The Final European Chapter

We made it!! After more than a year, I have finally motivated my lazy ass to blog the final chapter of my Europe trip!! I promise, after this I will stop living in the past. I feel like a hibernating bear crawling out of his cave of Europe photos after a whole year of comfy slumber. Time to catch some fish.

Sooo…the final leg of our journey after the relaxing Benalmadena beach trip was a few days of urban culture in Madrid. The first thing we did after surviving the packed bus trip to the city center was unload our bags at the hostel and head down to the restaurant square to have a pint.

The first thing we noticed in Madrid was that we actually needed to use our limited Spanish. No one spoke English and after spending a week in the British stomping grounds of Benalmadena this seemed somehow shocking to us. It was was a welcome change of authenticity, so we busted out our Spanish/English dictionary and actually started trying.

We took a walk to the Royal Palace of Madrid, watched a Bride to Be wade through an ancient fountain in a strawberry costume and enjoyed the Spanish sunset. After the sun went down, we began our hunt for food. First we stumbled upon the Mercado de San Miguel (San Miguel Market) which was incredible, with food stands offering a wide variety of every food and dessert under the sun, but it was packed and we were looking for somewhere to sit down and relax. So we continued happily roaming the streets and even happened upon a few surprises along the way like the hard apple cider slushy cart (Waupoos slushy anyone!?!?!?!) and a sausage snack stand! As you know by now, our previous Spanish tapas experience had been been less than satisfactory along the way, so we were searching for something authentic but maybe a little more our style. We found exactly that at an amazing restaurant that served unique tapas like walnut and brie on a baguette smeared with caramelized onion jelly and smoked salmon with dill and brie (again…I love brie)…it was perfect. We also loved it for it’s young, fun, atmosphere – it was like the Dundas and Ossington of Madrid. I can’t find what street it was exactly, but if you Google map “cafe majaderitos Madrid”, that’s the street we were on. You know, in case you’re going to Madrid.

The next day we woke up at 9 to start our day. When we left our hostel, we realized that in a city where everyone goes to sleep at 4am, no one wakes up until 11. Especially on a Sunday. We traveled the streets searching for a cup of coffee on our way to ‘El Rastro”, a flea market said to be the largest in Europe. No coffee was to be had until we reached the market, where thankfully one of the 3,500 stalls served Jamie’s and my lifeblood. We spent several hours at this market, which was surprising because I assumed after a couple hours, Jamie would fold as many men do in shopping situations. But he bravely explored with me, as we looked for gifts for loved ones, interesting antiques and various markety snacks, even when it started pouring rain.

That afternoon, we went to The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum where we saw some of my favourite artists’ works up close. We were going to go to the Museo del Prado which is the most famous Art Museum in Madrid, but we kind of ran out of time, chose which artists were our personal favourites and most of those works were in the Thyssen. It was amazing until the museum started to close and we had to leave…then we went for a walk over to the Museo del Prado and took pictures there as if we actually went inside. Which we didn’t. We hung around on the grassy hill and people watched, then walked back to our hostel through the Parque del Retiro, a big, pretty park next to the Artists Walk. We soaked up the sunset and took as many photos of random architecture as we could because tonight was our last night in Europe. We finished off the day at the same restaurant as the night before, got gelato and went went to sleep.

The next day, we had a fancy shmancy breakfast to cheer us up because we were leaving.

This was the best trip of my life so far (hence why I spent an entire year focusing on it) and I feel really lucky because a lot of people never get to get to experience a trip like that in their lifetime. It also proved that Jamie and I travel well together, which I’ve heard is not always the case with some couples. We are in the process of trying to decide where to go next, so I’ll let you know when we figure it out. But for now, I’m going to try this new thing called blogging about what’s currently happening, not what happened a year ago. We’ll see how that goes 🙂

Ugly:

Not being in Europe.

Awesome:

One of my favourite parts of Madrid was seeing paintings which I’ve admired since I was a small child, in person. I’ve been to art museums before, but I don’t think I ever saw paintings in real life that I’ve been staring at for my entire life in books. I saw paintings by Picasso, Dali, Degas, Renoir, Vermeer, Van Gogh and it was awesome.

