This is the final installment in the recap of my recent trip to Europe. I had such an incredible time and can’t wait to go overseas again in the (hopefully) near future. Also read about my time in Barcelona (Part 1 and Part 2) and Florence (Part 1 and Part 1).

We parted ways with Lauren at the Santa Maria Novella station (after one final Florentine breakfast), and Aaron and I continued our journey solo to Rome. The high speed train into the city took about an hour and a half, so we arrived just after noon. A short cab ride later and we arrived at our hotel.

The visit to Rome ended up being more of a pleasant side trip than an intentional decision, but I’m so glad that we spent at least a small amount of time there! It was much cheaper to fly out of Rome than Florence (I’m still amazed that our multi-city tickets only cost $1200 each in total), so since we would need to be there to fly out the next morning anyway, we figured we might as well get there a day early.

We didn’t spend much time in the hotel (less than 24 hours in Rome, so little time, so much to do), but we did stop to enjoy this incredible view from the rooftop terrace. Over on the far right you can just see the Colosseum peeking out!

hotel_rooftop

Thankfully we learned our lesson in Barcelona where tickets were concerned, so we reserved passes for the Colosseum/Forum/Palatine Hill ahead of time online. Happily this allowed us to bypass the hour+ line at the ticket counter. Instead we breezed right through the entrance, where this view awaited us:

colosseum_3

Holy cow, how amazing/incredible/all-the-descriptive-words is this?

The Colosseum was built around 80 AD to showcase Gladiator fights and games that would take place over many days. Think Olympics, but with people being killed for entertainment. Umm so yeah maybe that part isn’t so cool. I read one snarky sign that mentioned Christianity had started to spread through Italy around the end of the Colosseum’s reign of terror, and that it could be inferred that the increased sense of morality thanks to a new found religious belief might have led to the games being called off… but not actually. Turns out that isn’t the case at all, they had just run out of money to sponsor them.

colosseum_2

Violence of the games aside, stepping inside these ancient buildings was so cool. It’s hard to fathom that something so old could have stood the test of time for this long–not that they haven’t had their share of troubles of course. I learned that while a lot of the damage to the Colosseum has been caused by natural disasters (probably an earthquake or two), more interestingly much of the stone and marble were pilfered by thiefs and used for other construction projects, including new buildings in Rome.

After the Colosseum, we stopped for lunch at a cafe, where we ordered a pizza and an avocado salad to share. The best part of where we stayed in Rome was the proximity to the ruins, so after a short stop back at our room and a loop around the perimeter of the Forum and Palatine Hill, we entered the grounds to explore.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t really remember learning much about Roman history in school, and I also didn’t do my homework before we got there. So I wasn’t very familiar with what all we’d be seeing when we visited the Forum/Palatine Hill (which are connected together and all on one entrance ticket).

Palatine Hill was home to many nobility back in the day of the Roman empire, and while many of the structures have worn away over the years, it’s still clear that these were very magnificent buildings. The Palatine overlooks the Forum, which was a central space where Roman citizens gathered to do business, practice their religion, and socialize. I like to think about it kind of like the Madison farmer’s market: situated around the capitol building, people visit from near and far to purchase food and other goods and to enjoy others’ company.

Quick photo op in front of the Colosseum (this was taken from inside the Forum grounds).

colosseum
And looking out over the Forum:
forum

Our trip could not be complete without capturing a photo of the nonsensical selfie stick in action. Have you ever seen one of these before? You attach your phone/camera to the end of the stick, hold it out in front of you, and use a remote to (theoretically) capture a good photo (I saw a heck of a lot of selfie sticks pointed directly at the ground). We saw these being used all over Italy, and had too many offers to purchase one to count. You know those people who sell pictures or scarves or hats on the sidewalks in heavily touristy areas? Apparently the things to sell now are selfie sticks. So I digress… but seriously, these things are so silly.

selfie_stick

Sadly we didn’t have time to check out some of the other points of interest in Rome (doing it again I would’ve liked to visit the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon), but instead we wandered over to the river as the sun started to set.

