Days 50 to 52: Barcelona and Tours

Day 50

I hopped the train off to Barcelona. This whole train riding thing isn’t new anymore, but I still loved it. It’s so nice to hop on and it’s all calm and you can picnic and check out the sights out the windows.

I got to Barcelona and the first thing I noticed was that it was HOT. The AVE train station has all of the platforms underground, and they are very much not ventilated. The upside is the train station generally did a good job telling you how to get to the Metro. However trying to find the tourist info place on the way was much more difficult.

Found my hotel without too many problems. And most of the problems were how sweaty I was. If the train platforms were poorly ventilated, the metro had zero ventilation.

I then spent my afternoon and evening wandering around different bits of Barcelona, starting with Barcelonetta. It’s a super cute area, where interestingly all of the streets run in logical blocks. That’s because it was rather recently filled in land, so the streets were planned more than the oldest bits of most cities.

After wandering around and grabbing a bite to eat I headed over and up to the Olympic Park area. I spent a lot of time looking for the Olympic rings that were on my map…. Only to figure out that that was simply their way of saying all the things here are the old Olympic venues. Quite the adventure. To get up to the park, you can drive, walk, or, as I did, take the funicular. Barcelona has actually done quite well turning their old venues into currently used places. The pool was in the middle of being re-tiled, which you could see through the windows, and a couple of different arenas are used for different sports teams now.

The plaza area between the arenas and pool buildings
The plaza area between the arenas and pool buildings

After all my wanderings, I headed back to the hostel. This hostel had a big bar area, and I figured I should stop up there and see if there were people to meet. Turns out they also take a trip to a club every night, for which most people gather for drinks around 8-9 and you leave for the club a tiny bit before midnight. The hostel had sangria on a tap… and it was pretty tasty. But most importantly, it was beyond reasonably priced, especially compared to the drinks at the club (which they actually did warn us about, very nice of them).

This glass of sangria was 5 euros. See my point and shoot camera for size reference!
This glass of sangria was 5 euros. See my point and shoot camera for size reference!

 

 

Everyone was playing beer pong when I got up to the bar, and I couldn’t pass it up, so I decided to join and head out for the night. I hadn’t realized that beer pong is still a very American thing to play. One of the bar tenders was American and had been teaching everyone. Always fun.

Turns out I might be too old for this whole late night club thing. I’m certainly not capable of staying out until 6am.

Day 51

My first full day in Barcelona, and I bet everyone can guess the first thing on my to-do list. Walking tour!

The Barcelona walking tour centers around the gothic area. You get a lot of different history, some Spanish, a lot Catalunya, which in English is Catalonia. Which unless you’ve been under a rock lately, you’ve seen the region making plenty of political headlines. Hearing the history, some of the politics started making a lot more sense to me.

After my tour, I headed out to the beach! I had no interest in the Barcelonetta beach, as it’s generally packed. Not something that works to well. I hate being afraid that someone will swipe my stuff while I’m in the water. So I hopped on the train for about 40 minutes to a different beach north of Barcelona. I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong with any of the beaches. Perhaps it’d be worth putting some more thought into if you’re planning on staying in a town out there.

I had picked up some food and wine for my beach adventure. This was where I learned another way to open a wine bottle… If you let the wine get warm enough, the cork will start coming out all on it’s own! That wasn’t my intention, but the sand was warm, and there was no shade. I tossed the bottle in the hostel fridge when I got back, and it turned out okay to drink the next day, but I certainly wouldn’t be trying to keep it for later.

Day 52

After my low key day the day before, this day was packed with lots of things to see. I started off by heading back to the gothic area to take a peak into the Santa Maria del Mar church. Just a very pretty old church. The church is in the gothic, and so in the process I ended up wandering around some more. It’s just a very cool area with lots of shops and restaurants.

After all the wandering, I headed up towards Casa Mila because I had bought my ticket online the day before. This is something they always recommend that you do, but it wouldn’t have actually mattered because there was no line.

Casa Mila is one of the many Gaudi buildings in Barcelona, and the first one that I visited. It’s an apartment building which is still used for that purpose, they’ve just opened up the roof top and attic as well as one apartment for touring.

