Espana es muy buen! I have never walked so much, traveled so much or seen so much in my entire life in such a short period of time. We managed to see Barcelona, Madrid and Cadiz in 4 days! So heres my VERY long story:
Day 1 de Espana
We had a 2:55 flight out of Jerez de la Frontera, a small city 45 minutes by taxi from the ship. We were originally nervous about the timing because while we were supposed to dock at 8 am, they can never promise how long it will be until we deboard. We really wanted to take public transportation because of how expensive the taxis are and the Euro is. However, we werent exactly sure how far the train station would be from where we docked. We heard everything from a two minute walk to a 30 minute walk. The day before we left we had even gone to the IT guy to help us print a schedule of the train times, which was every half hour. We ended up being called last (they do it by seas-which are basically halls), but still deboarded at 9. It turned out that the train station was about a 20 minute walk. Which wasnt bad at all, although we had all of our stuff (we each managed to pack only a regular jansport plus a camera whereas most people had these huge backpacking bags). The ticket to Jerez was only 3.85 plus another Euro for a connecting bus. The train took 45 minutes and the bus only 30 minutes (with a half hour break in between to wait for the bus). After the train we had to stop at a bus station while we waited for our transfer. Brittany stared at the orange trees while I put the telephoto lens on my Nikon and snapped away at unsuspecting Spaniards. The bus was comfortable and we were basically the only ones on it. When we finally arrived at the airport it was around 12:45 which gave us plenty of time before our 2:55 flight.
Jerez has a very small airport, bigger than the Gainesville one, but still very tiny. Half of our flight was SASers so we had plenty of people to talk to for our two hour wait. We also headed into the Duty-Free store to buy Irena(my friend who we stayed with) a bottle of Vino (the wine here is cheaper then the water). The plane ride was only about an hour and a half. We sat next to these two boys who ended up staying with their friends in the same apartment complex as Irena-it is such a small world! We chatted the flight away before landing in Barcelona. That airport was huge! Brittany bought a cute Tous bracelet while I looked aimlessly at the shops. Again, we decided against a taxi in order to save some money and took the train then the metro for a true adventure. We bought what is called a T10 pass which means that you get 10 rides for 7.70 (we ended up getting 2 for the whole trip), much better than a 40 taxi into the city. We sat across from this man who had really frizzy curly hair and holes in his shirt. While I was convinced he was homeless, Brittany decided to talk to him. It turns out he was totally not homeless, instead he was returning from backpacking through Mexico and Arizona and actually lived in New York for some time. Crazy! He convinced us that we were not going to get mugged. (The night before we got to Spain SAS gave us this whole spheal which basically could be summed up to: You will get robbed, you may get molested, be careful; thankfully none of that happened) From the train he helped us get to the metro where we took two transfers to get to Irenas. Tired, yet excited we finally managed to find Irenas apartment while the sun started to set. We were all so excited to see each other and quickly dropped our bags and began catching up. Her apartment is nice and she along with 4 other roommates shares a main area, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and a small balcony. The walls are paper thin so you can hear absolutely everything in the building, including our friends from the airplane upstairs. After a little bit we decided to explore her neighborhood, which is also very nice. We headed to a grocery store to pick up snacks and upon Irenas recommendation we bought a bottle of 3 wine. While I am not a drinker at all, I have to admit that it was delicious, mom you would have loved it! I have no idea what it was called and Im sure it had like no alcohol in it, but still very yummy. We headed back to Irenas for a little to put down our groceries and relax. We met he roommate, Mikal, and some of her neighbors, Jason, Willie and Eric. Irena told us that the Spanish food in Barcelona was not very good so we ended up at this really cool thai restaurant. I had pad thai which was delicious, well see how it compares to Thailand. After that we headed back to Irenas to chat more and get ready to go out. The bars and clubs dont open till 1 am and people dont really go out until 2-3. Somehow I managed to stay up before we headed out Otto Zues (Irena, us and her neighbors), which is the number 3 club according to What to do in Barcelona. There was no cover charge which was nice and the club itself was gorgeous. It felt a little like a Bat-Mitzvah since all of the music was in English and from 8th grade. LOL. There were a ton of SASers there which was fun, but it didnt feel very Spain. We left after only a little over an hour which was fine by me since I was exhausted. Despite the fact that we had flown and traveled all day we did not go to sleep right away, rather stayed up and laughed some more. Brittany and I slept on two couches in the main room and while I slept like a baby until 10 am (6 hours of sleep), Brittany had trouble and ended up not really sleeping because our friends from the plane were quite loud.
