Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Oh Canada

Shortly after I had torn my ACL my uncle Henry invited me (most likely a pity invite for my increasingly pathetic condition...whatever, I'll take it) to Canada to watch the FIFA Women's World Cup. Never one to pass up a good adventure I immediately agreed. A quick trip in and out of Winnipeg to see the U.S. vs Australia and Sweden vs Nigeria games! 

The trip was planned months in advance but it really snuck up on me...especially because I had just begun to settle in after Italy (yeah, I know boo boo). The weather reported varying conditions but thankfully we were just in town for a game...what could have been a potentially unpleasant packing experience was quite simple: chucks, jeans and plenty of America gear. I was in charge of "team shirts," of course I remembered the week we were leaving...what's a girl to do when you need cute America uniforms with a limited amount of time? Hop on Etsy, duh...in case you were wondering American flag tank tops pulls up some great finds. Shout out to GoodieTees, for the stylish swag and quick shipping!  

We arrive in Winnipeg Sunday evening, when we asked the rental car guy about directions to the hotel he laughs, points and says it's about 30 seconds away. Odd response dude, then we found the hotel...it was probably about 30 seconds away. After we checked into the hotel we decided to explore Winnipeg. We headed down to the lobby and I asked the front desk attendant for restaurant recommendations...she gives me a perplexed look, sassily mumbles if anything is open (it's about 8 pm...) and begins her arduous Google search. She gives us a vegan burger place and a "fancy" burger place...she must know we're from America? When I ask for directions she informs me that "it is downtown"...she loves her job (PS Canada stop giving ambiguous directions). We set off to explore downtown Winnipeg, that didn't last long. It could have been that it was late on a Sunday evening (Winnipeg shuts down earlier than Malibu) or maybe that we accidentally stumbled into the Canadian skid row but it was a ghost town. Now we know what the customs official meant when he said, "hopefully this will encourage them to clean up their act." We quickly gave up "discovering" Winnipeg and decided to grab some grub. We made a hard pass on the vegan food and went for the fancy burger. If you find yourself in Winnipeg, I advise you to find yourself at Nuburger. It was phenomenal. 

Putting a team like the U.S. in Winnipeg was a pretty smart move for Canada, obviously going to bring in a lot of tourism aka $$$...I see what you're doing Canada. Props. Thankfully the games were in the afternoon so we could sleep in...you know because we had such a hard travel day yesterday? We wake up to a fresh box of Tim Hortons' donuts, there are more of these than Starbucks so they had to be good right? Wrong. Canada the donut is delicious as is...what are you doing? Whatever. We gear up and head to the stadium. It's massive. We arrive at the stadium at 1 (when the doors open) so we can get parking and check out the store...did you really go to the event if you didn't get merch? We beeline for the store...all Canadian apparel...wrong store. From across the arena we see a line beginning to form, we quickly ditch the Canada store and head to the official Fifa store. The line wasn't too long, this should go by fast? Wrong. It was over an hour! We finally get into the store and it's mayhem in a confined space. We grab what we like as we go and make decisions later...we gotta get out of there fast. We make our purchases and make our way back out into the sunlight. 

It's basically all Americans. One of the best parts of attending an event like the World Cup or the Olympics, is the unity and nationalism you see in the fans...and you better believe Americans put out. We look like a frat party on the Fourth of July. It's as awesome and obnoxious as you are envisioning...if you don't know why the world hates us you do now. 

The. Nigerian. Fans. Were. Epic. There were patches of them throughout the crowd and you wanted to be wherever they were. They were singing, dancing, waving flags and even had their own instruments. After the first couple of minutes America decided Nigeria was our team. Sorry Sweden. One player in particular, good Lord was she fast! Sweden scored first, you heard a couple cheers and polite applause. But when Nigeria scored the crowd went wild. It was like this the whole game. Nigeria ended up tying the game in the last minutes and America lost it. For some perspective, Sweden is ranked 5th and Nigeria is ranked 33rd. Upset. Everybody loves the underdog. 

There was a little break between games and you better believe Henry and I took a nap. Alarm clock: a roaring crowd. Game time. There's really nothing like being in a packed stadium watching your country play...the atmosphere is electric. It was a sea of red white and blue! With a combination of the U.S. defense the first half and the fact that it was our team playing this game was a little more stressful than the first. But that's what makes a good game? You could definitely tell these teams, technically speaking, were better. There was more/better passing and we're the U.S...come on, the caliber. The first half was a little touch and go but we came out on top in the second. Great game. Gotta love a double header. 

