Thursday, July 30, 2015


"What was your FAVORITE place you visited?"

This is kind of a loaded question, and a difficult one to answer.
Paris is definitely a Life List item.
Toulouse is a perfect dose of French-ness, in a small enough package to get to know and grow fond of in a week.
Bilbao is breathtakingly beautiful and unique, and gave me some of the most vivid memories of the trip.
Lisbon may have taken the title, but I was there such a short time (roughly 2 days) that I felt like we never really had a chance...

As a total package, though, I think my time in Barcelona may have been my favorite.

The night before I arrived in Barcelona, FC Barcelona had won the UEFA Champions League. I admittedly had no idea how that works (still don't), but apparently it's a big deal.
FC Barcelona and smartphones win the day.
The energy in Barcelona the next night for the victory parade was awesome. The celebration was surprisingly quick but completely electric. This double-decker bus with the team, a couple crowd-control segments and a few of "hype" sort of segments (spirit team, a radio station, some people on stilts...), and that's it.

You gotta admit it's fun to cheer for a winning team. Maybe that's why I'm a Patriots fan... looking at you, Ravens/Colts, Roger Goodell and various haters. Burn. #freeTB

This wonderful city

From the rooftop pool at my hotel (seriously) to the (imported) beach just a short stroll from city center, Barcelona is "urban beautiful" in a way I never understood until now.

Casa Batllo and Sagrada Familia

A huge part of what makes Barcelona... well, Barcelona... is the architecture. There is such an wide range of breathtaking structures, with equally stop-you-in-your-tracks-gorgeous buildings of Gothic and Modern and just way cool buildings along the same street.

There are a handful of Antoni Gaudi works in and around Barcelona, and I visited two: Casa Batllo and Sagrada Familia. When you go to Barcelona, everyone raaaaves about the Sagrada Familia cathedral. It's a cool spot, so complex and intricate is its design that 100+ years after beginning construction, it is still unfinished, and it really is spectacular. Before visiting that landmark, I visited the Casa Batllo. Maybe it was the helpful audio guide on the Casa tour, maybe it was just that the house isn't on quite as grand a scale as the cathedral, maybe it was that I was a little hungover for my Sagrada visit, but I was able to appreciate the genius in the details of the Casa even more than the Sagrada. Both are unmissable. 

The one Gaudi landmark I missed, and I regret missing, is Park Guell. I just ran out of time. I'll just have to go back. 

To the sea...

Nothing like a sunset catamaran ride on the Mediterranean.

Around town

Wait, didn't you say this was a school trip?
Moritz Brewery. Go there.

Barcelona loves creativity.

Not pictured, but another favorite of the trip, is the Picasso Museum. It's literally all Picasso, and somewhat small, but the progression of the artist's development is amazing to see. It's not just watching the artist grow over a lifetime, it's like watching a movement evolve over the late-19th through early/mid-20th Century. I struggle to describe it; he was just that prolific. I can't even imagine how much he must have created that no one will ever see. The man must have done nothing but paint (and womanize.)

Casa Lolea

sangria, camembert+roasted garlic
Roquefort+honey+red pepper, patatas bravas
Delicious. I ate my weight in patatas bravas, and I have no regrets. Except that some of my clothes didn't fit when I came home. Whatever, breathing is overrated.

Lovely and quiet walk through the deserted streets of downtown Barcelona on my way to the airport bus. Where nightclubs stay open until sunrise, Sunday morning streets belong to travelers on their way to catch a flight. By the way, how cute is this tiny little street? So many of these.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Toulouse is an adorable little city, and the site of the first week of my study abroad.
Snoop Dogg feat. Dr. Dre: Eat Croissants Everyday.
(I mean, really it should be every (space) day, but I'm not here to tell anyone how to live his life.)

Capitole de Toulouse

Basilique Saint-Sernin de Toulouse
St. Sernin was once the largest cathedral in France (until the Notre Dame), thus the most popular pilgrimage site in France. It is on El Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James), and you can have your passport stamped in the church. I did not.

This river made for a perfect a.m. jogging setting. So wonderful. I will jog at home and close my eyes and pretend I'm here. But not for too long, because that's dangerous.

The Youths hang out on the banks of the Garrone around this point on Friday and Saturday night. We thought we'd live like the locals on Friday and join them. It was authentic, but nothing makes an adult in her late-20s feel older than being surrounded by 17-year-olds making merriment.

All the wine.

More of the wine.
Best. Meal. Ever.

This was food-induced euphoria. There was also a good deal of wine and an even greater deal of silliness. Everyone needs to experience, just once, being in a setting that is just way fancier than you or your behavior. As an adult. And to feel so embarrassed that you're having such a good time, but you're having too good a time to really let the weight of shame last long. Am I right?... You can't take me anywhere.

Visited a castle. Awesome.

Pro Tips and Rookie Mistakes

  1. Pro Tip: Drink all the wine. Just do it. The wine is amazing. The food is amazing. Drink all the wine. Gain all the pounds. It's fine.
  2. Pro Tip (bonus): I know I might be the minority here, but... Toulouse > Paris. Don't be mad. Paris is beautiful and romantic... and crowded and expensive. Toulouse is quaint and welcoming and reasonable. Paris obviously has an authentically and inimitably French culture vibe, but Toulouse oozes a much different, more laid-back French culture that I really loved.
  3. Rookie Mistake: I don't know, maybe I should have gotten my passport stamped at the church. I have so many empty pages. Now that the EU is all Shengened, I didn't get to fill up those pages like I could have 20 years ago.
  4. Rookie Mistake (bonus): Maybe I shouldn't have spent so much time at the English pub... No, that's ridiculous; I regret nothing.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

More Paris and travel to Toulouse

Paris, though undeniably one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen, was not my favorite. It's more expensive and crowded (particularly in June and July)

If the first day was veritable sleepwalk through Paris, the second day was a reality TV show in which the contestants must SEE. ALL. THE. THINGS.


