Friday, July 29, 2011

Guiness Time

Sorry for the lack of updates. We are in Ireland now. We thought we were leaving London today but realized our sense of time is terrible and we actually got here yesterday. Thus the lack of connectivity. I promise to post pictures from London (and Dublin) tomorrow. For now, here's the quick rundown of the end of our London time.

Things we did:

Went to Camden markets, home to everything from Goth t-shirts to corsets to giant horse statues. I bought tights and some Indian food.

Did the Camden pub crawl with our friends from Norway. It was not that good since there were not many free drinks and the last bar closed at 1. Although that might have been a blessing in disguise since we had to hop on the ferry the next day.

Blessed the ears of everyone in the Green Man by not singing karaoke.

Heard the worst karaoke I have ever been tortured with, provided by a tiny tone-deaf woman with literally no sense of musical timing.

Watched Michelle have her fortune told by a wasted Welsh lady. Apparently her life is going to be terribly boring.

Visited Platform 9 3/4. We got mixed up because King's Cross is under construction but we teamed up with some equally confused girls from Frankfurt and approached a station worker who said "Platform 9 3/4?" Before we even had the chance to open our mouths. It was amazing!

Got our nails done. I had an awesome pedicure that made my feet feel and look great. Michelle had a bad manicure that made her hands look like they were painted by Barbie. She is currently on a quest for nail polish remover.

Watch the changing of the gaurds which was terribly crowded and boring. Michelle loved it so maybe I was just being a hungry grump.

Things we did not do that we meant to do:

Marry Prince Harry.

Meet any members of the cast of Harry Potter.

Go look at Tower Bridge or the Tower of London.

Pretty successful I think.

We had to take two trains and a ferry to get to Dublin yesterday. The ferry was really swank. It looked like a casino and had a little theater which showed Tangled (first time I've seen it and it is great). Of course, we forgot to write down the name of our hostel much less where it was so we spent an hour wandering around trying to find wifi. We finally found an internet cafe. It was closing but I did some crazy/desperate rambling and made some crazy/desperate eyes and the guy let us use the computer to find our way.

So far Dublin is lovely! We missed our walking tour today because they moved the time up and we didn't know so we wandered around. It started out looking rainy but turned out to be nice. We saw some old cathedrals and ate French Fries outside a pub so we could hear the music (we'll go in eventually, we are just trying to get the lay of the land). We meant to do a pub crawl tonight but we napped to long so we are doing it tomorrow.

More plus pictures tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hipster Markets and "Art"

Sunday, at the suggestion of one of Green Man's esteemed bar tenders, we headed to Brick Lanes Market. Unsure of what to expect, we walked a ways down the a road chock full of Indian restaurants before hitting the brewery-turned-market that seemed to be the first stop of many in this particular destination. All together, the 2-3 block series of indoor and outdoor booths sell vintage clothes, handmade jewelry, screen printed onesies, and pretty much anything else you can image. Especially if what else you can imagine is food. They had every type of food you can imagine. Seriously, pick a country at random and, as long as you didn't pick the US or Antarctica, that country's cusine was represented. We saw Mexican, Spanish, Brazilian, Ethiopian, Mongolian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, and more. After wandering through the booths of clothes and jewelry to work up an appetite, we went for Ethiopian and it was amazing! In fact the only drawback to the market was how extremely full of the extremely hip it was. Even dressed in my new fashion-y get up known as "shorts with tights," I felt out of place in a land full of red lipstick, extreme accessorizing, and see through shirts. Still it was a very good afternoon.
After an uneventful evening, we woke up Monday morning and headed to the Tate, the big modern art museum here in London. Full disclosure: I like museums. I might not be a person who intently studies each and every piece but I like wandering through and checking out the stuff that catches my eye. However, at museums like the Tate there some pieces that I just don't buy as art. You might find the mirror mounted on canvas and hung in a gallery to be an insightful look at the relationship between art and reality but I think it is bullshit. Looking at myself in the mirror is not art, it is a reminder that I need to shower. Anyway, other than the mirror and some other exceedly dumb "art" (sculpture made of a broom and some toilet plungers anyone?) it was a good museum and I was glad we checked it out.
Not sure what we're up to today but I have to go buy a toothbrush because I dropped mine in the radiator.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Made it to London yesterday. The trip wasn't too bad although we did end up with a long wait in Brussels.