And now it's Tuesday, time to mosey on home. Winnipeg it's be real, thanks for the memories. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


So Shelb and I somehow managed to swing Oktoberfest for my birthday...I mean if I'm going to turn 25 I might as well make it good. But being the planners that we are we decided to go a couple of weeks before, apparently people plan months to a full year in advance. The hotel was easy (thank goodness for Hilton Honors...if it weren't for their forced hospitality we would not be able to be as sporadic), the flights were a little difficult but the tricky part was getting tent tickets. Basically all reservations were booked forever ago so we decided to wing it. 

We met up with our friend Matt late Friday night, he had flown in early and decided to scope out Oktoberfest. He informed us that everyone was dressed up in lederhosen and dirndls  (lucky for us we were forewarned of the dress code and bought costumes in London...unlucky for us in comparison to the traditional garb everyone else was donning it was pretty evident that we in fact had purchased our outfits at a costume store) and he had just waltzed into the Hofbräuhaus House...one of the most difficult tents to get into. Side note...if you are looking for a real traditional German tent this tent is not for you...if you are looking for a good time with lots of  internationals head on over. 

Now we had heard many stories of how we should "do" Oktoberfest...but I'm pretty sure ours was the best. First, eat a good breakfast...its Oktoberfest you should have one goal in mind (aside from not losing your friends or belongs) "don't be that guy/girl" no one likes the sloppy person passed out in front of a tent. Carb up this is a marathon not a race. Second, hit that ATM, it's cash only so fund accordingly.  Third, hop on the underground and follow the sea of lederhosen to the proper exit. Fourth, there is no such thing as a line. We arrived at HB around 10 am and were ushered towards the beer garden to wait in line with the rest of the reservationless...so we did what any impatient American would do..."how much will it cost to get us in?" (another friends waited in line for 2 hours...in the cold)  And fifth, find a table of interesting people. There are morning and afternoon reservations, a table fits about 10, and unless you want to stand and support your liter of beer on your own you need to leech onto a table. Thankfully my travel partners were Matt (one of the most gregarious and outgoing people you will ever meet) and my sister (who could basically make friends with a rock and every guys type)...we made a lot of friends.  On another note...Oktoberfest is probably one of the biggest confidence boosters...not only is it primarily (foreign) men (who LOVE California) but everyone is wearing beer goggles...

You know the feeling you get when you're watching a live game...the sights, the smells the energy...that's what Oktoberfest is like...the morning is the warm up and once the band gets going...game on. Loud polka begins to flood the hall...normally no one is ever excited for polka...but at Oktoberfest...it is awesome. And when they tire of polka and start playing the good old American classics...it gets wily. Tragically the "dance floor" does not form until night...so we make due with what we have table tops (yet another reason to mob the tables). The best part about sitting at the tables (aside from the prime dance floor) is the constant barrage of food and drinks from the waitresses...once your stein looks like it might be losing steam there she is forcing another one upon you. And Matt being Matt made friends with all of the waitress (didn't matter that they didn't speak the same language) we were always well taken care of. The first day we were in HB for 12 hours...casual. Every time we thought about trying out another tent we would look outside at the swarms of people trying to break in and knew we were in the right spot. 

Oktoberfest is like the adult version of Disneyland (and HB is like the Matterhorn) you definitely need a two-day pass...anything else is overly ambitious anything less there is no point in traveling alllll the way to Munich. HB was too good to us so we decided to kick off our Sunday back there then tent hop. We expected the hectic atmosphere from Saturday and we got it sans the queue. It was great all the study abroad kids and Americans had already gone home which left us with a hall filled with Aussies, Brazilians, Italians, Swiss, Danish...you get the point. Time gets lost when you are  in a tent...the beer, the food, the new friends...a day of hopping turned into another day well spent at HB (only 10 hours today). The day was just as exceptional and I even got to brush up on my cotillion moves...swing dancing the night away with some delightful Danish men. All in all, I would go back in a heartbeat. It was the perfect mixture of mayhem and culture and I couldn't ask for a better way or with better people to celebrate my birthday. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

How to Medal Without Competing

We had been planning on sneaking into the Olympic Village but it appeared that the Olympic Village had come to us. After a long day of traveling we decided to call it a night...or so we thought. We had all unpacked, connected to the wifi, enjoyed our welcome treat and settled into bed. When I was catching up on my twitter news of the day I saw that Ryan Lochte, wanting to properly celebrate the end of his swim season tweeted that he was at Club Rose. Well  you wouldn't believe it, but the club was 1.5 miles away from our hotel and it took us about 20 minutes to get ready and get to the club. Long story short...we cut the lines, confused the paparazzi, found Ryan, had a couple drinks with Ryan and danced the night away. It was the ultimate first day. 

