Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My family's visit to Spain - (Part 2 of 2)

Hanging out in Park Guell!
On our second day in Barcelona, we spent our entire morning at the U.S. Consulate getting new, temporary passports for my mom, Paige, and Kaicer. Three hours later, after my family finally got their new passports, we decided to actually get out and do something that day. We spent almost the whole afternoon at Park Guell, a famous park in Barcelona that was designed by Antoni Gaudi. It's on top of a big hill so there were about 4 - 5 escalators going up to the park... plus some intense uphill walking. Park Guell was awesome. We walked around for about 3 hours and during that time, Kaicer found a dead, flattened lizard, showed off his dance moves while a band played, and constantly asked me to take pictures of him next to cacti. (Remember, this was the first day without his medicine...)

 Kaicer without his ADHD medicine in picture/video form:
(PS it is not the same in real-life.)

His dead lizard...

The old bullring and now shopping mall
After we spent the whole afternoon at Park Guell, we went to Plaza Espanya where the old bullring is. Since bullfighting is prohibited in Catalonia (where Barcelona is), they turned the old bullring into a shopping mall! My mom thought this was the coolest thing ever. I honestly think it was her favorite part about Barcelona (she just went on and on about how impressed she was with it), but if you ask her, she'll say differently. Just take my word for it.

 We ate dinner in the old bullring, shopped around a little, then went to the top where there was a look-out area. On our way back down, we stopped on the movie theater level to get some popcorn, and took that with us down the street where we watched the Magic Fountain music show. Not sure what that is? Here's a video clip!

On Saturday, we woke up early to get in line to see the Sagrada Familia, the famous church in Barcelona, also designed by Gaudi. They began constructing this church in 1882 and it is still not finished! It is estimated to be completed in 2026. We waited in line for about an hour, and Kaicer slept the entire time we were in line so Mom and I were lucky enough to hold him until we finally reached the ticket booth. This church was incredible. Neither words or pictures will do it justice. As my mom said, "there is just SO much to take in." So you'll just have to see it for yourself one day. :)

After touring the most beautiful church in the world, we made our way to the Boqueria! The daily market in Barcelona. This was one of my favorite things that we saw. All of the fresh fish, colorful smoothies, fruit, and candies, and assorted chocolates all looked so wonderful! As we tried to make our way through this crowded place, we picked up some chocolates, fresh fruit, and some weird organic wrap things that looked good so we decided to try them for lunch!

After we ate our lunch on the curb and Kaicer had 2 of his favorite coconut smoothies, we took the metro to the bottom of Montjuic, a funicular up the hill, and a cable car up to the very top. Montjuic is a famous mountain in Barcelona that has a castle on top and some pretty great views of the city, as well as the Mediterranean. We walked around this area for a while, did some souvenir shopping, and decided to walk down the hill instead of taking the cable car back down. When we got to the bottom, we took the metro to the beach, ate some seafood, and walked along the beach before we headed back to our apartment.

In the cable car up to Montjuic!

The Costa Brava
Sunday was our drive to southern France! We had planned to go on Friday... but that's a little hard to do without passports. We went to the Barcelona airport to rent a small car, and after driving around the parking lot and restarting the car about 5 times, my mom finally got used to the stick shift and we were France-bound! We surprisingly didn't get lost (even though the driver got mad at the navigator a couple of times) and we took the highway straight to Perpignan, France. We walked around this cute town for a little bit, ate some lunch, and realized that is was Sunday so no stores were open! We probably spent and hour and a half in this town before we got back in the car. We decided to take a different way home this time - along the coast. The Costa Brava to be exact. This drive was probably the most beautiful drive I've ever been on in my entire life. It was a little scary at times, but Mom did a pretty good job driving (especially when we came to a one lane tunnel without any warning signs and a big truck was headed our way.) We pulled over at several small towns and sightseeing stops along the coast where we took some pictures, skipped little rocks, and climbed big ones! After we got back to Spain, dropped off the rental car, and took the train and metro back to our neighborhood, it was nearly 11pm. We still hadn't eaten dinner, so we stopped at a delicious pizzeria near our apartment.

