Saturday, 25 May 2013

Paris - the city of love and other catastrophes

Aahhh Paris... the most romantic city in the world. This was to be the beginning of our five week Summer holiday throughout Europe. I had visited Paris once before in the dead of Winter, but I was excited to see it basking in the sun and sharing this with my one and only. There were a few anxious moments leading up to the trip regarding the weather but from the moment we landed, the sun came out and remained with us for the few days that we were there.

What we hadn't realised was that the final stage of the Tour de France was happening the day after we arrived. After a leisurely lie in, we slowly made our way down to the Champs Elysee where the riders were to do their final run. The walk gave us our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower and it did not cease to amaze me. It doesn't matter how many times you look at it and from what angle, it always seems beautiful. For a large piece of steel, that is truly a remarkable feat.

I am allergic to many, many foods and I know that there are a few sceptics out there who in the past have accused me of overreacting. After the race, we decided to eat at the Hardrock Cafe as they had English menus and I didn't feel like arguing with a French waiter about what was or was not in their food (I have had to do that before). After eating my pasta, we slowly headed back to our hotel. As we got into the lift I started whining about an itchy throat and in the time it took us to get to the second floor, I was in full blown Anaphylactic shock. To cut a long story short - I survived. However, my voice turned into Darth Vader's and my face looked like Will Smith in the movie Hitch. Below you will see my face on the night, and then what it was like the next day:

I was more upset that this was the face that I was going to be photographed with when we visited the Eiffel Tower than anything else. This was a wakeup call for both of us when it came to what I ate. And for all those that think I am a fussy eater, remember this face!

I didn't let this hamper my fun, and I just made sure that when I was posing for photos next to the Eiffel Tower, I was far enough away from the camera to look 'normal'. I could have sat looking at the tower for hours, but as we only had a few days, we moved on to exploring the city. We visited the Arc de Triumph and took in the panoramic views of the city. We then moved on to the Louvre where we visited Mona Lisa herself.

We decided that we should do a day trip out of Paris and headed to the Palace of Versaille as we had heard nothing but good things. A word of warning - do not go visit the Palace in the Summer. If you do, don't say I didn't warn you about lining up in the hot sun for over 5 hours! Unfortunately, but the time we made it inside the Palace we were so hot and bothered, and annoyed with some fellow tourists, that we did not enjoy it as much as we should have. In hindsight, I wish that we had just paid to see the gardens as they looked beautiful from the palace and we ran out of time to see them. I suggest that if you go to visit Versaille in the Summer, leave extra early.

No hat - Rookie mistake!

We are finally in!
Our final evening was spent with a picnic at the base of our friend Eiffel. It was the perfect way to end an eventful weekend. We could only hope that the next few weeks were to be just as exciting - maybe minus the threat to my life part...

A backpacker's feast! 

Friday, 24 May 2013

Hola Barcelona

After the bitterly cold and wet weather we experienced at the Jubilee, we were looking forward to some sunshine. We knew that this was not going to be found in London, so we jumped on a plane and headed for Barcelona!!!

This was our first trip outside of England, and what a way to start! After disembarking from our plane we hopped on the subway and headed to our hostel - Hostel One Paralelo. I had very high hopes for this hostel as I had not read one bad review. I can happily say that I was not disappointed!! We were greeted upon arrival and sat down with a map where we were shown all the usual touristy spots, plus some favourites of the locals. One bonus of this hostel was each night they put on a cooked meal that everyone could attend and help out if they wished. Free meal... there was no question that we were going to attend. Boy was it worth it.

Bring on our first full day in Barcelona. After an early night for me (lame I know) I still slept through our alarm the next morning. The only reason this was a problem whilst we were on holiday was that we were meeting our friends Tim and Shelley, and I woke up about 15 minutes after we were supposed to meet them. With no way of contacting them, we just had to hope that they were waiting for us at our predetermined destination, that I had no idea of how to get to. After a rather crazy and chaotic hour, we finally made it to find them waiting ever so patiently.

Our first stop - La Ramblas. The market was amazing. Sweets and fruit as far as the eye could see. The colours and smells were beautiful. From all accounts, the juices were amazing and I wish that I could have tried one.

It was then that we started exploring the beautiful city that is Barcelona. One thing that Mark and I like to do when we are on holidays is walk. Sounds silly, but you would be surprised at how many people don't enjoy this. I can't think of anything better than exploring a city by foot and if that means that we get lost, then we get lost. It is when you get lost that you find the most beautiful surprises. Thankfully, Tim and Shelley enjoy this also. After making our way to the site of the 1992 Olympic games, we decided to keep walking and found some great views over the city and the water.

The highlight of the trip for me was the day trip we took to Montserrat. Montserrat is a beautiful Benedictine monk mountain retreat. There are two ways of getting there. The first option is to take a train and then cable car, and the second is a train and funicular railway. For those of you that know me, or if you had read my previous posts, you will know that I am none to partial to heights. So the cable car was really doing nothing for me. Mark and Tim graciously suggested we go on the funicular if I felt more comfortable, but I could see the disappointment in their eyes. That disappointment turned to excitement when I announced that I would suck it up and we could take the cable car. Then the cable car came down the mountain. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was not the "old" thing coming towards us. I think I held my breath to stop myself from hyperventilating the whole ride up. Shelley, bless her, held my hand the entire way even though I was squeezing so hard it probably hurt. The ride seemed to take years, but once we arrived at the top, it was totally worth it.

After checking out the Monastery, we took the funicular even higher *gulp* and made use of our walking shoes. There are a number of hiking trails that take you to various peaks surrounding the Monastery. The views were magical. I got to the point where I couldn't go any higher, so whilst the boys walked to the highest peak, Shelley and sat back and took in our surroundings. On our walk down we met two 'older' ladies who met each other when they were children at Summer Camp. They have holidayed with each other annually ever since. I'd like to think that that will be the same for us!

Our 5 days in Barcelona were exceptional. From the beach and the harbour to Gaudi and his still unfinished Sagrada Familia. The sights, the sounds, the smells and of course the tastes of Spain blew me away. Tapas, Paella and Sangria - what more could a girl ask for!!! Barcelona has given me a taste of Spain and I certainly hope to see more of it. If that means that I have to visit Barcelona again - well who am I to argue!