Thursday, our last day in Amstdam, we went to the Van Gogh museum. I thought it was more interesting than a lot of museums that just have a bunch of painting of people and Jesus because the work was set in chronologically and there were descriptions tying the paintings in with his life and what his influences were. Later, I went to the Anne Frank house, which was obviously really sad. It was weird to be in that space and know all the things that happened there although the annex was actually bigger than I thought it would be. I don't think anything would be big enough if you were stuck there though. At night we went to the Red Light district because "when in Amsterdam" and whatnot. It was bizarre, especially to see the guys who were there to "shop," not just look around like us.

We got into London around 2 yesterday and found our hostel pretty easily. The rooms are on the top two floors over the Green Man pub. The pub is nice and its open 24/7 for anyone staying at the hostel. They serve pizza any time and have cheap pints during happy hour. We mostly hung out yesterday, trying to get our bearings and meeting some other people from the hostel. We met some nice people in the pub but there were also a lot of creeps. One guy sat down beside me, gave me a mysterious piece of fruit (was it an apple? A pear? I have no idea, I didn't eat it) and started muttering about how unsafe America is because of black people. At this point I made serious crazy eyes at one of the bar tenders, who had offered to kick him out earlier, and he came over and told him to leave me alone.

Today we did another free walking tour. We were running late because our metro stop was closed and we had to find another one, so by the time we got to the meeting point the groups had already split up and left. We slipped into one of the groups and were very proud of our sneaking abilities until we ralized that the tour we had joined was in Spanish. We don't really speak enough Spanish for that so we slipped back out, found the other group, and joined them instead. It was a good tour and we saw Buckingham palace, parliment, and Westminster Abbey. Afterwards, the guide showed us to a traditional English pub and I got some fish and chips, so now I can say I had British food.

Tonight is kareoke at the Green Man. So that should be interesting. More on that later!

One of the guards at Prince Carles' house.
Our hostel/pub.
Pretending to be a gaurd.
Buckingham Palace

Thursday, July 21, 2011

So many bikes!

It's our last day in Amsterdsm and I realized I haven't posted anything since our first day. So here's the overview of the last couple of days:

Tuesday we did a free walking tour though the same company that did the one in Paris. Our guide was really good, an Aussie who moved to Amsterdam for a girl, and we learned a lot about the history of the Netherlands and Amsterdam. What we learned is basically that they are very tolerant and really like money. Mostly you can do whatever you want as long as you are discreet and it doesn't hurt anyone. The reason weed is "legal" (it isn't actually, they just don't punish people for it) is that they decided it was more important to channel resources into fighting the war on heroin, which used to be a big problem here. Seems logical to me.

After the tour we did some shopping. We discovered in Paris that we aren't really prepared for cool weather, so we were looking jackets and tights to keep us warm. I picked up some tights but was otherwise unsuccessful. We tried to find a groceey store but everything closes at like 6 here so we grabbed a falafel and then headed to Vondelpark. During the 60s, Vondelpark was the site of a huge tent city full of hippies. My dad used to live there so I thought we should check it out. It's a really nice park, full of playgrounds and exercise classes instead of hippies, and we had a nice time wandering around.

Yesterday, we bought bikes and saw Amsterdam the way it is meant to be seen. Everyone bikes here and its definitely the easiest way to get around. The only thing that trumps bikes here are Vespas, which seem to rule the roads in all the places we've visited so far. We went a flea market where I finally got a jacket. We got awesome bagel sandwiches before heading to one of the closest windmills, which now happens to be a brewery. It wasn't open yet, so we road along the canal and back around Vondelpark. The beer, when we finally got it, was good and it was fun to get something brewed locally.

Last night we did a pub crawl. Lots of bars and dancing! It was fun but probably not the best so far. It was a little too big and since we went in not knowing anyone it was hard to meet people. Still it was a good night.

Heading to the Van Gogh museum today. We have our tickets already, so all we have to do today is check out whatever we've missed so far.

Bikes are everywhere here, but you have to be careful to lock your bike up. Not only can it be stolen, a drunk person might come along and throw it in the canal. Whoever tried to throw this bike in must have been extra drunk because they did not notice that the bike was actually locked. 
A typical canal, lined with boats and tall, skinny houses.
On my bike in front of the windmill brewery.
People lying about in Vondelpark.