One final stop for gelato. This guy had scoops of a lemon basil and a fruit salad flavor. Especially delicious because these weren’t just flavorings, there was actually basil and actually chunks of fruit mixed in there.

gelato

Pooped out from another long day of walking, and needing to be up in the morning to get to the airport, we opted to grab food to go from a pizzeria/deli and ate it in our hotel room. My final Italian meal was so satisfying! Similar to the crusty sandwich I had at the Mercato Centrale in Florence our first morning there, this one was piled with spinach, prosciutto, thinly sliced mozzarella, and (the best part) a creamy cheese spread (that maybe could have been ricotta?). Another food I must recreate!

And that was our trip! We took a cab to the airport the next morning, caught our flight to Dublin with plenty of time to spare, and then flew on back to Chicago from there.

What an incredible journey it was. I started out the trip so nervous about the unknown (not knowing the language, having trouble getting around, etc, etc), and returned with a new confidence in traveling. It’s funny, when I previously thought of visiting exotic (to me) places, I had this sense that it would just blow everything about the places I’m familiar with out of the water. And while we did have so many fun adventures and saw so many cool new things that I couldn’t have if I were just in Madison, I came to realize that these new places weren’t so different after all. Places have people, and people are people, and the world maybe just isn’t so diverse as I thought after all. Which isn’t a bad thing at all, it’s just this little epiphany that I had along the way. :)

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading my travel log as much as I did writing it and remembering all the things we did.

Ciao!

FacebookTwitterPinterestShare

Trip Recap: Barcelona Part One and Part Two, and Firenze Part 1.

Since we’d already made the journey up into the Campanile tower the day before, we rounded up our adventures at the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral with an early Thursday morning stair hike up into the dome. I’m not at all a fan of heights, and this being an even higher climb than the Campanile, I was suffice to say a little nervous about the destination at the top.

However, the view was amazing:

duomo_view

Especially once those sun rays peeked out:

duomo_view_2

I even braved my fears and ventured to the edge for a photo op. But let me tell you, that didn’t last long. I spent most of the remainder of our time up there as close to the wall as possible! For me the Campanile tower felt much safer thanks to an enclosed gating around the whole area; the top of the dome was completely open except for a waist-high railing.

1932538_10103614160290687_8431408871762475717_o

After the early morning exercise, we wandered around a bit until we came upon La Milkeria, a cute cafe where we ended up stopping for breakfast. I got a tomato, mozzarella, and tuna crepe. I love savory things for breakfast! I actually didn’t realize until after ordering my crepe that tuna was on it (this was one of the first places we’d been to where an English translation in addition to the Italian wasn’t included on the menu), but it was actually quite tasty! Crepes are another food I’d like to try making at some point soon.

After breakfast we visited the Galileo Museum, which was one of the more fun museums we walked through in Florence. In addition to being able to interact with several of Galileo’s inventions, we got to see a comprehensive overview of many scientific discoveries that happened throughout the city’s history.

Next we crossed over the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge lined with shops and galleries that connects across the Fiume Arno (the river that runs through Florence). Before we left on our trip, we’d made it our mission to leave a travel cache somewhere along our route through Spain and Italy. A fortress seemed like a pretty solid spot, so we climbed a (monstrous) hill to reach Forte Belvedere. The fort itself is currently closed to the public, but we found this geocache tucked away in a wall crevice nearby:

geocache

If you’ve never geocached before, I highly recommend giving it a try. It’s basically like going on a treasure hunt (but with GPS as your guide)!

