I know I know… it’s been a few minutes since you’ve heard from me. We’ve all had a nice little Spring Break here at Vaagen’s Vegan Sauce. After celebrating the successful launch party by partying MORE and going on a two week adventure to Spain, I’m ready to hit the ground running with some fresh, funky summer recipes for every occasion.
But first, I’m sure y’all are dying to hear about my journey to SPAIN! Kevin, myself, and several other Duluthians hopped the pond to attend the wedding of our dear friends, Ben and Annie. They were married in the beautiful Castle Llaes which is situated north of Barcelona tucked in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains near the town of Ripoll. The wedding was well attended despite travel inconveniences and a good time was had by all! You will find more about the castle, wedding, and Ripoll in Part 2!
My particular journey to the wedding was great fun! I left Duluth at the crack of dawn and, though I was flying standby, made it onto all of my flights. A rare occurrence indeed! However, I did have a small hiccup in the Minneapolis airport when the gate attendant accosted me about wearing leggings on the flight.
It went a little something like this:
–I would like to preface this story by alerting my fine readers to the fact that I’ve worked in customer service for the entirety of my adulthood and have spent countless hours in airports watching airline employees be berated by prickish, asshole travelers and therefore am unbelievably friendly and nice to all airport employees.–
Many people have been asking me about this after I complained about it on my Facebook page. Different rules apply to me as a Standby passenger and I will explain them now.
After spending $8 on a banana and bottle of water (not exaggerating), I make my way to my gate and check in with the gate attendants so that they know I’m there. My brother is a pilot and has me signed up as a buddy pass which means that I can fly Standby on United Airlines flights. Flying Standby means you pay a reduced rate (it is a non-revenue ticket so you only pay the tax on what a full price ticket would be) and can only get a seat on a plane if they have extra space available. So if the tickets for a flight are sold out, no luck for Standby passengers. There is also a hierarchy according to the status of the employee whose pass you are traveling on. For example, new pilots or employees are of lower status than long term or retired employees. So because my brother is a newer pilot, my pass puts me at the bottom of the totem pole. It can be tricky because just when you think you are at the top of the list, some hotshot fancy pants puts themselves on the list and bumps you down. Oftentimes I don’t get on the flight and have to wait for the next one or make a transfer to a different airport where the odds of me reaching my destination in a more timely manner are higher.
So I go and check in at the gate. They tell me that the flight looks good and that they will call my name after ticketed customers board. At this point I proceed to snarf down my banana breakfast and just as I am in mid-bite one of the gate attendants approaches me with a reluctant “Hello, Ms. Vayghaun?”
I reply with a banana-filled “Yush?”
She then asks me if I have anything else to wear because United pass rider policy dictates that I wear business casual attire and sporty clothing is not allowed. I was flabbergasted. I mentioned that I’d flown standby many other times in identical outfits and never had any problems. I also pointed out that I was traveling for nearly 24 hours which included a 7 hour layover and an overnight flight and, though comfort was key, I knew not to wear my pajamas and had put light effort into my appearance for this harrowing day. She told me that she had to abide by the policy and that leggings did not cut the mustard. I could tell she was trying to be nice and polite, but believed so wholeheartedly in this ludicrous policy that she wasn’t about to give in. She asked if I had a scarf or blanket. By sheer luck, I happened to be carrying a small, bright red blanket emblazoned with the “Delta” logo that I’d grinched during a trip to Alaska. She asked me to tie it around my waist. I did. She told me that it looked “goofy” but it would have to do. She reminded me that we Standby passengers are representing Untied Airlines and that is why the lame-o policy is in place and I will need to adjust my attire for my next trip.
