Monday, February 28, 2011

Beautiful Barcelona

It's Monday night and I have just returned from the most amazing weekend. I met up with an old friend of mine from high school in Barcelona, Spain.  I departed for the trip on Friday afternoon and after a quick 2 hour flight I touched down to my 26th country.  A quick bus ride to the hotel from the airport and brief reunion with Tricia, I dropped my bags and we headed out for a night on the town. Barcelona is a lively city and people are out and about at all hours of the day and night. Our first stop was a local bar, and before we could even get to the counter to order we were offered drinks by a group of guys from the UK who were on a stag party. I know, I leave the UK only to bump into Englishmen in Spain. We knew the evening would be a good one from that point on. We stayed out dancing until 4:30am and it was a very memorable evening. Saturday morning we woke up and had an amazing breakfast at our hotel, Catalonia Cathedral. I would recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Barcelona. The rooms are super nice, the breakfast is included in the cost of the hotel, and you are located in the heart of the downtown gothic quarter of the city right off La Rambla

                            
After breakfast Tricia and I grabbed our sunglasses and hit the city. We wandered around the streets checking out the beautiful architecture, local markets, and the amazing beaches. 

                            

We had a mini photo shoot on the beach due to our excitement that it was February and we were able to put our feet in the sand and ocean. It was absolutely amazing! 

                                   

                        


 After our photo shoot we checked out some local sand art sculptures and then grabbed a seat at an outdoor cafe that overlooked the Mediterranean ocean. We then ordered a pitcher of sangria and some Tapas. It was so nice to sit, people watch, and enjoy the sun. 

                     


                      

After our day of exploring Barcelona we got to take part in an amazing tradition in Spain, a siesta. The entire town shuts down from about 3pm-5pm and people take naps. Gotta love it! After our siesta we got all jazzed up for a lovely dinner with you guessed it, more tapas. From there we checked out a local salsa dance club thanks to a recommendation from a local for a night of authentic spanish salsa dancing. It was fantastic! 


 Sunday almost all of the shops were closed so I navigated for Tricia and I to visit one of Spain's most famous tourist attractions, Sagrada Familia. The church was more than words can describe! The pictures do not do it justice and if you go to Barcelona, it is a must see! 
                                


                                       
After checking out the church, we decided to end our trip with a stroll by the docks. 
                       
We ended up at another little cafe for you guessed it...more sangria and tapas. It was delicious!
                           

                    

I have to say, having been to 26 countries Spain is definitely in the top 10. The people are lovely, the food is fresh and flavorful, and their vivid culture is present everywhere you look. I can't wait to visit Spain again in April when my mom comes to visit for my birthday. Until next time, I will see you on the internet.  

Friday, February 25, 2011

Flashback Friday: Roman Holiday

Thank goodness it's Friday! If you read my post earlier this week you know that I have been counting down the days waiting for the weekend to start. I am getting ready to head to Barcelona in a few hours and am looking forward to checking off another country on my list of places to visit. For today's flashback Friday post, I decided to write about one of my first solo trips I took back in 2006.  I was spending the summer studying and travelling abroad, and was based in Vienna, Austria.  Two weeks into my summer I knew it was time to head out on my first weekend backpacking adventure. My grandma's family are originally from Italy, so I thought what why not start my backpacking adventure with a Roman Holiday.  I had never been on a night train prior to that trip, and I remember boarding the 12 hour train at 21 years old thinking how am I going to survive this. The road less travelled was starring at me right right in front of my face. 

For those of you who don't regularly travel by train through Europe here is a little insight to what the journey on a 12 hour night train is like, when you're doing it the cheap way. You book your ticket and then hope for a space in a shared 6 person cabin. You get to spend 12 hours with total strangers, and travellers come on and off through all times of the night. I think I met 20 different people from various countries in my cabin that night. Your seat somewhat reclines, and if you were on the Italian train I was on, there were no clean bathrooms or real food. It was to say the least, an adventure, but I loved every minute of it! At 26 I prefer a more comfortable journey, but I have a true appreciation for those who backpack the way I did back in the day. 

