Montserrat

Our final day in Barcelona took us a little outside of the city to Montserrat, a beautiful Benedictine monastery, set in a mountain. History and stunning views, what more could you ask for!

During the train ride, and I ended up sitting across from a doctor from Mount Sinai and his wife.  I’d met Canadians throughout my trip, but I really wasn’t expecting this! After the train ride, we took a cable car  and then proceeded to hike three hours to get to the top of the mountain.

At this point we spent a little bit of time around the entry way, before splitting up.  For you see, I was going to take the cable car a little higher, while my friends were going to hike.  This gave me enough time to do an additional little hike to the Ermita de Sant Joan.

And then the real hiking began.

After climbing up (and down!) many mountains, we took a look inside the beautifully preserved monastery.

Its safe to say I passed out on the train ride back to Barcelona. Which was good, because we had an early wake up the next morning to catch our flight to Istanbul.

Barcelona, Day 4

Finally time came when we needed a break.  After such a relaxing few days in Menorca, it was hard to keep up with the go go go pace we were setting.  And so we put on our swim gear and headed down to the beach!

While extremely more crowded than Menorca, and filled with what seemed like an endless supply of people selling massages and pineapples (not often at the same time), we all took a break and relaxed.

Barcelona, Day 3

Day three found us at Montjuic, which is a hill in Barcelona, featuring a castle, beautiful gardens, multiple museums and the 1992 Olympic Games park, among other things. I took a cable car up (the first time I had ever been one one) and the adventures began.

There aren’t that many pictures, but rest assured, we explored all day and thoroughly exhausted ourselves

I had thought, when we got back to our hostel, we would just explore the area around us that evening. But we noticed a huge crowd gathering around a giant screen.

Turns out, it was the UEFA Champions League Final (a soccer tournament).  It was Barcelona versus Manchester United, and the people were going crazy!  I have no pictures or videos, but what an exciting time to be there!  We watched the whole game surrounded by this crowd of crazy, drunk, excited people.  Every time Barcelona got a goal (three times!) they would throw whatever they were drinking in the air and cheer.  Suffice to say we were covered in beer by the time the game was over.

They did win – and we heard the celebrations in the street all night long. Sometimes you are just in the right place at the right time.

Barcelona, Day 2

Day 2 started with my most favourite activity: a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter!

First up was the Christopher Columbus monument. Christopher Columbus represented Spain when he left to search for the New World. His statue is supposed to be pointing to the New World, but they didn’t realize until the statue was put in its place that it was not facing the right direction. As it was too heavy and expensive to just turn around, he continues to face the wrong way.

Next, the Basílica de la Mercè. Barcelona has 32 saints, and Our Lady of Mercy is one of their main ones. Whenever there is a soccor game, the team comes to the church and prays to her for a win. And when they win they come back and thank her. And if they lose, they come back anyways.barcelona 2  (5)Plaça de George Orwell (George Orwell’s Square), ironically the first square to be under 24 hours video security.  The Spanish don’t understand why this is funny to foreigners.

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Barcelona Cathedral.

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This was unanimously voted as Barcelona’s ugliest building. It was so ugly the government  decided to make it prettier and put some art on it. Picasso had drawn some stick figures, making fun of another upcoming artist at a cafe across the street, thus they thought it would be a good idea to put his stick drawings on the building in order to make it prettier. It didn’t work.

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Sant Felip Neri Church. At the end of his days Gaudi lived at the Sagrada Familia. He stayed ungroomed, and only left once in a while to attend mass at this church. On his way one day he was hit by a tram (something he helped invent). No one recognized him because he looked homeless so they left him on the side of the road. Eventually he was brought to the poor people’s hospital. A few days later people started to look for him and found him there. They wanted to bring him to a better hospital, but he was all for equality and stayed where he was. Due to his decision to stay at the hospital and the people’s inability to find him sooner, he died.
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 The tour ended at Plaça Reial, a large square with lots of restaurants (and tourists). Still, it was a relaxing place to have a cool drink.

After a short siesta, we took to the museums.  From Picasso to contemporary art we saw it all! And had a nice wander through the beautiful streets of Barcelona.

Barcelona, Day 1

It was good we had a break in Menorca, because our next four days were extremely busy as we toured around Barcelona.

Day one was spent with Antoni Gaudi,  a Spanish Catalan architect best known as a representative of Catalan Modernism.

After a morning at the Sagrada Familia, we moved on to Parc Guell.  This was Gaudi’s main project at the beginning of the 20th century.  Intended as a residential estate in the style of an English garden city, the project was unsuccessful.  Of the 60 plots, only one sold.  Despite this, the park entrances and service areas were built, displaying Gaudi’s architectural genius.

Our final stop was to Casa Milà.  This was one of Gaudi’s major projects and his most admired work. It is better known as La Pedrera and was built between 1906-1910. He designed the two houses around two large curved courtyards with a structure of stone, brick and cast-iron columns steel beams. It has a total of five floors plus a loft (made entirely of arches) and the roof, as well as two large interior courtyards, one circular and one oval. Currently a museum, it’s worth a visit.

On the same street is Casa Batllo, one of Gaudi’s largest and most striking works, constructed between 1904- 1906. He was commissioned to renovate an existing building from 1875, so Gaudi focused mainly on the facade, main floor, patio, roof and built a fifth floor for the staff. He kept the rectangular shape of the balconies – with iron railings in the shape of masks.

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To the left of Casa Batllo is Casa Amatller. Casa Amatller was designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch. It was orginially designed as a residence for a chocolatier and was constructed by 1898 and 1900. Located right beside Casa Mila, these houses make up two of the three most important buildings in Barcelona’s “Block of Discord”.

