“You know who your real friends are when you travel,” the pretty blonde Canadian said over her glass of champagne atop the W Hotel in Barcelona. She was recounting her experience in Greece a couple of weeks prior, when a friend of hers left her in a restaurant in a fairly seedy neighborhood, leaving her feeling hurt and vulnerable. Alicia and I looked at each other shocked. Even in the tensest of moments, inevitable while traveling, we could not imagine doing such a thing to each other. We had definitely hit some rough patches throughout our time spent abroad- my misaligned neck in Rome, her broken camera lens in Shanghai, Vegas mornings mirroring the one in The Hangover – but we always worked through it and our relationship only deepened from it.
Travel buddies trouble buddies – we’d coined the phrase a couple of years back while laughing with some friends over a particular wild experience in Paris. That trip to Europe had been our first together, and it cemented our friendship in that unique way traveling does. Something about the extreme highs and lows and constant pulsating energy forges a bond that can last a lifetime. Or break one that’s been years in the making. I knew why people had consistently told me I should travel with a boyfriend before marrying him. But until that happens, I’m blessed to have found my partner in overseas crime: the beautiful, adventurous, down-for-everything Alicia Anderson.
On this European tour, I joined up with Alicia in Barcelona. London had been exceptional, but after a week of sightseeing alone, I was ready to have someone by my side, especially after the intense anxiety-producing flight to get there. My last morning in London had been lovely- a long run through Regent’s park, but it all went down hill after that. First the train I took out to the airport stalled on the tracks, and I instantly regretted that second cup of coffee, my hands shaking as I checked the time every few seconds. After 20 or so minutes of not moving, the conductor came over the airwaves to announce we were being held due to someone being struck on the tracks. I felt guilty for getting so worked up about a missed flight when a person may have just died, said a little prayer, and then continued to panic. So much for my happy place with waterfalls and organ music.
When we finally arrived at Gatwick, I sprinted to the bag drop, politely asked to cut in line, made it through, only to find my flight delayed 3 hours. The board informed me my flight info would be up at 3:05, so I got a beer, wrote, and chatted with a lovely Englishman. At 3:09 I went back to look at the board again, and it said my gate was closing at 3:11. I grabbed my bag and started sprinting down the halls, covering a solid half mile before finding the gate, sweat pouring, long queue not moving. After half an hour laughing with the couple in front of me in line who had also hauled major ass, we got on the plane, only to be held captive on the Tarmac for an hour and a half.
Needless to say, by the time I arrived in Barcelona, near dark, google maps not properly working, I wanted to cry. I got to the bar below the flat we were staying, got on their wifi, and found an email from Alicia – if I’m not on the patio I’m in the room with the pinwheel, just call up my name to the window. “Alicia!” I moaned tragically. “Amy Main!” The sound of her voice, the singsong way she always said my name- a rush of relief washed over me. She came down and we shared a long hug, then she grabbed my bag and we headed up to the apartment.
“Here’s a cold glass of water, we have red or white wine, and I’m making some tapas. I wasn’t sure if you’d feel up to going out, but I figured you’d be thirsty and hungry.” It was this kind of anticipation of needs that made her such an incredible friend and travel partner. “I am your mind,” I had once joked with her in Italy, after a particularly poignant moment of nonverbal communication. We’d been saying the phrase ever since. Right now she was mine.
After a little red wine and tapas, we ventured out into the streets. She pointed out some of the places she had been that day and the day before, and we found a little restaurant in an alley to have paella and sangria. Even though we only had three nights in Spain, we both agreed to call it an early one after dinner, since we planned on doing some heavy walking, Gaudi viewing,and drinking the next two days. This was one of my favorite things about traveling with Alicia. She shares my intense desire to experience as many cultural and debaucherous things as possible in a short period of time.