What goes up, must come back down, so we followed the path along the wall down from the fort…

fort

… over to the Piazzale Michelangelo for a panoramic view of the city.

view

More walking and climbing means the need to refuel! This slice was a tie with the Neapolitan pizza in Barcelona for my favorite pizza of the trip. The tomatoes and mozz were loaded on a super crunchy, almost pastry-like crust. Super yum.

pizza

Contemplating life while admiring the view (the Ponte Vecchio is the bridge in the background).

contemplation

Next up was the Palazzo Pitti, a former palace that now houses several galleries and is surrounded by a huge, serene garden. I enjoyed the peaceful time to sit and stare at the beauty. Can you imagine living in a place like this??

boboli

I can’t pretend to be the greatest admirer of art, but we did wander through a few of the exhibits at the palace. My favorite part was actually the wall decor. The 3D effect of the paintings were so realistic, and it was hard to tell what was painting and what was actually protruding from the wall.

illusion_2

Can you tell what’s real and what isn’t?

illusion_1

One of my favorite parts of our time in Florence was just how much time we had to spend there. Instead of feeling like we needed to rush all over to see everything, we were able to also enjoy our down time (which was need to recover from all that walking). Of course some of that time was spent napping, but another favorite activity was chilling at home with a glass of wine and a puzzle. We purchased two during our time in Florence (one of the view from across the river, and another of a portrait of Venus that’s in a gallery at the Uffizi). Except for the sky in the Florence landscape (who has the patience to fit together almost identical pieces of blue sky? Not I!), we finished both of them before we left.

That’s good enough:

puzzle_1

Artsy photo with a beer we picked up from a local market:

puzzle_2

The final piece!puzzle_3

After the fun of putting those together, I feel like a bit of a puzzle nerd. I’d love to start a tradition of picking up a new puzzle from every new city I visit in the future!

On Friday morning we headed to La Milkeria again for breakfast. I ordered a Nutella waffle with gelato (I was too impatient to wait for the gelato to start eating it, but eventually a scoop of yogurt gelato showed up on my plate too). Talk about sugar overload! And a cappuccino on the side. Can I just say how much I love the coffee in Europe? I’m not much of a coffee drinker at home (I don’t find that I need the caffeine), but I was addicted to the foam that is piled on top. I could eat just the foam for days.

waffle

After breakfast, we headed to the Uffizi Gallery, which is one of the most famous art museums in Europe. Again, art isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I did enjoy wandering around through the collections anyway (and in lieu of that, there was always people watching). This is also where we got our Venus puzzle above.

The rest of the day was pretty low key. We did puzzle work, napped, and munched on leftover burrata. Later in the afternoon we visited the Palazzo Strozzi to see a Picasso exhibit, and for dinner we went out on a date night for our only “ponsy” dinner of the trip at Ristorante Mangiafuoco. Food included shared dishes of spinach ravioli in a tomato cream sauce and steak with rocket (i.e. arugula) salad. And wine, of course. To finish off the night, we headed back to Edoardo for gelato. This time I got scoops of pear and cinnamon, and we settled on the steps of the Duomo to people watch and enjoy our frozen dessert.

Our final full day in Florence (Saturday), we climbed one final tower (the Palazzo Vecchio) in the morning (I’m sensing a theme here). For lunch we headed back to the Mercato Centrale for sandwiches (I could not get enough of the mozz + anything combination!).

The afternoon was another relaxing one with wine, puzzles, and gelato (that final round was dark chocolate + cinnamon for me). I also made up a fun puzzle game where every time I got a piece in the right spot, I had to take a sip of wine. Very, very dangerous. :P

We took a break from puzzle time to visit the Leonardo di Vinci museum a few blocks from our apartment. Did you know that Leonardo got his last name because he was from the town of Vinci? So literally, “of Vinci”? He was the bastard child of his father, so wasn’t allowed to take his last name. The more you know! Other than the Galileo Museum, this was my favorite exhibit. There were a ton of models demonstrating all of di Vinci’s inventions, and we even got to try some of them hands-on. I actually had no idea that Leonardo di Vinci had created, invented, or thought up quite so many different things during his lifetime. He was truly a brilliant human being!