Monday, July 18, 2011


This morning, we were up bright and early to catch our train to Amsterdam. Between the easy ticket purchase and how quickly we managed to get ready in time I was worried things were going too smoothly. Apparently the universe agreed. We had to take an RER train out to the station. RER lines are like the metro lines but they take you out of the center of the city and into other zones. We took the RER line to Versailles so we knew you needed a different ticket but the woman who helped us get our tickets for Amsterdam said we could use regular metro tickets (not her fault, by the way, I think there was a bit of a language gap). When we switched from regular metro to the RER line our passes worked fine so we thought we were okay. Wrong. When we tried our passes to leave the metro station they didn't work. And then the SCNF gaurds let us through and then fined us 25 euro a piece. Not even our (genuine) confused tourist faces could get us out of it.

After that terrific start to the day, our trip was rather uneventful. We reached Amsterdam around 3 and were greated by cold rain. I really need to buy a jacket. After the initial coldness of it all, we discovered that Amsterdam is actually really cute, even when it's gloomy out. We checked into our hotel and did some wandering before getting delicious Indian food at last.

Tomorrow we are going to check out the city via another free walking tour. I promise to have pictures in the next day or so but now its time for a much needed shower!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Au Revoir Paris!

Just a quick post on our last night in Paris! Sorry there are no picures. My camera is all packed.

Yesterday we went to Versailles. Since there are no pictures, I will just tell to imagine how fancy and super decorated it is and then triple it. It was nice but probably not worth the mass amounts of money we paid or the long train ride. The crowds in the palace were insane and made it all feel really rushed and claustrophobic. It was cool to see the art and the places where they escaped when the palace was raided during the French Revolution.

The plan last night was to go on a pub crawl with Emma and Lydia, a couple of the girls we hung out with on Bastille Day. After a long day of wandering around Versailles in the cold my cough was pretty bad and I was really worn out so I decided to skip it and sent Michelle on to party for the both of us. I was bummed but Cat Deeley (who is awesome) and the dancers of So You Think You Can Dance kept me company until I took some cough syrup with codine and passed out.

Today we were supposed to meet Emma and Lydia in Montmatre for lunch and then go to d'Orsay, an Impressionist museum. As you could probably, guess things did not go as planned. Let's face it they never do. Emma and Lydia didn't show up (we guessed that either we mixed up the times or they overslept). We wandered around the area looking for something to eat and were momentarily over joyed at the sight of Cafe Indiana, which we thought might have Indian food. Imagine our disappointment when we discovered it served Native American food. That's not even a thing. The menu appeared to consist mostly of quesadillas. We settled on Thai, where I got sushi and some sort of weird curried vegetables. After lunch we continued to wander. Most of the stores were closed but I bought some flats, which is good because I needed closed toes shoes I can go out in. The area was really cool so we ended up skipping the museum and just walked around a bunch. I think we both needed a more relaed day and there is supposed to be a lot of good Impressionist art at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Somehow we accidentally wandered back to our neighborhood and headed home for dinner (tomato and cheese sandwiches, how new).

We thought we would have to spend our entire evening at the train station getting tickets for tomorrow but it went remarkably fast, so we decided to go to the Eiffel Tower to see the light shows they do at night. We got there at 8:30 and the first show isn't until 10 so we did some more wandering and hit up some souviner shops, mostly to keep warm. Of course everything is covered in the Eiffel Tower. There was even a cow shaped like the Eiffel Tower for some reason. We did see a light show, although it was less of a show and more a bunch of lights blinking really fast. I was sort of underwhelmed.

That's all from Paris! I'll be back when we hit Amsterdam where we are going to the Heinekin museum. Apparently they have a ride that demonstrates what is like to be a Heinekin (or something). Pretty excited to become a beer!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bastille Day Blunders and Other Parisian Adventures

Going to make this quick because I'm still battling a cold I picked up during the first week of the trip and that means it's bed time.

