This weekend, I went on a fabulous journey with my school to Barcelona! It should be noted, however, that though I remembered to bring my camera battery charger, I forgot to bring my camera, because that’s my life. Anyways, the plan was to travel there via bus all day Friday (an eight hour bus hour bus ride with two one hour breaks), go out to dinner when we got there. So Friday went according to plan, as did Saturday (we toured Barcelona all day), but Sunday went slightly astray and Monday was even more erratic. Let me fill in with some details…

Friday

When we finally arrived in the amazing Barcelona, we checked into the hotel, then went out to dinner at this great restaurant (which was somehow able to accommodate us as a 20 person table and a 10 person table). I ended up at the smaller table with the coordinator (the wonderful MariCarmen), and I ordered everything she ordered, which was a fantastic idea because I had such a great meal. Afterward, some of us went to this bar that Ramon recommended (unfortunately, our friend, Ramon, stayed behind for this trip, which is weird because he’s from Barcelona…), and it was really interesting! It was called “Bosc de les Fades,” which translates to “Forest of the Fairies”(“The good kind of fairies,” Ramon clarified when he was describing it, which is hilarious because he was trying to say that it is not a gay bar). This place was incredible because it was dark and it was a fake forest complete with trees and a waterfall. After this, we walked out and were handed free vouchers to a techno club, and it was pretty cool. We wanted to catch the metro home, so we left, but got delayed and got there just before the last metro. The problem was, we had to transfer lines, and we missed the other metro, so we got out at a random stop and tried to walk back to the hotel in city that we had just arrived to hours earlier. Funny story about the metro, though. We were such good, honest Americans and as soon as we got into the metro, we went to the computer-ticket booths to buy tickets to enter. I was the last in line to buy my ticket, and I looked over and realized the doors were open! I said, “Look, we can just walk right in!” So I saved like the one euro and entered. But anyways, we walked for like 20 minutes and somehow ended up at the hotel. I have no idea how that happened.

Saturday

The first thing we did was go to Parc Guell, the famous Gaudi park, and it couldn’t be more perfect when we there. It was a little crowded, but I’m sure it always is, otherwise, the weather was perfect and we spent just the right amount of time there. We got to enjoy the views and sit in the longest bench in the world.

After this park, we went to the Picasso Musuem, which was particularily interesting because it was nearly entirely his early works, as in pre-Cubism. I had no idea that he produced that kind of art in the beginning of his career.

After lunch, we went on a (disappointing) walking tour. We spent too much time in Gothic Barcelona and it was really cold by the time we got to Sagrada Familia. We were supposed to go to…somewhere… but it was closed, so we drove around a little bit on the bus and saw some Gaudi buildings.

That night, before dinner, MariCarmen told us we were going to the “fuentes magicales,” or “Magical Fountains,” and we were all like, hmm, this might be lame, but it ended up being AWESOME. The street that led up to the show was lined with lit fountains and then there was one huge fountain at the end and it performed with different color lights and music. No photo can do this place justice, it was incredible. Behind the giant fountain was a huge stairway that led to the art gallery on the top of the hill. I convinced my friend to go up there with me, and it was an incredible night view of Barcelona, not that I could take a photo.

After dinner, I went out with a friend from my school and his friends from home, and it ended up being a lot of fun because one of them is living in Barcelona for the semester, so he brought us to the cool bars.

Sunday

The plan was to go to a small town two hours away to see the Dali Museum, then return to Barcelona in the late afternoon and have free time. I was thinking I would skip the Dali Museum and stay in Barcelona for the day since we only had one full day there and we spent half of it on a boring tour, so I felt like there was more to see in Barcelona and the museum would be a waste of time. But I ended up going to the Dali Museum and it was such a good decision! Though I didn’t “understand” the work, the art was so fascinating and visually stunning, it was well worth half a day there. Afterward, we went to lunch and got back on the bus, then MariCarmen knew most of us were going to go to the beach once we got back to Barcelona, but she said, “Do you want to go to France?” And we were like, “Yes!” because we thought we’d go to a beach in France. None of us had our passports, so Border Patrol was a little scary (for me at least, since I don’t have the best luck with Border Patrol situations), but we got to France and ended up going to this small town. We were going to have coffee, a pastry, use the bathroom, then leave, but that plan failed because there were no bathrooms anywhere! We all spilt off in different directions trying to find any sort of facility that would allow us to use the restroom, but the town had nothing in it except dog poop everywhere, so France kind of failed. But I still appreciated the spontaneity of the trip, even though we never got the chance to go to the beach in Barcelona.

The plan for the last day was to go to the basilica in Montserrat and then make the long journey back to Madrid. But on the bus ride to France, MariCarmen said, “Does anyone want to go to Andorra tomorrow?” And half of us were like, “Oh my God, yes!” then other half was like, “What’s Andorra?” [I need to mention that when I skyped with Leah the other day and told her I went to Andorra, she said, “Isn’t that the place with the blue people?” And I said, “No, that would be Pandora.”]

