A video from a while back when Hannah and I ran away to Japan and South Korea for the winter holidays. Unfortunately my GoPro decided to pack it in and die after the third day so this video is only a very short snippet of our adventure. Still brings a tear to my eyes though.
After a long, bumpy and uncomfortable journey home, I am finally attempting to break my habit of always forgetting to write the last blog post of my holidays. I think it is a psychological thing of not wanting to accept the holiday is over. Or just me being lazy. Probably that, actually. But Barcelona was too wonderful to not write about. So here goes.
We spent the most time in Barcelona than anywhere else on the trip, which turned out to be a lucky thing as we ended up wasting essentially an entire day. That’s bound to happen by the end of a holiday though. So instead of writing what I did each day, I am going to simplify it and just talk about the highlights and must-dos of Barcelona.
La Boqueria Food Market
Staying at St Christopher’s Inn near La Ramblas we were super close to one of the largest and undoubtedly most spectacular food markets in Europe. Hands down one of the most GoPro-able experiences of the trip, I could easily spend hours in this place. Delicious fresh fruit juices of all different colours and flavours for just €1, cups of fresh mango for €2, sweet and savoury pasty for €2.5, seafood, meats, cheese, lollies, and everything and anything else your heart could imagine. So cheap, so fresh, so fun, and a definite must-do in Barcelona. I would argue this one experience alone is worthy of a trip to Spain. And if you are a foodie like me, I recommend you bring a paper bag because you will hyperventilate.
We discovered a street filled with the most adorable and hipster ‘brunch’ cafes that reminded me of home. We settled on one called Brunch & Cake and were not disappointed. In retrospect I’m glad we had to wait for ten minutes to be seated because it took me about that long to decide what I wanted on the very attractive menu. And of course we had to finish up with cake because the name of the place is Brunch & Cake after all. Find it here: http://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Restaurant_Review-g187497-d3163747-Reviews-Brunch_Cake-Barcelona_Catalonia.html
Hands down one of my favourite cathedrals of the trip and we didn’t even go inside because we are stingy backpackers. This incredible church designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí looks like something out of a Dr Seuss novel. Although it remains to this day unfinished, the exterior is an absolute spectacle and arguably advocates for the use of hallucinogenic substances. There are also a few other Gaudí buildings in Barcelona that are worth checking out. We went to visit Casa Batlló which was awesome, as well as La Pedrera. Park Güell is also one of the most famous of Gaudí’s work in Barcelona and after trekking there one morning we worked out that you need to buy a ticket and they sell out fast so we missed out. Learn from my mistakes and save yourself disappointment and buy a ticket – definitely worth it. If I had just one more day in Barcelona I would have gone back. But at least now I know for sure that I will be returning to Barcelona in my lifetime to see it as well as some of Gaudí’s other work: http://www.globotreks.com/destinations/10-gaudi-buildings-barcelona/
Coming from Australia, I have a high standard of beaches and I honestly would not rate Barceloneta Beach high on my list. Regardless of there being absolutely no space on the “sand” even at 8pm at night, and the water being filthy it is still a must-do European experience. Embrace the lack of personal space, the incredibly tanned Europeans that make you feel like a vampire, and the hundreds of people treading on you as they try and sell you something useless. Monjuïc Cable Car
There are two cable cars in Barcelona: one that goes across the port, and the other that goes up the mountain to Montjuïc Castle. We did the Montjuïc one, and pre-booked tickets at our hostel after the previous disappointment at Park Güell. You access it from the Montjuïc funicular (tell me that doesn’t sound fun!) which takes you halfway up the mountain. From there you jump on the cable car and get incredible views of the city on the seven-minute journey to top of the hill. Relaxing, fun, and beautiful.
