Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Baby Chicks, 3 Euros to a Good Home: Barcelona, Part 2

I began Friday with one mission: La Sagrada Familia.
Quick history lesson.
Antoni Gaudí is one of the world’s most famous and most respected architects.  He was born in 1852 and died in 1926 in Barcelona.  His modernisme style combined his passions for architecture, nature, religion, and Catalunya, the province of Spain of which Barcelona is the provincial capital.  His style is truly unique and can be found all over Barcelona.  Since I don’t want to bore you with too many art history stats, you can read more info about Antoni Gaudí here if you’re so inclined.  The main thing you need to know is that I was so drawn to Barcelona because it is a cultural center covered in art that is both extremely unique and extremely beautiful.  Above all of the other Gaudí architecture in Barcelona, though, I went there for his masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia.  

Since the beginning of it’s construction in 1883, La Sagrada Familia has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a consecrated basilica by Pope Benedict XVI, and the most visited monument in Spain.  It is currently still under construction and is due to be completed in 2026.  Really, it’s amazing and I’ve been waiting years to go there.
So after a short subway ride, I hopped in the already 30 minute line to enter the gates and gain access to the inside of La Sagrada Familia.  Now, I was a tad bit short on cash as I had just bought a two-day subway pass, and was hoping that Spain’s most visited attraction would accept credit cards.  I mean, that’s logical, right?  Halfway through the line, I encountered this very nice looking lady, accepting donations for a ministry program.  She seemed pretty legitimate, and seeing as I was heading into this massive church, I thought that a 50 cent charitable donation was an appropriate way to start the day.

Ministry Person
Do you see where this is going yet?
Turns out, no, La Sagrada Familia does not accept credit cards and I was short exactly...you guessed it...50 cents.  Though I contemplated going back and demanding she fork over my donation, I decided it would be in bad taste and, luckily for me, the nice man in line behind me was feeling charitable that day too.  
In my “teaser” post on Friday, I wrote that I would tell you why I cried in a church that day.  Here’s why:

Statue representing the kiss of Judas and the cryptogram can be broken into over 300 ways to make the number 33, the age of Jesus at his death.

Inside the workshop of the Sagrada Familia
On top of La Sagrada Familia being absolutely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, I had one of those moments when you realize that what you really wanted is actually happening.  I was in the place that I’d read countless websites and articles about for YEARS, but never had the means to get there.  And combined with this ever-present feeling that sort of catches me off guard sometimes of “I-can’t-believe-how-happy-I-am,” I got a little teary eyed.  I would liken it to the viral video on YouTube of a man crying hysterically over the beauty of a double rainbow, but minus the rainbows, the hysterical crying, the obvious drug use, and the ridiculous sentiments he expresses.  So, it wasn’t really like that at all.  Bottom line: It was beautiful and I’m happy.
When I returned to my hostel after getting lost leaving La Sagrada Familia (streets all look alike and the road-nameless map doesn’t help), I found the place abuzz with talks of a riot in the Plaça de Catalunya.  The short background story is that hundreds of people have been “peacefully” protesting the low pay for many workers and high unemployment rates in Spain for the last two weeks.  As the Spanish elections were last week, the Barcelona city government left them alone in their tent city situated in the Plaça de Catalunya, not wanting to stir up trouble.  But, as a tradition in Barcelona, when there is a big FCBarcelona (Futbol Club de Barcelona) match, like the European finals Saturday night, thousands of people gather in the Plaça de Catalunya to watch the game on big screens.  So after multiple warnings to pack up and head home by the Barcelona city government, with “peaceful” protesting still occurring, the police were ordered to clear out the “tent city” so that cleaning crews could restore it to it’s usually beautiful self.  Riots ensued and over 100 people were injured.  I wasn’t near the Plaça at the time, but when I headed in that direction later in the afternoon to visit Las Ramblas, hundreds of people had gathered and were parading through the streets carrying signs and chanting.  After snapping a couple photos, I made a bee-line in the opposite direction, not wanting to get involved in the trouble.  If you’re so inclined, you can read more about the riot here.
People gathered in the Placa de Catalunya
As beautiful and amazing as Barcelona is, it’s known throughout Europe as a city of thieves.  I spent four days clutching my purse to my chest, which was effective as I still have all of my belongings (as far as I know).  The highest concentration of pick pocketers is at Las Ramblas, a 1.2 km busy stretch of shops, markets, hotels, and other cultural places.  I was at Las Ramblas at some point every day, and was stunned by all the different things people were selling; seeds, flowers, souvenirs, ice cream, candles, jewelry, chickens...wait, what?!

