Barcelona – La Rambla & Cathedral of Saint Eulalia

Jul 30

Barcelona – La Rambla & Cathedral of Saint Eulalia

Today marks our third day in Barcelona, Spain. We woke up earlier today on account of the immense construction project going on directly behind our building. Unlike the U.S., construction here starts at 8am and ends at 7pm. Let´s just say we would not be happy if construction started at 5am. After a walk through the Mercat de la Boquería for breakfast, we headed out to a Lavandería, about 10 minutes away to get our laundry done. We had hoped it was a “do-it-yourself” kind of place, but it turned out to be more of a dry-cleaners. The lady was very nice and took our dirty clothes, telling us in spanish to return at 6 today for them. At least, that’s what we think she said…

Outside of Cathedral

Once we were relieved of our dirty clothes, we started to walk to the new Apple store in Barcelona to purchase an ipad for me to do blogging so that Ryder can work from his computer when we have down time. On the way to the store, we ran across the Cathedral of Barcelona or Cathedral of Saint Eulalia who is actually entombed below the alter. The cathedral was absolutely breathtaking, intricate, and opulent.

The Cathedral was built on the original site of a 4th Century small church of the old Roman colony Mons Taber. It was destoryed by Almanzor in 985AD. The cathedral was rebuilt in the Romanesque style under King James II of Aragoon in 1298. The cathedral has 26 chapels, a sacrasty, crypte, and a cloister. Throughout the naive can be found groin vaults which were invented by the Romans and became highly influential during the Middle Ages.

The Saint entombed in the cathedral, St. Eulalia, was born around 290 AD during the time of persecutions of christians. Though just 14, Eulalia proclaimed her devout belief in Christ, in public. She was put to torture with Saint Julia and burnt at the stake in Merida. She is now celebrated as Saint Eulalia of Barcelona on February 12th.

Lucky for us, we arrived in the church just as they were opening it up to the public so we were able to make our way to the roof without having to wait in any lines. The view of the city was spectacular. I loved being up among the gargoyles and stained glass windows!

After our time at the cathedral, we headed off to the Apple store only to have ALL of our cards declined when attempting to purchase an iPad for me!!! Ryder attempted to call one company and they put him through the run-around claiming his account is “under investigation,” but not explaining what exactly that means. After trying four or five times, we had to leave to go back to the hostel to charge Ryder’s phone so that it wasn’t dead when the credit card company tried to call him back. After waiting for the phone to charge, we headed back to the laundry to get our clothes. They were ready for us all nice and folded and smelling so fresh! I hugged the bag of laundry with a big “Gracias” to the woman who worked there. She smiled and laughed at how silly I was.

We spoke with all of our credit card companies to clear up any misunderstandings and were told it was the system at the new Apple store that was causing the problems. Apparently, it was reading all of our cards as fakes which flagged an issue with our companies. We decided to try another electronics store across the street from Apple called FNAC. There we were able to purchase the iPad and a keyboard to go with it!

iPad and keyboard in hand, we strolled back down the La Rambla and stopped for dinner at a small restaurant for some real Spanish Tapas. We ate, drank, and watched some of the olympics on the spanish network. Now we are back and winding down for the night. Tomorrow we plan to visit the Sagrada Familia 🙂

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My Chicken Offends you?!

Jul 28

My Chicken Offends you?!

Today, was a late day. Just like most of them have been so far. This was the first day we saw Barcelona in the daytime. We thought the city was busy at 2am but it was at least twice as busy at 2pm. After waking up at 12 noon, I finally kicked our butts into gear at 1pm and we headed off to explore Barcelona. We were both amazed at the gothic architecture. On almost every street corner on La Rambla, you’ll find beautiful grotesques on four or five story gothic buildings.

A random left turn outside of out hostel led us through a eery construction zone and to a high energy open air market. This place was crazy! Produce stands, small restaurants, egg vendors, candy booths, and more. We bought fresh fruit salad in a plastic cup for breakfast.

We saw the statue of Christopher Columbus (who is said to be pointing to America), posed for a few photos, and wandered off to walk around the port. The port had the same old vendors you’d expect at a high-trafficked tourist attraction, fake gucci bags, fake ray-bans, and city souvenirs. We quickly got tired of the port which seemed more and more like a tourist trap the longer we spent there. We walked back to our hostel and got heckled into buying some very yummy gelato in the open air market along the way.

