A Travellerspoint blog

Mary, Queen of Scots

Edinburgh, Scotland

Yesterday:
We took off and landed on time, which worked perfectly for me. My friend's flight was delayed so that she arrived only minutes after me, and we took the bus to the center of Edinburgh.
We are staying at the Royal Mile Backpacker Hostel and so far think it's great. The front desk lady was super helpful. The rooms and beds are named after books and characters. I'm Little Miss Trouble. The lockers are big, but thin, so I had to unpack a bit to fit my backpack and all my stuff in, but that's no big deal because it all fit and I'd have to unpack to get at my stuff anyway.
As soon as we dropped our stuff off, we went to go find food, not knowing what would be open at this late hour. Fortunately, there is an Indian+Thai restaurant that shares an entrance with the hostel, so we didn't have to go far.
The food was delicious. But I'm most excited about trying my first "local" drink- Irn Bru. It tastes like cream soda. Yum.
One unfortunate thing I've discovered- despite having been to London fairly recently, my money is no longer good here. Just after the last time I was here, they started printing new money. And apparently nobody accepts the old money anymore. You have to go to the bank to exchange it for new bills. Except that you can't just go to any bank, you have to go to the bank that printed the bills because they all print them differently. I was not aware of that. But my old bills said Bank of England and had the Queen on them (as would new bills printed by the Bank of England), while my new bills did not, even though they are equally valid. I was unaware that the bills could have different faces on them. That would be like the various mints in the USA not just putting their little letter mark on the money that most people don't even know is there, but some putting George Washington Carver on a $1 instead of George Washington.

Today:
Doorman at fancy hotel

Doorman at fancy hotel


We somehow ended up at the fanciest hotel in town for breakfast. Their restaurant, Brasserie Prince offered a full Scottish breakfast for less than I would have expected at such a fancy place. The meat one came with haggis (described by my friend as a "wet meatball"), blood pudding, bacon, beans, eggs, toast, a broiled tomato, mushroom, potatoes, a slice they called scone, and maybe more that I'm forgetting. The vegetarian one replaced the meat items with haloumi and a vegetable sausage, but was equally huge and hearty. It was all delicious, even the butter and the jam tasted exceptional. I also love that they had literal lumps of sugar on the table for people to put in tea. I'm used to sugar packets or maybe perfectly manufactured cubes. These are misshapen, each different from the last. Sooo British!!!
actual lumps of sugar

actual lumps of sugar


We bundled up and made our way through light rain to Edinburgh Castle, where we had tickets scheduled for 9:30 am.
Edinburgh in the morning rain

Edinburgh in the morning rain


We grabbed our audioguide, a map, and then noticed they had some sort of game for kids, so we got one of those as well. To play, you needed a writing implement, which we lacked, but the guy at the cafe was nice enough to lend us one for our duration at the castle.
First, we saw some cannons and the view. Then, we climbed some special stairs (70 steps, which was one of the answers on the kids sheet). We toured some of the museums and buildings within the castle.
Guards at the Entrance to Edinburgh Castle

Guards at the Entrance to Edinburgh Castle


Several museums were dedicated to Scottish soldiers and the wars they fought in or what they used to fight those wars. Some wars had different names here than what we learned in school. A lot of them were against the English, until they were with the English. But what I found most interesting were the uniforms. Some of the mannequins were rocking plaid pants or other interesting plaid formal items.
Plaid Pants Uniform

Plaid Pants Uniform


They also had a whole building as a memorial to these soldiers.
Soldier Memorial

Soldier Memorial


Another interesting building was the St. Margaret's chapel. It is the oldest building in Edinburgh, having been built in the 1100s. It's quite small- only a few people can fit in it at a time. The stained glass is worth seeing though.
chapel stained glass

chapel stained glass


We also saw the crown jewels of Scotland. They're in a case, but you can get right up to them. Also in that case is a stone. This "Stone of Destiny" is what all of their monarchs sit on during their coronation. After hundreds of years of this tradition, the stone was stolen by the English around the 1200s. When the ruler of Scotland merged with the ruler of England, the ruler of both would be coronated on it, but it stayed in England until fairly recently, despite the Scots wanting it back.
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle


Personally, I just finished a book starring Mary, Queen of Scots, who gave birth to her son in this castle. I found it exciting to see where she came from and to imagine the history taking place here. The Great Hall was perfect for that. The stained glass here has the coats of arms of various Scottish royalty, and the walls are decorated with the weapons that would have been used to defend the castle (or to push Mary, Queen of Scots out).
Great Hall

Great Hall

Coat of Arm Stained Glass

Coat of Arm Stained Glass

After the castle, we walked down the main street a bit. One souvenir shop advertised that they had a working tartan cloth weaving factory inside. I love seeing how things are made, so we went down to it. It may have been active at some moments in time, but it was abandoned when we were there, which was disappointing. More so because there was no elevator and we now had to go back up 3 flights of stairs after having seen an empty factory.
tartan loom

tartan loom


We grabbed a quick but uninteresting lunch in a nearby restaurant, and headed back up towards the Scotch Whisky Experience.
It starts out with an amusement-park-style ride where you sit in "barrel" cars and are moved along tracks as you see a presentation on how they make whisky. Then, you get scratch-and-sniff cards to smell while you watch a video explaining the different whisky styles from the different areas of Scotland. Finally, you get to taste the whisky. That's singular. You have to pick one based on your scratch-and-sniff card. My best suggestion is to go with a group of 6 people so you get a taste of each. They gave us our whisky glass to keep at the end, but I would have much rather gotten tiny shots of multiple whiskies to compare than 2 fingers of a single whisky and a glass that I can't really fit in my suitcase.
Whisky Room

Whisky Room


In the last room, after the tasting, you see some guy's collection of hundreds of unopened whisky bottles. It holds the Guinness record for the most and some of the bottles are actually quite interesting. Some have odd shapes or are really old.
We exited and headed towards our tour. On the way, we passed some street bagpipe players. I really actually enjoyed their music. I think that bagpipes get a bad rep, because when they're actually playing songs, they sound quite nice.
street bagpipes

street bagpipes


Today's free tour was run by Sandeman's. The guide was funny and took us on an educational walk around Edinburgh. I noticed a lot of things that I wouldn't have without him, and heard tons of great stories.
church wall statues without cones on their heads

church wall statues without cones on their heads


Like it's apparently a normal thing for Scots to place orange traffic cones on top of statues' heads. The city comes and removes them. The Scots put them back, which is technically not illegal as long as the don't cause damage. One city spends about 60k pounds per year just removing the cones. But the Scots think it's good fun.
Another story is that there was some guy who died. His dog was so loyal/heartbroken that he never left the grave of the dead guy. The locals started to take care of him because he wouldn't budge- for over a decade. Today, there is a statue of him, tons of shops named after him, and his grave has a huge stone. Even today, kids bring sticks for him to play with.
We heard a stories about a half-hung lady, grave robbers stealing corpses for the medical university, the fights between the Scots and the English, the various market areas in town, and the heart of Midlothian (a torture jail, don't propose to your girlfriend there).
Midlothian Heart

Midlothian Heart


But my favorite was the etymology of the phrase "shit-faced." Apparently, in the days before toilets, people would dump their chamber pots out the window with only a shout to let those below know what was coming. The city made a law to permit this dumping only twice a day- once at a specific time in the morning, and once at a specific time in the evening. But the evening time was when the bars let out. And the drunks might be stumbling home and suddenly hear a noise, so they'd look up to see who said what. Splat!
official coat of arms. Yes, that's a unicorn.

official coat of arms. Yes, that's a unicorn.


One tip we picked up on the tour was to check out the roof of the National Museum for a fabulous view of the city. We did and you really could see everything. But in order to get there, we went through the museum a bit. I'd love to come back to it because it looks so interesting and we didn't really have any time there. We briefly saw Dolly (the first cloned sheep), some airplanes, and whisked by some display on stones and another on statues of people. A lot of the areas looked really interactive, with lots of kids playing games and lots of moving parts.
museum

museum


But we didn't have much time left in the city, and we at least wanted to glance at Holyrood Palace, the Queen's home in Edinburgh. After a super-brief picture stop there, we headed back.
Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace


