Barcelona Baby

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.

10612863_10153574226714497_7364783973829025241_n 11169168_10153574226399497_3963870979135436531_n 11745787_10153574226244497_5629461805687555044_nBrunch
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

11750643_10153574224849497_667266251151645362_nSagrada Família
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/
11745821_10153574225094497_6937562951992903035_n11800325_10153574224939497_5781834071195007610_nBarceloneta Beach
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. 11754878_10153574227029497_7440106860701977246_oMonjuïc 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 11224573_10153574224714497_2198913154788289075_n 11698688_10153574224624497_8782864824491427411_n11705530_10153574229134497_1029367634419693921_oOther 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!

11755115_10153574226154497_2265514268862309609_n 11755202_10153574226009497_3166735524819705035_n11057293_10153574225764497_6196254765177312202_n11742833_10153574225554497_527718945069095722_n 11742996_10153574225464497_6563738104704612299_n 11012429_10153574225379497_3482183957647738274_n

Chase me around Córdoba

Okay, okay, so I’ve been getting lazy. Or what I should really admit is that I’ve been having too much fun and haven’t had a chance to sit down and write my blog. Not really something worth apologising for is it. Soz not soz.

So remind me what I was up to. Ahhhh Córdoba. By far my favourite destination of the trip so far, Córdoba is an interesting mix of activities and downtime. Due to a lack of hostels in the area, we treated ourselves to a few nights in the Hotel Macia Alfaros – the main draw-card; the pool. Arriving by train at around the hottest part of the day, we dragged our bags through what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. A huge change of pace to the lively Madrid with its busy roads, crowded plazas and bustling backstreets. Whether it was just due to the fact that we had arrived mid-siesta time or that Córdoba is just a less populated area, we instantly began to relax. So much so that after we stuffed ourselves at the first restaurant we could find with Spanish omelette and calamari boccadillo went spent the rest of the afternoon, or should I say night considering it was 8pm before we left, sitting by the pool. At first I was concerned about how white my skin was, and how bloated I’d be after our huge lunch but any insecurities were soon washed away when we saw the group of very confident and very…bootilicious European ladies that joined us by the pool.

11048741_10153552601404497_7117023523192437727_nThe next morning we rose and feasted on what we thought at the time was a complimentary buffet breakfast. With a few minutes to spare we raced off to the Plaza de Tendillas, the lively center of Córdoba, to meet our guide for a free tour. While the city is not that big, it is packed full of history. We got to see Roman ruins and modern day design. By far the most interesting part of the city is its diversity of religious influence. Originally a Muslim community, the city is scattered with incredible mosques each intricately decorated with a distinct arabic style. Probably the most famous part of Córdoba is what was originally a mosque, constructed between the years of 785 and 985 and spanning 23.400 square meters, but was converted into a Christian Cathedral in 1236. While the layout and design of the Mosque still exists, a Catholic Cathedral was designed within the buildings. Absolutely incredible and a symbol of the religious harmony that existed in Córdoba for years between the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities. The world should take note.

11742818_10153552601674497_6987987621422190945_n11695958_10153552604454497_3487990268046706739_n11752048_10153552604619497_7039441486808001222_nCrawling through the backstreets that seem to have no order, we learned that this was actually done on purpose in order to create shadows and thus shade from the boiling hot sun. Which, might I add, was much appreciated. We learned that Córdoba is the only town in Spain that has two clock towers that chime a flamenco chord of a Spanish guitar to mark the hour, and that Plaza de la Corredera, a beautiful old square, used to host gruesome bullfights and that the men involved were considered by the community to be rockstars. Further on we visited the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos and learned all about the history of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, who resided in the Palace. Married, the couple had two children together, but Ferdinand obviously had other ideas as he had a mistress on the side with whom he had eleven children with. As a result, Isabella had the mistress and all the children killed. Very “Game-of-Thrones-esque” explained our tour guide.

11146189_10153552602099497_6098492859558624878_n11703110_10153552604284497_5891193698265780699_nOverall the tour was fantastic, free tours are an absolutely perfect way of orienting yourself in a new city and learning stories and secrets a guidebook could not show you. After tipping our guide, we raced back to a few monuments to have a look inside before they closed for siesta. (Free Tour: http://www.freetourcordoba.com/en/free-tour-m-cordoba/)

With a rumble in our stomachs, we sourced a side-street off Plaza de Tendillas to find the best Tapas – around €2.50 for a tapas and drink. If my memory does not escape me, I believe we went back at least three times. It was delicious and so #instagramable. Plus I discovered my new favourite summer drink called Tinto de Verano (part red wine, part lemonade). Don’t judge until you try it. I was skeptical at first but am always eager to try new things and this one definitely paid off.