After Skyping with our families, we walked out to find some dinner. Even though it was 9:30pm, our sleep rhythms were off as well as our eating habits. Waking up at noon didn’t help either. I wanted to walk North West on La Rambla, which is the main drag in the old Barcelona, since we spent all afternoon walking the other way.

We were both in tense moods, as we get when we are hungry and tired, and were having trouble finding and picking a place to eat. I wanted something fast and cheap and I assume Amanda wanted something very tasty but mainly safe and slow. I pointed to a Schwarma place that looked like it would be cheap and Amanda pointed to La Poma, a pizzeria, that definitely did not look cheap.

I conceded and we queued up in the line to get in. I looked over at the lack of a line at the Schwarma shop and gave an obnoxious sigh. Amanda responded by telling me I could eat there if I wanted but that she would be eating here. I stayed put.

The menu was in Catalan and Spanish. Two languages Amanda and I are horrible at. I do have a few schooling years of experience with Spanish, but I still have problems understanding or speaking to a Spanish speaker. We opened our handy translator iPhone app (an offline one since we’re roaming) and started translated bits and pieces of the menu. We found a goat cheese salad and margherita pizza with “jamón dulce” with which we used the app to learn meant “sweet ham”. Amanda asked to use the translator and started typing something in. She immediately burst out laughing and when I saw what she had typed in, and the response, I joined her uproarious laughter. She had meant to type “pollo picante” which means “spicy chicken”. In her Italian mindset, she actually typed in “pollo picanti”. And what did that translate to? “Chicken offends you”. At that moment, we joked for a little while longer, the spirits were lifted, and it set the tone for the rest of the night. Another late one for the Ross travelers.

Look at your man and back at me, I’m on a horse lion.

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Ok, a little more Iceland – then Spain!

Jul 28

Ok, a little more Iceland – then Spain!

Phew, it’s past midnight on Sunday and I’m STILL writing about Iceland?? Sorry about our lack of prompt blogging, I’m sure it will happen again :)…

Ok so lets start with yesterday…

Our day began with another breakfast of champions and the routine of packing our bags (which we are getting better at). We checked out of our hostel (thank god that’s over) and shoved our stuff into our tiny car for the drive to the Blue Lagoon. This place is definitely a tourist trap, but something you wont find anywhere else so we thought the day we left Iceland would be a good time to visit. The drive down from Reykjavik took about 20 minutes and we arrived!

The main activity at the Lagoon is pretty straight forward – soak in 2/3 salt, 1/3 fresh geothermal heated pools with silica minerals. I have to say, it was VERY relaxing though quite a bit crowded. For 35 euro each, we received a wrist band that would open a locker for us to use and charge purchases on, which we would pay at the exit. It was a very efficient system. We went through the locker routine and headed out into the pools. The area was really rather large with alcoves for sitting, large sections for swimming, a steam room inside a lava rock cave, and a waterfall that delivered a nice upper back massage. There were plenty of people all over the place talking in so many different languages. We floated around, put silica mud masks on our faces, floated around some more, drank a smoothie each, floated around some more… you get the idea. By the time we got out, I was a prune.

We had a light lunch at the cafe and got back into our car, heading back to our first hostel in Keflavik where we had rented our car. In short order the car was returned and we were on a shuttle to the airport, arriving about 2 hours before our flight to Barcelona. Our flight to Spain was only 4 hours and we were lucky enough to be on a flight with empty seats in the emergency exit row. At first, we intended to ask the stewardess if we could switch seats, but when a gentleman from behind us jumped into one of the seats, we quickly followed suit and had a nice, spacious ride.

At midnight, we arrived in Spain! The wait for our baggage was about 20 minutes during which time Ryder was trying frantically to get some sort of internet access so we could plot our course to our hostel. Thankfully, he found that had saved a map that routed our path using public transportation. We grabbed our bags and walked out of the baggage claim and into the main lobby which was entirely empty. At the far end of the airport we found an ATM and pulled out some euros for the bus fare. Then came the hunt for the bus stop. Ryder thought it was to the left, I thought it was to the right. We walked down one end of the terminal, only to have the bus we wanted pass us by! So, we walked back to the other end only to have the next bus pass us by! As we frantically tried to wave this bus down, to no avail, a woman seated in a bench behind us started speaking to us loudly (and rapidly) in spanish and pointed further down the terminal. Ryder tried to ask her which bus would take us to our stop, but she didn’t seem interested in trying to understand his broken spanish.

