Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tapas Hoppin in Barcelona

            Last Friday I arrived in Spain to mountains (particularly stunning since I haven’t seen anything bigger than a hill in Holland), blue skies (equally uncommon in Holland lately), and an incredible landscape that reminded me a little of Florida with some European flair. Our hostel in Barcelona was located centrally on Via Laitana where on our first night we were greeted by a huge parade celebrating International Women’s Day. It’s as if the streets are made for celebrating since they are so wide and the intersections are massive. Furthermore, the detailed architecture of the buildings seems almost rounded and gives the city an altogether open feeling. 
International Women's Day Parade

International Women's Day Parade
            We began exploring right away! On the first full day we walked to Sagrada Familia and passed by Casa Batllo, both amazing buildings designed by the artist Gaudi. The cathedral, Sagrada Familia in particular was like nothing I have seen before. The church rises out of the city from every view and is considered by some to be the 8th wonder of the world still in progress (I plan on coming back in 30 years to see the finished product). From there we went to the chocolate museum (our tickets were dark chocolate bars, YUM) to learn about the history of Spanish chocolate and see some chocolate sculptures. Since, our crew had quite an appreciation for food we made our way to the market next. While I appreciated the colorful produce stands, I had no idea how much the Spanish love their meat—giant legs of pigs and cows and every body part you could imagine… a great way to affirm my vegetarianism. Although, seafood paella managed to convince me to eat fish for the occasion (I still refuse to try Dutch herrings though).
Sagrada Familia Cathedral

Sagrada Familia Cathedral (inside)
Chocolate Rendition of Sagrada Familia


Much better
           We continued our exploration down La Rambla (literally meaning to ramble), the main boulevard in the city leading to a statue of Christopher Columbus followed by Rambla del Mar that leads right into the Mediterranean.  Next we headed to the other main cathedral in the city and were delighted to see a band playing outside and giant groups of senior citizens dancing in circles to the music. Since we were on Spanish time, we took a siesta before heading out for tapas around 10pm (typical dinner time) and dancing, which doesn’t peak until 3am!

             The next morning we were able to sleep in a bit before making our way to a cooking class to learn how to make tapas, paella, and sangria on a lovely Barcelona balcony. With very full stomachs we managed to take the metro and climb up to Park Guell, which Gaudi has covered in more of his mosaic themed art. I then stayed up until 3am so my friends could make their flight home at the crack of dawn (the city was surprisingly quiet... I think the Spanish finally sleep on Sundays). 
Tapas at Cooking Class

Our chef with the Paella
View from Park Guell

Gaudi art at Park Guell

I climbed Mount Carmel next to Park Guell (my friends waited at the bottom)
            Despite very sore feet from so much walking, now on my own, I rented a bike and covered the city which was actually a little terrifying since biking is not nearly as common as it is in the Netherlands. I rode through the Arc de Triomph, through Parc de Ciutela, along the Mediterranean coast, and part of the way up Montjuic. I climbed the rest of the way up the mountain to the castle and was simply awed by the views. Afterwards, I met my couchsurfing host, Javier and one of his colleagues for beers (they design the software for slot machines, apparently Spain wanted to have their own Las Vegas in Madrid, but there was no money for it). Javier and his friend were quite good at English especially since it is their third language. Thank goodness, because with my mediocre French and Spanish skills, I stood no chance understanding Catalan (a mix of the two). According to them, Catalonia brings in all the money, pays more in taxes, and gets nothing in return but high-speed trains that no one uses.  Just in my stay, I saw hundreds of Catalan flags and even a protest for Catalonia’s independence from Spain. After spending the night at Javier’s flat in Cornella, I made my way to Girona!
Parc de la Ciutela

Arc de Triomf

Biking along the Mediterranean
View from the castle on Montjuic and Catalonia flag
            My first stop in Girona was to a café for some excellent people watching and I noticed that it was largely a university town. I saw students everywhere as I wandered the narrow alleyways in the old Jewish Quarter and along the ancient city walls. As I worked my way up past the city walls, I climbed up the mountain for more breath taking views. I also stopped at the Jewish Museum, which gave a fascinating history of the influence and importance of Jewish life in Spain and particularly Girona before they were expelled during the Spanish Inquisition. That evening I met my other couchsurfing host, Sabine, who luckily enough was Dutch and doing an internship in the city. After 4 days of perfect weather, we stayed in during the rainstorm and watched a football match between Barcelona and Milan with her Spanish roommates and followed by Anatomia del Grey (Grey’s Anatomy!) Europeans love American TV and movies and, for them it there window into our culture (it’s sad how one sided that window seems to be). At 5am I took the bus to the Girona airport and back to Holland where I was welcomed with cold, snowy weather. I did learn the hassle of taking budget airlines like Ryanair is probably not worth it (I recommend watching Come Fly with Me on Netflix for an insight to this madness). 
View from mountain in Girona

Girona's old city walls

My Girona hosts eating dinner at 11pm

            Even though I wasn’t particularly enthused by the cold weather in Holland, I only have to endure for another day as I take a field trip to see the fish market in Urk before I head to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day!

P.S. My eye is better! And I was thrilled to learn that a visit to the doctor here WITHOUT health insurance only cost 26 euros (that’s just the co-pay in the US!)

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