Euro Top 10: #5 – Barcelona’s beaches

No-5-Paris

#5 – Barcelona’s beaches

This was originally going to be #9 because it was definitely one of the top moments of the trip, but after the month we’ve had, I needed some sunshine a little earlier in my life.  Boston has been walloped with more than seven feet of snow in the last three weeks, making this the snowiest month since weather was first recorded in the city in 1872.  Let that sink in.  But don’t get frostbite while you do it – the temps are so low that you can be at risk of losing fingers in just 10 minutes.

It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago, I was lying on a beach in Spain.  Yes, it was fall.  Yes, we had about 10 total hours of daylight each day to work with. But coming from New England, I was more than satisfied with the mere moments we were able to spend on the warm sand.

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Le Barceloneta

 

This is the beach in Le Barceloneta.  We walked all the way down to that harbor area with the ships, where there was a concert going on, including food truck and a DJ, whose smooth jams we heard up and down the beach all day.

We lay on the beach on the two small towels we brought with us, and Sara told us about how in Valencia, people give massages on the beach.  Alas, here we “just” saw people selling mixed drinks out of coconuts, big beach blankets, bottles of water, etc.  We liked to watch the drama unfold and see who else on the beach was giving into these passing temptations.  And I declared that if Sara could materialize a masseuse for me, I would be the happiest person who ever killed her back lugging a suitcase for a month.

Then, behold! Someone did come by.  An older woman who Sara was able to negotiate with in Spanish.  She gave me one of the best massages of my life, and it only cost 5 euros for about 15 minutes.  Ridiculous.  It was a surreal, lush experience, to be lying on a blanket with my bare back to the sky, my friends sitting next to me, getting my shoulders rubbed.  I would like to go back there right now, pretty please!

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Barcelona beach stones

 

The other amazing thing about the beach was the sand itself.  It contained so many large, beautiful stones, unlike any beach I’ve been on before.  They were all about the size of your fingernails, and the most beautiful colors (the photo above has had zero editing!).  They hurt to walk on after a bit, but Katie and I had a blast digging through them and filling our pockets with treasures.

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Le Barceloneta with the W Hotel in the background

 

Because October is the off-season, we didn’t have to share the beach with many people, which was perfect for us.  But getting here at all was a good reminder that even though we might not think of ourselves as beach people, even though we love the culture and history and gourmet food the actual city has to offer, we all need some time on the sand every now and then, whether or not we know it in advance.  This has already played a big part in planning my next trip to Hawaii with my sister, where we’re trying to limit what we book ourselves for and instead leave ourselves lots of time for just soaking up the sunshine.

And next time I go back to Barcelona, I’m aiming to get a massage AND a drink out of a pineapple.

The #5 is brought to you from a sign in the Barcelona metro.

All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.

Click here to read the other posts in this series.

Euro Top 10: #2 – Windsor Castle

No-2-paris

#2 – Windsor Castle

(Still better late than never, right?)

#2 on my list of best adventures in Europe is Windsor Castle.  My parents and I took a day trip here, out and back from Waterloo station.  We got an audio tour and what turned out to be a private guided tour (because no one else showed up!).  Our guide told us all about the history of the place and the people who still live there today.  She also told us that the queen was expected to arrive that afternoon – we would know if she was there because her flag would replace the Union Jack.

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The castle itself was fascinating.  The round tower, seen here, was built in the 1100s, and sits on a hill with a dry moat around it.  It was never meant to be filled (and today, contains gardens).  For the first 100 years, the tower atop it was wooden, in order to give the man-made pile time to settle before loading it with rocks.  Apparently this is how most castles are started!

Windsor is still in use today, so it has a strange mix of history within its walls.  One room is filled with commissioned paintings depicting the battle of Waterloo – next door is a hall filled with armor from all eras and origins.  Then other parts of the state apartments had their actual walls and ceilings completely destroyed by a fire – but the furniture, which was put aside during renovation, was saved and now the rooms represent another era entirely.

My favorite part was Saint George’s Hall, which contains depictions of all the coats of arms belonging to the members of the Order of the Garter, and bearing their motto over and over – Honi soit qui mal y pense. That’s Middle French for “Shame on him who thinks evil of it.”  (Read more about the Order of the Garter here.) Prince William’s is up there, along with those of Sir Edmund Hilary, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, and others.  And then between the red, blue, and gold, there are also blank shields for those who lost their honor and have been erased from the ranks – mostly from treason, back when that was a thing that kings and queens literally lost their heads over.

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Mom and dad very effectively guarding the Norman Gate

 

We ended the day with tea at the Crooked House – more about that delicious meal here!

And by the time we left – lo and behold! – the flag had changed to the royal standard.  Somehow, the queen slipped past us (probably while we were eating our second scones…).  Maybe next time we’ll actually get to see her…

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Royal Standard flying over Windsor Castle

 

Top tips of you go to Windsor Castle:

  • Get the audio tour and also go on the guided tour – totally different material and worth every penny
  • You can’t take pictures in the castle, so get ready to just enjoy yourself
  • But you CAN take great pictures outside, including with guards.  At other British landmarks, it can be difficult to get close enough to take a good photo, but here, we were able to pose at will without having to share the spotlight!
  • Phones also don’t really work in the castle (dead zone, I suppose) so don’t lose your group or else one of you will end up at the exit wondering where in the world the rest of you go to!
  • Always end your trip with tea.  Always.
Dad didn't get the memo about making a serious face.

Dad didn’t get the memo about making a serious face.

 

The #2 is brought to you by a racetrack next to the Seine in Paris!

All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.

Click here to read the other posts in this series.

