Once I was the King of Spain

International travel for work was so exciting and seemed even glamorous – until it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I do feel a sense of excitement about every pending destination on our horizon. And there are still so many “whose life is this anyways?” moments in every trip. However, there are also sporadic “get to the back of the plane where you belong, Lady” moments too.

A little dose of humility goes a long way.

This last week I spent in Barcelona to attend an event called Gastech. A huge conference and exhibition for the gas industry. The big boys came out to play. There were big budgets and big decisions being made. It was really quite exciting being in the mix.

Our destination – the unparalleled Gastech
Even the King of Spain was there. Disappointingly, I did not get to see him. Also disappointingly, I cannot think of the King of Spain without humming in my head to the Moxi Fruvous song. Ironic, given the recent resurfacing of Mr Gomeshi – the lyrics seem apropos…”Once I was the King of Spain, now I eat humble pie.” Anyhow, I digress. 
This, it is not the lobby of a fancy office. It is a trade-show booth. A temporary space, built for a mere 4 days, to then be torn down again. The budgets for these things are staggering. 

That said, this trip was overshadowed by an especially solid dose of “imposter syndrome”. You know the feeling, that at any moment, someone is going to discover that you have no business being there.

Me and the rest of the imposters waiting to get in. The King’s presence on opening day threw a bit of a curve ball at the organizers and snipers and sniffer dogs were on hand. We were forced to wait for 40 minutes, squished in like sardines, in very warm and humid conditions, before the day could get underway. This being one of the decidedly unglamorous moments. 
Tee hee, how will the VIPs feel when they discover that their VIP lounge is really just the men’s room. That’s a wee bit sexist, don’t you think?
Hah! Found my tribe. Turns out I do belong here!

There had been just one week after the 5 days in Hamburg to prepare for Barcelona. It has been an exceptionally busy time. Some might even call it stressful. There’s a lot of balls in the air, not the least of which are the commitments that come with the family too.

“I’ve got this” she said.

“No problem” she said.

Really, it’s no big deal.” she said.

And then she got shingles.


Despite my confident exterior and optimistic self talk, my body betrayed my bravado by wearing our stress right on our flesh, for all to see. Like a lovely, red, blistery, achy badge of honour, all along the side of my left leg.


And if you’ll recall, it’s hot here and so I still can’t wear pants without risking a whole other level of humiliating evidence of my lack of stress response skills.

Thankfully, the sore, achy leg, which had been pestering me all week, decided to kick it up a notch to reveal the blisters the day before I flew to Barcelona. Just in time for a doctor to assure me that no, it was not flesh eating disease and no, I would not need to consider an amputation. Phew!

So I returned home, assured that with meds, I’d be feeling well again in no time and that there was no need to cancel my trip. What the doctor failed to mention was that I might want to reconsider the wardrobe I had already neatly packed for the trip. I was blissfully unaware of the ugliness just waiting to take over my lower leg. And let’s face it, when your crazy is starting to show, everyone would really prefer that you keep that shit tucked in.

So, with some wardrobe improvisations, thanks to my one dear colleague who knew what was going on and happens to wear the same dress size, I made it through without too much attention to my repulsiveness. A quick mumble about a mountain biking incident allowed one curious & concerned co-worker to believe I was fine. Or perhaps it was my reference to my anti-psychotic meds when someone noticed me sneaking in a big horse-pill at the exhibition that made him so quick to buy the excuse. It’s really not that far from the truth if you think about it.

And I am fine.

But I must admit that ex-pat life is not without it’s stress. The work stress is typical of any situation where the learning curve is high and you find yourself in an environment which calls on the parts of your brain you had let grow dormant during the HausFrau year. But this stress is also exhilarating, rewarding and feels oh-so alive.

On it’s own, that stress wouldn’t be enough for my body to rebel. It’s the more emotionally charged stress that’s the kicker. The stress and worry I have wrestled with since the very beginning of this journey. And there is no worse time of the year than September when all of our emotions are so very close to the surface.

So when presented with two important week-long business trips, coinciding with the start of school, it created a perfect storm of stress. One that got the better of me.

We have settled into a good rhythm again, one which allows me to exhale in the knowledge that the kids are alright. We haven’t, indeed, broken them. They have weathered the storm too and come out with another boost through the knowledge that they did it. They are continuing to build the inventory of tools in their toolkit.

Shingles aside, the trip to Barcelona was a perfect mix of “wow, how amazing is this” and “for the love of God, when will this be over.” Having departed with a sound diagnosis that I had, in fact, become unhinged, it was a remarkably successful trip.

Like any professional, wanting to ensure they were healthy enough to bring their a-game to the task, I quickly studied the data that came with my meds and googled all I could to fully understand what I was taking.

(Let’s be honest people, I was desperately scanning the info to find out if I could still drink. All clear – thank goodness! The contrary would have been inhumane.)

Don’t feel too sorry for me. I wasn’t suffering all that badly.
Nope, not really suffering…
Even managed to attend a swanky reception at the W one evening. That is until 4 of my colleagues and I were bounced out in place of some billionaire ship-owners. See what I mean, a solid balance of “this is amazing” and “please leave” to keep us humble. Truth be told, a small, quiet dinner with colleagues will always be way more my style than the late-night parties.  

(My googling also revealed the unfortunate news that my meds are also used to treat herpes. Just exactly the info I wanted to feel especially good about myself. Awesome.)

And it was a great trip. A success, all things considered. I did find moments to relax and enjoy. And I was responsible about avoiding late nights, returning to the hotel no later than 10:00 to get a good solid night sleep. My imbibing was moderate, as is the responsible thing when on a work trip.

Me and my co-worker, thankfully she had some long dresses to loan me once the ugliness took over my leg. Along with fashion rescues, she’s also teaching me how to wear proper make-up. A skill I never knew I lacked until trying to appear professional and older than 14 in climates where your make-up melts off by about 10:00 am. She has also been a doll more than once when kindly pointing out that my upper lip is sweating. Really, I couldn’t survive without her. 
Mmmmm, sweaty meat bits. The Spanish do love their Iberian ham. When in Spain…
Not a shop for the vegetarian in your life. Smells a bit fleshy.
A quick drive-by of good old Christopher Columbus, evidently pointing the wrong direction.
Heading out to one of our evening receptions.
A gorgeous setting in the Museum of History.
Follow the suits.

This is the scene which awaited. One of the more-glamorous moments…

Not a bad spot to watch the sunset.
A view towards the sea.
A little cava to start off the evening.
A nice view to enjoy while sipping my cava.

So you see, balance is returning.

The final morning view from my hotel room window. 
And a few moments later, the sun was up, ready to start the day.

There are more work trips in the near future – a return to Athens in two weeks time. But this one comes without the added family-related stress because they’re coming along! We’ll all be enjoying a blissful view of the Aegean Sea letting the warm sun and sand wash away our worries.  Ahhhhh.

And right when I had been lulled back into believing that work trips are an escape from reality, I get to spend an excruciatingly long and painful time standing in lines at airports, delayed flights and all. Back to reality indeed. 
That said, there is seemingly a new trend of sampling gin in airport duty-free shops which almost instantly erases the memory of the indignity of the hot and smelly check-in line.
Don’t mind if I do.
I may have had a few G&T’s at the duty free but I can still recognize a jelly shoe a mile away. If you put a 350 EUR price tag on it, is it still a jelly shoe? Yes, yes it is.
Until next time Barcelona, or Barthelona, as the locals say. It’s been grand. 

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