Travel Wrap-Up: What I learned from 3-Months Abroad

Ninety five days of travel brings some interesting insights. For me, it was all about new skills, new perspectives, and new interests.

Today I'm writing about our trip as a whole, partly to get closure and partly to share my most interesting observations. At least I thought they were interesting! Let's start with similarities and differences.

 

Things that are the same around the world (or at least in the 9 countries I visited):

-Ice cream. In every city, I constantly spotted people with ice cream cones and big smiles. From kids to adults. It just may be that ice cream is the best afternoon snack the human race has come up with so far.

-Parents and kids. Even without knowing the language, it's immediately obvious what's happening as a small child tries to run one way and a parent grabs them to bring them the other way. It turns out that little kids are pretty much the same everywhere and taking care of them is a universal human experience.

-Credit cards and the internet. My Visa worked everywhere and I went to ATMs at banks in every country and put in my card to get cash. The world is so connected now, it's amazing. The traveler's checks I remember from my childhood are long gone! Similarly, I was able to blog post from everywhere and keep in touch via the internet easily. Wifi was so prevalent, I never felt disconnected for more than a day at a time.

-People. Yep, people are actually pretty much the same. I found that even with language differences and cultural differences, folks in other countries are just like me. Everyone's just trying to do their thing, get through their day, enjoy their lives.

 

Things that are different in different countries:

-Timing. Meal timing, travel times, lifestyle - all these change depending on the country. Most notably, in Spain. Why yes, I'll have dinner at 9PM, thank you.

-Flora and fauna. The creatures in New Zealand stole my heart and the creatures in Australia genuinely scared me. In southern Spain, the air was perfumed with the scent of orange blossoms and wisteria. In Croatia, the ocean was bluer and clearer than anywhere I've ever seen. And in Iceland, my heart melted when we drove past each sheep followed by her 2 little lambs. The world is a diverse place!

-Languages, electricity, currency (Ok, you already know these, I just wanted to include them as a reminder). Surprisingly, we got by using English in every country we visited except for Spain. There, we used a combination of our (terrible) Spanish and the Google Translate app to communicate what we wanted. We needed wall adapters for our electronics everywhere and there was one type for Oceania and one type for Europe. During the middle third of our trip, we only needed Euros. These differences can put some people off, but once you get used to them, they are not a big deal.

 

How this trip affected me:

-I discovered I like learning about history when I can see it. I'll admit, I've never been keen on learning history. HOWEVER, actually seeing a spot and understanding it through its history was fascinating! Europe's history is long and extremely complex and seeing the impact of various empires in multiple places during our trip made the history come to life. Whereas before I knew next to nothing, now at least I could hold my own in a simple history discussion. : )

-The quickest way to make things better is to eat. I had a hunch that I sometimes got hangry before this trip, but traveling elucidated the truth. When things felt like they were going badly, it was likely that I hadn't eaten in a while. When I got hungry, my patience went down, my energy went down, and my temper rose. In short, I wasn't very fun. A meal made everything better! Once I realized this, we started prioritizing meals when we could.

-I like traveling to places that aren't crowded. I get pulled out of the enchantment of any beautiful site when it's too crowded. When I can't walk at my own pace or I have to weave through a crowd, I can't concentrate on being open to wonderful things anymore. Maybe this means in the future I'll seek out less popular destinations or maybe I'll travel somewhere popular only during the shoulder season.

-I'm still me. I didn't fundamentally change on this trip. I learned a lot and I saw a lot. The ways I like to travel became clearer and I know I can plan awesome trips in the future. In short, I discovered more about myself, but that didn't change me, it actually made me more me! (If that makes sense).

What's next:

I'm back in the United States (and loving the showers!) and it's time for the next chapter. This trip was amazing, but it was appropriate to wrap it up. I was fatigued from traveling towards the end and looking forward to visiting friends and family. But I also can't wait to plan the next trip, whenever that is!

So what's next right now? Now, my husband and I are moving to Denver, Colorado. We had a plan to leave LA for a long time and we're making it happen. He will be starting graduate school in the fall and I will be....Well, I'm not sure yet. I will be looking for my next job/activity/involvement this summer. I'm so excited to get to know a new city and a new region. Especially one that has a lot going on in sustainable food!

