Reading Week Part 1: BARCELONA, SPAIN!

Hello blog readers! It’s been a while since my last post… but now I finally have some free time to write all about my reading week trip. This first post is dedicated to my two days/three nights in Barcelona, Spain!

First of all, let me just say that I was so incredibly stressed about trying to fit eleven days’ worth of clothes into a carry on backpack and had a mini break down the night before leaving (thanks for calming me down, mom). Ryannair (a great cheap airline to travel around Europe) unfortunately has extremely strict carry on restrictions when you fly with them, so even a regular rolling suitcase that everyone typically uses in America won’t work with them. I finally decided to just check a larger duffel bag (for an extra fee that turned out to be completely worth it) and a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. There was no way I could fit all those clothes into my backpack. No way!

Night 1: 11/1
So besides my mini freak out on packing everything, the rest of the trip went extremely smooth. I travelled with two girls from UNCW, Megan and Kelly, and we had such a good time. We landed in Barcelona on Nov. 1 at night, found our way to the hostel (Mediterranean Youth Hostel), checked in and grabbed a really late dinner at a restaurant down the street. My first meal in Barcelona was a tostada with ham and cheese. Tostadas are popular in Spain and were on almost every menu! After dinner we went back to the hostel, made a game plan for the next day, and went to bed.

Day 2: 11/2
We woke up early the next morning and wandered around two main streets of Barcelona before joining a free walking tour of the Gothic City section. Our hostel was just two blocks away from Passeig de Gracia, one of the most popular streets for some upscale shopping, eating and seeing pretty buildings. We then ventured to another really awesome street called La Rambla which is lined with pretty trees and lots of kiosks for tourist shopping. That street is always so crowded with people no matter what time of day/night it is… there is so much going on there that the street never dies down. There are tons of bars, shops, and restaurants on La Rambla too so it was definitely one of my favorite places to explore. Off of that street, there is a market called La Boqueria which we quickly walked through since we were trying to get to the starting point of the tour on time. However, we got a chance to really explore La Boqueria market the next day and it was honestly the coolest market I’ve ever seen. It was so insanely colorful and there were hundreds of booths selling all food imaginable… fish, fruit, juices, cheese, chocolate, bread, spices, grains… everything! It was SO crowded inside this marketplace but I loved walking through it to see everything inside the huge tented area. Our tour guide told us that the best stuff and cheapest prices could be found towards the back of the market, so that’s where we went to buy something. Kelly, Megan and I ended up buying some chocolate from one of the booths and spent way too much money on these little pieces of sweets without realizing how expensive it was (kind of disappointing, but you live and you learn). At least we had chocolate!

We made our way to the starting point of the Gothic City (also called the Gothic Quarter) walking tour and spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon learning about some old buildings, cathedrals, and architecture while walking through some long winding passageways in the city. It would have been really confusing to get around that area if I lived there… the streets were dark, narrow, and all looked the same. The tour was interesting and I learned some cool historical facts about the area. The area dates back to the Medieval times as the first Roman settlement of Barcelona. One thing that I found interesting is that the quarter used to be highly populated with Jews, a section called “El Call,” which was attacked and now occupied by the Spanish. It was really cool to see an old Jewish synagogue where I least expected it.

After the tour, we made our way towards the beach and stopped at a restaurant for the most traditional Spanish dish: paella! It’s a really good rice dish in a skillet with meat and/or fish and some spices. A must-eat while you’re in Spain. After devouring our paella, we took a relaxing walk on the beach and I was just so happy to be in the sunshine with the sand between my toes. It wasn’t warm enough to lay out in a bathing suit (though there were a few crazies doing it), but we spent a good half hour sitting in the sun thinking of the Wilmington beach, and missing being so close to the coast.

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On our long walk back to the hostel, we stopped at an ice cream place highly recommended by our tour guide which was called Gelaaati! Megan, Kelly, and I each got our own order of waffles and ice cream and it was honestly the most delicious thing I’ve had since I’ve been in Europe. You seriously can’t go wrong with waffles and ice cream! YUM. I’m still dreaming of that dessert now…

That night we decided to go out for drinks and a late dinner with three boys, Dan, Alex and Blake, who we met at our hostel that afternoon. They are also Americans studying in London for the semester (who go to Pitt in the states) and happened to be in Barcelona that weekend too. We used our T-10 metro pass to get to the beach where the club scene was, walked down the Barceloneta Beach boardwalk and made it into a club called Shoko, where we spent a total of maybe ten minutes inside (it really wasn’t that great). The end of the night consisted of grabbing some beer and sitting out on the rocks on the beach, talking and watching the waves crash on the shore. We had so much fun talking and getting to know the guys from Pitt!