Monday

We had to get up and leave ridiculously early in the morning to fit everything in for the day. This is where the title comes in: MariCarmen said on the bus, “Chicos, what we’re about to do is…illegal.” And we were like, “What?!” And she explained that there is this weird bus law that a driver can only drive 10 hours maximum in one day or something like that, but we were definitely going to clock more than 12 hours.

First thing in the morning, we went to Montserrat to see “Morenta,” or the “Black Virgin.” It is the only black Virgin Mary in Spain. We we got to the top of the mountain to see it, the fog was so thick, we literally couldn’t see more than 10 feet ahead of us, if that. We were disappointed, obviously, because we were on the top of a mountain and the view would have been beautiful. It was kind of creepy because we were literally the only people there. We went into the church that was completely empty except for the organ player. It was dark and pretty eerie. We saw the Black Virgin, then exited out of the back, which led to this really clean stone alley with walls lined with lit prayer candles. The sun was just starting to break through the clouds and it was really serene. We got back to the main road and the fog had lifted a lot, revealing the mountains around the church and it was gorgeous. It ended up being a really great trip and it was better that it was empty.

We then went to Andorra! The trip there was unbelieveable! We drove past the snow-capped Pyrenees and this huge river, it was beautiful. We went to this small town in Andorra and it was really fabulous. There was a main strip lined with stores and boutiques. Nearly everyone went to McDonalds, and I was like, “I think I’d rather try some of the local food.” A few classmates and I went to this small restaurant and we ended up just eating pizza, but it was still better than Mickey D’s. We did some shopping, then returned to Spain.

Parc Guell

Part of the longest bench in the world

Sagrada Familia

My classmates and I in Bosc de Les Fades

A better shot of Bosc de Les Fades

Fuentes Magicales

View from outside of the church in Montserrat

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This past Thursday through Monday, I went to London! It was an interesting experience. I had a great time with my friends, the sun shined the whole time, and my hostel was pretty cool, but the sights were less than impressive. And traveling was a nightmare, but that has more to do with my bad luck than London. I swear all of the following is true, no matter how unbelievable it may seem, trust me, this kind of stuff only happens to me.

Getting There

From Madrid, I know a few buses run from my apartment to the airport, so I looked up a route that ended in Barajas and took the bus. It turns out Barajas is not only the name of the airport, but also the name of the area right by the airport. I’m going along and the bus stops in this little suburban area, and the driver looks at me and shrugs. I said, “El aeropuerto?” He replied, “No.” He explained that I had reached the end of the route. And I was like, “Well how do I get to the airport?” And he told me the metro was about a 10 minute walk. Luckily I had left my apartment at 5 p.m. even though my flight was at 9 p.m. It was 5:50 p.m. at this point, so I hustled to the metro, took it the one metro stop away to the airport, and rushed through the airport to security. Luckily there was no line, and I ended up at my gate by 6:30 p.m. So I relaxed, ate a sandwich, read my book, listened to music, then at about 8:30 p.m., we started to line up at the gate and I was relatively near the front of the line. I pulled out my boarding pass and waited in line, and then the person behind me informed me that I was at the WRONG GATE. It was like, “What? No…. Umm, Londres, Gatwick?” Everyone shook their heads and said, “Luton.” So I just booked it, in the wrong direction obviously. I ran about 3 gates away, looked at the board, and realized my gate was on the other side of where I was, so I ran past my people.

Luckily, they hadn’t boarded yet. The bad news was, I was the very back of the line and there was no assigned seating. When I finally got on the plane, there were a few seats open, but there was no room in the overhead storage anywhere. I finally saw one with a little bit of space (people put their coats and laptop bags up there, annoying!), so I was trying to arrange some room for my backpack, but needless to say I ws a little stressed at that point and just a little too short to see what I was doing. Just then, a tall, good-looking man with an English accent helped organize the overhead storage at put my bag away for me. 🙂

So I finally settled down into my seat, thinking I was holding up the plane and we could leave now that I was taken care of. But no, we ended up sitting there for an hour because there was “too much luggage on board.”

My flight was supposed to have gotten in at 10:20 p.m., but we didn’t get there to 11:15 p.m. I knew the metro closed at midnight and I only knew how to get to my hostel from the metro, so I rushed from the plane to security.

Welcome to London: Border Patrol

I got to border patrol and was glad I am not an EU citizen because their line was very long. I only waited about 10 minutes, then took my little Entry Card to the Border Patrol Lady (we’ll call her BPL). On the card, it’s all standard information and then you have to put where you’re staying and for how long. I put the address of my hostel and 4 days, but I didn’t know the zip code of my hostel and I was getting nervous that I would have to go to the end of the line, which was getting longer because the other passengers on my plane were just catching up. I was going to ask the girl in front of me the zip code she wrote and just copy it, but I decided it would be best not to lie on this card. I got to the front of the line and there was a Border Patrol Man and BPL. The girl in front of me, went through BPL in about 10 seconds, and kept going, so she called me up next.

