Barcelona

The travels continue! Because exams are spread out over nearly a month at University of Edinburgh, and my only exam is on the third-to-last day of testing, I have quite a bit of free time.  I had been hoping to make it to Barcelona, so once my exam schedule came out and I learned of another exciting detail, I just had to go!  Exciting detail: Shannon was visiting Barcelona the weekend after my final papers were due – so a very convenient weekend indeed!! Things worked out even better once I found out my friend Kata would be in Barcelona during that time, as well.  Kata has lived in Barcelona for a few years; she is currently studying at the University of Edinburgh, which is how I know her. But, I found out she would be in Barcelona when we were there, and she said she would love to be our tour guide for the weekend! Yay!

I flew in to Barcelona on Thursday.  This first day was not all too exciting – it was simply a travel day; my flight was delayed and I did not get to the hostel until about 10 PM.  Luckily, in Spain, that is prime dinner time – so I checked in and immediately got something to eat.

Friday was much more exciting!  Shannon arrived in the morning, along with her friends Digby and Kathryn who were also studying in Sevilla for the semester.  I had met both of them when I visited Shannon in February, so it was nice to be reunited and to get to know them over the span of the weekend!

Our first order of business was a walking tour in the morning.  It was quite long – three hours – so we learned a great deal of information about the city that we certainly would not have known otherwise.  After the tour, we got lunch, and then met up with Kata!  She took us all around the city – we saw so much that afternoon! First, we went to Plaça Reial, where Kata and I took this photo:

Next, we went to La Boqueria, a public market with food galore! We each got a fresh juice – I chose strawberry and coconut. Yum!  Here is a photo we took outside La Boqueria:

Shannon, Kathryn, Digby, and I.  With our juices… except for me, because I had already finished mine. Oops.

Next, Kata walked us to the beach!


Kata, Digby, me, Kathryn, Shannon

After the beach, Kata showed us her favorite church in the world: Basilica Santa Maria del Mar.  She hopes to get married there, and I absolutely see why – it is stunning.  The stained glass is beautiful, and the architecture is outstanding.

Next, Kata took us to Valor, a chocolateria, where we each got a hot chocolate.  She really is the best tour guide, because she understands what is important. 😆  She told us they serve the best hot chocolate in Barcelona. I don’t have anything to compare it to, since this was the only hot chocolate I had in Barcelona, but I anticipate I’d be hard-pressed to find a viable competitor.  It was so delicious!

After Valor, we went to the Barcelona cathedral.  This, too, was stunning. See for yourself:


Barcelona Cathedral – Exterior



Barcelona Cathedral – Interior

Kata had to meet a friend, so we went on our own after the Barcelona cathedral.  Digby, Kathryn, Shannon, and I hopped on the metro and then walked a bit for our final destination of the night – The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc! The show started at 9:00, and it was beautiful!! I do not really know how to adequately describe what we saw, but there are plenty of videos online that could perhaps start to give you an idea of just how cool it was.  The fountain lit up different colors and the water looks like it is dancing with the way it moves!  This is definitely something you have to see to understand.  Here are a couple photos I took:


The magic continued into Saturday, as it was a very special holiday: Sant Jordi.  This romantic holiday honors one of the patron saints of Catalonia, and is celebrated by giving a book and/or rose to loved ones.  The whole city was filled with book stands and rose vendors, especially Las Ramblas and Rambla de Catalunya.  We walked through these streets, which were packed with people, to witness all the festivities going on.  


One of the many book stalls along Las Ramblas

Then, we walked on Passeig de Gracia, where we saw Casa Batlló and Casa Mila, two of the Antoni Gaudí houses.


Casa Batlló


Casa Mila

The Gaudí sightseeing continued – next we went to Sagrada Família, an enormous and colorful basilica designed by none other than Gaudí.  We stayed there for a couple of hours, and I easily could have stayed longer.  Being in that building is a spiritual experience like no other.  The colors from the sun shining through the glass, the enormous pillars, and the intricate architecture just put me in total awe.



We finished our Gaudí trail at none other than Park Güell!  I had seen so many pictures of the beautiful bench / wall mural in Plaza de la Naturalize (within Park Güell), but nothing could compare to how incredible it looked in person.  Even with the ominous clouds (which shortly thereafter turned into a downpour), the panorama of the city was magnificent.


