Explore. Dream. Discover. (Mark Twain)

17 March 2010

A weekend in Barcelona

Madrid-Barcelona 8 hour bus ride... we meet again. This time, we were much more prepared and happy with our mode of transportation, and left Madrid at midnight just in time for a morning arrival in Barcelona.

Sora and I were graced with the lovely company of Laura, a fellow SLU student (and from SLU in the States too). (You might recognize her from Los Cotos pictures!) She is so sweet, and we were very lucky she could come with us!

Happy Pills- a deliciously clever candy store concept where the packaging looks like pill bottles and those "pill-a-day" cases.

Our Friday weather was a little less that desirable: a few sprinkles and grey, grey skies. However, we had a plan and kept Friday open for museums and a tiny bit of outside activity.

Laura and I (I am not that short.. she is six foot!!) outside of la Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's masterpiece.

When in Barcelona, la Sagrada Familia is a must-see. It is a bit outside of the center of the city, but can be seen from any of the view points around. I have to admit (and I realize I might offend some people...) I wasn't super impressed. It was definitely crazy and big, but not as CRAZY and BIG as I had expected. I think I had heard too much hype, and it just couldn't live up to my expectations.

It has been under construction since 1882, and definitely has the beams and machines to prove it. It does have very crazy elements such as fruit-topped towers!

That very well may be a Christmas tree?? Not sure...

Still on a Gaudi kick, we headed to Casa Mila. The front of Casa Mila is best described by Rick: "roller coaster of melting-ice-cream eaves".

Casa Mila.

As for museums, we visited the Picasso Museum and the Musuem of Chocolate. The Picasso Musuem was great--we were pleasantly surprised! The rooms were arranged in chronological order, so we could see how his styles progressed throughout his life. They had a very impressive collection of his interpretations of Velazquez's Las Meninas. There was a really cool video that matched Picasso's works against Velazquez's, so the similarities (and differences!!) were clear.

Chocolate Museum! (In Catalan..)

The Chocolate Museum was an excellent mix of business and pleasure-- we were scholarly and going to museums AND we were able to much on the chocolate bar that was our ticket :) There was a bit of chocolate history and tons of chocolate sculptures!

As for the funky language-- Barcelona and other cities in Catalonia speak their own Romanca language: Catalan. It is kinda like a mix of Spanish, French, maybe Italian, and I don't know what else! We could figure out the gist of what things said, but had no idea how to pronounce some words. We were all surprised how different Catalan really is--I had just thought it was a different version of Spanish, but it is a whole other language!

Chocolate Parc Guell lizard.

Our accomodations for the weekend were at Gothic Point Hostel. Although the street was a bit tricky to find, the location was great--walking distance to many sites and right by a Metro for those sites farther away. They had a very nice breakfast and portable snacks to take on-the-go!

Fun interior!

I have never seen rooms quite like the one we had....

We had booked a 14 person mixed gender room, and were expecting bunkbeds to fill every nook and cranny. Instead, the rooms were divided into individual spaces by curtains and walls, and each was equipped with a safe, outlet, and hook. There was even a top level! It was much more spacious and private than I had expected!

Sora, making her hostel a home!

Saturday brought beautiful weather--not a cloud in the sky! We took advantage of this and headed to the great outdoors to explore some of Barcelona's finest parks and views.

View from Parc Guell.

First stop: Parc Guell. This is where I was really impressed with Gaudi! It was originally designed to be a high-income housing community (which we couldn't believe because the trek to reach the park was steeeeep!!), but that didn't work out so now it is a park open for everyone's enjoyment.

There was once an "America's Next Top Model" finale here, so we all did model poses. Laura's looks the most convincing!

I am getting pretty good at taking jumping pictures :)

The lizard (in nonchocolate form)-- it was very hard to get a picture without a million people!

My favorite part was the terrace--a bench wrapped around a great view of Barcelona. The bench was covered with color tile mosaics, and I walked around and took pictures of my favorites :)

Many people were relaxing, enjoying the view, and taking in the great weather!

One section of the colorful, curvy bench.


Early afternoon and Rick Steves led us to a main street of Barcelona: Las Ramblas. Guided by Rick's "Rambla Ramble" walk, we strolled down the busy and entertaining street. The middle was divided into different sections--bird and pet market, flower market, and jewelry market... with loads of street performers peppered throughout!

Colorful birds waiting for a home.

La Boqueria Market entrance.

My favorite stop along the stroll was La Boqueria Market. Laura's sister told her about the cheap fruity treats, and the market delivered for us! Sora and Laura picked up fruit juices/smoothies for 1 E, and I bought a little bowl of fresh fruit for 1 E also.

