I realize I missed blogging the week before this past week (spring break), but there’s no way that’s gonna happen now…sorry. I will have a hard enough time remembering everything I did this past week, which was one of the best and most exhausting weeks I’ve ever had.
Spain is a truly fascinating country. I had never been there before this week, and I am so glad I chose to go during my spring break with my flatmate/translator/partner in crime, Amanda Bell. If you’ve never been there, you may have a list of preconceived notions about the country in your head. I did as well. Some of them turned out to be very true and others completely false. For example: the stereotype that Spanish men have no shame is most definitely true. But I think that people have a tendency to group all of Spain together into a homogeneous culture/personality, which couldn’t be less true. The cities we hit were Barcelona, Granada and Madrid, and each was very unique. We wore ourselves out trying to do as much as possible, but I’m so glad we did. Unfortunately, Amanda now has the voice and sinuses to prove it, but I guess that’s the price you might pay for an incredible week.
So, our journey started last Saturday afternoon as we took the tube to Finchley Road station to catch our hour-long bus to London’s Luton airport. We made it to our gate and boarded our plane to Barcelona. When we landed, the air was noticeably warmer – a great sign for this week. Starting things off right, we waited in line for the wrong passport check. Laughing for 10 minutes in my usually loud and obnoxious fashion, we finally made it through to the bus stop, where we would catch a bus into the city. Next, we tried to get on the bus without having bought tickets. We were having a difficult time blending in, clearly. Once we got on the bus, there was exactly one seat left, which I proceeded to sit in and immediately stand up again. Some strange, unknown liquid had soaked the seat, so I was forced to sit/stand on the armrest of Amanda’s seat for an hour in the aisle of the bus. Only me. But it didn’t matter because I was in Barcelona! Once we got to our bus stop, we had quite a difficult time figuring out which way the metro was due to construction. Some very kind man guided us in the right direction (thanks to Amanda’s mui bien Spanish). We were staying with a friend of a friend in a town called Bellaterra just a 20-minute train ride outside the city, however, which complicated things once we got to the metro. Amanda proceeded to have a mini panic attack that we were never going to get there, while I assured her it would be fine. Of course, she was the one who spoke Spanish so none of the pressure was on me, but I did what I could. We eventually found our train back out to Bellaterra and arrived at the train stop after 30 minutes of sitting across from three 15-year-old Spanish guys who were trying to be impressive by listening to extremely loud Spanish rap and downing a bottle of whiskey. Guess they were in for a crazy night. We waited for a while on a bench outside, got yelled at by some guys who tried to get us to jump in their van??, and were eventually picked up by our friend Keila’s mom and dad, who graciously let us stay with them for three nights. Their home, just a 2-minute drive from the station, was so Spanish and so beautiful. And their dog, Luca, was about the size of a horse and just about the most precious thing I’ve ever seen. I would have been content hanging out with Luca for the next three days, but I figured I should probably see Barcelona too. True, it was a Saturday night, and we knew that the city would be getting busy at around midnight, when we arrived at their house, but sleepiness set in and the bed was so comfortable. After eating sandwiches made of bread, butter and ham, we decided to get a good night of sleep and wake up ready for a day of exploring!
Sunday morning. We woke up to the sound of rain on our windows. Bummer. But we got ready and decided to make the best of it. After I sufficiently annoyed everyone by taking pictures of everything in the house and backyard, we ate a delicious breakfast and headed into the city. To our delight, we popped out of the metro and the rain was gone. With the sun blazing, the air warmed up very quickly and I soon regretted bringing a jacket. Our first destination was La Sagrada Familia, probably the most famous tourist sight in Barcelona. It is an old Catholic cathedral that is still undergoing construction, and it was quite impressive. The artist of most of the architecture inside and outside the church was Gaudi, who created giant masterpieces out of different biblical scenes. I can definitely see why the long was so long to get in…it was pretty unbelievable. After a few hours, we headed to the famous La Rambla street in central Barcelona to walk around and eat lunch. Although very touristy, it was fun to do some sightseeing and get a better feel for the city. We stopped at an outdoor cafe to eat some tortilla, which is actually an egg and potato sort of quiche. We then continued to walk down the strip, which eventually led us to the port of Barcelona. The weather couldn’t have been better, and we relaxed on the dock for a while. Then we both realized we needed gelato, so we sat by a fountain and devoured it quickly. We decided to wander through some adorable streets and explore for the rest of the afternoon/evening, stumbling upon a market filled with cheese, honey and wine. And samples. After eating an embarrassing amount of cheese cubes, we stopped in a bar called Stoke to have our first sangria of the week. Now of course people still stay out late in Spain even on Sunday, but we (and by we I mean mostly I) encountered a thing called exhaustion, so we ended up going back to Bellaterra fairly early. Wonderful first day in Spain.