For our final meal in Florence, we ate at a restaurant settled right across from the Duomo. I ordered a pizza, and then we finished off the evening each with a glass of Limoncello, a lemon liquor appropriate for sipping. We’d been curious about this one since Barcelona, so obviously we had to try it!

I had an incredible time during our stay in Florence and would love to go back again. Because we stayed there for more than just a day or two, we had a chance to really get our bearings in the city, and even become regulars at a few local establishments. This was by far the longest vacation I’ve ever taken (outside of breaks while in school), and having the opportunity to relax and not have any worries besides what museum to visit or food to eat next was much needed.

Next stop Rome, then back to the States!

Before Florence, we visited Barcelona, Spain: Recap Part 1 and Part 2.

Tuesday morning we set off for the airport to catch a short flight to Pisa, followed by an hour bus ride across the Italian countryside to Florence (Firenze to the locals). Before the trip we had considered stopping at the Leaning Tower, but since we’d be having to lug our bags around, we nixed that idea (in hindsight, this is probably all we would have been missing out on anyway haha).

The bus deposited us at the Santa Maria Novella train station (a central hub of transportation in Florence), which was about a 10 minute walk from the Airbnb apartment we were renting. We met up with our host (Federico, or “Frederico” as Aaron accidentally called him in an email :P), and spent some time settling into the new apartment before heading out to explore.

This was the view of the Duomo (a cathedral built in the 1400s) from our apartment window! We were literally right in the city center, which was so cool.

apt_dumo

Another shot taken from the hallway up to our apartment:

apt_duomo

First stop on our agenda of course was the newly opened BrewDog Firenze bar! Aaron and I like to joke about it being “our” bar because we own a stake in the company (in actuality we jointly have one share of stock in the brewery). Couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend as much time here as possible, so we visited three times over the five days we were in Florence. :)

brew_dog_4

brew_dog_3

Lauren and I both tried a flight of four beers each, and Aaron got the Jackhammer IPA (excuse me, “eepa”!):

brew_dog_2

More fun local decor (no idea why the octupus, but there’s our neighborhood Duomo):

brew_dog_1

After beer (which maybe isn’t typical drinking for Italians, but of course we had to go) at BrewDog, we stopped at a pizza place on the way back to our apartment for a quick bite. How delicious does this pepperoni pie look?? A glass of wine topped off the meal.

pizza

After dinner, another stop for dessert to get our first real Italian gelato. This baby was dark chocolate and strawberry. Happily, all the gelato places we visited let you order two flavors instead of having to make the horrible decision which one flavor sounds the best. And my favorite thing about chocolate in Italy was that you always knew you were getting the good dark stuff, instead of the milk chocolate I would normally expect at home.

gelato_1

Rise and shine! After a jam packed day of traveling and eating the day before, we were ready for our first full day in Firenze. Federico had stocked our apartment with a good amount of cooking ware, so these cute little guys were used frequently in the mornings for freshly made coffee:

caffe

For breakfast we wandered over to the Mercato Centrale, which is a large market located in a building among the stalls of the San Lorenzo market (which feature a lot of leather goods!). We grabbed a bite to eat at a stall within the market (I had this delicious sandwich below–the crusty, crunchy bread was one of my favorites), and then went on a hunt for ingredients we could use to cook up our own Italian meal. We ended up purchasing a bunch of fresh pasta (I really want to try making my own now!), pesto sauce, burrata cheese (another new favorite food, yummm), lettuce, tomatoes, figs, and apples.

sandwich

We didn’t do a ton of touristy sightseeing while we were in Barcelona, so for Florence we decided to go all in for seeing the sights. Our first day there we purchased the Firenze Card, which allows you to visit many of the museums and exhibitions throughout the city over a 72 hour time window. Price of admission is included in the cost, plus free access to the bus system and public WiFi. We never actually used the buses, but overall we were very pleased with the purchase of the card. It allowed us to bypass a lot of the long entrance lines to museums (especially since we hadn’t reserved anywhere in advance), and made it easier to see bits of things we might not otherwise of gone to without having the covered admission already (like seeing the David at the Accademia Gallery).

