Pictures from Europe!

In case you’re interested in seeing more photos from my trip you can view them all here (hopefully the links work):

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LondonHarry Potter Studio TourParisNice & MonacoBarcelonaMadrid and Lisbon!

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Enjoy! I hope to be adding to my European photo collection in the future!

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Obrigada!

Obrigada, “thank you” in Portuguese, is the one solid Portuguese phrase I feel confident using.  Thank you Andrea, for teaching me that one 5 years ago!

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Today I headed to Baixa, the downtown area of Lisbon.  There’s a bus about 5 minutes from my hotel that goes all the way downtown; a long ride but simple enough.  Once there, I noted a few monuments I wanted to see but basically let myself get lost and explore.

Downtown Lisbon is quite beautiful.  There’s the same gorgeous architecture, cobble-stone roads, statues and churches as in Spain.  Except it seems like every road I chose was straight uphill.  Needless to say my calves were burning.

I walked down to the coastline with some delicious chocolate raspberry ice cream.  The river is a nice view from far away but as you get closer it’s pretty brown and murky; clearly not the spot for beach-lovers.  Lisbon has a beautiful arch (seems like every city does!) and a big plaza onto their coastline.

After walking through the city a bit, I stopped at the design museum.  It was free! They had a cool exhibit showcasing a bunch of designer gowns that the designers chose as the one piece to represent them.  The other floors had furniture, tools and huge art displays.  It was a pretty cool museum and right downtown!

From there, I walked (all uphill again) through a church and to the Castelo de S. Jorge.  It was a beautiful area and seemed a lot more natural than other historic places I have been.  There were really great views of the river, the bridge and all the buildings of downtown Lisbon.  The grounds were all uneven stones with makeshift stairs and path ways.  It was really beautiful!  If you happen to be getting married near Lisbon I would definitely recommend it for wedding photos.  The grounds have a “Secret Garden” feel to them.

The castle itself was cool to look at but there weren’t any rooms or anything to go in.  I walked around the inside and then up to the top ledge.  My fear of heights decided to kick in so it was pretty terrifying walking around up there.  It seemed like a strong gust of wind (of which there were plenty) would push me right over the low wall.  Walking the stairs was torturous; my lead legs slowed me down so much I had to let elderly couples go ahead of me!

Yeah, I was peeing my pants up here!

From there I took a bus back to the main area and ended up in the Plaza Figueira! I snapped some photos of the street signs and then found a nice outdoor restaurant for dinner.  I got paella, but it wasn’t as good as the one I had in Barcelona.  I grabbed some Portuguese egg tarts to go and boarded the bus back home.

Look Andy!!

Luckily, the bus to go home had the same number as the bus going downtown and did all the exact same stops in reverse.  Unluckily, the final stop was not on the other side of the road from where I had boarded in the morning (despite having the same bus stop name).  I figured it had to be close by.  After walking around for about half an hour and asking a few people, I finally found a bus driver who spoke a little English.  He guessed that I walk down one road, and since it was the only road I hadn’t tried yet, I went for it.  After making a few lucky turns I found the place where I had bought my dinner last night! Thank goodness! I knew my way home from there!

Another look at Lisbon

Tonight I have to repack my bag, shower and hopefully get to bed early in order to get up for my morning flight.  I still can’t believe I’m going home tomorrow.  It feels very surreal.  It’s as if I just started this trip yesterday! But at the same time, in looking back at photos from my first days in London, it feels like it was ages ago.  Three weeks isn’t that long but it’s a long time to be by yourself.  I can’t really believe I’ve seen my last elaborate European fountain or breathtaking church of this trip.  It still feels like I’m just boarding a plane tomorrow to go off to a new exciting European city to discover.  But…I am going home tomorrow. It probably won’t hit me until my feet touch Canadian soil.

Lisbon looking lovely

And…Lisbon again!

Before I leave Europe, I wanted to say a huge OBRIGADA! Thank you to everyone who supported me, gave me advice, lent me things, wished me well, and read along with my adventures.  Thank you to all the amazing locals who helped me find museums, get on the right buses and take my photo in front of important landmarks.  Thank you to God and the awesomeness that is Europe for allowing me to discover and explore this magical place.  I still can’t believe I’ve really been to all these amazing sites! I was on the beach in the South of France! I’ve seen the Crown Jewels in London! I’ve picnicked in front of the Eiffel Tower! I can’t believe how incredibly lucky I am to have had all these experiences.

If it wasn’t official before this, it is now: I am diagnosing myself with the travel bug!  As sad as I am that this trip is over, I know it definitely won’t be my last.  I can’t wait to come back and see all of this again and explore brand new places!  I want to do the rest of the UK, Germany, Italy, Greece!  And I still have my goal of visiting every continent (minus Antarctica) so Australia and Africa are on the list as well!  I probably won’t be going to any of those places anytime soon but I’m excited because I know it will definitely happen.  Travel is very important to me.  Exploring the world in which I live and breaking out of my Canadian bubble to become a true global citizen is something I really believe in.

So, thank you!  And, I’ll be back! 

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Lisbon Round Up:

Best Experience: walking around the Castelo de S. Jorge

Worst Experience: getting lost on the way back to my hotel

I wish I had known… it actually gets a little chilly at night here! 

What I will miss most about Lisbon: I didn’t get to know Lisbon too well but I think I’ll miss the beauty of it all.

Next time I visit Lisbon I want to… see more of it! I want to check out the different neighbourhoods and the islands.