Yesterday morning we did (yet another) free walking tour. Our guide was from Philly and it was weird to hear such a familiar accent explaining the sights and history of Paris. We started in the Latin quarter and saw the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and a lot of the Seine. It was a good tour that helped us get a feel for the city and brush up on our French history. Since it was Bastille Day we decided to check out the fireworks over the Eiffel Tower. Some girls from the tour invited us to watch with them at the top of Montmarte. We were hoping to miss the crowds, but the hill was still pretty crowded. We had a picnic of bread, cheese, and wine as we waited on the hillside for the fireworks to start. Fortunately there was a lot to keep us entertained, including bongo players and a guy who balanced a soccer ball on various part of his body while climbing light posts and stuff. Unfortunately, a large tree entirely blocked our view of the fireworks. Weird that half of Paris seemed to also make that mistake. Still, it was a fun way to celebrate Bastille Day.

Today we went to the Eiffel Tower, promptly decided that the crowds were more than we could handle, and spent the rest of the time leading to 6 wandering up the Seine. We were waiting for 6 because after 6 on Fridays the Louvre is free to anyone under twenty-six and we wanted to take advantage of this policy. We walked and sat and stumbled on a random carnival right outside the Lourve (is it always there or was it just for Bastille Day? We may never know) which we wandered around. Then we spent a couple of hours in the Louvre checking out the Winged Nike (my all-time favorite statue), the Mona Lisa (and its massive following), and the rest of the massive collection. Even though it was the Louvre, I somehow didn't expect to recognize so many of the paintings and sculptures and was surprised when I kept having Art History flashbacks.

Tomorrow we check out Versailles! More later!

Sun setting over Paris.
Mona Lisa and her groupies.
The Eiffel Tower. Obviously.
Bastille Day picnic. The building behund us is Sacre-Coeur Basillica.

In front of the Lourve.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Adios Espana!

As promised, here is the full story of our last day in Barcelona:

We started out by heading to one of the mountains in Barcelona, which is supposed to have great views of the city. We took the metro tram halfway up and decided to walk the rest of the way instead of taking the cable cars. This is where the little teaser I gave you yesterday comes into play. As we were walking up the street a man approached us, flashed us, and offered a photo op for the low price of 3 euro. We declined. The walk took longer than I thought it would but when we finally got to the top we did have a good view even though it was a bit foggy.

After we got down from the mountain (without any more photo offers from creeps), we headed to Plaza Reial to meet a group for a free Gaudi walking tour. We met some nice people and saw some of Gaudi's works, starting with some lamp posts in Plaza Real and ending with la Sagrada Familiar. It was interesting to hear more about his life since he's such a big deal in Barcelona. Apparently he was really fanatically religious and also eccentric about people taking his pictures. He was really difficult to work with, always going over budget and running behind schedule, so we heard about some of his issues with clients as well.

Made it to Paris today, after a long day of train travel. Haven't had a chance to see much of the city but we did see Harry Potter 7.2!!!!! It was amazing! I might have cried. A lot. I would strongly suggest going out right now and purchasing tickets for a midnight showing. I also recommend bringing tissues and asprin because for a while there I thought my heart might implode and asprin is supposed to help with that.

Here are a few other things I discovered in my first 8 hours in France:

1. The bread here is fantastic. We had a baguette from the bakery next to the apartment we are staying in and it was the best baguette I've ever had. And I eat them a lot.

2. The people here are not the heartless meanies my dad made them out to be. People have been nice so far when we have asked them questions in our mangled French/English/Spanish. Also, when we were in the movie, everyone around us was laughing and sniffling together at the funny and sad  moments like one big Potter-loving family. So that was nice.

3. Temperature-wise it is much cooler here than in Spain. I think ut is lovely. Michelle thinks it's cold.

4. I know more Spanish than I thought. This becomes clear whenever I try to figure out how to say in French what I could easily have said in Spanish. Also I keep using Spanish on accident.

We are taking a walking tour tomorrow and hopefully checking out an Impressionist museum, so I'm sure I'll have many more tales of France later!

A foggy view of Barcelona. You can kind of see la Sagrada Familia on the right.
The tiling and the very cool roof on Casa Batlo, a house Gaudi remodeled for a client.
The rest of Casa Batlo.
Casa Mila la Pidrera. Gaudi got into so many fights with the owners of this house that he never finished it. It was completed by his apprentices.
Pau Guell, one of the first houses Gaudi designed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Last night in Barcelona

As the title of this post suggests, it is our last night in Barcelona as well as our last night in Spain. Tomorrow we head to Paris. I'm excited to see other places but Spain has been so fun and I think that I'll miss it.

