Bon Viatge!

Meg and Grant go to Barcelona & beyond

Month: February 2016

We’ll always have the iglú

Grant’s good friend Stephen Demjanenko recently visited us in Barcelona. They worked together at Meraki, rock climbed, and spent endless night in DOTA (computer game) tournaments. Once, I went to sleep and woke up before Grant had gone to sleep. True story. I blame Steve and DOTA for that!

Barcelona

The first order of business was to walk around our neighborhood, Gracia, enjoy the wonderful €10 four-course lunch menu, and make copious dinner reservations at restaurants Grant and I have been wanting to try. We headed to Park Guell to enjoy the crazy amounts of sunshine Barcelona is still getting.

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We learned from Megan’s visit that sunset in Park Guell is one of the best views and peaceful experiences, so we had to experience that again.

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We capped off the first day with a delicious dinner at Santa Gula, a restaurant that’s been haunting my instagram feed for months. Between that and La Pubilla, two tiny but delicious and local restaurants, we ate well the first few days in Barcelona.

One of the highlights of our time in Barcelona was exploring the neighborhood of Horta, which is definitely off the beaten path. It’s been on my list to explore for a while now. First we headed to the Labyrinth Garden, where Grant and Steve raced through.

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It was so fun to play around the park. We might have had a mini photo-shoot….

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We strolled through the Horta neighborhood, stopping on the way for important landmarks, such as this huge match, and this caterpillar train. So much caterpillar train!

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Then we hoofed it up to what is considered the best viewpoint over Barcelona – the Bunkers of Carmel. You can literally sit on the edge of this old crumbling bunker and look out over the whole city. It makes Montjuic look like a tiny bump, instead of the huge hill that it is.

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Sitges

Sitges is a seaside town 30 minutes by train from Barcelona. It also happens to have one of the best Carnaval parties and parades in Europe! We hit up our local dollar store shop for some costumes (people dress up here like for Halloween). I think we did a fantastic job combining all the randomness….

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…ok, I look a little weird. But I was obsessed with my wings:

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IMG_1175In true Spanish style, the actual parade we came to see did not start on time. This wouldn’t really have been a problem with the buzz of energy in the air, except it was also freaking cold. We moved along the parade route, looking for a warm spot. Finally, we made the best decision to duck into a restaurant along the parade route and ate warm pizza while sipping red wine. When the parade finally came by (two hours late), we went out in shifts to watch the excitement before ducking back into the warmth.

 

I don’t know how all those dancers on the floats were surviving in the cold!

Andorra

IMG_1230From the sea, to the mountains! The guys really wanted to do winter sports, so we headed up to one of the best winter resorts we’ve heard of, which happened to be in Andorra. When I finally looked at a map, I realized that Andorra is its own separate country. It’s a tiny landlocked country in the mountains between Spain and France. The official language is Catalan, and it seems very culturally similar to Catalonia. We took a three-hour bus ride from Barcelona, and we basically just drove into the country without much customs/immigration.

Grant told me there was an igloo hotel in Andorra, and I latched onto the idea. So our first night in Andorra, we had the really unique opportunity to stay in an IGLOO!

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12705500_10102882266197388_3719873246396106358_nWe took a snowcat up the mountain to the igloo hotel (my first time in a snowcat!). It so happened that we were the only other people staying there that night. A little background about the igloo hotel…it is built every winter season. It had electricity in it, working and heated bathrooms, and most fantastic of all, a hot tub! Each guest room was a block of ice covered in furs with sleeping bags on top. You would think it would be cold, but we were in our ski clothes most of the time, and we were perfectly comfortable. Each room also had its own theme, and there were unique ice carvings in each one. We got really lucky, because there had been a wedding in the igloo in the past month, and there were extra carvings and decorations in the common areas.

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It was a definite “glamping” (glamour camping) experience. The hotel owners made dinner and breakfast for us, and they started the hot tub up for us so we just totally relaxed. We did a small snowshoeing excursion from the igloo up to the top of this range. The sights were beautiful; nature was beautiful. This stay was definitely a highlight of our adventures!