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Trip Round Up:

Best Experience: I don’t think I can narrow it down to just one.  I guess the overall beauty of everything I saw – from musicals to churches to views to castles – it was all breathtaking! 

Worst Experience: probably would still have to be my metro meltdown in Barcelona

I wish I had known… how fast 3 weeks would be up! 

What I will miss most about Europe: just being here and exploring.  I’m going to miss exploring a new city or part of a city everyday and immersing myself in new cultures and ancient histories. And I’ll miss eating baked goods/desserts for most of my meals 🙂 

Next time I visit Europe I want to… see some new places (read above) and maybe bring along a friend! 

Lisbon at Last

Guess who missed her overnight train to Portugal?

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Yeah…it was me.  Stupidly, I thought the train station would be closer than it really was.  For all my other trains, planes and buses I’ve always arrived super early and had a ton of time to spare.  I figured last night would be the same so I took my time waiting in my hotel lobby, updating my blog and importing photos.

I ended up missing my train by a few minutes.  The lady at the info desk was very nice but the representatives for my bus company were pretty snarky.  I was trying to ask them what to do and they threw a new ticket at me and kept yelling, “10am or nothing!”  So apparently I was booked on the 10am!  What I thought would be an overnight train to Lisbon turned into a daytime bus! Note: it was always supposed to be a bus; I had just read the ticket wrong.

The info desk lady directed me to a city train towards an area where I could find a hotel.  I debated just staying at the bus station but that would’ve meant 11 hours on the very uncomfortable metal chairs.  I figured out the sketchy train system and managed to find a cheap little hotel room.

Guess who was in room #534? LOL

Exactly 8 hours after I checked in, I checked back out and headed back to the bus station.  I wasn’t taking any chances this time – I arrived at the platform a good 30 minutes before they even released the boarding details.

My bus to Lisbon was pretty empty and the chairs were really comfortable.  Oddly enough it was a lot nicer than most of the trains I had been on.  I had the entire back row to myself and got to stretch out.  The bus to Lisbon took a really long time.  Also, it seemed like every second road had a round-about which my car-sick self thoroughly enjoyed.  We stopped a lot to pick up new passengers, take bathroom breaks and a lunch stop.  Almost 9 hours later we finally pulled into the Lisboa Oriente Bus Station!

One of the nice views on the road to Lisbon

I decided to stay at the Holiday Inn Express Lisbon Airport.  Since I’m only going to be in Lisbon for about a day and a half, I figured it would be smart to be near the airport and use Holiday Inn’s free shuttle.  As well, my original hostel wouldn’t accept guests until 3pm and my original bus was scheduled to arrive before 7am.  I needed a place that would take me right away and be close to the bus station; Holiday Inn fit the bill.  I cancelled my hostel a few days ago so after my bus schedules changed it was a bit too late.  And, I won’t lie; the hotel life is suiting me well.  I found TLC with Portuguese subtitles and watched some Say Yes to the Dress before going out for dinner.

Say Yes to the Dress! Wonderful in every country!

I found a little Churassco restaurant near my hotel and got some chicken.  Luckily the owner spoke English and offered me an English menu.  I literally have no Portuguese language skills, so attempting to take public transit and get around tomorrow should be fun! I’m sure I’ll figure it out.  So far it seems like there’s always someone nearby who speaks English.

Tomorrow I think I’ll head to the main part of Lisbon, the old town in Baixa.  Or, I might just hit the beach, though I don’t know where the beach is! We’ll see.  For now I’m going to finish my dinner and contemplate a nice long bath in my full-sized tub! 

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Madrid Round Up:

Best Experience: my last day in Madrid with a new friend

Worst Experience: the train ride into Madrid

I wish I had known… how far that bus station was going to be…

What I will miss most about Madrid: the ease of the tour bus and all the beautiful sites

Next time I visit Madrid I want to… do more exploring on foot! It’d be cool to discover different parts of the city.

Saludos España!

(the title is supposed to say “Cheers to Spain” but google translate might be lying to me)

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Anyway! I had a great last day in Madrid and in Spain.  I started with an extremely slow morning.  I slept in, took a shower, re-packed my bag, applied to some jobs and eventually checked out around 12pm.  It was pretty luxurious.  From there I took the metro down to Plaza del Sol to catch my tour bus!

While waiting for the tour bus, this girl named Rikki from the US saw me reading my English novel and asked where I was from.  We got to chatting and it turns out we were both planning to go to the Museo del Prado.  We chatted the whole time on the bus and got off to check out the museum together.

The Museo del Prado!

The museum was HUGE! It was definitely a lot more traditional than Reina Sofia.  Turns out Rikki had also been at Reina Sofia yesterday and we both had similar experiences with the boxing piece in the basement.  But the Museo del Prado was much more traditional.  There were endless rooms and corridors with portraits and religious paintings.  Some of the pieces were really interesting and it was definitely worth the visit.  The oddest piece? A picture of the virgin Mary breastfeeding but instead of feeding her baby she was shooting the breast milk at a man kneeling in front of her.  Apparently he was receiving it as a reward for praising her virtue.  Weird….

After that museum, Rikki and I hopped back on the bus and got off at the Palacio Real.  Rikki hadn’t been yet and I was telling her how awesome it was.  We ended up going again and I can’t say I regret paying the 5 euro to see it twice! Considering my student card got me into the Museo del Prado for free (regular admission is 12 euro) I didn’t mind re-paying.

Me on the palace steps!