Because I will be focusing on establishing a new home base, I am taking a break from blogging regularly. I've enjoyed writing about out trip, but as my life moves in a new direction, I don't know where this blog is headed. Therefore, it's time to take a hiatus. 

Don't worry, if something really interesting is happening, I'll write about it!

Until then, be well.

A Week in Barcelona

The view of Barcelona from the top of Park Guell.

The view of Barcelona from the top of Park Guell.

As you might recall from my post last week, when we planned this trip, Spain was high up on our priority list. We knew that a big part of our time in Spain needed to be in the cosmopolitan city of Barcelona, located in Catalonia. Why? Because it seems that everyone we know has been there and loved it!

One week is the longest time afforded to a city in our whole trip and we bestowed it upon Barcelona. We visited for 7 nights and it was a great choice! There was a lot to see and do and I feel that I really got the hang of the city (well, as much as any visitor can in a short time). Let's break it down...

Roman columns.

Roman columns.

I like to think about Barcelona as divided in the "super old" stuff and the "not as old, but still not new" stuff. 

 

The Super Old Stuff

A mosaic ceiiling at the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau.

A mosaic ceiiling at the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau.

Barcelona has been inhabited for thousands of years and the heart of it, called the Gothic Quarter, currently sits on the ruins of a small Roman city. Plenty of ruins to see, mostly because parts of the city's Roman wall still exist within other buildings! As the city was ruled by different civilizations, it expanded and the whole area is narrow windy streets. This feels like much of the rest of Spain and turning a corner to discover another hidden alleyway is a delight. 

The Barcelona Cathedral

The Barcelona Cathedral

The Not as Old, But Still Not New Stuff

In the 1870's, Barcelona outgrew its confines. A plan was drawn up to extend the city beyond the old sections in a very organized grid with square-shaped intersections and lots of wide avenues. This was called l’Eixample and it became primo real estate for wealthy Barcelonians as a new architectural movement primarily based in Catalonia called Modernism came into fashion. 

 

As a Visitor...

Any tourist to Barcelona will hit up attractions in both sections of the city. The Barcelona Cathedral and the central government buildings are in the Gothic Quarter, along with one of the busiest walking streets in town - La Rambla. BUT, the most well-known attraction in the city is La Sagrada Familia and that, along with most other examples of modernism architecture are in l'Eixample. 

This is great news because it means that visiting Barcelona is like visiting two cities in one! 

The modernist Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau.

The modernist Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau.

 

Below are some of the highlights of the city, roughly in order of how important they are in a visit to Barcelona (only according to me, of course!).

La Sagrada Familia: No messing around, this imposing and dramatic basilica designed by modernist poster boy Antoni Gaudi is the number one thing to do in town for a reason. Believe the hype, this building is amazing. We got tickets a couple weeks in advance and did the audio guide, as well as a visit to the top of one of the towers. There's also a museum about the building and Gaudi in the basement.

Walking around the Gothic Quarter: The model of a "you pick the price" walking tour is extremely popular in Europe these days, and we had a great time on one learning about the history of the neighborhood. Seeing the Barcelona Cathedral and some ruins of the old Roman City brought history to life. 

Walking the major pedestrian streets: I'm sort of torn about this. I hate fighting my way through hordes of people, so if you're like me, maybe just skip these. BUT, then again, I think walking La Rambla, Passeig de Gracia, and Plaza Catalunya at least once or twice is necessary in a visit to Barcelona. Here's an idea, go for a run in the morning along these streets when it's still quiet!

Find modernist architecture somewhere: Much of the city has modernism components, so once you know what you're looking for, you see it everywhere. That said, there are a few famous buildings to check out. By Gaudi - La Pedrera and Casa Battlo (we didn't go in these, just visited the outsides), and Park Guell (we did visit the monuments here, it's imperative to get tickets in advance). By Montaner - Palau de la musica Catalana (again just visited the outside), and Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (took a tour here). The modernisme movement was fun and beautiful. It was about using inspiration from older styles and being creative. Many modernist buildings look extremely different from each other and I think that's part of the fun! 

The Picasso museum: Picasso had a long relationship with Barcelona and the museum here bearing his name was created while he was still alive (although living in France). It focuses on his younger years and his training as he established himself as an artist. Don't visit thinking you'll understand his entire oeuvre - you won't. But you can understand his origins. 