Piscina Municipal de Montjuïc
Across the road from the cable car station is the Piscina Municipal de Montjuïc, a pool originally constructed for the 1992 summer Olympics diving and waterpolo events but now open to the public. We found out about this from two girls staying in our hostel room and once we got there discovered it was something of a hidden gem, only known about by locals. But may I just say, OH MY GOD. The pool is stunning and has the most magnificent panoramic view out across the city. Screw the beach, here you’ve got plenty of space, crystal clear water, and stunning views out to the city. Plus as it is not a tourist attraction as such, you can feel much more comfortable leaving your bags and going swimming together (something that is an absolute NO NO at the beach). Less than €5 to get in, it closes at 6.30pm but they don’t let anyone in after 5.30pm, so don’t miss out! It’s in my top three experiences of my whole trip. Best afternoon and the perfect compliment to climbing the hill on the cable car. Find it here: http://www.timeout.es/barcelona/es/espacios-deportivos/piscina-municipal-de-montjuic Other than that we did another free walking tour, the perfect way to introduce yourself to the history and sights of any city, and as a result I think I will be moving to Barcelona at some point in my life in order to explore all the incredible back alleys, food haunts, and churches (which FYI most of are free after 5pm but cost money during the day).
Jemima joined us for our last few days in Barcelona and finally Sarah got the mad clubbing experience she had been dying for. Can’t thank the girls enough for their awesome company on another fantastic adventure. Time to start planning the next trip!
Until next time, folks!
One of my most anticipated stops, Granada definitely delivered. After an interesting train ride there, where halfway we all got kicked off the train and instructed in Spanish to a load a buses out the door, around the corner, and across the car park (mind you this was in the middle of absolute nowhere), we arrived in Granada alive. A positive was that we bonded with a fellow traveller called Lyndon, whom was also completely and utterly confused by the process, and ended up going for dinner and drinks with her for both nights we were in Granada.
Settled in at Granada Inn Backpackers, and filled with fresh grilled calamari, we headed for the hills, and got quite lost in the Albayzín district that strangely resembled images I’ve seen of the backstreets in Greece. Two for the price of one, awesome! After what seemed like hours of walking up, we reached the Mirador San Nicolás look out, and could not be distracted from the incredible view across the valley to the Alhambra (although the young teenage couple making out in front of where everyone was taking photos gave it a good shot).
That night we met up with our new mate Lyndon, at a tapas bar recommended by the cute guy from the hostel called Bar La Riviera. It was here that we discovered the concept of free tapas. With every drink you order, you can choose two tapas options from the menu and they bring a plate enough for everyone at the table to eat. For free. Therefore it is economical to drink. Did I mention I like Granada?
Next morning Catherine went on a guided tour of the Alhambra, and in an attempt to ensure our day was better, we headed out early to catch a free walking tour. Eric was fantastic, even though he was a bit nervous as he informed us as his parents were part of the tour that day, and we learnt a lot about the history of Granada. He still owes me tapas though as I stunned both him, the group and myself when I perfectly guessed the height of the bell tower (57m). I think the gypsy ladies flicking rosemary around the church must have blessed me, or I’m just a genius. (Free walking tour: http://www.panchotours.com/tours-granada/tour/free-walking-tour-granada).
Next up we hopped on a bus and headed up the mountain to the Alhambra. We didn’t buy tickets because we are tight-asses, but still got to see enough of it for free. Apparently 30% of the Alhambra is free. Just make sure you get off at the Puerta de la Justicia stop before the last stop on the mountain to save yourself the walk. Although it is a good excuse to get an ice cream on a hot day. We even ended up bumping into Catherine on her tour, looking like a goof with her headphones in.
After a quick flick through our Lonely Planet guide we decided to explore the Alcaiceria markets more, which were the old Moorish silk markets, to find one of the many tea houses or teterías that lined the Calderería Nueva. With a five page list of teas, we each selected one and relaxed in the candle-lit, bohemian teahouse. A definite hidden treasure of Granada.
When we finally returned to our accommodation to find Catherine, we also found three new roommates: two awesome girls from Australia (small world), and Tobias, our favorite costa-rican weed-loving larrikin. We got on with the girls like a house on fire and couldn’t wait to introduce them to the world of free tapas so brought them to dinner with Lyndon that night. God knows how we made it, but by 3am we were dancing up a storm in a tiny hall/nightclub in some random backstreet that was completely empty when we arrived at 1am. We still claim that we brought the party that night, but with a mixture of Beyoncé, Elvis and Spanish pop, who could resist. And nothing quite tops a night off like a gigantic plate of churros to share! I only wished I had eaten them before and not after my zumba-like dance sesh in the club.
After bidding our new friends goodbye, and planning a reunion once we all returned to Sydney, we hopped on a bus to the airport for a quick flight to Barcelona, baby! It was a whirlwind stop in Granada but a definite highlight of the trip. I’ll be back.