Feeling rested Monday morning, we headed out to the city early to make our 11a.m. Fat Tire bike tour, which was to last four hours. It may have cost us 20 euros, but it was worth every cent. Our tour guide had dreads and was from Australia and his name was Buddha. This was going to be great. Now, I bike at home all the time, but this was a bit different as we had to weave past people in sometimes narrow alleys, which created some problems for me at first. Ran into a motorcycle straight out of the gate. Don’t worry, it was standing still, but that didn’t stop onlooking Spaniards from laughing at me. After about a minute, I got the hang of it though. We biked all around Barcelona, stopping at about 10 places to hear very entertaining stories about the sites. I’d by lying if I told you I remembered everything we saw, but some of the high points were an old bull fighting arena, the Spanish version of the Arc de Triomphe, a very picturesque park, the Sagrada Familia, again, and lastly, the beach. We were able to take in much of Barcelona’s gorgeous architecture during our sunny ride, and ending at the beach made it one of the best bike rides I’ve ever done. We stopped for lunch at a beach cafe, and Amanda and I quickly headed straight for the water. However, I was very confused by the fact that no one else on the tour even stepped foot on the sand. People are really strange sometimes. Anyway, after we rode back to the bike shop and I bought a Fat Tire t-shirt, we wandered into the St. Joseph food market, which was incredible. Although I didn’t buy anything, Amanda bought some fresh pineapple which looked amazing. We had heard that the Park Guell, a few metro stops away, was a must-see, so we headed there after the market. The views of the city from the top of the trails were breath-taking. After spending a while in awe, we made our way down the other side of the main hill to the main gathering spot. Two Jamaican men were playing reggae, so of course when I walked over to listen, they made me put on a Jamaican hair hat, sit down with them and take a picture. I probably would have done that eventually anyway though, so that’s ok. After a long afternoon at the park, we went back to Stoke, where we ran into one of the bike tour guides. We talked to him for a long time while eating nachos y mojitos. Wiped out from our day, we decided to just take a long walk around the port, sit at Starbucks for a while, and then head home.
It was good that we went home when we did because we had to leave our lovely hosts at 5:30 in the morning to catch our flight to Granada Tuesday morning. Our friend, Keila, took us to the airport and we passed out for the short flight to our second destination. Everyone in Barcelona had told us that Granada would be much warmer and nicer. Well, when we landed it was misting and colder. We took a bus into the city and I dragged my little carry-on case over the bumpy cobblestone roads to the Oasis Hostel. We checked in and immediately hopped onto an 11a.m. free walking tour of the city. The sun still refused to shine, but Granada was beautiful in spite of this. The heavy Moroccan influence gave it an African feel, much different from the beach city of Barcelona. The old part of the city was nothing but a vast landscape of white houses, which made me feel like I was in Spain, Morocco, and Greece all at the same time. I must say that the architecture in Granada was probably my favorite of the three cities. Our 3-hour long tour ended with tapas y tinto de verano. Still feeling very hungry, we, along with our new French friend, ate probably the best kebabs I’ve ever had near our hostel. We then decided it would be smart to take a siesta given four hours of sleep the previous night. However, I heard some amazing guitar playing coming from somewhere upstairs and decided to investigate the source. It turned out that we had a rooftop terrace at our hostel (this hostel was awesome), and there was a guy playing away while a few others relaxed in the sun, which eventually decided to show its face and warm us up. To my delight, he also happened to have a singing voice like John Mayer, and when I told him I sang, we ended up having a spontaneous singing/guitar playing session on the roof. So great. Before I knew it, it was time for our 6p.m. hiking tour in the hills of Granada. I knew it would be a work out, but I didn’t think it would be quite as intense. Our Australian tour guide (I think there’s a pattern here) took us up very steep rocks along the hillsides, telling us all about how the city’s nature complements its history. After a somewhat grueling hike, we ended up at a spot atop one of the hills to watch the beautiful Spanish sunset. Growing hungry, Amanda and I walked back into the city, got a crepe for dinner and went back to the hostel to get ready for our tapas tour. I forgot to mention that in Granada, and only in Granada, you are served free tapas (appetizer dishes that can really be anything Spanish) with every drink you purchase. Such a deal. So we set off with some friends to try the best tapas in town. Definitely a good night.
Wednesday rolled around too early, but we got up anyway because we wanted to spend all morning at the Alhambra, which is Granada’s huge Spanish/Middle Eastern castle in the middle of the city. This thing was huge. The buildings were massive, the views were spectacular, and the weather was amazing. This castle had so much history, and it’s no wonder that people usually need 3-4 hours to see and hear about everything. After leaving the castle and getting another kebab for lunch, we napped until our mid-afternoon street art/caves tour. The first stop on our tour was a real, lived-in cave. FYI, Granada has a good number of people and gypsys who live in caves built into the sides of the hills. I was a little skeptical about this, but when we saw a real-life cave man, I started to see the appeal a bit more…sort of. This guy was slightly crazy. He showed us his cave, which was actually really cool and well-decorated, and talked to us over and over about India and how we need to have peace. Oh, and he’s Santana’s cousin. I though he was joking, but our tour guide told us that he really is. I think he must have had 10 different fragrances of incense burning in that cave. Just before leaving his cave, he made us stand in silence for 10 seconds and pray with him to the nature gods. Weird…but he was living in a cave, so I guess that makes sense. Carrying on with the tour, we saw some incredible street art, as they liked to call it, and explored more of the city. By this time, the sun was beating down and I almost felt like I was back in Texas. After our tour ended, we went back to our hostel and decided to get vino y tapas at a recommended place with some friends for dinner. So good. We then went to an authentic Flamenco music and dance show with some others at the hostel. These guys were amazing. And so was Granada.
