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Published: January 10th 2007
Merry Christmas & Happy 2007 to all of you! I trust you had a fantastic holiday (if you were on holiday), & were out enjoying the sun as much as possible for those Kiwis back home! We are so jealous right now, but can’t complain too much as London is still so incredibly mild compared to its usual winter self. So what did you all get up to? Your emails are more than welcome & we would love to hear about your summer (or winter, depending on where you are) - keep it all coming! As for us, well we jetted off to Spain to escape London Town, & to have a decent look around the place - I have always wanted to go to Spain. With a 12-day trip, it was the longest we have spent in any one European country, & it worked out really well. Here’s what we got up to:
Even getting out of London for Christmas seemed more difficult than it should be. For about a week before we left there had been heavy fog, which was so cold it was known as frozen fog, & attached itself
to everything like ice. I had never seen that kind of thing before, but it was so incredibly cold (the only really cold weather we have had so far this winter), & it was hard to even see far enough in front of you to walk down the street. Of course, this caused huge disruption to airports, & hundreds of flights were cancelled out of Heathrow. For a change, I had randomly booked for us to fly out of Stansted Airport (we had never been there before), which only had a few cancellations, although a lot of delays. After changing our departure gate 3 times (sending us back to the original gate - go figure), we boarded our plane & took off, only 1 ½ hours late. It was chaos at the airport though, with thousands of passengers sleeping on the floor, or waiting long hours for rearranged flights. It was so hot & muggy, with very few supplies available (all the vending machines were empty, there was no water, etc), so I was pleased to get underway. We made it to Seville in good time though & managed to get from the airport to the hotel really easily, despite
the time of night.
Our hotel was a 4-star hotel just a few minutes walk from the town centre. I had scored the hotel deal on the internet, & it cost us the same amount as staying in a hostel! Nice deal! The rooms weren’t that big but they were very new & modern, & the shower was great. There was also a bath, & lots of free complimentary goodies, like bubble bath & stuff, so we were stoked - I don’t remember staying in such a nice place for a long time! Seville itself is in the very south of Spain, a couple of hours drive from the coast. It is not a large city & is very traditional, so it is easy to get a cultural feel for Spain there. It has the highest recorded temperature for Europe (over 50°c), so we were hoping it would be fairly warm also in winter. Neither of us were sure what to expect so the next day was greatly anticipated!
Today we got up with the anticipation of looking around at as much as we could. Knowing that the day after would probably mean that everything
was closed (Christmas Eve is a bigger deal in Spain than Christmas Day), & also not being sure of what would be open on Christmas Day either, we thought we should make a decent effort. We started off by going into the centre of town (in a roundabout way - all the streets were tiny, cobblestone alleyways - kind of cool) & eventually made it to the cathedral. We had never seen anything like it - it was so incredibly old, & surprised us in it’s Arabic-like architecture. Spain has a large Arabic influence & this is reflected in some of the older cities & buildings. It was as if we had gone to a country in the Middle East, rather than Spain - it was kind of nice to find more depth to Spain that we had imagined. After walking around the cathedral a few times (& being unable to escape the local ladies offering blessings to tourists for money - I thought blessings were free!?), we had a quick look at the outside of the palace, which was on the other side of the square. This was also an Arabic building with extensive gardens as well, but was
hidden behind a large surrounding wall. The palace has housed Spanish royalty for centuries, & the palace building dates from the 9th century!! We didn’t go inside (everything had an entrance fee) but decided to go back another day before we left. Everything smelled of oranges, as trees were growing everywhere & were in full bloom - it was so pretty to see the Christmas lights & decorations on them as well. There were horse & buggy rides as well, which were quite cute, & certainly added to the small-town & traditional feel of the place.
