It was 9:35 am when we arrived at Sants train station in Barcelona. It was our first time booking our own train adventure and our first time stepping foot in Barcelona Sants.
Our newfound friends Jordan and Jessica were coming along for this adventure and had anticipated that Shannon and I knew what we were doing.
Jordan is one of those rare individuals in life who flies by the seat of her pants without a care in the world. My favorite people are the ones like Jordan, nothing bothers her and she is up for virtually anything.
Jessica on the other hand, runs on a tight schedule. She always knows her next move before it happens and does not like unforeseen changes. Unfortunately, for Jessica, Shannon and I are winging life. We thrive on the unexpected and seek out the unknown. We love the sense of adventure that comes from blind decision-making. The thrill of the unknown is like a drug for us we crave it, routine bores us. Of course, there is always a time and a place for this but our travels are the perfect time to cave into this deep desire to explore the world without a plan.
Before arriving at the station, we had decided our day trip would be to Girona. We knew nothing about Girona, except that one of my professors had said it was necessary to visit, a quaint little city.
We looked at the monitor for Girona, finding a train scheduled for 9:49 am, just enough time for us to buy our tickets and find the terminal. Having never booked a train ticket, we sought the nearest attendant who sent us to a booth.
After waiting 5 minutes in line, we asked the ticket sales person, “Cuatro alquileres para Girona, por favor” (Four tickets to Girona please).
In which she responded, “Tu necesitas usar la machina ahí” (you need to use the machine there) pointing towards a machine that looked like an ATM.
We looked at her with confusion, “…..pero, no hay alquileres para Girona aquí, pero la mujer ahí nos dio que aquí nos podrían ayudar?” (but..there are no tickets for Girona here? but the women over there said you could help us).
By now, we had already missed the 9:49 am train to Girona.
Jessica was fuming, her jaw was tense her face red with frustration at Shannon and I for not figuring this out before and for being so leisurely in the morning. Ticket-less and still not sure how to buy tickets we returned to the monitor to find the next train to Girona. The next available train was over an hour later, at which point I turn to my friends and said, “Let’s go to France!”
Shannon looked at me giggling, “Maybe, how long does it take?”
“You are insane,” exclaimed Jessica as she stared at Google maps looking for a city to the north that had a train leaving in the next 15 minutes.
I laughed and said, “No, seriously forget Girona, let’s get on the next available train northbound, wherever that takes us.”
Jordan shrugged her shoulders and said, “Okay, why not.”
After about thirty minutes of debating where we were going, we returned to our original plan and bought a 10:50 ticket for Girona. With a half hour to burn, we decided to venture to the nearest restaurant, an upscale McDonalds, to grab a coffee before heading to the terminal.
Our happiness returned to normal as caffeine started to run through our veins.
Shannon looks at her phone we had 10 minutes to get through security, find our terminal and board the train.
After another 5 minutes of searching, we found our terminal and jumped on the train as the doors were shutting.
Feeling accomplished I turned to my friends and said, “We made it”
With a glare and smile, Jessica nodded.
Shannon laughed, “BARELY.”
We were off on our next adventure having learned the value of planning. Trains wait for no one.
In my last post I explained what Carnival is after having gone to the opening night of Carnival in Barcelona, but after watching the opening ceremony filled with explosives and performances and lively people I decided I had to head to Sitges for Fat Tuesday to really understand what all the hype was for.
For Carnival, people dress up in all sorts of costumes and go watch/participate in a parade. Naturally my friends and I went to the dollar store and spent five dollars on a “costume”. When we arrived we spent three hours watching the entirety of the parade in a group of local families.
We giggled with some old folks as they enjoyed the parade and the confetti being cannoned into our faces. At about eleven we decided to search for food and the beach before getting on the train back to Barcelona.
We came up short on our search for food, as most of the businesses on the quite side, local side of town were closed at that point. I was determined to find the beach before I could leave so we abandoned our search for food and headed down a quiet ally that had been mostly untouched by the confetti of the week.
Two blocks down we could see traces of the beach, we walked out of the ally and walked into the middle of the biggest street party I had ever seen.
The three hour long parade we had just finished watching was circling around the beach in what felt like a never ending line. The confetti only multiplied, people lined the streets in what felt like a jungle. The drunken stupor of the people passing by us was somewhat tribal.
Men were fighting in what looked like two bucks fighting over a doe. Ruthlessly hitting one another and then after accepting defeat trotting off to the next bar to pick another fight.
There was vomit and broken glass under mountains of confetti. Women were passed out on benches the beach was filled with friends and lovers alike. My only surprise was that there were no skinny dippers braving the water.
It was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. It was like watching a horror movie unfold in front of you, the most shocking and entertaining form of people watching I have ever encountered.
