Tiernan’s Trip to San Sebastian

Hi everyone! Tiernan’s taking another one for the team here. Which is very pertinent since we are in THE LAST TWO WEEKS OF RACHELINIRELAND.COM – more on that this Friday.

But first, let’s have a little look around the seaside city of San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque Region. Tiernan managed to film a little bit during a quick work-related trip at the beginning of December. It looks like a beautiful little place! We will definitely try to get back there together and do some more exploring. Judging by the pub spreads, it really looks like the sort of place I need to visit!

Apparently it’s a bit like tapas, but not. The bars have food laid out. You order and drink and fill a plate, then you move on to another bar and do the same. And so on and so forth.

Apart from eating, Tiernan managed to get in a few decent walks. Two of the best tips for exploring a new European town are always:

  1. Head to the old town and,
  2. Head to the highest point

Tiernan managed to do both in one day!

Have you ever been to San Sebastian before? Any tips for a long weekend away there?

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Treating Ourselves to Fuerteventura

Here is something I haven’t done in a long time: written a blog post from a hostel dorm. Room 11, Bunk 11. I refuse to trudge up to the hostel cafe to add a level of classiness to the scene. This is the most backpacker I have been in a long time and although I am enjoying it now, I am sure when the other 11 inhabitants show up we are going to be feeling the pinch of so many girls in so small a space.

I’ve hauled my tiny (by backpacker standards) 30L pack up here with me. Keeping everything inside the nest I am building for the night. The only truly disconcerting this is the vintage doll poster screwed into the wall opposite. I am going to be staring at Betty all night.

It’s time to finish the story of the Fuerteventura. The next morning was filled with intense excitement at the prospect of visiting the buffet. Being able to order eggs in every which way is the novelty of staying in hotels. In our excitement to get downstairs, Claire went down in her slippers. We had to go ride the lift two further times to get her into a proper state of dress.

After our hour long taxi ride we ruled out day tripping during this long weekend. We wanted to sink into everything the resort had to offer – and that’s an unintended swimming pool metaphor. But before we headed for the loungers, we decided to walk off our food babies on the beach.

Playa del Matorral

First look! Playa del Matorral, overlooked by dozens of resorts.

Playa del Matorral is a milky stretch of white sand wrapping around the South East of Fuerteventura. A protected coastal ecosystem separates the resorts strip from the sand. It’s also entirely clothing optional. At one point I was convinced we were the most overdressed people on the beach in our maxi-dresses.

playa del matorral

In March the water is still freezing and the days aren’t warm enough to tempt me into an icy dash and plunge scenario. Walking was the only beach activity we participated in during this excursion to the ocean.

The first morning we walked south where the sand seems to continue forever (it doesn’t, the beach is only 1 kilometre long). The second, we tried going north across the rocks, where the coast is more craggy and little ground squirrels parade their cuteness.

Playa del Matorral

The novelty of the buffet had not worn off by lunchtime and we returned to it to find a new array of options. Two days is the perfect amount of time for buffet food; enough time for every meal to be a surprise, but not so much that it gets a bit samey. The desserts were deceptively beautiful. Look at this warm rainbow of what the northern Irish would call ‘buns’. They look good, don’t they? Tragically, they are all filled with mock cream and taste like nothing.

dessert buffet

The dessert buffet at lunch

Armed (the puns are STRONG today) with our elite wristbands (see), we were able to use any of the food facilities on the resort. We swanned into the snack bar to abscond with tubfuls of ice cream and take them back to our chosen poolside spot.

poolside jandia

The long term sunbathers committed to their positions at around 7.30am that morning. Arriving after lunch, we took whatever was left. Everywhere had a nice balance of sun and shade so we happily moved into the mocktail/cocktail phase of the trip. This is the only aspect of the trip I could have done more of. It was the first time I had switched off on holiday in years. Possibly since Boracay. I read an entire book and made so many notes for blog posts that I felt a great sense of achievement despite not having produced any of them yet.