The palace was just as beautiful and we managed to sneak in some photos! Rikki liked it too – which was good because I talked it up so much.  We re-visited the staterooms, infirmary and armoury rooms.  After our visit at the palace, we went back to wait for our bus.

We sat at the bus stop chatting for almost half an hour before we realised a bus clearly wasn’t coming.  The tour buses are supposed to arrive every 8-15 minutes but because of the Euro Cup celebrations they were expecting disrupted service.  On the bus earlier we had seen them setting up a stage and tons of fans were already pouring in.  Even Rikki was wearing a Spanish football team jersey! Everyone was celebrating.  Car horns and cheers were going on all day!

Even the statues were celebrating!

We walked from the palace to some streets Rikki had checked out the day before.  We found a nice outdoor restaurant and decided to treat ourselves to an early (7pm) dinner: tapas and Sangria! It was delicious!  We got Patatas Bravas (potato wedges with a special sauce), gazpacho (cold tomato soup thing) and the Spanish version of calamari (much bigger and less breading than the North American version).  It was really yummy (as was the Sangria) and we were pretty stuffed.

Our delicious dinner!

After our meal, we walked around this cute little market Rikki had discovered the other day.  It was really cute and had everything from fresh fish and a bakery to a bookstore and sushi stand! We didn’t buy anything, but it was nice to check out.  I recommended she visit the Mercat la Boqueria when she heads back to Barcelona.  She’s staying there with a friend but is also heading to London soon.  I gave her lots of awesome suggestions for London and I think she’ll be checking out a musical and the Harry Potter tour! Honestly, London should hire me as a promoter or something!

Some fish for sale at the market…

We walked back to Plaza del Sol.  The crowds were starting to come out to celebrate the Euro Cup victory.  We took a few photos, exchanged contact details and then I headed back to my hotel to collect my luggage.

Rikki and I in front of the bear and tree statue in Plaza del Sol

Luggage in hand, I am off to find my train station to board my overnight to Lisbon! I’m still not exactly sure where the station is and at this moment I don’t have any accommodations in Lisbon.  I’m planning on finding the closest, cheapest hotel and crashing! And then spending my 2 days in Lisbon relaxing and enjoying some good food! Sounds like the perfect ending to this trip! 

Madrid, Tourist-style

Today I took part in the most quintessential tourist activity: the hop-on hop-off sightseeing double-decker bus!

The tour bus!

And it was pretty awesome! I started my day slowing getting ready, enjoying the luxury of air-conditioning and privacy.  I took the metro to the Santiago Bernabeu stop, where the Real Madrid Futbol Team plays!  It took me a little while but I eventually found out where to catch my bus and hopped on!

The tour bus was great – they came very often and there were 2 routes to explore either the old city or the new city.  The routes overlapped so you could jump from one line to the other whenever you wanted.  It was great to be able to snap photos of different monuments/statues/fountains as we drove by while hearing why they’re important with the audio commentary.

Madrid’s version of the Arc de Triomphe

I got off at the Plaza del Sol, did a little browsing, checked out the cool statues, and then boarded the bus for the other route.  My first official stop was the Museo Reina Sofia, a contemporary art museum.

The Museo Reina Sofia

Me in front of a fountain at the Museo Reina Sofia

The museum was….interesting.  Luckily it was free on Sundays but it was definitely different from a lot of the museums I have been in lately.  The first exhibit I checked out was in the basement and it was pitch black! I was really scared so a security guard had to walk me in with her flashlight.  It ended up being two very dark rooms with shots of a boxing match projected on a wall.  Another exhibit had sand and stones poured onto the ground with fake plants and cabanas.  In the corner of this beach scene sat a bird cage with 5 real life birds!  The museum also featured some very “interesting” sculptures, paintings and photos.  I don’t think it was exactly my cup of tea but it was unique.  I didn’t get to see much because I got there an hour before closing but I think I got a good idea.

Next, I took the bus to the Palacio Real, the Royal Palace of Madrid!  This was definitely my favourite stop of the day.  I’ve seen quite a few palaces/royal houses during my trip but this one would have to be the most impressive.  The rooms are huge and everything from the crystal chandeliers to the intricate ceiling artwork to the silk tapestries on the walls was awe-inspiring.  I wish I was allowed to take photos but sadly security guards were stationed in each room forbidding it.

The Palacio Real

There are also a lot more rooms than I thought there would be.  Besides seeing the official state rooms of the Spanish monarchy, there are rooms to showcase their silver and china, a chapel (breathtaking) and parlor rooms.  Outside of the main palace there is an exhibition of an infirmary and the artillery.  The most impressive rooms were definitely the large banquet hall in the main palace (I think my entire house would fit in that room) and the chapel (the highest, most intricate ceiling I have ever seen).  The artillery exhibition was pretty impressive too – there were models of about a dozen horses and soldiers in armour to depict different eras.  For part of my trip, I clung on to an English-speaking guided tour to learn more about the palace.  For example: the reigning monarch in Spain actually has no power, he’s just a figurehead.  Because he’s essential powerless, when he uses the palace to greet foreign monarchs/diplomats he’s forbidden to sit in the throne because it represents power.  He and his wife are only permitted to stand in front of the throne.

The cathedral across from the palace

Across from the palace is a beautiful cathedral.  I was hoping to be able to go inside but it looked like only the museum portion was open.  What kind of cathedral is closed on a Sunday?  But the outside was lovely as well.  There was a man playing violin which helped to create a very idyllic moment.