11667431_10153552604084497_7940745941933552980_nAfter a late afternoon shopping spree my bag is now filled with beautiful mementos that I have no idea where I am going to fit in my room but I will make it work! Next, a quick train ride to Seville where we are meeting Sarah’s friend from England. This trip is starting to slip through my fingers, and my University email is starting to beep at me. Better start planning my next trip before I go insane.

Adios until then.

11214097_10153552601829497_1253497222855136110_n 11753656_10153552601964497_3373867298285341511_n11705114_10153552602234497_7899977522755515859_n 11694882_10153552602349497_5828595361051646364_n 11694999_10153552602464497_6462431141521321441_n 11703386_10153552602569497_4233376610147371991_n 11709579_10153552602689497_6674534327430848555_n 11056896_10153552602999497_7800616185065227347_n 11262147_10153552603129497_8466753623250964555_n 11745561_10153552603289497_8994848000315408747_n 11750706_10153552603404497_8908680774139340836_n 11541973_10153552603724497_3720734002919885153_n 11202668_10153552603869497_1842682994185859602_n 11754268_10153552603974497_8008166421599597496_n 11737933_10153552604024497_7449431370126731836_n

Roaming Rome

Okay, so either Romans were enormous or I have shrunk since I arrived in Rome. Everything is huge! The buildings, the doors, the gardens, the roads, the fountains. Everything. Oh apart from the cars, which I think they think that because they are so small they can park/leave them anywhere. They park on street corners, across pedestrian crossings (which I still don’t believe are actually pedestrian crossings), and over driveways. As long as you put your hazard lights on it’s all good to park in the middle of the street and run to the ATM. We did see a guy driving around today with his hazard lights flashing…and it was probably on purpose. Most drivers in Rome appear to be hazards. Needless to say the #fingerofshame made it to quite a few photos.

11709399_10153533357939497_5635507790569385795_n

11698573_10153533357689497_4829345140938892137_n

After checking into our hostel Yellow, we wrote down everything we wanted to achieve during our time in Rome and it went a little something like this:
– Trevi Fountain
– Pantheon
– Piazza Navona
– Spanish Steps
– Vatican
– Colosseum
– Villa Borghese
– the Catacombs
– the keyhole at Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta
– Castel Sant’Angelo

We’ll see how we go.

While our hostel was close to the station, it was a little walk from the major sites…although we later worked out using the metro would have worked. Anyway, we got our walk in and felt a little less guilty about demolishing a whole pizza each, plus two gelatos that night. I also feel that the best way to see a city is by walking. Some people even go so far as to say you only really find a city once you get lost in it. Poetic, really. When scrolling back through my camera though, I have countless photos of the buildings and little corner stores that you don’t see in guidebooks. In fact, it was the big tourist attractions that sort of disappointed us on our first day.

The Trevi Fountain is under construction at the moment and while you can see a little glimpse of how incredible it would have looked normally, at the moment it is just a huge pile of scaffolding. Similarly the Spanish Steps had so much work happening all around them that it was hard to frame a shot that didn’t have some sort of construction in it. Sorry to disappoint Instafans.

11707533_10153533360174497_6420175690891424730_n

Around the corner though the Pantheon is incredible and a beautiful fountain in the foreground makes for a beautiful view. I can’t get over how in Rome you just have to turn the corner and you find some monumental church or building in the middle of a square. There is nothing in Australia that quite compares. I wish I could label all my photos but honestly for most of them I have no idea what it was, I just turned a corner and found something special, something amazing, something spectacular.

11707492_10153533358739497_2351728149456957132_n

11403080_10153533358664497_1198005800061852767_n

11205990_10153533358874497_7572306949478721717_n

One that I can name though is the Sant’Agnese in Agone located in the beautiful Piazza Navona. Not too busy, not too big but absolutely breathtaking. You can sit there for ages just taking in all the detail, and that’s really saying something because I’m known to be a bit of a pocket rocket when it comes to sightseeing. And even better the piazza has three beautiful fountains that help to splash away some sweat (and trust me there is lots of it).

11350872_10153533359404497_6313055446389255847_n

11141362_10153533358304497_5631856713398559856_n

11014913_10153533357029497_4344257261719610194_n

The next day we headed for the Catacombs, buying a 3 day pass transport card (works for buses, metro, etc) and making sure we calculated how many trips we had to make to make it worthwhile. We got a little lost and ended up in the middle of nowhere but eventually hoped on the right bus which took us out to Catacombe di San Callisto. €8 with a guided tour included, we were relieved to find that the Catacombs are at a natural 15° temperature. With 20km of tunnels, we were happy to walk the 400m tour route and managed to see the most interesting archeological discoveries, with over 500,000 people and 7 popes buried there. It was like a library of bodies!

On our way back we stumbled across the Terme di Caracalla, the remenants of Emperor Caracalla’s vast bath complex, and got our first taste of Roman ruins. They were huge and it was hot. I wish there were still baths there so I could have had a swim. But regardless we got free entry because it was a Monday? Is that a thing?

