Mittwoch, 30. April 2014

Interrail - Day 13,14: Birthday Girl in Barcelona

On the 26th of March we took the train back from Madrid to Barcelona and looked for our hostel. We stayed once again in the St. Christopher's Inn and it's just perfect! I can't repeat myself often enough. It's situated quite central and comfy as always for a good price. (Oh by the way: In Barcelona they charge you with a tourist tax...) We dumped our stuff and did a free walking tour and got an overview of the city quickly.

We learned about the culture and the history of Barcelona and the stories took weird turns and endings, but our guide was so nice and lovely that we had a really good time.

For example did you know that the Eiffel tower should originally be standing in Barcelona, but some guy refused it and it became the symbol of Paris?
Or that the city's patron saint is a hairy girl named Eulalia?

Legend has it that a long time ago, the Christians were forced by the Romans to give up their belief. But a  13 year old girl named Eulalia refused to do so and the Romans got angry with her, so that they put her in a wooden barrel with all kinds of spikes and knives and glass and rolled her 13 times up and down a hill to break her spirit.  But god saved her and she got out of the barrel without a scratch. The Romans couldn't bear to be humiliated by such a little girl, so they made her strip all her clothes in the middle of the market place to degrade her in front of all people. But god stepped in a second time and on her body grew so much hair that it covered all of her body for no one to see anything. In their rage the Romans decided to decapitate her. After the deed was done, a dove came out of her neck and flew up to heaven.

The people of Barcelona sure love a good hairy person. Male or female who cares? As long as it covers as much of their body as possible.
There was another story about a girl:
The girl with the most beautiful eyes. The men were so attracted by these eyes that they couldn't stop staring. But she was very religious, so in order to secure her virtue she carved her own eyes out. God was impressed by such a sacrifice that he rewarded her with even more beautiful eyes. (Makes total sense...)

You can ask the guides of these tours pretty much anything, for example for cool clubs, bars, cheap restaurants etc. You can get the best mojitos at a bar called Rubi. So if you find the time, check it out!

We then decided to hit the market place to get smoothies for 1€ and I tell you: They're delicious! (Tip: In the evening just before the market hall closes is the best time to go there because everything's cheaper!) The salesman must have gotten the different kinds of smoothies mixed up, but it tasted so good, so that I didn't care to complain about it.

After that we went to a bar and drank sangria and toasted to my upcoming birthday.

27th of March is as some of you might know my birthday! My lovely amigas organised cake and strawberries and together we took a stroll down the rambla until we reached the harbour.

There we had a little picnic while enjoying the sun and watching the seagulls fight over food. It was very amusing until they came closer and seemed to demand our food now.

We continued our journey with a sunny chilling session at the beach. The wind was a little too cold and the sea a little too restless for us to go for a swim. But the surfer seemed to enjoy the waves. And we enjoyed watching them  take their clothes off...erm I mean... do their stunts. ❤
But it got boring after a while, because the surfer guys know they're being watched and crave the attention for their huge egos. It's only fun when the boys don't get so cocky.

After our breakfast picnic it was time for lunch and we went out to a little restaurant. Most of these restaurants have some kind of menu consisting of 2 courses plus dessert and a drink (in some cases a coffee is included as well) for max. 10€. (We ate by the way for 7,90€).

We then took the metro to get to Park Güell. It's way up on a hill, so we had to rise up high first. Fortunately we found  the escalators again. The park is beautiful and we had another cake session in the sun with view over the entire city. Recently you have to pay a fee of 8€ to get into the actual mosaic part of the park which I think is pretty ridiculous. Simply a little too high for my taste. They might scare away the tourists eventually...which would be a total pity since Barcelona is absolutely beautiful!

At night we revisited the Rambla, a little trip by night around the city to finally get back in your bed and find yourself sleeping as a little baby. Walking all day makes really tired, but it felt great and in my dreams I could revise and process all the great things that had happened.

Thank you, Sunshine, Nita & Johanna for an awesome Birthday!
And to my friends, the hope for many more to come!

Dienstag, 29. April 2014

Interrail - Day 11, 12: Barcelona/Madrid

On the 24th of March I woke up very early. Next to me, Sunshine getting organized. The night train was still rattling its way through the landscape. I looked outside the window and was absolutely baffled for a moment: Snow. Every inch of the hills was covered in icy doom. The very first thought that came to my mind was: Did we take the right train??