Some of the beautiful architecture on the streets of Madrid

From there I took the bus back to Plaza del Sol. I walked around the little streets and checked out a few more shops.  By this point, Spanish football fans were starting to come out in full force.  The street vendors were going crazy selling all types of Spanish flags, scarves, shirts, etc.  I grabbed a crepe to go and jumped back on my bus headed home!

The famous bear statue at the Plaza del Sol

Minnie Mouse and Hello Kitty chilling in front of a fountain at the Plaza del Sol. The plaza is oddly full of Disney characters walking around, though they clearly make no secret of taking off their heads. I heard a tour guide say last month that Minnie and Dora went at each other and Sponge Bob had to break them up.

Except, the bus broke down! Not a huge deal, but we did have to wait a little while to load onto the next one.  Eventually I made it back to Santiago Bernabeu and it was INSANE! The police were redirecting traffic because of an impromptu parade the fans had decided to take to the streets.  Everyone was decked out in their red and yellow, singing and blowing whistles.  I actually had a hard time getting into the metro station there were so many people! Note: the game had not even started yet!

The crowd in my way as I tried to get into the metro station. This doesn’t even begin to show how many people were actually in the area!

I thought about maybe joining the crowds but decided against it.  I’m not a football fan in any sense so I would probably find the game pretty boring.  It’d be fun to be in the crowds but I think it would be a lot more fun with friends.  Plus, people were already shoving and pretty drunk – I’d hate to think what it would be like by the end of the game.

All in all, I had a really good day.  It wasn’t as tiring or packed as some of my other days, which was nice.  And Madrid isn’t nearly as hot as I had been warned about!  Granted, the double-decker bus gets a really nice breeze, but even when I walked around it wasn’t too bad.  I really appreciated the bus – I didn’t have to worry about how to get to places or decide where to go.  But, I kind of missed experiencing the city.  It was weird to have people on the street stare and wave at you.  And all of my photos have the bars from the bus in them!  It was definitely a good intro to the city but if I was here longer I think I would rather explore on foot.

A shot from the bus of some cool architecture

Another shot from the bus of a cathedral-type thing… It looked cool!

Tomorrow I’m using the second day of my tour bus pass.  I want to check out the Museo del Prado and a few other places.  The bus drivers warned me that the schedule might be a little messed up tomorrow.  Apparently the Spanish football team is coming to Madrid to celebrate and re-watch the game with their fans.  The police are shutting down a bunch of roads.  That should be fun! After that I take an 11pm night train to Lisbon!

Lazy Day

Today…. I didn’t do much of anything.

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As I wrote in my last post, my train got in around 7am and I was beyond exhausted.  With barely opened eyes, I lugged my heavy bag across the street and checked into a hotel.  It wasn’t too expensive, about what I paid in Nice, and they let me into my room at 8am.

I basically spent the majority of the day catching up on sleep, eating some stale biscuits I had packed, watching tv shows I had downloaded and slowly planning my next 2 days in Madrid.

On the escalator towards the reception for my hotel is this strange yet adorable set up. Note: you can’t actually sit on the bench.

By 5pm I decided it was time to get out of bed.  I took a long shower and it was so nice to a)use a full-sized shower, b)have the drain not clog as soon as the shower runs causing major leakage and c)use 2 full-sized towels! My time is Europe hasn’t been rough by any standards but I was pretty excited for this shower!

My 7ish I left the hotel, very much refreshed, to go explore the area.  I walked around my neighbourhood.  There are a few shops and after a bit of a walk there’s some interesting architecture as well.  I found a little street market and then a proper supermarket a little while later.  I picked up some stuff for breakfast tomorrow.  On my way home, I stopped to grab dinner. I was pretty hungry seeing as I had only had my biscuits and leftover dried mango slices to eat in the last 24 hours.  I ended up getting asian food (my comfort food of choice) and it was over-priced, but yummier than I had anticipated! Overall, I was pretty satisfied.  And it wasn’t even that hot (granted it was close to 8pm and the sun was beginning to set).

Aww! A couple taking their wedding photos during my walk!

Random tower thing…

And random stadium structure thing! With part of the street market pictured below it.

I came back to my hotel room, ate my dinner, did some writing stuff and relaxed.  So basically, it’s been a very chill day and I haven’t done much to see Madrid.  But I think I needed a day, especially after the sleepless train ride.  I’m glad I took the day off and I’m feeling a lot better than I was yesterday.  Air conditioning, a real shower and a proper night’s day’s sleep really can do wonders for your outlook! As well as some love from home 🙂

Tomorrow I am going on a hop-on hop-off city bus tour! I didn’t think I was going to be that kind of tourist but I found a pretty good price for two days.  I want to see the sights of Madrid but I really don’t know where to begin.  I figure this is the best way and saves me having to create an itinerary.  As touristy as it will be, I’m looking forward to it.  

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Forgot to do this for Nice so here is the round up for Nice & Barcelona!

Nice/Barcelona Round Up:

Best Experience: relaxing on the beach in Nice/the fresh fruit at the street market in Barcelona

Worst Experience: the horrible hostel in Nice/my metro meltdown in Barca

I wish I had known… to pack less! My bag weighs a ton! 

What I will miss most about Nice/Barcelona: the beautiful views in Nice/Monaco and the fresh fruit in Barcelona as well as the lovely hostel owner! 

Next time I visit Nice/Barcelona I want to… take a boat out in Nice or Monaco and explore more of Gaudi’s work in Barcelona, perhaps in a cooler season. 