Which was exactly what we did. Wednesday we hit a trifecta of Gaudi monuments. First was Casa Batllo, the Barcelona architect’s nautically designed residential masterpiece. I tried to imagine actually living in the fluid, organic spaces, where no straight lines existed and everything seemed in motion. Next we walked to Sagrada Familia, begun over a century ago and not scheduled to be finished until 2040. It was single handedly the most unusual place of worship I’d ever stepped into (although the mosque in Cordoba, another Spanish must-see, is a close second.) The hanging Jesus resembling an anguished Dionysian circus performer, the soaring stained glass, the kaleidoscope ceiling – it was definitely worth the price of admission (note: the Spanish will charge for everything, churches and parks included.) We concluded our Gaudi day with Parc Guell, picking up a bottle of cava, ham, and cheese (our three Barcelona food groups- bloat, bloat, and more bloat, but so good.)
That night we ate a late dinner at a restaurant recommended by a friend, Boca Grande, and enjoyed some of the best ceviche we ever had. Upstairs at their chic bar, Boca Chica, we met some Spanish gentlemen who introduced us to Monkey 47, the preferred liquor of choice right now in Barca. After shutting the place down at the tender hour of 2am, we made our way to a near empty club. Now, this may sound horrible – a dance floor with no dancers?! – but for me, it was heaven. I’m not sure I’ve ever danced so freely, whirling around the floor, flipping around hand rails, diving swan like into the arms of a handsome Spaniard. “Your friend is crazy! We love her!” our new friends expressed to Alicia. It felt like a dream, the influences of the day coming together perfectly in this moment of unrestrained joy. I thought of the dancers in the Egyptian tomb paintings I’d seen in the British Museum a few days earlier. There’s a reason every culture through every age has expressed themselves in this way — dance.
The next day was Alicia’s birthday, and we spent it having drinks at various places along the beach. First came Arola at the Arts Hotel, under a huge Frank Gehry fish sculpture. It was literally the one thing she wanted for her birthday, and it did not disappoint. The 15 minute handcrafted cocktail, the exquisite tapas, the adorable assistant bartender from Portugal who was beyond excited to bring Alicia a free happy birthday drink – “I’ve never gotten to do this!” We had mutually made each other’s day. A stroll down the boardwalk treated us to many a gorgeous sun-tanned body, and we decided to stop for a beer to be able to fully enjoy the people watching. Beautiful beach, beautiful weather, beautiful company. Things could be worse.
Our final drinking destination for Alicia’s birthday and our Barcelona trip was the W hotel, one of the most incredible places to view the sunset. We left around 8, figuring that would give us plenty of time to catch the sun’s descent on the third longest day of the year. We opted for the bus to save a few euros and our feet, but after three stops, the bus came to a grinding halt. We had hit the most densely packed roundabout I’d ever seen, literally worse than the 405 on a Friday afternoon when Obama’s in town. If I had been alone, or with someone besides Alicia, this may have induced anger or tears. But considering what I’d learned in London, and the current company, we turned the traffic jam into a scene from a Chevy Chase movie. We laughed so hard I nearly did cry. It really is all a matter of perspective.
We had accepted our fate of spending the evening in a roundabout, but then something miraculous happened- the driver found the one open pocket and maneuvered towards it, Mario Andretti in ten tons of public transport metal. We cheered as he honked his way through, going up on a curb, dodging a century old lamp, our hopes revived. He finally cleared the circle and gunned it down the Ronda, delivering us to our destination. A quick cab ride and we were there, the sun hanging at 2 o’clock, stalling for our arrival. We made it to the 26th floor with plenty of time to watch the colors change, the city an aging actress, dazzling in each incarnation until eventually fading out of the light.
“Have a great rest of your trip!” The blonde smiled and waved goodbye. I looked at Alicia, Albariño in hand, hair gently cascading down her shoulder, perfect skin defying the passing of another year. I thought of the last two days, the whirlwind that was only the beginning, and felt so lucky to have found her, my traveling soul mate, the girl who would never leave me in a restaurant, who kept me from falling to pieces, who “was my mind,” my travel buddy trouble buddy. I raised my glass- “to us in Barcelona.” Maybe we hadn’t found Javier Bardem, but who really needed him as long as we had each other.