After a look around some of the market stalls that were in the central square, we headed over to the local bullfighting ring, but ended up wandering along the riverside for a while & going too far. We found the bullfighting ring on the way back & decided to pay the entrance fee there & have a wee tour around in there, which was fantastic. There was a museum underneath it which we got to spend some time in, & also got to see all kinds of other things, like the areas where they kept the bulls, & the horses (some bullfighting was
done from horseback). Bullfighting still occurs here several times a year. It was really interesting & I especially enjoyed seeing all the pictures/photos of brightly coloured matadors! The pictures of the bulls with spears hanging out of their backs was a bit much though, but of course, this is what actually occurs in bullfights, to make the bulls angry. I had not really thought about it much before. From there we wandered up through a different part of the city just having a look in the tourist shops & at restaurant menus, back to the hotel for a short break, before gearing up for the evening.
At about 6pm we left to get some dinner, but forgot that most people in Europe don’t eat until after 9pm, so we had real trouble finding somewhere to eat because Seville was so traditional that there weren’t even really any fast food places around. We managed to eventually find a KFC which we thought would just do at the time, because we had booked in to see a Flamenco show at 9pm, & couldn’t wait around all night. We made it to the show in time (when the doors opened at 8pm,
as it was first in first served, including for the seating), & we sorted out some seats close to the stage, with a bit of legroom for Vaughan. We settled down with some sangria (Spanish fruity wine kind of drink) while we waited, which was kind of nice for something different. The show was in a really small place so it was nice in itself & kind of felt a bit more personal. It was really well done, beginning with a guitarist & a solo lady singer, followed by the guitarist playing for a female dancer, then a male dancer, & then all four performing a large item for the finale. We were most impressed with the rhythm of the whole thing - the female single clapped in certain timing with her hands, while tapping other timing with her feet, the guitarist tapped his foot in different timing again, & the dancers also clapped their hands & stamped their feet loudly, & it all kind of made it’s own music. I don’t know how they remembered their own parts - the guitaring was also particularly impressive. A lot of effort seemed to also go into the dancing as well -
it looked very intense & we were both really glad that we went. It was certainly a great experience!
Today was Christmas Eve & everything was closed, so I had the idea to head off to Gibraltar for a day trip. The idea was great in theory, but didn’t turn out quite as we had expected. Gibraltar is the last land belonging specifically to Great Britain that is not connected to the mainland (or an island around it). It is a small piece of land at the bottom of Spain, near Algeciras (Spain) where people take ferries across to Morocco (Africa) - it is a strategic military position on a point of land. It is only 6 miles square & much of that is taken up by the huge Rock of Gibraltar, which is essentially now a national park. Barbary Apes live here (the only place in the world), & it is said that Gibraltar will cease to be British the day that the Barbary Apes leave or become extinct. You can reach the top of the rock by hired vehicle or cable car, & there are lots of other things to see up there -
World War tunnels, cathedral-type caves, & fantastic views of both Spain & Africa. We headed off at 9am on the bus, but the trip took about 1 ½ hours longer than we had anticipated. When you only have a few hours in a place for a day trip, this makes a lot of difference. We arrived at the La Linea bus station, which is on the Spanish side of the border, & walked through. They didn’t even care about our passports. When we got to Gibraltar on the other side, we found that information centre was closed, & that the cable car wasn’t running (because it was Sunday - typical of the British, where nothing is open on Sundays). This was a big problem, as we had no other way to get up to the rock! With now only 2 hours until we had get meet the bus for the trip back, we didn’t really know what else we could look at without a map & some help at the information centre.