Unfortunately for me, this was the end of my Andorra adventures. This is where the saying “we’ll always have the iglú” started. I became very ill the next day and remained holed up in bed for the rest of the week with a bad cold. The guys did get a chance to do downhill skiing and a thermal spa day, and they took great care of me in between.

Thank you, Steve, for coming to visit! We had a great time checking off things on our list with you!

 

The Donkey Ranch together in Spain

Ashley Teel came to visit! Funny enough, I think she is the only person to have lived with both me and Grant at some point. She was my roommate all four years of college, and the last year that I wasn’t at A&M, Grant and she lived in the same house.

In college, we called the house we lived in the “Donkey Ranch”, since it used to indeed be a ranch for donkeys. Texas for the win! It was so good to have time to visit with Ashley and catch up. When we are together, it’s like no time has passed. She is one of those friends that I always know I can count on to listen when I need to talk, and laugh with me when I need to have fun. Let’s take a trip down memory lane for a hot minute…

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Oh, college.

It was wonderful to have Ashley here, even though she got sick during her stay 🙁 She was a trooper and kept going! It must be the secret power of the patata brava sauce…or, just the crazy-strong over-the-counter Spanish drugs.

Barcelona

I scheduled a lunch/dinner party starting about 1 hour after Ashley landed in Barcelona from a trans-Atlantic flight. I know, I’m a super-nice friend. As I told Ashley, I was going to take advantage of having her here as an excuse to do all the cool things we never do in Barcelona.

We headed over to the dinner party, which was a “Calçotada.” Giant green onions, called “calçots” are in season in Catalonia now, and there is a tradition of grilling out with them. The Spanish love to celebrate, and I’m not about to complain. Upon our arrival, we were handed bibs, our first hint of what was to come. There was a fire going with tons of the calçots wrapped up in newspaper. As the first batch of calçots were delivered to the table, the hostess demonstrated to us how we were to eat the calçots. Basically, hold the bulbous end and pull, and the theory was that the charred outside part would slide off of the juicy green onion inside. Next, dip the yummy green onion in the romesco sauce – the most delicious part of the whole experience – and eat it! It reminded me a bit of a crawfish boil – messy, but delicious!

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We forced Ashley to eat copious amounts of the only green vegetable we would see for days, and then we all konked out napping.

The next day, Ashley and I headed out for some girls time to Barcelona’s Old City. We walked the aisles of the Boqueria, oogling the delicacies and got some solid fresh juice and cone of ham and cheese.

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We wandered through the rambling streets of the Gothic Quarter, stopping at the Cathedral and eventually my favorite sangria snack place for a rest.

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You wouldn’t know it was January by the great weather!! We had some time to kill before a guitar concert that evening, so we did what all sensible people would do – talked over drinks!

IMG_0571Moriah, our other college roommate, had recommended a bar to me in Barcelona, so we decided to check that out. It had the most amazing cava for such a cheap price! Everyone was drinking the rosat cava, so we tried that and really liked it. I ended up buying a bottle to take home for €2.80! Delicious cava, people! We also got to check out a “fairy” themed bar I had heard about. All in all, success!

 

We capped Ashley’s second day in Barcelona off with a guitar duo performance in a chapel of one of the old gothic cathedrals in Barcelona. The women performers were so strong and confident, and the setting was pretty unreal. The women’s fingers know all the strings and contours of the guitar to pluck it just right to make the right sound at the right time. I have as much fun watching their fingers as I do their faces as they enjoy and feel the music.

Day 3 was when Ashley’s sickness unfortunately set in. However, we got to explore all around Sagrada Familia together first. She even completed the towers, people!

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Luckily for us, the pharmacy practically threw antibiotics at us after hearing Ashley cough, so we got her some rest and meds. Again, I used this as an excuse to make a movie night of a movie I’ve been wanting to see – Chef. We all relaxed and laughed along with the movie (highly recommended!).

Valencia

We headed South on the train along the coast towards Valencia on Wednesday morning. Upon our arrival, we decided to walk around the Old City and get our bearings. We ended up exploring one of the old city gates, which had great views of the city.