Yeah, little baby chicks.  And baby ducks, and baby turtles, and baby bunnies.  And I felt so sad for them all cramped in these little cages on one of the busiest streets in Spain, surrounded by fake statues (I’ll get to that later), pick pocketers, and tourists (blach!).  And I wanted so badly to just take one of the little baby chicks home and love it and squeeze it, and teach it to sit on my shoulder like a parrot and do stuff for me.  In the midst of my daydreams of having a multipurpose chicken parrot, however, I thought about how Amparo would kill me, Zipi would eat it for breakfast, and even if we both survived THAT mom and THAT cat, we would not live through the American mom and cat waiting for us at home.  So I left the chicks on Las Ramblas, in the hopes that someone in a better-suited-for-chickens situation comes along and starts daydreaming about the perks of having retrieval poultry, or guard hens, or their own start-to-finish omelette maker (lays the eggs AND cooks them).
Got you thinking about it now too, didn’t I?
Attached to Las Ramblas is the Mercat de Boqueria, an open air market that sells everything from tropical fruit to pig brains to emu eggs to red hot chili peppers.  Also, delicious fruit smoothies for 1€.  This was pretty much my photography dream under one roof.

Friday night, I met up with Ben and Anna at a little cafe near the Barceloneta beach.  Afterwards, we ventured out for a few drinks and called it an early night.  As Friday was supposed to be my last night in Barcelona as I had originally planned, I wanted to get up early to try and change around reservations so I could stay in the city for the big fútbol match Saturday night.

Anna, Ben, and I
That's all for today, folks, but stay tuned for tomorrow's thrilling conclusion to the Barcelona adventures!  And as always,

Thanks for reading,

Monday, May 30, 2011

Linen Shenanigans: Barcelona, Part 1

After writing the full version of all the collected stories from my four days in Barcelona, I quickly realized that it was just too darn long.  So as a result, I’ve broken it up into three parts.  I’ll post Part 2 tomorrow and Part 3 on Wednesday.  I know you guys appreciate the posts and everything, but I figured a little over 3,200 words (yeah, not kidding) was just wayyyy too much for one day.  Enjoy :)
Several months ago at a Geneseo Family gathering, I was doing some catching up with my good friend Ben and we quickly realized we would both be in Spain at the same time.  We talked about how awesome it would be to meet up somewhere in España, had a great night out in Rochester with our closest friends from across the state, and promptly forgot about any tentative planning for a few months.  It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that Ben told me where and when he’d be in Spain and I was disappointed to discover that I’d already planned a trip to Granada with the university for that weekend.  Well, due to a lack of travelers, the trip was cancelled on Tuesday and Ben was already on his way to meet his sister, Anna, in Madrid.  They were planning to fly to Barcelona on Friday for a couple of days before hopping the sea to meet even more family in Rome.  So, determined to make this last month in Spain (only 28 days left here, folks!) as action-packed as possible, I threw together some plans and by Thursday, was on a train to BCN.  
Getting to Barcelona has been one of my main travel goals throughout this entire trip.  It all started many years ago when I first laid eyes on one of Antoni Gaudí’s amazing works, the Casa Batlló, on a Samantha Brown Travel Channel episode.  So unusual, especially given that it had been built at the end of the 19th century. 

After arriving by train, I took the subway to Passeig de Gracía, the street on which my hostel was situated.  Now remember, there was zero pre-planning involved for this trip and I had absolutely no idea where the Passeig de Gracía was, or if it would be at all interesting.  So when I emerged from the subway to see this, you might be able to imagine how extremely happy I was:
Gaudi's Casa Batllo
Again at nighttime.
My hostel was less than a block away from the Casa Batlló, the building that got me hooked on Barcelona in the first place.  As it turns out, there isn’t really a better street in the city to stay on than the Passeig de Gracía.  My hostel was in walking distance of some of the best cultural spots around, including Las Ramblas, Mercat de la Boqueria, the Barrí Gotic, and the Plaça de Catalunya.  I know that sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo now, but I’ll provide some info about each of these places throughout the posts (get pumped!).
The three nights spent in my hostel were all enlightening and interesting at the same time.  All around, it was pretty cheap (only about 20€ a night), but there were some unusual charges here and there.  For example, they provided lockers in the rooms but no locks.  Of course, you could get them at the front desk...for a fee (3€).  Also, you got your bottom sheet and pillowcase for free (what a deal!), but the top sheet would cost you another 2€.  The towels, however, were the biggest moneymaker.  At 4€ (and these weren’t to keep, mind you), you could enjoy the comfort of a rinky dink towel.  So, being the dirt poor, currently non-working, would rather spend her money on shoes than silly amenities person that I am, I sprung for the lock only, given that I had brought along my computer and other gadgetry.  So topsheet-less and towel-less, as well as experiencing the lack of other “luxuries” normally provided at hotels (drawers and closets for clothes, cleaning service, your own bathroom, baby shampoos, etc.), staying at a hostel is a lot like camping, just without the pine needles.  And thanks to my best friend, Katie, I know how to wrap my wet hair up in a t-shirt.  This knowledge proved handy on this trip.
My hostel.
Despite the linen shenanigans, it was a pretty great place to stay.  Everyone was so friendly and the staff always remembered my name.  The free breakfast was basic (cereal, milk, juice, tea, coffee, toast), but clean, plentiful, and well-organized.  And the atmosphere was great, making it easy to make friends with fellow travelers.
After getting situated at the hostel, I spent the rest of Thursday getting over my elation about being in Barcelona and dealing with the onset of overwhelmed-ness.  When one does not plan her trip in advance, and the only map she has does not have road names and she is too cheap to buy one with them; and when one is finally in the city that she has dreamed of visiting for years and there is just SO MUCH TO DO, panic ensues.  So,  with survival instincts heightened and claustrophobia from my to do list getting the better of me, I defaulted into what I know best: shopping.  
Side note: Mom and Dad, expect to start receiving boxes of stuff.  There’s no way my suitcases will be able to handle my “souvenirs” from Spain.  And by “souvenirs,” I mean clothes and shoes.