I had managed to download a bus map before we left, so we had that at least, & we jumped on a bus which went through the
township & out the other side, to land’s end, where we saw a small mosque (I was surprised there was one in Gibraltar at all), & we stood out at the lookout point by a lighthouse, looking at the coast of Africa, which was much closer than we had both imagined. I got stuck talking to an old guy who went on about how horrible Muslims were, when he saw that I was trying to take a photo of the mosque. He had the worst teeth I had ever seen, so I consoled myself that mine would never be that bad, while he kept talking for about 10 minutes or so. We jumped back on the bus which had a short stop at that part of the journey (as it was kind of the turnaround point), & we headed back into the township. I knew that there was a lot to look at, like a Navy base & War Memorials (& big guns & tunnels & stuff, even down the bottom), but without a map & with very little time, we just didn’t know what to look at. We ended up walking up & down the main street a few
times where people were madly doing their last minute shopping. I was surprised at the number of British ‘high street’ stores that were in Gibraltar, as well as the number of Spanish people who lived there (I had thought pretty much everyone would be British). It was quite warm in Gibraltar (Seville was sunny but cooler) so we just sat at the outdoor tables of some pub & had something to eat which was really, really pleasant. We were stunned by the amount of British people who appeared to be inbred, which was kind of funny in itself, so although we didn’t get to go up the Rock of Gibraltar & see the Barbary Apes, we got to see the yokels instead - not quite the same (although perhaps it’s debatable!), but still an experience! Funny!
We made it back across the border & on arriving at the bus station we were told that there was a delay on the road (we had seen a big traffic jam on the way in), because on Christmas Eve, many people are trying to get home to Morocco, but there is only one ferry, & people always hold it to ransom, so
to speak, so people turn up for their journey (even those with tickets), & they are told they can’t get on board without paying more money. All the traffic backs up & it just turns into chaos. So we got on the bus & ended up waiting for ages - the bus driver did his best by taking heaps of back roads (I sometimes wondered how the bus would ever fit over the bridges & down the country lanes!), but we got to Algeciras in just over 2 hours - a lot less time than the people on the motorway, even though it was just 11 miles! So that added to our journey time. The bus driver needed more breaks because he was driving for longer, so in the end our return journey took 7 hours (instead of 2 ½!), so we spent 11 hours on the bus to see Gibraltar (well, some of it) for 2 hours - a huge mission, although we still enjoyed ourselves. Gibraltar looked worthwhile though, so perhaps it would be nice to return for a couple of days & have a proper look around. We were shattered when we got back!
Today was Christmas Day, & we had a sleep in & then headed down to the Irish pub (which was opposite the cathedral) for some lunch. While we were there, Vaughan met an American guy who was a medic in the Army, so they got chatting & ended up having a few drinks. There was a drunken (homeless) Irish guy there, & I got stuck talking to him, which wasn’t that bad, as he was actually quite interesting & nice. After a couple of hours though, I got a bit sick of it & tried to see if we could go & have a look around the palace, but Vaughan was fully into his conversation with the American medic guy. A bit later things came to a complete halt when we realised that the medic guy had skipped out on his bill. Luckily Vaughan had been paying for his drinks & food up front, but the other guy must have owed about 50 euro (quite a lot), including food, beer & hard spirits, including shouting drinks for other people! Vaughan felt a bit silly by that time for wasting his day talking to the guy, but mostly I felt
sorry for the bar staff. Who knows where that guy headed next - probably to do the same thing elsewhere?! It was getting too late to go to the palace (long enough for a decent look around) so we just stayed at the pub. It was quite nice there, with lots of people (who all spoke English), as well as good bar staff & food. After a while we went back to the hotel where Vaughan had a rest (too much beer), & I had a nice long bubble bath - perfect for a Christmas Day! The hotel had even left us some free champagne & Spanish sweets (biscuit-type things), which was fantastic! In the evening we headed back to the same pub for a proper Christmas meal (turkey roast, etc) which they were putting on, which was also really excellent. So although we ended up spending Christmas in pretty much the same place, it was actually quite enjoyable, with plenty of friendly people, good food & drink, & good heating (it was still sunny but cooler), so it was really nice for us to relax on holiday for a change, rather than rushing from place to place like usual!
