18. August 2017 · Comments Off on Barcelona – A City in Tears · Categories: Blog Post, History & Culture

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than the opposite.” – Nelson Mandela (recently tweeted by Former US President Barack Obama in regards to Charlottesville attack; I think it also applies here).

 

In response to the recent ISIS attack in Barcelona I felt compelled to write about my recent time there, only a couple months before this awful tragedy befell this beautiful city. I want to start by sending my love, thoughts and prayers to the families of those that were lost and speedy recoveries to those that were injured during this senseless act of violence. I visited Barcelona back in May. Prior to visiting my boyfriend and I did a lot of research on the area after being told by many to watch out for pickpockets and that it can be dangerous. We were prepared. We had hidden wallets and were constantly vigilant, though why I do not know. There was not a single time I ever felt unsafe or unwelcome in that city.

Barcelona is a city teaming with life. Every corner you turn offers you something different, whether it’s the beautiful sandy beach at the end of Las Ramblas, La Boqueria, the Gothic Quarter (Barre Gothic), or any of Gaudi’s beautiful works of architecture, Barcelona has something for everyone. In this post I am going to focus on areas around and including Las Ramblas in memorium of the recent events, but expect more posts to come with regards to this wonderful city.

Our hotel could not have been in a better location. We stayed at Hotel Murmuri on Rambla de Catalunya, which joined to Las Ramblas via the Placa de Catalunya. It was far enough away from things that it was quieter and a very safe street but close enough to the hustle and bustle. The staff could not have been more accommodating and gave us great tips on locals hotspots as well as which tours were worth it and which were a complete waste of time. Every day we would come back to the hotel around mid to late afternoon with a fresh baguette from Maxi Pan, a little bakery off Ramblas de Catalunya, some jamon from La Boqueria, and a bottle of Rioja wine and they would promptly supply us with dishware and open our wine for us with a smile. The room was also fantastic, I just cannot say enough about this place. Is it good if your on a budget? Probably not, but quite honestly it was the best home base we could have asked for and will most likely stay with them next time.

Las Ramblas is always alive with people, tourists, police, locals, and street hustlers. There was a running joke between my boyfriend and I because you would walk down Las Ramblas and the street hustlers would constantly stick a selfie stick in your face and say “Selfie?” At first it was hilarious but after a while in my mind I was screaming “No! I don’t want your damn selfie stick!” But we would look at each other when ever we saw them and say “Selfie?” I just couldn’t stop myself from saying it, every time. The overwhelming crowd at times made me feel like a herd of cattle but the street is lined with restaurants (which I was told to stay away from because it does not represent local cuisine that well and is overpriced). However, La Boqueria is worth visiting more than once. This is a huge market filled with a plethora of foods from seafood, to cured meats and cheeses, to fruit stands, nuts and candy, and small restaurants to stop at for a tapas or two. This place is an absolute zoo but its a fun zoo. I loved their fresh fruit juices and we always went there to buy cheese and cured meat (called Jamon – which when I say that word in my head it kind of sounds like Micheal Jackson…go figure). The image below is a 4 year cured pig leg and my mouth still waters every time I think about how good that tasted.

But Las Ramblas also leads to other wonderful places like the beach, which if you have never been to a European beach be prepared for nudity. I was not. I was shocked into silence as older couples walked hand in hand down the beach in their birthday suits. But all nudity aside there is a great walkway along the beach where people can bike, skateboard, or just go for a nice walk. There are a few places to grab a bite to eat and a drink but again it was all way over priced so I don’t recommend it.

Just off Las Ramblas on a little side street we discovered a new craft beer bar with great beers on tap, though again, a little pricey. I talk about these high prices because we found a tonne of great places to eat where beer was around 2 Euros and a meal for two would be half the cost of a meal in the high tourist areas. I will talk about those on a later post.

As the sun goes down it is not recommended to wander Las Ramblas as that is when things become a little more risky. Though still, there are a tonne of cops around and again I never felt unsafe once in that city. My recommendations are walk the city, feel the culture that emanates from this place and do as the Catalans do and you wont regret it.

