Wednesday, October 30, 2013 @ 08:15 pm from Spain
It was overcast all day and a bit on the chilly side but at least it wasn't raining. I got up, ate breakfast, had some coffee, read Game of Thrones for a little bit then got ready for the free walking tour that starts at the hostel every day.
The tour guide was a little late and then we walked to a few other hostels to pick up some more people for the tour. When we got to the final meeting place the group of people split among two tour guides and we went on our way through the city.
I'm assuming each tour guide does their own customized tour since we didn't see the other group the entire time. Our tour guide was originally from Brazil but has been living in Barcelona for the last 12 years. Her tour took us through the old Roman areas of the city as well as the Gothic quarter and she told us a lot of history about Catalan and how the region is working to become independent from Spain.
We also got to see where Christopher Columbus met with the Queen of Spain when he brought back items from the new world. Next to the old royal palace was where the inquisitors from the Spanish Inquisition passed judgement on people. I had no idea that they sat so high up above the peasants and normal folk as a way to impose a sense of power over them. You literally have to look straight up about 50 feet to see where they sat in a very ornate wooden balcony.
After that we saw some more sections of the old Roman wall as well as where the shore used to be during those times (a lot higher up than it is currently). Apparently a lot of the old gothic looking buildings in the city were built in the 1880's and are a complete facade to the original look of the churches. Many of the important buildings were also moved piece by piece from around the city into the gothic quarter. Some of this process lead to mishaps when it came to reassembly and arches didn't get completed or they were put in the wrong place (see one of the photos below).
We ended up at a bar down by the port where they gave cheap beers to people on the tour. I sat with a couple other people from my hostel and we sampled some tapas over beer. On the way back to the hostel we walked back up La Rambla and stopped in the Boqueria market again. One of the guys bought a full fish, mushrooms and some other veggies.
Once back at the hostel I worked for a while and read a little bit before making dinner. This hostel has free pasta, garlic and oils so I made some more pasta with garlic, red pepper, jamon iberico with some bread and wine.
Since I booked several more nights here before heading to Morocco I'm just going to take tomorrow easy. I'll probably head out and walk around town but don't really feel the need to get up at the crack of dawn to start the day. That's what I love about having more than a week in one place... the lack of feeling pressured to be out and about at every second of daylight.
Cool windows in Barcelona
Walls of an old square that was bombed in the 30's
Where the inquisitors in the Spanish Inquisition sat and judged the common folk (looking up)
Someone didn't do their math correctly
Tuesday, October 29, 2013 @ 08:26 pm from Spain
The weather was a bit crappy today so I wasn't really in too much of a rush, plus all the traveling yesterday wore me out. I got up, ate and then hung out at the hostel through lunch. The rain stopped for a while so after I ate I went out to explore a little bit of Barcelona.
There's a big main pedestrian area called La Rambla that's lined with shops, markets, cafes and restaurants. Some other travelers at the hostel told me about a giant market called La Boqueria that's full of meat, fruit, veggies, tapas, cheese and just about any other food you can think of. It was one of the best markets I've ever been to.
I walked around for a bit and got some clementines, some iberico ham and bread for dinner tonight. I also got a cup of fruit to eat while at the market. The prices of everything there was amazing and the fruit and veggies looked so much better than what you can get at the grocery. I'm planning on going back throughout the week to eat lunch there since there were so many different food stands there with delicious looking snacks and meals.
After strolling through the market I went down to the Placa Reial and ate a clementine before heading back to the hostel. It started raining a bit so I've spent the rest of the day at the hostel. It took me 4 months but I finally found a copy of Game of Thrones at the hostel book exchange and have started reading that.
For dinner I made some pasta with fresh cherry tomatoes, garlic and some of the ham I bought. It tasted amazing and it's something I'll probably make more throughout the week. The garlic, ham and tomatoes lightly fried in sunflower oil made a great topping for the pasta.
After dinner I booked my travel to Morocco as well as a few more nights here at the hostel since I'll be flying to and from Morocco from Barcelona. The flights were pretty cheap and they're direct which is nice. Callie and I will meet in Tangier then we'll catch a night train down to Marrakech where we'll spend a few nights before heading back up to Tangier for a night.
