The Beginning: Barcelona

Leigh and I are currently enjoying our last day in London – I can’t believe our trip has gone so fast! Sorry about the late update :( – internet access has been limited and most days I have been too lazy to write up all the details! My friend Leigh and I have been backpacking through Europe for the past couple of weeks… starting in Barcelona we enjoyed Gaudi and the beach for three days before heading north to Paris. Next was Brussels for a day and a half, followed by Amsterdam for a couple of days before finally finishing off in London. All of that in less than two weeks! My hiking backpack is already over-stuffed and I’m wondering how I will manage to get everything home once I get my suitcase out of temporary storage in London. For your reading pleasure (and let me warn you, there will be a lot to read), here’s a description of the trip so far, starting at the beginning…

*FYI: I have a limited photo uploading capacity on this blog, so to avoid going over the limit I have posted a very small selection of photos here and the rest will be on my Facebook soon after I get back to the States. If you can’t view my Facebook album(s) I will also be putting an album on Flickr soon, too! As always, you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Spain, Day 1

Here were some of my initial thoughts upon arriving in Spain:

  1. Spaniards love their clapping! They clapped when the plane took off from London… and clapped again when it landed. And again when the plane stopped. And when their luggage appeared on the carousel. I’m not sure if this was because I was with a bunch of middle-school-aged kids or whether this is an actual trend, but seriously… the clapping. There was lots of it. (UPDATE: Leigh agrees with me, the people on her plane clapped too!)
  2. Teenage boys are the most annoying people EVER. I am fascinated by the Spanish language and the way it rolls off the tongue so quickly and beautifully from native speakers, but yelled, sung, and whispered in my ear from the two chronically bouncy, bored, crazy 13-year-old boys sitting next to me on the plane, and I was about to knock some heads together. Is it that hard to sit still (or at least avoid screaming to your friends at the back of the plane all night)?! Or to at least say excuse me before literally climbing on top of me to get to the aisle? Wow.
  3. It’s official: every single Spaniard ever born is naturally bronzed, dark-featured and gorgeous. It’s unnatural.

Apart from those fascinating thoughts, much of my 2-hour plane ride to Spain was spent attempting to finish Jane Eyre (the book that never ends) and thanking my lucky stars that I made it on the plane. Suffice it to say that London Heathrow does not display the departure gate for your flight until about 50 minutes before your plane leaves, which leaves very little time to actually get to your terminal and, you know, make it on your flight. In my case, I happened to still be sitting outside TGI Fridays (yes, a little piece of home!) and had to run to make it on the plane. Apart from the screaming boys next to me the flight went smoothly and I made it to Barcelona late on Saturday night. I spent the night in various socially awkward positions sprawled across waiting room chairs and the floor (yes, the floor) in anticipation of Leigh’s arrival at 7:55 the next morning. We had agreed to meet right outside of baggage claim, but 7:55AM rolled around and no Leigh… then 8, 9, 10, 11, 12… still no Leigh. I was getting a bit worried at this point, and had also realized that not only had I managed to not give Leigh my UK cell phone number, I didn’t know her number since it was in my US phone stored safely back in London. (International roaming cell phone calls from a US cell phone are far more expensive than European phones, so I opted to use my UK phone instead.) Also, my laptop conveniently couldn’t access the internet. I happened to have Leigh’s dad’s cell phone number in my wallet thanks to a business card he had given me once, so I called him and my own dad before realizing it was about 5AM US time. After being told that the airport refused to page people over the intercom (wtf?) and fearing that Leigh might in fact be waiting for me inside the baggage claim area, I took matters into my own hands and talked to a couple of young (and rather attractive, because they’re Spanish) airport police officers. Only one of them spoke English but I explained my situation and after some discussion amongst the two of them they offered to escort me back inside baggage claim and through the airport terminals to look for her. They were very sweet and joked the whole way (one kept jokingly yelling “Leigh?!” at anyone he saw with blonde hair, and the other kept calling his friend fat and saying he was his sidekick), and they spent probably half an hour with me before suggesting that perhaps I should just go to our hostel and wait for her.