We needed to do some reorganizing at the hostel. Our tour for tomorrow was cancelled via email today and so we needed to find a new one if we still wanted to see Stonehenge. (We did.) I needed to print my boarding pass and make sure my luggage was organized for the flight. Then, we were off to the airport.
This airport security did not inspire confidence in me. My ID was not checked a single time. We did go through security where they weren't letting people through with bottles of water or big boots, but anybody could have picked up an accidentally dropped boarding pass and hopped through. It wasn't checked at the airplane door either. They just rushed us all through.
We made it to London and the hostel just fine, but it was late. When I set my alarm for the morning, it said that it would ring in 5 something hours :(

Posted by spsadventures 00:54 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Bye bye Barcelona. 'Ello Edinburgh

Barcelona, Spain

I've seen most of Barcelona, so I wanted to get to Girona today. But in order to get back safely for my flight, I needed to be there early, which meant getting up early. I set an alarm, but went back to bed when it rang. It's really hard to get up before the sun while on vacation.
Instead, I found another free tour that goes to a different part of the city that I haven't spent a lot of time in yet.
University Area

University Area


I checked out of the hostel and headed to the University area for breakfast as it's near where the tour starts. Not a lot of places other than bakeries were open, but I stumbled upon a restaurant called Garden of Eden, which looked a bit hippy-dippy, but had some interesting choices on the menu.
It turns out that apple acai juice is delicious. But their eggs Florentine were the best eggs I've had in my life at any restaurant. Ever. The base was some sort of spinach cream, but it was smooth and soupy. The egg was perfectly cooked and plopped into a waffle, which added a sweetness that I didn't expect at all. The crispy bread chips around the edges were perfect for scooping up the cream. And the tomatoes at the bottom added another dimension of texture and sweetness. Wow. If I had discovered these last time I was in Barcelona, I would have put forth the effort to travel to this part of town every day just for the breakfast.
Best Restaurant Eggs Ever

Best Restaurant Eggs Ever


It was only a few blocks from the amazing eggs Florentine to Plaza Catalunya, where the tour was meeting soon enough. I sat for a few minutes on a park bench, just people-watching. (And pigeon-watching. There are so many of them here!)
Today's tour is with a company called CAT. I chose this tour because it was a bit different from the ones I had already done, at least based on their list online. It didn't disappoint. Yes, we visited a few sights I had already seen, but most of them I hadn't seen on any other tour. And anyway, the stories the guide told were different than the ones I heard before.
Roman Pillars

Roman Pillars


This tour focused more on historical Barcelona (Barcino to the Romans) than on more recent history. He covered the Roman times, Ferdinand/Isabella years, the Jewish expulsion, Colombus, and some of the Franco years. I had never seen the old Roman temple pillars before, nor would I have stumbled upon them on my own, and he took us there. I may have walked by the "expanding houses" before, but if so, I didn't understand why.
Expanding Houses

Expanding Houses


(Short version: the contract with the city said the buildings had to be built within a certain line on the ground. The builders made every floor a bit wider than the first so the side of the building looks a little like an inverted pyramid side. The loophole was that the containment line was on the ground, not in the air.)
Also, I hadn't heard that Franco gave the Italians and Germans permission to test their bombs in Barcelona against his detractors,even though I had been to the square that was damaged before on a different tour.
Cathedral

Cathedral


I learned a lot and the guide was good. I'd recommend the tour.
I also learned about what was going on in the news from the guide. I haven't been checking it at all. I'm on vacation. But apparently the courts ruled against the leaders of the Catalonian independence vote this week. Yesterday, the protesters shut down roads and even the airport for a bit. Our hostel is near the airport, and when I was heading back last night, there was a notice of "limited service" on the metro line to the airport, but it didn't specify what that meant, and I had no issue getting to the hostel, which is 2 stops before the airport. I did see extra police presence in the metro area, but not so many that I spent any time thinking about it. I did notice a couple of teenagers wearing Catalan flags as capes, but they were maybe 3 people in a large crowd, so again, I didn't realize anything was happening.
According to the news, people were walking to the airports because the protesters blocked other ways of getting there. Airline staff couldn't reach the airport, so flights were cancelled. Hundreds of flights were cancelled.
The guide knows a big protest is planned for Friday, and recommended that the people who are still around use that day to go see Montserrat or Girona. For today, nobody really knows what will happen, so he suggested getting to the airport early. Our hotel is actually within walking distance of the airport, but I'm not enthusiastic about having to haul my luggage, minimal as it is, the whole way. So, when the tour was over, I grabbed a quick lunch at whatever restaurant was near the metro and then headed back to pick up my luggage at the hostel. As of now, my flight is scheduled and on time. As of now, the metro line is running as normal. As of now, there's nothing on the news about any issues with the airport today. Let's hope all goes well and the flight leaves on time, or at least leaves.
...
So here I am, Miss "Airport Dash," at the airport almost 3 hours early with not much. There have been no issues at all, thankfully. But I'm glad I got here and I'm glad I have my kindle.