Overall, I did not think this was going to be my sort of holiday. There were no museums to be visited, no 6am wake up calls, no hostel beds (save the one I am in now). I could eat and drink as much as I want and didn’t have to worry about a €15 per day food budget.

But I learned we could all use a bit of luxury once in a while. Simply reading a book by the pool or taking advantage of the massive tub and not adhering to yet another self-imposed deadline is absolutely essential to combat ‘brain-fried-ness’!

Have you treated yourself to anything recently?

The highs and lows of arriving in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands

IMG_4793
I thought my trip to the Canary Islands was going to be the next big holiday where I could photograph all of the things and have TONNES of stories to bring back for everyone. Well, we certainly got some stories out of it! But I grossly under estimated how many activities I would want to do once I saw the view, the pool and the buffet.

The trip very rapidly turned into one involving copious amounts of lazing about and eating ice cream, coupled with morning walks on the beach with one of my good friends, Claire.

When we first arrived at Fuerteventura airport we were already an hour behind schedule. Our flight was delayed out of Gatwick, giving us an extra hour to sip our beverages in the Costa. So instead of beginning our adventure to find the resort in day light, we arrived on the back of a dramatic sunset.

I’d had a rough flight. It seemed the whole flight was full of people so keen to make it to their holiday destination that they completely forgot they were sharing the fuselage with anyone else. Here are a few of the notes I wrote while on the plane:

I have a crotch in my face for the fifth time in the last two hours. The girl sat in front of me cannot let a few moments pass without jumping up again to retrieve something or other from her bag, which is inconveniently positioned in the locker above my head.

This flight is full of mostly English holiday makers headed for Fuerteventura in search of some winter sun this Easter. They click their fingers and gesticulate obnoxiously at the cabin crew; demanding more tiny bottles of prosecco, badgering them for oblong boxes of hot meals concealed under an unappetising tin lid and I have to keep mentally reminding myself than being able to go on holiday is a privilege (a mantra I wish I could emphatically yell in the face of my neighbour who is reaching over me again without an attempt at gaining permission to enter my personal bubble). 

This island better be worth the 3 hours and 55 minutes it takes to get there. It’s half plea half threat. I can see the bottle edging closer to the end of my neighbour’s tray table. The side nearest me. It’s an accident waiting to happen so I am pleased to observe the bottle is empty. It falls, catching me in the knee. I accept an apology with a smile and in inward voice says in exasperation ‘you’re not alone on this flight! Try to keep yourself to yourself at least a little!’

After arriving we had hoped to take a bus to our resort which was at the far south of the Island. Unfortunately we had now missed the scheduled public service and were joining a long line for a taxi. A British travel company employee inside the terminal had been extremely unhelpful here – informing us that 14 flights had landed together due to schedule changes but not giving us any other options other than the sad queuing reality we were already aware of! She really need not have iced that cake unless she was going to provide alternatives.

But the queue moved quickly enough to want to praise the Canary Island taxi service and we climbed into a car after 20 minutes. The driver got out to tell another that he was going to Jandia (after we had a couple of drivers who did that, I assume it’s their policy to tell someone when they will be off the grid for two hours). We drove off into the night, listening to pop music for 1 hour and 15 minutes before pulling up at the resort – ironically earlier than the bus would have.

We decided to stay at Barcelo Jandia because they had a premium club that is adults only. It’s not that I don’t like kids – I just thought it was time to enjoy a poolside holiday in complete silence (I was not disappointed. No one talks to each other in the adults area. Every couple or group kept to themselves and I swear I only heard one cross party conversation stream in three days).

Checking in was a simple process. Although I was travelling with a backpack and looked completely out of place, I had that special premium booking which mean we got outstandingly personalised service. The receptionist greeted us and was very helpful at showing us what facilities we could avail of (all of them). She wrapped our wrists with a black band and advised us that although dinner was over, they would send us up a cold meal ‘soon’. Then she directed us to our room ‘which has sea views,’ she told us joyously.

