Spain

EuroTrip 2007: Barcelona and Nice

This will come as no surprise to anyone who read my last post, but “the train ride [to Barcelona] was miserable, as I anticipated” (direct quote from my journal, and I sure seemed to use the word miserable a lot for a trip I enjoyed on the whole). I was stuck sitting upright in a normal train seat all night and my foot quickly fell asleep (unlike the rest of me) but because I was trapped in a window seat and couldn’t get up without disturbing the person next to me, it just kept getting increasingly numb until my ankle started to throb and I started panicking that a blood clot was forming that would travel to my heart and kill me (this, coupled with my frequent need to pee, is why I always insist on choosing an aisle seat on long flights, even if I have to pay a bit extra to do so). Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep, so when I got to my hostel in Barcelona, I finally took that long-awaited and desperately needed shower and crashed out for hours in my bed. This was probably my favourite hostel of the trip thanks to its unusual configuration – though the rooms were mixed gender, the beds were all built on these little wooden platforms with plywood walls between each and a shower curtain at the end of each little cubicle, so even though you were sharing a room with like eleven other people, you actually had some privacy, which was lovely! When I finally woke up that afternoon/evening, I encountered a group of six British art students I was apparently sharing the room with who invited me to go clubbing with them that night. Even though clubbing was not ever my scene, they were all a bit younger than me and seemed very sweet, so I agreed for the sake of having some companions I didn’t have to worry about going all rapey on me (after my experiences in Paris and elsewhere), and even though we ended up at some strange place with beds instead of tables, which could have easily gone wrong in creepier company, we just sat there and talked and then headed back to the hostel again, so it was a very welcome chill night.

The next day, I was keen to see some Gaudi architecture, which was the main reason I’d wanted to go to Barcelona in the first place, so I headed out into million degree heat to see the sights. I actually paid to take a tour of La Sagrada Familia (since typically I cheaped out and just walked around the outside of things that had an admission fee) and then headed to Parc Guell, but it had about ninety thousand steps involved, and with the extreme heat, I crapped out pretty quickly and retreated back down the hill to enjoy a strawberry white chocolate Magnum, which is still my favourite flavour of Magnum by far (of course they don’t sell it in the UK, and I’m not overly keen on any of the varieties we do have). I was not impressed with the meatiness of most Spanish food, so I happily discovered the joys of Maoz Falafel instead (which barely exists anymore – they used to have one in London and now I think they only have them in a couple of cities, if at all. They used to be my travel standby in countries with meaty cuisines). I also discovered a bakery on the corner near my hostel that sold the most amazing chocolate truffles, so I’d buy a couple every morning and eat them quickly before they could melt in the heat! And of course there was the market in Las Ramblas that was an excellent source of pre-cut fresh fruit and smoothies, which provided some much needed vitamins at this point in the trip.

After falafeling, I stumbled on some weird religious parade (pictured at the start of the post), then went back to the hostel to try to persuade someone to go get churros from Cafe de L’Opera with me, because I was intimidated to eat in a restaurant by myself. Kerri, one of the Brits, happily agreed, and we met up with the rest of her student chums afterwards for more clubbing. Having realised the night before that I was probably underdressed for the clubbing scene, I busted out my Camden Market dress this time, which was the only vaguely club-appropriate item of clothing I had with me (and in retrospect, I still looked out of place, but who cares? It’s not my scene anyway).

This time, we ended up in some place with awful electronica music, but since we were the only patrons, we persuaded them to play The Cure instead and all got up and danced. I knew the students were leaving in the morning, so when I woke up the next day to someone shaking my leg, I thought maybe one of them was trying to wake me up to say goodbye. It was actually a Spanish guy who worked there, who kept going, “Chee-it, understand?” I most definitely did not, especially when I was still half asleep, so I shook my head at him and hoped he’d go away, since I was a bit freaked out. After watching him clean the room for a bit, it suddenly dawned on me that he was asking if I had to check out that day, and was trying to save me from oversleeping if I did. So he was actually just being nice, which was a pleasant surprise at this point on the trip! Another pleasant surprise came when I finally got up and found a lovely little card that Tim, one of the Brits, had made for me to say goodbye and promise to keep in touch via Facebook. I didn’t have anyone to hang out with now, but I had a lot of errands to run that day and I was used to doing things alone, so I didn’t really mind. I did manage to squeeze in a visit to Casa Battlo (though I was again too cheap to actually go inside, so I just photographed the exterior), more Maoz, and of course more truffles. I had left about a week open on the trip before I had to get up to Belgium to see World/Inferno again, so based on the recommendation of travellers I had encountered at some point on the trip, I decided to head for what was meant to be a really nice hostel in Nice.

Since I had an early morning train there (rather than a night one for once), I set my alarm for 6:45 am, which of course never went off, so I didn’t wake up until an hour later when someone else’s did and had to completely haul ass to the station, where I was at least able to catch a train to Montpellier, from which I was able to transfer onto a train for Nice. It transpired that the hostel I had picked was not actually in Nice proper, but was in an isolated spot outside the city with no public transportation so I was dependent on the hostel shuttle to take me in and out again. This was really not ideal for someone like me who wants the freedom to do my own thing and eat when and where I want (mostly really early, at like 5 o’clock, because I don’t really eat lunch and I’m starving by then!). Fortunately, the hostel at least had a dedicated pizza oven where you could assemble your own pie every night. I just like margherita, so that’s what I had, even though everyone else made fun of me (as people still do, like at our awful work Christmas do last year which was at a Pizza Express where we had to buy our own overpriced meals. What’s wrong with not liking toppings? Margherita is a classic for a reason!), and that’s what I ate both nights, being too finicky to eat the French food on offer (though I did have some tart au citron).