Yesterday we finally did our kayaking and snorkeling trip. The trip got started an hour late and then we got stuck in traffic so it was almost three before we got to Costa Brava, a beach about an hour and a half outside Barcelona. There were about ten of us, including Michelle and I and the Australian couple, Amy and Dan, who we met at our Spanish cooking class. We were given snorkels and flippers, told to layer on the sunscreen, and given brief instructions on how to paddle a kayak. It took Michelle and I a little while to get synchrinized, but once we did it was relatively smooth sailing across gorgeous blue water. We rowed out a bit and then turned into a cove where we left the boats on the little beach while we snorkeled around. We were given literally no instruction but it's not that tough, and after I got used to keeping the tube above water and only breathing through my mouth I loved it. The water in the Mediteranean is really clear and warm and even though there were only a few fish, it was cool that you could see down so far. After snorkeling we kayaked along the coast and in and out of some caves. I wish I had been able to bring my camera along because the cliffs and caves were really nice. Based on the knowledge aquired from 21 years of being the daughter of two geologists, I'm pretty sure the rocks were granite and they were sort of pink and really pretty. One of the caves we went in was so narrow we could barely squeeze through and all you could see beyond the first ten feet was pitch black. After some more rowing and another stint of snorkeling, we headed back to the beach and had snacks before heading back to Barcelona.

The trip itself was kind of weird. It was less organized than the other events we've done and our driver who brought us to the coast had brought along a girl who he was essentially on a date with. In the van it was like we were all a bunch of bonus wheels on their date. Still being out on the water was amazing and I really like kayaking and snorkeling. When we got back to the bar where we started, we got food and a drink as part of the trip. This was good since we were starving and too exhausted to go elsewhere. After some mix ups with ordering, our food ended up being really late so the manager sent us more free drinks. Except signals got crossed and we all ended up with our own extra sangria plus two pitchers to share. We were all feeling pretty good when the food, which was delicious, finally arrived. We all ate and talked until late and then said our good byes and headed home to crash.

I was hoping to post about today as well but it's late and I have an early train to catch so let's leave that for tomorrow. I will give you a little teaser: it involves a man trying to get us to pay him for a picture of something we absolutely did not want a picture of...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Gaudi and How Not to Get a Train Ticket

It's been a couple days since I've posted so here's the rundown:

Friday we went to la Sagrada Familia and waited in a painfully long line to get in. My mother has thinks that we refuse to pay for anything so I would like to point out that we paid 10.50to get in and 2.50 to take the lift to the top. It was completely worth it since the interior of the building is just as amazing as the outside, with so many details and tons to look at. There was a museum that showed a bunch of the original models and some of Gaudi's early work, as well as other artists' drawings and interpretations of the building. There was also an exhibit that explained Gaudi's love of nature and how it inspired his work. We had a scheduled time to go up into one of the towers but our elevator broke (we seem to have that affect on them) so we had to wait in line for the other elevator. After an hour of listening to the couple in line behind us make out loudy (I guess their mothers never taught them how to act in church/public. Don't worry mom, I know better), we got out chance to ride to the top. The view was amazing! We decided to walk down the stairs to get out instead of taking the elevator back down, which meant we got lots of great views of the city and cool photos of different details on the building.

That afternoon we went to Guell Park, another of Gaudi's creation. There were a bunch of paths that all lead to the main features of the park, which include a lot of mosaics and a lizard fountain. There were also two buildings, one which is now a gift shop and the otherwhich is an exhibit of some kind, that are made of stone with mosaic roofs and window panes. The park in general was amazing in spite of the fact that it was really crowded and I'm glad we made it.

Friday night we did the pub crawl that Travel Bar, the company that does the free tour and cooking class, which was fun. We met some Canadians and Australians and a Swiss nurse who applauded Michelle for her obsession with hand sanitizer. My favorite bar of the night was called Chupitos (Spanish for shots) a bar that, clearly, specializes in shots. A lot of the shots featured fire including one where the bar tender lights the bar on fire and you roast a marshmallow which you eat before doing the shot.

Yesterday we mostly just relaxed. We had our new go to cheap meal, cheese and tomato sandwiches, and bummed around a lot. We did try to go to the train station to get our reservations for Paris. After dealing with the broken number machine (the one that gives you a number that you wait to be called) and a lot of confusing instructions from various people, we found an information guy who told us there were 500 people in line ahead of us and said we should leave and come back at 9. Cut to 9 (ok maybe a little after 9), we arrived back at the station and waited in line only to find that the ticket office closes at 10 and we were not going to make it through the line in time. Guess we're going back today.