It was time for us to leave small-town old-school Seville & head for the metropolis of Madrid. I wasn’t looking forward to it that much as I had not heard of much to do in Madrid, & we had 4 nights there! The train journey was good though, as we were on a high-speed service which only took a few hours. Spain seemed very brown in colour (not specifically dry, just brown), & at times it was also very rocky, with many cliffs in the middle of nowhere. There did not seem to be many crops or animals, although closer to Seville there were many orange trees & olive groves. On arrival we got to the hotel easily on the Metro. The hotel was owned by the same company as the one in Seville, but was only a 2-star - still cheaper than a hostel & it’s great to have your own bathroom & TV! We arrived in the daytime, & spent the afternoon looking in shops & restaurants, which was great. The stores in Madrid mostly contained shoes, & sometimes clothing - because it’s winter, boots are in season, & I suddenly felt the urge
to shop uncontrollably, which does not happen often. I managed to control myself however when I found that our hotel was right on the main shopping street that was generally filled with festive people & activities from dawn until well after dusk. We were so close to everything yet it wasn’t noisy, which was great. We were a 2-minute walk from an 8-storey department store which included a supermarket, so that we helpful for buying cheap food & drink. Everyone was on holiday (in all of Spain actually - the Three Kings festival which lasts until January 6th), but it was the most obvious here - everyone was so excited & they were all wearing brightly coloured wigs/hats & carrying balloons. I am not sure specifically why that was part of the festival, but it was fun. There were heaps of bands out on the street playing Christmas music, & the streets were so full of people that it was hard to walk. In the evening there were lights absolutely everywhere - it was fantastic - almost like a fantasyland! We stumbled across the markets that were selling the wigs & festival paraphernalia which was kind of fun too. Everyone
was out until late & night time seemed so much more exciting than daytime! We visited the outside of the palace & cathedral there too, but they were not very old, & did not impress either of us as much in comparison to the ones in Seville. Madrid was incredibly cold at night, so we had to rug up as much as we could, even just for a short trip. However, it was a small price to pay for such great weather in the daytime, along with fairly reasonable temperatures!
Today we got up & just had more of a look around the central city in the morning. It was quite compact & you rarely had to walk more than a couple of blocks to find everything you needed. It was great having the hotel right in the middle of it all! In between all the shoe shops & restaurants there were a few small family-owned places, so you could also get some things for very little money (especially food) if you wanted to. The main foods they eat in Spain are tapas (small dishes of pretty much anything, where you order multiple plates & have
a bit of everything), as well as cured hams & some cheeses. A popular breakfast or lunch was a cured ham (or cheese) roll, with coffee, while locals sit for a beer or coffee at around 7pm, heading for some tapas at about 10pm. The reason they can stay up so late is because they have a siesta (rest) in the afternoons, usually from about 1 - 5pm or so. In modern-day Madrid, only some of the stores closed during this time, but it added to the festive feel of the place by having the shops open into the late evening. In the afternoon we went to a large park called Buen Retiro Park, where I almost got caught out by a pickpocket before we walked in the gate. I felt someone in my bag just as Vaughan saw her, & she managed to escape with my gloves, which I had packed on top of everything important for that exact purpose. Wish I had thought fast enough to give her a smack in the head as well! We ventured around the park which had all kinds of things to do, & went for miles - tennis courts, park walks, a
lake with rowing boats, an ice skating rink (a temporary one), a crystal palace (restaurant made of glass), among many other things. Although it was quite warm in Madrid at times, being so far inland & very flat meant that it could also be very cold, so we found it quite cold in general most of the time. It was nice to have the sun out though, & realised I would rather have the sun but the cold any day, over constant rain/cloud & more mild weather. After the park we made it back down the bottom of the central city (still so close) & visited a former Egyptian Temple, which was kind of cool, but there wasn’t too much to see there. However, the hill it was on offered some fantastic views, & we were there just at sunset. That evening it was absolutely freezing when we went out for dinner, but we ended up at a nice Italian restaurant at about 10pm, & we both enjoyed the food there a lot, managing to learn a bit more Spanish from the helpful waiter - we were starting to really expand our knowledge of Spanish, moving beyond the initial “Hello/Yes/No/Thank
You” etc, into “How are you?/Very good, thank you/How much does it cost?/Can I have the bill please?/Where is the tourist office?/What are the opening hours?/Two tickets please/I’d like a coffee with milk, thanks/Do you speak English?(always a good one)” etc - very nice!