Casa Mila - The view from across the street.
Casa Mila – The view from across the street.
Model of the building. It shows the architecture better than pictures of the actual building.
Model of the building. It shows the architecture better than pictures of the actual building.
The inside courtyard. Similar to outside, it's not square.
The inside courtyard. Similar to outside, it’s not square.
These columns were covered with broken wine bottles.
These columns were covered with broken wine bottles.
These are vents for chimneys and other such things that need venting. Way cooler looking than normal. Gaudi wanted to hide the "ugly" things that everyone has on their roof.
These are vents for chimneys and other such things that need venting. Way cooler looking than normal. Gaudi wanted to hide the “ugly” things that everyone has on their roof.
Some of the spines in the attic.
Some of the spines in the attic.
An architectural model of the attic rafters. This is what makes the roof so interesting too.
An architectural model of the attic rafters. This is what makes the roof so interesting too.
One of the very cool iron balcony railings
One of the very cool iron balcony railings
This used to be the drive way entrance. An early example of parking underground (the entrance is behind where I was standing)
This used to be the drive way entrance. An early example of parking underground (the entrance is behind where I was standing)

I definitely thought this house was cool to see. The apartment was a little unconventional, but it was also designed for a different time, when you had a servant and your kids were supposed to stay away from the adults.

After the house, I headed over to check out the old hospital de la santa creu. Sadly, by the time I got there, they were closing soon, and I would miss my tapas tour if I went and looked around. What I got from the signs is that the buildings were designed to be a self supporting area. Now it’s a museum, and there’s a new modern hospital right near by.

I went on the tapas tour offered by the New Sandeman’s group here. I was a little concerned about signing up for a food tour with the fact that I can’t really eat everything. Luckily, the started the tour by asking if anyone had any food allergies. And then they adjusted the food accordingly. Most of the food were gluten free to start with. The couple things that were substituted were totally delicious as well. The tour also came with drinks, and wine is still tasty.

After the tour, we got dropped off at a cute bar that had pool tables and just a fun atmosphere. It was a nice small place. While there and we were all chatting, we decided we should head over to the beach area (we were already near by) and go to a club. Please don’t as why I thought this was a good idea after my last adventure. We got there a bit before midnight, which allowed us to get in free, but they don’t even open the dance floor until midnight. Also, don’t try to get into the club wearing tennis shoes or sleeveless shirts (if you’re a guy). Pretty much, they have a legit dress code and they will enforce it.

Barcelona is smart, knowing they have a large club culture, and run the metro all night on Saturdays. So heading home from the club I just hopped right on the metro. Quite a busy day.

Day 47 – Eze and Nice

So the train to Monaco stops in Eze sur Mer, which means to get to Eze, you have to take the bus. Luckily, I’m pretty sure nothing will ever surpass the terrifying bus ride on the Fjord Tour from Bergen, so no biggie. You get some amazing views over Nice (pronounced like “niece” for those unfamiliar, yay French!) and the ocean. After this bus ride, I do wish I could have done the bus to Monaco, with the stop in Nice, just to see the trip. But I wasn’t about to go back to Monaco again.

Anyways, bus drops you off at the “top” of the hill. Sort of. It’s the top of normal places for now-a-days, but the old hill top Eze is still up hill. Stopped at the tourist info office, which here, must be the worlds most boring job. “We are here. *circle on map* Go up this street, up these stairs, and there’s the entrance to the old Eze. *draw line along the path*” And then the person leaves. Repeat.

I headed up the hill, found the village without a problem. It’s free to enter until you get to the exotic gardens, which cost 6€ and also encompass the very top of the hill. Well worth the fee. Overall I thought it was very cool to see the old village area and the insane ability of people to construct things on the side of a mountain. Thanks to my Step-mom and Dad for suggesting this one.

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Super fun town to walk around. If I never see an uphill street with steps though, I’d be fine (I passed on the meditation gardens because they were down the stairs, then back up to leave). No wonder these Europeans are so skinny/in shape/fit. It’d be hard to be anything else when you have to walk and hike to get where you’re going!

I caught the bus from a stop I found while walking around killing time. This bus isn’t like a city bus that runs every 20 minutes. More like every 2 hours. So I was ready to leave, but hadn’t planned well and the next bus was in an hour. So I decided to walk around the rest of the town and see what there was. Not much. But that’s how I got those awesome views of the town. The bus was supposed to be in town at 12:10. So I figured it’d be at my stop at say, 12:09. It wasn’t far. So when 12:10 came and went… and then 12:20…. and then 12:30… I was about to walk to town to catch the bus to the train station. Thank goodness I was as patient as I was, because a bus pulled up right then. I was happy to be on a stop before the town, because I got a seat by the window!