Kathryn, Digby, Shannon, and I at Park Güell

Sunday was our last day all together, but we made the most of it! We met Kata in the morning and she took us to the Bunkers de Carmel, where we enjoyed a stunning lookout over the city.  This was the second of her four favorite places in Barcelona (the first was Santa Maria del Mar).  We sat here and enjoyed the sunshine, the view, and each others’ company for a while before getting back on the bus into the city.

Then, Kata and I went to Parròquia de Santa Anna for mass, while Kathryn and Shannon went to Hillsong for church, and Digby explored the city.  We met up on Las Ramblas and then went to the third of Kata’s four favorite places – a Greek cafe called Dionisos.  I ordered a gyro and, at risk of sounding hyperbolic, it was one of the most delicious things I have eaten in my life.  After this life-changing experience, we went back to the beach!


All of us at the beach! Kathryn, Shannon, Digby, Kata, and I

There was so much sea glass among the rocks on the shore, so I walked up and down the beach collecting it.  I got a little carried away!


So much sea glass!

Unfortunately, the beach bumming was the last of our exciting weekend activities all together, as Digby, Kathryn, and Shannon had an evening flight back to Sevilla.  So, we went back to the hostel and said our goodbyes! My flight was not until Tuesday morning, though, so while the girls headed to the airport, I continued exploring.  I walked around the gothic quarter a bit, then to the Arc de Triomf, then through Parc de la Ciutadella.


Arc de Triomf


Parc de la Ciutadella

I got a sandwich at Bo de B, which my sister recommended to me, and carried it to the beach where I ate it! It was a lovely spot for a peaceful dinner.

Monday was my last day in Barcelona, and it was absolutely perfect! Kata took me to Montserrat – the fourth of her four favorite places in Barcelona.  We took a train to Monsterrat then hiked the mountain.  There was an option of taking a cable car up to the top, but we both love hiking and it was a beautiful day outside!  Montserrat very quickly became another place on my ever-expanding list of “Most Beautiful Places I Have Ever Seen.”  We visited the church at the top, Nuestra Señora de Montserrat.  Photos were not allowed inside, but it was beautiful, of course.  Then we ate lunch before hiking back down the mountain and getting on the train back into the city.  I could not have asked for a better final day in Barcelona.  The weather was perfect and Monsterrat was fascinatingly gorgeous, but my favorite part of the day was spending time with Kata and getting to know her better.  I will treasure those moments forever!


Monsterrat

Once we were back in the city, we got dinner at 100 Montaditos, then parted ways.  I was very sad to say goodbye to her, but she would return to Edinburgh in a week’s time so I was already excited to see her again.  I did some final explorations around the city – souvenir shopping and revisiting La Boqueria, then went back to the hostel to get ready for my Tuesday morning departure.

Barcelona was great – I will be back! Until then 🙂

Spring Break, Part III: Munich, Neuschwanstein Castle, Rothenburg

On Monday, Alexandra and I took a train from Salzburg to Munich.  We arrived in Munich around noon, then hopped on the tram to our home for the next four days – an Airbnb with the loveliest couple ever, Heiko and Nadja 🙂 Upon arriving at their flat, we settled in for a bit before heading out with them!  Heiko and Nadja walked with us to the Nymphenburg Palace, then showed us around the beautiful grounds.


Nymphenburg Palace from the front


Nymphenburg Palace from the back

Then, we sat down with them at a cafe within the palace grounds and chatted and got to know each other.  After that, Alexandra and I explored the city on our own for a bit!

We went to Marienplatz, the main square of the city. Here is a picture I took of city hall from the ground – later on I took one from the tower!

We kept exploring around Marienplatz and found a beautiful church: Heiliggeistkirche.


Heiliggeistkirche (“Holy Ghost Church”)

Then, we accidentally stumbled across what turned out to be one of our favorite parts of the city: Viktualienmarkt! This market square has so many stands selling different products – mostly food.  Alexandra and I went into one shop completely dedicated to honey! I tried honey wine… it was so delicious.