Similar to New Orleans Spain celebrates a strange festival called Carnival, the week before the beginning of Lent.
To understand why I think this is strange, it is important to know that lent is a religious practice, used in Christian denominations (predominantly Catholicism). It is the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday in which Christians “prepare” for the resurrection of Jesus. Often this preparation is through some sort of a fast, not a physical “I am not eating” fast, but a fast of the things that get between us and Jesus. Today people often give up social media, sweets, alcohol. This fast is meant to cause a re-focus on Jesus and should be filled with prayer and “clean living”.
The irony of the lent period is that often times these are things that Christians should already be doing in their everyday life.
I suppose it should not be a surprise that the holiday before lent would be just as ironic.
Carnival is a week long party where people essentially “sin” as much as they can to “get it out of their system” before the lent period of fasting (clean living). So, to prepare to prepare for Jesus people party for a week straight.
I am in love with Granada. For so many reasons Granada has become, and has thus far remained, my favorite place in Spain. Why? Well for several reasons.
First, let’s talk about the definition of a Tapa or Tapas.
According to Wikipedia, “Tapas are a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks, in Spanish cuisine. They may be cold or hot. In select bars in Spain, tapas have evolved into an entire, sophisticated cuisine.”
In Barcelona, tapas are just that, delightful little snacks. Usually containing some form of potatoes, bread and Jamon Iberico (aka the best ham you will ever consume).
However, in Granada the word tapas takes on an entirely different meaning. Granada is the birthplace of the tapa but tapas are not just little snacks here. They can be entire meals of anything, paella included. When you say tapas in Granada, you are actually talking about a plate of food served as a “thank you” for ordering a drink.
That means for every drink you order, you will receive a free snack, or in some cases meal. Yes that is right I said FREE. Nothing is free you say? Well when I spend two dollars on a “Tinto de Verano” (wine mixed with juice) and come out with dinner too it feels free, if not just incredibly cheap.
Okay cool Cara, free food, but what is so special about Granada?
Aside from the copious amounts of free food I consumed during my stay in Granada, the Arab influence in Granada makes it unique from the rest of Spain.
We had the opportunity to go to a Hammam (Arab bath) and it was an experience so unique I wish I could relive the whole thing.
Upon arrival, I walked into the Arab baths and was guided to a room to change into my swimsuit. I was then ushered to a room with five different pools all with varying temperatures. The rooms had ornate tile decor and carvings on the ceilings.
We were invited to spend two hours in the “spa” and receive a massage followed by laying on a hot stone. We were also able to try Moroccan Mint Tea, which was absolutely to die for.
Aside from this experience, we were able to tour the Alhambra, a palace that has grown and endured through many different reigns.
We spent a great deal of time walking through the maze of the Verea Caves. A neighborhood of gypsy houses carved into the side of the mountain and painted white to improve the appearance. As minimal as these caves are, I was able to see the vast differences between the Spanish Gypsies and the Gypsies in Romania who live in shanty homes in gardens unsafe to venture in.
Most of all though, I loved Granada because of its proximity to nature. Granada lies in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. You can smell the fresh mountain air throughout the city and the quaint “river” (more like creek) that runs through town adds to the unending charm of the city. This was a place I look forward to returning to.
Guernica. Guernica is best known as a painting, a work of art, a sheer masterpiece created by non-other than Pablo Picasso. Guernica, however, is actually a very small town in the north of Spain just west of Bilbao.
Guernica was bombed by the Germans on April 26, 1937 as they “helped” Franco (Spanish Dictator) and gave the Luftwaffe practice of blitzkrieg tactics for what Hitler was planning for the future AKA World War II.
Picasso painted Guernica for display at an exposition displayed at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris, as a cry for help to the western world. The painting is one of the most successful anti-war peaces in history and has finally been given to Spain following the end of the Franco reign.
So today, we were able to visit El Guernica, the famous painting by Picasso, but more importantly, we got a better understanding of what was happening in Spain in the 1930s. And I I have a new appreciation for cubism, because I can see the destruction and chaos that the work communicates.
On a much lighter note, after our visit to The Reina Sophia Museo we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring El Retiro Park, which is a ginormous park in the middle of Madrid that was once the Royal Gardens. Shan and I felt delighted to be surrounded by trees!
This weekend we are off to Granada with our program to visit the Arab baths and the Alhambra. Stay tuned.
I haven’t posted in about a month but a whole lot has happened in that month so I just thought I would preface the plethora of posts that are about to occur by warning you all that I am going to blow up your email, Facebook, and Instagram feeds while I play catch up. Sorry for the inconvenience and please don’t stop following me for this.