The next morning, we got up and headed to the bus stop to catch our five-hour bus to Madrid. It was hard to believe we were already going to our third city, but I was excited to be in the capital. I slept for the entire bus ride, which was really nice. We got to the bus station, hopped on the metro, and found Cat’s Hostel, where we were staying. We were pretty much pros at finding our way around Spain by this time. This hostel was great, but I seriously think we had phantom roommates the entire time we were there. We didn’t see anyone until one guy that night, and no one else until we checked out. The only other time we were together was when we were sleeping. Anyway, we got settled and immediately set out for the Prado museum, which was free after 6p.m. Filled with Greco, Goya, and other Spanish and Italian artists, it was definitely a great art museum. We then walked around the city, seeing some of the major sights. We passed through Puerto del Sol and encountered a protest on our way to Plaza Mayor, where we ate paella for dinner. Not something I would eat every day, but still very good. Craving chocolate, we stopped at a bakery to get these cake-like-things after dinner and ate them by the fountain in Sol. Feeling a little nauseous with chocolate overload, we decided to turn in a little early and make the next night our big night in Spain. We got back to the hostel at around 11, when people were just starting to go down to the bar before going out. We’re cool. We must do way more walking than other people on our trips because we were just way too tired. Not surprisingly, we were the only ones in bed by midnight, but that’s okay.
Friday. How was it our last full day in Spain?? The week had gone by so fast. I’m pretty sure we woke up about an hour after everyone else came back. We set out on the metro across town to visit Ermita de San Antonia de la Florida, which was the church/museum where Goya is buried. We got a bit lost along the way and stumbled upon private gardens, which I wanted to enter so badly. The guard insisted, however, so I was forced to look at the gardens from outside the gates. Did I mention the weather was amazing again? We walked along the river to the church, whose walls and ceiling were covered with Goya’s work. After that, we walked through a gorgeous park to the Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple randomly in the middle of the park. We followed our map over to the Plaza de Espana, where we sat in the sun for a while and shopped at the vendor market. We then traveled down to the Royal Palace, exploring that area until my cousin, Kati, who is studying/working in Madrid, called me to meet us for lunch at Puerto del Sol. After stuffing our faces, we went back to the hostel for a two-hour siesta, which was quite needed. Again, no sight of any roommates. Feeling better after our nap, we headed back out to the San Miguel Mercado near Plaza Mayor. Unfortunately, Amanda desperately needed a bathroom, so we temporarily left and went to McDonald’s, our go-to bathroom spot. We then went back to the market and bought some gigantic strawberries and grapes for dinner. On our way back to eat them at the hostel, we stopped at the Museo del Jamon, which was craziness, and Amanda bought a ham sandwich as well. We went back to eat and get ready for a late night. My cousin had recommended a place called Kapital, a 7-floor discotheque. We left our hostel at midnight, thinking we were plenty late, and got there to find the place pretty empty. Spanish people are insane. We were hungry again, so we got our hands stamped and went to McDonald’s to get a snack and wait for Kapital to get a little more packed. When we got back, it was definitely a different scene. This place was unlike any I have ever been to. Truly an experience. Remember that stereotype about Spanish guys? Yeah. We also met some American friends and ended up staying until around 4:30. We could have stayed for several more hours, but decided we wanted to actually do something our last day in Spain, so we headed home.
Waking up Saturday morning was not fun. But we checked out of our hostel, left our bags there and walked to the Parque del Buen Retiro, which was absolutely gorgeous and filled with boat-rowers, roller-bladers, dog-walkers, runners and all sorts of people. We were pretty dead and decided to sit on a bench for a while, when out of the blue a friendly but strange old man came up to us and started speaking in Spanish and patting our legs. It was interesting. We then walked to an outdoor cafe by the water, which looked like a mini Hyde Park. I got a sandwich for lunch, which turned out to be pre-packaged and definitely the worst thing I’ve ever tasted. But it was a nice day to be at a park. Friendly Spanish man somehow found us again, muttered something unintelligible and walked away. Oh, Spain. After sitting on the grass for a while, it was time to get our bags at the hostel and head to the airport. When the plane finally arrived at the gate a few minutes late, we were informed that we needed to change gates. As we were walking, I said to Amanda, “I bet they’re going to say we all have to come back now,” and literally right after I said that, we heard a guy yelling for everyone to come back to the gate. You’re too much, Ryanair. Leaving 45 minutes late, our plane finally took off and I passed out. We opted for the faster express train over the cheaper and slower bus into London, and somehow made it back to our flat in spite of our groggy state.
And now it’s Sunday night, and spring break is already over. Every city was so different, but so incredibly fun. The weather was great, the food was great, the people were great. Spain was simply amazing. But coming back to London isn’t too bad, I suppose. Only one month left. Better make it count!