We were getting hungry, so we started walking towards Hirschgarten, a beer garden which Heiko and Nadja recommended to us, for dinner.  Beer gardens are huge in Germany – they originated in Munich! I had never heard of them before this trip, but I really love them.  The concept is so simple – they are outdoor areas, shaded by trees to stay cool, with food and beer.  I really don’t like beer at all, but I like food… 😆 and I love the atmosphere.  People gather at beer gardens with their friends, and there is often some kind of other entertainment like music or movies or games.


One part of Hirschgarten

After dinner, we returned to Heiko and Nadja’s and prepared for our exciting day trip on Tuesday…a tour of the Neuschwanstein Castle!

During our trip to the Neuschwanstein Castle, we learned all about King Ludwig II of Bavaria.  Admittedly, I am usually pretty bored by history but Ludwig II was really interesting to learn about.  He was exceedingly eccentric and imaginative, and lived a very unique (though quite sad) life.  The Neuschwanstein Castle was entirely a product of Ludwig II’s fascination with fairy tales.  Photos were not allowed within the castle, but it really looked like a storybook castle realized.


The Neuschwanstein Castle served as the inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle!


The view from the castle was equally as stunning.


Hohenschwangau Castle, Ludwig II’s childhood palace right near the Neuschwanstein Castle

After we returned to Munich and our tour ended, we went to Augustiner Keller with some new friends from our tour!! Augustiner Keller is another beer garden in Munich and probably my favorite one we went to, though I loved all of them.


New friends in one of the oldest and biggest beer gardens in Munich.

On Wednesday, we went on another day tour.  This one was called the Romantic Road tour.  First, we went to the Harburg Castle, a beautiful medieval castle.


We took a tour of the castle, then proceeded along the Romantic Road to Rothenburg.  Rothenburg is the most adorable and quaint little town.  Look how lovely!!:

They are famous for their Schneebälle (snowballs), which are a type of pastry made of shortcrust.  It is round and typically covered in powdered sugar.  There are so many other possibilities, though: cinnamon sugar, chocolate, nuts, and on and on! Of course, the pastries are in the shape of a ball!


Alexandra got a chocolate coconut snowball and I got a Bailey’s snowball.

We walked around the town and went into a few shops, most notably a beautiful Christmas market.  The town is encircled by a wall, which has a walking path, so we climbed up and walked part of the perimeter of the town that way!

When we got back to Munich after our tour, we got dinner at Hofbräuhaus, a beer hall that has been around since 1589!  Alexandra heard about it from a friend, and Heiko and Nadja also told us about it.

Our meals were absolutely delicious – unsurprisingly so, considering how unhealthy they were 😳 (our diet while in Bavaria consisted entirely of fatty meat, potatoes, and pretzels… typical foods of the region).

Sadly, that marked our last truly full day in Germany. Thursday was our last day – luckily, we had a pretty late flight, so we got to do quite a bit!

We made the most of Thursday! In the morning until the early afternoon, we did a walking tour to learn about the city and see the highlights of Munich.  Our tour guide, Mark, was phenomenal, so we were really glad we went on the tour!  After our tour ended, we went back to Viktualienmarkt, where we got a giant pretzel!  We also came across an authentic Italian food stand, so obviously we had to buy chocolate… 🙂

Next, we went to St. Peter’s Church, where we climbed the tower for this incredible view of Marienplatz:

After climbing the tower, we went inside.


Beautiful!

Next, we went to the Gärtnerplatz District, a cute little area for boutiques popular among young people.

Our last destination in Munich was Olympiapark, where the Olympics were held in 1972.  We ascended to the top of the Olympiaturm (Olympic Tower), where we were able to see the city from way up high. Here’s a picture of Olympiapark from the tower:

Besides that, we just explored the park a bit.

It is really beautiful!

And, just like that, our spring break adventures came to an end 🙁  We went back to Heiko and Nadja’s to gather our things and say a very sad goodbye, then headed to the airport.  We arrived in Edinburgh after midnight and Alexandra had an early morning flight.  I was sad to see her go, but immensely grateful for the time we spent together, the places we visited, and the memories we made!

As always, thank you for taking the time to read this!

– Tori