With having so much time in Madrid but not a lot to see as such, we decided to brave another daytrip, to a small town about 2 hours away by bus, called Cuenca. The ride there was good, finally seeing a few trees when we were almost there, as well as some incredibly heavy frosts that looked almost like snow. It was about the size of Nelson, with half the city laid out on the flat (New Town), & half the city up the top of a big cliff (Old Town) where there were also some hanging houses located (houses sticking out over the gorge). On arrival in town in was obvious that very few people spoke English, but we still managed to get ourselves sorted out with a map & a route to get up to the Old Town, & we were able to jump on the correct bus to get
up the hill (it was not recommended to walk as it was quite a mission).
We got off the bus right up the very top & got some fantastic views, looking down on Old Town (mostly residential & historical buildings), as well as New Town & the surrounding landscapes. From the top you could also see the Hanging Houses, although from there it was clear that the swing bridge you walk across to take photos of the Hanging Houses was closed for repair (of course!). We decided to walk back through Old Town & down the hill, so we ventured around some little streets to small lookout areas, as well as managing to see the Hanging Houses up close (although there still wasn’t really any way to take a decent photo of them by standing that close). One of the houses has been turned into a restaurant which must be fantastic, as long as you’re not afraid of heights! After venturing back down the hill we had a walk around New Town (completely different - it was mostly filled with restaurants & commercial buildings) & then zipped in for a coffee, as it was quite elevated in Cuenca, &
also quite cold. We made it back to the bus station in plenty of time, & had really enjoyed looking around - we had had over 4 hours there so that was enough time for what we wanted to see. We were quite tired by the time we got back (because we had caught the bus very early) we, so just had a quick munch to eat & had an early night - a good day mission!
Today was our last day in Madrid. I had tried to move our plans to arrive in Barcelona a day early, but could not get the hotel in Madrid to agree to it, so we kind of had a free day with nothing really planned. We had a sleep in & then went for a walk to one of the city areas that we hadn’t been to yet, looking for some of the Arabic history that was meant to be there, although we didn’t find anything. Without much to do we just had a rest (watching Super 14 on TV - go figure why it’s on in Spain!), & then went to the big department store for some munchies
(Vaughan’s favourite - cured ham & cheese), as well as some cheap sangria, & we just had these back at the hotel, catching up on emails there, & just trying to have a bit more of a relaxing time on this trip. We went out to an American restaurant for dinner (Vaughan was having a crisis about not being able to speak enough Spanish to go to a Spanish restaurant, for some reason), & the meals were so huge that we had to leave before they offered us any more drinks or dessert! A great slow day!
It was time to go to Barcelona, which I had greatly anticipated - I had booked us flights as it was more expensive to take the train, & it also took 14 hours! We arrived to find that there had been a bomb in the Madrid airport just as we were taking off, but luckily we were on the plane by then, & had been in a different terminal anyway. We made it safely from the airport to the hostel, this time staying in a small dorm room (it illustrates how expensive Barcelona was compared to the other places
we went, as it cost the same amount as the 4-star hotel in Seville!). The hostel was in pretty good condition, with massive kitchen storage & cooking facilities, a big dining room, free internet computers & a large lounge (with a guitar, books, CDs & DVDs for everyone to use), so it was quite functional compared to some of the places we have stayed in the past. Barcelona was fairly warm although the breeze could make it a bit cool at times - not too bad to be wearing t-shirts in winter for a change!