I couldn’t believe what had happened and that I was boarding the plane with another airline’s blanket wrapped around my legs like a sarong. But I had to do as she said in order to reach my destination (which I very much wanted to do). At this point I took note of the outfits of the other passengers and I would estimate that at least 80% (likely more) of the other passengers were wearing some form of leggings or sweatpants. I also noted that this same gate attendant forced another young woman to change out of her white, non-leggings pants and into jeans. Presumably because they were too tight but I thought she looked great. I also overheard gate attendant telling white pants girl that her “shirt needed to come down lower next time” as it exposed about 3/4″ of her midriff. Essentially, paying customers can wear whatever they want but non-revenue customers must fit a certain standard (even though they aren’t really working for the airline and are likely to spend hours of discomfort in the airport because that is the essence of a standby ticket).
The whole situation smelled of discrimination. I understand that we are non-revenue passengers and are of less importance than the paying customers, but NOBODY KNOWS that we are flying Standby which renders the suggestion that we are representing the airline bunk. I’m not sure if this was the case, but it seemed that there was a male Standby passenger (I’m not sure if he was, but he was in line with white pants girl and me so he could’ve been) who was allowed to board the flight in sport shorts cut well above the knee and sneakers. I never saw him have any problems….
ANYWAY….. I MADE THE FLIGHT!
I arrived safely in Newark and had a nice, relaxing 7 hour layover and, after a cross Atlantic voyage, arrived in Barcelona around 11am.
Jaime and Latifa: My first AirBnb!
I used Air BnB for the first time and wound up with the best and most wonderful hosts! Jaime and Latifa live in a 200+ year old house in the Sant Feliu de Llobregat, a small city on the outskirts of Barcelona. They had a beautiful garden full of persimmon, apricot, citrus, nut, and olive trees and were growing potatoes, poppies, beans etc. The structures on their property were so old and cool. AND the place was full of CATS. Jaime and Latifa have an adorable little tortoise shell kitty named Garbanza who had two kittens at the time. Needless to say I was in kitty heaven. Jaime informed me later that he decided to name the kittens after Kevin and me!!! A dream come true!!! The garden was also patrolled by several other cats (some offspring of Garbanza) that Jaime also fed. Unfortunately they were too shy to let me pet them (they didn’t know that they were missing out on some expert kitty petting action).
Jaime and Latifa were very welcoming and I had a most wonderful time chatting with them. I’m kicking myself for forgetting to take a photo of them. Jaime was born and raised in Sant Feliu and had previously been in the army. Now he lives in that big old house, hosts Air BnB guests, and plays with the kitties. He met Latifa while on a much anticipated holiday to Morocco many years ago. He’d always wanted to do so after his service term was up and he made the journey. He told me he heard her speaking French to her sister in a cafe and was smitten. Latifa studied languages and speaks Spanish, French, and Arabic. She is an excellent cook and we had a great time talking about medicinal herbs, spices, and gardening. Jaime spoke English pretty well and we practiced our second languages together. They fed me lunches and wine (at or before noon, my kinda folks!) and we talked about food, cooking, kitties, our families, etc. It was awesome. I was very thankful for their company as I was all by my lonesome due to Kevin’s flight delays.
Kevin’s Flight Delays
Because we both fly standby, destination vacations can be tricky. It’s great to get a deal, but the catch is that you never know if you are going to make your flight or when you will arrive at your desired location. So Kevin kept getting bumped from his flights and was trapped in the Atlanta airport for two days while I was galloping around Barcelona. Poor Kevin!
Marlene and the Cat Bar
So I was a little bit lonely. Jaime and Latifa were excellent companions but I figured I should do some exploring and stop pestering them. I’ve traveled abroad by myself a few other times and while it can be a rather lonely affair, it forces you to explore solely your own interests and to put yourself out there and make new friends! I love making friends. Once I learned of the “Cat Bar,” a cat-themed vegan burger and craft bear bar in the Gothic district of Barcelona, I knew I had to go. I figured if I was going to make friends anywhere, it would be there. I arrived to the small establishment and was impressed by the cat decorations, old piano, and the beer and burger selection but slightly dismayed by the lack of actual cats. I noticed another girl arriving at the same time as me speaking German-tinged English to the employees and I asked her if she wanted to hang out.