After finally getting my bearings and ahold of myself, I explored the city a little bit and snapped a few photos (of course).  
The Passeig de Gracia from atop my hostel.
Another Gaudi building, the Casa Mila.

Can you find me in this picture? 
 I finished up Thursday night out for drinks and tapas with some nice guys from Minnesota who I met at the hostel.  As much as I love Spain and all of the Spanish and international friends I’ve made here, it was very nice to meet and crack jokes with a bunch of Americans.  
The boys from Minnesota and I in our hostel common room.

All in all, Thursday was a great start to an amazing trip.  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post about Friday’s adventures in Barcelona, including the answer to the great chicken mystery.
Thanks for reading,

It recently came to my attention that there have been many people who’d like to post comments to the blog (and believe me, I’d LOVE to hear them!) but aren’t sure how to go about doing so.  So, here are some step by step instructions because, in all seriousness, I enjoy writing this blog, but it wouldn’t mean anything if I wasn’t hearing back from people in return!
  1. At the bottom of the post, click on the word “comments.”  It may say “0 comments,” or any other number, depending on if anyone has said anything yet.
  2. Click ‘Select Profile.’
  3. If you have a Google account (like gmail), you can sign in using that, but in truth, the easiest thing to do is just select “Name/URL”
  4. Type in your name (don’t worry about the URL, that’s only there if you’re representing your own website and want to publicize it).  Make sure you at least include your name and the first initial of your last name, or even a nickname I’d know.  I love finding out who’s reading the blog!
  5. Click ‘Post Comment’
  6. Type in the scrambley letters you see on the screen (this is to make sure people can’t program advertisements to automatically post them to my blog...pesky computers).
  7. Click ‘Post Comment’ again, and you’re in business!
Can’t wait to hear from YOU soon!  And you, and you, and you, and you, and...well, you get it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

This Post is a Tease

Seriously though.  This isn't going to be a full post (sorry!), but I just wanted to drop a quick note to let you all know that I'm thinking of you and currently collecting stories to share with you.  Also, I'm in Barcelona.  Surprise!  Andddd it's currently winning the prize for most beautiful and exciting city I've ever been to.  Here are a few things for you to look forward to when I write a full, proper post on this amazing place:

1. Wednesday's sudden decision to come to BCN.  On Thursday.
2. First experience staying in a hostel.  
3. Why I almost bought a chicken.  A live one.
4. How there was a riot two blocks from my hostel.  
5. Why I cried in a church today.

Also, I'm going to make an attempt to stay in Barcelona juuusssttt a little bit longer as long as I can get my train ticket changed.  The European soccer finals are tomorrow night and Barcelona is playing so it's sure to be quite the event here in the city.  

So to get you even more excited about future stories, here are a few pictures I've taken the last two days.  Enjoy and I will be writing a detailed description of all of my (mis)adventures in just a few days.  

Thanks for reading,

P.S. Forca Barça 

Monday, May 23, 2011


It’s now very summery-feeling here in Alicante, and as the thermometer is now reaching over 80°F on a daily basis, I’ve been feeling pretty beachy-keen.  Truth be told, I was feeling beachy-keen at 65°F when I arrived in March, but even more so now.  In celebration of the season and as another opportunity for meeting more people from around the world, I signed up for a pair of day trips here in Spain this past weekend.  
On Saturday morning, I arrived bright and early at the Puerta del Mar in Alicante to meet up with other university students at the catamaran that would take us to the Isla de Tabarca.  Tabarca is a teeny tiny island located about an hour and a half (by catamaran) from Alicante.  For much of it’s history, Tabarca was famously known as a refuge for pirates (!), but is currently a protected Marine Reserve with 98 people living in it’s “town.”  