Posted by spsadventures 07:46 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Mary of Montserrat

Montserrat, Spain

Today is my first day without my guy and the only full day I'm traveling alone as I meet up at the end of tomorrow with another friend.
I took this opportunity to get my laundry done in the morning. The washers are good enough that the honey spilled on some clothes totally came out. One run of the dryer wasn't enough, but I was antsy to get out, so I left the damp clothes to hang in the room. Either I'll get back to a bunch of dry clothes, or everything will stink horribly and I'll have to redo everything. Saga to be continued...
Breakfast at the hostel wasn't great, but it was decent for a hostel. I had toast with sliced cheese and a banana in hopes that it will at least carry me over to somewhere with something interesting.
I headed out in slightly damp clothes, but at least I was early enough that my 24 hour metro card still worked.
I was glad they dried quickly as it was a bit chilly on some of the trains, although the AC wasn't blasting like it is at home. I took the train to the Montserrat cable car, and just followed the line of tourists off the train. They all already had tickets and scrambled to get in line. I didn't and took my time to take photos, buy my ticket, and grab a snack before getting ready for a bit of a wait. They had clearly been warned where I wasn't. This line moves sloooooowly.
cable car to Montserrat

cable car to Montserrat


Each cable car fits about 30 people, but there are only 2 cars. They alternate- as one goes up, the other comes down. So you have to wait the whole length of the ride + load/unload time before 30 more people can get on, best case.
Once you actually get on, the view is great, weather permitting. The haze reduced some visibility, but I could see the forest stretch on for miles. Of course, you have just as good a view once you arrive at the top. And once I got there, I saw a funicular that must have taken a different route up, but certainly holds many more people. I'd recommend taking that instead.
View from top

View from top


The area at the top was much larger than I was expecting. The church and monastery are only small parts of a large complex of tourist facilities. Since they were what I had come to see, I started by walking over to the church.
Entrance

Entrance


The courtyard wall decorations are intricate. I suspect that they were created using the sand-on-different-colored-sand method that the guide described to us yesterday. Other than the walls, the rest of the courtyard was typical for a Catholic church- white statues of the apostles, Jesus, and other Romanesque decor.
Courtyard Walls

Courtyard Walls


To the left, a small alleyway smelled strongly of hot wax. Upon investigating, it was obvious why. It was the place people bought and lit religious candles. About a dozen large stands contained at least a hundred burning candles each. The stone "grotto" had a few painted tiles near the stands of candles, and a winged statue that looked more like a Hindu goddess than any Catholic statue I've seen before, but was otherwise bare.
Candles

Candles

Statue

Statue


The church was closed for lunch or a prayer service, but that didn't stop people from standing in line to get in. I checked out the museum instead of waiting.
Modernist statue of Mary and Jesus

Modernist statue of Mary and Jesus


The Montserrat Art Museum is 2 floors of the lesser-known works of famous artists, mixed with Spanish artists, mixed with some seemingly random other stuff. Some sections made sense. They had a room with depictions of Mary with baby Jesus at Montserrat that showed how artists depicted her over the centuries. They had a room full of shiny religious icons. Many rooms contained the works of local artists, and we can see styles progress through time until we see the modern art, including funky yarn art. But I'm not sure what the Egyptian mummy or the Torah scrolls were doing there. The audio guide was helpful at understanding the individual pieces, but not necessarily how they all fit together. I also found that in some areas it was very short, while in others it was too long. Overall, the best part of the audio guide was when it told one legend of how Montserrat got founded. And I didn't find that any piece of art in the museum really spoke to me or stood out. The museum wasn't really worth the price. If you somehow had a 50% discount, then it might be worth it though.
Mosaics to look at while we waited

