Tuesday, October 29, 2013


We arrived in Spain early in morning of October 28th (last year). Our total mileage driving in Spain was 2576km!! !We dropped off our rental car, and had a few hours to kill before we could get into our Airbnb Apartment.  Our hosts had emailed us some restaurant recommendations, and so we walked to one of the places, called Cafe Federale. There was a line outside, but we decided to go for it, and we happened to get the last table for two! The food was great, Jerome had a breakfast burger and I had breakfast tacos! After that we headed to our apartment, and met up with the nice guy who was running the airbnb. The cleaning person hadn't come, so he let us in, and set to cleaning while we went out to explore. We spent the day wandering around the city. We walked down to the waterfront and through the gothic quarter.  

We found the Cerveseria Moritz and decided it would be a great place for dinner. They had really good and interesting beer selections, and excellent food and mussels. We had a lovely evening at the brewery! The next day we slept in, did some laundry and relaxed a bit in the morning. We found an Indian restaurant for lunch with a really tasty lunch special. We walked all the way to the Sagrada Familia, but found out they were sold out of tickets for the day so decided to go back tomorrow. We went to Olympic Park right on the water, and wandered around for the rest of the afternoon. We enjoyed the Moritz brewery so much, we went back for dinner again! 

The next morning we got up and walked all the way to the Sagrada Familia. But the lines were very long, and we found out we could pre-buy tickets online and print them the next day, so we opted to go back yet again tomorrow. Instead we decided to see another of Gaudi's works - Casa Batllo. It is a really cool building in the middle of a block of regular buildings, that Gaudi designed for a family who lived there in 1904. It really stands out! 

There is hardly a straight line in the entire building! The windows, walls, ceilings, everything is curved. He even designed and built furniture to match it. The upper floor is all built with Gaudi's Catalan arches. You could even go up to the roof which looks a bit like a dragon with scales (see first picture at the top). It was really interesting seeing such a different kind of architecture. Just after we left, we got caught in a crazy rain storm. The rain was coming down the hardest I think I ever remember seeing! We ran into a little bar and waited it out for a while with a drink, then headed for a typical Barcelona dinner at Senyor Parellada, of fish stew and paella. We then walked home in the much softer rain, and had to dry our clothes!

Having finally got our tickets, we were up early the next morning to walk back to Sagrada Familia and finally got to see it all! It was a beautiful day, and the cathedral is spectacular! It's been in the works for over 100 years, and still has at least 10 left before it is done. It is gorgeous though. Each face of it, is a different style and represents something different. We spent 6 hours just walking around, looking at everything, taking tons of pictures. You can see all the rest of the photos here.

The interior was just as spectacular as the outside, with crazy mathematically designed arches that branch out from themselves, and amazing stained glass work. We also got to go up one of the towers and got a great view of the city, and the building from up top. 

One of my favourite things was the display in the basement of all the design drawings and models that were done and built to figure out how to build it and make it look. It was really neat seeing initial sketches and then being able to see the finished sculpture up on the wall. 

By the time we were done, it was almost dark, so we grabbed a coffee and waited for the sun to set the rest of the way, and then spent some time doing some night photography of the Sagrada Familia. They do a great job of lighting it up at night, so it was really fun. 

We headed back to the Gothic quarter to find some dinner, and got drawn in by what sounded like fireworks going off. We followed our ears, and were treated to an amazing show for the evening. It was October 31 and All Hallow's Eve. A big group of adults and children were all dressed up in yellow or red and black tunics. Each person carried a stick with a nail and a clothespin on it. One of the adults would put a firecracker on the nail and then the clothespin on top to stop it from flying off. Another adult would then light the crackers one by one, as groups of children and adults skipped down the street waving and twirling their sticks. It looked like so much fun! We took a bunch of videos trying to capture it all. This one is pretty representative of the chaos and fun! It was an amazing end to our stay in Barcelona. The next morning we headed off to Sweden! But more of that in the next post.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Carcassonne and Figueres

We left San Sebastian and headed into France to a vineyard B&B near Carcassonne. On the way we stopped at several really pretty little towns in southern France like St. Lizier,  Foie and Mirepoix. The scenery was amazing and each of the small towns had really interesting features like a castle on a hill in the middle of it, an old fashioned town square, and a tasty place for lunch! 

We found a interesting sounding place to stay online while we were in San Sebastian and booked ahead at O'Vineyards. It is a small B&B and winery run by a couple. Liz does all the amazing cooking, and Joe does most of the work in the winery. We arrived and were met with a wine tasting, and chat before Liz's great dinner which included Coquilles St. Jacques, Sausages, Ginger and Salmon Salad and a banana coconut tart with homemade caramel sauce. All accompanied by their own wine of course! 

In the morning we got a short tour of the winery and the vineyard and then headed out for our day in Carcassonne. Liz called ahead to a restaurant on the way that had a great fixed price lunch menu where we stopped for a great lunch. Click here to see food pictures. We definitely ate well in Southern France! 

We spent the whole afternoon in Carcassonne exploring the old walled city and castle. It was super interesting. We walked along all the walls and explored all the little roads and nooks and crannies that we could get into. We also took a ton of pictures!

Jerome even found a cool little alcove which he closed me into while I was exploring!

We had Crêpes for dinner in the new part of the city while waiting for it to be dark, so that we could try our hands at some interesting night castle photography. 

