Postcard from Barcelona

Barcelona. I don’t even know where to begin. Have you been to this city before? It is vibrant and beautiful and unique, and whether you spend the whole time at the beach, tour all of Gaudi’s famous works, or just eat your way through the city, there are many ways to pass the time in Barcelona.

Barcelona view from Montjuic

Going in, I knew that Catalonia was a distinct region of Spain, and I’ve even heard it said that “Barcelona isn’t Spain.” Most storefronts are labeled in Catalan (I quickly figured out that “rebaixes” means “We’re having a sale!”) and public signs are usually written in Catalan and Spanish (or “Castellano” as I think we’re supposed to say, right?) and sometimes in English as well.

BBarcelona Rebaixes
Now can someone tell me how to pronounce rebaixes?

 

I had expected to hear mainly Catalan, which is the primary local language (so I thought), but in fact Spanish (erm, Castellano) was much more prevalent than I expected. I wish I had brushed up on my high school Spanish (my high school Castellano?) a little more instead of trying to memorize Catalan phrases!

[One weird thing I did notice – it seems the most common greeting was “Hola” but the most common way to say goodbye was “Adéu,” which is Catalan. What’s up with that?]

Barcelona Passatge Sert

Local pride is evident: Catalan flags hang off balconies on every street.

Wait, that’s not it…
This is the Catalan flag, along with a “welcome” message for tourists in La Barceloneta.

In some neighborhoods, political messages are pasted onto walls, proclaiming that Catalonia should be independent from Spain and the E.U. That’s a can of worms I’m not inclined to crack open.

Barcelona gothic quarter art

Tourism is thriving in Barcelona (to the chagrin of many locals – see above), and I loved hearing a swirl of languages everywhere I went. English, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, German, Danish, French – good lord were there a lot of French people in Barcelona! (Geographically, it makes sense – I suppose the French are the only people who can easily drive to Barcelona. Besides the Spanish, that is.)

Barcelona RENFE
This train station is even named Estació de França.

Not everyone’s a fan of Barcelona – have you heard that too? I didn’t know how I would like it, and it wasn’t even at the top of my European destinations list (Lisbon was, and then Italy. Yes, ALL OF ITALY.) But despite all these rumors about cheap European airfare (where? WHERE?!) the only place I could fly for under 100 euros with a couple weeks notice was Barcelona. So off I went.

Barcelona highway

And if you haven’t guessed by now, I loved it.

Barcelona port boats

I loved the beautiful streets and alleyways and the architecture…

Barcelona Passeig de Gracia

 

Barcelona outdoor arches


Barcelona Poble Sec street

Barcelona Pasage de la paz

I loved the street art…

BBarcelona street art

Barcelona street art Gracia

Barcelona Gracia street art

I loved the beach. Yes, it was crowded! Yes, everyone was half-naked (or all naked) and yes, you’d better not turn your back on your stuff if you want to keep it. But the Mediterranean – is there anything like it? The water was perfect.

Barcelona Barceloneta

Barcelona mediterranean

Barcelona beach 2

I loved Barcelona’s own Arc de Triomphe (how many cities have one of these things?)

Barcelona arc de triomphe

Barcelona arc de triomphe guitarist

Barcelona arc de triomphe mirror

And I looooved indulging in sweet treats.

Barcelona popsicles
La Boqueria 
Barcelona Chok
Chök

 

Barcelona cupcakes
Cup & Cake

 

Of course, you can’t go to Barcelona without seeing a little Gaudi… (Seriously, you can’t. Even if you don’t want to. He’s unavoidable.)

 

Barcelona Park Guell
Park Güell

 

Barcelona Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia
Barcelona Gaudi
Casa Batlló

And Montjuic and its nighttime fountain show were favorites of mine.

Barcelona MontjuicBarcelona Olympic view

Barcelona fountain silhouette

But as is often the case with me, my very favorite thing to do was just wander the streets.

Barcelona palm trees four friends

In fact, on my first day, I walked about eight or nine kilometers, and on the second, I logged another six or seven. That’s between nine or ten miles in two days, in sandals (and not those fancy sandals with arch support. Mom was right – I need better shoes.) It may not sound like a lot to you athletic people, but for un-athletic me in improper footwear, it was a bad, bad idea. I was in pain for the rest of the week. I think Barcelona has exceptionally hard sidewalks or something. I don’t know why I didn’t just take the metro!

Here are a few more snapshots from my wanderings in this lovely city:


Barcelona outdoor tables

Barcelona mercado social

 

Barcelona by the beach

Barcelona family on port

BBarcelona amor

Barcelona bliss

Barcelona artists

Barcelona park fountain

Barcelona park joan miro

Barcelona green fountain

Barcelona bike

Watch out, Barcelona. I’ll be back.

Have you been to Barcelona? Did you love it or hate it? 

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I love/hate Paris

Coucou!  I’m baaaack!