Day 2 de Espana
We quickly showered and got ready for our first real day in Spain! Irena, Willie, Brittany and I headed out for breakfast, then touring. We had an authentic Spanish breakfast, café con leche y tostadas (Ari-if youre reading this and my spelling is off-dont judge me ☺) for 1.90. Its their verision of a breakfast special. It was SO good, the coffee here is amazing. From the café we walked a little while to the Sagrada Familia. It was absolutely amazing. It is actually still not finished, even after all these years. It is so huge, detailed and pretty much just fabulous. Near the Sagrada Familia was this gorgeous hospital, also designed by Gaudi. We took a million pictures before heading to one of our only taxi rides. Since there were four of us it wasnt very expensive. We headed to the Parc Guell. This was my favorite site of the whole trip. It is otherwise known as the Gaudi Park and had all of these intricate mosaics and beautifully designed architecture. It is truly indescribable. It also houses the worlds longest bench (fun fact, lol). From the top of the hill you can see almost all of Barcelona, which seated from the bench is quite amazing. The architecture is very cave like is some places which gives it a very natural feel. The park also had very cool street vendors. I managed to bargain down a pretty Picasso scarf to 5. Brittany had this cool three layer hand painted (by the man as you watch) glass picture of the Sagrada Familia made for only 3. I took some amazing pictures of the mans intricate work as he painted. On our way out we actually bumped into Courtney Levine from home which goes to show it is such a small world! We snapped some commemorative pictures and were on our way. From there we headed to the metro where we said a temporary good-bye to Irena who had to take a different train to her classes. Willie thus became our temporary tour guide and he was amazing! He knew so much about everything and most importantly, how to get there.
Spanish metros are clean, but are pretty intense. It is where most of the pick pocketing occurs. Before we docked in Spain Brittany and I bought locks for our backpacks and camera cases. Luckily none of our stuff got stolen as were viligent, but some other SASers have been telling us some yucky stories. Luckily we were with Willie (and at other times Irena) who led us to each transfer because Barcelona stations are all huge and have multiple transfers in each.
We got off at that Gaudi building with the REALLY cool balconies (dad-I think you have a shirt with it on it). I cannot remember the name for the life of me, but I promise to look it up later, which is funny because it is the one icon that I always think of when I think of Barcelona. Just another few steps brought us to another gorgeous Gaudi creation, another apartment building with a mosaic feel and a crazy roof. It was another favorite stop of mine as it looked like a house out of a fairy tale. In between the apartments was this tiny hole in the wall shop that we decided to stop in. It had really cool hand made jewelry and I bought my only real (substantial-not a postcard) souviner, a Gaudi inspired ring. It has a bunch of circles with colorful swirls inside. At 30% off (due to Rebajas-sort of like their after-thanksgiving sale, only its a month! And my wonderful bargaining skills (it was only supposed to be 20% off) it came to only 30. Since its handmade and real silver I decided to go for it.
Exhausted, we trailed on, knowing that we only really had this day to sight see. Willie was also great because he loved my camera and thus was happy to take a ton of pictures with the two of us (Brittany and Me) in them. He also egged us on when we complained of the walking and was happy to looked aimlessly as we shopped(more window shopped for me). As we got more tired we became a comedy show of sorts.
From that street we took the metro to Muntanya de Montjuic, which is a mountain that overlooks the city. It was a cloudy day but we could still see well as we took at 6 cable car up its side. The views were breath taking. We could see far and wide and enjoyed every second of it. At the top of the mountain there is a fort, which even has an old style mot that is now a garden. We took pictures with the cannons and looked around the museum. I am taking Military Force so seeing the Castell de Mont Juic and Museu Military were musts. Since we are constantly trying to conserve as much money as is possible we decided to walk down the mountain instead of shelling out another 6. On our way down we saw this adorable little boy(maybe 4 years old) pushing this enormous stroller down the street. It looked like he was alone so we started chatting in Spanish (my rudimentary Spanish is coming back) and while I shot a few pictures of him his parents returned and we kept walking, pretending it had never happened. Lets just say the walk, albeit gorgeous, added quite a level of exhaustion to the day.