Good Morning, Brain. I realised that we were driving through the mountains of Pyrenees. But I wasn't the only one shocked. Sunshine and I woke Johanna and Nita. Half asleep they looked outside and panic flashed their eyes. Nita's first instinct was:

"We didn't pack the right shoes!"

We laughed so hard! Of all the things she could have said, this sentence was the most adorable!

The train stopped in La tour de Carol where we took a bus over the Spanish border and then took another train to Barcelona.

After we've freed ourselves from our luggage at the train station (large locker: ca. 5€, but 4 backpacks fit in there), we went out and walked around the city.  At the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya we looked over the city. Behind this huge building there's a botanic garden where we watched little parrots play and fly to their nests. We enjoyed the smell of flowers and the humming of bees. And the warm! We took off our coats and for the first time in forever it felt like summer. Real Summer Sun. The kind of summer sun that only Mediterrainean cities have!

In the late afternoon we returned to the train station and took a train to Madrid. Three hours later we found ourselves pretty tired, but happy at our hostel. La Posada de Huertas Hostel is clean, good organised, you get nice rooms for a good price. It has a kitchen for self-catering and nice staff if you need help. A good hostal to get to know other backpackers and chill out with them a little. Afterwards falling into bed feels even better, because the world has been nice to you.

The next day (25th of March) we got up early and took part in the free walking tour. Our guide showed us around and made us realise that in Madrid a lot of places and doors which are not of interest or invisible to the normal eye mostly harbour the best secrets. This is my favourite story of the tour (and it contains Nuns, so you know that it's gotta be good):

Behind a pretty heavy but inconspicuous wooden door there are nun's who never show their face. The story behind it all is that once there were nuns who decided they wanted to seperate themselves from the outside world to pray and decided to build up sturdy walls and lock themselves in. But what do you do besides praying all day? Easy: They made candy and do it traditionally still today. (Of course, I mean replacing social contact for candy seems to do the trick for ladies all around the globe.) They sell the self-made candy, but the only way to get the candy is through a little secret compartment in the heavy wooden door. You put your money in the compartement then a devolving door makes a turn and the nun's exchange your money for candy. It's that simple! (And a little freaky, because you won't see them... ever... I'm serious. )

We then met up with two friends: Bonita, a Spanish girl we got to know at our University in Germersheim and Chico, a German boy who studies for a semestre in Spain. [Codenames again to give my friends the privacy they deserve.]

Together we took a stroll around the parque de buen retiro and they showed us the city from the insider perspective, but it began to rain heavily. The rain in Spain.... (It had never rained in UK, but when we're in Spain the rain won't stop...How ironic...).

So we decided to get drinks and tapas instead of running around the city getting more and more drenched by the hour. We chose 100 Montaditos for drinks and a bite to eat. For ca. 1,50€ you get a huge drink and little "bocadillos", baguettes, ( for 1€ each) with tapa toppings such as: jamón, chorizo, tortilla or even chocolate toppings.

The evening was lovely: we talked and laughed, we drank and ate. But even good things have to end eventually. We hugged eachother goodbye and had to find our way back to our hostel. 

The streets were still filled with people, but mostly demonstrators and policemen now. The people protest against the budget cuts. According to Bonita peaceful demonstrators were brutally struck down by the policemen a few days ago. In this night the police seemed ready to go against the protestors again.Tension filled the air and the darkness of the night promised danger and violence. 

We fled from the scenery just to find ourselves awake for hours in our bunk beds.

Dienstag, 1. April 2014

Interrail - Day 8-10: Paris

21th of March: 

From Calais port we walked to the train station Calais-Ville, where we bought a TGV ticket for 6 € to Paris. In France the interrail ticket doesn’t work as nicely as in UK and Ireland… Every TGV you take brings extra costs… which can be quite annoying. I mean the costs are little, but they add up...

We reached Paris in the evening at 19:47 pm. We were supposed to meet with “Marie Antoinette” (No, not the real one, it's a code name), a German friend who studies in Paris and offered to take us in over the weekend in Paris, at Gare du Nord, but she was nowhere to be seen. We tried to call her, but she didn’t pick up. After a while of not knowing what to do and just standing at a train station with no real plan whatsoever, we decided to take the Métro and find our way to her address. We knew that she had to work very late, so we assumed she might have to work extra hours tonight. Luckily Antoinette reached us by phone just in time before we left the Gare du Nord. She told us that she was waiting for our call the whole time and told us that she was on her way to pick us up. It was a big misunderstanding, our phones were at fault. She never got our calls and messages and we never got hers (until the last moment). 