Next time on Ugly/Awesome: Who knows!? It’s back to blogging real time!

The Rain in Spain

Well, everyone, it’s time for my bi-annual blog post! If you’re still interested enough to read this it’s most likely because you are a good friend of mine, or my mom or you secretly want to see pictures of me in my bikini (You’re in the right place). So to everyone still tuned in, thanks!! I know I say this all the time, but I really am going to try to pick up the pace on this little blog o’ mine. Hopefully now that I have a good computer situation at home, I’ll be more inclined to share this humble life with y’all 🙂

So – the Spain Epic continues! (I really want to post all my Europe pics here so I have a nice little documentation for them – I promise there’s only one more Europe post!)

After the gruelling and wonderful day of walking through Alhambra, Jamie and I did some city sight seeing in Malaga – we stopped for tapas and walked through the fancy, shiny brick streets (reminded me of a European themed indoor shopping mall – except it was authentic and outdoors), stopped to get some gelato and watched as fancy Spanish women lead their fancy Spanish men into stores like Prada and Gucci. A far cry from the crispy Welshmen we had grown accustom to spotting on the Beaches of Benalmadena.

The next day was recovery day where we hit the beach and relaxed at our new favourite beachside restaurant, Rincon del Mar. The owner was very welcoming, treated us like royalty and kept our wine glasses full. We loved it so much, we told him we’d be back the next day for my birthday dinner celebration. I went to sleep with the excitement of tomorrow’s day – a Spanish road trip into unknown where we would celebrate my birthday.

The next day when I awoke, I thought “Wow! It’s my birthday and I’m in Spain! What could be better?!”. Then I opened the curtains to find that our sunny Spanish countryside had transformed into a bleak, grey drizzly mud puddle. Nevertheless, we set out to find birthday happiness on the roads. You will notice that this day is not well documented in the photos. That is because the pictures would depict a depressing day of solitude. Apparently when it rains in Spain, the locals abandon the streets like El Guapo is coming (I realize this is a Mexican reference but the image of the villagers shutting their windows in fear is the same as how I picture the Spanish locals shutting their doors to drizzle). So we spent a splashy day driving to seemingly abandoned towns and villages only to find that all the restaurants and stores were closed and every city we drove through might as well have been a ghost town. That being said, this allowed Jamie and I day to listen to music in the car and drive around and talk. Which, in the end, was sappy and romantic and perfect for a birthday.

When we got back to the hotel, we immediately head over to our new favourite restaurant as we were both ready for some much needed wine. Our host greeted us with enthusiasm and we were treated to a delicious meal. At the end of the meal, the owner (having not been reminded of the fact that it was my birthday since we mentioned it the day before) brought out a piece of pie with a tea light sitting on the plate. He then conducted his entire kitchen staff in singing “Happy Birthday” to me. This is not the customary birthday song in Spain and many of the boys faltered on the lyrics and tune, but it was so heartfelt that it remains in my memory, the best time this song has ever been sung to me. Awesome Birthday after all.

On our last day, the sun was shining again and we decided to climb a mountain. Well, that’s not accurate – we decided to let a cable car pull us to the top of a mountain where we climbed some stairs and pretended as if we had accomplished something great. (The walk to the where the cable car picked us up was actually challenging – that’s why I wore my workout clothes!). Naturally, we finished our time in Costa Del Sol sitting at the pool and soaking in the relaxation, as the next day we would be on our way to Madrid to experience some big city culture.

UGLY:

How rarely I blog anymore. This time it will be better, guys!!

The low point of birthday day was driving past a sad, wet carnival that no one was at, then stopping for food at the only open restaurant, where a man who was clearly 100 years old served us pizza which was removed from plastic packaging and then put in the microwave for us.

AWESOME:

Malaga was very fancy and nice. If we were to go back, I would have put on a snazzy dress and heels and paraded around like I had money to burn.

Although my birthday was a bit of a sad sack, the restaurant episode actually made me so happy that it pretty much turned the day around.


Next time on Ugly/ Awesome:

Madrid! Art! Statues! Bachelorette parties! A bar called “Latina Turner”! Don’t miss it!

Benalmadena – Your Home Away From Dublin!

