España

We took the train from Madrid through the gorgeous Spanish countryside to Salamanca, where we met our mates. We were driven back to our friend’s hometown – Ciudad Rodrigo – and stayed with his lovely parents (and cat!) and tried out our appalling levels of Spanish. We saw a film production company housed in an old hotel, went for drinks with lots of people, walked the city walls and went into the cathedral.

We drove to Peña de Francia, right up to the monastery at the top where handfuls of snow were still melting.

We drove to Salamanca and saw views from the tower of the Cueva de Salamanca, the Huerto de Calixto y Melibea (a beautiful garden), and the two cathedrals of Salamanca (including the famous astronaut). This was our first proper sunny day, and we took full, leisurely advantage, as we tried to do for the entire trip with sun, food and wine – so much rioja, tinto de verano, tortilla de patatas, pinchos, jamón ibérico, magdalenas, churros, olive oil…no wonder the Spanish invented the siesta. The next day involved several librerías, the biblioteca publica, and a long drive to Toledo.

Toledo – even more hilly than Edinburgh, with streets barely wide enough to squeeze the car through. The views, the lights at night, the incredibly friendly street cat that almost followed us home, the informative walking tour, the absolute richness of the history – even the dash to the airport failed to stress me out.

Spain, gracias por tu hospitalidad

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One down…

So yesterday I actually finished a first draft of my novel. One small keystroke for me, one giant manuscript for my burgeoning career. I’ve organised my bookcase so I have all the books I haven’t read grouped together, and I think I will tackle ‘Floundering’ by Romy Ash next. I’m excited about this because a) Romy Ash is Australian, b) ‘Floundering is a debut novel and c) everyone is loving the crap out of it, so I’m guessing it’s going to be great. I also just recently finished ‘How I Live Now’ by Meg Rosoff which blew my mind to pieces and I am so ashamed I didn’t read it sooner. Now to read everything else she has written. Amazing book. In the meantime I have been watching ‘Game of Thrones’ and whittling my resumé and cover letter into streamlined and (hopefully) more efficient versions of their former selves. There is a truly amazing looking job I have my eye on, so fingers crossed for me please! Last weekend I went to see ‘The Way’, a film by Emilio Estevez with some friends from my church. The film was a great little outing, all about a walk across northern Spain called the Camino de Santiago. It has now been added to my list of stuff to do on my worldwide travels. I’m planning a trip to Japan in April with my Dad to see the cherry blossoms in Kyoto, and this is helping with my cabin fever and the itch to get back overseas. Until next time! xx

Can’t. Move.

SO FULL. So full of paella and tomatoes and fetta. Such a good dinner with the lovely Eleanor from DC! We went to Bosque Palermo on Carrer de Valencia which I strongly recommend if you are ever in Barcelona. Lovely wine, delicious food, great company and sparkling conversation – the perfect end to our Catalonian adventure. We train back to Paris tomorrow!!

xxxx

Mmmm, sunny Barcelona.

I love you Barcelona!! After a biiiiiig sleep-in, a looooong shower, and a blog, Seanus cooked some beautiful breakfast and we met Cara at Park Guell. Park Guell is on a hill in Barcelona (a very steep hill. There are outdoor escalators to access it.) and it has wonderful architecture by Gaudi all throughout it. It was a sunny, warm, clear day and there were stunning views of Barcelona from the very top of the peak. You walk up all these twisty paths with some brilliant buskers along the way. When we went down the slope, we came to a paved area with a long, curved, mosaic park bench with the waves of a sea serpent. There was a very festive protest against privatisation going on in the middle of this bit. My blog really can’t describe how most of this park looked, because it was just so unlike anything I’d seen before. Make sure you check out the pics on facebook when they go up in a day or two.

We got ice-cream and took the train back to the hostel. Then we chilled out for a couple of hours while we waited for Cara, who had gone to see Casa Batllo. Sean and I headed out to try and find a supposed carneval parade, but we ended up just finding a kid’s one. But we had a wonderful walk down La Rambla, seeing all the artists, and spruikers and pet stores and food places. We stopped for a pina colada at the Travel Bar on the way back and now we are back at the hostel. We are about to head out for paella with an American girl we met in Berlin, but it will be interesting to see if we can find her at the paella place! Will blog soon

