Just two day ago I got back from an awesome winter break trip that I spent with one of my best friends from back home. It was so nice to get a taste of home after really craving it. Christmas was one of those moments where I was just wishing to be home; don't get me wrong, I had a great Christmas: I spent it with a friend from over here and she invited me to Christmas with her and her family. I went over on the 24th and spent two nights with them. They were all great and the food was amazing after having basically the same two meals everyday for the previous two weeks! I really enjoyed being able to experience a British Christmas and it was nice being able to spend it with a friend and her family but it just made me realise how much I was wanting to be having Christmas with my family back home.
After Christmas it was right to getting ready to head out on the 28th to meet up with my friend from back home in Birmingham in order to make our way to Paris! We arrived in Paris in the evening and had an interesting time trying to find our hostel. Finally we asked a man working a panini stand and he pointed us in the right direction. The hostel was really nice and we pretty much crashed that first night. The next day we went to meet up with one of my UMD programme friends, who was also in Paris over the same time, and his cousin at Notre Dame. The line was crazy to get into Notre Dame so we decided to head over to the Eiffel Tower and get to the very top! We stood in about six lines before we were finally on the third floor and the whole experience took about half the day but it was worth it. The view was great but even better was the wind!! It was ridiculously windy and I loved it! After that we grabbed dinner and made our way to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur for a beautiful view of the city and the church was really pretty too. I had a crepe that night too; it had nutella on it and I was really happy :)
The next day we spent a few hours at the Louvre which I realise now is actually just too big. It's great but kind of unfocused so it's really draining to find your way around. But seeing the Raft of the Medusa was amazing; it was my favourite painting I had learned about in my art history class last year and seeing it in person was the best part of my day! After the Louvre, we went to see the Arc de Triumphe and walk along the Champs Elysees. That was cool but relatively uneventful. A visit to the Latin Quarter was next and I loved it. It has a ton of food places and bars and a lot of little shops. We came back to the Latin Quarter a few times before we left. That night we went for a couple drinks at a bar in the Latin Quarter and I got this great ham, egg, cheese and mushroom crepe before we left to catch our metro. We nearly missed the last train too because it stops at about 12:30 and we were just barely there in time!
On the 31st (New Years Eve, duh) we went back to the Champs Elysees to go into the Disney store because my friend and I are basically Disney freaks... it was actually smaller than I expected but they had some cute stuff. Then we weren't totally sure where to go next because the Catacombs were closed but then I mentioned the Opera House and that was really cool! They were setting up flowers along the banister of the grand staircase and they were real flowers! It smelled great walking up the stairs :P and there were a lot of cool costumes worn by the dancers of different performances. Then it was basically time for celebrating the New Year which basically ended up to be a bust because, as it turns out, they don't actually set off fireworks at the Eiffel Tower for New Year's. So we ended up standing outside in the rain for three hours for something that didn't even happen :( Worse than that disappointment though was the mob trying to get back to the hostel using the metro... it was total craziness!
Unfortunately, our luck didn't change until Barcelona because the next day we headed off to Madrid and had the hardest time finding our hostel. Apparently, my friend and I just cannot read maps because we spent two and a half hours searching for our hostel. Finally we found it with some help from locals but the hostel was awful; the sheets were disgusting and the power went out within five minutes of us being there so clearly we needed to get out of there. Then we were on a quest for a decent hostel with 24 hour reception so we could have a bed for the night and thankfully we met an Argentinian man who was staying at a hostel just blocks from the pizza place we crashed at to figure all this out. He directed us to the hostel and then when we had gotten turned around yet again, there he was, miraculously walking on the same sidewalk towards us! This time (since we were clearly incompetent) he walked us to reception and we got ourselves a room!! We also had a mini laugh attack as we were getting into bed and I could hardly hoist myself up into the bunk bed I was laughing so much. Which is slightly unfortunate because we did have one other roommate so we disturbed her a bit... oops!!
We met her the next morning and yes, we had woken her up but she wasn't mad about it thankfully. She was from Australia and was escaping the winter heat (I hadn't known this but apparently Australia's warm season was in our normally freezing season) for a month in Madrid. We hung out with her until we left the next afternoon so on our only full day in Madrid we went to the Prado Museum after not being able to locate the walking tour (of course). The Prado was super cool, I just wish I had been able to spend more time there. After the Prado we went to this really nice park just next to the museum and it was the best part of the day. It was relaxing and pretty even though nothing was blooming or really green. We were all exhausted by about three pm so we decided to do as the locals do and take a siesta which, for us, turned into a three hour nap! It was amazing we all just konked out. Once we all came back into the real world we went out for tapas and as we were heading out we ran into our Argentinian savior so I invited him along. He came and that was a good thing because my bet is we wouldn't have found the place without him! The tapas were really yummy and all you had to do was order a drink and the tapas would come for free so it was a cheap meal. Flamenco was on the schedule for the night but my friend wasn't feeling well so we just decided to crash at the hostel that night.
The next day we were heading off to Barcelona for the last leg of our trip but first we went to the Reina Sofia Museum which was great; again, wish I had more time there to see more. Then we hopped on a train (best train ride ever; amazing seats and the best views of the Spanish countryside, it was absolutely beautiful) and got to Barcelona with a little bit of sunlight left on our side. Finding the hostel was a piece of cake which was the most amazing thing that happened to us the entire trip!
In the morning we went on a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter with a really funny British guy who reminded us of the tour guide we had on a school trip we had a couple years ago. He was cynical and didn't give a crap about anything and was super knowledgeable about everything Barcelona; it was a great tour and one of my favourite parts of Barcelona. We went to go get some lunch with a girl from the tour from Boston and that was fun and a really good meal too; it was a lot of seafood. Next we decided to get a pic next to the s-curve shaped Olympic building for our AP stats teacher and walked along the beach. Then we tried to find Casa Mila, one of Gaudi's buildings but of course, we could not :P so we just decided to walk La Rambla and go through the La Boqueria Market which was really cool, especially the fruit and veg sections, just really pretty stuff... and amazing juice too! I also had a great Belgian waffle on La Rambla and it pretty much measured up to actual Belgian waffles from Belgium!
Trying to wrap this really long post up, the next day we went to Casa Mila and went inside. It was really cool, especially the roof! We went to La Sagrada Familia next and didn't go inside... surprisingly, it's still not finished which kind of took away from the rest of it; it was still cool from the outside though. As we were trying to find a cupcake shop we had passed on the way over we ran into yet another Guadi building... we didn't find the cupcake shop but at least we found something interesting. We then headed over to Parc Guell which is one of the most beautiful parks I've ever seen! That night there was a huge parade happening so after checking into it and getting sick of the crowds real quick we decided to just hunker down at the hostel.
On our last full day in Barcelona we went to the aquarium which was neat and then spent the last half of the day at Castell de Montjuic which is just a castle on top of a big hill and it was really cool. We also got to take the gondola up there so there were great views of the city. The next day, which was the day we headed back to the UK and it also happened to be my 20th birthday, we were beach bums all day; it was great and my friend treated me to a Belgian waffle as my birthday cake which was delightful! The next day was all travel, more missing trains and figuring it all out in the end so as fun and great as the trip was, I'm happy to be back in Worcester for about a week to do some recovering.
My next trip is with a UMD programme friend to Istanbul, Sarajevo, Mostar and Dubrovnik and I am pumped!