We tried to make the most of our first day, by venturing out down to one of the main areas, which was close to the hostel - Catalunya Square - then headed down Las Ramblas (the main street) to the beach. We immediately noticed that Barcelona’s main areas were far more spread out, & catered to ‘high street’ shops & rich boutique shoppers far more than Madrid. It didn’t have half the charm that Madrid did with there being a distinct lack of family-owned & simple restaurants & stores. It didn’t actually impress me much at all, even though there was an impressive list
of things to do & see there. It did not have the same cosy feel of Seville, or even Madrid (which is a very large city as well), & there seemed to be a million tourists & hardly any locals. The middle of Las Ramblas is paved (with the car lanes on each side), & the centre was lined with all kinds of market stalls, first beginning with pet stalls (weird!) including birds, chinchillas, mice, gerbils & fish, then the flower stalls (so bright & pretty), followed by the newsagent-type stalls, with all kinds of papers, magazines & postcards. About halfway down Las Ramblas, as huge market called Mercat de Sant Josep veers off on one side - it was an assault on the senses, but so incredibly busy that you spent more of your time fighting the crowd than actually looking at anything. The food all looked so colourful & fresh - seafood (very fresh - a Spanish speciality), fruit & veges, bread, & cured meats & cheeses mainly - it all looked so good! See a bit more about the markets here
We eventually made it down to the beach, but it was quite breezy & cold
by then, so we had a quick wader around the yachts, before ducking into a huge beach-side mall which had stores we knew from back in London. I bought a new scarf & some replacement gloves for the ones that were stolen in Madrid, so I was all rugged up. We left the mall & went past the aquarium & down to the sand. There were heaps of palm trees & the sand looked clean & soft. It was quite nice there, & I can imagine the waterfront being incredibly popular in the summertime. There were also a lot of cheaper restaurants down there, who were all selling fresh seafood at reasonable prices - if the different main areas of Barcelona weren’t quite so far away from each other, I would have eaten down there everyday. Of course, most of these areas were within walking distance, but it was still quite a walk, & fighting against the crowds took a lot more time & energy as well.
We headed back to the hostel as we had been walking for quite some time, & bought some dinner from the supermarket opposite, making fresh pasta & sauce at the hostel, &
watching DVDs with some of the other people there. It was nice to socialise a wee bit for a change, even though our room was next to the lounge, so of course, it was very loud in there when people were drinking, watching DVDs or listening to music - it was OK for a change. We met heaps of Americans especially, but also a couple of Kiwis who were from the North Island & were actually OK (unusual for North Islanders - haha!).
Today we had a few things planned as it was quite warm in Barcelona, & of course, sunny all the time, so we wanted to be outdoors as much as we could. We started off by heading up a huge hill/park, called Montjuïc Park
near the central city, which offers fantastic views in all directions. We took the Metro to the bottom, & then a funicular the rest of the way up (kind of like a cable car). The park was quite large, so it would have taken about 2 hours to get to the top if we were walking. The funicular just went to the halfway point, which had most of the things
to see at that level anyway (there was a palace at the very top but we didn’t see it) - there was the Contemporary Art Gallery/Museum in this awesome old building, which must have had an incredible view from the balconies on the outside! You could also see some of the facilities from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, & we got to see the inside of the big stadium there - everyone seemed to have strange urge to scream “BARCELOOONA!” in operatic styles out into the middle, including us (for anyone besides Vaughan & I who remembers how the theme song went, with Freddie Mercury & some Spanish girl on vocals). When we came out of the stadium this giant bell, which was very nearby, started tolling at about 400 decibels (I’m not sure why it was going), which sounded really awesome somehow, in the park with the blue sky overhead & the sun beaming down.