Tomorrow I'm going to check out the free walking tour that the hostel puts on. It's a two and a half hour tour that goes through the history and culture behind Barcelona. It's supposed to be a little on the cooler side but at least it's not supposed to be raining.
Meat stand at the Boqueria market in Barcelona
Monday, October 28, 2013 @ 09:34 pm from Spain
Holly's flight was scheduled for 11:15am so we wanted to be able to check out and get on the train to the airport sooner rather than later so she'd have time to get through security and everything. Amina (the owner of the apartment we were staying in) was a few minutes late but it wasn't that big of a deal. We hurried to the Gare du Nord station and got on the first RER B train to the airport. We were sweating like crazy due to the high humidity and being crammed into the train with a ton of other people. All of the trains were also delayed which wasn't a good thing to see.
The train we were on ended up stopping about 5 stops away from the airport and notices were posted that there were signaling problems and no one knew how long we might be delayed. With time counting down we didn't really have too many options so we headed out of the station and looked for other options.
None of the buses ran to the airport and there were no taxis in sight. There was also a big line of people waiting for the non-existent taxis. By now it was about 9:45am and her flight was scheduled to start boarding in a half hour. We were trying to figure out what to do when I saw a taxi van pull up across the street so we bolted over there and were the last ones to get on.
Everyone in the taxi was going to the airport which was great. We dropped one person off in Terminal 1 then swung over to Terminal 2 where some other people got off and finally we were taken to Terminal 2A where we needed to be. By the time we got to the security checkpoint it was around 10:20am. Once Holly went through security I waited around the area for about an hour just in case she missed her flight. It looked like everything went smoothly though and she was on her way back to the States.
I had a few hours to kill before my flight to Barcelona so I ate a sandwich I had packed and looked for a post office. Unfortunately the post office didn't appear to have boxes to ship things back so I figured I'll find a post office here in Barcelona. I checked my bag then hung out and waited for my plane.
Everything was on time with my flight and I got to Barcelona a little after 4pm. There's a bus service that runs from the airport to the center of Barcelona very frequently so I got on that then followed the directions the hostel gave me. It took me about 10 minutes to get to the hostel but I got checked in and unloaded my gear in the room.
They were clearing the water pipes so I couldn't make dinner or fill up my water bottle right away but eventually it was all fixed and I went to the grocery store and got some food. I made some pasta with red pepper and the spices I've been carrying around since Italy.
It's supposed to rain all day tomorrow so I'll probably just stay in or venture around the hostel area. There's a free walking tour every day from the hostel so I want to do that some time this week. Barcelona seems like a really laid back and cool city. It'll be fun to spend a week here and really get to know it.
Sunday, October 27, 2013 @ 10:51 pm from France
Apparently there was a time change today that we didn't know about. We woke up and then realized the time changed so we gained an extra hour. After waking up it started pouring down rain for about an hour and a half so we just hung out at the apartment.
Once the rain let up we headed out and got some coffee and breakfast/lunch. The breakfast portion was a big cookie looking thing with nutella as a filling and for lunch we each got ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. We had all of this on the steps of the Sacre-Coeur basillica overlooking the city. Since the rain let up it was a really nice morning with some great views.
After eating we did a little souvenir shopping then came back to the apartment to do another load of laundry. Once the laundry was finished we walked down to the Gare du Nord station and got our train tickets to the airport for tomorrow. We wanted to get that taken care of now so we wouldn't have to worry about it tomorrow.
On the way back from the train station we took a little walk around the Montmartre area and got a couple bottles of wine to finish off the week. We also stopped at a shop and picked up a raspberry tart that we've been eyeing all week. Before dinner we finished some wine and the tart.
We wanted to make sure we got some mussels and frites before leaving Paris and after doing some research we found out that a highly rated place was only a block away so we went there for dinner. We ordered some mussels provencial and a skirt steak and split them. The meal was great and both of us left completely stuffed (check out the instagram photo for a pic of what we had for dinner).