The next day after a little room service we decorated ourselves in our most patriotic gear and marched our way through Trafalgar Square to Horse Gardens Parade for the gold and bronze men's beach volleyball game. Although America didn't make either game it was exhilarating watching the matches...Germany v. Brazil can you find a more rambunctious crowd? And of course another highlight of the day...we saw Pippa Middleton! 
After the games and the medal ceremonies we headed back to the hotel. What could we do tonight? After a quick Google stalk it appeared as if China White was the place to go. After a late dinner we headed out to China White...it's Europe everyone goes out late we'll be fine. False the line was huge...well there were 2 lines and one was huge. We obviously tried for the fast moving line. We obviously didn't see that you needed credentials for the line...if you had a medal you went straight in or if you showed your Olympic credentials it took maybe five minutes. The doorman turns to us," oh are you athletes?" Huh...sure? After a little waiting and a couple new friends later we were in...and we were definitely part of a minority. And I don't mean because we're American...we were literally apart of the handful of people that weren't Olympic athletes. We all assumed athlete aliases and joined the party (I did shot put). We danced all night with our new athletic friends and after a few too many worried calls from our mothers we made our way home...around 4 am. Yes this seems late...but it's Europe, we were obviously jet lagged,  you can't leave an Olympian hanging it would be unpatriotic/rude and our late night tirades would later prove very beneficial later.

The next day was pretty mellow, no games for us. We relaxed, toured London, hung out in the Hilton Honors Club with  the USA women's gymnastic team (I met Gabby Douglas in the elevator I was way too embarrassing/shy for meeting a 16 year old...whatever), and my mom and Trisha were randomly given tickets to attended the USA men's indoor volleyball match. That night we decided to go back to China White...same story, we were yet again part of the minority. Now we had gotten into the bad habit of strolling home in the wee hours of the night and our mothers weren't too happy about it (to say the least). However, lucky for them, just as we were coming home last minute tickets for the games were also being released...and who got tickets to the men's championship basketball game (rows from the court) hours before the match. USA v Spain...epic doesn't even begin to describe this event. The  USA men's basketball team is really the only team(/sport) that has a global following and this game was packed (not to mention one of the first games to sell out). 

After the USA collected another gold the crowd and the team went wild...and who do I see mobbing the celebration crowd (same row...seats away from me) none other than Vin Diesel and Tyrese Gibson (they were filming Fast 6...if you haven't seen it I don't know you. A good friend of mine described it as either "the greatest movie in human history or the greatest event in human history...and I happen to whole heatedly agree). So we joined them and after a few pictures, Tyrese accidentally mistaking my mom for his wife and a medal celebration later we were on our way to the Closing Ceremonies. 

Opening ceremonies were weird. Closing was one of the coolest events I have ever attended (in general our "Olympic Journey" was out of this world and this finale definitely topped what seemed like an unstoppable trip). Literally every major British musician performed (past and present), the light shows were unreal, the processions were unforgettable and the company was extraordinary...750 million people from around the world tuned into it. I probably should have brought my inhaler I lost my breath so many times...that was lame but seriously when you see One Direction, Ed Sheeran, Russel Brand, Jessie J, Tinie Tempah, Taio Cruz, Muse, Queen, the Spice Girls, The Beatles and The Who on one stage...words can't properly capture the moment. 

On our way home we were packed like sardines on the tube...what first appeared to be a painstaking journey turned into quite the networking tool. We happened to sit next to the son of the US team's diving coach and he told us all about his cool experiences in the UK...our long haul into the city turned into a piece of cake with our new friend. After exiting the tube and making our way to the streets we were pretty exhausted. We trudged back into our hotel to find that team USA was having a closing party at our hotel in the Dream Suite. Lets see how far our good luck (and all the Olympic souvenirs from the Closing Ceremonies)could get us? 