Finally there’s Casa Lléo Morera. This is the third most important house on the same street. It was designed by Llus Domenech i Monner. It was originally constructed in 1864 but was renoveated in 1902. The first floor is now made up of high-end stores.

And to finish off our day of Gaudi, we ran into his first architectural design: streetlamps depicting Hermes.

 It was definitely a change of pace from our time in Menorca, but with so much to see and do in Barcelona it’s hard to find time to take a break.

Menorca

From Granada we moved to Menorca, one of the Balearic Islands.  There was nothing to do here but lay on beautiful beaches and just relax.  It was completely amazing. It was also our first time staying somewhere that wasn’t a hostel, which was wonderful.

There aren’t too many pictures, because most of my time was spent lazing on a beach doing nothing, but know that I had a fantastic time and that the view was always spectacular.

The island is basically just made of of beaches. As you come across the first beach it’s full of people, so you move on to the next one, and the next one, as each is more beautiful and private.  Its only about a 20 minute walk from beach to beach, and each one is nicer than the last. Half of us stopped around beach number 5, and the rest continued on until they found a beach just for themselves.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen water quite as blue.

Two days of this was just amazing! If only we could all relax this much on a more regular basis.

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The only downer was that Kate was forced to leave us here and return to Ireland.

Granada, Day 2

Day two was all about the views!  We climbed to the top of the city to get sweeping views, checked out a museum at a gypsy community, and generally took it easy that morning.

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From sprawling views, we moved on to a sprawling cathedral (the Cathedral of the Incarnation). I had been to quite a few cathedrals already, but this is one of my favourites. It isn’t overdone with gold (with the exception of the very ornate alter) and the pillars were quite simple in comparison with other cathedrals I’ve seen, which was a welcome change.

This, plus a lengthy siesta, and many tapas, perfectly filled our second and last day in Granada.

Granada, Day 1

Three hours after leaving Seville, our bus arrive in Granada. Upon our arrival at the hostel, we were told that if we wanted to go to Alhambra Palace (which of course we did), we were supposed to have booked our ticket a week in advance.  They sell 6,000 tickets for each day, but fortunately for us they reserve 300 for visitors in the morning. Thus we woke up at 6:00 am and trekked our way up a mountain in order to wait in line for tickets. Though we were tired, cold and hungry, we eventually got our tickets and was allowed in.

Totally worth the wait! The palace was originally Moorish, and after a war between the Moors and the Spanish, they gave it to Spain on the condition that Spain would be religiously tolerant. King Ferdinant II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile agreed, but shortly after disregarded the clause. It took about three hours to see everything.

Since we started the day so early, we hadn’t had a chance to wander through town.  So we just wandered around (and ate lots of tapas, and had a lovely fiesta) for the rest of our day.

One of my friends was moving to Granada for a semester abroad next year, so I wanted to get a good feel for the city for her.

Seville, Day 2

Day two started with a visit to church. Well, the Seville Cathedral to be exact. It’s the largest Gothic cathedral and the third-largest church in the world (following St. Peter’s Bascilica in The Vatican, and St. Paul’s in London). Construction took place between 1402 to 1506, and was built to demonstrate Seville’s wealth. In 1511 the dome collapsed and work had to re-commence. In 1888, it collapsed again due to an earthquake, and work was continued until completion in 1903. Today it serves as the burial site of Christopher Columbus, and includes the famous Giralda bell tower.

35 ramps and 17 steps later, we reached the top of the Giralda tower.

We didn’t have a full second day in Seville, as we had to catch our next bus, but we thoroughly enjoyed the time we had.

 

 

Seville, Day 1

After the 8 hour overnight bus to Spain, I pretty well decided I never wanted to travel by bus again.  Unfortunately there were lots of buses in my future, but trust me when I say I was pleased to finally get off the bus and enjoy this beautiful country.

Our first stop in Spain was Seville, which is the capital of the Andalusia region. As is usual for us, we started by just wandering around the city.

Eventually we made our way to the Alcazar of Seville, currently a royal palace, originally a Morrish fort. The upper levels of the Alcazar are still used by the royal family as the official Sevillle residence today. The palace was very cool to walk through, but I especially enjoyed the gardens, with many types of flowers and trees.

Next stop: Plaza de Espana!  The Plaza de Espana is a beautiful building in Maria Luisa Park. It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, and is a landmark example of the Renaissance Revival style in Spanish architecture. It was one of my favourite views in Seville! It is a big complex, taking up a huge area with buildings and a small body of water. There is a large fountain in the center, and around the building are tiled alcoves representing the different provinces of Spain.

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We then made our way to the Plaza de Toros.  Bullfighting is a big part of Spanish culture, and as such we visited a bull ring. We had a tour given to us, including extreme details of what happens before, during and after the bullfight. The ring itself however, was interesting to see. This is the oldest bullring in Spain, with construction beginning in 1749 and is the site of the most well-known bullfighting festivals in the world.

We slowly made our way back to the hostel, taking in a little more of this gorgeous city.

When we made it back to the hostel, we met with another group of travellers and decided to find an authentic flamenco show.  We ran into some locals who gave us some vague directions.  Surprising no one, we got lost for some time in the city’s back alleys, and ended up somewhere a little more touristy than we wanted.

We stayed for a bit before hitting the streets again, and after getting lost again, we somehow managed to fine the locals’ flamenco spot.  There were a bunch of adjoining rooms crammed with people sitting on floors and standing against walls trying to see the small area that served as the dance floor.  It felt real, and you could tell these dancers and musicians were having the time of their life.