A weekend in Madrid

I was lucky enough to take a last minute night bus trip to Madrid a weekend past. I loved this city! It was so full of Spanish culture, and most importantly wonderful food. Although I would suggest you to stay longer if at all possible, here is an itinerary for a two day weekend trip to the Spanish Capital!

Day 1:

Arrive as early as possible.

If you can grab an early morning flight, do so to give yourself more room for activites all day (If not another option is to come Friday night and sleep in a hostel or AirBnB for an early morning rise).

Start off your day with a walk through the streets of Madrid. Start at Plaza de España, to see the Monumento A Cervantes, and take a stroll down Grand Via, the famous street that houses many shops, restaurants and more.

Check out the Edifico Carrión, Edifico Telelfónico and Edificio Metrópolis.


Take the metro from Banco de España, to Ópera.

Find your way to the Chocolateria San Gines, to get a head start on the long lineup for their famous churros and chocolate.

Here you can walk to the Plaza Major. You can see the Palacio STA. Cruz, Plaza de la Villa, Casa de la Villa, Teatro Real.


Stop for lunch at the San Miguel Market, and prepare to spend a good chunk of time here. This market is full of tapas, pizzas, paellas, fresh pasta, deserts and any other food your hungry heart could desire.


Continue to the Palacio Real where you can visit the inside of the palace, sit in the courtyard to enjoy the sunshine, and see the Cathedral de la Almudena.


Continue to the Viaducto, and then find your way to a flamenco show to finish off your evening. I suggest the one at La Cueva de Lola.

It was the least expensive and most intimate show in the city. The workers of the restaurant are very friendly, and gave us the table right beside the stage. Our 20€ ticket got us into the hour long show and a bottle of wine to share between two people. The dancers were fantastic, and very engaged with the audience. Definitely a must see!

Day 2:

Take the Metro to La Latina, where you will find the older part of the city, rich with culture. Find your way to Calle Cava Baja, a street famous for its many tapas bars.

Take some of the local tapas to share, and enjoy a glass of wine at one of the charming home-y bars where you will find friendly bar staff and delicious food.

Walk off your lunch through the old part of the city, past the Plaza De Cascorro, until you arrive at Glorieta Puerta de Toledo.

Take a Metro to Colón where you can walk to the Plaza de Colón and see the famous monument. After this you can follow the Paseo de Recoletos to the Biblioteca National and the Museo Arqueológico.


Follow this street to the Plaza de Cibeles where you can see another of the many grand squares in Madrid and can get a great view of the Palacio de Cibeles Centrocentro.


From here you can continue to the Museo Naval, Museo Thyssen, and the Plaza de La Lealtad with its monument and burning flame.


You can then see the Fuente de Neptune and the Museo del Prado. If you take a turn and find your way to Calle Alfonso XII, walk upward along the edge of the Parque De El Retiro, until you reach the entrance at the Puerta de Alcala.


Enter the beautiful and massive park to spend your afternoon seeing the, Palacio de Velàzquez, Palacio de Cristal, Estatua Del Ángel Caído, and taking a paddle boat ride beside the Monumento Alfonso XII.


Finish off by visiting the Temple of Debod, preferably just before sunset. Take in the most breathtaking view of the city from Parque de la Montana, and go to one of the restaurants for dinner that is boasting live music. Sit back, relax, drink sangria and enjoy your last few moments in the capital.

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10 Things you Should Know Before Visiting Catalonia (Spain?)

Before arriving in Vic, for my first time in Europe, I had visions of quaint old buildings, small coffee shops, warm weather, listening to Spanish surround me and sight seeing.

What I arrived to was a great surprise. If you’re thinking of heading to somewhere in Catalonia, make sure you do a bit of research first. It has a culture all its own!

1. Locals speak Catalonian

They might speak Spanish as their second language, some even know French, but English is not a common language outside of Barcelona. They speak their own language: Catalan. A mixture of French, Italian and other inspirations. It is a very interesting language, but it is not like Spanish!

Brush up on your foreign languages before arriving or you will begin in a rough spot.

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2. There is an important controversy over independence

One thing that I was very unaware of is that in Catalonia there is a great movement towards independence from Spain. This is still not a topic I know very much about, but is an important part of their culture. Catalonians are proud of their history, and their customs which are different from the rest of the country. If you ever get the chance to talk to a local about their stance on the subject, take it. The locals love to talk about it and they appreciate tourists taking an interest in their culture.

If you see a flag with red and yellow stripes (like the normal one) but with a blue star on the top, this is the flag of Catalonia, and shows that the owner supports independence.

3. It’s still cold until March.

It depends on the area, but not all parts of Spain have beach weather all the time. The weather can vary greatly through the regions, even ones close to each other in Catalonia. For example in Vic it could be weather for winter coats and light gloves and one hour away in Barcelona it could be weather to eat outside on a patio in your tee-shirt. Don’t be fooled, when I arrived in late January early February, it snowed two nights. Today however, I sweat beads and got a sunburn on my face from walking around in the 20 degree weather. Check the typical weather around your time of travel before leaving and pack accordingly, but to be safe bring a bit of everything.