Tears for Barca

Except literally…but that will come later.

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This morning I packed up my stuff and checked out of my hostel.  The owner was very nice and let me leave my bags there as my train to Madrid didn’t leave until 10:20pm.

I started my day by heading to a bakery in my neighbourhood to get some bread to go with the cheese I had bought on my first night. I planned to have a picnic in Gaudi’s Parc Guell.  The hostel owner told me to take bus 22 and then walk to get to the park.  I managed to find the right bus and only miss my stop by one!

I started walking up this big bridge in the direction the sign for Parc Guell pointed.  After a lovely 10 minute uphill climb in the heat, I started to doubt the sign and began asking people.  While my Spanish is good enough for “Donde esta Parc Guell?” it’s not quite good enough to understand the reply.  Luckily Spanish people like to talk with their hands and point.  I followed the pointing of a few people but after another 10 minutes, I still had not found it.  Eventually one lady pointed me to a bus stop and ushered me onto a bus.

The bus did get me to Parc Guell – after another 10 minute uphill ride! I don’t know who my hostel owner was kidding when he said you could walk it.

The park was really cool.  They’re doing a series with music in the parks, so there were violinists set up where you first walked in and other bands throughout.  It was a really nice atmosphere.  I climbed the steps and took in some of the cool architecture Gaudi had created.  I really liked the little cave-type things throughout the park.

I stopped at some picnic tables to have my bread and cheese, read my book, and hide from the sun.  After a little while, an entire soccer team decided to join me and basically forced me off the table.  I wandered around some more.  I stopped at the house where Gaudi lived for 20 years.  It was cool to look at but I wasn’t interested enough to pay to go inside.

Gaudi’s house!

Parc Guell also has a lot of beautiful flowers and trees.  Basically the park is gorgeous! I wish I had saved it to go later in the day when the heat wouldn’t have deterred me from exploring all the cool paths.  I also wish I hadn’t worn my flats today.

The view of Barcelona from Parc Guell

On my way out of the park I got to see a really cool fountain, a coliseum-type structure, and the two giftshop buildings.  It was quite an eye-catching exit.  From there I walked to the metro and went back to Placa Catalunya.

Bye Parc Guell!

I found a department store across from the main square and took the escalator to the top.  It had really nice views and a good looking restaurant so I indulged in paella and the Barcelona skyline.  My paella was good but very filling.  And the shrimp heads kind of freaked me out!

Yum!

I shopped around in the store for a bit and then returned to La Rambla.  I went back to my food market, Mercat La Boqueria.  It was less crowded and there didn’t seem to be as great a selection – maybe because it was later in the day.  I tried a papaya-mango juice (kind of chunky) and grabbed strawberries, dried mangos and a chicken patty for later.  I continued down La Rambla and took my feast to the water.

The food market!

I found a nice bench along the port and sat down to people-watch, read and eventually eat my dinner.  After that I headed back to my hostel to pick up my bags and head to the train station.

Just another lovely fountain I passed

My hostel owner was very sweet – he wished me luck on my trip and ran to open the door for me.  He’s a really nice man and if I’m ever in Barcelona again I will definitely be staying with him.  I might bring my own air conditioning unit, but I’d still stay there.

My T-10 metro card had run out so I bought a ticket and got back on the metro.  To get to the train station I had to transfer.  No big deal, most of my other metro journeys required a transfer or two.  Except this time, you had to exit the paid area and re-enter through the ticket area for the other metro line. I tried to re-insert my ticket, assuming that it would recognize I had transferred, but the machine rejected it (biggest waste of 2 euros…).  Eventually, I conceded and went to buy another ticket.

Except the machine wouldn’t let me! I didn’t have 2 euros, so I tried to put in smaller change but the machine spat it back out.  I tried to put in a bill: spat back out.  I tried my credit card: rejected! I tried with multiple machines.  At this point I was getting pretty frustrated.  It wasn’t fair that I had to pay again, my bag was very heavy and it was disgustingly hot down there.

I went to knock on the door of an office I thought was information.  It wasn’t, but the guy walked with me back to the ticket machine. I showed him that all my methods did not work.  He tried to show me that my 20 euro bill would work if I bought 10 tickets and I tried to explain that I was leaving Barcelona.  No way was I going to buy 10 tickets! After I showed him all my failed methods, he smiled sympathetically and shrugged.  It was then that the first tear escaped.

I was already getting a little watery-eyed when it wasn’t working for me – but after the guy seemed like he had given up too, that was more than I could take.  After letting a few tears out, I couldn’t control it. I totally had a break down in the middle of a metro station in Barcelona.

I can’t remember the last time I cried like that.  I couldn’t catch my breath and I was shaking.  I walked away from the machine and tried to find a private corner but it was just one long tunnel.  The guy followed me, clearly frightened, and tried to ask if I was okay.  I nodded, through my tears, and after muttering something about “taxi” he slowly walked away.  I think I’ve scarred him for life; he’ll never open his office door for another tourist again.

I kneeled down on the floor to try and take a drink of water and hide behind my suitcase.  A man approached and asked if I was okay in Spanish and then in English.  I nodded.  He didn’t seem convinced, but he left.  Less than ten seconds later another man came over to ask if I was okay.  Again I nodded.  He turned away but then returned to ask if I had been robbed.  I assured him I hadn’t and thanked him through sobs.  He smiled and left.