Wandered around the old town for a bit, looking for a couple things. Why is it when I decide I want something, I can then never find it? Oh well. I had plenty to mail home as it was. Which was the next stop. Picked up a box at the French Postal service. 5kg for 45€. Not too horrible in my opinion. Carrying the filled box back to the station, I’d swear I was over weight. Put my box on the scale; and nope, 2.6kg. Well then. Still a lot out of my pack (it was 12kg when I started – per Iceland Air). Which meant more space for future shopping! They said delivery is normally 5-8 days and I was floored.

Next up I caught the bus to a Nice beach. I, once again, didn’t want to be packed in so I headed down the beach a bit. The Nice beaches are pebble beaches, in case someone hadn’t heard of the famous Nice beaches before. Amusingly to me, this was actually the most comfortable beach I’d been on. Probably because the “pebbles” don’t stick to your feet when you walk through them. I had a brief picnic then spent the time watching people. Just such a pretty beach.

A bit before sunset. Certainly gorgeous.
A bit before sunset. Certainly gorgeous.
I had to take a picture of the sailboat after being with Amy and her tall ship love.
I had to take a picture of the sailboat after being with Amy and her tall ship love.

People pretty much left when the sun left the beach. It sets essentially right behind the beach, and so the sunlight on the beach is gone a long time before the light. I enjoyed the calm, and luckily, the buses ran for another hour or two, but only once or twice an hour.

This is a good time to mention how annihilated my shoes are. It’s amazing what 5-15 miles a day, every other day, for two months will do to shoes. If you look at the ball and heel of these Toms, you can see that they are worn totally flat. This has been making for interesting walking if it rains, or the ground is otherwise wet, as a lot of towns pave with smooth stones. **Thinks to self, I will not repeat the fall in Amsterdam** Overall, loving my shoe choices. Other than the amazingly solid tan lines that only two pairs of shoes is creating.

 

 

IMG_3866

Caught a bus home. I got to the stop, and thought that I had just missed the previous bus by around 10 minutes. But after my earlier adventure, decided I really couldn’t stray too far as maybe I didn’t really miss it. That happened to be the case. And I probably looked like an idiot waving down the bus. I wasn’t quite back to the stop yet, and you have to wave down the bus even at the stop, so I really wanted to be sure it didn’t miss me! Waiting another half hour wasn’t sounding exciting.

Day 46 – Around Nice, but not actually in Nice

When I decided to stay in Nice, I was mostly interested in being on the coast and seeing some of the places around Nice. Don’t get me wrong, I’d heard nothing bad about Nice, but really it seemed like nothing more than a giant vacation town.

So in the morning I was off to Monaco. I had planned to take the bus to Eze, then to Monaco, but turns out that on Sunday, the bus doesn’t run, so I had to change plans. Not a big deal. Train to Monaco it was.

The train runs past a bunch of smaller towns between Nice and Monaco, which I was scoping out for a good beach. Super easy train ride with really nice views on the way.

Luckily, Monaco is a tourist hot spot to arrive via train. The tourist information is right in the station, making getting a map very simple. I figured out the route I wanted to take, heading to the harbor right away. The station is in the middle of the hills around Monaco, so the walk was all down hill. A great start, never fun to know what you’ll be hiking up on the way home.

The boats in the harbor were insane. I mean, maybe to see one or two, okay, but tons of them. And the water was absolutely clear. Some of these boats had their little attached/stored on deck run-arounds that are bigger than the boats most people own.

Just one of the many. Showing the "small" run around tied up.
Just one of the many. Showing the “small” run around tied up.
Not quite as large, but can you see the massive number of "smaller" boats?
Not quite as large, but can you see the massive number of “smaller” boats?
See those rocks through the water? That water is many, many feet deep.
See those rocks through the water? That water is many, many feet deep.

I wandered around a bit. My original plan had me here in the afternoon, which probably would have been preferable. The town is a bit dead in the morning (I think it was 10 when I got there). Got up to see the famed Monte Carlo, and was sadly unimpressed. Good thing I was there in the morning though, looks like there’s a dress code to enter when people are playing. You have to pay to enter the casino, which is stupid, but I had to see what all the fuss was about.