My heart goes out to Barcelona during this trying time. Please let me know your experiences on Las Ramblas and what you love most about this city. Travel safe my friends.

11. August 2017 · Comments Off on Florence, the art mecca · Categories: Blog Post, History & Culture

“Discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

Florence is one of those cities I just couldn’t help but love. If you love art, like I do, you will love Florence. It has all the things you could want in an art mecca, the Statue of David, the Duomo, and the Uffizzi Gallery. I confess that part of the reason I loved this city so much is because the Uffizzi Gallery holds some of Botticelli’s best and most famous works. And I am a huge fan of Botticelli.  I cannot put into words the feeling I had when I entered the room dedicated to Botticelli’s work. As I walked around the room in complete awe at the shear size of his paintings a nice Australian couple offered me their audio headset so that I could listen to the background on each of his paintings. They waited patiently as I became absorbed in Botticelli’s world. My all-time favorite painting? The Birth of Venus, how could there be any other?

This painting made my heart skip a beat and I just could not get over the shear size of this painting. I was expecting your typical art gallery sized painting, but no, this painting is 5’8″ x 9’2″!!!!! It took up an entire wall! I just couldn’t fathom someone taking the time to create such an immense piece of work, and creating it in 1484-1486 no less. It still blows me away when I think about it. The Uffizzi Gallery is worth the price of admission, just for that room alone, but there are many incredible works in the Gallery. There are also some incredible sculptures outside the gallery in a small square, which are fun to wander around while you take in the city.

We spent the night in Florence, at a small hotel that could probably pass as a hostel, where we discovered that you need to provide hotels with your passport whenever you check in and they hold onto it until you leave. We left our passports at our hotel in Grado for safety reasons but it resulted in a serious headache. We ended up having to go to the police station for what reason I now cannot recall. While waiting an American couple told us how they were robbed while eating at McDonald’s (yeah, I know, who eat’s at McDonald’s when you are in a country like Italy? I thought it was absurd too). The lady had put her wallet on the table next to her and someone came up with a sign begging for some change and in that time placed the sign over her wallet and took off with it. Lesson learned: watch your stuff!!! This beautiful city is not without it’s pick pockets. Irregardless we got the whole passport situation figured out and stayed at this super cheap hotel.

We then took off to explore the city. The Duomo became an instant favorite. It is an immaculate building inside and out and you can climb several hundred stairs and get a view of the city from the top. Though you have to pay extra to climb those several hundred stairs for that view. It was the perfect perspective of Florence. Walking around this city was a first taste of what getting comfortable in one spot felt like. We casually wandered the city (all on foot of course), stopping a various restaurants, gelaterias and museums and art galleries as we saw fit. There was a sense of relaxation as there was no rush to make a train or a bus back to your hotel, you could wander all night if you saw fit. This is how I like to experience places. I no longer want to travel to places and only spend one or two days there. In order to really gain a feel for a place and to really experience the culture you need to spend the time.

My biggest must sees in Florence (and yes I realize they are touristy things but I always have a plan of my must sees of a place irregardless of what others think of them) included the Statue of David, all 17 feet of him, the Uffizzi Gallery (though it is closed on Sundays so try to get there on another day) and the Duomo. I would probably have a more complete list and some local hideaways worth exploring but as I said at the start of this Wandering through Italy series this was my first time in Europe and I was not travel savvy at the time. I now wish I had of spent more time exploring, been more adventurous and more open with my food choices at the time. Irregardless, this was an unforgettable experience and I still smile when I think back on our time in Florence.

09. August 2017 · Comments Off on Travel With Friends · Categories: Blog Post, Travel with Friends

“A journey is best measured in friends, not miles.” – Tim Cahill

Here I will bring you travel experiences from others who have gone on their own amazing journeys and hope to inspire you to do the same!