That night we met our friend Pablo, from the bar Trece, at Plaza de Espanya to see the fountain light show they have on weekend nights. The plaza was really cool, with a bunch of fountains and stairs leading up to a museum that looks over it. Strangely enough, there was a Harley Davidson festival that night, complete with fringed leather vests and carnival rides. It was weirdly American and kind of took away from such a cool Plaza but we got some delicious falafel wraps so that's something.

Today we had scheduled a kayaking and cave snorkeling trip but when we got to the bar where it was supposed to start, we discovered that our reservation paperwork had gotten lost in the schuffle and they couldn't get buses for us to take. We were disappointed but rescheduled for tomorrow. Hopefully I will have a great story for you tomorrow.

After our false start we tried to check out the Picasso museum but the line was insane and it was hot so we just wandered around for a bit. It was a cool area with a lot to see, which was nice. We went home and siesta-ed and now it's time to head back to the train station. Third time's the charm (I hope)!

Statue on la Sagrada Familia, taken on our way down from the tower.
Me in front of la Sagrada Familia
Interior of la Sagrada Familia. Gaudi was really inspired by trees and wanted the church to feel like a forest.
Guell Park
Michelle in this cool, cave-y walkway at Guell Park.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Christopher Columbus and the Ocean Blue

Lots to do here in Barcelona. Wednesday night we set out for Trece, a bar near las Ramblas that is know for its mojitos and young international crowd. We got lost, unfortunately but not surprisingly, and ended up in Nevermind, a 90s grunge bar decorated with skate boards and Kurt Cobain murals. We fit in about as well as you'd imagine and drank our beers quickly so we could dash out the door. Upon further wandering we actually ended up at Trece. It was very small but nice and we met a girl from California who is traveling in between au pair positions and the guy she is staying with through couchsurfing. We hung out with them for a while and around 2 the bar had almost emptied and someone put on salsa music and the bar tenders proceeded to twirl us around the (tiny) dance floor. I love a good spontaneous dance party and, while I may not have been nearly as good as our partners who have been salsaing all their lives, I think I held my own thanks to salsa night at the Mad Frog back home.

Thursday we headed back to las Ramblas to check out the Christopher Columbus monument. There is an elevator that takes you to the top and the view is supposed to be amazing. The elevator was broken so instead we took a long walk along the harbor. The were tons of boats which were cool to see and we found this little art fair where people were selling jewelry and really cool masks. We made it to the beach, which seemed ridiculously crowded and decided that we'll take a day trip to a less hectic beach when we want to sun bathe.

At six, we returned to Travel Bar were we started our tour the day before. They were putting on a cooking class that we decided to do. Our chef, whose name I can't remember, took us back to Mercat de la Boqueria where he showed us how to buy the freshest ingredients for paella. There were about thirty of us and we couldn't actually hear so we made friends with Amy and Dan instead. Amy and Dan are Australians who are traveling around Europe until they run out of money. They told us about Paris and London and we gave them tips about Madrid. After the market we went to a restaurant where we had tapas (patatas bravas, tortilla, and bread with toppings) and learned to mix sangria. Then we watched as Chef prepared traditional seafood paella. Since there were so many of s, the pan he used was massive but he made it look easy (although I'm sure it's not). We had a great time drinking sangria and eating our paella, which was delicious. Afterward we went back to Travel Bar with Amy and Dan to sign up for a kayaking and snorkeling trip (which I'm super excited about) and to have a quick drink before heading home for some much needed sleep.

Christopher Columbus pointing at something from the top of his beachside monument.
Hmm sorry these aren't really in order. Don't know how to fix that. This is our paella chef stirring the paella.
Me with one of Columbus's lions.
Boats in the harbor.
The finished paella.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Walking Tour

Today we found a free walking tour of Barcelona. There is a travel company that runs a bar (which is literally called Travel Bar) and also has events like the tour, pub crawls, and Spanish cooking classes. It was a good tour that took us through a lot of the old city. This was our second free tour (the first was in Madrid) and our second non-Spanish tour guide (this one was Swiss). He knew a lot though and told us a lot about the history of Barcelona, the current movement in Cataluna to gain independence from Spain, and a lot of tips on what to do/eat/drink in the city. We saw the steps where Ferdinand and Isabella recieved Columbus after he sailed to "India," a church that was almost destroyed by Franco ( in cahoots with Mussolini) during the Spanish Civil War, and, of course, a lot of important churches. After the tour we had discounted beers at Travel Bar and signed up for a couple more events (more on those when we do them).

