The Official Tour Tee

Thanks to Grandma!

New Plan

(by James)

We've decided that although we absolutely love Amsterdam, we are going to take off earlier than originally planned. Later this week, we are headed to the Czech Republic to visit Prague. I am hoping to show Julia one of my all time favorite towns, Cesky Krumlov, and also maybe the Ossuary in Kutna Hora. After a few weeks in CZ, we are headed to Estonia for a few more weeks (If anyone has suggestions of things to do/places to see in Estonia, please let us know!). Then we drop by Helsinki before flying back to NY in early Sept for Julia's dad's birthday. (Or perhaps we should spend less time in Estonia and more time in Finland?) After that, we'll probably go visit my brother and his family to check out their new house in San Diego, and then either come back to the Bay Area or possibly go to Maui for a bit before returning home. We left on Oct 1, so it'd be neat to come home exactly 1 year later.
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Madrid was the final destination of our Spain tour that began in Málaga on May 17th. It was also the last week of the Hong family reunion in Spain. Jackson got to spend a lot of fun time playing with his six cousins.

We visited the Museo del Prado, the Royal Palace and saw a fantastic Flamenco show during the week.

But the highlight of this trip was celebrating Spain's victory in the World Cup with the locals. Thousands gathered at the Cibeles Square to watch the final game.

The celebrations continued through the night and amazingly, the players returned to Madrid the next day to hold the parade! The best part was that the parade route passed in front of our hotel.

Here's a video James took of the players passing by us. One of them even waved to Jackson.

When we started our trip in the south of Spain , I had mentioned that Antonio Banderas was born in Málaga. I never thought his name would reappear on this blog, but as luck would have it, Antonio stayed at our hotel and watched the parade from his window. James couldn't zoom in on him so he took a photo of the paparazzi taking a photo of him.

On a side note, I think that we might be better oracles than Paul the Octopus for the World Cup. We may not have picked the winners for the eight games, but we selected Spain and the Netherlands as our two main hubs in Europe on this world trip over a year ago :)

We had agreed that if Spain won, we would stay longer in Spain and visit San Sebastian. Otherwise we'd head to Amsterdam as planned. But it was hard to coordinate the last minute travels so we ended up leaving for Amsterdam after Madrid. Here's one shirt that James won't be wearing any time soon in the Netherlands.

Tourist in Barcelona

After our friends left Spain, the Hong clan arrived in Barcelona to hold its annual family reunion. We rented a spacious flat in the city to accommodate all 15 members of the family. It was a packed house!

We spent a lot of time sightseeing and really enjoyed the artistic culture in Barcelona. We especially loved seeing Gaudi's architectural masterpieces. Casa Batlló and Casa Milà (La Pedrera) are two amazing buildings in the Eixample district of Barcelona. Gaudi favored curves and elements of nature in his designs. It may be a simple concept but it is very difficult to execute. Every part of the buildings from the railings to the roofs were intricately designed.

(photo courtesy of Brian Lau)

Another Gaudi sight we visited was Park Güell. It was an unsuccessful housing development that was later converted into a municipal garden. (Also chosen as the location for the Roaming Jackson series.)

Our final homage to Gaudi was visiting Sagrada Família, a massive Catholic church that has been under construction since 1882. It is not scheduled for completion until 2026! It was simply awe inspiring.

In other tourist activities, we took the double decker city tour bus (not worth it unless you hop off every stop), visited the Palau de la Música Catalana (a concert hall), went up to Montjuïc (a hill overlooking the city) and saw the Magic Fountain show (something like the Bellagio fountain show but grander). In the midst of all this, we also came across a parade for the Catalan independence from Spain and France. It appears to be a popular sentiment in Barcelona.

After a great time in Barcelona, we all hopped on a train to Madrid during the final week of the World Cup games. Our timing couldn't have been any better!

My Ugh/Aha Moment in Spain

(Posted by Julia)

When we first arrived in Spain, I found a Rick Steve's Spain guide in one of the apartments we rented. There was an entire section in the book describing how people in Spain felt about Americans. Some of the adjectives used were naive, rude, parochial, selfish, etc. I thought for sure the book was not talking about us, but the other Americans. We actually did encounter said Americans at dinner one evening. The ladies next to our table were loud, rude and insulting to the waiter. Our dinner group felt quite ashamed to be clustered with them.

I also found that whenever people ask us where we're from, there is noticeable disappointment and/or a period of silence after we tell them "los estados unidos." I generally chalk it up to our last administration or tourists like those ladies at dinner.

Then a few things happened that made me realize that I was unknowingly contributing to the ugly American image. The first thing that happened was when I tried to go to a pharmacy to buy baby shampoo. At this pharmacy, the items were behind sliding glass doors on the shelves. I was used to shopping in US drugstores where you can take things off the shelf and inspect the items before purchase. So I slid the glass door open and carefully reached in for the bottle of shampoo. It was quite a crowded shelf and I did this several times to see the different brands. Then out of nowhere, this lady at the counter started to yell at me in Spanish. I only understood a few words but the sentiment was clear - you can't just touch anything you want and you have no right without asking first. Then another sales lady rushed over to help me select what I was already holding in my hand.

The other instances occurred at markets where I was buying some fruit. At one market the lady simply told me "no touching" so I put the fruit back immediately. The sales girl then selected the fruits for me and packed it up. When I got home, I found a moldy container of figs because I never inspected the package at the store. Then today at another market, the sales lady simply took the avocado from my hand, put it back on the stand and told me to ask for help. I then simply pointed to the exact same avocado I picked out and had it bagged by the sales person.

These instances made me very angry and I sat down to write this entry in order to vent my frustration. Then I realized something that was so obvious but that managed to escape my parochial mind. Both the store clerks and I were acting based on our respective cultural norms, and not based on some negative intent. I was angry because I felt personally slighted, but in hindsight, it probably wasn't the case. They thought I was being rude and entitled by not respecting their rules, but I never meant to. If I understood that this was the way business was done, I would have behaved very differently.

As a tourist, a person has very little time to understand the cultural norms and may walk away feeling very frustrated with the system. But over time as you learn about the culture, you begin to develop respect and understanding for each other's way of life. I know this, but I am only beginning to understand this. With all the packing and unpacking that we have been doing on this trip in addition to raising a rambunctious one year old, I rarely have time to step back and let it all sink in. Since Jackson won't remember a thing from this trip, I will encourage him and any future children to travel the world just as James had encouraged me to do so. This is truly a once in a life time experience and I am so glad to be here.

“Go, see the world. You will never regret it.” (The Namesake)