Barcelona, Part 1…Security scare!!!..OMG!!!…

Please stop back tomorrow for the remaining photos of our visit to Barcelona including our visit to Segrada Familia.

The Port of Barcelona.

Before we describe our visit to the bustling historic city of Barcelona, Spain, let’s get the scary story out of the way. Thus, this is the end of the story described in the beginning.

The bridge over the bay by the pier.
On this back-to-back cruise, we were given priority sticky badges to wear when we return to the ship, to avoid the lines with new passengers boarding. On our last back-to-back on Carnival, this process was literally seamless, taking only minutes to board as we were graciously pushed through the lines.
The long dock we observed from the Garden Café early this morning.

As a precaution today, Tom wore two pairs of pants. The inside pair was cargo shorts with multiple pockets closing with Velcro. Over those shorts, he wore a pair of jogging pants with an elastic waistband. 

An animated “headless” man, hoping money will be tossed into his container.

The purpose of the abundant attire was to protect those items from pickpockets for which we have been well-warned by many travelers. It would have required the pickpockets taking Tom’s pants off to get to the stuff. 

An artist’s rendition of the colors of Barcelona.

Ironically, as we departed the ship we noticed most passengers carrying backpacks, purses, wallets with straps and various other bags and containers, all fodder for pickpockets. Barcelona has a reputation for a high risk of being pick pocketed, in many cases rather aggressively. We were prepared. No such incident occurred.

A vendor shop along the boulevard attracting tourists.

Returning as back-to-back passengers, Norwegian Epic’s process was cumbersome and annoying. Returning from Barcelona after the hectic rush of traffic, zillions of tourists in a mad frenzy to see the myriad sites, we were anxious to get back on the ship.

At the entry point, we were steered into a lengthy line with hundreds of passengers of all ages, rolling their carry on luggage and talking while paying little attention to the movement of the line. 

Tom is not the most patient person on the planet, easily annoyed by lines.  Hopefully, as our travels continue, he’ll become more patient. He’s trying. In no time at all, he gets over it and the grumbling ceases. I tend to ignore his fussing. 

This afternoon, around 2:00 pm when we returned to the ship, his patience was wearing thin as 30 minutes or more crawled by as we waited in the long line. Finally, we reached the security checkpoint.

I was a little anxious as we approached security, since while in Barcelona, we stopped at a “Pharmacia” to purchase more contact lens solution. I’d already gone through the small $12.50 bottle we’d purchased on the Carnival Liberty. The Epic’s little shop doesn’t carry contact lens solution. Quite odd, actually.

Security checkpoints do not allow bringing any obvious liquids aboard the ships as prohibited when flying. Along a shelf, I noticed numerous partially used bottles of various liquids, soda, water, iced tea and lemonade. 

Oh, oh. Were they going to confiscate my contact lens solution? (When we originally boarded the Epic on April 20th, we learned this lesson when we had to forfeit our liter bottle filled with Crystal Lite Ice Tea).

As we approached the security area during the mad rush, we decided to share a white plastic bin with the items from our pockets: the camera, one RFID passport holder containing both of our passports, Tom’s plastic pocket comb, my metal tube of  lipstick, a holder for our cabin key cards, a small amount of Euros we’d purchased when we got off the ship and Tom’s jacket. That’s all we had on us.

Pushing the items through the scanner we each walked through the metal detector, one by one, without incident. As we reached the end of the table,  preparing to grab our stuff as our white plastic bin came through, suddenly a bevy of Spanish security guards surrounded us. 

A breath caught in my throat. Tom and I glanced at each other, panic in our eyes. What was wrong? The seated security guard pointed to an item on his scanner, shouting, “What is this?”

Tom and I both crooked our necks to see an item on the screen neither of us recognized. I suggested it was my camera, my heart beating in my throat. Tom was baffled. Obvious confusion was in his eyes. 

The guards surrounding us started taking the items out of the bin, one by one, to discover a closed 4″ BLACK HANDLED BUCK KNIFE!!!!

This was the type of knife in our bin, but with a 4-4.5 inch blade.

Shocked, I looked at Tom wondering if he had brought such a knife, dismissing it instantly, knowing he’d never be so foolish. At exactly the same moment we both protested, panic in our voices,”This is not ours.” It wasn’t ours. 

Someone had placed the knife in our white plastic bin! How were we going to get out of this pickle? Were we going to jail? Oh, good grief! Were they trying to get us to pay some exorbitant fine? Why? Why? Why, had this happened?

We both protested loudly, desperately trying to communicate with the Spanish speaking guards. We kept saying, over and again, “No, no, no.  This is not our knife! We have no knife with us! We are returning passengers to the ship. Take the knife! It is not ours!!!”

The guard talked in muffled tones among themselves. The seated guard looks up at us and says, “Go, go, go.  Not your knife!”

Baffled by the experience, hearts still pounding, we couldn’t walk away quickly enough. As we raced through the walkways toward the ship, we barely spoke, still reeling over the incident.