After eating dinner we came back to the apartment where we watched Catch Me If You Can and relaxed. It was nice to have our last day in Paris be relaxing and not feel rushed. We saw and did pretty much everything we wanted to do so today was really just a take it easy day. This week has been great. The weather has been pretty much perfect and aside from a few lines here and there, we've been able to see and do everything we wanted to without delay.
We'll check out of the apartment around 8:30am tomorrow morning then head to the airport. Holly heads home at 11:15am and my flight to Barcelona is around 2:30pm.
Saturday, October 26, 2013 @ 10:49 pm from France
We got up pretty early today in order to get to Versailles before the crowds. What we didn't plan for was the main train line from Paris to Versailles being closed. We got to the station and an attendant let us know about the closure and told us a different way to take to get there.
I think we got to Versailles around 11 and got in line for our tickets. We got the full ticket which also included access to the gardens and Marie Antoinette's palace. We packed a lunch and a couple small bottles of wine to enjoy in the gardens. When we went into the palace they scanned our bags and told us we needed to check them. It was a bit chaotic there so we just played the dumb tourist card and kept all of our wine and food anyway.
The first thing we did was the tour of the main palace at Versailles. It wasn't as busy as I thought it might be for a Saturday which was nice. An audio guide was included in the tour so we could hear about what the various rooms were used for.
We were getting hungry so we went out into the gardens and had our sandwiches with some fruit and wine. Our sandwiches consisted of baguettes with cheese, spinach, tomatoes and spiced olive oil. Some bees bugged us for a bit but otherwise it was a great relaxing spot to enjoy lunch in the gardens.
After we ate we went and saw Marie Antoinette's palace which is huge in its own right and also has its own giant gardens. Once we walked through there we drank our second mini bottle of wine at the end of the big pond with a great view of Versailles and the gardens in the distance.
On our way back to the main entrance it started to rain on us a bit but fortunately it didn't last too long. We walked through more of the gardens and saw a little music/fountain show. The gardens were great to walk around in the fall because you get all of the fall leaves and the smell associated with them.
Back at the palace we took a few more photos of the exterior with the dark storm clouds in the background and the palace lit up from the sun. It was a really nice contrast seeing it that way.
It was a little walk back to the train station but we got our tickets and missed the train by about 20 seconds so we had to wait about 15 minutes for the next one. Fortunately it was a direct train into Paris which made it a lot faster than getting to Versailles. When we got to Paris we hopped on the metro to the Eiffel tower to see it at night. We got there at the perfect time. We got some shots of the tower at sunset and then were also able to catch the light show they did at 7pm.
It had been a long day so we headed back to the apartment and grabbed a baguette, cheese and wine for dinner. The area near our place was packed with people out and about and both of us just wanted to get back and kick our shoes off.
Finally we made it back and have just been relaxing and enjoying not being on our feet. Tomorrow I'll upload all the photos we took today. There are some great shots from Versailles and the Eiffel tower.
Hall of Mirrors at Versailles
L'Orangerie at Versailles (with storm clouds behind it)
Friday, October 25, 2013 @ 09:58 pm from France
We took our time getting out of the apartment this morning and grabbed some coffee and croissants on the way down to the Catacombs. It took us a little over an hour to walk down there and when we got to the Catacombs there was a huge line wrapping around the block.
We weren't sure how long the line would take but once we stood there long enough we figured we were committed and stayed there over 2 hours to get inside. They only let 200 people in at any time so if it's busy, it can take a while to get the crowds through. I think today being Friday meant a lot more people were out and seeing the sights. We walked by the Louvre this morning too and it was also a lot more crowded than it was for us yesterday.
The Catacombs were really cool to walk through though. You can't get a full appreciation for the number of bones in there by looking at photos. There are hallways and tunnels that go on for miles and all of them are packed full of bones. The parts opened to the public stretch for about 2 kilometers and took about 45 minutes to get through.
Even though we had to wait longer, it was nice only having a certain number of people inside since it gave us some breathing room and we didn't feel rushed to get through. We were able to walk at a leisurely pace and take photos and check out all the designs made with bones.
We were pretty hungry when we got out since we weren't planning on waiting over 2 hours in line so we went up to a big street food area near Notre Dame and got some giant stuffed pitas for a late lunch. The pitas were filled with fries, chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and some kind of sauce.