I can’t believe how nice people are.  You hear horror stories about Barcelona and locals trying to steal and rip off tourists.  But as soon as I was crying by myself, people were coming up to me to offer help.  I don’t know if that would have happened in Toronto.  You hope that it would, but people turn away from more intense stuff all the time.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to share my break-down story on this blog.  It still feels kind of surreal; the whole thing was a bit of an out-of-body experience.  So far, my travel stories have been fairly light/happy and so far that has accurately depicted my travels!  But I wanted to be honest and give a candid look at solo travel – sometimes it sucks!

I don’t think it was the ticket thing in particular that made me that upset.  I’m not that unreasonable.  I ended up taking a taxi (for less than what it would have cost to buy 10 tickets!) and I made it to the train station okay.  I think it was the culmination of a bunch of things.  I had kind of been feeling lethargic and out of it all day.  My feet were still blistered and sore from the day before, the heat was killing me, and I just wasn’t feeling inspired to see anything anymore.  I was feeling a bit burnt out.  I think I still am.

My trip to Europe so far has been amazing – but it’s also been really busy!  I’ve packed in a lot – especially right at the beginning.  So, I’m a little tired!  But, I feel horrible whenever I stop to take a break because I’m in Europe! When am I going to be in (insert awesome city here) again? How can I not make the most of this opportunity? It kills me to be wasting time but it also kills me to not appreciate the stuff I’m seeing because I’m so tired!  Especially in these last few cities where I haven’t done a lot of research beforehand – I usually don’t have an itinerary until the night before.  I put a lot of pressure on myself to fill my days but lately I don’t know what to fill them with!

Besides being burnt out, I think I was also getting a little down about the trip ending, the heat awaiting me in Madrid, the language barrier, the unplanned itinerary, and being a little lonely.  When I put it all together like that – it helps to explain my crying in public…maybe.

Anyway, I’m on the train to Madrid right now.  I was hoping for a little more AC and a plug for my computer but… what can you do? I have no idea what I’m going to do when I get to Madrid.  I’d love to abandon my heavy backpack and head for the nearest air-conditioned place.  But then I feel guilty again because I’m in Madrid! I don’t know what to do!  I’m feeling better than I was at the train station; no more crying! But we’ll see how the next day goes….

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UPDATE: No wifi or plugs on the train so couldn’t post this until now.  Also, overnight train = not my most brilliant idea.  I thought it was smart because it saves me paying a night in a hostel, it’s cheaper because it’s slow and I wouldn’t miss any sightseeing time by travelling at night.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize the train would be cramped and beyond impossible to sleep in.  They stick you in a compartment with 8 chairs all facing each other.  People are coming off and on with the different stops.  Everyone is trying to stretch out on the empty chairs.  The door keeps banging open everytime we go downhill.  And the same employee came to check our tickets a minimum of three times.  Basically, it was the worse sleep of my life.  I feel like a zombie (and look like one too).  I am not looking forward to the overnight from Madrid to Lisbon.

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UPDATE 2: I walked across the street from the train station and found the Husa Hotel.  It was cheap.  I was tired.  I’m probably going to regret picking these hotels over hostels but I really needed a place to drop my bag and pass out.  The staff have been really nice so far and I think it will make Madrid a lot better for me if I have this to come home to. Blah – I feel guilty about it.

Beautiful Barcelona

Today I got to have my first full day in Spain.  It was gorgeous and I loved getting lost on the little winding cobble-stone streets but the heat was definitely no fun.

I started my day by taking the metro to Placa Catalunya, the city centre, and walking down the famous La Rambla.  The mile-long street is definitely a tourist haven but it was pretty neat all the same.  There were a lot of souvenir shops at the beginning.  And then there were a couple pet stores.  It was strange to see street vendors selling rabbits and turtles – and especially cruel seeing the animals all cramped in their cages.  I just can’t imagine the clientele on that street (mainly tourists) wanting to buy a pet rabbit to take with them.

An artist and his work set up on La Rambla

Further along down the street there are delicious fresh fruit juice vendors, florists, artists and street performers.  I indulged in a mango-strawberry juice and was quite tempted to buy a painting but couldn’t justify the price.

At the end of La Rambla, you reach the Barcelona Port.  As I was snapping photos, I noticed people boarding a boat.  I quickly inquired about the trip, handed over my 7 euros and jumped on board!  Very spontaneous but it was a nice ride.  There was a cool breeze and comfy seats.  The views weren’t spectacular – but the ocean was beautiful. There was one cool strip with graffiti along a wall which I really liked.  I wish I had looked into something like this in Nice where the view of the coast would have been amazing!

Barcelona coastline

Graffiti wall!

After my boat ride, I headed back up La Rambla to try and find this fresh produce market I had read about.  I got lost for a while but eventually found it.  It was probably the most amazing find I’ve had so far! It’s a ginormous outdoor market (but covered, thank god) that sells fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, seafood and juices.  There are a few stands with other things like spices and eggs and a few restaurants as well.  I have never seen a larger variety of fruit for such an incredible price! I wish I lived in Barcelona so I could load up with lots of stuff to take home.  I settled on a cup of strawberries (1.50), cup of strawberries/cantaloupe/kiwi (1.50) and a chicken patty (1.85).  I might go back tomorrow just to enjoy the deliciousness again!

So much fruit! This picture doesn’t begin to do this place justice!

