6 countries, 2 weeks, 1 backpack.
Week 1: Barcelona – Porto – Paris… Starting with Barcelona!
UCD’s class schedule allows students two weeks off in March for spring break. Some students (like me) are lucky enough to have that whole timeframe free, but other students actually have their final exams during this time. I thought it was strange the first time I heard that students in certain majors only have a 7 weeks worth of courses during their 3rd year, second semester. But they aren’t off the hook after their 7 weeks is up. They are then required to do an additional 7 week work experience, which will complete their semester. This apparently is common for most students in the College of Agriculture.
So, as the 3rd year Irish students finished their finals and got ready to move away for their work experiences, I booked some plane tickets and said “See ya, Ireland!” This post is the insider scoop the 1st week of my spring break travels.
Destination #1: Barcelona, Spain
Ireland is a gorgeous country, but the weather can be significantly variable and we rarely see a day that is completely sunny. So when Becca and I stepped out of the airport in Barcelona, it immediately felt like paradise because the sun was shining, it was beautifully warm, and there was not a single cloud in the sky. After bussing to and checking into our Airbnb near Las Ramblas, we couldn’t wait another minute to get back outside. We had a list of things we wanted to see and do, but not a set itinerary so we set off walking through Las Ramblas, which is a lovely street lined with shopping, restaurants, markets and street vendors. Las Ramblas also houses the Mercado de la Boqueria which turned out to be one of my favorite places in Barcelona. The Mercado was exactly what I pictured when thinking of a fresh produce Spanish market, and blew every farmers market I have ever been to out of the water. As soon as you step foot inside, you are greeted with the aromas of fresh fruit coming from the vast array of fruit and juice stands lined up in aisles. Piles upon piles of every kind of fresh fruit you can imagine.
Each of these fruit stands also had freshly squeezed juices of every fruit you could think of. I couldn’t resist, so my first purchase was a fresh fruit bowl, and I’ll be honest when saying this… wow, the mangoes were the best I’ve ever had. When you get past the fresh fruit stands we realized that this market was so large that you couldn’t see the end of it when standing at the front. Continuing our way forward, we came across the meat counters. As a student who did meats judging in FFA in high school, I consequently thought this was the coolest thing ever. Almost each stand owner specialized in a type of meat: beef, pork, lamb, goat, chicken and poultry, fish, and even deer. On top of that, they offered a variety of meat cuts, and an even higher number of variety meats (meaning parts of the animal like the heart, liver, tongue, tripe, etc.) and even were selling the whole heads (yes, the eyeballs were still intact). Past the meat counters were more fresh produce stands, spice counters, people selling nuts, dried fruit, elaborately decorated chocolates and candies of all kinds, and pastries.
Our sightseeing began after we walked past loads of storefronts and came across a swarm of people trying to catch a glimpse of Gaudi’s architecture at Casa Batlló. With a colorful mosaic facade, Casa Batlló was remodeled in 1904 by Antoni Gaudi and has been called “House of Bones” by locals because of its architectural skeleton-like resemblance. A short walk down the street and you run into another work of Gaudi, Casa Milá, which was built from 1906-1912. Apparently back in the day, people made fun of this building, made satirical cartoons about it, etc., and even made comments that the building would lower the price of the land it sat on… but now it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. Who do you think got the last laugh?
Above: Casa Batlló
Heading northeast from Casa Milá will bring you straight to the doorstep of the minor basilica and Roman Catholic Church that has never stopped undergoing construction since construction began in 1882. La Sagrada Familia was another work of Gaudi, and he worked on it until he died at the age of 73 in 1926. When he died, only a quarter of the project was finished. At this time, construction is about 75% complete, but there are still large cranes outside and once you see the building, you can understand why it’s taken so long. The amount of intricate detail that has gone into this building is unimaginable for me. The stained glass literally lights up the entire basilica in every vibrant hue possible. This is truly a masterpiece that even I could appreciate.
Above: Outside La Sagrada Familia. At the top you will notice it is still under construction.
Below: Inside La Sagrada Familia.
Above: in front of the Arc de Triumf
At this point, it was continuing to be a beautiful (but very windy) day to be outside, so we turned back to visit Barcelona’s Arc de Triumf and walk through the aisle of palm trees lining the street on our way to check out the beach for a little bit before dinner.
Day two in Barcelona was our first actual beach day, which was some much needed ocean therapy… until 2 hours later when we both realized we were burnt to a crisp! It had been so long since I had used sunscreen I forgot I needed it! Regardless, I have never been happier to get a sunburn. Following our sun tanning session, we went on to rent a couple bikes so we could explore more of the city, which was definitely a good choice. We had so much fun riding past all of the palm trees lining the streets and the picturesque views that came with it.
HIGHLIGHT! On the third day in Barcelona, we took a day trip to Montserrat which was about an hour outside of the city. Being an outdoorsy person, I was in my element for the hike up Montserrat Mountain, part of the Catalan Mountain range. After some convincing, Becca agreed to hike to the highest summit of the mountain, called Sant Jeroni (4,055 feet above sea level), with me. Before we could begin our hike, we had to take a cable car up to the monastery that sits on the side of the mountain. Such a unique experience! After a two hour hike up the mountain, we finally reached the peak and the views were breath-taking.
Below: View from the Montserrat Monastery
On our last day in Barcelona, we took care of some unfinished business by visiting Parc Güell, enjoying some tapas at a little restaurant nearby, and paying one last visit to one of my favorite places. Becca and I ran to the Market de la Boqueria one last time and purchased some dried fruit, including strawberries, plums, mangoes, and cantaloupe. Unfortunately I doubt I will ever be able to recreate it or find anything like it back in the States!
Below: View from Parc Güell
Above: Enjoying one last round of tapas!
Next post will be about stop #2 of our spring break journey – Porto, Portugal!