After breakfast we took off for the Duomo (the cathedral just a half block from our apartment). This is a view of the incredible dome within (there are two levels of walkways that you can see right above and below the circular windows, both of which we eventually walked along when we climbed to the top of the dome):

duomo_interior

Continuing on the full Duomo tour, we hiked up the 414 steps of the Campanile next (gosh, we walked up a lot of stairs while we were traveling! Quite the bun burner, not to mention how narrow the staircases usually were. Made for quite the challenge squeezing by people going the opposite direction). We also visited the Baptistery, right next door to the Duomo, which is one of the oldest buildings in Florence (circa 1100), as well as the crypt below the cathedral, which is a site of recent excavations to learn more about the origins of the building.

After a morning at the Duomo, we stopped for a brief lunch at a sidewalk cafe. I had this tasty panzanella salad, which was crumbled dried bread tossed with tomatoes, basil, onions, and cucumbers, and dressed with olive oil and vinegar.

panchello

After fueling up on lunch, we visited the Accademia Gallery, which is home to the original David statue. It was definitely cool to see some of the art in person, but again was one of those things we probably wouldn’t have felt the need to see if not for the all-access pass of the Firenze Card.

However, one thing we were still excited to have all-access to was gelato. We quickly discovered a favorite gelato spot (and managed to hit that up three times too!), Edoardo. It’s located right in Duomo-land, and has the best Yelp reviews of any gelato place in the area. And I heartily concur!

edoardo

It’s a tiny shop, but they make good use of the space with a ton of different flavor options, and even freshly make their own waffle cones right there in the store. This is crema (vanilla with eggs) with cinnamon on top (I had the cinnamon every time we went there, it was that good).

gelato

After gelato we made our second of three stops at the BrewDog bar where I tried a bottle of Cocoa Psycho, a 10% ABV Stout. It’s a beer that I’d heard about before but had never seen available to buy in our area (we’ve only had access to Hardcore IPA, 5am Saint, and Punk IPA locally), so I was eager to try one. So delicious–just the right amount of cocoa, coffee goodness.

brew_dog

After beers, we headed home to an incredible home-cooked meal courtesy of Lauren: a starter of bread with burrata (which is a mozzarella cheese filled with cream), followed by fresh pasta in pesto sauce and a salad with figs, cherry tomatoes, and olive oil. Oh and wine, can’t forget the wine. :)

Chianti is a region in central Italy (which includes Florence), and wines produced in that area are also referred to as Chiantis. Needless to say, we drank a lottt of Chianti while we were in Florence.

dinner

Big takeaway here is that the food in Italy is divine! Luckily being back home I’ve been able to recreate a little bit of the magic thanks to a good selection of Chiantis and burrata cheese at Trader Joe’s. And sometime in the near future I’m determined to make my own pasta!

Hope you’re having a wonderful week! Part two of our trip to Florence to come soon.

Catch up on the first days of our trip in Barcelona: Part 1.

The third full day of our trip was a Sunday. After the late night at Cal Brut the day before (and all those gin and lemonades), we were a little slow getting started that morning. After a late lunch at an outdoor cafe on the beach, Aaron and I headed to catch a train to Parc de Montjuïc, which is a park set on a (monster of a) hill overlooking the city.

montjuic

Also, how fun is this sidewalk marker? Madison is a very bike-friendly city, and it was cool to see that Barcelona values alternate forms of transportation too!

bike

Montjuïc is home to a former Olympic site and a castle, among many other beautiful gardens. After a very steep climb to the top (they do have a gondola for those who don’t want to walk, but the price didn’t seem worth it. Plus who doesn’t love a great bun burner?), we spent some time wandering around the Castell de Montjuïc, an old military fortress that dates back to the 1600s.

castell

The garden area outside the fortress (which seems like it might originally have been a moat?) was beautiful.

castell_2

After exploring Montjuïc, it was off to my first live fútbol game! Aaron was determined to see a game while we were there (and I was happy to go along for the ride). Unfortunately Barcelona wasn’t playing that weekend, but Espanyol did have a home game. Luckily at this point we were pretty much Metro pros, so we hopped on another train or two to a stop near the stadium and then followed the crowd the rest of the twenty minutes walk to the field.

