These are the faces of two small humans who had just traveled about 6,000 miles and not slept in almost two days. I felt proud and impressed that they were still standing... and that Soccer Dude still managed to share a touch of his classic charisma.
Yesterday we flew Lufthansa for the first time ever, from LAX to Frankfurt and then on to Barcelona. I was incredibly satisfied with the service we received on our flights. The Lufthansa stewards, who appeared to be all German, were warm and encouraging, and extremely fluent in English. (I think they knew the language better than I do, ha!) They checked in on us frequently, engaged us in warm conversation, and were both courteous and caring. We also were moved by airline staff to the front of all boarding lines because I was traveling with children aged 10 and younger... no small kindness when you are boarding a plane with close to 500 other passengers. This in contrast to British Airways, that only allows passengers with children aged 5 and younger to board early. Bravo, Lufthansa! You've won some big fans.
Once again, the Airbus 380 did not disappoint. That plane model is like a tank, it crushes turbulence. This was much appreciated, given that we did surf on bumpy air essentially all the way from California to Canada.
We flew Economy class and were able to take three very large suitcases (checked) and these three small ones. For our carry-ons, we opted for two stackables and a tiny rolling suitcase, so that we could pull them all just like this (photo above). Soccer Dude and I took turns all day, pulling the smaller bags. It was a blessing and relief to check the massive ones all the way through to Barcelona.
Little Angel has good intentions but can't usually be bothered for more than a few minutes to carry luggage before she drops everything and says, "I'm tired." Her brothers are like little machines though - they are always asking to carry/do/help more.
The kids were in good spirits, although Soccer Dude felt incredibly sad to be leaving his best friend, Mini-Muller. He has had the hardest time of our three kids in leaving San Diego as he is truly devoted to his close friends, the competitive soccer team where he typically shines at midfield or defense, and his innovative school.
It's hard to imagine, at age 9, that a year is not really that long. As his mom though, I feel confident that someday he will feel really proud and glad that we took this family sabbatical.
It was partly cloudy and 72 degrees when we landed in Frankfurt in the late morning. What a fantastic airport - so different than the intense chaos that is Heathrow. In Frankfurt, customs was very efficiently organized with almost no lines and although they checked our bags even more carefully than we've seen in either LAX or Heathrow, the process felt smooth and relaxed.
"You have time," the security agent assured us as we repacked all of our baggage after it was scanned. "There is no rush."
Coming back to Europe really felt like coming home. The Frankfurt airport was spotlessly clean, and the "quick food shoppes" feature gourmet sandwiches, salads and soups. Nary a Starbucks in sight, thank goodness. We got lunch to go at Meyer's, where Little Angel and I ordered salmon and lentil salads and Soccer Dude had a rather elegant vegetarian pasta salad. That might sound fancy, but it wasn't. The delicious food is pre-made and waiting in a refrigerated section... it's just higher quality than what we might find at LAX.
"Here are some complimentary house-baked bread and toffees," smiled the cashier, a professional gentleman in his 30s or 40s wearing a wedding ring and dressed nicely. He handed them to the kids, who just lit up, despite how tired they were.
We then flew on to Barcelona, another very smooth and uneventful flight with a fantastic German stewardess who told us in perfect English that she had done a year abroad during high school in Santa Rosa, California, and still loves to fly to San Francisco through her work with Lufthansa.
Barcelona greeted us warmly, literally, at 30 degrees Celsius (86 F) with bright, hot sunshine. We were lucky to find a great taxi driver who somehow managed to pile all of our six bags into the front and trunk of his smaller car, and then took the three of us very smoothly to Sarria. The journey took about 20 minutes from the airport.
The hardest part of our entire trip - getting all 6 bags including the huge ones, from the airport to the taxi and then up to our apartment, worked out well. It was actually simple, far less of a headache than I'd imagined.
Our AirBNB could not be more perfect. It is a small flat, 2 bedrooms and 3 beds. It also features a little kitchen, a very nice bathroom... and most importantly, A/C! The auntie of the owner arrived to greet us within minutes of arrival and (bells ringing, Allelujahs) the building has an elevator. This made bringing our huge luggage up 4 flights of stairs very easy. Phew!
"We're home!" I announced with relief as we arrived.
Barcelona really does feel like a second home. This is the sixth or seventh time I've now spent time in Barcelona in my life. As a family we've lived more than 6 weeks here over the last two years, and we know the town really well. Even though we've spent the bulk of our time living in Gracia, it felt good to know our way around this new neighborhood of Sarria as we went grocery shopping.
We are in a city where we have roots. They are small roots, but growing quickly. For example, we have a school for our children and health insurance. We know several great doctors in town. We are so blessed by a small handful of excellent friends, and we know where to go for just about anything we might need. We know the movie theaters, the shopping malls, the English-language bookstores. I even know where to find a nice alternative "health food" type market. We know where to shop, and how to avoid tourist attractions.
In sum, this is a city that holds part of our hearts already.