It was one of the best (if not the best!) food markets I have ever been to! They had so many stalls with everything you could possibly imagine. Everything looked so pretty and very tasty.

Colorful fruit :)

One big fish head--especially compared to the man behind it!

This is the kind of golf I could really get into...

Many chocolate options.

The end of the walk took us to the water! Las Ramblas ends at the harbor, and a new path juts into the water: La Rambla of the Sea. The modern bridge leads to an aquarium and mall! We strolled into the sea, admiring the sailboats and seagulls along the way.

Sailboats in the harbor.

The Chicago Bean-ish entrance to Maremagnum, the mall in the sea. (Laura and I are in the third square from the left).

We continued our day and ventured up to Montjuic, "Mount of the Jews". We were once again greeted by great views from the top.

A great musician by the steps of the Catalan Art Museum.

We walked around the grounds and stumbled upon this great guitarist. We sat on the steps, enjoyed the tunes, and looked out into the Placa d'Espanya.

We also visited the Olympic stadium of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. I have never been to an Olympic grounds before, and it was pretty awe-inspiring! I can't believe all of the greatness that happened right where we were standing!

Inside the Olympic stadium.

The Olympic stadium from the outside.

The Magic Fountain (turned off) and the Placa d'Espanya.

We hightailed it from the Placa d'Espanya to the cathedral to catch a Barcelona specialty dance. The sardana dance represents Catalun unity and a nice opportunity for a little Saturday night fun.

The dance consists of a live band and groups of people joined in a circle. Swaying, hopping, and arm-raising follows--it is pretty neat to watch all of the different groups dancing!

Sardana in action.

We were heading to meet a friend of Sora's for dinner when we ran into another group of SLU girls. We all went to eat at a place on Las Ramblas. It didn't quite go as planned... our bargain dinner deal was only at the bar (which was totally packed) and our pitcher of sangria between the 6 of us rang up at a hefty 30 E!! But the food was good, the company was great, and we were in Barcelona... so I can't complain too much!

Smiling Emily (before we found out how much that sangria set us back...)

For our final adventure in Barcelona before catching the bus, we headed to the beach.


I had been in a bit of a funk lately with sickness-crummy weather-internships, but being at the beach definitely lifted my spirits. I could have stayed there all weekend and would have been happy!

In the (FREEZING) Mediteranean Sea!

We walked, took pictures, and looked at the rocks in the sand. It was a great ending to a great weekend :)

Early morning beach scene.

The water was so clear!

Palm trees lining the beach.

11 March 2010

Weekend Plans: Barcelona

This weekend I am headed to Barcelona via our favorite 8 hour bus ride with Sora and our friend Laura. Cross your fingers for nice weather! (I count anything not raining or snowing as nice!)

07 March 2010

Cave Bar

The cave-like interior

Over the weekend, several of my friends had visiting friends so a group of us decided to visit a popular bar.. the Cave Bar! Many places don´t open until at least midnight, so it was destined to be a late/early event. So many people were out walking around that it seemed like it was early afternoon--not early morning!

The Cave Bar was very cool, and had a unique set-up. The ceiling and walls were made to look like stalactites and had very eerie lighting. Their signature drink has goat´s milk in it, and the milk comes out of the ceiling through a stalactite!!

The music was very interesting... ranging from Lady Gaga to a ¨Grease¨medley... with ¨The YMCA¨ in between. It was a fun night!

Not as realistic looking with flash...

Feliz cumpleanos!

A birthday cake cookie from my wonderful parents... it traveled many miles all in one piece!

My birthday was this past Monday (wait--it is already March?!), and it was a great day! Sora braved weird looks and an aching arm from carrying around a bottle of wine for me all day, and my lovely parents sent me an excellent package from home :)

A birthday cake from Esperanza!

Our apartment also celebrated with a birthday cake from Esperanza--complete with 2-1 candles! She was very proud of it, and couldn´t get over how tasty it was!! She bought it from the pasteleria just for me, and the 4 of us enjoyed a nice hefty slice at lunch.

With Sora and Jessica, the other girl staying with Esperanza.

Esperanza made me a sign... and spelled my name "Lyby" :)

06 March 2010

The journey home...

Coincidentally, our camera memory cards were filled Tuesday morning at the Catacombs. Good thing, because I don't think we wanted to document the following events....

I really could have used this...

Tuesday afternoon: We had to bus from Paris to Beauvais Airport, about an hour away from the city. We arrived a little early for our evening flight, and waited around in the [tiny, out of date] airport until we we re able to check in. Just as we were checking in, we saw that our flight was canceled!! We found another group of bewildered SLU students, and we struggled to figure out our options.