Of course, there was nothing to see when we got into the room. It was pitch black outside and it did not matter because Claire and I immediately took to emptying all the cupboards. We dressed in our hotel robe and slippers, cracked the complementary champagne (coke for me) and began to lounge. A hour later, dinner arrived. It was all Spanish ham and deliciousness and we were very happy indeed.

The only flaw in this plan was the giant double bed rather than the twin room we had requested. Rather than kicking a fuss, we soon discovered that if we both lay on opposite sides and stretched out our arms, we could not touch each other. I built a fort and it was actually quite comfy.

When dawn rose the next morning I sprang out of bed in hopes of some sunrise photos. Unfortunately I was distracted by the most inviting looking pool ever, all azure in the morning light…
barcelon jandia canary islands
And so the holiday began!

Top 10 Tips For Traveling Through Barcelona

Le Sagrada Familia

My final post for Barcelona! I can’t believe I managed to weasel four posts out of this trip.

The trip would have been completely self indulgent if I were not to pass on some of the things that helped me in my weekend. Some of the following tips and tricks came from my own experience while others were suggested to me by people I met along the way.

Without further ado, I bring you the Top Ten Travel Tips for Barcelona!

1. Aerobus return ticket: The Aerobus makes the journey from the airport to Plaça Catalunya in about 35 minutes and busses come every 5 – 10 minutes!

There are two routes: A1, which goes to the Domestic terminal; and A2, to International. Both leave from outside the door to arrivals and loop around to Plaça Catalunya. The aerobus has specific stops from where you must pick up the service. It does not stop at every bus stop en route.

A return ticket to the airport is valid for 9 days and will set you back €9.75. I bought both directions at the risk of getting pick-pocketed (see No.7) and saved a few euro. You can purchase your tickets from ticket machines at the airport and Plaça Catalunya, or from the bus driver. In case of the latter – make sure you have cash. Ticket machines are multi lingual.

2. 10-pass for the Metro: 10 rides for under €10. In fact for €9.45 you can use the metro ten times within zone one.
Barcelona Metro

You’ll be wanting to use the metro a lot, if only to keep out of the heat. This was you can easily and cheaply traverse the city without getting heat stroke in the middle of summer. 

So, purchase a T-10 ticket from the ticket machines at the metro station. On my journey we used one ticket between three of us.

Zone one will get you to Barceloneta, La Rambla, La Sagrada Familia and most of the other major sights.

Walking tour Barcelona3. Walking tours: The best value tours are free! Well at least on face value – you tip what you feel the tour was worth at the end.

Take at least one walking tour while you’re in town and do it as soon as possible. This way you will see the sights, and learn some history, before deciding which attractions you want to go in to. You may even get some local information on they way around the queues! (HINT HINT Buy your tickets to La Sagrada Familia online HINT HINT)

I took two walking tours while I was in Barcelona. One of the Gothic Quarter and one of Gaudi’s Architecture. Both were fabulous, informative and thoroughly good value.

4. A good hostel: It might just be a place to sleep, but a nice night sleep can make all the difference. I opted for the boutique hostel Backpackers BCN Diputacio about a ten minute walk from Plaça Catalunya. It was reasonably cheap and breakfast was included.

Browse Hostel World and Hostel Bookers (thanks, James) for the best deals! You’re bound to find something for your budget on there. Expect to pay at lest €20 per night.

5. El Menu del Dia: Probably the best tip I recieved on tour was from our guide, Debbie.

Debbie advised us to walk at least two blocks in any direction from the major attractions to start finding the little restaurants and cafes that locals would frequent. She also pointed out that we should look out for El Menu del Dia, The Meal of The Day. Between €7 and €15 it includes starter, main, dessert and a complimentary beverage! Excellent value.

These menus change daily and are almost always written in Catalan or Spanish. Figure out the names of some Spanish dishes you like before going: ensalada? paella? Some translations are listed here. There often won’t be anyone to translate for you, so write these translations in your travel note book!


