A Travellerspoint blog

Spain

Barcelona

Just one more reason to love Spain.

sunny 16 °C
View Semester Break, pt. 2 on kmclean's travel map.

This is just one more reason to love Spain. Barcelona is an amazing city. The three days we spent there weren’t even close to enough, but we tried to cram in as much as we could during our short stay. This is another one of those cities I’ve just got to come back to. We did some walking tours here, a day trip to Montserrat, and spent some time wandering around the old city and Las Ramblas, but I feel like there’s still so much to see and do in the city.

Our first night we took a tour of the Born, in and around “Picassos” district. He lived in Barcelona for nine years when he was young, so there’s a really great museum which we unfortunately didn’t have time to see that has quite a bit of his earlier work. It’s a really trendy neighbourhood with tons of vintage and boutique shops, and even more tapas and pincho bars – which are, by the way, by far my new favourite type of pub. This is where I discovered this new great way to eat – pinchos. They’re basically like tapas, except usually on a piece of bread and always ready to serve. You kind of just walk into a place, pick up a few bites of something, pay and leave. There are a couple of places where you even just pay by the toothpick – at the end, they just count your toothpicks and you pay up. I guess the Spanish are honest people, or at least the Catalonians are.

We spent one day in the city walking around a doing a couple of tours. The first one showed us a few of Gaudí’s masterpieces, of course including the Sagrada Familia. I’ve seen some pictures of his buildings before, but in person they’re even weirder. I love the walking tours, though, because you learn so much about the things you’re looking at, which is great for lazy people like me who (unfortunately) don’t read up as much as they should before visiting such an epic city as Barcelona. We did another tour later that day of the Gothic quarter, or the old city, which was also excellent. I had no idea how rich and recent Barcelona’s history is.

That evening we went out for the mandatory Paella while in Barcelona, which unfortunately was a bit of a disappointment. I guess for one, a little bit of sea food isn’t that impressive, coming from the Maritimes. Also, rice in Canada has a reputation as a poor man’s meal, and as a student I’ve been eating a lot more than my share of it over the past couple of years, so the Spanish delicacy to me kind of just looked like a left-over sea food meal on rice. Anyway, overall the food in Barcelona was amazing, and there are probably a million other things besides Paella you could eat there.

The next day we went to Montserrat early in the morning to spend the day there. It’s a lot bigger and more developed than I thought it was, it’s really like a whole little town way up on the mountain. No idea how they got everything up there! The main thing to see is the monastery, which has been there in some form or another since 888. It still blows my mind how old civilisation is, and how young Canada is. The rest of the little town was cute too, with a small museum and little movie they show you about the history of the mountain and the monastery. The cafeteria lunch we had was by far the worst meal on the trip, but what can you expect?

One of the best restaurants we tried was a little pincho bar in the newer part of the city. You could pick out your own little bite-sized plates at the bar, or order hot ones from the menu. The first time we went there we just had a quick meal of cold pinchos. Everything was delicious, but watching them carry out and serve all the hot tapas was painful, so we had to go back and try it out properly. The second time we ordered a little bit of everything, and tried a lot of the hot plates which were amazing. Nothing at the restaurant was bad, except maybe the service from one of the waitresses! That’s definitely no reason to pass this place up, though. The night we ordered the hot food was probably one of the best meals we had the whole trip.

We had a great time in Barcelona, although it was definitely rushed. It would have been great to have had more time to just relax at the beach and in the city. You could easily spend a week here trying all the different tapas and pinchos and shopping in the older parts of the city. Spain is definitely still my favourite country, and Barcelona is one amazing city.

Posted by kmclean 16:12 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona spain pinchos Comments (0)

Madrid

Amazing city with an amazing nightlife

sunny 10 °C
View Semester Break, pt. 2 on kmclean's travel map.

Madrid lived up to everything people say about it. The people are amazing, the food is great, and the nightlife really is the best. It’s the most lively city we’ve been to, with people out on the streets and in the bars having a great time any time of the day or night.