Eventually, the right bus came and we were in the right spot. Ryder asked the driver as we got on if he was heading to the stop we wanted. He very kindly pulled out his glasses to look closely at Ryder’s phone map, while driving I might add, and confirmed for us that we were on the right bus. He then proceeded to pull out personal bills inorder to give us change for the large ones we had, while still driving. We stood in the back as the bus took off, bumping and clattering down narrow streets going insanely fast! At one intersection a group of people were standing close to the road and jumped out of the way when the bus flashed it’s high beams which it proceeded to do at most intersections. The streets were crowded with people, taxis, motor bikes, and cars at 1:30am! We watched the monitor flash the stops as we passed them, looking for the one we wanted. We got off at a stop next to a highway and a hospital (ie devoid of life) and waited for another bus to take us the next leg of our journey.

There we sat, with our luggage, on the bus bench for 30 minutes. I started freaking out after 20 minutes, threatening to flag down the next taxi I saw thinking the bus must not operate this late! Ryder, calm and collect as ever, told me to relax and give it another 10 minutes. Lucky him, the bus showed up. Another harrowing ride later, and we exited at La Rambla, the main drag in our part of Barcelona. With rolling suitcase and backpack in hand, we walked two blocks down three blocks over and one block to the left. We missed our turn at one point and had to double back. All this time, the streets were crowded with people, all dressed for a night on the town.

When we arrived at the outside entrance to our hostel, we both felt a little shady. The street was a dead-end into a construction zone and it was completely empty with graffiti tagging everywhere. We buzzed the hostel and were let in to a dank and dark marble stairwell that smelled of wet dog, yuck. We marched up the three flights and entered the hostel area that was wonderfully clean, airconditioned and friendly! We have a wonderful room with a balcony and our own private shower and sink (but no toilet, we need to go across the hall for that). We even have clean sheets at this place! By the time we settled in it was 3am, Ryder worked until 4am and then we slept in until 12pm today!!

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Hanging around Reykjavik

Jul 28

Hanging around Reykjavik

So yesterday we arrived in Spain at midnight and didn’t make it to our hostel until 3am. We had every intention to put up a blog post last night, but sleep over-ruled. Lets start with were we left off…

Our hostel in Reykjavik was a rather interesting experience. We arrived at the hostel after a long 2 hour drive back from Gullfoss. During the ride we were both so tired, I fell sleep 3 or 4 times while sitting up and attempting to do something engaging, and Ryder started singing at the top of his lungs to stay awake (there was no music playing). By the time we made it to Reykjavik, I was super giggly and Ryder was ready to be out of the car. We parked along a street that was only a block away from the street our hostel was located on. We didn’t know where exactly on the street it was so we started walking… 10 blocks later and one bathroom break and we arrived!

 The hostel itself may have been nice, but we had a room in a flat across the street in a completely different building. I’m a clean freak and this place gave me the shivers. Lets just say I only showered once and under duress. After we settled in, we headed out to the local grocery to purchase dinner (our room came with a shared bathroom and kitchen). It’s so strange because it was 11:30pm at this point and still completely light outside with plenty of people walking around. Our first night, as you can imagine, we passed out. We woke up at 11:00am, ate the breakfast of champions (bread, peanut butter, and nutella) and set off to explore Reykjavik!

Our first stop was the famous church Hallgrímskirkja a few blocks away. This church is the largest church in Iceland and the sixth tallest architectural structure. The statue in the front courtyard of the church was a gift from the US! We were able to get tickets to take the elevator to the top and the views were spectacular!

We left the church and stopped at a hot-dog stand just outside the plaza to try an Icelandic hot-dog with sweet mayonnaise (rémoulade), ketchup, and mustard. It was quite good. Then we walked back to the car to drive to the Viking museum on the water front. On they way, we stopped into a photographers studio and spoke with the artist’s wife who was managing the shop. She was from Thailand and gave us some great information on what to see and do when we get there.

Then it was in the car and we were off. Unfortunately, we went to the wrong museum. I had wanted to see the museum with the replica viking ship, but the one we went to was the Icelandic Maritime museum. They did have some information on the vikings but it was a small display at the front. We went through the whole exhibit before we realized our mistake and hurried out back into the car to drive to the right museum. It was closed. 🙁 Oh, well, something to see next time we visit.

