Monday, June 28, 2010

España and Deutschland: Arrival in Barcelona

After a colorful day in London, my feet were aching as a result of the overbearing backpack that for some reason I had packed to the maximum. On our flight to Hamburg the next week, we were going to be limited to 15kg for each bag, so the weigh-in at the airport in New York was useful for figuring out how much we were packing, so I had stuffed a couple items of clothing in my backpack both as a precaution for lost luggage and also to put my luggage on the South Beach Diet and lose a few kilos.

Arriving in Barcelona, we were pretty tired and looking forward to checking into our apartment that we reserved over at There were some interesting characters on our plane ride, including a group that was going to Barcelona for what must have been a boys weekend in Spain and were getting all tipsy on the plane. We watched them as we waited for our luggage. As the wait grew, I was looking around and trying to find out where the trains to the city were, as we could save like $4 by taking them instead of the ultra-convenient Aerobus that goes directly to the town. And the wait kept growing, until eventually the baggage claim just stopped and we were standing there with another couple with neither of our bags. Not exactly part of the itinerary, low-cost carrier who advertised itself as British Airways.

We filed our claim and were despondent to learn that not only could they not tell us when the luggage would arrive (the next flight was the next day), but they couldn't even tell us where our luggage was last scanned and they didn't know where it was located, even if had even arrived in London or not. We filed our claim and took the Aerobus to the center of town in shock, the idea of not having clean clothing (save what was in my backpack) or shoes to replace Erika's damaged heels (that had given her blisters that she almost couldn't walk with) the next day after spending the whole day in London had not really sunk in yet.

We finally arrived in Plaça de Catalunya, meandered over to our subway and took it two stops to the Barceloneta station, where we found seafood restaurant after restaurant lining the main street that led down to the beach. Not in the mood to deal with the menu-totting restaurant hagglers, we bee-lined for the street where our apartment would await us. But we weren't exactly sure where that was. We stopped to buy an overpriced toothbrush and toothpaste at one of the only stores open at the hour (probably 10:30pm) and got directions to the street we were looking for. 

When we turned off the main avenue on the street where the apartment was and walked 10 meters, we found ourselves in a dimly lit neighborhood with narrow, dark streets and  sinister-looking characters lurking about. And we couldn't find the building where our apartment was! I didn't really feel like hanging out in the area, and luckily we realized that the directions we were given were off by one street and we found the building one block down. I never would have thought that I would come to love the neighborhood after that first step into Barceloneta! 

Anyway, we found the building and pressed the buzzer, but the buzzer made no sound and nobody responded. We tried it a few more times, double-checked the address, and I finally gave in and whipped out my Verizon phone that the week before had been impregnated with a GSM chip - my first experience in actually utilizing my World Phone :o). It cost $2.00 a minute to use, but it was well worth it when Ricardo answered and came down to pick us up. Apparently sometimes the electricity goes out in the stairwells and the buzzer - gotta love rustic Barcelona!

We finally were in our apartment and it was everything we had hoped it would be. Ricardo was great and showed us where everything was and our first view over the Barcelona marina filled with sailboats and yachts  with the old city center raising it's historical head in the background and we were enamored with the city. But not enamored with British Airlines, which would be our first of few conflicts in the old-country.   

J. Riley, to boot, Ricardo took pity on us and graciously made a pesto-seafood pasta dinner for the three of us to enjoy together.  

Minor IVF Update

Putting Europe aside for a moment, we received news last week that the Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis lab has completed it's setup - in more or less a month. Not bad considering they told us it would take up to eight weeks to have it all ready. We shortly thereafter received a phone call from the NYU Fertility Clinic that we are working with asking us if....we are ready for the next step! And that we had to come in THAT AFTERNOON for a meeting with the head nurse to show us how everything works from then on. I was expecting an hour long meeting, but it turned into like a three hours deal with a few other couples going through all the details.

It would have been nice to have like two weeks to mentally prepare for all this, but the very next day we were told that we had to order all of the needles (30+), pills (3 types), and a delicious cocktail of half a dozen hormone medications that Erika will be injected with by your's truly (joy!) over the next month, all of which had to be shipped with Fedex Priority overnight shipping.

Looking at the pharmacy's website, one of the medications alone was going to cost close to $800 and I was hoping that insurance would cut that down a bit, but by how much I didn't know. When Erika told me the pharmacy called and quoted us $780 for the whole package, I was relatively pleased and was mentally prepared for that. When the package arrived at 11:00am the next morning, the total for the bill was listed right there as a whopping...$78!! I was speechless - and immediately ordered my new Canon SD940IS camera that will replace our busted SD800 that served me so well over the last few years.