6. Fending for yourself
: Finding a supermarket in the city is a simple task. There was one just around the corner from Backpackers BCN Diputacio called Mercadona. They are one example of a supermarket chain in Spain. Look for signs saying Supermercat and you’re in the right place. You can get by quite cheaply shopping like a local and making your lunch for the day. This is also the cheapest place to by water.

I found supermarkets very interesting. Pink popcorn, for example, was something I had never seen before so a lot of the souvenirs I purchased were actually bought from the supermarket! If you’re out for the living-like-a-local experience you will definitely find it here.

7. Travelling smart, not scared: Barcelona is one of the world’s pick pocketing capitals! This doesn’t mean you should live in terror. It does mean you should be wary of your belongings. These people are out to make a quick buck, so if you make it difficult for them they will leave you inLa Rambla Barcelona peace.

Zip up your hand back and keep your hand on the opening. Wear your back pack on your front – particularly when on public transport.

Be aware of situations where people are trying to draw your attention or jostle you such as walking down La Rambla and getting off the Metro.

While I was there a woman put her camera down in a bar for a moment and just like that it was pinched. As Mad-Eye Moody would say in Harry Potter, “Constant vigilance!”

Park Guell Barcelona crowd8. Carry change: Life is going to be easier by doing so, particularly if your catching the bus that you have the correct change for your ticket or as close to it as possible. Often drivers will not accept notes larger than a €20. Break down your notes when you can and it will also make tipping simple. It’s definitely safer than carrying a lot of large notes. Plan ahead, withdraw what you need and store the rest.

9. Practice your Spanish/Catalan: In Barcelona the majority of people speak Catalan, the local language to Catalonia that reminds me of both Spanish and French. Learning some basic words and phrases will help you immensely. You can get by without it, but I always believe attempting to speak the language will inspire people to want to help you out. I recommend counting from one to ten, basic colours, and foods you will see on a menu. Here are some quick basics:

Yes/No: Si/No
Please/Thank you: Si us plau/Gracies
Do you speak English? Parla anglès vostè?

The difference with Spanish is subtle in some places and huge in others, but if you have basic Spanish, like I did, you will be able to use that and be understood.

10. Read blogs! I bet you did not see this coming 🙂 – especially if you have found this page as part of your travel research. Doing research is only going to make things easier for you. Blogging is the best way to do this because you are reading from the experiences of other travelers and locals. You can find out what’s happening in town and perhaps some places to visit you hadn’t considered.

Here are a couple of cool blogs worth trying!

Barcelona Fr3k
Barcelona for idiots
From Barcelona

Social media is at your finger tips. Search through blog tags, Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags to find out what’s going on!

I hope you picked up some useful tips, thank you for dropping by and please check out my other Barcelona blogs in the Explore section 🙂

Spanish catalan flags

On the Trail of Antonio Gaudi

Passion facade   

Amy and I, with our new found friend Kelea, got up rather begrudgingly (at 9 am) Wednesday morning to already climbing temperatures. Kelea pointed out another walking tour over breakfast and liking free things as I do we set off for Plaça Reial. The weather was fantastic so there was already a small throng of people gathered around the Runnerbean Tours guides. We quickly grabbed stickers for the Gaudi tour.

Operator: Runnerbean Tours
Area: Gaudi
Guide: Debbie
Duration: 2 1/2 hours

 

Joining the tour in Plaça Reial

 

Walking tour Barcelona

Operator: Runnerbean Tours
Area: Gaudi
Guide: Debbie
Duration: 2 1/2 hours

1. Plaça Rieal: The tour met here, at the sight of Antonio Gaudi’s only public work – a pair of lamposts. I was starting to wonder if Gaudi was really before his time at all. They were definitely specialist interest and I think even if they were built today people would have a thing or two to say about them.

Our guide however, Debbie, was a bubbly woman from the US Virgin Islands. Her first task was to introduce us to Gaudi and then inform us that her goal was to give us an idea of Gaudi and his works so we can decide for ourselves which of Barcelona’s many sighs we wish to see closer. She had a way of speaking that just makes you want to listen. Particularly as she introduced us to her orange folder – the beacon we followed across the crowds of La Rambla.