We walked around the plaza a bit, wondering what to do with the remainder of our evening (it was 5:00pm at this point). Ryder did some searching on his phone and discovered a “warm beach” about 20 minutes from where we were. We decided to stop by an information booth to ask about it. The guy we spoke with suggested we go visit one of the many public pools in Reykjavik instead of the beach and pointed us to one about 15 minutes away with “great views.” We hopped into our little car and off we went to the public pool!

Public pools in Iceland are numerous and seem to be a community space for people to escape the biting cold weather in the winter and still cold weather in the summer. We arrived at the public pool, payed for our entrance and split our respective male and female lockers to put on our suits. Now, let me mention that I am a rather conservative person when it comes to, well, being naked. I only do it in the privacy of my own home. In Iceland, it is required for all people entering the pools to wash in the open showers in the facilities BEFORE putting on your bathing suit, ie butt naked. I verified this with a woman using the locker next to me who promptly said, “It’s the Icelandic way.” Ok, when in Rome, well in this case when in Iceland…

I met Ryder on the other side in the pool area. He had a similar experience to mine in the male lockers, lots of naked men (in my case women) walking around talking to each other. We wasted no time jumping into the pool, and swam our way over to the numerous hot tubs surrounding the pool with lots of bubbles and jets. We soaked for quite awhile and I think just about everyone knew we were foreign as they were all locals and we received plenty of stares. Ryder took a few minutes to steam in the steam room and then we went back into the lockers, showered again, dressed, and left back to Reykjavik.

Once in Reykjavik we walked around the shopping district close to our hostel and stumbled upon this plaza filled with people around our age drinking beer and listening to a DJ spinning tracks. The plaza was surrounded on all sides by three to four story buildings and each one had the most amazing artwork. We hung around here for a bit then headed to a bar to get some local Icelandic beer. We went into an bar that turned out to be an Irish pub and had two beers, a Guinness and Kilkenny. We met three people, a man and woman from Ireland and a man from England. We had hilarious conversations with them. At 10:45pm we decided we should probably get dinner, said our goodbyes, and headed down the block to this sandwich shop. The sandwiches were GREAT and immensely satisfying. We headed back to the hostel after and got to bed pretty late.

I’m going to take a break from writing to see some of Barcelona today. Tonight, I’ll add another about the Blue Lagoon yesterday and our travel to Spain.

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Keflavik to…

Jul 25

Keflavik to…

Today marks our first full day in a foreign country. I, Amanda, have to say, it isn’t what I had anticipated. I unknowingly and unfortunately came into this trip with a preconceived idea of what it would be like to visit another country as an American. In my rose-colored vision, people would be friendly, ask you if you needed help or strike up a conversation. Apparently I think the rest of the world is warm and fluffy… well, I feel much more aware and less naive now. This change isn’t from some horrid experience, but just something I’ve become aware of over the past 24 hours. Guess it’s back to reality…

Anywho, we flew into Keflavik at 11:45pm Iceland time and after some frantic running around, found our bags and our shuttle to our first hostel. We arrived only to find that our reservation had changed from our own little cabin with kitchen and bathroom to a twin room on the first floor with a shared bathroom. Eh, no big deal. We settled in and skyped with some family out in the hallway until 2am (9pm EST time) when we tried to get some shut-eye. 5 hours later, Ryder was waking me up for our big day! We had planned to catch a bus to Reykjavik from our hostel then take a shuttle tour of the “Golden Circle” of Iceland, BUT Ryder surprised me with a rental car!! Yippee!! Instead of siting on a bus for 6 hours, we could do our own version of the Golden Circle from the comfort of our own car!

A few harrowing roundabouts, one close call, and a few grey hairs later, we arrived at our first touring destination, Þingvellir National Park! Now this is the site of the first Parlament called Alþingi and was Iceland’s supreme legislative and judicial authority from its establishment in 930 until 1271. The Lögberg (Law Rock – seen in photo with the flag) was the focal point of the Alþingi and a natural platform for holding speeches. Additionally, this site marks the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates which can be clearly seen in the cracks surrounding the valley. The lake at the site is the largest natural forming lake in Iceland.

After our hike around the valley, we drove on to the next stop, the Great Geysir! This geyser is the reason all other geysers are called, well geysers.  It shoots water rather high 🙂

After hanging around the geyser for a bit, we drove to the last and best stop, Gullfoss waterfall (English: the Golden Falls) located in southwest Iceland.

I had planned to write more tonight, but it’s 12:48am here and I’m pooped out! More info on our drive to Reykjavik and stay at the 101 Guest Hostel tomorrow… good night all!


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