We got awesome seats! We were right at field level and Espanyol scored their first goal scored within the first 10 minutes of the game.

futbol

They ended up winning 2-0, with their second goal in stoppage time around 93:00. Yay for the home team!

Espanyol fan for life:

futbol_2

The whole experience was so fun. It was awesome being right in the middle of the action, sitting with the locals supporting their team. The best part was watching everyone holding up their scarves (I got one too!) as they cheered on the home team. Makes me wish fútbol had more of a following in the US!

After the game we headed back towards our neighborhood in Barceloneta, where we stopped into a pizza restaurant a couple blocks away. I ordered the margherita: tomato sauce, mozzarella, olive oil, basil, and parmesan. This may have been the best pizza I’d ever had! I love how flaky and light the crust was, plus the toppings could not be beat. I am determined to figure out some way to recreate this at home. If only I had a super hot oven to cook my pizzas in!

pizza

On Monday (which was our last day in Barcelona), we headed back to Sagrada Familia (the unfinished church designed by Gaudí). Still in progress, they’re scheduled to complete the building in 2030. The picture on the left is the current structure, and on the right is the original design.

sagrada_exterior

The beauty of this building cannot even be described in words.

sagrada_interior_1

“There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature. Therefore buildings must have no straight lines or sharp corners.” — Gaudí

sagrada_interior_2

The stained glass was even more breathtaking in person as it is in these pictures. All Gaudí, all the time.

sagrada_interior_3

After wandering around the interior of the church for about an hour, we took an elevator up into one of the towers. The view from the top was incredible.

sagrada_exterior_2

The Sagrada Familia is in a really pretty area of the city, so after we descended the tower, we started wandering west of the church.

Small, frequent meals are a norm in Spain, so we made a pit stop at a random cafe along the way for a round of sangria and munchies.

sangria

We headed back to our apartment after snacks to rest up a bit before dinner. We decided to try Ocaña, a restaurant within walking distance of home, in the Gothic Quarter.

Quick stop at Las Fritas for noms on the way. I’d been eyeing up this place the whole time we’d been in Barcelona, and couldn’t leave without getting my own healthy serving of fries. They offered a ton of topping options (bacon, fried eggs, ketchup, etc), but I opted for just the special “Las Fritas” sauce (basically a seasoned mayo). So worth it!

fries

At Ocaña I ordered a Red Hot Chili Pepper cocktail to drink. The ingredients included ginger beer and tequila (they had me at ginger beer). For dinner I ordered a chicken salad; lettuce had been severely missing from my diet the past few days, so I was excited for some greens!

cocktail

After dinner we made our final stop for drinks while in Barcelona. Lauren insisted that we needed to try Licor 43 before we left, so we each got a glass to nurse. It was quite tasty! A very sweet liquor, with notes of citrus and vanilla.

The restaurant/bar we stopped in was snail themed:

snail

Our final day in Barcelona was so fun, especially since we’d become more familiar with the area by that point. I’m so glad we split up our time in Spain/Italy the way we did because it gave us more time to get to know each city instead of rushing around trying to see as many sights as possible. We definitely didn’t come even close to seeing all that Barcelona has to offer, but we did get a pretty good mix of everything. Someday I hope to go back and actually see the finished Sagrada. :)

The next day (Tuesday) we were off to Italy!