AKA layers are MAJOR key.

4. Even when it gets warm people dress like they’re in the Arctic (not really but)

Coming from Canada I was used to braving the cold when it came to my clothing choices. Here they dress like it’s below zero when I could be in a tee-shirt. To avoid looking too much like a tourist, I had to start wearing shirts with a sweater and a coat and big scarf, even when at home I would’ve been in a tank and raincoat. Try to withstand the heat as long as possible, so people won’t look at you like you’re crazy when you have bare legs in seventeen degree weather.

5. Speaking of fashion…

Everyone here dresses to impress. Wearing your lulus in public? Big no, unless you have a shirt long enough to cover your whole backside. It’s all neutral colours, with interesting accessories. Giant fur coats? Runway worthy shades? White sneakers that stay white?? (how they all manage this is beyond me)

If you don’t have a thick giant scarf (not the plaid kind that we all know and love) get one. And get a matching coat while you’re at it (not a ski jacket, or a Canada goose, think the cute ones that aren’t actually warm. Peacoats? Double breasted?). And some boots that are uncomfortable and not warm. It’s style over practicality here.

That’s right, leave your Blunnies, yoga pants and maple syrup at home people.

6. Not every city looks like your typical European destination

A lot of the smaller cities that aren’t tourist central don’t have the stereotypical European vibe. There are many places (including Vic) that are more industrial looking, with less of the cobblestone streets and giant churches. If you’re coming to Catalonia expect a very different kind of charm. It is a place full of unique towns and cities, each with their own experience. Make sure you find the spots that make each place special, as they might not be easy to spot without some help.

7. Get ready for seafood all day every day

There are many famous dishes in Catalonia, and almost all of them are based on seafood. Paella is one of the best known dishes in the area, a sticky rice plate made with vegetables and usually two or three kinds of seafood. If it’s not your thing, some places will serve it with chicken if you ask.

Tapas are very important here, and can be found on the menu of almost every restaurant. They are appetizers meant for sharing between friends with things like patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a spic mayo dip), croquetes that look like tiny mozza sticks, but are not (filled with ham, mushrooms, spinach, etc), deep fried calamari that looks like onion rings, but is not, and even dishes with fried shark, squid and other sea creatures.

8. Travel is cheap if you look

People say travel in Europe is cheap, but I didn’t realize just how cheap. Websights like SkyScanner, and  RyanAir offer flights around Europe at incredible prices. One thing to keep in mind is that flights are much cheaper the more in advance you book. If you know you want to travel, don’t think that the last minute flights are cheaper. Here, most times the earlier the cheaper for flights from Spain.

If you’re needing somewhere to stay use Airbnb and HostelWorld.com. Keep in mind that sometimes (almost all times in my experience) Airbnb’s are cheaper! So don’t be fooled by the common knowledge of hostels being the most affordable place to stay, but check out both and compare.

Get the apps and you’ll never miss a good deal!

9. Barcelona isn’t the only place you should see

Barcelona is a beautiful city, this we all know. It has a lot to offer, and you should spend multiple days exploring this capital. Once you’re finished exploring, make your way to surrounding towns and cities. Take the buses and trains to places like Tarragona, Vic, Osona, Torello, etc. See the mountains, go biking, hiking, or skiing. Enjoy a hot air balloon ride in a scenic town. Get out there.

10. Keep an open mind

Catalonia is home to many types of people, from various parts of the world. In cities like Barcelona you can find Starbucks and MacDonalds, Urban Oufitters and H&M. Try to stray from the familiar as much as possible. Ask locals on the street where they recommend to eat or see, they know all of the hidden gems! Even in Vic it is difficult to commit to the culture (Burger King delivers? Why is this not in Canada?), but get out, go walk until you’re so lost you can’t find your way home, and it is there (I promise) you’ll find the most incredible restaurants. Even some that give you a whole bottle of wine when you order a glass as part of a three course meal that costs only eleven euros.

Happy exploring!

xo

CL

The Trip

My third time on a plane, my first time in Europe, luckily just one easy stop in Heathrow and then off to Barcelona. I left Halifax with a view out my window of familiar scenery, a sprinkle of snow and the dark midnight sky. After a less than sleep filled, night flight across the Atlantic, I saw sunlight peek through the window just too far up for a comfortable look. I opened the window all the way (to the displeasure of the people around me) and at first was surprised, we were circling a hilly area, coated in eerie fog, dead grass and clusters of houses that looked like their own small towns from up there. 

Not quite what I had expected of London. 

As the plane circled around (what I had been warned was a lengthy time waiting to actually land on the Tarmac) I enjoyed my first gourmet European meal:

Breakfast which was INCLUDED in my flight (I was shocked, I asked her three times how much I would have to pay). 


It’s safe to say I get airline food jokes now.

It wasn’t grandma’s cooking but it was free and I was happy to munch on pancakes while watching the city finally form in front of me. 

Skyscrapers, buildings that looked like art pieces, tiny cars, little water running through like a hybrid coastline for British gondolas. It was incredible. There wasn’t an inch of area unclaimed by something. 