Our first night in the city turned out to be amazing. We checked in at 5:00 and headed straight to the Mudeo del Prado, one of the biggest art collections in the world. There are some really amazing pieces there. Obviously the 3 hours we had before closing time wasn’t enough, but we at least got a chance to see a little bit of everything. You could easily spend a week there appreciating all the pieces, but I think an evening is enough to get a taste of the masterpieces it houses.

We went out for a few drinks afterward and got a small bite to eat free with every one – tapas. A guy with a guitar came in to the bar and started playing and mom, of course, made friends with the women who were singing along. They led us to a great flamenco bar and we got in at the last minute to see one of the most amazing concerts I’ve ever heard. It was in some sort of cave theater in the basement of a pub, but the music we heard was unbelievable. It was the first time the three people had ever played together, so there were no cds, but hopefully someday I’ll find a way to hear them again.

It was kind of a late night that night, but we managed to get out the next day for a walking tour of the city. It’s always great to learn little things about a city you probably wouldn’t otherwise know, and the free walking tours are the best way to get oriented in a new city. Two days is enough to see all the main things in Madrid, but it’s such a lively city you’d definitely want longer, just to get to more bars and cafés. After the Canary Islands I fell in love with the Spanish culture, language, and food, and this visit to Madrid just sealed the deal. The people are so friendly and relaxed, the food is great, not to mention the wine, and there’s always something to do. I really hope we’ll get a chance to come back here someday, and to see more of this amazing country.

Posted by kmclean 16:58 Archived in Spain Tagged spain madrid music tapas Comments (0)

Canary Islands

The best way to end off a chilly winter vacation

sunny 24 °C
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This was the most amazing place we’ve been to for sure. It was extra impressive though because it was my first beach vacation, and I think I loved it so much because it reminds of home in a lot of ways. We were lucky and got great weather the whole week and two of the most amazing hosts anyone could ask for. I’m starting to understand why people “snowbird”— this was a much needed escape from the grey, rainy winter in Europe this year. After spending the week lounging around beaches and getting to know some of the locals, I can safely say we chose the wrong major. I’m half kidding, but I’d really love to be able to speak Spanish! We had the most amazing hosts here who showed us around the island and took us to places we never could have reached on our own. We spent a lot of time on beaches, of course, but also took in a few sites like a salt museum by the salt flats, the island of Lobos, although that also just ended up being a beach day, and a trip to Timanfaya park on Lanzarote. The culture is great here and the island is beautiful. I don’t think we could have chosen a better place to end our trip.

The day we arrived our hosts, Julio and Isabel, picked us up from the airport and took us around the island to some places not accessible by bus. We saw a black sand beach in Ajuy and some caves there. I had fresh fish for the first time since we left home for lunch. Afterwards we went to Isabelle’s parents’ house and got to see the most typical lifestyle on Fuerteventura. They have a huge goat farm with about 300 goats, also lots of sheep and chickens and even a few peacocks! After tourism, goat farming is the main industry on the island. They took us to see the sunset at the Faro de la Entallada, near Gran Tarajal, which was unbelievable. We went back and got some rest, looking forward to the rest of the week.

The next few days we spent visiting all the beautiful beaches on the island. For a small island with relatively few inhabitants, there’s a great bus service for tourists. It runs the entire length of the island and you can get to all the main places with it for only a few euros. We spent some time in Peurto del Rosario, which is where we stayed, and visited the salt flats in La Salina on our first day. We walked up to Caleta and caught a beautiful sunset there. Over the next couple of days we visited Morro Jable and Jandia beach, Costa Calma and La Barca beach, Corralejo, El Cotillo, and the beaches around these popular resort towns. El Cotillo was my favourite one, and it’s slightly on the western side of the island, so we got to see the sun set into the ocean.