Monday was our last day in Barcelona, and our flight left at 5:30, so we decided to spend the morning and some of the afternoon at the beach. Kaicer had a great time in the water while the rest of us sat and watched his crazy self. When it was almost time to leave, Kaicer met a little Spanish girl and they looked for seashells together. It was one of the most adorable things I've ever witnessed in my life.

Kaicer with his Spanish novia <3

Taking all of the Kinder Bueno bars!
We flew back to Madrid that night, arriving in Madrid around 7:30 pm. We checked into our hotel and set out to find some tapas one last time. (Well, so we thought.) We had a great time at dinner and had a lot of good laughs. The next morning, we went our for churros and picked up a bunch of Kinder Bueno bars before our flight back to the U.S.! We weren't entirely sure of what terminal we were supposed to fly out of (since our confirmation papers were in that backpack that got stolen) but we needed to tell our hotel shuttle so I told them Terminal 4 because I was once told, when in doubt, go with Terminal 4 because that's where most of the international flights are. Wrong. We got to Terminal 4 and realized we were in the wrong spot and so I asked someone working there and she said Delta was in Terminal 1. This normally wouldn't have been a problem, but at the Madrid Barajas Airport, Terminal 4 is completely separated from Terminals 1, 2, and 3. Whoops.

We got to Terminal 1 and by the time we reached the Delta check-in desk, we had 50 minutes until our flight left. There was no one in line and I went up there and told her we were flying to New York. She said, "Oh, that gate is already closed." I started to think maybe I had our flight time wrong... but no. Apparently for all international flights, the gates close exactly an hour before take-off. They tried calling to the gate twice and both times they said it was too late and they wouldn't open the gate back up for us. Even though we still had 50 minutes! So we went over to the Delta customer service area and they almost got us on 3 other flights that were going out that day, but either there weren't 4 seats available, there wasn't enough time to make it to the gate, or the other airline that they were working with (AirFrance) just simply wouldn't allow it. The only thing they could do for us at that point was get us on a flight for the following day.

Kaicer with the man with no face
We booked a hotel for that night and after spending nearly 3-4 hours at the airport, we waited for our shuttle to pick us up. After we settled into our room, we went downstairs to eat lunch in the hotel's restaurant, then went back up to our room to make a few phone calls. Even though it was raining, we decided to go into the city and make the most of our ACTUAL last day in Spain! We did some shopping along Gran Via, then went to the Sol area to get some pastries at my favorite pastry shop! Then I showed my family Madrid's Plaza Mayor and Kaicer made friends with all the street performers including a donkey, a crying man-baby, and a tall man with no face. We went back to our hotel, ate out at an Italian restaurant where we taught Kaicer the game, Telephone (since he needed to work on his listening skills), and returned back to our hotel where Mom had problems figuring out how the shower with 6 jets worked. However, Kaicer enjoyed his shower once she did get it all figured out.

In the Plaza Mayor
Playing "Telephone" at dinner
Kaicer taking a shower with all the jets!

The next day, we took our 10 and a half hour flight to Atlanta, Georgia where I watched 4 movies that I haven't seen (I've been so out of the loop!) including, How Do You Know, The Tourist, The King's Speech, and Unstoppable. Then we flew to Minneapolis, then from MN to Sioux Falls. We arrived in Sioux Falls around 8:30 pm (3:30 am Spain time), so we were exhausted. After we picked up our bags from baggage claim, Mom realized that she couldn't find her car keys... we eventually figured out that they were in the backpack that got stolen in Barcelona! So she went down the line of car rentals until she found a car that we could rent to drive home, and then she drove back the next morning to get our car. The whole thing was never-ending!

So now we're all safely back home and have been here for almost a week already! Our vacation together throughout Spain was one of my favorite family vacations ever. Despite all of our setbacks, we still managed to have a great time together and so many wonderful memories were made!

