Our adventures started last Wednesday (Mar 2) by getting up at 6am to catch the train to Eindhoven to deal with our Europe visas. Thankfully, everything went smoothly and we were back at our apartment shortly after 12pm. The guy at the visa office was really nice and chatty, which eased our nerves since we were really worried we had filled even one line on the forms out wrong and would get sent away. (Apparently they're quite sticklers about these applications.) We now have a colourful sticker taking up an entire page of our passports that indicates we are official residents of the European Union! We won't get the "official" okay for about a month, but the sticker lets us travel quite easily and tells any officials that we have filed for a visa. We spent Wednesday afternoon at home packing up and then hopped on the bus to the train station around 4:30pm. We then caught a train to Brussels airport to make a flight to Barcelona, Spain. Once arriving in Barcelona, we took a cab to our hotel where the driver was listening to the football (aka soccer) game on the radio and would take his hands off the wheel in a celebratory "fist pump" every time his team got a goal or even made a nice pass. After arriving at our hotel, we quickly settled in for the night, after being up 19+ hours already.
Thursday (Mar 3) we spent mostly catching up on sleep. Thankfully, my professor had cancelled Thursday's class so we could all work on our papers (oops...I spent it in Spain instead!). "Health in Times of Crisis" course is now finished (well...once I finish this 3000 word paper looming over my head) so we are able to travel for 10 days in Spain as it is now reading week. It poured rain most of the day but we still made it outside for a walk to the beach situated on the Mediterranean Sea. In the evening, we went to "Las Ramblas" which is the main (tourist) street where we had a buffet dinner and watched a great Flamenco show. After the buffet, I asked Ron to grab us seats for the show while I went to the bathroom, and of course, he snagged two seats in the centre of the front row. The show started with 3 guitarists and 2 singers/clappers playing a nice little ditty to get everyone in the mood. At this point, Ron leaned over to me and (loudly) "whispered", "When do the Geishas come out?" The saddest part was, he was totally serious. I'm sure half of the audience heard him and I was embarrassed (and also reminded that I have married a man not unlike my own father). He later told me that he had never heard of FlaminGO dancing before and I shouldn't blame him for calling them Geishas because he grew up in a family with three boys. Anyways, the show was great and the combination of the buffet (including all you can drink! - I ordered a glass of white wine and the man brought me an entire bottle!) and the show proved to be quite economical.
Friday (Mar 4) We trekked a few kilometers to La Sagrada Familia, a huge cathedral still in the works. Unlike most European cathedrals with ancient roots, this cathedral only started construction in 1882 and is expected to be completed in 2020. The blueprints and design were all plans created by Antonio Gaudi, a Spanish architechit who committed 40 years of his life to the cathedral project. We didn't get too many good pictures of it becuase our camera died, but google "La Sagrada Familia" and you'll have a better idea of what we saw. Barcelona is quite a large city, both in terms of population and area, so we put quite a few miles on our running shoes during our stay in Barcelona, especially since our hotel was less central than we originally thought. We spent the evening lounging in our hotel room and ordered room service and watched "127 hours" which Ron had downloaded on his computer. I bought Ron the book "Between a Rock in a Hard Place" (which was the inspiration for the movie) when he forgot his reading material at home during our travels to Switzerland. He finished the book in just a few days and we have both wanted to see the movie, but it hasn't been playing in theatres in Maastricht, so we downloaded it instead and both really enjoyed it.
Saturday (Mar 5) we rented a "GoCar". (Visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnZxlyEE6DY to watch a video about the workings of a GoCar.) On Friday, we had talked about what the best way to see the whole city was. Being such a large city, we decided it wans't feasible to walk around all the sights and thought perhaps a bus tour would be a good idea. But upon one of our walks back to the hotel, we passed a parked "GoCar" and grabbed a brochure. Essentially, it is a scooter/moped turned into a tiny convertible car. The car has talking GPS and tells you where to turn and about the sites and even sang to us and told us a joke at one point. We got quite a few interesting looks, and a few cackling spectators at stop lights, but it was truly a great way to see the city. The car is small enough that we could park it in motorcycle parking, which is free throughout the city, so we were able to stop at quite a few of the sites and get out and walk around for a closer look. Some of the highlights we saw were the 1992 Barcelona Olympic stadium, the Port Olympic area (the harbour), Christopher Columbus statue, Las Ramblas street, Botanical Gardens, Barcelona Cathedral, and a former F1 Racing Track (we actually drove up this track, which is actually a normal road, but the reason it's a "former" F1 Racing Track is that 5 spectators died during a crash in a 1970's event...). We stopped at one of the harbours for some lunch on the beach giving us a great view of the Mediterranean Sea. All in all, the GoCar was probably the highlight of our whole Barcelona trip. After an afternoon nap, we made a frustrating trip out to Las Ramblas for dinner. We tried to catch a cab, as it was over 3km one way to walk, but couldn't find one anywhere (until about the last kilometer) and then when we got down there, we were continually disappointed with the options of restaurants. All of them seem to have a bar area with some dishes filled with mostly obscure seafood behind a glass partition. I was quite excited to have tapas as a meal, since I really love snacking more than eating a big meal, but we were really disappointed at the selection and the preparation of the food. I kept thinking to myself, "This CAN'T be what everyone raves about when they talk about tapas!" We also hoped to catch the parade for Carnival (a European-wide festival celebrated mostly by the Catholics during the week before Lent starts. Carnival is the reason for "reading week" in Europe.), but given how long it took us to get to Las Ramblas and then how long it took us to find something decent to eat, we missed the parade and called it an early night.
Sunday (Mar 6) we spent mostly doing homework and lounging in our hotel. All in all, we weren't overly impressed with Barcelona. It's quite a dumpy city, and I didn't realize that it was pretty much the armpit of Spain until the 1992 Olympics which sparked an attempt to renovate of most of the city. Most of the buildings look like they're going to fall down, and a lot of the streets made us feel unsafe at night. We still aren't sure what all the hype truly is about Barcelona, but still made the best of it. That being said, if someone had told me, "Don't go to Barcelona, it's worth missing", I don't think I would have believed them and would have gone anyways. Sunday night we had our best Spanish dinner yet (although remember, the bar was set pretty low) at the Port Olympic area where we had a "fixed price" menu with lots of FRESH tapas and a steak and some wine.
Monday (Mar 7) marked 2 official months we've been in Europe. We packed up in Barcelona and headed to the airport to fly to Malaga in the South of Spain. We had an uneventful flight and eventually settled into our hotel after a few minor setbacks (including a nausea-inducing cab ride, the hotel losing our reservation, and getting a smoky room that required us changing rooms.) The views from our hotel are awesome; this is more what I pictured Spain to be like! We'll keep you posted on our adventures in the south of Spain, probably next Monday when we get home and back into the groove of school!
|Ron at the Flamenco buffet|
|Waiting for the show to start...I need some mascara or something!|
|Front and centre for the show|
|Flamenco men (guitarists and singers/clappers)|
|Stunning stained glass at La Sagrada Familia|
|Passion Facade at La Sagrada Familia|
|Barcelona's Arc de Triomf|
|Windy side streets make perfect terrain for the GoCar|
|Driving along the beachside|
|Christopher Columbus (pointing to the Americas)|
|View of Barcelona from the West side of the city (Near the Olympic area)|
|Ron in front of the Olympic Stadium|
|Downhills are also perfect for the GoCar|
|Beer on the beach|