Mosaics to look at while we waited


Now that the church was open again, I went to stand in line. It was much shorter, but still a line, because they were only letting in groups of about 30 at a time. At some point, I realized that this wasn't the line for the general church, but for the black Mary statue. Fortunately, once we got let into the church, waiting in line became interesting. We passed through some elaborately decorated halls and stairways. One had mosaics of about a dozen female saints. Another area had an amazing ceiling.
art during the wait

art during the wait


As we approached Mary, I could see the reason the line moved so slowly. As people got in front of her, they were kissing the glass case or saying a short prayer. Everyone needed their moment.
Having a personal moment with the Mary statue

Having a personal moment with the Mary statue


She didn't look different than any other (blackened with soot) Mary to me, but I hope these people's prayers get answered. Also, we had a great view of the church from the Mary area as she is high above the main altar.
a moment with Mary

a moment with Mary


The way out after Mary takes you back through the candle grotto I saw before, and then you can reenter the church through the main doors. It's a typical Catholic church- every inch is covered in art. The stained glass windows were prettier than usual, but otherwise, nothing stood out compared to other Catholic churches.
stained glass at the church

stained glass at the church


Because this is a huge tourist complex, there are multiple lunch choices. Most of them though, are cafeteria-style and didn't seem to have delicious food. However, the souvenir shops and one small grocery store do have tastier-looking food. I got a bunk of goat cheese, some eggplant pate, and breadsticks and sat down for a picnic outside. As I contemplated how different "goat cheese" can be (just like cheddar and mozzarella are so different even though they're both "cow cheese"), I enjoyed the scenery. The view from up here really is fabulous.
I ate by the statue

I ate by the statue


I wandered around the corner to see what else was up here, and almost slapped myself. I saw farmer's market stands, and I had just finished eating. I growled to myself and went to check them out anyway. I quickly went from upset to happy, as they stands didn't really have anything new or different. They all sold the same products as each other and as all of the souvenir shops- local honey, cheese, and dried fruit logs mostly.
Having seen what there was to see, I took the cable car back down. Unlike the way up, this time, there was no line. I think the secret is to take the funicular up and cable car down, at least if you're coming earlier in the day.
I walked the city a bit, keeping my eyes peeled for dinner. Even though it was almost 6 o'clock, almost no restaurants were open. I wonder how they stay in business if they have to pay rent for 24 hours per day, but are only open for making money 5 of those hours. A lot of them didn't open until 7:30, or later, which seems late for families to want dinner.
I found a Chinese restaurant that had just opened, and I have to say that it really hit the spot. It wasn't particularly spicy or flavorful, but the veg mix as just right and I was full enough.
Hours later, at the hostel, I would decide that my dinner was insufficient. I tried to get some hot water for my cup o noodles, and what an annoyance that was. The front desk told me to get some from the cafeteria lady. She said that she wouldn't give me hot water as the cafeteria is like a restaurant, but that I could buy a bottle of water and then use the microwave to heat the water. I took one of their mugs to the bathroom, filled it with free water, and microwaved it. Then I returned the cup for them to wash. It was a lot of unnecessary effort on my part to make more dishes for them. But if that's the way she preferred it instead of what the front desk suggested, fine.
On a side note, my clothes are almost all dry. The few items that are still a touch damp should be good to wear tomorrow.

Posted by spsadventures 07:43 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Andorra to Barcelona

Andorra la Vela, Andorra

This morning, we got up early to have more time in Barcelona. As a result, breakfast came from a vending machine at the bus station. And unfortunately, this was not a French baguette vending machine. This one had carrot sticks with dip and chips. I miss French food.