Upon our arrival to the waters surrounding the island, I was so excited about the snorkeling experience I had ahead of me.  When I was younger and other kids were answering the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with “princess,” and “movie star,” I was saying “a Marine Biologist.”
I know what you’re thinking so I’ll just say it for you.  Nerd.
I’ve spent many-an-hour, begoggled and snorkelfied, floating on an inner tube at Swan Lake with my head stuck in the water, and I was soooo (nerdy) excited to extend this experience to the Mediterranean.  And there was something so luxurious about this particular trip: sunbathing on the deck of the catamaran, drinking sangria, and surrounded by crystal clear blue water.  I felt like a Bond girl, minus the generally unfortunate name and the hankering for double-crossing people on a regular basis.
And this water was so clear and beautiful, that you could see straight through to the bottom, even though we were anchored quite a ways off shore.

The problem, though, with clear, clean, blue water, is that you can see anything that may be lurking in the depths...
Or really...
Ploop-ploop, ploop-ploop, ploop-ploop

Great oogley-boogley!
And though I must admit that the teeeeny-tiny jellyfish, or medusas, were kind of adorable (no, I didn’t call any of them my “squishy” and proclaim them to be mine), when there are TONS of them EVERYWHERE, one tends to see them as bringers of evil rather than cute little invertebrates.
Even with the carnivorous beasts with poisonous appendages ploop-plooping around our catamaran, I couldn’t resist the urge to don my goggles and snorkel and take the plunge.  I mean, how often does one get to snorkel in a Mediterranean Marine Reserve?  So into the sea me, and my fellow travelers went; all braving the jellyfish for the sake of this “once in a lifetime experience.”  
Well, it turns out I’m absolutely terrified of jellyfish and my fabulous snorkeling session lasted approximately four minutes.  Don’t get me wrong, the sea floor was lovely for the estimated three seconds I could forget about the predacious land mines ploop-plooping everywhere, but really, I spent most of my time in the water nevously looking around, trying to find a “spot” in the sea that was jellyfish-free.  As you may have guessed, jellyfish can move, and therefore, no such place exists.  Also, it’s very difficult to look like a Bond girl when you’re constantly splashing about, ducking your head in and out of the water, stifling screams when you suddenly look up and there’s one of the little demons 3 inches from your goggles.  Needless to say, I have not gotten any cooler in Spain.
After I emerged from the sea, unscathed and breathing a sigh of relief, I spent the rest of our time at Tabarca looking mournfully at the water, wishing conditions had been different.  I longed to continue snorkeling but knew I would not enjoy myself because of my paranoia.  Much like my nights spent on the trail in the Adirondacks often go unslept due to “bear-anoia,” my urge to dive back into those crystal clear waters was sequestered by my fears of what lay beneath.  It‘s the jellyfish complex.
Relieved to be jellyfish-free.
Upon my return home and after telling my family here about my disappointing “snorkeling” experience at Tabarca, Amparo informed me that there generally aren’t jellyfish there until September.  I told her, don’t worry, it’s not global climate change, it’s just the Alicia Vortex.  As soon as I go back to the States, things in Spain will be normal again.  Also, Borja promised me we’d make a return trip to Tabarca to reattempt Mediterranean snorkeling before I leave.  I told him thanks, that will be wonderful, but really I’m just bringing him as jellyfish bait.
Yesterday, I headed out even brighter and even earlier to the center of Alicante to meet up with the same group of fellow students for yet another day trip.  This time our destination was the city of Valencia with the main attraction being L’Oceanografic, Europe’s largest aquarium.  Being the nature girl I am, I’m always game for a good aquarium, especially where I can view the jellyfish behind glass rather than tickling my toes.  In total, L’Oceanografic was not my favorite, but the disappointment of the exhibits was COMPLETELY outweighed by the absolutely amazing dolphin show we saw.  Literally, I was so happy.  My face hurt from smiling through the entire thing.  Complete with leaping, flipping, hula-hooping, and dancing (and those were just the trainers, you shoulda seen what the dolphins could do), as well as some spectacular high-diving, it was just awesome.  So to end today’s post, here are some photos from Valencia, L’Oceanografic, and the dolphin show. 
I’ve also added even MORE photos to my Flickr page here.

I'm not the only one enjoying the sunshine.

Tandem high dive
And finally, I've added a new video to my YouTube channel here.  The video itself is of fish near Tabarca eating bread thrown from our boat but that isn't all that important as I wasn't even paying attention while filming it.  The important part is that you get to witness me:
1. Ask a question in spanish (that is probably done so incorrectly)
2. Not understand the answer
3. Laugh like a huuugggeee dork (typical)
4. Totally fail at being flirted with by an English guy
And those four points, folks, pretty much sums up my trip in Spain thus far.  

As always, thanks for reading,