Palau Guell

2. Palau Guell: This is the mansion Gaudi designed for his eventual patron, Eusebi Guell. Gaudi got his hands on it between 1880 and 1889 when the final touches were completed. It is partially open to the public and is full of Gaudi symbolism. The Catalan flag is represented in the iron façade, for example. It is just a beautiful building all up and looks to me as though it is covered in scoops of ice cream! I am suddenly hungry and remain so for the rest of the tour.

Gaudi had the great fortune of living in Barcelona at a time when the wealthiest families were going through a period of ostentation. Everyone wanted to display their good fortune where the rest of the population could see it. This is why there are so many magnificent façades in Barcelona. You don’t need to enter the houses and museums to see the beauty.

Passaig de Gracia

Mosaics

Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo at night

Casa Batllo next door to a former chocolatier

3. Casa Batllo: Next we jumped on the metro and made our way to Passaig de Gracia. From there we had a walk about up the road to visit two more of Gaudi’s commissions. The first was Casa Batllo which is a nineteenth century building remodeled from 1904-1906 right next to a former chocolatier which was also redesigned, though by another architect.

Debbie has the group guessing. What do we think the building resembles? Skulls, the sea, a dragon! Although Gaudi had a strong idea about what he wanted the buildings to represent there is plenty of opportunity to have your own interpretation – like all good art.

Casa Mila

Casa Mila at night

Detail Casa Mila

4. Casa Mila: We move on to Casa Mila which has perhaps the funniest story of the flamboyant artist, the tramp husband and the rich wise. Mila employed Gaudi to redesign the façade of his building with his rich wife’s money. Gaudi and his employer were at loggerheads from the start. Unsurprising as Gaudi had a tendency to go exorbitantly over budget! When the building was finished in 1912 it was proclaimed a disaster – not by the architect of course. It is said that women would cover the eyes of their children as they passed.

Mila’s wife, in particular, hated the building. However, she managed to wait until Gaudi’s death before plastering over her apartment. I have to wonder if she realized the little snarks Gaudi made in the design. Particularly the bird on the third floor balcony that looks as though it is defecating on Mila’s apartment! Overall it looks a little like something out of the Flintstones.

La Sagrada Familia

Le Sagrada Familia

5. La Sagrada Familia: A second metro ride later and we reached the place I had been dying to visit! La Sagrada Familia sprung up like a craggy cake. We wandered the periphery, observing the gorgeous sculpture work while Debbie read us the story of the bible – in pictures. In the end I was definitely worse for wear, but completely ecstatic to be standing at the foot of one of the most famous buildings in the world.

* * *

The following morning Amy and I took off early for the metro. Following some of Debbie’s hints from the day before we rode the L3 metro to Vallcarca we followed a trickle of wiser tourists towards Park Guell. The reason she suggested this way was the open air escalators which would convey us to the top. Amy and I had previously determined that we did not need a thigh work out.

Park Guell

The park was already full of people. Every vantage point was crowded, but we found a bench to eat our handily packed cheese sandwiches. This was not the longest park bench in the world – which Park Guell also boasts, but a little wooden one in the shade.

Amy in a throng of people atop the hill

From the top of the hill - Barcelona

Relaxing in the sun?

Gorgeous Day Escalators to Park Guell

Park Guell Barcelona crowd

Barcelona Metro

We spent a few hours walking about and taking photos before trudging back down to the metro. At this point the skies opened and it did not stop raining even after I was on my way to the airport. Unfortunately this meant we decided to skip a visit to Barceloneta as we were thoroughly drenched. I guess that means I will have to go again?

When my flight got in to Dublin Airport at 1 o’clock in the morning Friday I was really happy to see my boyfriend and a bunch of roses waiting for me! Happy to be home 🙂

             

The Barcelona Dinosaur Exchange

As you know, I was in Barcelona this week. While I was there I came across a young woman from California named Kelea Somerton. I met Kelea at about 7 o´clock at night; about two hours after she had arrived at the hostel and immediately passed out in the four bed dorm Amy and I were sharing with her. Feeling pretty much the same, we did likewise.