It's great being home, but I already miss Spain. I have no doubt in my mind that I'm going to return one day. My time in Spain and Europe was the best time of my life. I've made so many great friends, I've seen so many incredible places, and I've learned so much through this experience. I currently have $1.56 in my bank account but I wouldn't change a thing about how I spent my time/money throughout Spain and other parts of Europe including my 3 trips to Portugal, the Balearic Islands, Paris, London, and let's not forget, Morocco. I'm a little sad that I won't be making any more blog posts relating to this experience, but I want to thank everyone who has kept up with reading this blog! I had a lot of fun sharing all of my experiences with you!

I'm going to end this blog with my favorite photo of my entire time in Spain:

Kaicer's new passport photo.
Okay that's probably not my favorite of the thousands of photos that I took these past 5 months, but isn't it great?!

Hasta luego!


Thursday, June 9, 2011

My family's visit to Spain! (Part 1 of 2)

Wow. Where to begin? About a week and a half ago, my mom, my sister, Paige, and my brother, Kaicer all made a trip to come visit me in Spain! So many great memories were made (along with some not so great ones) which made this one of the best family adventure's we've ever shared together.

How do you like those patatas alioli, Paige?
On May 30th, I made my way to the airport to pick up my family. I was waiting outside their gate for about an hour and they still hadn't shown up even though the monitors said that their plane had landed. There were only about 3 or 4 other people waiting at that gate, so I started to get a little nervous. Not only because they hadn't shown up, but because I didn't have a phone and we didn't have a backup plan! I decided to wait a little longer and just a few minutes later, they came walking from the other end of the hallway! We took the metro to our apartment that we decided to rent and while they showered/rested a little, I went to get my bags from my hostel. Then we went to find some good tapas down the street. I had them try tortilla patata, croquettas, patatas ali-oli, and some Spanish salad. I didn't realize how many potatoes I had ordered until after we got our food.

The next day when I woke up was when I realized how much Paige had missed me. She and I slept together in one bed, and Mom and Kaicer slept together in another bed. Throughout the night, she had about 3 different sleeping positions. 1. with her arm around me. 2. with her leg wrapped around my body. 3. with her head on my stomach. We've slept together hundreds of times and not once has she slept in any of these three positions. It was weird... but cute? She also liked to hog the entire bed, but I already knew that.

That day, I walked them to the Royal Palace. While they toured that for about an hour, I set out to find a grocery store to make bocadillos for lunch. We met back up and took the metro to Retiro Park where we had a picnic with the pigeons. Kaicer played on the playground for a while and then we went to ride the rowboats. Kaicer showed us how strong he is by rowing the rowboat and Paige showed us how smart she is by playing with a water balloon that we found in the lake and having it pop and spill water all over her lap. We all had a good laugh... well, minus Paige. While I was documenting this moment with my camera, I looked at the photo I had just taken and said "Wow, Paige, it looks as if you're picking your crotch." Then Kaicer says, "what's a crush?" Then we all had a good laugh about that one... minus Kaicer.

On top of the Cibeles Tower
From there, we walked to the Palace of Communcations where we could climb the Cibeles Tower and see the entire city of Madrid. Kaicer didn't really enjoy climbing up and down the glass stairs; he also has a fear of heights. Then we took a long walk back to our apartment where we had to turn around and leave again to go see a bullfight! This was my first bullfight, along with everyone else in my family, and we didn't particularly enjoy it. It was fun sitting in the big arena and being surrounded by so much energy of the Spanish people, but I didn't like how they slowly killed the bull, all of the blood, and then stabbing a long sword down its neck/back area. Then if they didn't kill it on the first try, they would keep stabbing it 3 or 4 times until it fell over and finally died! I don't think any of us enjoyed that part, and Kaicer was the only one who wanted to stay when we decided we were going to leave early. After we left, we went to find some dinner. We ate close to Puerta del Sol (the heart of the city of Madrid) where we shared some more tapas including chorizo, chicken wings, salad, and pasta. I went to go ask for the check, and our waiter must not have been paying attention and he just gave me one of the four checks that were laying on the counter. It ended up only being about 25 euros and we knew that wasn't right so we looked closer and saw the check he had given us was for a few orders of churros with chocolate. So we paid for someone else's churros and went to go find our own dessert. We all ordered some ice cream and I had a hard time deciding what I wanted since they didn't have my favorite (hazelnut) so my mom told me to be brave and order their new one - some raspberry and chocolate yogurt with nuts. It looked delicious but it did not taste that way. It was probably the most disgusting ice cream (or yogurt?) I've ever had. That will be the last time I listen to my mom's advice.