04. August 2017 · Comments Off on Venice “The Sinking City” · Categories: Blog Post, History & Culture

“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” – Truman Capote

I spent only one day in Venice but the city grabs you as soon as you enter her walls. My travels in Italy felt like I was just sampling what it had to offer, one day in Venice, two days in Florence and one whirlwind day in Rome. Venice has a very distinct feel, it is an exquisite melancholy feeling that wraps its arms around you and beckons you to explore. It felt like I stepped into some surreal world filled with strange creatures and happenings, like the show Penny Dreadful. I know that’s an odd thing to say but it just felt like there was a mystical undertone to the city. When you first arrive you cross a bridge over the Grand Canal with some of the most spectacular views of the city but once you cross that bridge it’s like entering another world. You can feel the city all around you, closing in with its zig zagging streets that you can get lost in for hours.

Venice has so many charms and I was drawn in immediately. The first thing you notice when you arrive is the Grand Canal and the gondolas. The gondolas really were truly beautiful but 100 Euros for a short ride and a total tourist trap. Take a picture of them and maybe stop to watch them float by for a moment and then move on. If you want something different out of your experience walk the city, slip into the shops, by the local food, and drink the local wine, don’t get sucked into what you perceive Venice to be because you will miss out on the real experience. Those crazy winding streets are like a maze that you may never find your way out of. But within those close quarters are spectacular shops, churches and history. Though, once again, I was a naïve traveler and I think back now and wish I had spent more time there, exploring, spending more time in those hidden shops and delectable restaurants. I don’t know that I was able to take in all that Venice had to offer. But my goal was to at least experience her once just in case she decides to slip into the sea one day, never to be seen again.

After much winding and losing our way we came upon the Piazza San Marco, a wonderful open space, full of pigeons that you can feed (also known as my personal hell, having a significant fear of being pooped on. And the Italian people consider that good luck!?), surrounded by shops and restaurants with San Marco’s Basilica as its centerpiece. I highly recommend going inside. The lines are long, the wait was hot, but it was worth it. The Piazza is on the water (of course, this is Venice, what else would it be on) so there is often a nice breeze coming from the water. Just remember if you plan to visit the Basilica they do not allow bare arms, so cover up.

The Basilica de San Marco was an impressive church but I have to say if I were to recommend visiting one church in Venice it would be the Basilica Maria Gloriousa. This was the most interesting and one of the most unique churches I have ever seen and I have seen a lot of churches. Not because I am extremely religious but because churches tend to give you a strong sense of the history of a place, especially in Italy. The art and sculptures on display are some of the best Venice has to offer. The one monument that stopped me in my tracks was the monument to the Doge Giovanni Pesaro, with its incredible figures this is a must see for anyone going to Venice. The monument shows two bronze figures representing death and four slaves holding up the monument. The slaves really make the monument unforgettable, there is almost a feeling of defiance emanating off these four men (which I am to understand was on purpose). This church was built in the 1300’s and like I said one of the most memorable places in Venice.

Once again we kind of screwed up with the whole food thing. We waited until we were famished before eating lunch and at that time it was probably 2 in the afternoon, poor choice on our part. For anyone travelling to Italy, these wonderful people participate in siesta, which means if you want to eat in the afternoon you can forget about it. We meandered our way back to the Grand Canal area until we finally found an open restaurant and got, you guessed it, pizza….again. I know, I know, Italy is known for its pizza so what’s the problem? Naples is where you should eat pizza, otherwise you really aren’t getting anything all that special but that’s just my opinion.

One thing I wish I had of done while in Venice and still regret to this day is buying a mask. I know it’s cliché but I stepped into a store and saw the most beautiful all white mask, it was 20 Euros and I walked away. If you are in a city and you want a quintessential keep sake, just do it. If you are in Murano and want to buy some of their glassblowing products, just do it.

I hope to go back to this city one day but with my wandering style I struggle to visit the same place twice, there is just so much I want to see. Have you been to Venice? What feelings did this city invoke in you? Let me know what you think.  Do you like to go back to them same places or do you have a need to see as much as possible in your lifetime not thinking twice about going back to the same place?