P.s. No memory will ever surpass the one of me drunkenly ninja-kicking the bathroom cubical door at the club after Emma locked herself in there. I don’t know what possessed me to do it, maybe I did pick up some ninja moves in Japan afterall. All I know for sure though, is that it was fricken awesome.
I am currently sitting on a plane, jet-setting to Barcelona, our final destination. Emails have already started arriving from home, as reality starts to set in. I’m a city behind on blogs and I don’t know how time has managed to escape me so quickly.
We stayed in Seville for three nights at the Cathedral Terrace apartments (http://terrazas-de-la-catedral.sevilla-hotels-spain.com/en/), with a great central location near the Bull Fighting Museum. With Sarah on board now, and also picking up (another) Emma, a friend of Sarah’s from her time in England, we planned to find the nightlife most of us by now were so desperately craving. With high hopes we were met with a (in retrospect) relatively expensive tapas bar that tried to keep my €20 as a tip, and a rather quiet night-scene. Don’t let me turn you off Seville though, we honestly didn’t look very hard because we ended up most nights on the private rooftop of our apartment, overlooking the Cathedral, with a bottle or two of Tinto de Verano until the wee hours. An attempt for class with a bottle of wine was met with quite the struggle as we realized we didn’t have a corkscrew. Difficult but proved not impossible.
As usual we started our time in the city with a free walking tour with Feel the City tours (http://www.feelthecitytours.com/en/tour/free-tour-sevilla/). A bit of a bigger group we were not as impressed as with the other tours we’d been taken on in other cities. That or maybe it was just the fact that the other English-speaking group got the hot guide. Yes, it was most likely that. We were taken around the Cathedral and shown the inscriptions that were painted on the walls in bulls’ blood to advertise an honor student, which were discovered, still intact, after the walls were cleaned recently. I incorrectly guessed that they were written in red wine, but still maintain it was a reasonable assumption for Spain.
We were shown the Giralda Tower adjacent to the Cathedral that was originally built by Muslims with Roman ruins and then added to by Christians, which we climbed the next day. I think its safe to say we all seriously reconsidered our love of heights after we hiked the thirty-five story’s of ramps to the top – ramps because there used to be stables located at the top of the tower.
We walked by the Palace, which we later returned to and discovered for the first time ever that someone considered Sarah disabled. She got free entry as a result though, so she is most definitely going to whip that one out next time we have to pay €10 to get into a church.
We finished up in the stunning Plaza de España where we found out parts of Star Wars was filmed. Connected to the Plaza was a luscious green park and some much needed shade. We enjoyed it so much that we came back the next day and hired a quadracycle and rode around the park looking like morons. Much fun was had.
But undoubtedly my favourite part of Seville was Mercado Gourmet Lonja Del Barranco – an open-air gourmet food market much like the one we found in Madrid but better! We went there multiple times throughout our stay, one of the stall owners even asked us if we wanted to come to his reggae gig. The wine was #delish, the food was #amaze, and you could pick and choose a little bit of everything; when I die, this will be the heaven I go to.
I don’t know why I never thought of doing this, but I love editing movies and often film my holidays and this is what I produced from my trip to South East Asia. I visited Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Well I wanted snow, and boy oh boy did I get it. One day and four trains later, we emerged on the top island, Hokkaido, to a white wash. The trees were all sprinkled with a bright white powder, the houses looked squashed under big puffy piles of white, and the large expansive lakes were frozen still.
We were met at Sapporo Station by an icy cool wind, and streets piled high with snow. Caught up in the excitement of it all, and chasing to keep up with Hannah while also taking pictures and dragging my suitcase, I got my first real hands on taste of snow. Face first on the ground. After laughing it off as a very kind and concerned man helped me up, I decided to just focus on walking until we got to our accommodation. Had I not been laughing so much at my own misfortune, Hannah may not have even realised I’d fallen, as she was already colder than she’d planned to be and as a result on a mission to get inside. At least I gave her a reason to smile in what she believed to be the beginning of her idea of a nightmare!