At the bullfight!

Every last drop
The next day was one of my favorite days. We took a bus from Madrid to Caceres to visit my host mom and my host sister! We got to Caceres around noon and we had about 5-6 hours there before we had to take a bus back to Madrid. 8 hours in a bus all day, but it was definitely worth it. When we first got there, we went to the library to find out what time our flight to Barcelona left in the morning, and then we walked around the old city of Caceres for about an hour. We climbed the towers of the church, which I hadn't done before, stopped to pick up some flowers and wine for Lola and Maria, had a quick drink at a tapas bar, where Kaicer found out that he loves Batidos (Spain's version of chocolate milk) and then we made our way to Lola's!

Are those eyes?!
Lola and Maria were preparing paella, tortilla patata, and salad for us when we arrived. It was so great to see them both! When we sat down to eat, Lola served Kaicer some of the shrimp from the paella, and his face was priceless when he saw that it still had eyes. After a few minutes, he was playing with the shrimp by holding it up by its antennae and saying, "ewwww! look at it's eyes!" Maria and Lola were loving it. Kaicer watched Spongebob in Spanish the rest of the time, while Paige practiced her Spanish by reciting her speech for Lola and Maria. We were having such a great time that we didn't even realize that nearly 3 hours had gone by and it was time for us to leave already! After another 4 hour bus ride, we arrived in Madrid exhausted. We went to bed for a few hours before we had to get up at 5 am to catch our plane to Barcelona.

Early the next morning, we took a taxi to the airport and then flew to Barcelona. We took the "aerobus" from the airport to Plaza Catalunya, where we decided to hang out for a couple hours until our apartment was ready. Since we had all of our baggage with us, we decided to go over to the McDonald's to get something to drink, sit down, and use their WiFi. This is where everything went wrong. We were all running on a few hours of sleep, Mom went downstairs to order, I was on my computer, Paige was zoning in and out, and Kaicer was tuned into his DS. Mom came back up and was going to take Paige and walk around the Plaza for a little bit when she noticed that her small backpack was missing. We searched and searched and realized that it wasn't with the rest of our things. She thought maybe she left it on the bus, but then knew that she didn't because she took Kaicer's DS out of it so we were sure that it was with us in McDonald's. Other things that were in that backpack included the following: Mom's, Paige's, and Kaicer's passports, my mom's digital camera, one of her credit cards, her car keys (which we didn't know until we got to the Sioux Falls airport), all of our flight confirmation papers, and Kaicer's ADHD medicine and his DS games. We grabbed all of our things, made our way to the police station where we cancelled the credit card and filed a report. While mom was at the police station with Kaicer, Paige and I went to our apartment where we were supposed to meet the key-holder at a certain time and check in. Paige and I came back to the police station and Mom said that we had an appointment at the U.S. Consulate at 9 am the next day to get new passports. We spent the rest of this day at our apartment where we all took a much-needed nap and then went out for dinner.

We ate at a tapas restaurant/pizzeria where we all shared some pizza, salad, and gazpacho (which nobody liked except for me!) We also had a pretty wide variety of conversations here; we found out that Kaicer had always thought that the word "boobs" meant your butt and this is also when Kaicer randomly asked Mom if she was Santa. She told him the truth, he took it pretty well, and then threw in a few things that he would like for next Christmas. Now that Kaicer knows about Santa, this next Christmas will be the first Christmas in my whole life where we won't be getting presents from "Santa"! This is a little upsetting.

After dinner, we came back to our apartment and played one of the board games that was in our cabinet. After a very long and exhausting day, we finally went to bed. The following 4 days were spent in Barcelona, which I will write about in my next post. There are so many more great stories to come including Kaicer finding dead lizards and live cockroaches, Mom trying to drive a stick-shift for the first time in a few years, Kaicer finding a Spanish girlfriend, Mom not knowing how to turn off a shower, and us all missing our flight back to the U.S.!