By about 1PM Barcelona-time I decided I needed to check into our hostel so that they didn’t cancel our reservations, so I left the airport and took a bus/metro combo to our hostel, which was located right off one of the main roads, Paral-lel. (Incidentally, Paral-lel is only about 5 minutes walking distance from La Rambla, the main road/ tourist drag in Barcelona – score!). After checking in and finally getting internet access I was finally able to read the 5 or so emails from friends and family members attempting to warn me that Leigh’s original flight had been delayed and that she had had to take a new flight through Paris. She was due to be arriving in Barcelona around 3PM. After some quick phone calls to Leigh and her parents I hopped on the metro back to the airport and finally found a rather frazzled but relieved Leigh and we were on our way to Barcelona for realz!

The bus/metro combo from BCN El Prat Airport to our hostel on Paral-lel took about an hour, and when we arrived at our hostel we each took a much-needed shower before admiring our accommodations, which came complete with lockers, a balcony in our bedroom and electronic wristbands with internal computer chips for keys (the same “keys” controlled the lockers – so cool!). We stayed in a 4-person female room which felt like a private one, since we barely ever saw (or heard) our roommates. The hostel staff were also super friendly (especially the guys) and were always willing to answer our questions and invite us out to the escorted tours that left nightly to experience Catalan nightlife. Probably the best part was that there was free wi-fi in addition to four free computers downstairs! We were definitely spoiled.

Outside our hostel, HelloBCN

Leigh in our hostel room

The view from our bedroom window...

Our wristband keys!

On our first evening, Leigh and I took a walk down Paral-lel and stopped at a roadside café where they were offering a dinner of sangria and paella for 9€! We enjoyed our sickeningly awesome authentic Spanish food as evening fell and then walked a little further up the road to Font Montjuïc, where we saw the beginning of the nightly “Magic Fountain” performance held in front of Palau d’Alfons XIII. We only saw the first few minutes of it before we decided that it was time to head to bed and prepare ourselves for a full day the next morning!

Paella + sangria + Leigh + Barcelona = happiness

Montjuic at night!

Day 2

Leigh and I woke up early on the morning of July 26th and enjoyed our free hostel breakfast buffet (yummmmmm) before walking a couple blocks over and exploring La Rambla. The avenue is a lovely tree-lined street which leads up to the Plaça de Catalunya and is right next to the Barri Gottic (Barceona’s historical Gothic District). Even though it was only about 9 in the morning the road was already packed with people, vendors, and street performers… my favorite was a man who had managed to rig up an ingenious mythical dwarf-ish costume that allowed him to literally levitate in the air – so cool!, We also loved the wares of the street vendors, such as baby bunnies y tortugas and “huevos de dinosaurio!”

La Rambla

The levitating street performer!

Baby bunnies y tortugas!

HUEVOS DE DINOSAURIO

We walked north up the road towards Plaça de Catalunya and stopped in a covered market where they were selling the most delicious-looking fruits I have ever seen in my life. Going further east a couple of blocks we explored the Barri Gottic and enjoyed the street musicians outside of the Catedral, as well as the enclosed garden and stunning roof inside the Viceroy’s Palace (which houses the Archives of the Crown of Aragon). We embraced our tourist status and browsed various gift shops before deciding that we absolutely had to see the beach that day and going back to our hostel to grab our swimsuits.

The entrance to the market on La Rambla

Blurry fruits inside the market - yummmm

The beautiful courtyard inside the Viceroy's Palace

Let me just take this moment to express my undying love for Barcelona’s beaches. Leigh and I took the bus down to Platja de la Barceloneta and were immediately greeted by a stunning view of the beach and W Barcelona Hotel in the distance, one of the Barcelona’s most recognizable buildings. After snapping some photos from the boardwalk we ran down to the sand to put our purses in a locker before heading out to the water. (Barcelona is, like many major cities in Europe, notorious for pick-pocketing – we weren’t taking any chances with our wallets or cameras!) We swam out to a man-made stone breaker about a football field’s length away from the shore and laid on the rocks under the sun… every once in a while people would pass by looking at the crabs and fish left in the tide pools formed by the rocks, and occasionally we would hear the splash of people jumping into the ocean or laughing with their friends. We stayed like that under the sun for a good two hours, only getting up to leave when the sun started to dip towards the top of the skyscrapers in the distance. It was probably one of the most beautiful and relaxing moments I have had on this trip (and ever).

Soooooooo happy to be on the beach!