Welcome to the museum of random tiles and archways and doors. Oh no, I’m sorry this is my blog post. I became confused because of how many random photos there are of architectural marvels (and non marvels) that occupy the space of this post.

Last time on Ugly Awesome we were rushing around Barcelona eating fried mush balls and drinking cava. This time on Ugly Awesome, we eat fried mush balls and drink Sangria and Cerveza… Andelé!

We landed in Malaga in the dead of night. We rented a space-aged European car and started our journey through winding roads and unfamiliar highways. Our GPS system kept directing us directly into water and hills and such so we were reduced to asking a man dressed as Elvis to direct us to Sunset Beach Club resort in the Beach town of Benalmadena. When we arrived, the area was pitch black and the only thing we could really see about our hotel was that it was right next to the beach – success! We checked in to our odd room with two single beds (Apparently it was the only option…I’d like to see the Honeymoon Suite). The room was good and our harrowing journey had made us tired, so we shook hands and retired to our own beds.

In the morning, when I woke up, I opened my eyes and had the surprise of my life – in front of me, through the window, was the most beautiful view of the Mountains. I hadn’t even realized the mountains were there the night before and here they were like they’d grown there over night. Thus began our week of Beach goodness.

I’d never had a vacation where the purpose of the trip was to sit on a beach and drink cocktails and soak up the sun (Sheryl Crow) so I was beyond excited. I threw on a bikini and informed Jamie it was Red Lobster time (time for me to sit in the sun until I resembled my arch nemesis). We head down to the pool and grew comfortable there. Along with the sandy, wavy beach, the pool became our grazing ground for the next several days. It was magic.

I should mention that our initial expectation of Benalmadena was that it was an exotic place filled with the scent of various spices and the sight of shirtless Spanish men (and women) and we would sip on coconut milk whist the breeze combed our sandy hair with it’s warm tines. That first day on the beach, we were informed through casual conversation that Benalmadena was the prime vacation choice for Irish, Scottish and English tourists. So instead of various spices, the boardwalk smelled more like Bangers and Mash. The shirtless Spanish men were in fact fat, sunburnt Irishmen (and women) and could be heard most times of the day slurring about more “pints from the dollar machines, you tosser!”. Jamie and I were surprised at first, but grew to love our Coronation Street companions and re-adjusted our beach vacation rose coloured glasses.

About half way through our beach week, we decided we should do something historic and productive, so we asked the resident event planner for ideas. She told us about Alhambra – Apparently the main reason why many tourists come to Spain, Alhambra is a collection of very impressive palaces located in Granada. It was built in the mid 14th century by Moorish rulers before it was re-possessed by Catholic Monarchs. It’s famous for being built by several different cultures, depending on who owned it over the years and who built more additions to the palaces. In the end, it incorporates traditional Arabic design elements with Christian and Jewish additions as well as parts of the palaces which are French and Italian inspired. Basically it looks like Paradise.

Jamie and I awoke extremely early in the morning in hopes that we could secure a spot to tour the grounds (Most people book weeks ahead – but we had only just heard of it!) We arrived at 8am and managed to grab a tour at 2 in the afternoon. We whiled away the time sipping delicious Café con leche and watching a mama cat transport her new kittens from their little nest in a tree to their new home behind the restaurant. We explored Granada – the town Alhambra sits in, and hiked up a steep, foresty hill to the entrance where we took our tour.

Alhambra can only be described in pictures, which is why there are so many of them down there! It was probably the most impressive place I’ve seen in real life and I would recommend going to anyone who happens to be doing the Spain thing. I won’t go on and on about it, just promise to look at some of the seemingly boring pictures…but then imagine someone making it by hand in the mid 14th century…And if it’s still boring, imagine them doing the hustle in the nuddy pants. See, history can be exciting!

Ugly

My red, blotchy face in most of these pictures. I walked too much that day. Too much.
Eating a questionable egg salad sandwich after it was in my hot backpack for several hours…bad idea.
Most British people, apparently. I watch Corrie – I should have known.