So, that was quite a stressful few days. However, after a sleepless first night, the stress was released over the weekend by indulging in four wonderfully delicious World Cup games :o).

To conclude, if everything goes well, there will be a bun in the over by the end of July!

J. Riley, speechless!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

España and Deutschland: But First, London

I've been to a few places in this world, but, shockingly, I've never been to England, the birthplace of football. It just so happened that American Airlines couldn't send us straight through to BCN International Airport, we had to spend a few hours in London. Like, eight hours. I've been to Heathrow before and know the kind of damage that can be done to a credit card with a limit there in eight hours, especially considering the British Pound currency rate and the unpublished airport tax - "Duty-Free" my ass, the prices are like 25% above market value!

So, we did our research and tried to find out what a Peruvian citizen without a British visa can get away with in London for eight hours. Like most government websites, it was confusing and although it said that Erika could transfer to another airline without a visa, it was up to the passport control agents whether or not they would give you a 24-hour temporary visa when you got there. Bleary-eyed and sleep deprived after a six-hour red-eye and loaded down with a sixty-pound backpack (or, so it felt), we arrived and hopped in the Non-EU line and started checking out the passport control agents and their demeanor. I've clearly become jaded by the famous New York "hospitality" and maintained a pessimistic outlook on our chances, but I cheered up immediately when we got in line with a chipper, smiling agent. Boarding passes in hand, Erika and I started to make our case for letting her pass due to our layover and connecting flights, green card, etc., but before we could even present our closing statement/remarks, she had stamped Erika's passport with a temporary visa and explained the best way to get to the train station. Erika and I both laughed as she was the one that we both wanted to check our passports, and it turned out perfect!

We found ourselves a Metro map and looked over it. I had no idea what there was to do in London and I justed wanted to wander around somewhere since we didn't have enough time to do a stadium tour ;o). I knew of a Tralfagar Square that would be teeming with tourists on a Friday, but Erika recommended we go see a castle or something. So we bought some subway tickets out to the area around Buckingham Palace. Ouch, I quickly realized that this little day trip to London was going to hurt my wallet when I paid eight bucks just for one subway ticket into town. Oh well, I'd probably be better off in town than shopping "Duty-Free" and English-styled clothes (I still desire you, Euro fashions!!).  

So after some clarifications on how to buy tickets, we were on our way down to "the tube", as they refer to the subway I believe. Walking inside the station, I was astonished at seeing a piece of trash down on the tracks. "A" piece of trash. In New York, you can't even see the tracks, it is so full of trash and mysterious standing rat bathing water. Based on its reputation for being formal, orderly, proper, and clean, I kind of expected it. After all, this was the country that was in uproar when a Prime Minister candidate forget his microphone was on and called an old lady who had presented a question at a town hall meeting a "bigot". Uproar! Scandal! Oh, the humanity of it all! 

We got off at Knightsbridge Station, somewhere and London and got out to walk around and attempt to waste time, find Buckingham Palace, and eat some lunch. I was shocked when I needed to actually use sunglasses in London and found it to be a bright, warm, and very sunny day. I had everything valuable in my backpack save for sunscreen - minor error on my part. I did find a sample of sunscreen given to us by a dermatologist somewhere in the dark depths of a crevice in my bag, though, and that probably helped me postpone my journey towards skin cancer by a day at least. 

We started wandering down the beautiful British boulevard and found Harrod's, which is supposedly one of the biggest department stores in the world - maybe after Macy's in NYC. It was a beautiful building that we took some pictures of but, of course in the interest of time (or so I told Erika), we should just keep walking and not go inside. Damage averted! We wandered around some pretty streets and noted that physically, this was the place where I probably fit in the most. Most people assume that I've got some German in my blood with the whole Aryan look and height, but I actually found myself more like the English than anyone. They're fairly tall, skinny, and tow-headed as well and I think I fit in pretty well there. 

What was funny was that although I physically fit in well, people had a hard time understanding me. They actually understood Erika better than me I think. Then again, when I listen to my voicemail message before I leave work, I hardly understand myself, so I can understand their pain in hearing me talk. But it was a unique and sort of funny experience being in Europe and speaking my native tongue without feeling guilty.