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Day 3: 11/3
Megan, Kelly and I woke up early with the intention of getting a good spot in line to tour Sagrada Familia, the absolute biggest tourist attraction in Barcelona. Sagrada familia is a huge church designed by Antoni Gaudí who is famous for his brilliant architecture. Apparently the inside of this place is completely incredible, but we didn’t get a chance to go inside. The line was so freaking long (literally about five hours at least) and we didn’t want to waste almost an entire day waiting in line, so we grabbed breakfast and came up with another game plan.

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The Pitt boys told us that Park Guell was another really awesome spot to check out, so we took the metro there and made our way up a large hill (with outdoor escalators, thank goodness!) until we finally made it to the top of this amazing sight. Park Guell consists of two parts, the first with an incredible view of the entire city of Barcelona. We made it all the way to the top and got some awesome pictures… we could see out to the ocean, over to the mountains, and everything in between, including the city’s largest buildings. The view was something I could admire all day. The second part of Park Guell is an area with tons of Gaudi’s work… beautiful mosaics and buildings that look like gingerbread houses. This area was probably my favorite part of Barcelona. It was interesting to people of all ages, kids loved the atmosphere and adults were fascinated by the Gaudi’s creativity.

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One funny story from Park Guell is when we saw all the street vendor guys run away from the area. There were TONS of men all around selling tourist merchandise (magnets, key chains, figurines) laid out on large white cloths. All of a sudden, I heard a whistle and the entire group of vendor guys quickly grabbed their sheet stuffed with their products and bolted out of the area. It was so crazy to me… one whistle and everyone was gone. It didn’t take me long to figure out that what they were doing was illegal… two police officers came strolling through about a minute later to check out the scene. One guy had dropped his sheet of stuff in a hurry and half of his merchandise was left broken on the ground, which the police had to tend to. So crazy! When the police left after ten minutes, all of them were back in their designated places, re-setting up their stuff. It was definitely amusing to watch.

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After Park Guell, we took the metro to another stop (Espanya) and wandered our way to the coolest mall I’ve ever seen, called Arenas, which looked like a mini Colosseum and used to be a bullring! We ventured inside of the massive mall and it literally had everything you could imagine in one shopping center (grocery shopping, restaurants, department stores, a movie theater… EVERYTHING)! We ended up eating lunch at the very top level of the building at a cool diner-like restaurant. The view from up there was awesome too!
After lunch we made our way over to a beautiful looking building that we saw from the rooftop of the mall, which happened to be a really cool museum called MNAC (Museo Nacional d’Art de Catalunya). Lots of the exhibits inside were captioned in Catalan so I didn’t understand most of it, but it was really nice to walk and look around the place. The outside of the building was absolutely gorgeous though.

Our daytime exploration ended with watching the sunset at the NMAC building and outdoor garden area right near it (with a big, authentic amphitheater). The MNAC building overlooked a lot of the Barcelona city as well, and honestly that view at sunset topped off an amazing adventure-filled day. We went back to the hostel to shower and chill before our last night out in the city.

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Our last night in Barcelona was spent with the Pitt boys again, where we decided to go out for a late dinner at this restaurant/bar/club place called 7 Sins that Kelly found online. I got a burger and it was probably the best one I’ve had overseas so far. Us girls ordered a pitcher of sangria (which we should have been drinking long before our last night… it was SO good!) and we all just had a great time laughing, chatting, and eating some good food. Because we had a 5 AM flight the next morning, Megan Kelly and I decided not to go to sleep, and left out hostel around 2 AM to make our way to the airport en route to ROME! Check out my next post for adventures in Italy!

Things I loved about Barcelona:
THE BEACH, the warm beautiful weather, the upbeat atmosphere, La Rambla market, Park Guell, Gaudi architecture, sangria, pretty sunsets, amazing views of the city. I’d love the chance to get back there someday!