This was my very first trip to Europe, and while I was crazy excited about it, I also didn’t know exactly what to expect while traveling abroad. I ended up having an amazing vacation, and through the next couple of blog posts, I’ll be recapping some of my favorite parts of the trip. I traveled with my boyfriend, Aaron, and once we got to Spain, we also met up with his sister, Lauren.

Three weeks ago today we had just started our traveling adventure and were arriving in Barcelona, Spain.

flying_in

I snapped the photo above from the plane as we descended. (How incredible is that view? We flew into Barcelona from the north, and the pilot looped us around the eastern side of the city before turning back toward the airport to land, so we had plenty of time to oo and ahh over it!)

While we were in both Barcelona and Florence, we stayed in apartments through Airbnb, which is a service that lets you connect with people in the area who rent out their homes or properties. Has anyone else ever tried it? Overall it worked out great for us (aside from the fishy smell radiating from the fridge every time we opened it, which became almost unbearable by the end of our stay, but we’ll just try to forget about that part…). Split two or three ways the cost was better than most hotels and the location couldn’t be beat! See below:

apartment_view

The apartment was in La Barceloneta, a neighborhood right on the Mediterranean coast. The photo above was taken out our apartment window!

Most of our first day in Spain was a lesson in recovering from jet lag. We left Chicago at 4PM, arrived in Dublin at 4AM local time, and were in front of our apartment before 11AM. However, that meant a whole night’s sleep was pretty much lost (my attempt to sleep on the plane was mostly a bust), so it’s fair to say we were running on fumes by that point. Hence, we took our first real Spanish siesta. :)

We did manage to recover enough that first day to search out some yummy noms for dinner, and we ended up at Bilbao Berria, a tapas restaurant. The setup was buffet-style; a counter is lined with small dishes, and you take as many as you’d like. Each plate has a stick, and at the end of the meal your bill is determined by how many sticks you have. I loved how this worked! No pressure to eat too much like I normally feel when I’m at a buffet, and there’s no waiting for someone to serve you either. My favorite tapa was served on a piece of bread with an apple slice, goat cheese, and a caramelized sauce. Sweet and savory, my favorite!

tapas

Can I just say that I love love love the architecture in Barcelona? The Gothic-style buildings are so beautiful. The Gothic Quarter was about a 20 minute walk from our apartment, so we spent a lot of time meandering through the ancient streets (also, walking: did I mention yet how much of this we did??). I never did quite get used to the fact that these crazy old buildings are just a typical part of the landscape there. You just don’t see anything quite like that in the US!

The building on the left below is the Catedral de Barcelona, and on the right is a peek down a street near where we stayed. Almost every balcony was adorned with clothing/towels/flags/etc, so the streets were quite colorful!

barcelona_architecture

Day two in Barcelona started off with a run down the beach, followed by a mini bootcamp session (led by yours truly). Side note: I had such good intentions for dedicated workouts while we were traveling, but it was harder after we left Spain and weren’t right on the beach anymore to find a good place to do it. Luckily we walked up and down and around all over the place so much that I ended up being okay with that. As Rick Steves explained in his guidebook to Florence, by the end of his walks around the Renaissance city, he has the buns of David!

beach

This first full day started off feeling like an experiment in tourist failure. We’d of course been planning the overall details of the trip for several months: when to leave and arrive, what flight to take, where to stay… but we never really planned out too many of the details, preferring to “wing it.” While in general everything worked out in the end (and I did appreciate not having a set schedule that we had to follow), I do wish that we had planned better for the attractions we did want to see. Case in point: the Sagrada Familia. We arrived there, sans tickets or a reservation, on a Saturday at noon, to find out that we wouldn’t be able to get in for several hours. Well that just wasn’t happening, so we vowed to purchase tickets for a later date once we got back home, and instead set off for Park Güell via the Metro.

Another side note on transportation: though we did take a cab from the airport when we first got to Barcelona, we took the Metro (subway) or walked everywhere else while we were there.