Platja de la Barceloneta (and W Barcelona in the background)

Friendly reminders to clean up after ourselves...

Post-beach joy

When we left the beach we headed back towards Muntanya de Montjuïc, Barcelona’s resident “mountain” (aka a very, very large steep hill). We took the funicular (metro) halfway up, then changed to the teleferic (their hanging cable car system) to take advantage of the stunning sunset. The entire sky turned an amazing shade of red and I literally had my breath taken away by how beautiful and huge the city looked from above. On one side the city is bordered by ocean – on the other, mountains. We happened to be in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time, and it was absolutely magical. At the top Leigh and I got out to explore the Castell de Montjuïc only to be informed that the 2010 European Athletics Championship was taking place (apparently the Olympics of European track and field). One of the funniest experiences of this excursion was Leigh’s unfortunate purchase of what she thought were packaged peanuts from a vending machine but which in fact turned out to dried corn kernels – quite the unexpected surprise! We ended up walking back down the mountain since we were unable to locate the entrance back to the funicular, but the road conveniently spat us back onto a street only one block away from our hostel. By this point in the night we were ravenous since we hadn’t eaten since before we had gone swimming – we grabbed a couple late-night (and delicious) pizzas on Paral-lel and then headed to bed exhausted.

Leigh and her deliciouuuusss corn kernels!

Sunset on Montjuïc

Dinner!

Day 3

On the morning of our third day in Barcelona (Tuesday, July 27th), Leigh and I woke up early to eat breakfast and then jumped on the metro to visit Parc Güell, Gaudi’s famous art/sculpture park named after his patrons. The park was further from the metro station than we expected and the walk there was confusing and hot, even in the morning sun. By the time we got there the park was already crawling with tourists, but we managed to explore the main areas including the famous lizard statue. The buildings and towers in the park reminded me very distinctly of the Watts Towers in LA – I wonder if Sabato Rodia was inspired by Gaudi? After a while Leigh and I decided we needed air conditioning and food and so we headed back to the metro to see another one of Gaudi’s masterpieces, the cathedral called Temple de la Sagrada Familia. The church was started in 1882 and is still under construction – they don’t expect to finish until at least 2026! We didn’t go inside because we were attempting to avoid the large lines and exorbitant entrance prices, but the outside of the cathedral was already stunning enough. Gaudi was attempting to play with making solid materials appear fluid, and this is especially apparent in the masonry which drips, oozes, swirls and crumples together to form an amazingly intricate piece of architecture. The building is also massive – I’ve been in quite a few cathedrals before, but somehow very few seemed to compare in size and scope to Gaudi’s monster of a church.

The entrance to Parc Güell

Leigh and the lizard!

Details of the Sagrada Familia

After staring at the cathedral for a while trying to comprehend how amazing it was, Leigh and I raced to see one of the last Gaudi pieces we hadn’t seen yet: Casa Batlló. The house is in one of Barcelona’s very trendy, rich neighborhoods – it’s wedged right next to a gorgeous traditionally mosaiced building and located right down the street from an expensive shopping district. We didn’t get a chance to go inside since we were already cutting our time close, but it was worth being able to see the outside of the structure. The tiled patterns, curving lines and skull-shaped balconies were fascinating to see (especially in comparison to the building next door). Even the tiles which made up the sidewalk were embossed with intricate patterns! It was a lovely way to end our whirlwind Gaudi tour.

Casa Batlló

Next door

Delicious watermelon and mango/orange-flavored hydration

After Casa Batlló Leigh and I rushed back to the hostel to grab our bags out of storage and stopped to enjoy fruit smoothies and open-faced sandwiches before we booked it to the train station for our overnight train to Paris! We ended up in a tiny sleeper car with two girls (one from the States and one from England) who were also backpacking through Europe – we had a great conversation despite the fact that we were basically maneuvering four people (and four equally as sizeable backpacks) in a room the size of a small closet. The train was on its way at 9PM, and we expected to arrive in Paris by 9AM the next day, and thus ended our three-day whirlwind tour of Barcelona! Stay tuned for Paris :)

Goodbye BCN!

Blurry cabin-mates on the train

Cheesin' just so you can see the size of the cabin... I'm standing on our beds!

Blurry, sweaty, cramped and happy to be off to Paris!

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