The one the only.
The one the only.
I've never been anywhere where gambling wasn't allowed 24/7.
I’ve never been anywhere where gambling wasn’t allowed 24/7.

The rooms are pretty, but nothing to write home about (so I’ll full fill that statement by writing nothing here as well).

Wandered around a bit more. Really found nothing of huge interest to me, so I headed down to where the Monaco Grand Prix starts. Mostly just for shits and giggles. A lot so I can tell my cousins I was there.

Looks like not much most of the time.
Looks like not much most of the time.

Then I hit up the grocery store, because anything is cheaper than buying food and drinks AT the beach. Normal food wasn’t so bad, but they had a huge section of imported food. I guess they want all of their super rich clients to be happy. Because they’re all obviously shopping at the grocery store.

That says 7.45€. For a jar half the size of home. Ouch.
That says 7.45€. For a jar half the size of home. Ouch.

Food collected and I headed back up to the train station. For anyone ever looking to improve their calf tone, take a trip to some hilly place and walk a lot. It’s doing wonders.

I decided to stop at Beaulieu-sur-Mer. Don’t ask how to say the first part, I have no idea. The second part means that the train stops at the Mediterranean part of town, not the hill side where lots of things are. Which is a huge deal, not something you want to mix up if you are aiming for one or the other. It’s quite a hill. Luckily, when looking for the beach, the sea is where to be.

Mostly I was aiming for a beach outside of the main town because I hate when it’s super packed. This fit the bill just fine. Definitely not empty, but it’s not like someone was within touching distance on either side.

The beach. Very nice, almost sand, but more like tiny rocks.
The beach. Very nice, almost sand, but more like tiny rocks.
Yachts off in the harbor area. They must be just HUGE. Probably way cheaper than getting a spot in Monaco, and still very close.
Yachts off in the harbor area. They must be just HUGE. Probably way cheaper than getting a spot in Monaco, and still very close.

Turns out I should have taken a better look at the wine I grabbed. I completely missed the dry to sweet scale. I’d grabbed a very sweet wine. Absolutely not what I was looking for for my picnic and chilling on the beach. Probably won’t do that again.

Everyone owns these umbrellas (top picture above) and brings them to the beach with them. I didn’t get it when I got there, but after an hour or so, it makes perfect sense. If nothing else, it will shade your things for you.

This was my first encounter with the topless-ness I’ve heard so much about. I was a tad shocked at first, as American culture (or perhaps English speaking culture) is very anti-topless-ness. Anyways, when in Rome…. which is all fine and dandy but I’ve grown up with no sun exposure to such areas. And can you imagine getting sun burn on such sensitive areas?! Sounds very painful and therefore I’m rather cautious.

This was where I gave up on my awesome Enlite sensors. The one I had in had been rocking for a couple days, but with the sweat and water, it just wasn’t really holding on, which sent it off to crazy number land. I thought about putting one in the next day… but how was that possible, I was always (really, always) sweating. That doesn’t make for good adhesive contact.

Caught the train back to Nice, hit up my hostel for a quick shower, then headed off to find some place with wifi and air conditioning. It’s surprisingly rare to find AC, even for some place that gets plenty warm, and my hostel definitely didn’t have it. And the room was TINY. So I decided my next stop, which was only two nights in Nimes, should be moved to a hotel in the center of town. The hostel wasn’t particularly convenient, and I needed a break from the lack of space and sweaty nights. That and other chores completed, I headed back to catch some sleep.

Days 14, 15, and 16 – Island, Fortress, Ferry

Day 14

I started the day off up bright and early. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to wander around places without very many other people, and the Akershus Fortress opened at 06:00 (No, I wasn’t there at that time, more like 08:00). So off I went. It really was empty! Of course, there’s always guards on duty, as it is a national fortress and castle, and I didn’t realize this until I turn around and see one standing back in the trees. They patrol around, so they can appear in places you were looking earlier and no one was there. Scared the shit out of me! They carry big guns too.

Anyways, gave some timer selfies a try. Most looked horrible, half shadows doesn’t do well for my camera at all.

DSCN5354color

The fortress was interesting to wander around, but there’s not much in the way of information. I found it amusing to look up the side of the castle (which was closed on this day) and see the many different building materials.

It's easy to see 3 different types of stone here.
It’s easy to see 3 different types of stone here.