Eventually, we got lost, which was sort of my plan although I had thought I would just come across Buckingham Palace at some point. But using my subway map as my city guide, I soon realized that London is huge! We had gone in the complete wrong direction, so we decided that we'd need to ask for directions. We asked a lady who was walking about some directions and discovered, again, the the Brits are so. damn. FRIENDLY! She walked us to a bus station (out of her way), explained to us which bus to take, when to get off, how much to pay, etc. I was going to ask for a foot massage, but decided against it at the last minute. 

When our double-decker bus came rolling up, we had enough change to pay the bus driver for one person but only had a large bill otherwise. I found it interesting that you actually pay the bus driver himself and he makes change and all that. In New York, you're asking for problems if you even look at the bus drivers. Of course, packing a £20 bill, he couldn't make change so I wasn't sure what was going to happen. He took out this pad of paper and wrote something on it and gave it to me. I didn't know what to do with it or what it was, but he looked finished with me so we wandered up to the second-deck of the double-decker (of course). I looked at the note he gave me and it was basically an IOU form! It had the fare amount and gave me a phone number to call to pay for my fare with a credit card or told me to pay at a subway station sometime in the next five days. WHAT??? Are you kidding? You get an IOU and people actually PAY? This system WORKS? Having just come from New York, of course we laughed  about it and never paid it off :o/ . I feel slightly guilty about it now, but I'm sure I'll recover someday and pay my £2.

Eventually, we found some signs directing us to our main destination: Buckingham Palace. It was neat, but....rather underwhelming, to be honest. Isn't this where the Queen lives and stuff? It wasn't especially big or fancy. The gates had some cool gold designs and of course the guards look cool with their big fuzzy hats, but otherwise it was a bit of a letdown. There was a nice statue in the center circle across from the palace and there were a lot of flags, long, straight boulevards undoubtedly going to some other important places, but other than the statue, the PARK looked most interesting. We walked along the edge of it (Hyde Park, maybe?) on our way back towards to the subway station and I wanted to go sunbathe, relax, and take off this damn backpack that is killing my body, but we just didn't have the time. Next time!

On our way to the subway and lunch, we discovered that if we had turned right instead of left when we came out of the subway, we would have been at Buckingham Palace in like five minutes rather than two and a half hours. Oh well, at least we got to see some London! For lunch, we were treated with typical Euro patience (despite the fact that we were kind of in a hurry) and had a decent meal and bubbly water for a decent price, using up the rest of our £20. Interestingly, when we paid the bill at the table, nobody even came by to collect it or to see if we had paid it in full or anything. Wow, by the end of the day, I kind of enjoyed and could get used to this whole "trust" thing that was going on there. It was a sign of great things to come!

We headed back to the airport with a little bit of time to spare before our flight to Spain. We walked around some of the stores, checking out some of the completely stylish and completely unreasonably priced clothing that was everywhere as well as me gawking at the Liverpool memorabilia and the footballers' autobiographies in the book store. :o)

J. Riley, London was cool, but we were pumped up for Barcelona!


España and Deutschland: A Prologue

It was around 5:30am when I woke up, sweating and feeling disoriented. I sat up in bed and thought to myself, Where am I? I'm definitely not on stiff, uncomfortable seats at midnight on my way over the Atlantic with a microwaved chicken "dinner" slowly digesting in my stomach, or on my way to Barcelona with sore feet and a over-utilized shoulders, or on my way to Germany with a mind full of memories, anticipation, and the delight that my vacation wasn't over. I wasn't in Barcelona, sleeping in a stranger's apartment with the loud street noise and the wonderful sights visible from the bed at all hours. I definitely wasn't in Hamburg, with it's complete silence from 12:00am until 12:00am the next morning. Ahh, am I in the rural region of the Sauerland in Germany, the land first explored as a teenager where I tasted my first beer and visited every few years thereafter? No, looking around in the first rays of dusk light, I recognized the bathroom and mentally traced the path to the kitchen, the futon, and the large windows with views of tall buildings. I am in New York. I am home. 

Home is Where the Heart Is, the old adage says. The night before, home was where I begrudgingly lay down my head and woke up the next morning. By the adage was true: my heart was far away, in a land across the great pond where I experienced an amazing trip that I just wasn't willing to let go of. Not just yet. But, as always, the trip slipped further and further away and life returned to its recognizable pattern with friends, new experiences, and routines. 

People asked me the expected question when I returned home: How was your trip? I haven't thought of a short version of an answer, and the long answer will take a few hours or days to tell. I think people that have experienced these kinds of trips before know the answer without me having to explain in great detail the trip. Of course, vacations can be disasters, but I don't think I've experienced one of those yet. They are all special in their  own way, and this one was no different. 

J. Riley, pictures are up.