Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Paella? Oranges? Ohhh Valencia...

Greetings friends and family. I am currently on an 8 hour bus ride so I figured what a perfect time to work on my blog via my iPod touch. The last I left you I was in Barcelona. The magic fountain show at Montjuic was a true work of art. The fountains and colors are precisely tuned to the rhythm of classical music. The last time I was there I felt like it was set to more current/popular songs, and I must say I enjoyed the classical soundtrack better. The next morning we awoke bright and early for breakfast with the hopes of going to the beach. Of course, this would be the one and only morning in Barcelona where it looked like it was going to downpour any minute. We figured we would just rest our eyes for a few minutes and then come up with a new game plan. Minutes turned into hours and the next thing we knew it was 2 in the afternoon. It was still cloudy, but we weren´t going to let that stop us. We quickly got ready and hopped on the metro and once we walked up the stairs from our stop, we were greeted with sunshine and blue skies. We all but ran to the beach, picked a good spot, and then jumped into the ocean. It was so exciting to be swimming in water that wasn´t the numbing Atlantic off the coast of Rhode Island. We splashed around for a few hours and the clouds started to roll back in so we decided to call it a day. We went back home and got ready for our last night in the city. We went out for some sangria and a late dinner and enjoyed our last night in Barca.

The next morning we took a four hour bus ride to Valencia, which is south of Barcelona and along the coast. We hadn´t heard too much of Valencia before arriving except that it was the hometown of paella and the producer of some tasty oranges. We checked into our hostel and began our usual routine of wandering around. We arrived on a Saturday so there wasn´t too much action, but the city was already so much different from both Madrid and Barcelona. It had a much more relaxed atmosphere and was more quaint; not your stereotypical city. Most of the city reminded me of St. Augustine, Florida. It´s architecture and buildings clearly date far back and had that classical charm that I love. But I digress..

So the first day our wanderings led us to the main park of the city. The city redirected the river and turned the 11km riverway into a beautiful park filled with fountains, futbol fields, dog parks, skate parks, and of course thousands of trees to lay under in the relief of the hot summer sun. You might be wondering why the city would spend a huge chunk of euros to turn a river into a park. Well my friends, back in the 50´s or 60´s (that date may or may not be correct, but you get the gist..) the river flooded and caused extensive damange to the city and also claimed a lot of lives. In order to prevent that type of destruction again, the river was moved and a park was born! At the end of the park are the city´s four museums. Surrounding these museums are crystal clear pools. We wanted nothing more than to jump right in, but we decided it may not have been worth getting arrested so we headed back to our hostel. That night we cooked dinner in the kitchen, nothing fancy of course, and went to the city center for a few drinks.

The next day was beach day! And it was a Sunday.. Now for the TSSers out there, Sunday in Valencia is like the Seychelles on a Sunday. Enough said. The streets were deserted and everything was closed. We took the bus to the beach and figured out why the city was so empty - everyone was at the beach. The beach was packed and there was an international beach rugby tournament going on. We found a spot and spent the day swimming in the warm waters of the Mediterranean. When we had fried enough, we headed back to the city starving and in search of food. All of the supermercados and restaurants were closed and we had just started to accept the fact that we were doomed...until we found an open Pans & Company. For those of you who don´t know, Pans isn´t anything fancy, it´s just a chain owned sandwich shoppe. A ridiculously delicious, cheap sandwich shoppe. Ecstatic from finding food and exhuasted from the sun, we called it an early night and got some much needed beauty sleep. The next day we decided to keep it low key and relax. We did our usual couple hours of wandering and then hung out at the hostel and did some laundry. We had to save our energy for the night because we were going to go out for the best paella in Valencia. I´d say I´ve had my fair share of paella, but nothing could compare to this. We had Paella Valenciana, which consisted of rice, different types of beans and vegetables, and chicken and rabbit. It was so good we were scraping the pan trying to get every last morsel. We looked around and everyone else was doing it too so we felt no shame. It was a very pricey meal, but well worth every cent for the best paella in town.