Eventually, we all woke up. It wasn´t long before we took to chatting the usual chat one chats when staying in a hostel (Dr. Seuss-eque heh!). Who are you? Cool, I´m Rachel. Where are you from? and, most importantly, what has brought you to Barcelona?

As it transpires, Kelea is in Barcelona on a two-week long artistic mission. The project is essentially to meet people, but she´s given it a fantastic twist. Hence: the Barcelona Dinosaur Exchange.

What is it? It´s project through which Kelea is going to create mixed media art based upon interviews conducted with people while she is in the city. They will be tourists, expats, locals, friends, new friends, randoms… whoever she can persuade to give her a little bit of time.

For the participant – me – it was a two part experience. First, a short interview about some interesting life topics. Mostly me making being silly regarding a camera. Second was an exchange. This is where the dinosaurs come in. Kelea gives each of her interviewees a dinosaur and in turn they give her something back. Since I brought sweet nothing with me when I came to Barcelona I rather bashfully bequeathed a Killarney Bus Eireann ticket.

To find out more information:

The Barcelona Dinosaur Exchange
Website: http://kelealanicreative.wordpress.com/
Facebook: /KelealaniCreative
Twitter: @KLaniCreative

Unfortunately, the only photo I have of the three of us is the one where we just woke up 😀

Ah yes, Barcelona!

This week I have been in Barcelona. Not the planet Barcelona, the city Barcelona. I didn’t go to Spain for La Tomatina, the whole tomato thing just doesn’t float my boat. If I can’t eat a tomato I certainly haven’t got the right to throw one! So, basically it was a casual mid-week weekend to meet up with my friend, Amy, who had been island hopping in Greece.

We had planned to meet at the airport, but both of us quickly realised that we had landed at separate airports! So I hopped on an Aerobus headed for the hostel hoping she would do the same. I was viciously hot walking about in my pants and t-shirt, but I don’t know what kind of compromise you can make going from 13°C to 32°C. Fortunately, five minutes after reaching the hostel, Amy arrived. One massive catch up and my first cola in 36 days (!) later we were off on our first walking tour.

Operator: Travel Bound
Area: Gothic Quarter
Duration: 2 1/2 hours
Guide: Jamie

 

Architecture

  Art

Somehow I always manage to find the kiwis when I go traveling! Our guide was Jamie, a young New Zealand traveller who has been living in Barcelona for two years to lose himself in language. He was witty and engaging so the tour flew by. He covered a huge amount of history from the Roman Period, the Inquisition in 1492, and Christopher Columbus to the massive artistic heritage and complex modern political situation.

I hardly know what to focus on, but since this blog post can’t possibly hold every story Gothic Barcelona has to offer I will tell you the happy tale of Eulalia, the Patron Saint of Barcelona who was martyred around the year 303 AD at the age of 13.

During the 3rd Century BC, Eulalia began preaching the story of Jesus in Barcelona while it was under the dominion of Rome’s Emperor Diocletian. The Roman’s had been having a problem with this sort of behaviour all over the Empire for a few hundred years now. In an attempt to prevent Eulalia converting the pagan population to Christianity, the later of which was seen as an underground society threatening the stability of the Empire, Roman soldiers tortured Eulalia in thirteen different ways. One for every year of her life.

Some of the torture methods include being placed in a barrel full of knives and rolled down a hill (now Baixada de Santa Eulalia “Saint Eulalia’s Descent“), cutting off her breasts, crucifixion, and ultimately decapitation. It is said that from the stump of her freshly decapitated neck flew a dove. After being cared for in caves and hide outs until the 14th Century, Eulalia’s body is now interred in the Cathedral named after her.

Dali

With such happy stories in our mind the tour ended and Amy and I joined Jamie for Sangria and Tapas in a port-side restaurant managed by Travel Bound. Happy days!

We walked back to the hostel along Las Ramblas and it was bliss.