Notre Dame Cathedral

"SANCTUARY!" ...It's unfortunate that The Hunchback of Notre Dame was not a better Disney movie.

Incredible detail
The Notre Dame Cathedral is definitely a "don't miss." The intricacy of the stained glass windows, chiseled stone facade, carved wooden accents and altars throughout the cathedral could absorb a full day of attention to detail. The exhibit which tracks the building and development of the cathedral beginning when the first structure was built on the "Île de la Cité" in the 12th Century was also a favorite.

I was perfectly happy exploring the main level of the cathedral on my own sans tour (hello, free) and skipping the hour-plus line to go into the towers.

Eiffel Tower

It's pretty cool to stand at the base and let the sloping iron lines draw your gaze up to the sky. It's iconic.
It's also teeming with tourists (hi) and tourist traps.
I did not get pickpocketed (great success!)
I resisted the sellers of Eiffel Tower keychains ("5 for 1 euro!") and selfie sticks ("Selfie, selfie, selfie!")
Everybody's gotta make a living.

Arc de Triomph

"There it is!"
"Wait, there are like 6 busy lanes of traffic around it..."
"Le Frogger?"
Don't worry, there's an underground passageway.


This thing is huge.

Pont des Artes

The love locks are all gone now, but it was pretty special to see them just two days before their official expulsion. Even so, there were still couples placing their locks. It's amazing they found somewhere to hook them onto; there are locks locked to locks so much that there is hardly any space left. It's a really lovely thought, but I can see how this would be an issue for centuries-old bridges.

Proceeded to pick up cheese, baguette and wine; and called it a night.

Place de la Bastille, July Column

The handy Metro map had a Bastille stop, so we figured we'd hop off and take some pictures before hopping back on and making our way to catch the train to Toulouse.


For the full Eurotrip experience we nabbed tickets for a sleeper car, with the idea that we'd just nap all the way south to Toulouse. 
Apparently that is not the way it is done. The bottom 2 bunks on either side of the cabin were folded down into benches for six adults and one talkative toddler.
The tickets were an incredible deal, so I regret nothing.
Capitole de Toulouse

Well-deserved gelato
Hotel check-in, followed by dinner on the capitol square, made for a perfect relaxing first night in Toulouse.

Pro Tips and Rookie Mistakes

  1. Rookie Mistake: The July Column is a spectacular and beautiful landmark, especially against a cloudy backdrop, but we walked around the Bastille plaza for a good 10 minutes trying to figure out where to see the actual Bastille... Guys, the Bastille is no longer standing. When did that happen, and why was I not informed? Oh, during the French Revolution? In the 18th Century? Never mind.
  2. Pro Tip: A good international data plan is essential for, among other things, Wikipedia-ing your destination to ensure it hasn't been destroyed for 300 years. Aside from my shameful gaps in history knowledge, I pitied my traveling companions who were tied to WiFi. Every crappy signal I've endured on T-Mobile in the States is worth it for having data rolled right into my plan, for no extra work or money.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Europe Day 1 (Paris)

I had grand plans to blog my epic adventure (GRAND plans). As you can see, that did not happen. Now fully re-assimilated back into the real world (yawn), I think a retrospective is in order. It's also therapeutic in accepting that I work an office job and my life is not one long Eurotrip (yet...)

Day 1 was, more accurately, 2 days. My travel buddy and I took off around 11am Thursday in Phoenix, landed around 10am Friday in Paris, and, aside from a few cat naps on the plane (so many movies to watch! so much excitement!) didn't sleep. Rather than sneaking in a few hours of sleep once we checked into the hotel, we freshened up and went right out into the city.

Musee Rodin was the plan, but by the time we got there, it was Friday afternoon and it appeared to be many others' plan. Plan B: skip it and wander. 

Across the street from the Rodin Museum was a green space with armed guards at the entrance. Naturally, that seemed like a good idea.

Esplanade des Invalides and Napoleon's Tomb

Many panorama shots were taken.

Napoleon's Tomb

I wish I knew more about this sculpture. I was fascinated. 
The map (touristing so hard) showed another huge green space nearby. I want to go to there.

Le Jardin du Luxembourg

Palais de Luxembourg

20 statues of noble and notable French women surround the main plaza. Dig it.

Much love for Eugene Delacroix.
Amazing roses
Absolutely gorgeous. I could have spent a whole day wandering around these lush grounds, people-watching, or just reading a book and sipping wine.

Pro Tips and Rookie Mistakes

  1. Pro tip: power through. Despite ending the day tired and hangry, skipping the nap was a good choice. Other than being a little tired the next day, I escaped jet lag.
  2. Rookie mistake: plan ahead... some. I'm glad we wandered. It put much less pressure on that first day, and it allowed us to discover some off-the-beaten-path gems. A wise plan would have been finding some possible places to eat and take breaks. By evening I was so hangry I could have eaten my travel buddy, and that is not nice.