Our final day in Valencia began with wandering around one of the districts we hadn´t explored yet. We were pretty productive and covered a lot of ground and even managed to go to the post office and buy some stamps for the first round of postcards. We then went to el cortes ingles and bought some food for a picnic and headed back to our favorite park to lounge around. We had a lot of time to kill since our bus wasn´t leaving til 11pm that night. We then meandered down to the museums where we decided to go Oceanogr√°fico, which was an aquarium. Some of the wildlife we saw were sharks, penguins, an array of fish, arctic animals, and seahorses! The highlight of the day I must say was the dolphin show. Who wouldn´t love dolphins that could dance to Ludacris? It was cheesy, but it was a lot of fun. We considered just staying in Valencia and becoming dolphon trainers until we realized the dolphins probably know more spanish than we do. Our hopes of swimming with flipper all day were crushed, but we quickly moved on. We left the aquarium, ate a quick meal at Pans, and headed to the bus station where we caught our bus to Granada, which leads me to where I am now, on the middle of a Spanish highway listening to Coldplay. When I finally post this, I´ll already be in the sweltering heat of Granada (100 degrees forecasted for this week), which from what I´ve heard from fellow backpackers, the heat is well worth the grandeur of the city. After all, it will be good practice for the next 2 months when we are exploring the hot African deserts.

There´s also a link now in the right upperhand corner to some of my pictures from the trip, right near the link to Brooke´s blog which is just fabulous!

And now we are in Granada and it is absolutely beautiful. The history here is so rich and there´s a lot to see. On that note, we´re off to explore some more! Until the next post...

Peace&Love

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Barcelona



We spent our last day in Madrid going to the Reina Sofia, which is one of the major art museums in Madrid. The highlight of this musuem is that it houses Picasso´s Guernica painting, which is huge. I knew it was big, but it took up almost the entire wall, I was really surprised at it´s size. The United States actually messed up because we were holding on to that painting until Spain´s dictatorship was over and we were supposed to send it to the Prado musuem(which is another huge art musuem), but we sent it to the Reina Sofia instead. Needless to say, the Prado wasn´t too happy. There was another interesting collection called ¿Son los animales personas? which consisted of a life-sized stuffed rat and panda. All throughout the exhibit were different videos showing these stuffed animals living as people or having the stuffed animals laying on the ground appearing to breath. It was different, and at one point creepy because you started questioning whether or not they were real...which I suppose after all was the artists objective. After that we had an amazing lunch at a thai restaurant and then headed over the Real Jardin Botanico which is a garden that shows the most important events of evolution in the plant kingdom. Sounds boring, but actually is beautiful and very shady, which in 90 degree weather is muy importante! After a long day, we took an overnight bus to Barcelona, and arrived in the city a little bit before 8am.




I love Barcelona, I´m a huge fan. But at the same time I have to say it feels so wierd being back in Barcelona without TSS. One of the first things we did was head down to the ocean and it was just so strange not seeing the boat there. Granted it has been almost a year and a half since we´ve been here, it still feels like yesterday we were roaming around here. It´s funny walking around because you will remember different memories and it can´t help but make us laugh (like being in the Gothic quarter and flashbacking to Jordi and Schaef arguing or our "cultural" meal during AFP at the Hard Rock Cafe) But besides all of this, we´ve spent our time here doing the usual tourist attractions: Las Ramblas, Sagrada Familia, Gaudi´s Houses, Parque Guell, etc. Being here a second time is more relaxed, especially since we´ve seen all of these places before. Tonight we are heading towards Montjuic and the Magic Fountain Show (which is what the Bellagio bases their fountain show off of in Las Vegas, in case you were wondering.) I love the Gothic Quarter. It´s definitely one of my favorite parts of Barcelona (and I´m actually writing this in the Gothic Quarter as we speak.) We also saw the Harry Potter movie, yes we saw Harry Potter. First screening in Barcelona to be exact. So I´m kind of a big Harry Potter fan...but Brooke and AJ were willing to be dragged along with me. The Spainards aren´t as obsessed as Americans so the first show wasn´t til 4pm, but I didn´t complain because we got to see it in English (score!).