Expecting the worst, we were very pleased with our APA Hotel experience, and passed the time until dark unpacking, defrosting and dancing around in the yukatas (a casual kimono) they’d provided us. Once the time had come to brace the cold again, we cracked open the heat packs Hiroko had told us about and shoved them in our pockets. As we walked down the street, me still slipping and sliding all over the place, we were surprised to find that the heat packs, which had cost us ¥100 (roughly AUD$1) for a pack of nine did in fact work as advertised! They heat to 40 degrees Celsius and stay hot for 16 hours. By the end of our time in Hokkaido I would have surely lost a finger had I not had them.
The Sapporo Snow Festival was very close to our hotel, an easy walk apart from all the slippery ice on the footpath. Nonetheless we persevered and were rewarded with the stunning massive ice sculptures that were lit up with brightly coloured lights and music. Although a subzero temperature, the crowds flocked to see the incredible statues and huddled around the food stores that scattered the park (easy to spot from the steam bellowing out of their tents). My favourite of all the sculptures was the Star Wars installation, whereas Hannah’s architectural eye drew her more towards the castles.
Not lasting for long in the freezing cold we headed off to find some food. Being warned off the highly alluring Ramen Street by some of our new friends we made this trip, we instead opted for a little doorway that had heaps of locals lining up outside and a tripadvisor sticker in the window – two very good signs. And I think we hit the jackpot on this one. Once it was our turn, we were given a booth that we shared with three other couples, all sitting across a huge open fire pit. Unsure of whether it was designed for cooking or heating, we attempted to defrost our hands while perusing the menu, much to the entertainment of the couple sitting across from us. We ended up ordering a huge grilled salmon and miso salad and a few chicken skewers to share, and spent most of the night staring obviously at the couple across from us as they cooked their seafood banquet on the open grill. So much so that after a while the man offered us a piece of his grilled squid. Oops!
The next morning I slept in a bit while Hannah got up to do some uni work. I was only just beginning to feel my fall from the day before. Once we were sure the sun was out as much as it was going to be, we headed back to the Snow Festival and saw a whole heap of sculptures we had missed the night before, as well as slides, and a huge jump with professional skiers doing flips off to the sound of some pretty hardcore heavy metal. I love how the Japanese are so innocent to some western music; often we’ve come across supermarkets playing explicit hip hop or heavy metal songs and no one seems to flinch at some of the harsher content.
After doing the whole circuit of Odori Park, while having to run across the road and stand in a heated convenience store every five-seven minutes so that Hannah could defrost, we managed to see all the sculptures. I much preferred them during the day with the blue sky as a backdrop. But do not be fooled, the temperature was well into the negatives at this point. As an added bonus, we managed to spot some pretty interesting people as well as ice sculptures, including a pram with skies on its wheels and a mother dragging her kids around in a taboggine. Clearly the most efficient way of travel in the snow. Those kids have it sorted. The best thing we could do to keep going was to constantly drink coffee, and I tried something called an almond chocolate latte? When in Rome…?
For lunch we stumbled across a popular looking place that served what we think was soup curry or curry soup? A meal that we were told by our new friends Pat and Vince that we “MUST TRY” because it would “CHANGE OUR LIVES”. Not convinced but up for trying something new we ordered one to share. It came with a bowl of rice, some shredded cabbage, and a bowl that was cooked in front of us which included a meatball, pumpkin, broccoli, potato, bacon and curry sauce. While we pretty much finished it, we both couldn’t really get our heads around it and agreed it is not something we’d order again. Sorry boys.
With a new fire in our belly, we walked back to the hotel to grab our bags. By this stage I had just about mastered walking on ice. But not completely. Sliding to the station we hoped on a train bound for Otaru, a more remote town that which made Sapporo out to be a summer holiday. Wearing every layer we owned, and shoving twenty heat packs in every pocked we had, we trudged through ankle-deep snow to see the Otaru Snow Lights Festival. The lanterns, made of ice, that lined the streets and canal were magical though. Some were arranged around snowmen, or in the shape of owls and flowers. Even some stores along the main street had joined in the festivities.
While we were only able to manage the cold for a short time, we headed back to find some food but we kept getting distracted by every magical little installation we ofound around each corner. Finally though Hannah started displaying early symptoms of hyperthermia so we found a quiet little ramen shop and dug into a bowl about the size of my head. YUM.