Guess who walked past security and into the party...a perfect last night.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Ito's Guide to Doing the Olympics

Part 1: The Setup 

Sometimes the best adventures are the ones that fall into your lap, and that is how we found ourselves in London during the 2012 Olympics. As a precaution, it is not advised to follow any of these guidelines if you are a neurotic perfectionist that creates daily todo lists...it's basically asking for a breakdown. And for you sporadic wanderlusters out there, you're welcome- here is my guide, you can live vicariously through me. 

Step 1: Planning the trip
About a year ago, as my family sat around the breakfast table an article from the Wall Street Journal really caught my eye. As I scanned the article I decided to share with the rest of the family. "I guess there are still tickets available for Olympic Games." As the words slipped out of my mouth ears began to perk up. My mom and sister immediately grabbed their iPads...my mom began checking hotels and my sister started looking at flights. My poor dad just chuckled and kept reading the paper. Flights were reasonable (we were day 2 into the Olympics) and since my mom is a Hilton Diamond Member we are guaranteed a room...anywhere. Mom, "Looks like we're going to England?" Dad (chuckles, never makes eye contact and more importantly never denies or accepts our outlandish request). So we booked it. 

Step 2: Mates 
When preparing for a trip it is extremely important to be very selective with choosing travel buddies.  Well, we had a week, who would travel around the world with us, on a whim? "I think I have someone," Shelb murmurs as she grabs her phone and texts her friend Amy. After a little coaxing and schedule adjustments Amy and her mom Tricia decided to "just go with it." (In retrospect this could be a very dangerous mantra, but fortunately for us, it resulted in great opportunities  and  grand adventures). Now we had a group of five fearless females but we decided to extended an invitation to one more individual...Alisha. Alisha never really traveling outside of the US was a surprise addition; we booked our reservations a week in advance...when Alisha finally got the green light for travel she booked hers days in advance...we assured all of our travel companions, from past experience it's all you really need. The uncertainty and randomness is one of the most alluring qualities of last minute booking. 

Step 3: Tickets
As the Wall Street Journal assured us, there were plenty of open seats...just not for Americans. Yeah that's right, we have completely booked our Euro adventures with one goal in mind, cheering on America in the most patriotic way we can think of. But, and this is a good one...each country is allotted a certain number of tickets and guess who bought all their tickets, you guessed America is totally sold out. Well,  we could panic or we could just go with it.  So I'm going through my insta and I see one of my friends posted a pic at the games...so I shoot her a message asking how she scored the tickets. She informed me she was studying out there for the summer and she had used her dorm address...well after that we had no problem getting tickets. Now, because we decided to go week 2 (championship week) our newest issue is figuring out which games we we're going to place in. We decided on the men's beach volleyball championship (the Americans did not make it), the men's basketball championship (obviously the Americans were going it...obviously it was incredibly sold out...so we didn't get tickets) and the closing ceremonies (America dominated). We purchased the volleyball and closing and decided to try our luck with the men's basketball closer to the game (spoiler alert we got tickets). 

Step 4: Lodging 
After reviewing all the different Hilton locations available we decided on the Waldorf Astoria...and being that my mom is a Hilton Diamond Member the oversold hotel was obligated to lodge us. Generally when we book a room we receive an upgrade and with the size of our crew we were banking on it. However, when we arrived at the hotel what we ordered is what we got...a double bed. Confused we caravanned into the hotel in groups...we had only reported 3 people in the room...we now had 6 people for 1 double bed, and that is how we managed to turn the Waldorf Astoria into the Waldorf Hostel. Whatever, we can make it work. After we had settled into our room we made our way to the Hilton Honors Club, and who do we find lounging in the club? None other than the American women's gymnastics team and a couple members of our men's swim team...well now we know why we couldn't get an upgrade. Aside from the Olympic village the American and Chinese Olympic teams had set up camp at the Waldorf Astoria...lets just say not being affiliated with an Olympic team made us a minority...and so begins day 1 of our week trip to London. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Day Trippin

Well as the saying goes, "you win some, you lose some?" Such was today's feeling as we made our way to Toledo. The tone of the day was set with the dreary Madrid weather, ominous clouds filled the sky, scattering showers throughout the city. The foreboding weather, a late start and a language barrier dictated our travel choice. All morning we had been torn between Toledo, a medieval town 30 minutes from Madrid, or Valencia, a modern and artsy beachy town. It wasn't as if one was better than the other, both came highly recommended...its just that we had just been leaning towards Valencia.