We had a walk around some of the smaller parks within the big park, & then headed back down on the funicular, to visit Guell Park, which was on the other side of the city, towards the outskirts. Barcelona is very proud of one
of the biggest artists to come out of their city: Antoni Gaudi. His creations are colourful, but kind of curved & warped - it’s very art nouveau, I guess, but I really loved his style (when he’s using colours, not when he’s just using concrete), & I especially liked the tile work (placing small pieces of coloured tile together to make a bigger picture or piece of art - popular in people’s pathways & stuff at the moment). Gaudi was a very unusual artist, but unfortunately he died before finishing his biggest work, the giraldi. Guell Park was a large park consisting of many outdoor mountain walks, great city views, & a whole pile of Gaudi’s work, including a large seating area, fountains & buildings. You can see more here if you are interested in pictures other than my own - I think they’re great! After being at the two parks we felt like we had done so much walking & decided to head back. It was great to be out in the sunshine though, & I felt almost a bit sunburned - WOW!
From there we went down to the cathedral. It was completely covered in scaffolding, but
for some reason I mistook it for the giraldi (because you couldn’t see it properly), & I was a bit bummed out later to realise that I hadn’t been to where I thought I had, as I had wanted to visit it
We made it back to the hostel & wanted to go to the supermarket, but found that absolutely everything was closed! In the end we worked out that it was because it was Sunday, rather than because it was New Years Eve, but we were so surprised that absolutely nothing was open (restaurants would be open later, after siesta, but that was all), so we were a bit worried about how we were going to get the dinner we had planned, plus the traditional grapes you eat in Spain as the New Year rolls in. IN the end, we managed (through some bad directions) to find a small supermarket near the hostel, which was the only shop we had seen open, so we were very lucky. We bought the grapes, plus some sangria & our dinner (gourmet pizzas), & went back to the hostel, where we watched some more DVDs with other people, & had a few
drinks until everyone was ready to go out for New Years. A lot of people had planned an expensive night of drinking in the clubs, plus partying until dawn, but we were having a cheap one, so we stayed at the hostel until quite late, with the two other girls we had met from New Zealand before, plus three American people we had kind of made friends with, just listening to music on the stereo & mucking around having fun. Just before midnight we headed down to Catalunya Square where there were heaps of people gathered to welcome in the New Year. There wasn’t a proper countdown or anything, but there was a huge clock there so you could do it yourself. People were eating their grapes & just generally having fun. No real fireworks or anything special, but I wasn’t disappointed, as I had known this before we went there. I think even little wee Nelson, or Christchurch do a better job at celebrating though.
After that, we split off from the Americans & headed down Las Ramblas to find this one street where there were 4 Irish pubs in a row. We kept having to wait for
Vaughan, who was stopping off to talk to random strangers about every 2 minutes, & we ended up losing him after about 15 minutes. Getting down Las Ramblas was a total mission with all the people, but I stuck with the other Kiwi girls & we made it into one of the pubs in time to watch the countdown & fireworks in London on TV (London is an hour behind Spain). We walked around a nearby square but got freaked out when people started throwing glass bottles, & there was broken glass absolutely everywhere. None of the Irish pubs were playing music, which was weird, so we couldn’t have a bogey anywhere. Most of the clubs wanted 20 - 40 Euro to get in, which we didn’t want to pay. Guess we could have stayed at the Irish pubs, but decided to go back to the hostel to have our own loud music on there, plus the drinks were cheaper. I had a bit of a headache by the time we got back, but the other girls jumped around the lounge for a while, & it was a lot of fun. People started coming back from their night out, &
would all stop by & talk for a while in the lounge, which was nice - it was great to hear how everyone’s evening had been. One guy had his wallet & digital camera stolen, but at least he was OK. Some other American guys came in & we talked to them for ages. Eventually Vaughan came in & he had hurt his foot somehow, but he was OK too, although he went to bed, while everyone else stayed up talking. I was surprised at how fast time went when we were all just mucking around to the music. It was a cheap & easy-going night, which was a lot of fun! Despite not being a fan of Barcelona, New Years turned out to be a good night anyway. People kept coming back even after I went to bed, so it was very loud until about 8am, with people still partying in the lounge, & then watching a DVD at top volume (not sure why).