The next morning we said goodbye to Liz and Joe and took off for Figueres, Spain. And we nearly did take off! The wind was crazy that day, and we heard after we arrived safely at our hotel, that the winds had been gusting up to 200km/h!!! The highways are all very well marked for such occasions with warnings on billboards and windsocks along the way. 

We stayed in Figueres for just one night, so that we could go to it's famous landmark - the Salvador Dali Museum. He lived in this town and designed and built most of the museum himself. It was very interesting and different as you'd expect! There were giant paintings, pieces of art that were coin operated, and all sorts of bizarre and amazing things. 

One of the really neat things at the museum, was something we'd never heard of. At some point Dali was commissioned to make a whole series of jewels. They have characteristic Dali-esque shapes and themes, but are made from precious stones and metals. There was even a tiny heart that beat with a minuscule mechanism inside it. The whole exhibit was very impressive! 

View Jerome and Laura's Trip to Europe in a larger map

You can see our foray into France here on the map. We stayed at the hotel after seeing the Dali museum and then took a very early start to head to Barcelona for the last of our adventures in Spain! We had to have the car there by 11am to drop it off. Conveniently for us it was Daylight Savings day that day, so we got to sleep a bit extra and got there no problem. But the rest of that story will be told in the next installment!

Click here to see our entire Carcassonne and Figueres album

Sunday, October 13, 2013

San Sebastian, Spain

I realize I have forgotten to give timing perspective the last few posts. So this post takes us from October 21 to 24th, 2012. So almost a year ago... I'm doing my best to finish all the posts before the year mark comes by! So hopefully you'll get quite a few over the next month!

View Jerome and Laura's Trip to Europe in a larger map

So we left off from Cabo del Gato which is at the bottom corner of Spain. The next place that we both had really wanted to see from our pre-trip planning and research was San Sebastian. The downside is that it is at the very top of Spain! We decided to take a day and drive almost all of the way, and stopped in a little town called Alfaro overnight, and then went the rest of the way. The total distance of the drive was about 625 miles or almost exactly 1000km!!! We had some books on tape and saw a lot of Spanish scenery!

Jerome got very accustomed to the Smart car, and did a great job driving most of the way. My only complaint was when we came extremely close to running out of gas! You can see here, it shows no bars and 2.5L! I was a bit less than calm at this point, but we found a place last minute, so all ended up okay! 

The scenery all across Spain was really pretty. We saw a lot of really interesting old towns, some really weird cloud formations, and drove through a rain storm on the plains. Which if you've seen My Fair Lady, you'll know required some singing along in the car! We even saw a sweet rainbow over the mountains. 

We stopped overnight in Alfaro, which is a small town about 2 hours from San Sebastian. The next day we headed out early, and took a route that led us through Getaria, as we had read it had good lunch restaurants. While the first place we tried happened to be closed that day, we had quite an adventure at the next place! We ordered Goose Neck Barnacles, which are a delicacy in this part of Spain. They are the weirdest looking things I've ever eaten. They have a sort of fabric like sheath over half of them, and the other half looks like a barnacle! They were reasonably tasty - a bit like other shellfish. 

Apparently they were first called goose neck barnacles because before people had realized that birds migrate, they would see these barnacles on the beaches during the time of year when the geese weren't around. They therefore concluded that these must be what baby geese looked like! 

We drove the rest of the way to San Sebastian, which is a small town on the coast with a beautiful bay that is protected and is great to swim on one side, and on the other is a less protected beach where everybody surfs. It also is rumoured to have the highest per capita number of Michelin star restaurants! It does in fact have three 3-star ones which is a lot! We didn't go to any, spending our time eating around the plentiful tapas bars! 

The hotel we got was quite nice. It was up on the hill overlooking the city which made for great views, and cheaper rooms. We had a bit of a hike down to town, but found a good path to take. We also found a funicular which you could take, and mastered the bus system so that we didn't have to walk back up the hill after an evening of wine and tapas! 

We spent 3 days here hanging out in the town and the beaches. We went swimming quite a few times, ate a lot of food, and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly! We were conveniently there for Restaurant Week and so one of the nights instead of eating at all the tapas places we went to a place that had a fixed price menu that was very tasty, for a fraction of the price it would be not during restaurant week. We took lots of pictures of all the tapas as well as the dinner which you can see in our full album.

This little guy gave us quite the adventure. We were exploring this really old and bizarre amusement park that was up at the top of the hill beside our hotel, and where the funicular ran, and which had great views. We were walking along when all of a sudden Jerome grabs my arm and yells "Watch out!" Assuming there's something ahead I haven't seen, I immediately stomp my foot down in place without stepping forward, and proceed to step on this thing! It didn't' squish, it had a hard sort of shell, and after I stopped being surprised, we watch it for a bit. It looked like a worm shaped snake. It had a little tongue and everything, but was super slow, like a worm. It was the most bizarre creature. He slowly slithered away and seemed no worse for our meeting gladly. We looked it up and found out it was a "Slow Worm." Who knew! 

One of the days we were in San Sebastian we took a day trip into France to Hendaye, where Jerome had read about a great beach and little town. It was very pretty, and had neat caves and cool rock formations. Turns out it was also a nude beach, so it was an interesting experience. We also found a cool hiking trail which led us unexpectedly to this castle. And all along it were these driftwood people doing various things. It was really cool! All in all San Sebastian had quite a few fun and memorable adventures packed into a few days, it was great! Next time we'll take you along to our next stop which was Carcasonne, France, and to stay at a B&B inside a winery!