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IMG_0652Valencia is covered in orange trees, much like Sevilla is. Valencia’s famous drink, called Agua de Valencia, is actually champagne and orange juice – yum!

 

 

 

 

We walked around the Cathedral in Valencia and of course had to tackle the tower. We made it up to the top just in time for sunset!

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The Cathedral also claims it houses the original Holy Grail – the chalice which Jesus used during the Last Supper. There is a whole separate chapel where you can see the chalice (albeit, from a great distance).

Valencia is a very manageable size, which makes it easy to walk around. We found some interesting street art (or as our Australian mate from the train called it, “graffiti”) along the way. This certain ninja kept popping up all over the place, so I had to get my photo with him!

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The next day our priority was to hit up the market, the old silk market building, and the Turia Riverbed park, which is a huge green belt that encircles the old city. In fact, a river used to literally go through there, until it was moved due to massive flooding. (I know, right, like, “let’s just move a river!”)

The central market in Valencia was GORGEOUS. Light-filled, airy, and crammed in with bright, shiny produce, Ashley and I wandered around wide-eyed for a while. I had to try the Valencian version of horchata, which tasted more like plain almond milk than anything else!

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Full, we headed towards the Turia riverbed! The first cool thing we came across there was a children’s park. It looked like a huge structure, and there were these amazingly-wide slides that children were screeching down. It took me a while to realize that we were looking at a giant man splayed out on the ground. I saw the giant hand first. Do you see it?

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In fact, the park itself is Gulliver from Gulliver’s Travels! It’s the scene when Gulliver is tied down by the Lilliputians. Here is the park from satellite view:

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Isn’t it amazing? I was just thrilled! I didn’t push any kids aside to play or anything, but I did climb on it a bit. The design was just genius – every part of his body was somehow either a stair or a slide.

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Continuing our day of amazing architecture and design, we went to the Ciudad de las sciencias y las artes. It is a complex of futuristic, space-looking buildings that serve individually as a science museum, a theater, a water park, and a general convention center. They are curvey, shimmering buildings that seem to somehow always be emerging from the teal water that surrounds them.

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We spent the afternoon putzing around the science museum – which was surprisingly informative! We learned that Ashley has the most percentage of water in her body, I have the longest arm span, and that Grant really loves science museums 🙂

The coolest part of our visit to the museum was a “space mission” we did. We got to go through a simulation of being in space and of take-off and lift-off. It was a bit corny, but I’m not going to say that I wasn’t actually feeling some real anticipation as we climbed into our “rocket” and the countdown began.

12565583_10107657139562814_626868129441503181_nThat evening, Ashley and I ordered paella (Valencia is famous for this!) and headed to a small bar for a flamenco show! The flamenco show was different than other ones I’ve seen in the past, since it was such a small and intimate venue. The performers looked like they were having a blast the entire time. In fact, at the end, they invited one of their friends from the audience to come up to the stage to sing and dance with them.

With our last half-day in Valencia, we headed to the Bioparc. At first, we thought this was just a fancy word for the common zoo, but it turns out that the Bioparc is in fact a different type of zoo. They have designed it such that the barriers between the visitors (us) and the animals are rocks and water, not cages. The animals from different ecosystems are in the same area, instead of being separated. It made it feel like a very authentic experience, and you felt that you could get closer to the animals.

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The only point at which this was really scary is when we turned the corner and were suddenly staring two hungry hyenas in the eyes. One of them was pacing on the other side of what now looked like an impossibly small moat, and the other one was staring directly at us. A bit scary!

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Back in Barcelona, we had a good farewell dinner with the “best patatas bravas” and gelato for dessert. Again, the pharmacy hooked us up with some prescription drugs so that Ashley would be ok on her flight home. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, she got even more sick! Feel better soon, Ashley!!

We had a wonderful time re-discovering Barcelona and tromping around Valencia with you, Ashley! Thank you for sharing your vacation with us! I can’t wait for the next Donkey Ranch Reunion (yeah, I’m looking at you Rachel and Mo!).

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