The next morning it was very quiet for a while, because many people had come home so late. I was just tired from being up until about 5am, but I got
up & then spent some time on the (free) internet, & just watching some more DVDs with the other people who were already up. I wasn’t sure what would be open so I didn’t know what to plan or anything. Vaughan got up & we went to get something to eat, but because his foot was so sore, he was having trouble walking, so we just went slowly. We had another short walk around & made it over to some more buildings designed by Gaudi (Casa Batllo & Casa Mila), which were both very close to our hostel - they were really crazy. I especially liked Casa Batllo
, as it was very colourful (not always represented well in photos) & the tile work on the outside was amazing. The balconies & pillars were made to look like skulls & bones. You can also visit the inside, as this was decorated by Gaudi as well, but it was quite expensive & the line to get in was very long, so we gave it a miss. Casa Mila
was also nearby but it was a bit different, as it appears even more curved, and does not having the tiling of Casa Batllo. Somehow it
seems plain because of this, but is still anamazing structure.
I had really wanted to see the La Sagrada Familia
while we were there, an incredibly huge gothic masterpiece also designed by Gaudi, which was not completed before his death - in fact, this was the main thing I had wanted to see in Barcelona. For some stupid reason I got all confused (it doesn't take much!) & we went to see some other cathedral which was covered in scaffolding, & I thought that this was the La Sagrada Familia. I had thought it to be less impressive than I had imagined (duh - because it was the wrong building), so I kind of lost interest. As I didn't realise my mistake until our last evening there, it was too late to do anything about it, because we were leaving first thing in the morning - if I had realised this & also if Vaughan's foot had been better, then I would have loved to have visited La Sagrada Familia & also gone inside - it is meant to be quite spectacular. If anyone is interested in seeing some photos then click here
- & I seriously recommend you take a
look! It's like nothing else I have ever seen. Perhaps that is a good reason to go back another time! Our last day in Spain was generally quite slow, which was the way we wanted it after running around like mad things on all our other trips, especially in Europe over summer. In the late afternoon we bought some munchie food & packed up most of our stuff, eventually heading the short distance back to the city for some dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, which Vaughan really wanted to go to. We had to wait about an hour to get a table, but they gave us a beeper (wow!), so we went for a drink & a last walk down Las Ramblas, which was kind of nice before our meal. By the time we got back to the Hard Rock the waiting time was over 2 hours, so we were glad to get in the door - it was about 9:15pm when we sat down for dinner so it could have been much worse! We had a great dinner & I think Vaughan was really impressed. His next mission is to eat at every Hard Rock Cafe we find
- I guess it's better than eating McDonald's in every country. Well, sort of!
Not too exciting - just a very early start to the day so that we could get to the airport in time, but things went smoothly & it was a breeze. We flew back into Stansted Airport & I was amazed at being the THIRD PERSON IN THE QUEUE (!!) when coming through immigration - I am used to waiting over an hour sometimes at Heathrow because I don't have a British passport & have to go in the losers line. Even Vaughan had to wait longer than me - haha! We made it back home on the Stansted Express (train into town) & then on the tube, just spending a few minutes to unpack before racing off to the supermarket where we did a giant grocery shop & bought all our supplies for 'Our Christmas', which we were having that evening. Vaughan cooked a fantastic roast & had all the lights going on our wee tree while we opened our gifts ·& cards from everyone, ate loads of chocolate & Christmas cake, & watched CSI on TV - not too bad
at all. In fact, it was fantastic!
Thanks to all of you who sent cards/texts/gifts, etc - they are all very much appreciated when you're miles away from everyone you know at Christmas. We had a good time though, but look forward to being back with you in 2007 (hopefully). That's all from us for now, so in the meantime, Happy 2007 - please take care!
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