Barcelona excursion becomes unexpected adventure for Oklahoma journalist

For all the glorious sights and experiences of my nine-day European cruise, the defining moments unfolded in an unplanned window of time as I found myself alone in the crowd of humanity at Barcelona’s Park Guell, without identification, money, credit card or a phone.
by Pat Gilliland Modified: June 7, 2014 at 12:33 am •  Published: June 8, 2014


photo - 
The Gaudi House Museum at Park Guell in Barcelona. Photo by Pat Gilliland, The Oklahoman 
  Photo Provided - 
Photo Provided
The Gaudi House Museum at Park Guell in Barcelona. Photo by Pat Gilliland, The Oklahoman Photo Provided - Photo Provided

For all the glorious sights and experiences of my nine-day European cruise, the defining moments unfolded in an unplanned window of time as I found myself alone in the crowd of humanity at Barcelona’s Park Guell, without identification, money, credit card or a phone.

Heading out about 8:45 a.m. Tuesday with a tour group for A Closer Look at Gaudi, I was reflecting on this expenses-paid cruise from Dover, England, to Barcelona, Spain, that had reached its final full day. For various reasons, from the moment the travel opportunity came up, I had prayed to know whether to say yes, and also for understanding of God’s will whether I accepted the trip or stayed home. The answers still were unclear. But the uncertainty did not keep me from enjoying the overall trip or this tour, which was taking the group past numerous notable buildings, including at least two designed by renowned Spanish artist and architect Antoni Gaudi.

Then we arrived at his Park Guell, a beautiful and fascinating creation with terraces, steps, whimsical houses, columns, colorful mosaics and designs. It wasn’t crowded when we got there, but became more and more so. I was taking pictures as usual with my little Canon and my iPhone. All was going pretty well until the Canon quit working. I tried swapping out the batteries, and it still wouldn’t work, and then I swapped memory cards. Still nothing. So I took the batteries out again and blew on them. And it came back on. What a relief!

By now, the group was heading back to the tour bus. Unfortunately, when I got there, I couldn’t find the original memory card. Which meant I had no pictures except those on the iPhone. I mentioned it to the people around me and the tour guide, and she said there was no time to wait for me to go and look for it, which I knew. But she and several others encouraged me to go back to look, and then to take a cab to the next stop: Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia. I decided to do that, after making sure I had money for the cab ride to the landmark cathedral.

Stepping out

As I stepped off the bus and walked unaccompanied back into the gardens, I prayed. I expressed praise and gratitude and trust in God. I acknowledged I was unworthy of a miracle, but humbly asked for one. I was aware that, without a guide to lead the way in the park crossed with many paths and levels, I was unsure even which way we had come while I was trying to get the camera to work.

At some point, I was thirsty and fished a water bottle out of my bag. Along the way, I became aware I probably wouldn’t find my little camera case and the memory card within it. I knew I didn’t have all day to look, because I was to rejoin the tour at the La Sagrada Familia. I decided to call my husband and tell him I had lost the memory card with all my pictures, but that I knew there could be much worse things to lose, so I would just go on.

And then I began to experience what could only be classified at the moment as “much worse”: I could not find my phone. And as I kept looking, I realized I could not find my wallet, either. Usually the phone was in a zippered pocket on the outside of my nylon backpack, and the wallet was in a smaller bag inside the nylon one. But in my rush to make sure I had money and phone before getting off the tour bus, they ended up together in the smaller bag.

I didn’t know whether one of the pickpockets I had been warned about had gotten it, or if it had fallen out when I got the water. All I knew was that I now was in a busy city park in Barcelona without identification, money, credit card or a phone.

No longer was I praying for a little miracle. I knew I needed a big one.

Instead of writing notes about sites in Barcelona, I began filling my journal with what was in my mind, trying to stay focused and calm, writing out prayers: “Lord, I trust You. I thank You for Your presence.” Lessons: “Don’t go alone! Never go alone! And even so, trust God. Trust God. Don’t cry. Pray for calm. Seek help.” “Be gracious.” “I trust You, God. It will be OK.”

Having no idea where this would lead or how long it would last, my first stop was a restroom, then I checked with the gift shop in the area where I had looked for the camera card. The young clerk spoke English and said items that are found sometimes are brought there, but my bag had not come. He told me where I might find police to help me. I looked some more for the bag containing my phone, money and ID, praying and hoping against hope, but didn’t find it.

Meanwhile, by about 11:30 a.m., a police van had come to the gift shop area. Fortunately, one of the Barcelona Guardia Urban’s finest spoke some English, and eventually he was able to reach the cruise line by telephone. An official there suggested the policeman get me a taxi and assure the driver the fare would be paid when I arrived at the terminal. (It never occurred to me or the police to call my cellphone! Duh! That’s another lesson to learn from this.)

Overwhelmed

It was in the taxi that emotions started to overwhelm me as I thought of the lost pictures and the lost opportunity — and how helpless I felt. I also felt embarrassed, stupid, humbled, grateful — but fortunately never really scared or alone.

Still, tears formed. All my pictures. Gone. Credit card, gone. Driver’s license, gone. Euros and U.S. currency, gone. At least I knew my passport, the identification I needed to fly home, was on the ship.

When the taxi arrived at the ship terminal, I was greeted by people from the cruise, who even before paying the fare informed me my bag had been found and would be back at the ship at 2:30. (This was about 1 p.m.) I wasn’t totally convinced but felt hopeful. I got a new room key, then went up, praying and trying to be positive but hesitant to get my hope up. Shortly, I had a phone message. It was Olivia, a member of my cruise group who also was on the Gaudi tour. She was excited to tell me she had found my bag. I could come and get it in her room next door. But when I got there, it was the camera bag and not the one with the phone, etc. What had been the object of my original search now seemed so insignificant. I felt crushed again. But I thanked her and expressed hope that, possibly, the information about the bag coming back at 2:30 might also be true. Dare I hope? How could I not?

by Pat Gilliland
Copy Editor Sr.
Pat Gilliland, currently a senior copy editor on the Presentation Desk, has worked at The Oklahoman since September 1982. She joined the Presentation Desk after in 2000 after nearly 10 years a religion editor. Before that, she served as a...
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