From the Muntanya de Montjuic we walked all the way to the Museu Olimpic I de lEsport, which is the Olymic Stadium from the 92 games. Inside we saw(and of course took pictures) of the field and then sat down for a snack. I had café con leche, mi favorita! From there we headed to Museu Nacional Dart de Catalunya Palau Nacional. It is this absolutely fanatastic and huge old building (looks like a cathedral) where we saw the Jardins (gardens) and took more pictures. From there we walked (tired!) down the Av de la Reina Maria Cristina and to the metro. The metro took us to Las Rambles a massive paved mostly pedestrian street in the heart of Barcelona. This is another likely spot for pick pocketing so we kept our hands on our zippers and I kept my camera in its bag, while we used Brittanys compact point and shot to document this adventure. The street was lined with shops (it also sort of reminded me of Ben Guirien in Israel) and vendors. There were also fantastical individuals in costumes who were looking for tourist to pay them for a picture. The oddest thing were these vendors who sold small animals from roosters to mice to bunnies and turtles. Brittany kept eyeing them, but alas no pets for us on the ship. We headed in and out of shops and eventually Brittany fell in love with and purchased a pretty leather jacket. Willie then took us to La Boquiera, a food market in the heart of Las Ramblas. He cautioned us against buying anything since it had been out so long (the sun was setting), but the smells and sights brought my attention to the fruit juice, which at 1 seemed like a good deal. However, I took his advice and stayed clear of it. From there we headed back up (and I mean uphill) Las Ramblas toward El Corte de Ingles to meet Irena. We could barely move as we headed up to the top of the nine story department store (which reminded me of Harrods in London). The plan was to eat at the top but when Irena got there we all figured out that we didnt like the menu so we left. I was totally exhausted at this point, but was constantly reminding myself that I was traveling the world with every step I took. We ended up going to this restaurant named Istanbul which had gyros. Even though I never like that kind of meat I managed to scarf mine down. It was SO yummy! From there we headed back to Irenas for a siesta. I didnt manage to fall asleep but I did recharge for a little bit.
I skyped with my parents and caught up on my bank account and email as well as updating my facebook. VERY exciting since we are internet deprived. I was very into the idea of going out earlier than 2 because we had a 9:30 flight to Madrid the next day. 2 hours later we were out to Chipitos. This very fun shot bar. Again, I am so not a drinker, but these were sugarery shots with fun names and activities that went along with them. I only did 2, one of which was called a Boy Scout where you roast a marshmallow literally on the bar after they light it on fire. Then you stick the marshmallow in the shot and drink it. Very cool. We met up with another friend there from UF, Katie Packer, which was also really fun. From there we headed out to Pippermint a fun, low key bar near Chipitos. The low was getting beer spilled on my new boots from home, but it all buffed out so it wasnt that big of a deal. We got home at 3 and talked to 4 when I decided I need to nap. Brittany headed up with Irena and the neighbors to their apartment and I tried to take a quick nap before our flight, but to no avail. I ended up heading upstairs at like 5. We talked and laughed at how exhausted we were. At 6 we went back downstairs and packed. Her friend, Jason, also had to get to the airport so we went with him around 6:30. By the time we got off all our transfers to the airport we basically couldnt walk with exhaustion. Somehow we managed to make it to our gate. Interestingly, Spaniards line up for their gate WAY early and will stand there, in a very very long line until they start letting people on. Very weird, there are assigned seats. Again, somehow we managed to make it to our plane.
We fell asleep before the plane took off and were very surprised when we landed, an hour later then we thought were supposed to. We asked the guy next to us what happened and he said we had been delayed an hour on the tarmac. Who knew?