How did that knife get there? Tom suspects that it was a standard test put upon the security guards by the upper echelon to see if the guards would, in fact, “catch” the knife on their scanner as it came through. I’m not so sure. I suspect that another passenger realizing they had the knife on them, wanting to avoid being arrested, tossed it into our bin.

We’ll never know.  Lesson learned? One of us holds onto the bin as it goes into the scanner while the other waits on the other side for it to come through.  Anyone have any suggestions? Please, do tell.

My contact lens solution went through without incident.

Scanning and new method of shredding…Yikes, tax time!

Receipts as they went through the Doxie portable scanner.

Our taxes have been done for a few weeks.  Per our accountant’s recommendation, we are to keep all of our receipts that may prove to be tax-deductible. 

Now that we’ve added advertisers to our site, been asked to write articles for various publications and web sites, and do a podcast (we’ll share these once published), there are some opportunities for a few write-offs. 

Of course, we can’t write off any of our vacation rentals, personal meals, cruises, and basic living expenses.  But, we can, from time to time, write off expenses relative to a specific situation.

Many have asked, “Will you have to pay taxes in the US if you live outside the US on a more permanent basis?” such as we are doing, as do many US ex-pats. The answer is an absolute “yes.” One would have to forfeit their citizenship and its resulting social security benefits for any other answer. That for us will never happen.

Receipt soaking in hot water in the kitchen sink.

With our taxes sent in by our trusty accountant Steve Thomas, via “e-file” we were left with a humongous pile of receipts we most certainly don’t want to carry with us around the world. 

We have our portable Doxie scanner with us.  A few weeks ago, we purchased a clear plastic sheet at the tiny office supply store in the village, in which to place multiple receipts, subsequently to scan, one sheet at a time.   

Yesterday, as Tom unrolled and unfolded the slips of paper, many affected by the humidity, I got to work on the scanning.  Less than an hour later, we were done.  But, on the floor lie a pile of receipts, enough to fill an entire trash can.

A while back, without a portable shredder (all were too heavy to pack), we were in a quandary as to a suitable method to dispose of these receipts. We’d decided on a plan which has served us well. Keep in mind, none of the credit card receipts had our full account numbers displayed.  In most cases, only the last four digits were visible, if at all.

Grape sized “little balls of” torn receipts.

Years ago, the full account number had been displayed.  Now with rampant identity theft and the last four digits alone on the receipt, it’s a daunting task for thieves to decipher the full number. They have easier methods in which to acquire our account numbers which I won’t mention here.

Placing the receipts into a large plastic bag, I decided to implement our method of destroying the slips without a shredder, without tearing or cutting them into tiny pieces or distributing parts of them in various trash cans. 

Dumping the entire bag of receipts into a pre-filled sink of hot water, we left them to soak for several hours. At this point, we reached into the sink and starting tearing the receipts into small pieces, quite easy to do requiring only a few minutes. During the soaking time, much of the print dissipated as the paper became the consistency of wet toilet paper.

Once the receipts were in this changed state, we reached into the sink extracting small enough portions to make ‘little balls” the size of a small grape.

Placing all these “little balls” on the back of the toilet, we drop one ball into the toilet each time we flush throughout the remainder of the day.  One ball at a time.

Yes, I know there are people that will say this shouldn’t be done for various reasons.  If you aren’t comfortable with the idea of flushing them and you don’t have access to a scanner, one can place the “balls” into the garbage, first pouring tomato juice over them.  The acid in the juice will further destroy the paper.

But then again, we all throw toilet paper with colors and dyes on it into the toilet bowl each day.  The printing on the receipts is often thermal printing, most of which dissipates during the soaking.  If we didn’t destroy these “little balls” this way, they’d end of in a landfill.  There’s no perfect disposal process as yet.  Perhaps, in time, there will be.

With one more task completed, we prepare ourselves for the tasks to be completed in the remaining days 10 days in Placencia Belize.

As for the moment, we are situated on our comfy lounge chairs on the veranda.  There isn’t a hint of a breeze and the surf is quiet and almost still. I’m sipping on a m hiug of my favorite tea, Pouchong. 

Soon, our diligent and hard-working guest services staff will arrive to clean, change the linen and restock our household supplies.  Our favorite is Gloria whom we’ve come to adore.  Her commitment and joy to serve our needs is humbling. Yesterday, we hugged in a heartfelt embrace. I will miss her warmth and kindness, so much the way of the local Mayan people. 

Gently, kindly and respectfully, she gracefully handles all of the guest complaints of which there are many.  We see and hear it every day as the constant turnover of travelers brings new complaints to handle.  She never falters in her strength and courage. We chose not to complain. It’s not in our budget.

Today, we’ll prep for our upcoming Easter dinner for four. Soon we’ll walk along the beach, taking special care to spot stingrays who often flutter about the shallow waters along the surf.  Tonight, we’ll meet up with new friends Lori and Larry for our last buffer dinner at Robert’s Grove Resort.

May I say it again… we are grateful. For the people we meet, for the friends we make along the way, for the ongoing opportunity somehow bestowed upon us, no more deserving than the next person. 

Have a happy Easter, happy Passover, happy holiday, whatever you may celebrate, wherever you may be.