Our first warning sign of the day, our first gypsy sighting at the train station. This clever gypsy, unlike Italian or French gypsies, she well was camouflaged into the crowd...or at least to us. She appeared out of thin air, as most gypsies do, dressed in a trendy fur vest and trendy Euro hat. Cub was her first victim, we had left her behind at a table as Sue and I stood in line ordering our cappuccinos. The sneaky gypsy crept up to the table, Cub seeing her true intentions quickly scrambled for our scattered belongings, denying the gypsy's request for, "moneda." After slinking through the tables she came upon the line of weary caffeine seeks. One after the other people turned the gypsy away...and she made her way toward the "naive Americans." As I stood innocently collecting my beverage the gypsy slowly crept from behind (I was an easy target to spot in my Patagonia...clearly from California). Just as she was about to pounce, Sue comes out of nowhere with a firm, "no...(and other inaudible Spanglish)!" The gypsy was thrown, she immediately retreated to prey on other weary travelers.

Anyways...after the incident we hopped on our bullet train. These impressive locomotives make traveling too easy, from day trips between London and Paris to traversing the entire country of Japan, trains are a fabulous way to see a countryside without actually having to see the countryside. Traveling at 120 kph we are in Toledo in 30 minutes...sweet. However, with such an abrupt thrust into our Toledo day trip we hadn't planned an itinerary (I like a prepared itinerary so I'm not wandering in circles all day). As we exit the train, advertisements for different tours litter the lobby. Which one do we pick? The one that offers the red double decker bus, tickets to the main sights and a guided tour. It seems as if a majority of our train compañeros were making their way to the bus, so it seems only appropriate we do too. We hopped onto the bus and scored some rooftop seats (don't worry it was only lightly misting and really windy but at least we had raincoats...conditions were basically perfect).

The beautiful city is nestled into the Spanish countryside, in the hill country and secured in a medieval fortress. It was the capital of Spain under the Romans and in the 8th century the Moors settled in leaving behind an eclectic legacy and culture. The tour bus circled the exterior of the city allowing for an impressive view of the stronghold while occasionally pausing along the road to allow for Kodak moments and brief history blurbs. We crossed the Rio Tajo and entered the city through a bridge on the south side of the city; it is a surreal moment as you enter the town. Almost as though you are entering a time warp, you half expect to see a horse drawn carriage and knights prancing around...then you see McDonald's. Ok Spain. We are let out at a plaza to look around...then the bus leaves. Yeah...it left...and not just us, everyone. We were handed a map and sent on our way. So basically we paid for an overpriced city bus..."well at least it's not raining." Cue the rain...(I wish I made that up). W quickly scamper into the nearest (cutest) boutique. I guess we'll hang in here for a bit.

The rain seemed to disappear as quickly as it arrived. We take to the streets in search of a lunch stop. All our friends and the travel books warned us that the winding streets and steep hills were exasperating...and to expect to get lost. And so was the rest of the day. Traveling seemingly deserted alleyways and discovering hidden shops and restaurants until we found one we liked. After a long lunch we resurfaced into the city to see the other attractions. We stumbled into the Catedral to find the back entrance coved in gypsies. We decided to seek out anther entrance. As we hand the man our tickets he informs us that they are not real. Dejectedly we venture into the office to procure legitimate tickets only to discover that it was 6 and the Catedral closes at 6:30 so we can't buy the tour headset...awesome. We then enter one of the most beautiful Catedrals I have ever seen (the Spanish Catholics really know how to design a church). The interior design of the church reflects that of a traditional gothic style, however because of the Moor presence in the region it allows for a wonderful collision of cultures and influences that make it completely unique unto itself.

After we exit the Catedral we have come to a conclusion we are pretty over Toledo. Hopefully, one day, we can dedicate the time and patience to this medieval wonder, but for now we need to get outta here. We jump on a train for Madrid...40 minutes later find ourselves in the hotel lobby. Trying to salvage what is left of the day we head to the concierge to discuss possible ideas for the night.

