Monday, March 7, 2011

Gaudi...you crazy!!

My dad said there was a theme to my blog...food.  It wasn't until I sat here preparing to start another post and began writing about the amazing croissants in Barcelona that I realized he was right, but I don't really care.  I love Europe and I love the food in Europe.  So back to the croissants - I, a chocolate croissant lover, nearly died upon stumbling into this cute little bakery near our hostel.  The chocolate croissant was still warm and was not only chocolate filled but was also half dipped in hardened chocolate.  The croissants in Italy all have a lemon glaze on them, which kind of ruins the whole experience for me, so finding these perfect croissants was a jackpot moment and a perfect way to start my morning before exploring Barcelona and the crazy work of Gaudi.






 
















Park Guel
is a famous tourist attraction in Barcelona; however, there needs to be a whole new word invented for what this place is, because park doesn't even begin to describe this crazy, beautiful, magical site.  The almost four hours that we spent there was the perfect amount of time to explore every inch of it, which we did.  We went from one end of the park to the other, climbed the two highest peaks looking down on all of Barcelona, took a million photos, and soaked up the sun.  Either Gaudi was actually crazy or some kind of sick genius.  The architecture, mosaics, plant life, and layout seemed like they were designed by ten different people and were all beautiful in their own unique way.  There were manmade rock formations that looked like stalactites and stalagmites, buildings covered in mosaics that looked like gingerbread houses, sunbursts of mosaics, anything you can think of covered in mosaics, and the most gorgeous gardens.  I was in awe everywhere we turned.  Leisurely exploring this dreamworld was an experience I will never forget.  


The Sagrada Familia is an enormous church that started construction in the early 1880s and will not be completed until 2026.  Gaudi designed this ridiculous, jaw-dropping building and his work has been carried out ever since his death in 1926.  We exited from the underground metro to a view of one side of the basilica.  It took my eyes forever to focus what I was seeing in front of me.  It almost looks like a dark blob upon first look, but you have take the time too look at all of the individual designs to process the scene, otherwise it is too overwhelming.  We made our way around the entire building and much like Park Guel, it looked like it was designed by multiple people.  The other side of the church is dramatically different from the back.  It was lighter in color and I could make out the figures with much more ease.


The Sagrada Familia is a very different kind of beautiful, but it is undeniable that it is one of the most beautiful things in the world.  We just kind of laughed as we took it all in because it is just so CRAZY.  We joked that he just threw in the weirdest things imaginable to mess with people.  "You think you have me figured out...just wait...I'm going to put a bunch of fruit on top" - we imagined this is what Gaudi would say today.  I can't wait to see what it will look like when it is finally completed and even then I probably be even more confused than I am now.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Grazie! Thank You! Dammit! Gracias!

On a bright and early Thursday morning, two of my roommates and I set off for our first country hopping experience.  He were headed to Barcelona and couldn't be more excited.  Luckily we had a smooth and successful day of traveling and arrived in the beautiful beach city in Spain.  It was actually really surprising how easy it was to go from one country to another...I was waiting for the double and triple checking of my passport and the baggage searches but we just walked right off the airplane and headed off to our hostel.  A train, rail switch, and a couple of metro stops later we were en route to drop off our bags and search for food.  Unfortunately my map reading abilities are not as good as my metro skills and we ended up a little confused and lost.  Three girls with backpacks standing around a giant foldable map scream lost tourist.  We must have amazing karma though, because the sweetest old man came to us and wanted to help.  One of my roommates knows some Spanish which helped and we just handed him the address to the hostel; he starting walking away, looked back at us, and motioned us to follow him.  This angel of a man delivered us to the entrance of our hostel and we could not have been more grateful!

We checked in, freshened up, and went searching for anything that resembled food.  The area around our hostel was so cute and had so much character.  We walked down the main street, lined with quirky clothing stores, candy shops, creperies, and restaurants.  He hopped into one of the restaurants, looked at the menu, and were so grateful to see something other than pasta and pizza listed.  We ordered patatas bravas and they were so unbelievably amazing!!!!  Spain is known for this tapas dish of cubed and fried potatoes covered in a spicy majo sauce.  My mouth is salivating just thinking about them.  All in all we had patatas bravas about four times while we were there because it is so good.  I'm going to find the recipe and try to make them myself.