After feeling a food coma coming on, we started walking back up to the apartment. It started raining and we ducked into a grocery to get some breakfast and lunch for tomorrow since we're planning on going to Versailles for the day and want to eat in the gardens. When we got out of the grocery the rain was picking up a lot more. It wasn't really raining hard, but we had about 2 miles to walk in the rain so we got pretty wet.
We relaxed at the apartment for a bit since we had been on our feet all day and walked about 9 miles again. After chilling for a bit with some wine and watching random French shows on TV we started some laundry and went out for gelato since the rain had stopped.
We're going to head to bed early tonight since we want to get an early start tomorrow and beat the crowds at Versailles if possible.
Enjoying a giant stuffed pita for lunch
Thursday, October 24, 2013 @ 11:34 pm from France
We got up this morning and walked down to the Louvre to spend the day in the museum. We made a slight detour first to get some coffee and breakfast. We each had some kind of apple filled breakfast pastry that was really good!
The Louvre is a giant museum and it would take days to cover all of it thoroughly. We started off seeing some of the Egyptian exhibits, then went through some of the sculptures, saw the Mona Lisa, browsed several areas of artwork and then ended in the Renaissance area. Fortunately the museum wasn't too crowded and we were able to see the works without having to wait in any real lines.
After the museum we went in search of a late lunch. We walked around a little bit and ended up in some pretty ritzy areas but finally found a creperie and we got a nutella/banana crepe as well as a ham/cheese crepe. Both of them were really good and definitely hit the spot.
After eating we went back up to the area our apartment is in and spent about an hour in the Montmarte Cemetery. It's full of giant crypts as well as tombstones. It was actually peaceful walking around in there. You could tell that some of them hadn't been taken care of in a long time but others had regular maintenance done on them.
On the way back to the apartment we walked through some side streets that were tree lined and full of shops. We stopped at a market and picked up some cheese and a baguette to munch on for dinner.
After taking a little bit of a break we went out after it got dark and were searching for a dessert. We had seen some raspberry tarts earlier in the week and were really craving one. We couldn't find exactly what we were looking for tonight but we did find a similar strawberry one which we bought as well as a mocha/chocolate cake. Both of them were delicious and were exactly what we were craving. We then walked around a bit and took some night photos of the streets near where we're staying.
Strawberry tart and chocolate cake
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 @ 10:07 pm from France
We got up and had some more pastries for breakfast then started the walk down to the Notre Dame cathedral. We passed through several nice streets as well as the Paris city hall building before getting to the cathedral. You don't realize how large the actual building is until you're standing in front of it.
We took some photos from the outside then went into the church. It's actually free entry and the interior is beautiful with all the stained glass lighting it up. The ceilings and support beams are extremely intricate in the way they were built and it's hard to think that all of this was done 850 years ago.
After touring the inside we walked around the whole cathedral then got some lunch and ate in a little garden with a view of the cathedral. It was nice in the park since it was pretty quiet and didn't have all the masses of people that had started to gather outside Notre Dame.
Once we finished eating we went down to the Luxembourg gardens and walked around. The leaves were crisp and it definitely felt and smelled like a fall day there. We sat on some benches in the sun for a while before heading back by the Notre Dame cathedral and up to the Marais area. Along the way to Marais we walked along the Seine river and then walked across the bridge where everyone puts locks on the fence. Marais is an area of town with tiny streets and a lot of shops. There were falafel shops everywhere and the food smelled amazing.
We finished walking around there then started back toward the apartment. Along the way we went into a market and got some spinach, wine, bread and a red pepper for dinner. We relaxed back at the apartment for a bit letting our feet get a break from all the walking. Today was another 9 mile day of walking around too.
Before dinner we went out and got some shrimp to cook as well. For dinner we made shrimp with the leftover green beans from last night, spinach, red pepper and the olive oil/spice mixture. We also had some bread and cheeses with it.
We just wanted to relax the rest of the night so we watched Zombieland and will probably head off to bed soon. Two full days of long walks have made both of us pretty tired.