After we left the bar (after only one drink each, I promise) we checked out Mercat de la Boqueria, which is big market full of every kind of food you can imagine. We wandered through it and stopped at one of the restaurant booths for some handmade ravioli with pesto. It was as delicious as it sounds. Tonight we head to bar that is supposedly full of "20-something internationals" in order to, hopefully, make some friends. It's harder since we are not in a hostel but it would be nice to have some more people to hang out with while we're here.

Fruit stand at Mercat de la Boqueria
Shrine to Santa Eulalia, co-patron saint of Barcelona
Bar del Pi, once frequented by Ernest Hemmingway
The shockingly ugly home of the Barcelona Architects' Association. The artwork on the left is Miro's imitation of Picasso's work and on the right is Picasso's imitation of Miro's work. According to our guide the two artists were rivals who did these quick sketches to mock one another. They were both firmly anti-Franco and refused to have their work publicly displayed in Franco's Spain. Somehow, Franco got ahold of the two sketches and took the opportunity to display the work of both artists.
This sculpture sits right inside where the old Roman city of Barcano, later Barcelona,  used to be.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Arrived in Barcelona a little before noon today. Yesterday we said good bye to Valencia by wandering around a bit and reserving our train. We also did laundry and tried to get most of our packing done so we weren't rushed in the morning. I didn't really buy anything in Valencia but things didn't seem to fit as easily as when I packed in Madrid. Possibly I should come up with a better method of packing.

When we got to Barcelona to the Sagrada Familia stop. It's crazy to come up from underground and see this amazing building that you've seen so many pictures of in person. It was actually smaller than I imagined but very cool! You have to pay to get in but it's supposed to be worth it so we'll definitely go check it out while we are here.

We got sort of turned around when we got out of the Metro so we called our host, Julian, who picked us up at la Sagrada Familia and took us to his apartment where we are staying (through airbnb). He didn't look very much like his picture and we were entirely sure we were about to be taken. Michelle asked about the difference and he was really confused and offered to ahow us his I.D. so we decided maybe he wouldn't take us.

After some siesta-ing we took a walk and picked up some food for dinner. We were going to make frozen pizza but upon examination we realized that the oven was gaslit, the kind you literally have to light using fire, so we settled for pasta. This was also difficult because the stove is also gas and has to hand lit. We almost gave up and ate bread and cheese for dinner but then we found matches and I used the fire skills I learned in high school chem lab to light it. Next up we need to conquer the oven, whcih is trickier because we don't know where the gas comes from. Guess that's a challenge for another day!

La Sagrada Familia
Old men playing some yard game. Michelle knows what it's called but I have never heard of it.
La Sagrada Familia...still under construction

Sunday, July 3, 2011

La Playa: Part 2

Last night we returned to the beach for paella and fireworks. We wandered a couple blocks along the beach and compared paella prices and ate at the cheapest one. I think they hated us a lot because we only got water and didn't order a first course but the paella was delicious! you have to have at least two people per paella so we got  paella verdura (which is just rice and vegetables) since Michelle is a real vegetarian. I would like to try it with seafood but it was really good anyway!

After we ate we wandered around waiting for the fireworks. They were randomly having a renaissance fair. We wandered through it and bought caiparinas and roasted corn and Michelle lusted after these cool leather backpacks. We got harassed a little to buy cans of beer out of plastic bags and get cornrows so it was sort of like being back in Madrid. The fireworks were good, although apparently they just keep getting better and better every Saturday and the last Saturday in July is apparently amazing. There didn't seem to be much going on after the fireworks so we called it a night and headed back to the apartment.

Today we had planned to go on a walk through the historical part of town but the fair was only going to be on the beach one more day so we decided to go there instead. It was really overcast so we walked around the fair, snacked on cheese and chips, and, after much pro and con listing, Michelle bought one of the leather backpacks. Then it rained to we gave up on the beach and left.