Can I tell you something? It is a lot easier to write blog posts when you are in the middle of the French countryside and you can’t leave the house because you can’t drive in France anyway. When I was in La Campagne, the days were long and calm and often filled with nothing in particular except for sunshine and baking cupcakes just because. (Seriously.) In the city, I feel like I don’t have time to catch my breath sometimes. There is always somewhere to go, something to do, someone to see, and in a city like Paris, it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out if you stay home.

Did I tell you I’m in Paris?

Well, I am. And today, I’m staying home because it’s the first time I’ve been able to call somewhere home since I left La Campagne (…two weeks ago. I’m so dramatic.) I don’t actually live in Paris, but I unpacked my suitcase and saved the wifi password in all my devices, so I think it counts.

I kind of have a love/hate relationship with Paris. I lived here for about a year before I moved to Lyon, and even though I love to visit whenever the opportunity presents itself, I don’t think I could ever live here again. This is how I feel about it:

Love: It’s so beautiful!

Hate: But it’s so expensive.

Love: It’s so international with many opportunities to meet new people.

Hate: But it’s so expensive.

Love: It is rich in culture and has world-class museums.

Hate: But it’s so expensive.

Love: It has Mexican food!

Hate: But it’s 11€ for a thimble-sized margarita.

You get the idea. There are many reasons I’m happy to live in Lyon instead of Paris, but the sheer cost of Paris is oppressive, especially for a thrifty girl like me. I hate overpaying more than I hate people who spit on the sidewalk and cut in line at the post office (because I’m pretty sure it’s the same people) and in Paris, it’s not difficult to overpay.

But… it’s Paris. Just look at it.

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I’m so excited to be ending the summer here and I’ll tell you all about it. What do you want to know?

Have you been to Paris? Did you love it or hate it?

More musings on Paris here and here.

Falling for Montpellier

The last time I was in Montpellier it was 2009. I was traveling with three girlfriends and we had about 24 hours to explore Montpellier. We got tan at the beach, went out dancing, and wandered without any purpose except to enjoy frolicking on a summer evening in August. I think it was August.

I had fond, vague memories of Montpellier, but no particular attachment to the city. Five years later, I made my way back and this time, it was true love. Before the first day was over, we vowed to find jobs in Montpellier and move in 2015.

Montpellier building.jpg

 

Why did we love Montpellier so much? 24 hours is hardly enough time to really get to know a city – we didn’t even leave the center of town. We spent hours wandering the winding streets, discovering boutiques and street art and cafés. It’s hard not to love a city with an endless maze of streets like this this.

Montpellier street flags.jpg

The city was buzzing on Friday afternoon and evening with Montpellier-ians (?) shopping the sales and enjoying a drink or a bite on the many outdoor terraces. On Saturday morning, the streets were quiet. I guess Montpellerians like to sleep in.

Montpellier Place de la Comedie night.jpg

The local arts culture is apparent with posters for dance and music performances and tattooed creative types strolling the streets. Maybe it was the TGIF effect, but the whole city gave off a cool, laid-back vibe. Paris it is not. (And therein lies its charm.)

Montpellier Place de la Comedie.jpg

I think what I loved most was that I found myself longing to become a regular at each bar, restaurant, and café we visited. I wished we had the time (and the dough) to duck into each unique boutique we passed.

Montpellier palm tree street.jpg

Does the charm wear off when you stay longer than a day or two? We don’t know. But it’s a sure thing that getting a taste of life in Montpellier made us want to “poser nos bagages” and stay.

 

Click here to read about some of the cool shops, restaurants, and parks we found in Montpellier. 

 

Instagram postcard from Sète

I already told you about some highlights of Sète, a charming fishing town in the Languedoc Roussillon region of France. You may have remarked that I like to take pictures. A lot of pictures. (My chéri is not so enthused about my photography habit. Apparently, it takes forever to go somewhere because I stop every three feet to take a photo.) At the time of writing, I have 1873 photos with Instagram, so that gives you an idea.

I am not a “real” photographer and I don’t have a fancy camera. I have an iPhone 4s. All my photos are taken with my iPhone. Convenient for all the Instagramming I do, you know?

Here are some of my favorite Instagram shots from Sète.

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Here you get to see a little more of the town of Sète, including some fun street art at the local high school. More about Sète here.

South of France: Best of Sète

Remember how I said I was going to visit the Languedoc Roussillon region of France? The whole thrifty adventure thing? Well, I knew I wanted to go to Montpellier, but not only Montpellier, but also not too far from Montpellier, and I knew I wanted it to be somewhere right on the coast.

And that is how we ended up in Sète.

When we got off the train, we were immediately charmed by Sète’s beautiful canals and started dreaming of an imaginary summer home in the charming town before we even made it to our Airbnb apartment. But at the end of our visit, we decided it wasn’t quite the right place to buy our imaginary summer property. Sète is a lovely town, and we had a great time strolling along the canal and lying on the beach and watching France play Ecuador. But to be honest with you, two days there was enough for me.

Sete boats.jpg

Continue reading “South of France: Best of Sète”

Unravelling untravelling

You’d think that since I live abroad, I’d be a big traveler. I did move all the way to France from the US, didn’t I? And while I wouldn’t call myself nomadic, I seem to pick up and move every few months or so. I must be a great adventurer, right?!