11695814_10153533357139497_1783010846506200557_n

11659272_10153533357274497_7762349389606168621_n

1514989_10153533357419497_6791432367178926436_n

After our siesta (arguably the most important part of the day) we headed out to Villa Borghese gardens for a bike ride. As stiff competition to New York’s Central Park, the gardens had lakes inundated with turtles that you could row in, police riding horses, beautiful flowers, lovely cafes, a carousel, an old man doing mad roller-skating tricks (you’ll have to wait to see the video), bikes, segways, go-karts and golf buggies. We got bikes for an hour and managed to see most of the park and some beautiful views of Rome. It’s so convenient having sunlight for so many hours a day as it was 7pm by the time we handed the bikes back and we didn’t even realise.

11140368_10153533374059497_7471265049252393438_n

With a grumble in our tummies we headed for home. Tomorrow is the Vatican and then the Colosseum. How fast this trip is flying…I guess we must be having fun.

N.B. A MUST do when you are in Rome. Giolitti’s gelato. Not easy to find but well worth it. The line was out the door but moved really quickly. I had three scoops for €3.50 – hazelnut, cinnamon and baileys. Oh. My. God.

11707583_10153533356944497_8503868970825086369_n(1)

11665532_10153535615214497_6934863808894686845_n

11695841_10153533359744497_7075381479468769406_n

11694896_10153533358479497_220874764309218124_n

11667336_10153533359209497_733098846700631069_n

11659272_10153533359019497_1573351843462635511_n

11403330_10153533359914497_1839177051623062939_n

11261815_10153533358194497_1477308968464390992_n

11224723_10153533358134497_8538600877010733262_n

10403415_10153533360324497_5499128021369009237_n

10547577_10153533360039497_699305892324514110_n

20318_10153533358609497_2975669141686588752_n

Conquering Cinque Terre

The other day it got so hot I actually felt a bead of sweat dribble down the back of my neck – a fully formed bead of sweat. At that we decided we needed water, and not just a bottle of it, but a whole heap of it. We needed the ocean.

Ever against being restricted by a tour, with the help of a guy from our hostel room, I gave into Catherine and we booked a day trip tour through Viator (a company of tripadvisor). For just over $100, we were picked up from just down the road from our hostel, driven by coach to the Cinque Terre National Park (2hrs), transported via train or ferry between four of the five islands, and there was an option to have a three-course meal included for lunch.

I actually really enjoyed the tour, and it was not just because of Stefano our guide. The tour allowed for a lot of freedom and all Stefano was really responsible for was getting us from one village to the next. From there we were given half an hour in the smaller villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola, an hour in Vernazza, and three hours in Monterosso where we got to have lunch and go for a swim. The villages were picturesque and so quaint. Cinque Terre is known for the great hikes you can do between each village and it’s a shame we didn’t get to do one. Stefano explained that there is normally an option of the tour to hike from one village to the next but due to the weather on the day (close to 40 degrees) it would not be advisable to walk.

Stefano our guide was also hilarious. He was able to lead the tour in both Spanish and English and kept swapping between the two throughout the day. At one point Stefano was explaining to us the importance of sticking with the group and returning back from exploring at the times he designated as to not get lost. “I cannot wait, the trains cannot wait, we will not stop,” he said. “Over the last few weeks we have lost at least one couple a week.” When asked how we could ensure we weren’t left behind, Stefano quite aptly replied, “I know in Italy it is normally okay to be ten-fifteen minutes late because normally the Italians are ten-fifteen minutes late. But today it is not okay; today we need to be like Germans. Be on time!”

The swim was delectable, the towns were delightful, and the tour was a great way to see a lot of Cinque Terre in one day. Going back to spend a week there is definitely on my to-do list. I’ll let the pictures speak the rest for themselves.

http://www.viator.com/tours/Florence/Cinque-Terre-Day-Trip-with-Transport-from-Florence/d519-6367CINQUE

11659452_10153527961404497_7532622886275988283_n

11666134_10153527975934497_5945060357759940662_n

11665660_10153527971334497_4585168117287035625_n

11709615_10153527960064497_7300668546118253117_n

11707524_10153527979164497_7242951230752913320_n

11705189_10153527967559497_4691421879127756188_n

11694814_10153527962184497_3516552951511307526_n

11666029_10153527965409497_2873939239706381888_n

11402824_10153527960854497_6735760626214500096_n

11220935_10153527974464497_7314582933054722566_n

11071502_10153527970339497_5647454278088833497_n

11063921_10153527969299497_1319781844684533721_n

11053299_10153528032774497_1495087997861652177_n

10254007_10153527972719497_2589834465399969930_n

1533713_10153527978694497_471794903364183131_n