Saturday, May 14, 2011

getting down in barcelona!

alright, team, i’m back! i just spent the last two weeks on my “easter vacation” – which is actually just the first two weeks of summer, because i had no school to come back to. woo! two weeks away from my computer has yielded many stories to tell. i’m going to split my trip into two blog posts – barcelona and the french riviera. here’s the first installment!

the days leading up to my departure were filled with preparations, friends, goodbyes, and planning. there’s always planning when i’m involved. rachel and i had many goals for our two week excursion to the south, and i wanted to make sure we did as many as possible! it was tough to say goodbye to friends, especially the few that i wouldn’t be seeing again! fortunately, i still have the chance to see the majority of my friends once more before we all go back to our corners of the world.

wednesday, 27 april 2011

i woke up early to finish packing, check my computer stuff, and say goodbye to shane (he moved back to ireland the day before we returned – but i’ll see him next week when i go visit!) rachel and i left the dorm around 11am.. with many  miles to go before we slept. we took several modes of transportation (bus to train station, train to the paris airport, plane to barcelona, bus to city centre, walked to apartment) and then arrived at our first of five lodgings for the trip!

our friend natalie and one of her friends visiting from canada were in barcelona with us for the first few days, so the four of us rented two rooms off of from a sweet spanish family in lieu of a hostel or hotel. natalie and alyse arrived only a few hours before us (they were flying in from bordeaux), so we all got to explore together. the bed and breakfast option ended up being pretty cheap (only 20 euro per person), and we got breakfast every day! having real beds is a nice bonus. :) the family was so sweet – three generations of spanish women; a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter. they were all so kind and funny – the five-year-old aurora was so spirited and engaging! we loved staying with them, because it gave us a feel for “real” spanish life.. not crazy hostel traveler life.

once we got settled in, we all decided to go out and see the nightlife a little bit. the night of the 27th was actually an important one in barcelona – the football club (that’s soccer team for you non-followers :P) was playing their biggest rival (madrid) in the semi-finals of the playoffs. as we were sitting in the apartment resting, we heard the streets absolutely erupt with cheers after the star of barcelona, lionel messi, scored two excellent goals. it was so cool to go out on the balcony and see people jumping and dancing and celebrating on all the surrounding balconies, in the streets, in cars – yelling, honking horns, blowing air horns. it was insane. when we left the apartment and got to las ramblas (the biggest streen in barcelona), we arrived literally minutes after the end of the match. there were probably thousands of people in the street, all cheering and singing.. some ardent supporters were even climbing lamp posts and waving flags from the top. it was an amazing welcome to an awesome city. we walked around some more before heading home and going to bed.

thursday, 28 april 2011

thursday was wonderful! we woke up and ate our breakfast before getting ready for the day. the four of us left around 11am and walked the 30 or so minutes down to barceloneta beach, one of the most popular beaches. it was really beautiful, but pretty annoying – every four minutes, a small asian woman came up to us offering a massage, or a henna tattoo, or something. we got really good at saying “no, gracias.” like we were professionals. there were some clouds in the sky, but it was still nice enough to lay out for a little while and soak up the beachy atmosphere. around 1:30, we left the beach and took the metro to the passeig de grácia, which is kind of like the 5th avenue of barcelona. there are several buildings on this street by the architect antoní gaudi, probably the most famous figure in barcelona. there is one block with three different modern-style buildings, by three different architects, right next to each other. it’s called the ‘illa de la discordia’ – the block of discord. the three buildings are very different in style, and each very unique. it was so neat to see the contrasts between such interesting architecture!

once we took our photos, we walked around for a while in search of some lunch. eventually we landed on a little corner store that sold these pizzas.. on baguettes. heaven! they were delicious. we ate as we walked back to the metro, and then hopped on to the base of the foothills on the edge of the city. we headed to one of the most famous landmarks in barcelona – park güell. there was an unbelievably steep hill to climb, but fortunately half of it was by escalator. but my goodness.. i couldn’t believe the incline! once we got to the top of the escalators, there was still a good bit of pathway before we reached the tippy top. we climbed up this stone structure to take in an amazing panoramic view of the second largest city in spain. from there, we descended into the park to check out all the gaudí designed elements. there was one part with these crazy concrete columns that looked like trees, but different.. i can’t describe it. there are pictures. from there, we went to the plaza with the craziest bench ever! it’s a super, super long squiggly mosaic bench that forms the edge of an entire rooftop plaza. it is SO beautiful! people brought their old dishes and tiles and whatever they wanted, and it came together to form one of the most unique pieces of art i have ever seen. underneath that rooftop plaza was a hall filled with giant columns (and more mosaic on the ceiling). the entryway to the park has two more gaudí buildings – which look straight up like gingerbread houses. again, check my album for photos! after the park, we made our way DOWN the steep hill (much nicer), stopping in souvenir shops along the way.  we hopped on a bus to the apartment, picked up some food for dinner, and made a nice meal. around 8:30, we went back out to catch happy hour at a bar off of las ramblas. it was called ‘betty ford’ and had a really cool 50’s vibe. plus, the drinks were great. we went to one place afterward to get a tapas snack (first experience with patatas bravas, GLORIOUS) and then walked home and headed to bed.