London iron horse and me.jpg
Well, I did meet a horse in London with nostrils bigger than my head.

Not so much. Moving to France was certainly an unexpected adventure, and I definitely don’t live a predictable or traditional life, but I’m not a European jet-setter. (That would be cool, though!)

Since moving to France, I’ve crossed European borders, like, twice:  a weekend in London (loved it!) and a couple outings in Switzerland (and the only reason I know I’m in Switzerland and not France is that everything is cleaner and more expensive.) I think I did more traveling in the summer of 2009 than I have since I moved!

It rained while I was in London. Are you shocked?
It rained while I was in London. Are you shocked?
Okay, I take back what I said about la Suisse. Switzerland is great.
Okay, I take back what I said about la Suisse. Switzerland is great.

Sad, huh? Well, I’ve been busy! Job hunting, teaching, moving, surviving getting screwed over by three different jobs, battling bureaucracy, eating croissants – I mean, I have lots going on. And to be honest with you, even though travel is awesome, it’s not the only thing. The internet these days is like, “Travel while you’re young! Leave your job! Live on the road! Have wild adventures! Jump out of airplanes!” the implication being that you will grow old bitter and filled with regret if you don’t. And I do think that it’s important to leave home and learn about new cultures, and it’s often easier to start a wild adventure the younger you are, and that if you want to travel, you should. But I don’t think it’s wrong to want other things too, and to prioritize them over travel if that’s your choice. (and PS I have zero desire to jump out of a plane.)

So that’s why I’ve been focused on establishing a life in France, repairing my savings account, and spending time with people I love (and eating croissants) instead of jetting off to Italy and Croatia.

But I’ve been feeling restless lately, and my carte jeune (youth card) discount for France’s SNCF trains is going to expire soon forever (the horror). And it’s summer, which is both the season I want to go off on adventures because the weather is beautiful and the days are longer and I want to drink margaritas, and at the same time the season I don’t want to travel because it’s high season and I’m thrifty and it’s too hot in the south of Spain. Conundrum.

So I’m compromising with some thrifty adventures: some time in the south of France (not the Côte d’Azur, although I’m a fan, but the Languedoc-Roussillon region, to Sète and Montpellier), a solo trip to Barcelona (first time!), and finishing up the summer with a month in Paris (Paris doesn’t sound thrifty, but it is when you do it my way.) And in case you were wondering, I’ll be back in England sooner than later. Can’t wait for English cider and scones and hearing people say “alumINium.”

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Can’t wait for more of this…
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…and this. YUM.

 

Anyone else craving a scone now?

 

Return to Paris

I hadn’t been to Paris since September, which is a long time considering I only live two hours away. I’ve actually been to California more recently than Paris, and that’s about a twelve hour flight. Hm. What do you think of that?

I love Paris, I really do, and when I got off the train at Gare de Lyon in May I was thrilled to be back. Of course it was crowded and the weather was more bipolar than Russell Brand (it all makes sense now, doesn’t it?) but it was lovely to stroll through the 12th past where I used to go to the Marché d’Aligre and to walk up those tall bridges over Canal Saint Martin.

Gare de Lyon, Paris
Gare de Lyon, Paris

My favorite thing to do in Paris is walk. This is probably why I didn’t care to make the trip all winter long – it’s no fun to stroll in the wind and cold (although I did miss the Christmas window displays – no one dresses up for the holidays like the Grands Magasins of Paris). On the day I arrived back in Paris, the weather was warm and stormy, fluctuating from sunny to rainy countless times throughout the afternoon. It was humid and windy and reminded me of an indecisive June in Chicago.

I walked from the 12th to the 5th to visit a close friend and her nine-month-old, then back to the 12th to crouch over my laptop for an hour before hopping on the métro to République. I never spent much time in République when I lived in Paris, but I love the expansive place that serves as a stage and a meeting point. I’ve lived on the ritzy left bank, and I’ve lived north of Montmartre – next time I live in Paris, I’d love for it to be around here, in one of these eastern arrondissement pockets.

Place de la Republique
Place de la Republique

After rosé and charcuterie at Chez Prune on a street corner terrace opposite the Canal that was just barely protected from the multiple (!!) flash storms that poured downed, we walked down the Canal and out of the 10th all the way to Bastille. My friend discovered that a bar she had loved during her student days had changed hands. It’s funny how so much of Paris stands still in time, unchanging through decades and centuries, and how rapidly the rest of the city is constantly evolving.

Canal Saint Martin
Canal Saint Martin, Paris 10th arrondissement

I always say I prefer living in Lyon to Paris, and it’s true. I breathed a sigh of relief upon returning – no more fighting through crowds, constantly worrying about pickpockets, or passing through the stench of urine. So freeing to go out in public without having to hold your purse and your nose for dear life, don’t you think?

But it can’t be denied that Paris is a city unique and alive, so multifaceted that one person can never know all of its secrets. That’s the charm of it, isn’t it?