As we waited in line to talk to the airlines, other flights to Spain were filling and our anxiety was growing! Our SLU group started worrying about midterms the next day, worried senoras, and draining bank accounts. Out of the group, Sora was the only one with a working phone. I called SLU and asked if they would call our senoras and say we were stuck in Paris.

Our SLU group quickly split, and one side headed back to Paris to catch the train from Paris to Madrid in the morning. The train cost was over 100 euros, and over 13 hours long, so Sora, myself, and two other girls decided to wait around and see what our other options were.

Soon we had a plan:

  • A flight from Paris to Girona (outside of Barcelona), arriving in Spain at 1:30 AM

  • A "sleepover" at the Girona airport

  • A bus from Girona to Barcelona

  • The infamous 8 hour bus ride from Barcelona to Madrid

We arrived in Madrid on Wednesday evening: about 24 hours and many euros later than expected. Sora and I battled queasy stomachs throughout the journey, and our bodies finally collapsed when we were at home. We both ended up missing the rest of the week (and midterms) and had to reschedule and catch up the following week.

It was a whirlwind ending for our Paris trip--definitely one for the record books!

5 Days in Paris

Arc de Triomphe on our first night in Paris.

For our first longer-than-a-weekend break, Sora and I headed north to the lovely city of Paris. We were greeted at the Beauvais airport by Sora's friend Noah Schlueter, a Butler alum and American au pair in France. He had been traveling around France during a holiday, and kindly took a little detour to Paris to meet us.

Arc de Triomphe on our first morning... note the blue sky!

Having Noah around was great! Not only had he been to Paris a couple of times before, but he spoke French and knew French things. He explained French history, pointed out the best pastries, chose the best cheese... the list goes on! Noah has been in France for almost a year, and had great au pair and travel stories to share. It was the first time I had met him, but we quickly bonded over our mutual loves for Sora and the Sartorialist. Bottomline: a definite top notch guy! Like any good American overseas, Noah keeps a very entertaining blog which I have added to my side list (Must sees: his Youtube channel for clips of his boys and his French "crib").

Noah, fitting in with the fashion elite.

We started our day with a leisurely stroll to Rue Cler, a traditional Parisian street that happens to be Rick Steve's favorite. Any favorite of Rick's is a must-see in my opinion, so we played Parisians for a while and picked out cheese, wine, and a fresh baguette for a picnic lunch.

It wouldn't be a trip to France without French cheese from a street market!

We picnicked on the Eiffel Tower lawn and enjoyed watching Parisian children and rejecting wandering African sellers. (If we didn't want 3 keychains for one euro, we aren't going to want 5...)

Sora, the Eiffel Tower, and I.

I will forever treasure my pictures of the Eiffel Tower with blue sky! We definitely lucked out on the weather. We were expecting rain everyday, and it only rained as we were driving to the airport on the way back.

"Asians" in Paris!

Way bigger up close than expected!

Strolling the streets.

After our delicious lunch, we hit to the streets again and just took in the sights around us. We stopped for crepes with Nutella, browsing at the book stalls, and many photo ops.

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Booksellers along the banks of the Siene.

Musee du Louvre... the famous pyramid!

Later, we ventured to the Louvre. The estate is absolutely massive, and even with good intentions, one would only be able to make a slight dent in seeing everything! We picked the evening because we thought it would be free admission, but lucky for us, it was free all of the time! Being a student living in the European Union who is under 26 gets many free admissions to the major sites. Pompidou, Orsay, Versailles--all free!

Inside the pyramid with the rest of the bargain hunters.

The hysteria surrounding the [tiny] Mona Lisa.

The Louvre, lit up.

When in Paris, dine! For dinner, we dined at a delicious little bar/restaurant. Delicious food, fun company, great conversation--I couldn't have asked for more!

Sora's French cuisine: "steak tartare":
raw hamburger served with spices and topped with a raw egg.

Noah's French cuisine: "confit de canard": duck!

The next day brought us to the Pompidou Center, a unique musuem of modern art. The long tube on the outside of the building is the escalator, and all of the pipes are on the outside of the building. We browsed a feminist art gallery and were pleasantly puzzled with the "creative" artist interpretations and subject matter (the museum bookstore was great!!).

Inside-out facade of the Pompidou Center.


Next up: Monmartre. This is one of Noah's favorite spots in Paris and he was eager to spend more time here. Rick had a Monmartre walk, and we quickly fell off our scheduled timeline in favor of "people watching" and exploring.

Sacre-Coeur Basilica in Monmartre.

The street performers drew big crowds on the steps of the Sacre-Coeur. There was a "freestyle footballer" who Noah had recognized from a previous trip to Paris! We also were entertained by a group of dancers? comedians? who were not afraid to pull up their pants and shake it for a few Euro.

Working the crowd in Monmartre.

One of the many talented artists in Place du Tertre.

