The first stories I told my friends when we returned from Spain were about the kindness of the Spanish people. It's one thing to enjoy the sights, food, and culture of a place, but what makes me want to return are the people.
One late morning, my parents and I were walking down a street, looking for a spot to grab lunch before visiting La Sagrada Familia. Mom was leading, and I was the caboose. It was a beautiful, sunny day; you wouldn't have thought anything bad could happen. Jinx.With no warning whatsoever, I see white goo splatter onto my dad's head and jacket. I jolted back, and instinctually said, "OHHH my gosh", with a look of pure horror plastered onto my face. My parents turned around, and my mom gasped - a little too loudly, to the point where everyone else on the street turned to look at us.
Nature called, and a bird had decided that my dad's head/jacket was the perfect target.
We moved closer towards the building side of the sidewalk as my dad attempted to blot and clean his head/jacket. He desperately needed the aid of running water and a mirror, but what restaurant would welcome us? I turned around, and suddenly heard my mom call me over - we were being led away, into another building, by a man. The lobby of the building was dimly lit, and I was confused. The man pulled napkins out of his pocket, and, out of nowhere, grabbed a water bottle. He made exaggerated gestures with his hands, motioning my dad to take his jacket off so it'd be easier to clean. He passed damp napkins to all of us, and the four of us got involved with the cleaning process. I'll spare you the details.
The man was murmuring the entire time, but I could never make out what he was trying to say. Three minutes later, he gestured to us to follow him out of the building. We stumbled out back into the streets, and looked around to see where he was leading us. I lost sight of him, but my dad told me he got into the driver's seat of an Enterprise van and drove off - he must have been on his way to work, saw what had happened, and took the time to help us out!
Then there was our first night in Barcelona - it was the day before Three Kings Day (Tres Reyes, or in Catalan, Reis), and my mom and I were near the Barcelona Cathedral, catching a bit of the world famous parade before heading back uptown to our rental apartment, where my dad was. After waiting for the parade for an hour, we walked back towards the Eixample district (where our apartment was located), worming our way through the packed streets. To our surprise, the road we needed to cross had been blocked off - our tour guide did not accurately map out the parade's path for us. We kept walking, hoping to get far enough ahead of where the police were gating the sidewalks... everything was blocked off for miles and miles. Taxis and subways couldn't get us to where we needed to go.
As a worrier, I was getting more and more nervous - our cell phones didn't work and my dad was unlikely to check his email or iMessage for an update. Imagine the tension that was building in my tiny, over-worried brain ;)
So what were we going to do?
Ask for help! This trip really made me dig for those hibernating Spanish skills.
We went from cop to cop to cop to EMT, desperately asking for a way to cross the street. I've never approached so many emergency personnel in one day, let alone my entire life, and had no idea how they would respond. As all good stories should go, I had the best encounters with the cops and EMT; they were all incredibly friendly, helpful, and patient, even making the effort to switch the conversation to English when they realized I was translating for my mom's benefit.
Alas, how did we get back? I had to do the two things I don't do well: talk to strangers and speak loudly. We explained our situation to crowds as we apologized and asked if we could cut them in line to worm our way to the front of a gated sidewalk. Once we got there, I trespassed onto the cleared road (clear except for cops) and explained our situation for the 200th time to a patrolling police officer. He waved us over, allowing us to cross the street as he said "rapido, rapido!". From there, we were finally able to get back to our apartment, realizing that my dad had left momentarily because he got hungry and couldn't wait for us any longer ;) See what I mean when I say that I worry too much?
I don't think I'll ever be able to adequately describe the adrenaline building up as we were frantically trying to find a way to get back, but my entire purpose in telling these stories was to convey how wonderful the people we had met were.
Granted, you can find good and nasty people anywhere, but my heart was filled by so many of our great encounters with Spaniards. Countless strangers willing to help lost tourists, a train conductor taking the time to help me with my luggage and make conversation when I was separated from my parents, friendly taxi drivers who shared their life stories and favorite restaurants with me, locals on the train who sat next to/talked to me or returned knowing winks and smiles when we found ourselves switching to new seats...so many stories, but I don't want to keep you.
Bottom line: I'm returning to Spain one day, partly because the country is so beautiful, but mostly because the people are so wonderful.