The drive to Barcelona was pretty uneventful. We started in the dark and ended in the daylight, although the mountains blocked any semblance of a sunrise. We didn't have to stop at the border this time. And the roads turned from mountainous to just hilly, although we could still see the mountains off to the side.
The bus dropped us at the airport. We caught the metro to our hostel to dump our baggage and then caught it back to the center of the city. Last year, I had the most amazing olives of my life here. We decided to start at Santa Caterina market to see if I could find them again.
We found the market. But the market was closed. So much for that idea.
Nearby, we spotted a little restaurant with amazing looking pizza pastries, so we stopped in for our first real meal of the day. The pizza-looking things were more like soft French bread with toppings than actual pizza. They were delicious. The interesting part was that the restaurant also displayed tile coasters people could buy. They were supposedly made of recycled coffee.
After our snack, we started walking toward La Rambla. But we happened to pass the Picasso museum along the way. This time, the Picasso Museum didn't have a line out the door, down several blocks and around the corner. It was short enough that we decided to wait in it and visit the museum.
Painting I liked at Picasso Museum

Painting I liked at Picasso Museum


The audio guide had great information and descriptions, although periodically it told us to look at its screen for something. The screen was about a square inch and impossible to see while listening, so that was a bit odd. I liked the early Picasso stuff ok, but it didn't really seem to stand out from anything of any other painter. The impressive part was that he painted these at such a young age- in his early teens. When the paintings moved to his blue period, they started getting different from other paintings. His pottery was certainly different than pottery I've seen in other museums, but more in a kids-that-made-something-at-camp way than a good way. By the end though, we could see some of his more famous cubist style. I found it interesting that they had 2 and a half rooms dedicated to his version of Velazquez's Las Meninas. He just kept painting the people in it over and over, both individually and as a group. His multiple versions of the same girl look somewhat similar, and yet are so drastically different from each other. In some, you could kind of guess what he was basing it on, others, not so much. But, I liked the shapes and colors.
Room of Las Meninas

Room of Las Meninas


From the museum, we headed toward La Rambla, as I had only seen it sort of dead in the rain last time. But before we made it there, my guy saw some people at some restaurant's street seating with a pitcher of sangria. We stopped for our own. I made sure that we also ate while we were downing so much sangria. We got paella which was just ok. But, it was much much better than the paella I had last time I was in Barcelona and it was better than the prepackaged stuff my guy had cooked on the boat.
We finally made it to La Rambla. At least the portion of it we walked was empty of artists. Restaurant seating filled the areas around where people walked. It seems almost like the locals got tired of tourists taking over their city, so they spread a rumor that everyone had to go here, just to get the tourists concentrated elsewhere. We didn't see any reason to walk several more blocks, so we turned towards the Cathedral, where we were meeting our tour.
My guy had picked the Donkey Tour Modernism + Gaudi tour. Our guide was Eric, and he was amazing. He funnily explained the history of Barcelona (short version: it was small for almost 2000 years from Roman times to the industrial revolution, then more then doubled in size a few times in a few short years), and spent lots of time telling us about modernism outside of Gaudi. He answered questions well, looked at each of us when he talked, and had a ton of energy. He is working for tips, and I'm sure that's why he touched everyone's shoulders (some study showed waiters increased tips by friendly touching the diners' shoulders), but I thought that was a bit much. Still, he did a fabulous job and was one of the better tour guides I've had, paid or free. The tour was supposed to be 2.5-3 hours, but took about 3.5, which was a bit long without a good break. But he managed and I appreciated the bonus explanations.
Gaudi-designed sidewalk stones

Gaudi-designed sidewalk stones


After learning a bit about modernism and the street decor, our first stop was a bathroom break. According to the guide, these are the prettiest bathrooms in Barcelona. They are in an old train station building that had taken turns as a newspaper, parking lot, and (currently) restaurants.
bulb muse

bulb muse


Next, we spent a lot of time on the "block of discord." Here is the block where the rich people started trying to outdo each other with fancy home facades. His description reminded me of The Big Orange Splot, where each home owner saw the other doing what he wanted and decided in turn to fix up his house how he wanted. Except instead of an alligator under a palm tree, a ship, and the Taj Mahal, we ended up with a house that has classic Greek statues holding electric bulbs and a telephone, a house that looks wallpapered (except the design is actually from a very expensive complicated process), and a dragon house.
Discord Street- Amatller