Words of advice: Don’t trust in technology…
Antoinette and her male friend – let’s call him Prince – welcomed us in Paris and it was the first heartfelt welcome we received since we had arrived in France. It might seem like a total cliché and I really don’t mean the French any harm, but people in Paris are grumpy and unfriendly. I asked for information and they wanted me to get off their back as fast as possible or made the impression that I ask impossible or totally stupid questions. Like I'm an imbecil and it's a nuisance to talk to me. (Johanna doesn't speak French, so I was the only one talking). We felt really unwelcome. Seeing a friendly face for a change was a relief and made my day.

Antoinette lives in Paris and has a cute, but tiny 1-room-apartement in the 5th floor. Yes, 1 room, 4 people. It worked. We were more surprised that we made it up to the 5th floor after such a long journey and with these heavy backpacks. The four of us slept in one bed made out of two matrasses. There wasn’t much space to move around (we’re talking sardines kind of cozy), but at least no one snored (well maybe me, but I guess I'll never know).

The next day (22nd of March) we really slept long. Our day began at something around 10 or 11 am. You knew right away you were in Paris. The lifestyle is absolutely different from other countries. The people in Paris love their fashion and proudly show it. The philosophy of “Laissez-faire” is not far behind. It means that Parisian people take their time with everything. They take up every task relaxed and if they don’t do it today, oh well, tomorrow is another day. Antoinette has adapted that lifestyle as well. She takes her time to dress and of course, she’s well dressed like the French. While we were in our everyday interrail clothes (practical, but not fashionable) she wore cute dresses and skirts making me feel a little underdressed all the time, because she looked so adorable! She sometimes even changed her outfit three or more times a day which was a little odd, but I guess that’s just the way it is.(*humming* that's just the way it is...things will never be the same... - sorry I can't get the song out of my head...)

On my personal wish we went first to the cemetery Père Lachaise. Oscar Wilde lies buried there and it is a tradition of his admirers to kiss his tombstone with red lipstick. To find the grave was a little bit tricky, because the graveyard is huge. My friends didn’t expect the grave to be so heavily covered with kissmarks, because it had rained the days before and it was early in the morning, but there it was: Oscar Wilde blessed with kisses of admiration.

And I did my part: Lipstick on…et voilà! Je t’aime, je t’ad
re, Oscar! It’s a pity that he was a homosexual (haha).
Funny Face - Bonjour, Paris!

Afterwards we took the Métro to the Centre Pompidou. From there we took a stroll through Paris. Hôtel de Ville, Notre Dame, la Seine, etc. The Basics so you know that you are really in Paris. In a tiny street near Notre Dame we went to eat Crêpes! I paid only 1,70 € for the most delicious Crêpes in Paris, crêpes “avec sucre et canelle” (Crêpes with sugar and cinnamon) to be exact.

I was so fascinated by the Parisian fashion that Antoinette took us to great second-hand shops where you pay by the kilo! I did find some adorable skirt, but of course, it was one of the few things in this stupid shop that had a fix price. And as you might have already guessed it: it was too expensive. But it was so cute! I really regret leaving it behind… But when you’re on Interrail tour you can’t just go around and buy stuff.

Your budget is a real party pooper.

We then went to the park Jardin du Luxemburg and simply enjoyed the sun. It might seem to the reader a little boring, but Interrail is so much walking – sometimes even running, if you want to catch a train – that every time you can just sit and relax, it feels like heaven. ~ Couch ~ potato ~ heaven!

After that we went to see the Eiffel tower and Arc de Triomphe. Antoinette was so energetic that she wanted to walk down the whole Champs-Élysée, but we were walking all day/week... we were exhausted... Luckily not only we, but her prince complained about hurting feet, too. So we went to Antoinette’s tower chamber and prepared some food. A second attempt from Antoinette was to get us into a bar, but we were so tired, we probably wouldn’t even have made it downstairs to the ground floor. Instead of going out, an Italian friend of Antoinette came over. We ate, we drank, we talked and we laughed. It was relaxed and comfortable, just what we needed to end the day.

On Sunday (23rd of March) my friend Sunshine and her sister Nita from home should meet us in Paris and join Johanna and me on our Interrail tour. Early (?) in the morning at 9 am (I guess we’re talking French times here) we wanted to pick them up at the Gare du Nord. Antoinette and her prince decided to stay in bed a little while longer, because they had other plans anyway. She wanted to take him to a brunch buffet and after that to the market. We went the train station to pick my friends up, but we agreed to meet each other later, if possible at the brunch or if not, later at the market.