friday, 29 april 2011

friday was natalie and alyse’s last day in barcelona, so they got up really early to do some more touristy things.. rachel and i slept in a little before getting up and eating our breakfast around 9:30. we headed out around 11am to go explore a beautiful park in the gothic quarter – there was an amazing fountain, a pond with rowboats, a zoo, a botanical garden, and a geology museum! it started out rainy but the weather improved gradually throughout the day. we found a really cool burger place for lunch and split 4 fancy mini burgers and a plate of patatas bravas (number 2) while looking up photos of william and kate, who got married on friday. she.. looked.. AMAZING. we met natalie and alyse at the picasso museum around 2pm and looked around there for a few hours. it was a great museum, but the vast majority of the works were pre-cubism.. it did have the entire las meninas study, though, which was awesome. we left around 4:30 and walked around the gothic quarter for a while. rachel and i had read in our in-flight magazine (thanks easyjet!) that there were free tapas during happy hour at this certain bar.. so we went there at 5pm, only to learn that tapas were only offered in the summer. LAME. we kept looking and then eventually decided on a bar called ‘rosa negra’ – they had amazing margaritas (says rachel), plus great nachos and burritos.. she is as much of a mexican food fiend as i am, so we were pretty happy with this decision. we all ate and talked for a while before heading over to the olympic park to watch the magic fountain show. there is a beautiful and very large fountain in front of a very large judicial building.. every night, there is a water and lights show, set to music. it was REALLY awesome.. and i went a little crazy on the photos. :) we left the show around 8:45, and went on an epic (and ultimately unsuccessful) search for churros. we walked WAY too long.. by the end, my back was hurting worse than it ever has in my life. i was near tears by the time rachel and i took the metro back to the apartment. i took a super hot shower and fell into bed. natalie and alyse stayed out a little later, but came back to back before too long.

saturday, 30 april 2011

a very calm day, thankfully. we had already done SO much walking! natalie and alyse woke up really early to go to the airport, but rachel and i didn’t check out of our apartment until around 11am. we said goodbye to our little spanish family and then headed across town to find our couchsurfer’s apartment. we had to walk a little way from the metro stop, but once we got there, we were super excited! the flat was in a REALLY nice apartment building, just 3 blocks from the sagrada familia cathedral (gaudí’s masterpiece of a modern cathedral, which has been under construction for over 200 years and still has 100 to go!). i can’t tell you how great this location/apartment was. plus, our host was so, so, so nice (offered us chocolate within 5 minutes of our arrival!) and his roommates were all great as well. the weather was gorgeous, so we did some brief grocery shopping before going on a nice leisurely (but also stupidly long) walk.. actually, i’ve just done some clever google maps-ing, and i’d estimate that we walked between 7 and 12 miles every day. for 6 days.. we DEFINITELY walked more than 60 miles in barcelona. YEESH. anyway, we went on a long walk and then came back to cook dinner with one of the roommates carine and her friend axel. our host was at work until super early in the morning, so it was just the 4 of us. here’s the best part – the roommate was from angers! where i live in france! and her friend was french too.. so we spent the whole night speaking french. it was awesome. we even watched a (fairly depressing) french film as well. i had to stay up to let our host benjamin in the building (we had taken his keys earlier that day), so we arrived around 2:30am. we stayed up talking until nearly 4am before crashing on the couch/fold out bed!

sunday, 1 may 2011

after staying up so late, we definitely had a bit of a lie-in on sunday. i woke myself up around 11:30 and did some travel notes, etc for a while. two weeks away means i have to keep track of everything, or blogging would be impossible! i also got some planning done before rachel woke up around 1pm. we ate some cereal and got ready for the day, leaving the apartment around 3pm to explore some more! we walked around the gothic quarter, which is an amazing neighborhood in barcelona where the majority of the old, old buildings are. we also looked around the surrounding areas.. throughout the afternoon, we nibbled on waffles with ice cream on top and some more patatas bravas. i finally broke down and bought a barcelona football club jersey (with messi’s name/number!) – there was a place with a sale, and i got a kids’ size, so it wasn’t expensive at all! we met carine around 6pm outside the old cathedral to supposedly watch some traditional dancing.. except it didn’t happen. instead, we saw an awesome street dance performance with some jaw-dropping stunts! carine gave us a tour of the university area, which we hadn’t seen yet, and we went for a drink at the sister bar of rosa negra, called rosa raval. carine headed back to the flat around 8pm, and rachel and i went to find our dinner restaurant.