Discord Street- Amatller


Discord Street- Gaudi's Dragon House

Discord Street- Gaudi's Dragon House


We spent a bit of time discussing La Pedrera (Casa Mila, which I had paid to go into last time I was here), and then we took the metro over to La Sagrada Familia.
La Pedrera

La Pedrera


The guide gave us a detailed explanation of the two main sides of the building as well as some history of the building as a whole. I won't go into tons of detail, but if you read my blog from last year, there is more.
La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia


The group was dwindling as the tour was running long, but he had the same energy as at the beginning. When it was over, I got a dinner recommendation from him, and we headed across town to Bormuth.
Newer Facade of Sagrada Familia

Newer Facade of Sagrada Familia


It was a good recommendation. They had a variety of small dishes that were somewhat bigger than a lot of tapas, but still small (and cheap) enough that you'd want to order at least 2 per person. The one that particularly impressed me consisted of crispy thin slices of eggplant in some sort of light honey drizzle.
We came back to the hostel (Esplai Centre Hostel to get settled in for the night (me) and get packed and ready to go (my guy). It's an interesting place. I'd guess it was originally a college dorm or maybe an athlete dorm for the Olympics. The rooms are rather large and everything is super-thoughtful. The quotes on the walls are in Catalan, Spanish, English, and Braille (3x, so I assume in a 3 languages). Our bathroom and whole room was wheelchair accessible. The AC doesn't work when the balcony door is open and the lights of course require a key card in order to turn on to save electricity. The toilets use a greywater system explained in a wall poster. The laundry machines even automatically provide soap. The dryer cycle is super short (10 mins) and does about as poorly as a normal-length dryer cycle (which is to say that you really need to throw everything in twice).
The only negative was that the shower doors and floor didn't touch and the water came out of the shower, but at least there was a sort of channel so it wasn't completely all over everything. It seems good enough.

Posted by spsadventures 07:40 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Carcassonne

Carcassonne, France

This morning, we were super-efficient due to our preparations last night. Upon waking, I immediately made the leftover almond bread, eggs, and milk into French toast while my guy cleaned his stuff up. We ate it with the leftover fig jam and some vegetables. We released the boat and my guy drove us back while I got showered and dressed.
We had some water issues where the pressure would be ok for a few seconds and then barely a trickle would come out. I had to turn it off and repeat. I'm guessing some air got into the water lines when we were low yesterday. Still, I was able to finish showering and dressing by the time we needed to park at the Homps base.
My guy cleaned the outside of the boat while I finished the dishes, cleaned the bathrooms, and got the inside stuff packed. We could have sprung for an add-on where they take care of the cleaning (other than the dishes, which you still have to do), but we didn't mind the work. And it was kind of neat to "swab the deck" like a pirate.
We were ready at 9, but so was everyone else, and they were in front of us in line. As the office didn't even open until 9, it seemed they didn't much care if people were exactly on time or not. The checkout was easy. They basically just see how many hours you used the engine (10 in our case) and give you some of your fuel deposit back based on what you used. Then, you're on your way.
We got back on the road. We passed a baguette vending machine at a gas station. That goes on the "only in France" list.
The drive wasn't so different from the rest of the driving we had done- lots of vineyards and farmland dotted with the occasional small town.
Carcassonne

Carcassonne


We parked in downtown Carcassonne and walked to the castle. The downtown is actually a decent walk from the castle, as opposed to inside the castle. I found out on the tour that when the French/Aragon (Spanish) border moved south so that Carcassonne was no longer a border fortress, the castle ended up in disrepair and filled with rubble houses and the main city was built up nearby. Even though people kind of lived inside of it, it needed serious restoration before it became a tourist attraction.
The audioguide to the castle spent quite a lot of time talking about the restoration and the research that went into it. But I learned all sorts of other information from it as well. The base of the castle goes back to Roman times, and they just built more parts on top of and around the original, which isn't so different from any other castle I've seen. What is a bit different is how it was built. The Romans started the base of the walls with rubble rocks (not stones cut into blocks). In order to level them, they put in a layer of bricks. So the bottom of the castle has a red stripe running through the stone.
Defense Walls