We also managed to get in a couple of day trips. We spent one day on the Island of Lobos, a tiny island only a 15 minute ferry ride off the coast near Corralejo. The entire island is a national park. There are couple of houses where people live on a temporary basis, I think fishermen, and one small restaurant which sells nothing bus fresh fish. There a couple of really amazing beaches on the island which we spent some time at, then we got some fish at the restaurant before catching the last ferry back to Fuerteventura. On Saturday we went to Lanzarote to see the volcano there. It erupted in the 1700’s, so a huge part of the island is still covered in volcanic debris. The earth is still extremely hot there – there’s a restaurant at the top of the volcano mountain where they cook the food over a giant hole in the ground where the heat comes up. There’s a very narrow, windy road which goes through the volcano park which you can travel through on a bus to see some amazing views. It was great to see a little highlight of Lanzarote; it definitely looks like it would be worth spending some time there to see the rest of the island.

On our last day we took an amazing road trip with our hosts. They took us along with their friends and family to Cofete, a remote part of the island on the northern edge of the very southern tip. The beaches there are unbelievable. They stretch for kilometres with the Atlantic ocean on one side and huge mountains on the other. It’s a gorgeous part of the island. It’s both a good bad thing that it’s only accessible by a dirt road – there are never very many people there, which would be really nice, but it’s also hard to get to, not the kind of place you just go to for the beach, I guess. While we were in the area we also saw the “Winter House” a former Nazi lair owned by general Winter during WWII. The history of that war spreads so far! You literally can’t escape it, not even on a remote island off the coast of Africa. The house is really, really interesting, and we were extremely lucky and got to see inside. There are all kinds of legends you can read about, some of them are likely true! We were so lucky to get to go with Julio and Isabel to this part of the island.

This whole island is absolutely beautiful, and definitely my favourite place we’ve visited. It’s hard to compare it to city vacations in metropolitan Europe, but the whole experience was just unbelievable. I really love it here, too, because it reminds of home in a lot of ways. Life in Germany is very different. It’s a lot more stressed and rushed. I would also say people are generally more uptight there, understandably, but sometimes it seems excessive. People get antsy if the tram that comes every 6 minutes is 1 minute late, they’ll stand for 5 minutes at a cross walk with no cars if the light is red, it’s almost impossible to find someone who will take 15 seconds to give you quick directions, and waitresses get mad at you if you call them over to order something else after you get your meal. Here, it’s a lot more like home, and I love it. The people are unbelievably friendly and generous, they always smile and say hi, even if you don’t know them. There’s tons of fresh fish, but if that’s not what you like there are other options. The beaches are surrounded by cliffs, the cities aren’t crowded at all, the stores are open at least until 10, there are cafés everywhere and people drink coffee, which is delicious here, the beers are a manageable size, the busses are always late, if they come at all. There are also a lot of little, ridiculous things I really miss and have had a hard time finding in Germany, or Europe, like bedsheets, bathtubs, uncarbonated water, free bathrooms, garbage cans on the streets, and local music.

I think this would be an amazing place to live, if you can handle heat, but I can definitely say it’s a great place to visit. It would be well worth it to rent a car, though, because there are just so many places to see which you can only get to on roads through the mountains. Right now it’s the low season, so it wasn’t really crowded anywhere, even though the temperatures were up around 25° some days – definitely warm enough for the beach – but Julio and Isabel said the resort towns and beaches can get pretty busy in the summer. The smaller, more remote beaches are always relatively empty. You could easily spend a month here and probably never see the same beach twice, but I felt like we were rushed to see the main places with a week; it’s a place you would want to spend a lot of time in for sure. This was the perfect end to a wonderful trip, and a great “last hurrah” before we head back to Germany to buckle down for the rest of the semester. I couldn’t think of a better way to have spent the last week of our Christmas break, and the Canary Islands are definitely at the top of my “must return” list.

Here are some pictures.

Posted by kmclean 19:28 Archived in Spain Tagged islands winter beach house villa christmas fuerteventura canary 2012 cofete Comments (0)

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