We determine that our best course of action is: attend a Flamenco show. We scuttle across town and are dropped off in another deserted alleyway, where we find a hidden door with a sign that directs us to our destination. The host guides us through the tiny restaurant towards our table. We missed dinner but we didn't mind. Soon the lights dimmed and the performers took the stage. For the next two hours we are dazzled by the singers, the Spanish guitarists and the dancers. Flamenco is a beautiful dance to which the dancers last create their own music and rhythm with their fancy footwork. Everyone is captivated by the mesmerizing display before us (the particular show is featured in the book "1,000 Things to do Before You Die"). After a long day, it is almost as if our day has been redeemed...gracias Madrid.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Basqueing In The Sun

After two years Cub (my sister/faithful travel companion) and I have finally made our way back into Basque Country. And let me tell you, Basque life is the good life. Our past travels found us in this magical land for our friend Lakey's surf contest. What we thought was a casual weekend excursion to the South of France was so much more. This little stretch of land is nestled in between Southern France and Northern Spain, and has a unique culture that doesn't quite reflect that of the French or Spanish. And that is exactly how they prefer it (the Basque citizens are the original Euro settlers and their language predates that of the Romantic languages). Picturesque coastal cityscapes atop lofty cliff sides. Each tiny town is a patchwork of cobblestone alleyways, elegant boutiques, quaint cafés, and beautiful people.

San Sebastián is a major tourist destination, for Europeans. Unlike most other European countries, English is a necessity for tourism...but Spain and France only care for their own language...thus far Cub and I have been able to brush up on our Spanish skills (my mom has developed her own type of Spanglish which only she can comprehend). But in the land of the Basque they have a unique vernacular that we can't seem to grasp. Damn, we'll have to find another way to fit in with the locals...Cub and I have come up with two solutions to our problem: steal a dog or find a strapping young man with a moped. We settled for renting bikes.

The tiny city boasts a rolling promenade that connects the three beaches, to Old Town, and to the City Center. The city is a marvel, San Sebastián, or as the locals know it Donostia, has a trendy, beachy vibe which is quite the juxtaposition to the elegant Victorian architecture. I love tiny cities where I am able to find my bearings after a day yet it still contains enough hidden treasures to keep me captivated. Although the weather was a little temperate (the climate is effected by the Pyrenees Mountains) it was still a perfect holiday . We had three days in the city, and didn't have a moment to lose. We threw our bags in our room and headed down to Old Town for a little afternoon shopping and aperitivos. To our dismay EVERYTHING was closed expect for one street filled with the little taperías. One of the many reasons I am obsessed with España is because of the importance they place on their siestas (it's genius really). Now, Barcelona kind of does siestas...but San Sebastián really does siestas. During these hours the town closes its doors heads to the bars and enjoys the weekend.

"No pasa nada," is the Spanish way of life and it is what makes this culture so rich and carefree. And because we're all about being local we decide to partake. Tapas bars in Basque languages are a bit intimidating so we head into a creperie. You can't go wrong with a place that serves desserts and cappuccinos (basic necessities of course). After a hearty lunch we head back to the hotel for our own siesta. But being such a beautiful day, Shelb and I couldn't possibly stay in for long. We throw on some warmer clothes grab our bikes and explore the city...again. But this time everything was open. It was as if a new life had been breathed into the city. We rolled up and down the coast stopping every five feet to capture a little piece of the view to take home with us.

Upon our return we quickly threw on some fancy threads, for we had dinner in 30 minutes at Botafumeiro, a quaint, little, Michelin star, restaurant located in the oldest farm house in the area. A little eery being the only guests in the restaurant but we foolishly made reservations at 9, the place began to liven up around 10! If you ever find yourself in San Sebastián (which if you have Euro plans in your future get to España it's...the best) you can't miss this rustic experience. If you're into old school elegance and waiters catering to your every move then Botafumeiro is definitely your style. You have a handful of waiters that have been assigned to shadow your every move, anticipating your every desire and need. And that's just the service, the food is an unearthly concoction of old world Basque delicacies that melt in your mouth. If a restaurant can prepare a fois gras tasty enough for me to consider seconds I think they can satisfy any insatiable palate.

The next two days were filled with long bike rides, beach naps, tea parties and boutique shopping. Farewell Basque Country, hasta luego. Besos.