I made friends with one of the women in my room, who invited me to tag along with her and her friends the next day to what ended up being a topless beach. I hate the sun, so this was not ideal, but apart from the increased sun exposure, I wasn’t all that bothered about the topless element (when in Nice, after all), so I got my baps out with everyone else, even though there were a couple of guys with us I didn’t really know. Having never been in an actual sea before, I did attempt to go in (while still wearing a bikini top), but it was a rocky beach with a tonne of waves, and when my flip flops got ripped off my feet when I just sat down by the edge, I quickly realised I would actually die if I tried to go in the water, since I can’t really swim, so I resigned myself to just doing the hated sunbathing (after first slapping on loads of sunscreen). On the plus side, we’d bought a whole box of cherries before heading for the beach, and they remain to date the best cherries I’ve ever eaten in my life! We also got ice cream for lunch – we found a place that had flavours like tomato basil and olive, but me being me, I just opted for the traditional honey pine nut, nougat, caramel, and stracciatella (I always get the four scoop cone when on holiday) – bliss. And despite the unexpected topless portion of the day, no one tried anything lechy, so things had clearly taken a turn for the better!

Since the only part of Nice I really saw was the beach, I didn’t take any photos (for obvious reasons), so here’s more Barcelona.

I had only booked the hostel for two nights, which was probably for the best as I was finding being so far out of town kind of boring, and based on the recommendation of the people I’d gone to the beach with, I decided to head for Cinque Terre next, which I’ll talk about in my next post. So this part of the trip may not have been as exciting as Paris, but at least nothing bad happened, aside from the issue with my ankle on the train from Paris, which was probably because bad Paris vibes were still attached to me!

Guest Post from Misadventures with Michael! Seville, Spain: Bullfighting Museum

I’ll be doing something a little bit different today by featuring a guest post on my blog for the first time!  Michael, from the always informative Misadventures with Michael, has kindly reviewed a bullfighting museum in Spain that he visited on his travels around Europe.  I highly recommend checking out his blog, especially if you’re in need of travel advice; he has a useful “City Guide” series, and offers many other tips for preparing for a trip and making the most of your destination once you’re there (he’s got some solid ice cream shop recommendations too)!  And now, here’s Michael:

Hi there! I’m Michael from over at Misadventures with Michael and am amped to get to write for Jessica on Diverting Journeys. For a little background, I’m a university student in the US but am currently studying in Bologna, Italy for the semester. Before I made it to Il bel paese, I made a pit stop in Spain and traveled around there for a little bit. One of my favorite cities was Seville. It seems to me the city that people imagine when they dream of Spain. In the city there’s a strong tradition of bullfighting, so, naturally, there’s a great museum on its history here, the Real Plaza de Los Toros.

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While assembling a tapas lunch at Bodega Morales nearby Seville’s Cathedral, I consulted with my trusted city map and saw that the museum wasn’t too far. It wasn’t the highest on my to-see list for the city, but I figured that if I was close I may as well check it out. To visit, you must go on a guided tour: they leave every twenty minutes and are bilingual with the guide speaking both English and Spanish at each stop. Tickets are seven euros (but make sure to bring your student ID for a discount).

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First, the guide brings you out to the bullring, showing you where Seville’s bullfights take place May through September, though with a break in August. Spain’s biggest bullring is in Madrid, but the one in Seville is also particularly famous and beautiful. While you can’t step onto the bullring itself, the guide allows you to climb up the bleachers under the king’s seat to get a good view of the whole arena. It’s pretty impressive, especially if you’ve never been to a bullring before (like me) and have studied Spain and bulls before.

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The guide brings you inside next and shows you some art related to and inspired by bullfighting. I particularly liked some old pictures demonstrating the arte de torear, or the art of bullfighting. They have the feel of one of those old school textbooks walking you through how to complete a task, although I think bullfighting may be just slightly more intense and dangerous than how to conjugate Italian verbs. The pictures there are pretty cool, and once you’re done the guide then shows you the last main exhibit with many more artifacts that pertain to bullfighting. Dummy human heads hang from the walls, and these are apparently used in training bullfighters. In the room with the different toreros’ trajes de luces (or suit of lights), my guide explained that toreros were not actually seen as heroic, romantic figures until the twentieth century. Before then, I believe she said, the picadors who are mounted on horses were considered more heroic and honorable figures. But as certain personalities and famous matadors emerged, the toreros or matadors became the most famous.

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Overall, the museum was interesting, but I was expecting a little more umph. There may have been less time spent idly standing around if there were designated tour slots in the different languages so that you don’t have to listen to everything twice, though it’s understandable that a small museum would do it this way. It’s certainly worth a visit, though, if you’re interested in learning more about bullfights. 3.5/5