My Wee Trip To Scotland

This past weekend I took a short trip to Edinburgh, Scotland with my friends Raleigh and Kelly. We woke up at 3:30 AM to catch a bus from Roehampton to Baker Street in Central London, and then the easyBus from there to Stanstead London airport. It was quite an early morning, and we made it to the airport in time to see the sunrise. Since it was only a short weekend trip, we didn’t have to bring much at all and I squeezed all my stuff into only a backpack. Plus, easyJet and Ryannair flights only allow really small pieces of luggage to carry on, or else you have to pay like 40 pounds extra. I’m already nervous about having to pack for my 11 day reading week trip and squeezing everything into a tiny duffel bag! Anyway, our flight was a quick and simple hour in the air, and before we knew it the three of us were on the ground in Scotland. We took a short bus ride from the airport into the main part of the city, hopped off, and found an adorable café to eat breakfast because we were starving by then. Kelly ordered the traditional Scottish breakfast, which is almost exactly like an English breakfast, but with the addition of Haggis (I will explain that a little later on). I got a delicious ham and cheese sandwich with a fried on top! With full stomachs and droopy eyes, we found our hostel after a short five minute walk… keep in mind we did ALL of that travelling and managed to get to our hostel on Friday morning at 11:00 AM. Impressive stuff. Because our room wasn’t available at check in, our hope to lie down for an hour was quickly crushed, and we ventured back out into the city.

 

The hostel we stayed at was called Castle Rock Hostel and it was such a cool place. For some reason it seemed kind of hippie-ish to me, with weird paintings on the walls and all sorts of various strange decorations.  There was a range of all different kinds of people staying there, but we finally got put in a room later that day with ten beds, which were occupied with at least four other Americans which was really awesome. The hostel had a big “backpacker” kind of vibe and was just really chill, colorful, and fun. The hostel was also in a perfect location. It was literally RIGHT next to the breathtaking castle and also only a minute’s walk away from two main roads of restaurants and shops. Edinburgh itself isn’t the biggest city ever, although it is the capital of Scotland, but it was the perfect size to explore for just a weekend. I also liked that it wasn’t too big so we had the opportunity to walk everywhere we wanted.

    

So we continued to explore Edinburgh ourselves that morning, walking up to the castle (which is actually above a volcano) and taking pictures with the amazing view at the top. The road leading up to the castle is called “Royal Mile,” which we also walked down and stopped in many little shops with souvenirs and Scottish things. Almost all the shops sold different variations of the same things: postcards, Union Jack printed items, cashmere scarves & gloves, hats, earmuffs, knitted sweaters… that kind of stuff. They also really played up the Scottish phrase “wee,” meaning little/small, and so many stores had the sign “a wee gift from Scotland.” Scotland is also known for its whisky (spelled with no “e”), and the Royal Mile even had its own Scotch & Whisky Experience attraction. There were so many places selling items with the tartan print (or plaid-like design we know). We had a good time browsing through all the stores, especially since going inside gave us a little warmth. The two days we had in Scotland were beautiful and sunny, but REALLY COLD at the same time, especially with the wind blowing. Raleigh and I decided to buy matching hats because we didn’t want our ears to freeze off!

      

   

After walking around a bit, Raleigh, Kelly and I found the meeting point down Royal Mile where they offer a free three hour walking tour of the city. We signed up quickly, got some hot chocolate from Starbucks to warm us up, and joined a group to see some more of the city. Our tour guide’s name was Julia and she was originally from Australia, but has been living in Scotland for about six years. She took us to different places all really close to each other in the central part of Edinburgh, and pointed out places with historic value. She also told some really entertaining stories about brutal consequences for law-breaking back in the old days. We had a 15 minute break in the middle of it, and she suggested to go buy the soft drink “Irn Bru.” It isan orange drinkk that I bought from a convenience store, and is Scotland’s number one soft drink… apparently selling more than Coke and Pepsi combined! I tried it with some pretty high expectations, but honestly it just tasted like cotton candy medicine and I ended up throwing it out after a few sips. I’m still glad I tried it though! My favorite part of the tour was when Julia took us to Greyfriars Kirkyard (a cemetery) and gave us some history about it. She told us a story about a dog named Bobby, who was owned by the graveyard’s night watchman (John Gray). They were inseperable for two years until the owner died, and left the dog all alone. For 14 more years, Bobby returned to sit on his owner’s grave each day until the end of his life, and is now referred to as “the most loyal dog in the world.” His grave is right outside the graveyard and has a statue in front of a restaurant in his name. Greyfriar Bobby’s statue is the number one most photographed statue in Scotland! You can now add me to the list of the tons of people who have taken a picture with the adorable dog statue. It was such a heartbreaking story!