After this, I decided to check out one of the islands in the Oslo bay area. I went with Hovedøya, the one that the past day had the most people in line, and the sign with a two sentence description said it was a good recreation and beach area.

There was also a monastery ruin, which is part of where some of the different stones for the fortress came from.

Just free to wander around as you please
Just free to wander around as you please

Going over a hill on the path to the beach and I heard some weird noise, get to the top and see these lovelies staring back at me.

 

Apparently used for mowing that area
Apparently used for mowing that area

I wasn’t properly prepared though. Everyone else that went over was ready with lunch/snacks and beach gear. People were carrying foam mats, which made more sense when I saw that they would simply lay on the hard rocks. I grabbed a bench and did a little reading before ending up hungry and heading back. I took the ferry that made stops at some of the other islands, just to get a mini sight seeing trip out of it.

After grabbing lunch, I did a bit of shopping. I had a mission when I went to Norway to come home with some Comfy Balls Boxers, and so needed to find those. I heard of them through the Norwegian Curling Team, Team Ulsrud. They did a hilarious commercial for them, which I have to link even though I’m sure no one else will find it as funny as I did. Anyways, mission accomplished. No other shopping needed here where everything is so expensive.

My next task was finding some food for dinner and for my next days lunch, as I planned to go back to the beach, this time better prepared (including sunscreen). Grocery shopping in a country that speaks a different language will never be a simple task. Perhaps it would be less difficult if I wouldn’t end up sick if I ate the wrong things. So far, meat, cheese and crackers have been my go-to snack, once I found GF crackers.

Day 15

Pretty much the same activities as yesterday, just in the reverse order. That and the castle at the fortress was to be open, so I went back. I will never understand why displays which contain chronological information are presented out of order. Makes it rather difficult to follow. Oh well.

Turns out this castle ran into the same problem as most castles/churches/towns and burned down a few times. That’s part of the reason for the many materials. The other is that it went through many different uses over time and fixes/improvements were done and no one bothered to care what they were using to build the walls so long as they stood.

This is the fortress where Norway was overtaken by the Nazis in 1940 at the beginning of the German Occupation of Norway. Luckily, they managed to sink a ship which held off the Germans long enough to allow the King to escape.

Castle Pictures:

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Beach pictures:

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Then I went back to my hostel, grabbed my stuff, and headed to the boat I was taking to Copenhagen.

The boat was like a mini-cruise ship. I did some laundry quickly, grabbed dinner, wandered around, watched the scenery, and then was bored. So I went off to grab a drink. I ended up running into some ladies that were heading to Copenhagen for the day as a girls night/weekend trip. I ended up spending the rest of my evening with them, which was quite fun! The Thursday night trip must not be the party trip though, because pretty much all the bars and club were empty, and there was a lot of them.

Day 16

Off the boat with my clothes that apparently do not all dry in 12 hours (sad). The ferry terminal in Copenhagen is not quite in the city. They provide a bus that brings you to the city center, which being that my hostel was by the train station, I figured was good enough. Well, at least I got a lot of walking in. It’s always tough to find your way around a new city. Usually it takes me a couple times walking around, then I’ve totally got it, but that’s never when you’re also carrying all your things.

So I dropped my stuff off at my hostel (too early for check-in) and headed to the tourist information, then the store to grab lunch, and then to a park to grab a spot in the shade.

This is where I learn how to get around the city. After lunch I spent some time looking through the materials I picked up and at the map and planned all the things I wanted to see, and came up with a plan of attack.

After everything was all decided, I headed back to the hostel and got settled. I told myself I wasn’t allowed to just do nothing at the hostel, so I decided to check out Nyhavn (pronounced like na-haown, I’ll never really figure it out though). It was packed as it was happy hour/dinner time on a Friday, so I grabbed some ice cream (yes, for dinner) and grabbed a seat on the side of the canal to watch the world go by.

IMG_3285kobenhavn

This happens to be where the most commonly seen picture of Copenhagen was taken. Looks just like it too.

I gave up after not too long and hopped the bus back home. I am learning that two showers a day will probably be the norm for me this trip, especially if it’s going to stay in the 30’s (90’s for us Americans – I had to learn Celsius or I sound crazy).


Day 14

Steps: 22,875

Floors: 35

Day 15

Steps: 20,260

Floors: 87 (lots of stairs on that ferry boat!)

Day 16

Steps: 18,485

Floors: 23