Friday, March 22, 2013

No Pasa Nada

As my time in Barcelona comes to a close as cliche as it sounds...I am overcome with grief. The longer I stay in Barca the more in love I fall. Alas, as all good things must come to an end, we are off to San Sebastian in the morning. But now...a look back on our time in this wonderful city.

I believe that when possible, bike tours are the perfect way to see a city. What better way to acquaint oneself with a new place than taking to the streets! I had previously used Fat Tire tours a couple summers ago in Paris and remembered that they had a Barcelona tour. The idea didn't take much coaxing because it was a beautiful day and who wants to go to the gym when you have a better alternative. I can't speak more highly of the company...you travel around the city pausing at major landmarks for a brief history blurb but you don't feel bombarded by boring, irrelevant facts. The guides are young travelers (in Paris we had a UCSB water polo bro from norcal...in Barca we had an Aussi gypsy on a long holiday) that fell in love with the city and want to share it with fellow bikers? We met our group a la Plaza Sant Jaume, then we walked over to the shop grabbed some beach cruisers and made our way along the windy cobblestone roads to Plaza del Rei. After our lesson in the the the gorgeous plaza my mother decided it was the most opportune moment to take a couple tourist snapshots. But for the technologically inadvanced...one quick shot turned into accidental selfies which resulted in that "awkward moment" when you lose your tour group in a crowded city to which you can barely navigate yourself.

The company is pretty lax and there really is only one rule (besides "have fun") if you get lost stay in the same place and the guide will come back to find you. Well we sort of stayed in the same place...but Sue needed to check out the little zapatarias and Shelb was parched. So...as I see the our guide on the other side of the busy plaza I attempt to gather the attention of my travel companions while swimming through a sea of tourists and lose the guide...again. Well 30 minutes later we're still at the plaza and decide maybe we should try to make our way back to the shop...we find a note on the door, "lost people I will find you." How reassuring. After a couple minutes of waiting, another guide finds us and takes us to find our group. Well we have missed La Catedral but we meet them a la Arc de Triomf, yep Spain has one too...and I know this is a bold statement but it is more beautiful than the one in Paris (just keepin it real...). We then make our way to La Parc de la Ciutadella to see Gaudi's Fountain...which is nothing like his other works in the city but that is because he was the apprentice but in Barcelona Gaudi is God and it's his. We then make our way to the Barcelona Plaza del Toros (the infamous bullfighting ring). Now I don't know about you but there are a couple of things I think of when I make my to do list for Spain and bullfighting was pretty up there...but when you hear about the gruesome nature of the sport (grant it there was a definite bias by the storyteller...) but it is safe to say that it is no longer on my list. After a horrifying revelation of present day bullfighting we made our way to La Sagrada Familia which truly is a masterpiece, and even though we had toured it the day before it was definitely worth a second go around. We then head to the beach where we gazed over Port Olimpic and enjoyed a late lunch on the beach. What is most interesting about Barcelona is that it didn't become a major tourist destination until the 90's when they hosted the Olympics...which is crazy because this city has SO much to offer (if you can't tell already I am completely infatuated). After lunch and losing the group "only" two more times we made it back to the bike shop feeling wonderfully content. It was the perfect way to see the city, once again completely impressed with Fat Tire Tours. We were able to explore a beautiful city, made new friends from around the world and had a great history lesson filled with interesting facts that you don't normally receive on a tour. Bravo Fat Tire.

Well the only appropriate thing to do after a 4 hour, 7 mile tour is shopping and an afternoon cappuccino/pie/instagram break. Around 6 we headed back to the hotel for a little siesta (I could really get used to this...honestly who doesn't love a nap and a late dinner...I need to move to Europe). We woke up around 8:45, called the concierge for a good paella restaurant and headed out to the famous Botafumeiro...divine. If you're in town go...after dinner we set Sue on her merry way and headed out into the famous Barcelona nightlife. The only advice we got from our friends was "head to the beach" so we did. What looks like little lean-tos along the beach front were actually massive underground disco techs with many dance floors. Heading down the secret staircase at midnight we knew it would be empty...its Spain we get it no one goes out until 2...what we did not expect to find was a toga party, as Asher Roth famously professed, "I Love College." We danced the night away jumping from discoteca to discoteca...what a night.

Our last day in Spain was spent at the Museo Picasso, tracking down leather boutiques, and chasing the sunset. Tomorrow we leave for San Sebastian, back to the Basque country.

Don't worry Barca I will be back...soon.