 

Euro Top 10: #1 – Tea time

I can’t believe that I’ve been back from Europe for more than two months.  It feels like yesterday that I even had the idea to shake off the states for a while and have some adventures abroad. What resulted was a great 35 days – a time to reflect, expand my horizons, see/eat/buy new things, and remember all the fun that the world has to offer.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my favorite things and moments from my trip and saying a little more about what made this journey memorable.  I hope you’ll join me, and tell me about your own travel adventures along the way!

No-1-france

#1 – Tea time

 I know, we broke away from old King George partly because of the tea tax, and the famous rebellion involved dumping crates of tea into my own city’s harbor.  Still, I can’t help but think that tea time is one of the very impressive things that the Brits are doing right, revolution or not.

I certainly enjoyed it, on this trip as when I studied abroad.  The thing is, tea isn’t just a meal – it’s a state of mind.  It’s a moment of rest during the day, a chance to nourish your mind, soul, and especially your body.  Unlike coffee, tea isn’t made to be gulped down or taken on the road – it comes with its own timeline, literally written on the teabag.  How hot the water should be, how long to leave the bag in, even what to enjoy your drink with.

But the glory of tea goes well beyond the drink and the pause – the food is AMAZING.  This is the tea I had with my parents at the Crooked House of Windsor. Clotted cream, scones, sandwiches with the crust cut off, and a pot that begs you to drink more than one cup of the piping hot delicacy.

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That is just my serving.  Yes – we each got that.  And we licked the plates clean.  Sure, it cost us an arm and a leg, even before converting into dollars, but it was worth it. I still think about it when I’m making coffee in my office Keurig.  I also think about my roommate when I studied at UCL – he was from Hong Kong when it was under British rule and he grew up with the concept of tea.  But whenever he said he was having tea, he really just meant a little sandwich, usually enjoyed in our sunny kitchen.  I always pulled out my crumpets and joined him (chicken salad = not tea in my book).

Since I’ve been home, I’ve tried to capture the essence of tea again – picking my cup with care, getting good honey, really relaxing for a minute.  But unless someone serves it to me with the crust cut off my sandwiches and a no-holds-barred pot of clotted cream, it just won’t be the same.  Guess that will be my excuse to return to England next time!

The #1 is brought to you by a train platform in France!

Best layover ever?

The sun is shining over the Bosphorus River, reflecting right into our sweet little room at the hostel in Istanbul.  When we signed up for this 22 hour layover on our way home to Boston, it sounded like a great idea – but then the plane was late and it took us almost two hours to leave the airport and get into the city.  As we zipped past wholesale clothing stores on the train, we worried that we were wasting our time.

But then we got off the train to the sound of the evening prayer, and started looking around.

This place is amazing.  I’ve still only seen it in the dark but I absolutely love it.  In the few hours before bed, we shopped at the Arasta Bazaar just down the street, buying scarves and pottery and looking at the colorful tea options.

We sat in front of the Blue Mosque eating freshly roasted chestnuts and watching the colorful fountain.

Then we ate dinner at an open-air hookah bar, where we sat on velvet-covered benches, eating kebabs and meat and vegetable pancakes cooked by women sitting directly behind us and watching a Turkish dancer twirl to the sound of live music.  By the end of the evening, we drank every tea on the menu – and were rewarded with a free cup by our friendly waiter, who delivered us a mix of every type of tea plus ample amounts of sugar.  It was sweet perfection, new and welcoming and just lovely in every way.

Now we’re off to the spice market before leaving for the airport around noon.  See you on the other side of the Atlantic!

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Dessert and tea in Istanbul

Goodbye Barcelona!

We’re at the airport, about to wish Spain goodbye.  We’ve already bid adieu to Sara and Kate.  It’s been a warm, wild, and wonderful weekend in this seaside city – we ate, saw, and drank everything.  From visiting the Sagrada Familia to collecting rocks on the beach to eating tapas at midnight and drinking at bars with the city lights belong, we’ve had a grand time.

Now, onward for one night in Istanbul and then home in time for midterm election results.  We were even able to check our bags straight through so now we only have our backpacks for the next 24 hours of adventure.  Huzzah!  Happy Monday!

The art of getting lost

Turn left. Turn right.  Carry on straight ahead.

Follow the sound of music or filtered sunshine or a smell that makes your mouth water.  Walk until you find the source, even if it’s never.

This is the art of getting lost.  Of looking at street signs out of curiosity instead of necessity.  Of going down roads and finding either dead ends or the world’s wildest adventures.  Of measuring your days in miles and blisters and which shoes you can’t bear to wear again tomorrow.  Of getting hungry because you forgot to eat before you ventured out of the area full of cafes, or being weighed down by souvenirs because you can’t bear to head home, not yet, not until you’ve seen what’s over here… there… that way.

And at the end of the path, finding a reason to pause, recharge, and then… head out again.

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(Written on the beach in Barcelona, Spain)

The state of things in France

Internet connections: lacking.

Baguette consumption: never been higher.

Wine drinking: see above.

Castle satisfaction: through the roof.

In short, we’re having such a good time out and about in France that I haven’t had a chance to update this blog in a bit – and the posts I’ve tried to write on the go haven’t come through.  Blame the lack of French internet infrastructure… Sara (who is going to cooking school here) told us that it was bad but it’s even worse than expected.  I’d almost prefer the sweet, old-school sound of dial-up some days when it comes to trying to check my email.

Still, we haven’t let that rain on our parade, only our posting frequency.  We have been zipping all through France.  First, three nights in Paris, then two in Montpellier, then here in Toulouse.  Along the way we’ve dealt with train delays, menu indecision, and weather that changes from street to street – it’s exactly the travel adventure I imagined.

More about the individual aspects later – we just finished a home cooked dinner made by our chef in training (salad and french onion soup!), now, onward to see what this city has to offer for nightlife!