Gare du Nord is huge and full of people, so when Sunshine and Nita arrived, their eyes were trying hard to recognize anyone familiar in the masses. I waved and Nita found my eyes first and her face lit up immediately. Then Sunshine noticed us, she smiled brightly. She seemed relieved. It’s such a lovely feeling to meet again after such a long time away from home and always on the road. I wish I could have told her right away all the things that happened.

The four of us first went to Antoinette’s apartment to get rid of the heavy backpacks Nita and Sunshine were carrying. Right before we reached the building, we met Antoinette and Prince walking their way to the Metro station. We asked where they were going and they said to brunch. If I had known that these two were sleeping so tightly and were planning on getting up late anyway, we just would have told them “we’ll be right back” and surprised them with two new guests. Oh well. Laissez-faire, I guess..

They told us that they would wait at the Metro station, so we went up to store Sunshine’s and Nita’s luggage. But just as we arrived upstairs, Antoinette wrote me an SMS telling me that she and Prince were already on their way and meeting us at the brunch. They didn’t wait even though they told us they would… We were not really sure if they wanted us around… But it got more confusing:

On our way to the metro station, we saw a supermarket and I remembered that Antoinette had told me that on Sundays the stores close at 12am. It was around 11:30 am and we needed to buy something for dinner and for the road trip anyway, so we went grocery shopping. We wanted to get that out of the way before there was only the possibility to buy something expensive on the way. I asked Antoinette via phone if we should plan them in for dinner or if she and Prince wanted to eat out. She answered that it would be great, so we bought the extra large packages of noodles and sauce. We asked her if we should better meet up with them at the market, so that we didn’t waste time making our way to the brunch just to find out it’s over. (Paris is a big city, to get from A to B takes some time.) She didn’t answer. We wrote again asking where the market was and that we would meet her there. She didn’t answer. It felt not like Antoinette didn’t read the messages, more like she and her prince wanted to be alone.

We decided to give them their space and Sunshine, Nita, Johanna and I went instead of the market to Sacré Coeur. We had to warn Johanna about the tricks of the vendors on the street. She didn’t travel much before, so whenever we saw something suspicious, we tried to keep her safe or taught her inside knowledge to get around in Paris. For example: Beware the guys who sell wristbands on the street. They try to put them on your arm without your consent and if they succeed, they tie the knot so tightly that you can’t get it off without ripping it. Then they say that you have to buy it since it's already on your arm and doesn't come off. And if you cut or rip it off, you have to buy it, because you destroyed their work. For them it's a win-win-situation. So be careful and keep your hands/arms close to your body.

It was a long way up to the white dome on the hill, but the view made it all worth it. Looking over the city made even Paris seem small for a while. We then went down on the other side of the hill through the little side streets marvelling at the picturesque buildings. Watching people pass by. Looking over the shoulder of the street painters and getting a glimpse at their art works. Enjoying the sun and the French joie de vivre.

On our way we had to tell each other already so many stories about our time on Interrail so far. For example about the Romanian guy from Dublin who walked up to me and simply said: “You have beautiful lips. Give me a kiss!” or about a couple who had sex in a 24-bed dorm while other people were around (?!) I don’t know about your views on that topic, but I was shocked and appalled by this behaviour.  Even if voyeurism gives you the kick you need, I think that’s inappropriate! In a hostel dorm are exhausted backpackers who need their beauty sleep! And I know every couple thinks they're so silent, but believe me you're not! And not all people are sleeping and the blankets do not cover everything. Or whatever excuse couples tell eachother to have sex in a dorm room!

We mentioned the most amazing Crêpes as well and I knew right away that we had to go there once again, because Sunshine’s eyes began to sparkle and Nita squealed in excitement. We looked the whole afternoon for this Crêperie – it even began to rain and soaked us through –so when we finally found it, the Crêpes tasted even better. 

After that we made our way through the Parque de Tuileries and to the Louvre and then returned to Antoinette's apartment. We cooked dinner and waited for Antoinette and Prince to return. Unfortunately it seemed like they wouldn't make it to dinner nor to say goodbye at Gare d'Austerlitz where we took the night train to Barcelona without a proper goodbye.

Nevertheless am I very grateful for their hospitality. I hope they know that we don't take them for granted!
Having friends in other countries or around the world is a great advantage, but keep in mind that a friendship like this needs extra care. Be merry, my friends!