The next morning was D-Day. We had planned to make it from Sapporo to Osaka in one day; essentially from one side of the country to the other. We had booked tickets for five trains to get us there, but managed to miss the second one due to a severe snow storm that delayed the trains. But I can now confirm we made it to Osaka in one piece and before midnight. Though throughout the day we both had serious doubts we would manage it. I think we deserve a medal though for our achievement. Needless to say a fair few high fives were shared that day.
Though we found very little comfort in Osaka. By the time we were in bed we had to get up again two hours later to race to the airport headed to Seoul, South Korea. A tight call, but I can now say from the safety of my bed that we made it to Seoul. In one piece. There is a great vibe here and I’m so excited for the next few days.
How’s the weather where you are? Remind me what the sun feels like.
It has hit that point, as it does in every trip, where you suddenly realise how fast the time has gone, and how little you have left. As the cold seems endless, the race through train stations never ending, and the new faces familiar, the days begin to blur into one and you lose track of how long you’ve been traveling for. But if you ask me, these are the greatest days. The days you don’t have internet connection, but don’t even realise. They days you forget about time-wasters like makeup and planned outfits. The days you just want to lose yourself in a city in order to truly find its treasures. The days that challenge you, change you, but stay with you forever.
This week started with an end. On our final morning in Kyoto, we vowed to find the large Buddha we had spotted on the edge of town while we were up the Kyoto Tower. A true test of how well we knew the streets, we managed to find it after going in a few circles (however that was most likely due to us getting lost in conversation). The monument, we learnt on arrival, was called Ryozen Kannon and is a tribute to all the unknown soldiers who bravely fought and died in World War II. The 24 metre high compassionate Buddha is a symbol of peace, both for the state of Japan, and for those who died fighting for it. Not mentioned anywhere in our guidebook, I was particularly pleased with our discovery. It was an interesting and un-touristed little complex with plenty of temples, memorials and shrines – some for luck, marriage, peace and even blessings for miscarried foetus.
After our walk back to the hostel, the falling snow made it all the easier to jump on the toasty-warm Shinkansen train for three hours, headed to Tokyo! As we laid back in our spacious seats, we watched the world literally fly by – the dense city centres to the sparse rural villages, all looking as though someone had lightly dusted them with a fine icing sugar. All going too perfectly to plan, we were two stops out of Tokyo when the cabin crew realised we were on the wrong train (our JR pass did not cover super express Shinkansen, only the express) and asked us ever so politely to get off at the next stop and get on the next train. While ordinarily this sort of mistake could have been disastrous to a tight schedule, the next train came in a measly 5 minutes. Nice one, Japan!
Once arriving in Tokyo City, we found Hiroko, after a kind gentleman helped us decode a confusing pay phone, much to both ours and his amusement. Hiroko is a friend of my grandmother’s who hosted me when I first visited Japan, some 19 years ago. She had kindly offered to have us stay at her house for the first night we were in Tokyo so we could see her perform in a traditional drum concert to be held the next day. She was more than hospitable while we stayed with her, more than we could ever have asked for or expected. She treated us to the most amazing sushi train experience I have ever had (they filleted the fish before your eyes), the chance to cook our own okonomiyaki, a real crazy Japanese experience at a Ninja restaurant, cakes, cats, and most of all an insight into a side of Japanese culture we could not have got through guidebooks. She even introduced us to her friend Emi who, with her husband, kindly took us up the Tokyo SkyTree to 350metres above Tokyo and treated us to a lovely lunch while Hiroko practiced her drumming.
One of my favourite things I discovered while staying with Hiroko was the technology. Her toilet can be put through a range of strange motions such as spray, heat, dry, mist, etc (you can work out what for), her bath heats and fills itself up and tells you when it is ready, and her washing machine will weigh your load of washing and tell you how much soap to put in and how long it will take. What are we doing in Australia!?
All in all, we could not have thanked Hiroko enough for her immense generosity, and although all she would accept was a bunch of flowers and some chocolates, we are eternally grateful for all that she did for us and can’t wait for her to visit Australia to repay her for her hospitality.
On our second night in Tokyo, after a delicious dinner, Hiroko was kind enough to drop us to our hostel (quite literally to the door, any closer and her car would have been through the front window) where the second half of our Tokyo journey began. But more on that later…
Good night for now. I hope you are all smiling just as much as me.
<a href=”https://emmabreislin.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/img_0205.jpg”> Hiroko’s traditional drum performance