The tour ended at one of the center areas of the city called Princess Street Gardens, where we took a few more pictures, and continued walking on the other side of the city called New Town (our tour mainly consisted of walking around Old Town). The main street in New Town is called Princess Street and was a lot more modernized compared to the streets by the castle in Old Town. There were tons of brand name stores, and we couldn’t help ourselves from taking a look in the massive Primark there (my favorite UK store, with cute and inexpensive clothes)! I ended up buying two scarves because it was getting even COLDER, and they were really cute.

We got dinner at a little pub in New Town called The Black Rose which was really good. Kelly ordered Scotland’s traditional dish: Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties. Yes, the name makes it sound so weird! We learned that haggis is actually chopped up sheep organs mixed together with suet (other animal fat), oatmeal, and seasoning. Honestly, it looked as gross as it sounds actually. However, when in Scotland…… I actually tried it. It didn’t taste horrible, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the spices and stuff. Neeps and tatties are just weird ways of saying turnips and mashed potatoes! After dinner, we made our way back to the hostel right around sundown. It snowed a little bit on our walk, and we got some really pretty pictures of the city with the sun setting.

After a long, cold, exhausting first day of exploring, Raleigh, Kelly and I decided to hang out in the hostel’s main common area (a large room with a huge long table, couches, and a pool table) where a pumpkin carving contest was going on that night. We hung out for a little, and then went into the movie room which plays a movie each night at 9:00, and watched American Psycho. Once the movie was over, I literally passed out in my bed and called it a night.

The next morning, we got up bright and early (8:30 AM!) in hopes of taking a bus tour around other parts of Scotland for the day. However, I made a call to the tour company and we quickly learned that there were no more openings for that day. Somewhat disappointed, we decided to find a place to eat breakfast and figure out an alternative plan for the day. We found a restaurant that served American style pancakes, so obviously I ordered them. That breakfast definitely made the start to the day a lot better! We walked around a bit more, took a short look into the National Portrait Museum, and then spontaneously went to the train station and bought a round trip ticket to the city of Stirling! The train ride to Stirling was only 40 minutes, and we got off ready to explore some more. Like Edinburgh, the city of Stirling was also somewhat small. Our first stop was the Stirling Castle (you really can’t get enough of them in Scotland)! While this castle wasn’t quite as big, it definitely had a better view from the top. You could look out and see the city and surrounding towns for miles! That view was definitely one of the highlights of the trip!

We walked around Stirling for the rest of the afternoon, taking pictures by a pretty cemetery, old buildings, and men in kilts. We also found the main street area with shops and a mini market place, where I sampled some delicious fudge. After a few hours, we were ready to get back to Edinburgh for the evening.

That night I convinced Raleigh and Kelly to do a pub crawl with me… we heard of a cheap one for only 12 pounds and it seemed like a lot of fun. So quickly grabbed dinner at Subway (I know, so American of us), and found the meeting point for the pub crawl. After being in line for five minutes, we found out that that particular night was a Halloween themed pub crawl and cost 24 pounds (that’s almost $40)! Being the broke college kids that we are, we had to back out of the pub crawl that night, and decided to get a nice dessert at a café since we had rushed dinner.

We ended up eating in The Elephant House, which was one of the places that Julia pointed out on our walking tour. The Elephant House is actually where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter! The restaurant/café actually looks over that cemetery I mentioned earlier, and JK Rowling would sit and look out at the beautiful view from the window. She even got some of the character’s names from gravestones (like Tom Riddell)! It was really cool to see the inside of the place and they definitely made sure people knew its significance… it had a big sign outside saying “The Birthplace of Harry Potter.” The three of us each ordered chocolate cake and hot chocolate/tea and had a lovely time sitting in the warmth of the cozy café. After dessert, we went back to the hostel to join in on movie night again, which happened to be Jackass 2, and finally went to sleep after another long day of adventure.

So that’s my trip to Scotland for you. I know it was super long, but like I said in other posts, I want to remember as much as I can about my experience studying abroad! I have decided that I think I like listening to the Scottish accent even more than the English accent, which is actually a pretty big deal considering how much I love the English one (or accents in general). I’d love to travel back to Scotland someday to see more of the beautiful countryside and other popular places like Loch Ness (where the Loch Ness Monster, AKA Nessi, is supposed to have lived)! And if I ever get back there, I’ll make sure it’s during the summer time so I don’t almost freeze to death like this time!

I’m now preparing for my reading week trip to Barcelona, Rome, and Dublin. Can’t wait for some more adventures!