Delicious!!!
After some dinner and a much needed nap, the rest of our traveling buddies, Matt and his friend from Florence arrived, and we all got ready for our first night out in Barcelona.  Our destination was the Dow Jones Bar, and after a half hour of walking...in heels...we made it.  This themed bar lists all of their drinks and shots on television screens with their fluctuating prices.  The more popular the drink, the more expensive it is.  The less popular ie the grosser it is, the cheaper the price.  Caity, my roommate, and I really wanted pina coladas; they were on the pricier side so after we ordered, the price shot up to six euro.  Anytime a drink reaches six euro, a siren goes off, the market crashes, and all the prices drop like crazy.  We got a round of applause from the whole bar.  The atmosphere was so fun and it was great just hanging out, people watching.  We all wanted to do a group shot so we all made our way to the bar and looked at the names; the names were inventive...from Blue Smurf to a Gummy Bear.  Somehow we all decided to take this shot called a Bearfucker.  We asked what was in it but the bartender said no asking what's in it - if you like the name, you order it.  The brave souls that we are, we ordered the Bearfucker and stood in silence as she poured tequila, Jack Daniels, and Southern Comfort into the tiny glasses.  I am proud to say, I took the shot like a champ.  That thing could put hair on your chest.  I did it once and will never do it again.  Barcelona day one down, two to go.    
   
One of our roommates (a redhead) couldn't come so we replaced her for some photo opps

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Chocolate Festival in Florence


My roommates had yet to go to Florence so after our two days in Siena we caught a bus and headed further North.  We were so lucky to visit during this particular weekend because the CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL was in town.  In front of the Santa Croce tents upon tents were set up with all different kinds of chocolate.  There were so many different flavors and options.  Chocolate covered fruit, hot chocolate with rum, weed flavored chocolate, chocolate molded into tools and high heels, and solid blocks of chocolate are just a few of the many options in front of us.  I personally opted for two giant squares of extra dark chocolate - it was so amazing!!  It was honestly the best chocolate I have ever tasted in my entire life.  My roommates got the hot chocolate with rum and we all swear that the hot chocolate was straight melted chocolate; it was so rich and crazy good, but far too strong in the rum department for my taste.  The adventurous people that we are, we all tried a tiny piece of the weed flavored chocolate, which honestly just tasted really weird.  All in all it was such a fabulous afternoon, so much so that I felt like I was in the movie Chocolat...if only Johnny Depp would have shown up.  

Second Day in Siena





Campo



On our second day in Siena, we had a fabulous guided tour from an entertaining woman with glittery eyeliner and a furry jacket.  The tour was so interesting and we sure began with an usual start.  We went to the church that houses St. Catherine's head and right thumb.  St. Catherine is responsible for bringing the pope from Avignon back to Rome.  Because of this courageous act, she was canonized and is glorified.  St. Catherine was from Siena and when she died Siena, Rome, and Venice wanted her body laid to rest in their cities.  The pope of the time decided to split up her body and divide it amongst the three of them and Siena just happened to get assigned her head and thumb.  Her head was in a glass case and covered by a mask of some sort.  It was really tiny and kind of creepy...same with the thumb.   You could say it was a very unique experience.  My roommate said she half expected to see her standing there smiling with a thumbs up.  Unfortunately we were unable to take pictures because the church she is housed in is still used for regular services.
After the church we made our way back to Compo and learned about the Palio.  The Palio is a horse race that is held twice a year in circular “square”. There are 17 contrades or districts in Siena and they compete in the race against each other.  The contrades are very competitive with one another, especially during the race.  The jockeys can’t whip the horses until the last lap but can whip each other anytime before or during the race.  The contrade that wins is allowed weeks of celebrations and bragging rights.  We watched a video from a previous race and saw a jockey whip another one; the jockey who suffered the whipping happened to win that year.  The contrade that did the whipping suffered much embarrassment.  Their mascot was the jaguar and the winners held a funeral for a cat in the streets, with a priest and grieving people adorned in black, fake crying.  This prank is still talked about today.
The Duomo
There is a duomo in every city I have visited and none have left me disappointed.  This famous church was so unbelievably breathtaking and the colors were unreal.  I thought the outside was as good as it gets, but somehow the inside of the church managed to be even more beautiful.  There were murals on the floors, marble statues everywhere you looked, and the oldest untouched frescoes in the world.  I also managed to match the d├ęcor of the church with my striped shirt and its striped pillars.  I probably took over one-hundred photos of this church alone and had to take one of myself and a pillar.