But in comfort and maybe laziness I chose to do nothing. I am so disappointed with myself and tired. Tired of watching tv whole day, tired of having nothing to do, tired of basic conversations with wifes and girlfriends of my husband’s friends. Most of them are in mid twenties! And like me once, they think they hit a jackpot by marrying a rich men. I sometimes try to tell them to use the money and do something for themselves, but they are too busy with their spa appointments and shopping. I don’t blame them, I was the same and learnt my lesson much too late.
– But if you are 45 you still can do so much! – I told Carmen. – you can go to university or set up your own business.
– No, I’m too old for that. And not working for so many years I have no idea about market requirements. My self esteem is low enough, I don’t want to experience one more failure. – she replied.
– I don’t know. I am sure there is still time to do something meaningful. It’s better to try than to regret, isn’t it?
– Maybe – she said when the waiter brought our drinks. And she changed the subject. I felt that she didn’t want to continue this conversation. Instead she told me to go to La Boqueria market later to try all the different specialities from Spanish cuisine.
We sat a bit longer talking about traveling and enjoying the chocolate. It was delicious, warm and so thick that you could almost cut it with a knife. I absolutely loved it.
Later I went to the market and tried so many scrumptious things like tortillas, sausages, seafood and sweets. The market was crowded but the symphony of colours and smells was delightful. However I couldn’t stop thinking about Carmen. I felt bad for her, her disappointment and sadness. Yet I truly believe it’s never too late to change and start something new.
Oh, Grandma, each day I am more grateful that you’ve sent me on that journey.
Lots of love,
I can’t believe this is really happening! I’m sitting in my hotel room in beautiful Lisbon and thinking about everything that happened since yesterday. I truly feel your presence in every step I’m taking so I decided to write you a letter from every place I’ll visit. Even though I can’t send them, I hope you can still get them.
Yesterday Rick dropped me off at the airport. I was very emotional, as I had the mixture of all feelings – excitement, anxiety, fear, happiness and longing. Rick seemed to be annoyed that I’ll be gone for so long, but at least I know he will really miss me.
The flight was very long but I couldn’t fall asleep from the thrill. From the airport I went straight to the hotel where I slept for 12 hours straight. I guess my jetlag was over within one night.
Today, after quick breakfast I decided to take a walking tour with a local food tasting, and it was a great decision.
Oh, grandma, Lisbon is a picturesque city filled with Portuguese food and street markets. You would love it. What a shame we couldn’t take this trip together.
You would be enchanted by the architecture of Rossio – the main square with it’s impressive theater. It’s clean and spacious but full of people. I had an impression that it’s not only popular tourist spot but also local people love it and spend time there. Do you know that some of the cafes are there since 18th century? I tasted some delicious cheese with marmalade there. It was divine.
From there we went to see a beautiful panorama of the city. It was breathtaking. Looking at the city bathed in a sun was unforgettable.
Later we went down cobblestoned streets and small alleys of Bairro Alto to end up in a small bakery where we had lunch. It was delicious. When they served pastel de nata I couldn’t resist. It’s a custard tart, so creamy and tasty. I also had queijada, a small cake made from eggs, cheese, milk and sugar. I’ve never tried anything similar to it. But I wouldn’t be myself if I hadn’t had a dessert. I ordered pastel de laranja – cake in a shape of a muffin, made with portuguese oranges, and so sweet as a marmalade. I have only one word to describe it – delicious.
In that cafe I had a very interesting conversation with one of the tourists. Leonor is 23 and she is Portuguese but she comes from Algarve region and has never been to Lisbon before. She is a student and a huge fan of a Japanese culture. I told her I’m getting married and she told me a very interesting story:
- Do you know that in Japan once a woman get married she is erased from her family registry and her name is put to the one of her husband’s? – Leonor told me.
- No, I had no idea. But why is that? – I asked.
- Because she belongs to her husband from now own. At least that was the historical reason. – she responded.
- And they didn’t change till now?
- No – Leonora said.
- It’s so unfair. Why would a woman agree on erasing her roots just because she got married? – I asked.
- It also seemed very unfair and not up to today’s world in the beginning for me. – Leonor continued – But then I started thinking about it. Americans, Europeans and probably most of women on the world change they surname after getting married. No matter what their family roots are, no matter what their achievements are, big majority resign of their own surname and takes the husband’s and his family’s.
- I’ve never thought about it this way, but you are right. – it was difficult to not agree with her.
We exchanged our email addresses and promised to keep in touch. But I can’t forget about this conversation. I have never thought about it before. Never questioned the tradition. So I just assumed I will be Mrs Rick O’Brian after the wedding, not giving it any thought. But do I want to work for his name? And what most important, do I want to just resign of mine? I like it, it’s me, my identity. I will have to talk with Rick about it when I get back. Don’t want to have this conversation over the phone as somehow I have a feeling he won’t be happy about it.
Oh, grandma, why do I have a hunch that this journey will change a lot in my life?