I was excited to be there and I said, “Hi!” as I approached. This woman replied by saying, “Where are you staying?” I said, “St Christopher’s Village Inn.”

She said, “What is that, a hostel?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know anyone here in London?”

I replied, “Yes, my friends…”

She interrupted, “Why aren’t you staying with them?”

“I don’t know, they didn’t invite me…”

“How are you going to get to your hostel?”

I said, “I was going to take the metro..”

“Do you know how to get to the metro?”

“Yes, I have to take the Gatwick train..”

“The Gatwick EXPRESS,” BPL said angrily. “The metro CLOSES at midnight!”

“Oh, ok,” I replied, taken aback.

“Well, do you have any money?” Again, with attitude.

“Yes..” My plan was to hit up the ATM in the station. I had Euros and dollars on me just in case, but I didn’t have pounds yet. However, I thought I might have gotten deported if I answered, “No,” to that question.

The interrogation continued, “Where are you coming from?”

“Madrid.”

“Well what are you doing there?”

“Studying.”

“Why are you here?”

“Tourism?” I say with an inflection, not knowing if it’s an acceptable answer.

“How long are you here for?” All of this information is on my card, BPL, and you know it.

“Four days.”

“And then you go back to Madrid?”

“Yes.”

“Ok, the train’s right up the stairs,” she handed me back my passport.

“Thank you!” I say, relieved and exhausted, but in retrospect, I have no idea why I thanked her for interrogating me as if I looked identically like Osama bin Laden.

I ran up the stairs, boarded the 11:30 p.m. Gatwick Express, and got to the city by 12, making it too late to ride the metro. There were about 5 bus stops within sight outside of the station, so I looked at all the routes, and none of them went to where I was going. So I stopped a cab and asked him how much it would cost to get to London Bridge Metro stop, thinking it would be 30 pounds or more. He said, “Only about 15 or 20 pounds,” so I excitedly entered the cab. He asks me if I’m going to a hostel, and I told him yes and I told him the name of it, to which he confessed he didn’t know where it was, but he knows where the street is. We arrived to the area of the hostel and the street’s under construction! So he had to drop me off four blocks from my destination. I’m telling you, this stuff only happens to me.

Day One

The night before, I told my friend Allie that I had arrived safely at my hostel and I would call her and be ready to go by 9:30. The next morning, I got up to my alarm at 8:30 a.m., went downstairs and had my free breakfast, and then got ready and was ready to go by 9:30 a.m. I called Allie, and I was feeling very proud to actually be on time, but I had obviously woken her up. I was like, “I’m ready to go, where should I meet you?” She was like, “Come here I guess… Lola, you know it’s 8:30 a.m., right?” Stupid time change. I got up on Contenental Europe time, not London time.  Awesome.

On first day, we went to go to the British Museum, and ended up at the British Library instead, so we went in their first. There was a few really amazing primary documents, and I saw on my map, “Shakespeare’s Folios.” So we walked around the area on the map over and over and did not see them, so we asked a staff member where the original folios were. “They’re temporarily not on display.” !!!! Of course not.

Rest of the Time in London

The next few days were alright. I had a great time with my friends, they showed me all the good happy hours. But the “underground/tube” closes at midnight, even on Friday and Saturday!! So on Friday night, I wandered around Trafalgar Square trying to figure out my night bus (but the night bus ended up being awesome because I got to be on a double decker!!), and Saturday night, I we didn’t even stay out too late because most bars close by midnight or two at the latest! It was at that point were I really missed Madrid. Madrid is such a great place for people my age.

The Journey Home

On Monday morning, my flight was leaving at 7:25 a.m., so I was really nervous about making it there in time after my disasterous first experience with Gatwick. I took a cab at 4:30 a.m. to the Victoria Station to catch the first Gatwick Express. I then proceeded to practically run through the airport to get to an empty security area. I was literally the first person to pass through security that morning, then I ran to my gate and got there at about 5:50a.m., so I finally relaxed a little bit, but I didn’t get too comfortable because I rememebered that I waited at the wrong gate for two hours in Madrid, so I was very alert and spazzy. I went to a Pret-A-Manger, which is this cafe sort of place that is comically EVERYWHERE in London. There are literally two to a block on every block in London, but I had not gone to one until that morning when I was leaving.

Everything went fine, except that as soon as I got on the plane, I passed out and woke up an hour later and we had still not taken off yet. I wasn’t worried, though, because I didn’t have anything that day except clas at 4 p.m., and I knew I would definitely make it there in time.

When I arrived in Madrid, I took the metro back to my apartment even though I KNOW there are buses that go directly from the airport to my stop. I leave for Paris on Friday, so I am going to try the bus system again and hopefully not end up in a random neighborhood this time. But I’m sure that’ll be an adventure I will just blog about later.

crossing the street: for tourists

tourist shot!

View of Not-So-Big-Ben from Trafalgar Square