We´ve met some interesting people so far in Barcelona. We went to the Black Sheep (another one of TSS´s favorite spots) with some new friends from Brazil and Ireland for some of their fmaous sangria. One of my favorite parts of hostels is the people you get to meet. Right now we´re staying with another Brazilian and an Italian and it´s always fun hearing each other stories and going out into the city together. Tomorrow we will be spending at the beach and then Saturday we are leaving for Valencia, home of paella.
Adios!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Madrid

Hola familia y amigos!

Here in Madrid it is a beautiful, sunny, 35 degree day (celsius that is.) When we arrived on the 9th, our plane landed in Madrid around 7:15pm and Brooke arrived not too long after us. After we reunited, we took the metro to our hostel. We shared our room with three other girls (a teacher from California and two Pennsylvanians) and met a new friend, Chris, (from Washington D.C.) who told us all of the places to go to in Madrid. That night, we wandered around the area and stopped at a cafe to figure out an itinerary. We kept it pretty low key considering we were all suffering from serious jet lag. The next morning we moved to a different hostel where we´ve spent the past 2 nights. It is in a great location and only a five minute walk from our previous hostel. So after we checked in we finally started exploring!

We began our day of exploration by going to the Palacio Real, which is the royal palace in Madrid. The palace has over 2000 rooms and the royal couple only goes there on official occasions. They had an exhibit on Charles IV who during his reign had collected a variety of impressive art pieces and musical instruments. We then wandered our way over to the Plaza Mayor, which has a huge statue of Felipe III in the middle. It reminded me a lot of the Plaza de San Marcos in Venice. Restaurants and tourist shops line the inside of the plaza charging ridiculous prices for all of the tourists who visit there. We then meandered our way back to our hostel and took a much needed siesta. Four hours later we awoke and decided to go buy from groceries from el cortes ingles and just continue exploring the center of Madrid. We then headed out to dinner around 10pm, had some tapas, paella, sangria, and called it a night.

The next day we headed over to Jardines de Sabitini which is the "everyman´s park" located right next to the Palace. There was a wading pool and a bunch of statues and fountains; the usual European park. We hung out there for awhile and then started wandering again (we love to wander, just in case you didn´t notice) and stumbled upon the Templo de Debod. The Templo de Debod is the only Egyptian temple in Spain. The Egyptian government shipped the temple to Madrid in 1968 as a thank you gift for sending archaeologists to help save the temples during a flood from the Aswam Dam. The 2200 year old temple was built to honor Isis and Ammon, and later more gods were engraved into the walls. Being a HUGE fan of Egypt and the Egyptian culture, I couldn´t have been more excited to see. It was amazing that after all these years you could still see the engravings etched into the walls. After we left there we walked along Gran Via, which reminded me a lot of streets in NYC - there were broadway shows and a variety of American restaurants. We then had doner kebabs for lunch, they were really good but of course not Istanbul quality. We then took another break from the hot Madrid sun and went to our hostel for another afternoon siesta. That night we went out for some more Spanish cuisine and soaked in
the Spanish culture.

Today we went to Jardine del Buen Retiro which is a huge park that has a lake where you can rent boats and showcases gardens with flowers from around the world. We found a cute little cafe for lunch and then made our way to the internet cafe to book our hostel for Barcelona. Tomorrow during the day we are going to visit a few of the museums and then at night we are taking an overnight bus to Barcelona, which I couldn´t be more excited for. Barcelona was one of my favorite cities that we visited on The Scholar Ship, and I´m sure the entire time we´re there, I´ll be in a constant state of nostalgia.

Granted it has only been a few days, I couldn´t be happier to be traveling again. I love being immersed in a different culture and although at times it may be difficult, I love that you hardly ever hear English spoken. How could I forgot how much I love this lifestyle and how much I love Spain? Surprisingly, I also liked Madrid a lot more than I originally thought, especially since I hold Barcelona on such a high pedestal. I will post pictures later when I have more time, but until then adios.