One of my favorite parts in Monmartre was Place du Tertre. It is the town square, and filled with artists who have set up easels and showcase previous works. Rick noted that each stall has been passed down through generations, and art is the family business. Some artists did carnival-ish caricatures, but others were very very good!

I could live on crepes for the rest of my life... dead serious.

Cafe des Duex Moulins, of "Amelie" fame.

Also on the walk was a stop at Cafe des Deux Moulins, a cafe made famous by the French film "Amelie". We stopped and had a cafe, and daydreamed about being chic and Parisian. ("Cafe des Deuz Moulins" = Cafe of Two Windmills)

Moulin Rouge was another stop, and the gateway of a particularly seedy side of Paris! We blushed at the many sex shops and shows that lined the street... very risque!

Sora and I at Moulin Rouge ("Red Windmill")

On Saturday evening, we bid Noah a sad farewell and were on our own again. We headed to Versailles on Sunday, giddy with yet another free entry!

The gate of Versailles (and Kappa friendly!)

The Chateau de Versailles is incredible and absolutely massive. For the whole effect, you must visit the main palace, the gardens, and small palaces dotting the gardens. The inside is definitely fit for French royalty, and Sora and I were taking notes on its interior design for our future abodes. I loved the Hall of Mirrors, which was chandelier after chandelier, lined with mirrors, and overlooking the gardens.


The Hall of Mirrors.

The (sadly bare) endless gardens of Versailles.

Our visit in February did not provide us with any flowers to admire, but the sheer size of the gardens is enough to impress. The map says it takes one hour to walk from the Palace to the end of the main stretch--and that is without covering the perimeter area or the little mazes inbetween!

Pretending to be a village girl at Marie Antoinette's peasant village.

One of our favorite parts was exploring the Hamlet in the Domaine of Marie-Antoinette. She created the village because she adored the simplicity and quaintness of peasant life. There were about 12 buildings, thatched roofs and all, and farm animals.

Adorable recreated peasant village.

Of course, Marie-Antoinette's peasant village WOULD have a beautiful peacock.

We made it back to the city in time to go to Musee d'Orsay. I really enjoyed the museum! The Impressionism wing was really cool and more of my style. Seeing the Van Goghs and Monets in real life was very neat.

Musee d'Orsay: train station turned world-class museum.

A self portrait by Van Gogh

Monday began with a Rick Steves walk down the Champs Elysees. Memorable stops included Fouquet's Cafe and Restaurant and Laduree Tea Salon. Rick said Fouquet's is a popular spot with French celebrities. We couldn't get over the 1000 Euro bottle of wine on the menu!

Walking the red carpet at Fouquet's Cafe and Restaurant.

Laduree has been on my Paris list since I first heard about it. Rick called the macaroons "out of this world" and he was not lying! I couldn't decide which flavors to choose, so Sora suggested I have one of the shopgirls pick her favorites. That was an excellent idea, and I was given 6 delicious flavors :)

It is not really a macaroon if it isn't from Laduree.

Little pieces of heaven--worth every Euro!

The prices were a little steep, so my few macaroons came in a little paper bag instead of the chic boxes I longed for. Don't worry, my "Laduree macaroons in a box" fund is being started as we speak to be ready for my next trip to Paris!

The eptiome of Paris fashion: Chanel.

We spent the afternoon windowing shopping and, once again, wishing we were Parisian (and rich). The two major department stores, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, were awe-inspiring and majorly out of our league!

The gorgeous domed ceiling of department store, Galeries Lafayette.

A Parisian sky.

On one of the many bridges across the Siene, with "the island" in the background.

We crossed the river and followed a walk around the Left Bank. One of the favorite stops was Roger-Viollet, a photo library of French photographer Henri Roger. The little shop was filled with black and white photos and albums of more Parisian scenes.

A fascinating photo library during Rick Steve's Left Bank walk.

For our last night in Paris, we headed to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The scene was absolutely breathtaking! We stayed up there for a long time, and took picture after picture to capture the moment. We actually ran into another group of SLU girls while at the top! Small world!

A view from the top!


I now know why the whole "City of Lights" thing came about..

Sora and I on the top--our last night in Paris.

A top-of-the-hour sparkle.... So. Beautiful.

Our last attraction in Paris was a trip to the Catacombs. Everyone says it is creepy and incredible, but you must see the millions of bones for yourself to believe it! The Catacombs are a series of undergound tunnels that are lined with the bones of six million Parisians. The majority of the bones were transferred from city cemeteries, and have plaques marking what church they were from. It was very, very spooky!

Catacomb bones.

With that, we headed back to the airport. Our trip to Paris had ended, but our adventure getting back to Madrid had just begun. Stay tuned...