The sun shines through the airplane’s windows as we touchdown in Madrid. I stay on the plane as some of the passengers debark and others step on. Soon we are in the air again. An hour later we reach my destination as my Iberian flight touches down in Barcelona.
Immediately, I start coughing. Happiness is the short flight. I need to get off this Iberia flight right now! My cough gets louder from breathing in the recycled, smoky air.
I pull out my passport as I debark onto Spanish soil, ready to show it to anyone who asks. The breezeway opens up to a ghost town of an auditorium-sized reception room. Passenger noise echoes off the walls. Even the baggage carousals are idle.
We’re all quickly guided through customs. Expecting to be grilled a bit because of my American passport, I subdue my surprise at the lack of interest. The customs officer simply waves me through.
“Bienvenido a Barcelona, Senor,” he says.
“Gracias,” I say with a smile. Practicing my Spanish back home is already paying off. All I can think of is, I’m in Spain! My grin is ear to ear as I stand in the middle of an airport terminal belonging to one of the most highly desirable destinations in Europe. The sound of people waiting intensifies as the customs doors swing wide open to the main terminal. Held back by the ropes, throngs of people wait to greet their arrivals. Some of my fellow travelers are even met with flashing light bulbs.
With my briefcase in one hand, I fling my carry on over my shoulder. Not knowing which is which and where is where, I simply walk to the other end of the terminal to see what I can see.
In the world I know, people are not allowed to smoke in airports. Yet men and women walk by with one and sometimes two cigarettes dangling from their lips. Immediately I think third world. But as my steps take me away, I rethink that. In reality, isn’t this the first world?
Further along I explore for a restroom. I then search for kiosks to trade my dollar currency into Euros. I remember that it was only last year Spain had the Peseta. But now the exchange machine pays the Euro rate of .95 cents per dollar. When I exchanged at JFK, it was .99 cents. Phone card advertisements are prominent throughout the terminal. I’m glad to finally find a phone that takes the coins I had exchanged back at JFK.
The voice answers, “Hotel Balmoral.”