Awesome

Pretending you are a Ferrero Rocher goddess in Paradise who walks on water whilst eating the chocolate of the Gods…(it was actually a Haagen Dazs Ice Cream Bar, but it was tasty and refreshing after our long tour of the amazing Alhambra)
BEACH VACAY #1! (Hopefully 1 of several more)

NEXT TIME ON UGLY AWESOME:

Caitlin’s Birthday – Will it involve a Spanish carnival? YOU DECIDE!

Picaso Museum – White and bare just like my bikini bod!

Mountain Climbing – Not just for goats anymore!

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The Long Lost Barcelona Post

I’m alive!! I’m sorry to have worried anyone who thought that I may have fallen off the Earth or was possible abducted by otherworldy beings.

Anyone who knows me personally, knows that I have had a slightly rough time in life since I last posted. But all is well and good now and I finally feel happy again. Happy enough to continue sharing all my Awesome moments with you. And my Ugly ones.

SO!! I left you in agonizing suspense after my last post. I had just shared the lovely Wedding of two of my best friends in France, and had promised to impress you with tales and photos of Spain. So that’s where we begin today. I’m very sorry if all the summer imagery makes you sad because it’s so gross outside in real life.

After staying up until 5am the night of the wedding, we left at 7am the next morning to catch our flight to Barcelona. So if you’re wondering why it looks like Jamie and I have been beaten in our eyes, don’t worry – it’s only exhaustion.

After we found our hostel and got settled, we forced ourselves to take the subway to the Sagrada Familia so we would not be tempted to go to sleep for the next 48 hours and miss all of Barcelona. So we dragged ourselves there and I’m so happy we did. It was like being on Star Trek when they land on a futuristic alien planet where all the architecture looks like weird half plant/ half building madness. Except it was real and Antoni Gaudi had designed it all back in 1883. He must be from the future. Perhaps he is a Terminator.

After roaming around this place in a delusional state for a few hours, we floated back to our hostel where we landed in bed for an afternoon Nap.

Cut to 3 hours later when the loudest noise I have ever heard wakes me up and propels me across the room in fear. I realize the ruckus is coming from outside, so I open the doors to our little terrace and down on the ground to the left, coming closer and closer are 20 people dressed in Yellow T-Shirts playing the drums. They’re all in sync and playing the same song. It reminds me of Braveheart. Behind them are another 30 people, just following them down the street. It is BIZARRE. I think “How interesting – a traveling drum troupe”. All of a sudden, I hear a second, different song and I look to my right and coming down the tiny alley is a group of 20 drummers in Green T-Shirts. I suddenly realize I’m involved in a deadly Spanish Drumming feud and the battle is about to occur directly below me. What actually happens is the two groups drum at each other aggressively for a very long time. It’s a lot like krumping. It all seems very scary, but in the end no one gets hurt because it’s just dancing.

By now I’m more awake than I’ve ever been in my life, so Jamie and I head out for Mexican food in Spain. Obviously.
The night life in Barcelona is unreal. I think Jamie put it best when he said “Barcelona would be a really great place for single people”. Nevertheless, we had a great time with our never ending supply of Cava despite being not-single.

The next day, we head to the famous Las Ramblas where we stumble upon a little cafe that serves me the best chocolate croissant ever made. It should have been bronzed. We go to the biggest, craziest food market called La Boqueria where you can buy any food on earth and also sit at little counters and eat gourmet street food too. It was very wonderful and smelly.

We walked around and bought some art, we walked down to the harbour and we went to get Pizza at a restaurant recommended by our lovely friends, Chuck and Gabie.

Sadly, that’s all the time we had in Barcelona, so we packed up our bags and left for the airport to catch our plane to Benalmadena, next to Malaga at the very bottom tip of Spain.

UGLY:
-Horrible raccoon eyes.
-Our first tapas experience in Spain. The Mexican restaurant choice came afterward (MUST EVERYTHING be fried into balls?).

AWESOME:
-Pretty much everything else. I love the architecture in Barcelona and we had a great time exploring. This was also when we both realized neither of us know any Spanish. Olé!

– Do Jamie and Caitlin survive the treacherous night-drive from the airport to Sea-side Benalmadena??
– Is Benalmadena the tropical paradise they expected or is it more akin to an Irish meeting ground for underage alcoholics and sun-burnt diabetics?

FIND OUT NEXT TIME ON UGLY/AWESOME!