since i do most of the planning for our trips, i put rachel in charge of deciding where/what we eat.. she’s such a great foodie, i’m never disappointed! we went to one of the most popular restaurants in barcelona – les quinze nits. there was a big line, but it moved quickly. unfortunatly, they had NO chicken, so i never got my chicken and rice.. but we had good food anyway. :) after dinner, we stopped by a bar called ‘els cuatro gats’, one of picasso’s old haunts. it was so swanky! live piano in the back dining room, awesome murals, LOADS of picasso sketches.. i really liked it. we stayed for dessert and ended up sitting and talking for over 2 hours. we left around 12:30am and went to meet up with benjamin, our host, and his date for the evening – another frenchie! i swear, the french are everywhere! we met up in a central location and then walked over to a little area on the outside of town to a bar. rachel and i only stayed for a little while, and then got a cab back to the apartment. unfortunately, no one was there to let us in.... so we were locked out. after a few minutes of uncertainty and nerves, i finally decided to buzz the next-door neighbor (whose lights were still on at 2am, thank goodness) to ask them to open the outside door. i rang her, explained that we were friends of her neighbors staying for a few days, had no keys and no way to get inside, and could she please buzz us in? except i did that all in spanish. WHAT?! thank heavens that my spanish education was enough to get us off the street in the middle of the night. benjamin arrived back not too much later (after several phone calls) and he let us in the apartment. we stayed up talking pretty late (again) before i declared bedtime.

monday, 2 may 2011

our last day in barcelona! we woke up around 8am and left for sagrada familia by 9am, stopping by the bank on the way (but the ATM was broken.. lame). the line to get into the cathedral was long, but it moved really quickly.. we were inside by 9:30 or 9:45. the exterior of the building itself is breathtaking – so much absolutely mind-blowing detail! it’s actually OVERLY detailed.. you just can’t take it in all at once. it seems so busy! the inside, while still very busy and overwhelming, is much simpler in design. there was so much light inside, too. the overall effect was so beautiful. we stayed for about 45 minutes before hopping on the metro out to camp nou, the home stadium of the football club. camp nou is actually the biggest stadium in europe, with a 100,000 person capacity! it is ENORMOUS. we walked around the outside and then looked through the megastore, because the actual tours of the stadium were about 20 euro and there was a 3 hour wait! sheesh. we left the stadium around 12 and headed down to montjuïc park, where all the ’92 olympic buildings are. we didn’t really get to see the park, though, because our search for lunch ended up taking us in the opposite direction and we never doubled back. but we did get to run several errands (bank, post office, zara to get shoes) before heading back to the flat for a nap. we slept for a few hours and then woke up and wrote postcards before heading back out around 7pm. as an (ex)employee of the ritz-carlton in barcelona, benjamin gave us two spare room keys and some cards that would get us into any club for free! so we went to a café for dinner before doing some souvenir hunting down las ramblas. we walked all the way to the olympic port (where the hotel/clubs are) and then checked out the area and two super awesome clubs. the first one was a salsa dance bar, which was incredible! i seriously just sat for about 45 minutes and watched these beautiful people dancing like they were professionals. it was so wonderful! once midnight rolled around, we headed to the club that benjamin suggested – opium (pictured; outside beachfront seating). we had to show the keys to the bouncer, but he let us right in! sweet! it was by far the swankiest place i have ever been – beautiful décor, beautiful location, beautiful people.. i felt a little out of place, but it was great. we danced for a while and then took a few laps before heading out. after calling benjamin to figure out which bus to take, we hopped right on the bus.... except it never stopped at our stop. sooo we ended up riding the bus for about an hour and twenty minutes, on a FULL circuit of the city. whoops. we got back around 2:45 am and were in bed by 3:30. long day for sure!

tuesday, 3 may 2011

waking up was very hard. but we had to, because we had a plane to catch! we packed up and left the keys on the table. i’d been stressed due to a couchsurfing cancellation in lyon for the night of the 3rd, which still wasn’t solved when we left our flat in barcelona at 8:45am. i sent out one message, pretty much blind, to a woman in lyon who had logged on just 30 minutes beforehand. i wasn’t sure the next time we’d have wifi for me to use my ipod to check emails, so i left my phone number, asking her to call or text when she got the message. we made our way across town to the bus stop where the airport line would pick us up.. we got on the bus around 9:30 and were at the airport by 10:10 for our 11:40 flight. perfect! check-in was non-existant, and security took about 4 minutes, so it was a relaxing airport experience. we had some snacks at the terminal before boarding.. and i got a text from the woman in lyon! she wasn’t able to host us, but she had a friend who could!!! i texted the friend and let her know that i would call when we arrived in france. SO much pressure and stress off of my mind! we boarded the plane and took off back to franceland...

(to be continued in the next post, ‘the french riviera; it’s like florida, but way less tacky.’)

ps - to see photos of this trip, check out my facebook album!

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