I want to stop here because while we did more than this, I don't want to bore you! And what good is a highlights list if it's too long? SO, one final thing: don't forget to eat and drink! There are places to eat everywhere and more bakeries per block than most cities I've seen. The wine is cheap and good and a majority of eateries have English menus. Although tapas aren't native to this part of Spain, when tourism picked up in the 1990s due to the olympics, tapas restaurants flourished. Now you can find food from all around the world in Barcelona ranging from extremely casual and cheap to Michelin-starred fine dining. 

 
After an amazing 7 days, we are saying goodbye to Spain and heading east for the next couple of weeks: Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia!

 

Springtime in Spain - Madrid & Andalucia

Hola! 

I'm sitting down on a lovely sunny afternoon (at about 6PM) to write about my time in Spain so far. We've been here for 13 days already and right now we're in our fourth city - Malaga. I'll talk a bit about each place we've visited in this sunny country, but first, an overview of why we're here!

I knew I wanted to visit Spain since I was in college. At the time, my relatives and friends went to Spain and loved it. They stayed up late, drank cheap wine, and had delicious food. It always seemed like a magical land of sunshine and ham and flamenco and manchego cheese! The Spanish people appeared to be laid back with a flair for drama and passion (from what I'd heard) - just like me, right? ; )   I had to check it out. 

When planning our big 3-month adventure, my husband and I knew we wanted to really get a feel for this country. We allocated almost 3 weeks and included 5 cities. First, in the middle of the country was Madrid (the capital), then we went south to the region of Andalucia for visits to Sevilla, Granada, and Malaga, and in a couple days we'll go up to the northeast corner for a week in Barcelona. 

Spring is a perfect time to visit these parts of Spain. There is little rain and the temperature is still cool at night and comfortably warm during the day. In the summer, it can get brutally hot out which makes sightseeing quite difficult. But right now it's perfect and there are flowers everywhere! 

So, what have we been up to? 

Madrid

After recovering from jet lag (did I mention I slept 11 hours our first night in Madrid?) we explored all the main plazas and neighborhoods. The Prado Museum was great, as was the Royal Palace. There was a beautiful park near our hotel which was an ideal spot for running in the morning. One afternoon we took a bus to Toledo and mentally traveled back in time while walking in the old walled city. Food highlights: vermouth, jamon, and albondigas (meatballs).

 

Sevilla

The Plaza de Espana!

The Plaza de Espana!

My memories of Sevilla will always be linked with the delightful aroma of orange blossoms. The trees lining the streets were so fragrant, it was unbelievable. Here, the best part of our visit was getting lost on little streets and finding charming tapas restaurant exactly when we needed them every time. We saw a fantastic flamenco show up close and personal - oh, the passion! The Sevilla cathedral was beautiful, as was the Alcazar Palace, but my favorite attraction was the beautiful Plaza de Espana. As the sun went down, it glowed.

 

Granada

This smaller city right near the Sierra Nevada mountains has a LONG history starting around 5000 BC. These days, people go to see history from the Moors, especially the large palaces build on the old fortress which is called the Alhambra. When tourism at the Alhambra started picking up about 40 years ago, it brought an influx of visitors to Granada. The Alhambra is the most important thing to see in Granada and the rest, in my opinion, is take-it-or-leave it. After the charms of Sevilla, we found Granada to be more difficult and a bit grittier. We still saw beautiful streets and sunshine, but it just didn't have the same charm.

Now the Alhambra on the other hand, was AMAZING. A must-visit. I was blown away by the different sections from different centuries, the gardens, the summer palace, the military towers, and more. It was so beautiful and interesting! The Nasrid Palace from the 12th century was my favorite part and I'd never seen anything like it. These photos can't do it justice.

By the way, did you know that Granada means pomegranate in Spanish? 

 

Malaga

Sun and sea, Malaga is a vacation hot-spot. We're staying up on a big hill which provides beautiful views! But also a 15 minute walk to get anywhere...

Our first day in Malaga was Palm Sunday and we stumbled upon the city's parade.

Now for a few more days of sunshine, views, and relaxation near the water before heading up to BARCELONA!