Inside Notre Dame Cathedral
Stained Glass in Notre Dame
Tuesday, October 22, 2013 @ 10:11 pm from France
We got up and got some coffee and pastries from a bakery on our way up to the Sacre-Coeur basilica. We were thinking about climbing to the top of the basilica yesterday but there were a lot of people up there and the sun was pretty harsh. This morning was the complete opposite. We pretty much had the entire dome to ourselves and the views of the city were great.
We spent some time up there then did some navigating through Paris to get to the Eiffel tower. For some reason they weren't selling tickets to the top level at the base. We purchased tickets to the 2nd level which was high enough to see pretty much all of Paris. Instead of waiting an hour to get to the top, we went back down, got some wine, bread and cheese and ate and drank in the park with the tower in the background.
After polishing off a bottle of wine and a baguette we took a bunch of photos of the Eiffel tower form different viewpoints then headed over to the Arc de Triomphe. It was starting to sprinkle rain by now but it was warm enough that it didn't really matter. We stayed under the Arc de Triomphe for a bit and then walked down the Champs Elysees to the Egyptian obelisk.
It was still sprinkling on us so we headed back to the apartment and got some wine, pasta and veggies on the way. For dinner I made some pasta with green beans, red pepper and Italian spice mixes. Since then we've just been enjoying some wine and people watching out our windows.
Tomorrow we're going to head down to the Notre Dame cathedral and check out that area.
Eiffel tower from the Sacre-Coeur
Monday, October 21, 2013 @ 09:01 pm from France
Today was the day Holly arrived in Paris! Staying the night at the airport worked out really well for me. I could take my time in the morning and take the short shuttle service from Terminal 3 to Terminal 2. I got there a little early and before too long she got through customs and we were on our way into the city!
We pulled out some cash from an ATM to pay for the hotel (it's actually an apartment which is really awesome) then jumped on a train to Paris Nord. There are a bunch of exits from the station and I lead us to the wrong one but it worked out alright. We aimlessly walked around then got some coffee from a little cafe.
After the coffee we made our way down to the Orange store to pick up our WiFi dongle so we can have access to maps and data while we're out exploring the town. It was pretty easy to tell the employee what I wanted since they had some product magazines and I was able to point at the picture of what we needed.
It was about time to check into the hotel so we got here about a half hour early but quickly realized it's not a hotel but rather an apartment that gets rented out. The owner showed up right at 2 and we checked in. The place is really nice! A full kitchen, a living room and a bedroom with several windows that overlook the popular Rue des Abbesses.
After relaxing for a bit we went and visited the Sacre-Coeur which is a big church up on the hill with views of the entire city. We got there kinda late and the sun was behind the city which made for poor photos. Tomorrow we'll head up to the top and get some good shots of the city.
We did some more wandering around and went to a shop near the Moulin Rouge and got some wine, a baguette and some other random food and came back to the room. We've been having fun looking out the window and counting all the people walking around with baguettes. It's so stereotypical to portray French people as walking around carrying bread but it's actually so true. After some wine we went out and got dinner. We got some local roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, a salad and some bread covered in ham, cheese and tomatoes.
We're calling it an early night tonight so Holly can fight the jet lag. Tomorrow we're planning on also seeing the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. So far the weather has been absolutely perfect. Hopefully it holds out the rest of the week! I'll have some photos to upload tomorrow.
Artists selling their work
Moulin Rouge - A bit of an anti-climax
Where I've been:
All the countries I visited on this trip (in yellow).
What's this about?
Traveling is something I've loved doing for as long as I can remember. I've been lucky enough to travel out of the US a few times but never longer than 2 weeks at a time. I decided that I should go see the world and experience all it has to offer. I booked a one-way ticket to Dublin, Ireland to depart on June 26, 2013. After I get to Europe I'll let serendipity take hold and see where I end up. No schedules and no itinerary… just go with the flow. That's as close to a plan as I'm making.
Who am I?
My name's Brandon O'Brien and I'm a travelholic. Before this journey I've been to 11 countries and put over 17,500 miles on various motorcycle trips through the USA and Canada. I'm a self-employed web developer so I'm fortunate enough to be able to work anywhere there's an internet connection. That's what truly made this experience possible.