Life Hack: If you ask strangers to be your friends, they will almost always say yes.
My new friend introduced herself to me with a name that sounded like Marlene. Then I kept calling her Marlene throughout the rest of the evening. We sure had a lot to talk about! Not only are we both vegan cat lovers, but we both are Austrian (that’s where she lives), have last names that start with “V”, have the middle name “Marie,” AND her birthday is the day before mine (Scorpios!). Uncanny!
It was also a fun coincidence that we both happened to be hanging solo in Barcelona at the same time. We hung out and chatted until it came time to part ways. I was having a Facebook problem (yes…again…it never ends… Facebook and I are always at odds) and was barred from my account for 24 hours so I had no way to contact my new friend other than email. She wrote her e-mail address down for me on a small slip of paper and it was only then that I realized her name was “Madeleine” not “Marlene.” It was embarrassing but pretty also funny. Those German accents are hard to understand sometimes! But in my defense, she never corrected me… maybe American accents are tricky too.
A Reunion and Park Guell
The next day was another solo day as Kevin was still trapped. I e-mailed Madeleine and lingered around for a reply but I didn’t want to waste the day so I went adventuring. This is just one example of the difficult nature of traveling abroad and forsaking convenience of fancy smartphones. My cellphone provider doesn’t allow international service so I could only use my phone for communication or maps when I had Wifi. So I decided to strike out on my own and maybe make a new friend or potentially run into a fellow Duluthian as there were a few in town for the wedding. I took the metro to the Gracia neighborhood with the intention of visiting Gaudi’s Park Guell. I was trying to navigate my way there and was walking down the street of this new neighborhood and looked up and lo and behold! There was Madeleine! We were both a bit flabbergasted by our serendipitous reunion as we had barely discussed Park Guell and she’d made it seem like she had no intention of visiting it. But there we were! We went and bought some beers and negotiated our tickets (they’re so picky there…) so that we could hang out in the park together. Then we went and had some beers and dinner and she showed me her sweet AirBnB spot then we parted ways with intentions of meeting up the next day.
Kevin finally made it to Barcelona! He was pretty pooped after nearly 3 days in transit and his bags were lost in airport land and he was sick to boot! Poor Kevin. But at least we were together! He was equally thrilled about the cat-infested AirBnB with such benevolent hosts. We hit the ground running and met up with Madeleine for lunch. Then we inspected the labyrinthian food market that was a maze of spices, seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables, and juices. It was a little overwhelming so Kevin and I retired to Sant Feliu.
Sant Feliu is a cute and kind of ritzy place with little shops and restaurants and young families bustling to and fro. Kevin needed a change of clothes as his bag was still trapped in airport limbo. We found a cool discount store that had everything you could ever want! Including banana hammocks, but Kevin wouldn’t buy one (boo). After some lounging at the home with Jaime, Latifa, and some delicious mint tea we set out for some food and drink. Jaime brought us to a small bar I’d passed a few time, “La Boca” (tr. The Mouth), and kindly tried to explain to the bartender that I was a vegan. Bartender (Manuel? I can’t recall his name) was already pretty lubed up and thought that my diet was so funny. We chatted about it in Spanish and I wound up eating bread dunked in a tomato and olive oil sauce. It really wasn’t too bad! Manuel decided to impress us with his love for American music. He is a big Aerosmith fan and also loves the “Full Monty” soundtrack and Michael Buble’s Christmas album. He admitted he didn’t understand any of the words but loved the music nonetheless. He was a real jokester and we left giggling and in high spirits.
I have so much left to say about this most excellent adventure but I think it will be more easily digested if I break it up into two chunks. Stay tuned for the next post that will describe the remaining details of the trip including the trip to Ripoll, the castle, the wedding, and much more!