The airport required a bus ride just to get to the area that my gate (and any many others) was in, along with a Zara, Gucci, Mulberry, Tiffany and Co, a cute Cafe, oyster bar and Italian restaurant, plus many other establishments. 


I enjoyed a Cliff bar and awaited the gate announcement of my final flight. Luckily departing in daylight this time with my own two very visible windows (I’m a window seat person).

This short two hour flight went by very quickly, with downloaded episodes of The Good Wife as the background (thank you Netflix for making shows downloadable finally!). I watched the waves crash many many meters down from me, like the small waves in a glass of water. 

The Finally a coastline approached the window, a sandy beach, houses that looked like sweet old fashion villas and people so small they were specs on the sand. 


I watched landscapes pass under me until finally Barcelona was visible. As we began our descent, and I packed up my things I started to get excited. 

This was quickly squashed moments later when I arrived at my luggage pickup. Two suitcases, a backpack and a carry on is not what you want to have to lug on a journey all the way from Barcelona to Vic (if you go abroad, even for a long time never take more than one large suitcase). The heat it side left me sweating in moments as my hair frizzed larger every second. The damp sticky air was no friend to my dry mouth, or my aching body from carrying my bags only across the airport. I realized I had to get to terminal 2 to meet the other students, but I was in terminal 1. All of the signs were in Catalan, or Spanish and I could not read either. I asked a few people but no one seemed to know. I dragged my bags around the airport until finally I came across a bus station to switch terminals. A kind man helped me lift my bags into the bus, and I ensued a ten minute ride full of many almost falls and stumbles as the bus turned around sharp corners. 

I got off of the bus and asked the girls where they were and they said they were outside a cafe inside the airport. The cafe ended up being on the other end of the airport from where I was. So I grabbed my things and started the long walk over to them. 

 I met two kind girls from Holland and Vienna who waited for me to land. We went to the train station and managed to get ourselves and all of our luggage onto one heading to Sants, still not 100% sure this was where we needed to go, or how to ask anyone if it was the right way. Thanks to some friendly locals and English speaking tourists we found our way on two trains to arrive at Vic at 9:00 pm their time after two and a half hours of train travelling. 

We found a place by the train station to eat, where they sell something called Kebabs (eerily similar to the donair) and other items. After a quick bite we all found taxis to take us home (we could not walk another moment with the luggage). 

Arriving at the door of RUVIC (the residence and my home for the next five months), all I wanted was to finally take a shower and sleep (it had been many hours since both). I walked straight to the doors only to find that they wouldn’t open for me. 10:02 p.m. seemingly without a place to stay I began to panick slightly. I knew I could find a hostel or somewhere to sleep but where? And how much? And how close? Luckily a kind local living on the building came to help me in the limited English he had. He went to find a girl, another Erasmus from America who came and let me in. She then went to get a woman who took me into an office that had closed at 7:00 p.m. 

As she frantically spoke Spanish to me, I could do nothing but stare in confusion and say “Perdone Perdone, no habla Español”. To which I got more Spanish as a response. The American student came to my rescue, Breanna, and I don’t know what I would have done without her. She translated between the worker and I until I had a key, a room, the wifi password and a blanket for my bed.


Finally now at 11:30 p.m. I got into the shower, only to find that the curtain did not function well. After finishing the shower I stepped out into a flooded bathroom floor. I quickly used the only clean towels I had brought to sop up the water from the floor. I hung them up and realized my body and hair were still dripping. 

Whoops.

I used some clothes to dry off my body and hung them up to dry themselves. I then reached for the adapter and converter pack I had brought with me to use my plugs. I found the converter and put it into a plug next to my mirror. As I tried to insert it, I heard a clunk. I tried again and again but the plug would not go into the wall. I finally realized that it was because the plug was inside a circular indent in the wall, as were all the plugs in Vic. My converter was a large square plug, which wouldn’t fit in the circle to get to the actual plug in the wall. 


Well, that’s unfortunate. 

I was now met with a dead laptop, an almost dead phone, half charged tablet, and dripping wet hair and no way to charge or use any of my heat products. 

I tried all of the adaptor pieces, even tried plugging them into each other. But nothing worked. Until finally one labelled Great Britain (shaver) that fit in the circle plug and would allo me to plug my phone and tablet charger. 

One problem solved!

It would also fit my hair dryer but without a converter I was risking blowing the adapter with Wattage problems. I braided my hair and called it a night. 

I was finally safe in a bed, clean and in one piece. My arms burned from dragging my things across the city, and I hadn’t slept since two nights before, but I was in Europe, living in Spain, setting an alarm for a 9:00 a.m. orientation meeting, where I was meeting my new friends. And who knew what the next day would hold? I sent s last goodnight message to friends and family and closed my eyes for my first sleep in my new home, excited for what would come. 

So it’s safe to say that my adventure has begun, and it wasn’t off to a smooth start. Nothing so far has been easy, or worked out as it was supposed to. But really,

Where would the fun be in that?

Beunes noches,

xo

CL