Lady was hacking at that fish…

I wandered around on the streets parallel to La Rambla.  They are very quaint and I felt like I was in a secret old city – except I’d turn around and see H&M amongst the old stone buildings.  It was fun to just kind of get lost in it all.  Eventually I found my way to the Picasso Museum.

The lovely little streets of Barcelona

I’ve always thought Picasso was a…special artist.  His stuff is really cool, but it always seemed a bit juvenile to me.  This museum focused on Picasso’s early works (when he lived in Barcelona and Madrid).  It was cool to see the ability he had at such a young age.  It was also really great to see other styles: he was awesome at more realistic portraits and landscapes as well.  The guy also had a fondness for doodling naked ladies.

Picasso’s first art contest piece (he didn’t win). I think he did this at 14 or 16 years old!

As the collection progressed into his later years, he started to find his signature.  It got to the point where his ceramic pieces looked like something Lee could do with his eyes closed.  I did enjoy the stuff he did in the early 1910s though – the perfect mix of quirky and realistic, a true testament to his talent.

I kept wandering after the museum attempting to find the Palau Musica Catalana.  It’s another one of Gaudi’s works and was supposed to be nearby.  I was getting pretty hot/tired at this point.  I stumbled upon a big cathedral-type thing that people were taking photos of.  I assumed it was what I was looking for, snapped a photo, and moved on…

Possibly the right cathedral? Who knows!

…to the Arc de Triomf! Barcelona has their own version of Paris’ famous Arc.  It’s a lot smaller but still pretty magnificent to look at.  I took my photos, and then found you can actually sit on the legs of the Arc.  So I propped myself up, cracked opened my book, and rested my tired feet.

The Arc de Triomf!

Chilling on the Arc…looking gorgeous as usual

From there I had some “fun” map-reading times (bad directions + tired feet + heat = no fun) but eventually made it to Le Sagrada Familia!  It was very impressive – the metro spits you out right on the steps of Gaudi’s most famous work.  I had no intention of paying to go inside but it was cool to walk around it and marvel at the unique building.  It really does look like one of those drip castles you make on the beach with water and sand.  Except you can’t do that with a real building – which makes the detailing that much more impressive! What wasn’t impressive? The construction.  I know they’re committed to finishing Gaudi’s vision (in the next decade or so…) but it was really distracting.  At least the visitors can see that their entrance fee is not being wasted!

 

I took the metro back to Placa Catalunya and hit up FNAC – the big bookstore.  I finished “Pride and Prejudice” a few days ago and then today I finished the book I picked up at my Parisian hostel.  I bought “Little Women” and “Remember Me?” (chic-lit by Sophie Kinsella).  Hopefully those will last me until my flight lands on the 5th!

Then I headed down to La Fuente Magica de Montjuic!  The famous fountain was pretty packed when I arrived shortly after 9.  I guess everyone was psyched for the fountain show.  It was pretty breathtaking and I’m really glad I made the trek over.  It’s crazy what they can do with water, coloured spotlights and a moving soundtrack! I was amazed – and ate my ham sandwich with a great view.  After that I dragged my tired feet home for a shower, blog update and bed!

Holy fountain Batman!

Tomorrow I have another full day in Barcelona and then take the overnight train to Madrid! I’m not exactly sure what my plans are for tomorrow.  I want to check out Parc Guell and maybe pay another visit to the food market!

Hola Barcelona!

This morning I had to leave my beautiful hotel room at the Best Western in Nice.  It was bittersweet, and I blasted my music and AC for a solid ten minutes in order to properly grieve the loss.  And then I visited my favourite bakery for the last time.  I said goodbye to France and hello to Spain!

I took the 99 express bus to the Cote d’Azur Aeroport.  After waiting a while, and paying 30 euro to check my bag, I made it through security in record time.  I arrived two hours early as they suggested, but have never gone through security faster in my life! Thankfully their free wifi kept me occupied.

I went to board my plane to Barcelona and was very surprised when the flight attendant told me to choose a seat.  There were no assigned seats! I started regretting not getting in line to board the plane sooner.  Now I understood why half our plane was lining up an hour before the plane took off.  Luckily I was able to find an aisle seat instead of getting squished in a middle seat like the passengers behind me.

The flight to Barcelona was only 50 minutes long! Yesterday a half hour bus ride got me to another country and today a 50 minute plane ride.  I am constantly amazed at how accessible everything in Europe is.  I can’t imagine living here and not jetting off to explore a new place every weekend.  I guess that’s why Europeans are so insistent on their vacation time.  With so much to see in your own backyard (and with flights for 36 euros I might add) how could you not?

After arriving in Spain I boarded the airport shuttle and then took the metro to my hostel.  Surprisingly, the directions that my hostel gave me were very easy to follow.  I bought a T-10 card for the metro (10 journeys at half price) and didn’t have any troubles at all.  Compared to my first day in France, this was kind of a breeze.  But my Spanish language skills (not that I have any) haven’t really clicked in.  My first reaction is still “Merci” instead of “Gracias” but I’m sure that’ll switch soon enough.

My hostel is a little outside of central Barcelona but I already love it.  The owner greets you at the door and then sits you down and explains parts of the city you’ll want to see.  He pulls out a map and circles all of the highlights, including what buses to take.  He even told me about a fountain show happening tomorrow night that I might be checking out.

The door to my hostel. The doorknob is in the middle and the cutest key opens it!

My room is small, but there are closets and a desk.  I’m sharing it with two other girls and I managed to get the single bed while they share the bunk bed.  The bathroom is tiny as well but everything is clean and no bigger than it needs to be.