xxxx

Catalonia

Hi everybody! I didn’t blog last night because I was too tired, but I will attempt to fill in all the deets as best I remember them. Yesterday morning after cooking up an awesome hot breakfast again, we headed down to the Travel Bar to get on a free walking tour. This wasn’t with Sandemans, but it was just as good (and also got tips at the end). Our guide was a lovely Irish guy called Duncan and the tour walked us through the Gothic Quarter, which is quite a small part of Barcelona, but the oldest part and the most beautiful in my opinion. It is completely car-free, because all the little winding streets are too small to have cars in them and they wanted to preserve the streets as they were. We saw a lot of beautiful old churches, many in the Gothic-style architecture, and many Catalonian flags. I had no idea of the division between Barcelona and the rest of Spain. It is extreme to the point where a lot of people will claim they aren’t Spanish, they are Catalonian. They won’t speak Spanish and get ticked off when tourists try to speak it. After Duncan explained the history of Spain and Catalonia, it became clearer why the animosity exists. Spain has only been a democracy for about 40 years, and was feudal in the early 20th century. I can’t remember all the details, but the Spanish Civil War is still a sensitive topic for many Spanish and Catalonian citizens and it is best to not mention it. That is what the government has decided to do anyway. We visited Placa de Sant Felip Neri, which had been bombed and used as an execution site during the Civil War, but is a very romantic place nonetheless. (And it has the balcony from ‘Perfume’ in it!). It was full of kids running around, all dressed for carnival. It was so funny to see them all. Stacks of little boys running around dressed as their mums. In Australia, they’d be beaten to a pulp. In Barcelona, everyone was giving them bits of jewellery to add to their costumes. Its a crazy, wonderful, extremely liberal city. We also saw plenty of adults dressed up, as smurfs and other interesting things. Apparently its legal in Barcelona to be completely naked on the street. So in summer you see people cycling up Las Ramblas in their birthday suits.

We we told the story of Santa Eulalia, the patron saint of Barcelona, and a 13-year-old Roman Christian martyr. We stood on the street where she was tortured and saw the church that holds her remains. We walked through the palatial section of the old city, within the walls, and also ducked outside the walls for a bit. Some of the palatial buildings were built using destroyed headstones from the Jewish cemetery and you can still see the inscriptions. It is terribly eerie. They have excavated sections below the city and you can see the original Roman foundations, including some really grand Roman columns. Parts of the walls are still standing as well. We walked through the Jewish section, which was subject to a terrible massacre that sent all the Jews out of Barcelona (those that survived the massacre that is). The section contains the oldest synagogue in Europe (over 1000 years old, and not a synagogue any longer). We saw some wonderful street art scattered all over the shop and learnt about the current political climate – pretty shaky. Due to the euro crashing and the unemployment rate soaring, there are a lot of people becoming homeless and protesting. But it still remains such a vibrant and fun city. We saw the King’s square, where Ferdinand and Isabella would have received Columbus as he came back to tell them he’d discovered the New World. And we saw carvings of two important figures in Barcelona’s history – ‘Hairy Willy’ (Wilfred the Hairy) and St George. We also learnt of the rivalry between Picasso and Miro and Picasso’s later boycott of Spain. We saw the art school where Picasso studied. Apparently the surrounding streets were full of brothels, and this was the inspiration for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, one of his very famous paintings.

We stood in the very centre of Barcelona (they have a little circle with a marking inside it to mark the extreme centre) and we heard about castells. This is a custom exclusive to Catalonia, which involves making enormous human towers. Sometimes they collapse and people get hurt or occasionally die, but it is something so intrinsically Catalonian, that everyone still does it. Catalonia has abolished bullfighting, a further measure to separate themselves from the rest of Spain. After the tour, we all went back to the Travel Bar for discounted drinks and Cara, Sean and I decided to have a meal there as well. We chatted to other people from the tour for a few hours after, including two girls from Taiwan staying at our hostel, then headed back to the hostel for tapas night! For 6 euro, you partake in tapas and sangria, made fresh at the hostel. We helped with the making, and felt very Spanish. Everyone in the hostel sat around and ate and chatted and we met so many cool people. Two sisters from Wisconsin and a teacher from Perth who was living in France came to an Irish Pub with Sean and I and by the time we fell into bed at about 2.30, I was exhausted!

xxxxx

Just a quick note to say…

Having a bed in a comfy hostel is just so freaking amazing. I can’t wait to get into bed tonight. So tired. But had a wonderful day! SUN! I was in a t-shirt!! With no thermal underneath!! We had great paella for lunch and then cooked eggs, bacon, toast and mushrooms for dinner. I also bought new jeans. The rest of the time, we sat on the couch and chilled. So nice to have a chill day. Tomorrow, walking tour in Barcelona!

Ciao xx

Barcelona! (and Milan and train of no space)

‘Scuse the lack of blog yesterday, all! I was on an overnight train, with no wi-fi. It was subsequently the longest train ride in the history of the universe. And incredibly, INCREDIBLY squashed. It makes sense, I understand that its a train, they have to be economic with space, yada yada, but seriously. I paid 75 euro for that bed and I could pretty much not move. Also extremely tired today as sleep was minimal. Before any of this though, we slept in and left La Spezia at a pretty cruisey pace. We were on a train to Milan for a few hours and then had to kill a few hours in Milan Central. It was excruciatingly boring, to put it mildly, but we took turns minding the stuff and going for walks which broke it up a bit. We were sharing with a gorgeous older Italian woman from Rome who told us all about her lovely son and his family who she was visiting in Madrid. Later, another Italian woman joined us but she had no English, so the older one translated a bit, which was lovely. The train was squished, and when we arrived in Barcelona this morning, we were all incredibly sore, smelly and tired.

We made our way slowly from the station to the hostel, walking lots and taking the metro so it took a while to reach our destination. I nearly cried with relief when we got here. And then I had a shower! A SHOWER!! It was the best thing ever. And then we put our clothes in to be washed. All our clothes. They will now be all lovely and clean. I need to go get jeans, lunch, groceries, money and paella for dinner, so I will maybe blog a bit later on. Toodles all!
xxx