On a more general note, I have decided that I'd rather stay in a hostel that someone's apartment. Jonathan, our host is really nice, the room is beautiful, and it's great to have our own space but I really miss the opportunity to meet other people at the hostels. Staying there we were never bored because there were always activities and new people to talk to. Not that airbnb isn't nice, it's just the overall hostel experience, at least a nice one like where we stayed, has more to offer socially.

La Playa
Our paella verdura. And yes, we ate it all.

On the beach at night...I know you can't tell but yes, that's me. It may actually be the best picture taken of me since we started the trip. I had this image in my head of myself wandering around Europe, exploring and sitting in cafes and generally looking awesome but as it turns out simply being in Europe does not make you look more awesome. As it's summer I mostly just look more sweaty.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

La Playa

Just returned from the beach (la playa) and I seem to be only minimally sunburned-knock on wood. I am, however, entirely covered in a thin layer of sand and waiting for Michelle to get out of the shower so I can rinse off. This is an issue because it means that I can't sit on our remarkably comfortable memory foam bed. Also I think the sand might be grinding off several layers of skin whenever I move.

The beach here is really nice (at least I think so, I had my contacts out so I can't be sure). I do know that the water was pretty clear and not too cold and the beach was wide and not too terribly crowded considering it's a Saturday. I wasn't sure what to expect since I've never gone to a beach on the mediterranean but but it turns out the water is calm and the people are mostly topless. I have seriously never seen so many casually half-naked people but after the initial surprise I didn't notice too much, especially since I was half blind.  We swam a little, which was fun but did make me miss the big, powerful waves I'm used to from the beaches we usually go to along the Atlantic. Still, it was a beautiful day with a nice breeze and it was easy to nap in the sun listening to the waves and Spanish kids running around chattering in Spanish.

...Just took a break to shower and help Michelle fish her swimsuit bottoms off a hook that is several feet below the top or the balcony rail. She dropped them while trying to line dry them, demonstrating the main drawback of drying your clothes by hanging them off a balcony on the seventh floor. Luckily I was able to use my freakishly long arms and some spoons to pull them back up saving her from having to go back to the beach missing the wrong half of her suit.

We are currently taking a break in the apartment before heading back to the beach to try Valencia's famous paella and watch the fireworks. The fireworks are part of a fiesta that lasts the whole month of July and seems to consist of a lot of amazing things such as fireworks, jazz concerts, and Transformers. We are hoping to find the nightlife on the beach since last night our attempt to go out was a massive failure. Our plan was to stalk one of the local hostels and maybe join one of their events or at least make some friends. They had a lot of security though and no one seemed to be hanging out in the lobby so we left. From there we tried to head to one of the main historical buildings, which is supposed to be surrounded by bars and have some pub crawls but it was creepy and deserted so we went home, defeated by Valencian nightlife.

I'm going to try to take some pictures tonight so more on the beach tomorrow!


Friday, July 1, 2011

Architecture and Dinosaurs

First full day in Valencia! It is cooler than Madrid but very humid. We planned on going to the beach but between the sky being a little overcast and not being able to figure out the bus system we decided to leave that for tomorrow and take a walk instead. The plan was to walk through the historical part of town until we hit this long thin park and follow that to la Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. Once again our plans went unrealized when we forgot our map and missed the entire historical district. We did make it to the park eventually. The park curves around the city and w once a river. The river caused some bad flooding in the 50s so it was diverted and about fifteen years ago they converted it into a park. The park itself was nice, with fountains and bridges over it but my favorite part was la Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciensias. This complex of buildings is a cultural center and includes an opera house and performing arts center, a science museum, and an aquarium. The architecture was beautiful, like something out of a movie, and there was this walkway full of sculptures and a dinosaur park with animatronic dinosaurs that made noises. We didn't want to pay to go into the dinosaur park, aquarium, or other features since they were all expensive but we had a great time wandering around the space. Turns out the two things you really need to become a huge tourist destination/the greatest place on earth is great architecture and dinosaurs.

We had some trouble getting back to the apartment due to our maplessness but we made it eventually, exhausted and with aching feet. Currently siestaing but soon we'll need to shower and go to the store to pick up some things for the beach. Hopefully we actually make it tomorrow!

The statue walk at la Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias
Holding up a pillar at the park
One dinosaur escaped so we got to see it!
My favorite building in la Ciudad