Around 7am in the morning I remember waking up to an old man and his wife in my cabin. They were originally from Rome, and gave me great insight to what I should do during my time in the city. We were scheduled to arrive to the station at 8am and they mentioned the Pope would be giving a public mass at the Vatican at 9am. So they offered to give me a lift to Vatican City and I took them up on their offer. It was the closest thing to hitch hiking I had ever come to, and I remember them weaving through the streets of Rome like in the movie The Italian Job. Italians are insane drivers, but as promised they got me to the  Vatican just in time. There was only 1 problem- you had to have a ticket to get into the centre where the mass was being held. Now, do you really think that not having a ticket was going to keep me from getting into the Vatican to see the Pope? This American Girl has a lot of gumption. Pulling a true kosamwe (sorry for those of you who don't get the meaning of that term, you'll just have to ask me in person what it means) I ducked into the middle of a giant tour group and sneaked my way past the security and made my way into the mass.  It was a very moving experience and I remember the Pope in his little Pope Mobile driving past me and blessing the crowd. I had just survived my first 12 hour night train, somewhat hitch hiked with total strangers, snuck into the Vatican and was just blessed by the Pope- and it's only been 1 day. The adventure continued to get better and better....

Next it was time to find my hostel. This was my first time ever staying in a hostel, and I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was actually a great experience. One of the better hostels I have stayed in. After checking in I met a few backpackers from the States who invited me to tag along with them for a few days to check out some sights around Rome. The city was amazing- and the food and wine were delizioso. 
We checked out the Colosseum...

The Roman Forum...




and at night....

The Pantheon...





Vatican Guards 






 Since I was in Rome at the start of June, it was hot, hot, hot! Those of you who know me best understand my passion for UV rays, so this sun goddess decided to take the metro outside of the city to Ostia beach. It was so nice to just sit and relax on the beach, although forgetting my sunscreen was not a good idea. I looked a little bit like a lobster when I returned to my hostel, and that's when my trip took an interesting turn.




As I was walking up the stairs to my hostel, a guy stopped me and said, ''You look a little sunburned.'' I answered back- ''I know, forgetting sunscreen is not a good thing when at the beach in Rome.'' After a few minutes of chit chat I was invited out for a night of clubbing with the mystery man and his international circle of friends.  I rushed upstairs for a quick shower and then headed back out for a crazy night out. I never realized at that moment I would be spending the summer travelling around Europe with this guy, and 6 years later we would still be friends, but looking back now I am so glad I decided to travel to Rome where fate brought me to meet Luis



The night was full of cute boys, fun music, and memories I will never forget!


My last day in Rome was spent meandering through the city and shopping with my new friends. I love, love, love the city and am proud to be part Italian. Italians really know how to live, and I try to live the good life as much as I can! 



 From what I have been told the people in Spain are also great living the good life. It's time for me to head to the airport to catch my flight to Barcelona. Until next time, I'll see you on the internet. 











Tuesday, February 22, 2011

26th at 26

It's Tuesday night and I have been trying my best to not think about the weekend, but that simple task has been quite a struggle with anticipating excitement brewing inside me. 2011 has been quite the year thus far, and it's hard to believe this time next week it will be March.  Since the start of the year, my life seems to be consumed with three things: traveling, volleyball, and work.  It has been awesome and I am looking forward to what the rest of the year has in store.

Adding to my list, Spain will be country the 26th country I have traveled to; and since I am 26 years old I have a feeling it will be a memorable trip. I normally don't do the whole- exchange money over, pull out my suitcase to pack, and add some more music to my ipod (which is dying by the way!) until the last minute- but my checklist is almost complete.

I will be traveling to Barcelona and meeting up with an old friend of mine from the States. Tricia and I went to catholic school together at Paul VI High School and played on the same basketball and volleyball teams (Go Panthers). Tricia now works in the UK, and since I have moved over we've been trying to find a weekend to meet up. She lives down South in Derby, and we've been struggling to get together, so we decided to rendezvous for the weekend in Barcelona. Why wouldn't we, right?

Just typing that I am going to Spain makes me so eager for my weekend visit. I have been hearing about Spain ever since I can remember because my parents traveled there for their honeymoon. They've always talked about how wonderful the beaches and culture was to  experience.  In fact, my mom and I are going to be traveling back to Spain  for my 27th Birthday this April, along with Portugal so I can hit my 27th country at 27.  One of the places I hope to visit while in Barcelona is the famous Sagrada Familia church. I am also looking forward to warmer weather, even if it is only in the mid to high 50's.  This morning I was out running in the meadows and crocus stems were peaking through the grass. Can spring please get here faster? I am in desperate need of some UV sun rays!

I guess I will just have to wait and be patient for 2 1/2 more days. Then I will officially be Barcelona Bound! Until next time, I will see you on the internet.