Defense Walls


When the Romans were done, the French used the castle, although the family that ruled the castle was far from the French king. They added lots of defenses so that the castle actually had double walls, plenty of "murder holes," and towers that one could see all the way to the Pyrenees mountains from.
Carcassonne Castle

Carcassonne Castle


The Trastavere family ruled the area until the Pope got upset by a Christian sect he decided were heretical, the Cathars. He decided to send the French king on a crusade (around the 1200s) to massacre the Cathars and remove the Trastavere family from power, as they were tolerant of the Cathars, even though they were Catholics themselves. The castle was sieged and Trastavere chose to surrender it and himself in exchange for the people being allowed to leave alive, although they weren't allowed to bring anything with them.
After that, the castle was never taken again. In fact, the French king fortified it more, the the point it was so imposing nobody wanted to even try. It stood as a French outpost on the Spanish border until the border moved, at which point the castle declined.
Inside Carcassonne

Inside Carcassonne


I'm guessing it's the closeness and the border fluidity that causes the people in this are to share a lot of the Catalan/Spanish culture. I've seen lots of Catalan flags here, as well as paella restaurants, and up until now, I really just associated paella with Spain.
From Carcassone to Toulouse is only about an hour or so drive, and it's back on the highway. The speed limit on the highway is 130 km/hr when it's sunny and 110 km/hr when it's rainy, according to the signs. But our rental car seriously struggles with 130. If you had a decent car, it's probably less than an hour.
I enjoyed driving in the pleasant weather. The radio here plays a nice mix of English, Spanish, and French hits, which made the drive feel not so long.
On the road

On the road


We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare before the bus left for Andorra, so we sat and read. The bus, which is more like a hotel shuttle than a mini-bus, arrived on time and loaded up. It has wifi, although they limit your data. It does not have a bathroom, despite the long ride.
We did make a stop at the Andorran border where some people used the restrooms, but I'm pretty sure we only stopped because two people on the bus had passports that required it. The rest of us just stayed on the bus while those two people were taken off by an official and processed. In about 10 minutes, we were on our way again.
The scenery had changed from rolling hills and farms to mountains covered in forest with the occasional grazing area. We passed through some small mountain towns of similar size to the towns we have been visiting in the French countryside.
In Andorra, we started passing huge ski lodge areas instead of small towns. It's not ski season, so they didn't seem to be operational, but any one lodge could contain more people than most of the towns we passed, and we never just saw one lodge by itself. They always came in herds.
Andorra la Vela, the capital of Andorra is much bigger than these small towns or even the lodge areas. It has proper traffic and more than just one road running through. Some of the buildings have enough stories to warrant elevators.
Surprisingly, the city is fairly flat. It's surrounded by mountains on all sides, but the main part of town isn't built into the mountainsides. Our hotel was "uphill" from the lower part of town, but that really just meant climbing 2 flights of stairs.
We're staying at a cheap simple hotel, and while it's clean, the room is tiny and the window opens up onto a cement wall. But, compared to the boat, it's huge. More importantly, the water pressure is great and we can take longer showers.
Band getting started

Band getting started


After getting settled, we headed out to find dinner. There are so many choices, even just within a few blocks of our hotel. I heard some music, so we headed towards the sounds to check it out. A band was playing in the street and a small crowd had started to gather around. Some people were dancing and others just sat at the outdoor tables for a nearby bar/restaurant and watched. We decided to eat at that bar/restaurant to continue to enjoy the music. My guy got some tapas and a burger, while I got burrata and patatas bravas. While it was certainly not the best burrata I've ever had, it was impressive for bar food.
By the time we left the restaurant, the crowd was much bigger and was dancing much more. We danced a bit in the back before heading off to explore more of the city.
Andorra building

Andorra building


As we wandered around, I was surprised at how many shops were still open late on a Friday night. Mostly though, tons of restaurants fed hungry patrons. Before the night was over, we had stopped in two more of them to get another burger and some dessert. Compared to French food, the food we've eaten here is not so great. If we hadn't just been in the south of France, I'd probably be more complimentary towards it.

Posted by spsadventures 07:38 Archived in Andorra Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 355) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 .. »