After settling in and answering some emails, I took a little walk around my neighbourhood.  If you go up to the main street, there’s a beautiful church.  A bunch of kids were skateboarding outside of it, which was fun to watch.  Next to the church is this cobblestone street that looks like something out of a fairytale.  It’s narrow with bakeries and fruit stands down both sides.  I picked up a bruschetta type thing and then stopped at the supermarket for fruit, cheese and biscuits.

The church in my neighbourhood

The adorable street

This place had its gelato tubs in a spinning case AND a chocolate fountain! I didn’t go in but tomorrow I might have to!

My hostel also has a pretty cool dining area.  They let you use all of their dishes and you put the dirty ones in a bin which is super convenient.  I took my meal upstairs to the rooftop terrace.  There isn’t much of a view but it’s really lovely up here.  I’m surrounded by big trees and a community of neighbouring balconies.  When I came up to eat my dinner, the owner was busy watering the plants.  I can tell he really loves this place; a huge difference from the non-existent, money-hungry owners of my other hostels.

Me (looking great I know…) on the terrace with my bruschetta and raspberries!

Tomorrow I plan to hit central Barcelona.  I want to wander around La Rambla and check out some of Gaudi’s great works.  And hopefully, end the night with the fountain show.  I’m already loving Barcelona quite a bit and I’m excited to properly explore it tomorrow. 

Monaco, let’s go!

Today I took a bus from Nice to spend the day visiting Monaco and Monte Carlo!

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After getting directions from my roommate and the tourism office, I found the bus to Monaco.  It only cost 1 euro and took about half an hour to get there.  It’s so weird to think that I took a bus to another country today for only a euro (technically Monaco is a sovereign state!).  The bus ride was great and there were beautiful views of the coast all the way to Monaco.

The view of the coast on the bus ride to Monaco

Once we arrived in Monaco, I visited the Fontvieille neighbourhood to check out the Princess Grace Rose Garden.  Monaco is very much a coastal area but also has huge hills.  So to get down to the Fontvieille area there are actually public elevators and escalators.  This should have been my first indicator that walking around Monaco would kill my feet.

The Princess Grace Rose Garden was smaller than I expected and there weren’t as many roses as I thought there would be, but it was very pretty.  There were fountains and statues throughout the park.  There were also a lot of workers there tending to the garden so at least it’s well looked after.

A tablet in the Princess Grace Rose Garden

From the Garden I headed up to the Palais du Prince or Palace of Monaco.  It’s the official residence of the royal family of Monaco, the Gramaldis.  The current family apparently still lives there.  The trek up to the palace and surrounding community was not that much fun, especially with the heat.  There were a ton of very wide stairs that wound up the side of the hill. The views were amazing but something tells me the Prince and his family have a different entrance route…

A view of Monaco from the palace

I got to tour the Palace for only 3.50 (thanks Student Card!) and saw the grounds, bedrooms and state rooms.  They had done up the place to represent different eras of the reigning monarchs. I don’t know a ton about Monaco’s history but the audio guide definitely helped and it was really cool to see some of the artifacts.  I especially liked visiting the room where Grace Kelly got married and the current Prince Albert had his coronation.  There were a lot of beautiful family portraits as well.

The Palace of Monaco!

The royal throne inside the palace. Pictures weren’t technically allowed so this is a quick snap with my camera inside my purse!

After the palace I walked down to the Cathedral du Monaco where Grace Kelly and her husband, among other royals, are buried.  It was a beautiful church but very touristy.  You can tell that Princess Grace is a favourite as her burial spot is one of the few with fresh flowers by it.

Cathedral du Monaco

The tombstone of Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco

I walked through the surrounding town, took in the views, and wandered down a different path back to the coast.  I found the area where the Grand Prix de Monaco starts.  At least, I think it was the start.  It looked pretty convincing and a crowd of racing fans seemed to be into it, but to be honest I didn’t know the Grand Prix de Monaco existed until this morning.

Grand Prix de Monaco!

From there, I walked towards Monte Carlo to find the famed Monte Carlo Casino (bonus fact: the reigning prince of the time actually commissioned and opened the casino because of his love of gambling).  Strangely enough, the casino was kind of hard to find and the street arrows kept contradicting each other.  It was hot and uphill.  When I finally reached the casino I was pretty relieved.

Me and the famous Monte Carlo Casino!

The Monte Carlo Casino! Please note the crazy expensive cars parked out front.

I thought about going in, but the entrance fee turned me off.  Though it would have been cool to say my first casino experience was in Monte Carlo! Oh well, another time.

I walked around the gardens in Monte Carlo and tried to find this Boutique Princess Grace had set up.  After walking a couple blocks my screaming feet decided I was lost and the store was not worth it.  I did find “Fred Boutique”, the official jeweller of the royal family and destination for quite the celeb clientèle, though.

Another amazing view of Monaco!

Eventually I turned into the Cafe de Paris, opposite the Monte Carlo Casino, and stopped for a bite.  I had delicious pasta and enjoyed the opportunity to rest my feet.  After lunch I toured the gardens again and said goodbye to Monaco.  I boarded the bus back to Nice, watched as the coast flew by from my bus seat and dragged my tired feet home to my awesome hotel room.

Bye Monte Carlo!

Tomorrow I leave Nice and fly to Barcelona! I’m excited to be going to Spain, but nervous about the language barrier and the heat.  I’m sure it will all work out!  If I can find my way to a shady spot on the beach, I will be happy!