Sagrada Familia (which is a massively beautiful, still unfinished church in Barcelona–and which we did eventually get to visit) and Park Güell are both the brain children of designer/architect Antoni Gaudí. While some of the architectural aspects of Park Güell are blocked off only to paying visitors (that was fail number two of the day–we once again arrived without tickets and didn’t want to wait), we were still able to freely wander around most of the gardens without a ticket.

Just goofin’ off:

goofin_off

On the highest point of the park there’s a large cross built into a stone base that you can climb up. It gave us the most incredible view of the city:

barcelona_pano

After treking around Park Güell for a couple hours, we wandered into this nearby restaurant for our first sangria of the trip. YUM! Love how acceptable it is to have a drink pretty much any time of the day in Europe. :P

sangria_1

We made a pit stop at home for a rest after the day, and then headed out again for dinner at Cuines Santa Caterina, located in the Mercat de Santa Caterina (where we had also stopped for breakfast that morning). We ordered a bottle of wine, and I had these delicious pork wings. They also came with a pile of small tortilla shells; I wasn’t entirely sure what I was supposed to do with them, but piling them with the pork, onions, and bbq sauce ended up being a pretty good call.

ribs

We rounded up the night at Cal Brut, a local bar nearby, where we stayed till closing time and made friends with the owner/bartender, Marc. I tried this cerveza (aka beer) from Ibiza, which I loved. It was nice and light and fruity, which was perfect for a warm night in Barcelona. Followed by a couple rounds of gin and lemonade. :)

beer

Thanks to our bartender friend Marc, I would now like to forever refer to IPAs as “Eepas”.

Stay tuned for more on our trip to Barcelona, and then our hop across the Mediterranean to Italy!

As the Italians say… :)

1932538_10103614160290687_8431408871762475717_o

I’ve been MIA from the blogging sphere for the past couple weeks while touring through a small bit of Europe: Barcelona, Spain -> Florence, Italy -> Rome. The trip was incredible; I ate a ton of (insanely delicious) food, drank all the vino, and learned so much about the incredible places we visited! Though I am glad to be back home (there’s nothing quite like sleeping in your own cozy bed again!), I do already miss the vibrancy of the old cities we had the fortune to visit.

More photos and a recap of our city visits to come, but for now a few of my recent favorites from around the web and beyond:

  • These HTML beer glasses from Uncommon Goods. I got a set for my boyfriend for his birthday a few months ago, and they make me smile every time I use them. Plus, beer. #nerdalert
  • As I was rounding up the link for the beer glasses, I came across this adorable penguin pillow (penguins are my favorite animal). Want.
  • These candied pecans from Ali’s blog Gimme Some Oven look incredible. I had candied pecans in an autumn pear wrap recently, and I’ve been craving more ever since!
  • Sangria was the drink of choice while we were in Spain, and when I saw this honey cinnamon apple cider version after getting back home, I knew I had to try it. Whipped up a pitcher of it yesterday and polished it off with a girlfriend last night. So. Good.
  • This burrata from Trader Joe’s. Burrata is a mozzarella cheese filled with cream, which we ate like crack while we were in Florence. Pile it on a baguette slice, drizzle in olive oil, and sprinkle with salt (the wine in the background is of course a key element as well!). This was the number one item on my shopping list for my first post-vacation TJ’s run.
    10687912_10103614160056157_322792663125957120_o
  • Keeping with the cheese theme, my European adventure has inspired some food-related adventures I’d like to try. One of them is to make my own mozzarella. I’ve made ricotta before at home, and this looks like a pretty similar process. Also on my agenda are homemade noodles!
  • Avocado toast. Loving avocados in anything/everything lately, and this has been one of my favorite ways to eat them lately (usually as an easy breakfast). Avocados are sliced, drizzled in olive oil, and sprinkled with salt. Divine!
    avocadotoast

Hope you had a wonderful weekend!