Thankfully the two hour nap managed to wake us up because we had only 6 hours for Madrid. Again, we took public transport (the Madrid system is much easier with less transfers per station). We each got one day tourist tickets for 5.50. We had all our stuff with us, which was our only downfall. We took it to Museo Del Prado where we met my friend, Adrianna Lopez. We had perfect timing and managed to walk up at exactly the same time. We checked our backpacks with the coat check but she wouldnt take my camera case so I had to carry it through the museum. Brittany took pity on me and carried it for part of the time. The museum was amazing (although not as good as the Hermitage in Russia). We saw Las Meninas, The Garden of Earthly Delights, The Third of May, Saturno, and many other gems from Bosch, Goya and more. We had lunch at the museum where I ate my second authentic meal Tortilla de Patatas, so yummy! After a few hours at the museum we headed over to Parque de Madrid. Another long, but beautiful walk down the gorgeous old streets of Madrid. I will never forget that architecture.
The park was gorgeous, we sat on a bench by a lake and just talked. It was so gorgeous as we watched the street vendors and even the saw canoes and rowers on the lake. It was perfect. The weather was totally stunning. From there we headed to a tapas bar for croquettas. It was completely authentic as we were the only Americans there. While I loved Barcelona and all the Gaudi, Madrid seemed much more Spanish and authentic. We spent a lot of time just recharging at the tapas place before heading to the metro to say good bye to Adrianna and Madrid. We had only a afternoon there due to the schedule change with SAS, however despite the short amount of time we spent there and the exhaustion it was SO worth it. We took the metro to what we thought was the airport, but it turns out that T1-T3 was at that stop and T4 (where Iberia is) was a different stop. Our one day passes would not work because it thought we were trying to cheat the system so we had to explain to the women what had happened. Eventually, she understood us and we managed to get to T4. The airport was funky and very contemporary. It had an open space with clear floors and ramps. I have NEVER seen anything like it. The top ceiling was this wavy vaulted design with yellow trimming. It is impossible to explain. By this time we were back to exhaustion mode and were nodding in and out. We ended up chatting with this Egyptian man who was there for a tourism fair. It kept us entertained until they finally assigned us a gate (apparently in Madrid they only assign gates an hour before the flight). As Spainards lined up way too early, Brittany and I caught up on our adventures by looking through our pictures on my camera and reminiscing at what an AMAZING time we had. I am so thankful for this trip and to think that this is only the first of many. Brittany slept right through while I silently freaked out about the turbulence.
We arrived at Jerez too late to take public transportation, so we took our first real taxi home. 30 later, we were back at the ship missing our adventure but yearning for our beds. It was almost 12 so we decided to set our alarms for 12 in the afternoon the next day, which gave us 5 hours in Cadiz and a chance to catch up after not sleeping for so long.
With low expectations for Cadiz, we woke up and got ready to walk around. With no goal in mind we headed out. Little did we know what a treat we were in for. The city is old but has such a young spirit. Besides the fact that we were constantly bumping into SASers, the city felt very Spanish, despite the fact that the area right next to the port resembles Miami (due mostly to water and palm trees). We spent the afternoon wandering at a very slow pace, something we had not done much of on our travels. Finally we sat down for tapas and enjoyed some paella in this amazing plaza next to a huge cathedral. I was seriously paradise. The sun was out (we had heard from others that it had been cloudy and raining for the past few days. We chatted with other SASers at the table next to us and just enjoyed being in Spain. We tried to stop at a supermarket to get snacks for the ship, but it was siesta time so it was closed. We headed back through the winding stone paved roads to the ship.
Spain was amazing. From seeing my home friends to seeing Gaudi. I am so impressed with the country and with my body for putting up with me (lol). I want to conclude this incredibly long post with answers to my questions:
Will we make it to our flight on time? Yes, with much time to spare!
How much of a language issue will there be, although I do have a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish (go Miami!)? Not really, Madrid was the only real language issue, especially the coat check women, but we made it.
Will we make it to Irenas without trouble? Yes, very easy!
How AMAZING will seeing Gaudis works be? It will blow your mind!
How easy will it be to stay on budget? Not too bad. I spent a little more money then I thought I would just due to Euro and how far we went, but nothing bad at all.
How awesome will the sight seeing and picture taking be? AMAZING.
Amazing. Amazing. Amazing.
PS. Tonight I have spent the night catching up with friends on their travels and writing this. It is supposed to get rocky, so I took motion sickness pills. They even told us to move anything that could get damaged if it fell off our counters. Tomorrow is Morocco Day, so Im excited!
Saturday, January 31, 2009