Monday, February 29, 2016

Walking Tours through Barcelona

We only had one full day and then a half day before we left for Morocco in Barcelona, so we knew we needed to maximize time.   

Gaudi designed all of these funky lamp posts that are scattered around the town and definitely add some personality to Barcelona

This restaurant was a few blocks from our hotel! 

funky Gaudi architecture

 We started out the morning wandering around and made our way to La Sagrada Familia, which is a huge cathedral designed by Gaudi. It has a completely different feel and style than the churches in Italy, which was refreshing. We were hoping to go inside, but there was an hour line for tickets and the tickets weren't for another two hours, so we quickly nixed that idea.

It was never finished, so there are two big cranes outside...

As much as we try to avoid guided tours, they are a great way to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time, so  we checked for a Sandeman's walking tour and found one starting at 11:00.  We did a Sandeman's tour when we were in Berlin and were extremely happy with our experience.  It was three hours long with a fifteen minute break in between.  Our tour guide was great and we really felt like we got to see a lot of the big sights, while learning a lot of information about each one.  We heard/read mixed reviews about the one in Barcelona, but decided to give it a go.  Our tour guide, Andy, was an Englishman who lives in Barcelona and was really into the art history scene in Barcelona, which is great because there is a lot of historical and modern day art.  The tour took us through the Gothic quarter and was the same set-up as the tour in Berlin (3 hours/15 minute break).  In the end, we weren't quite as pleased with this tour because we felt it missed a lot of the major sights (La Sagrada Familia being one), but we did really enjoy our tour guide Andy.

Our tour guide Andy. He was great!

Local artists place their artwork, like that little piece under the lamp post, around the city in hopes of becoming famous. 

When we were finished with the tour, we asked for lunch recommendations and were told to go to a seafood restaurant on the water.  This was perfect since we had not made our way down to that part of town. We decided to split a seafood paella and get our own respective drinks (sangria for me, beer for Mike).   We were told that the paella takes about fifteen minutes, so we spent the next 15 minutes eyeing people's seafood platters as they walked them by.  The popular dish on the menu was 100 euros and meant for two people, but it was a platter of any and all seafood you could think of.  It had a huge lobster in the middle, with clams, oysters, shrimp and all sorts of other seafood surrounding it.  It looked delicious!  Our paella arrived and we were not disappointed either.  It was so big that we couldn't finish it, but were extremely happy with our decision.

give me all the seafood!

After we finished lunch, we made our way to a brewery nearby.  Mike always looks up recommended breweries wherever we go and this time he had found six highly recommended.  The one we stopped at,  Black Lab Brewing, was near our restaurant and had a great atmosphere.  Mike thought the beer was okay, nothing too good, nothing too bad.  We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city, taking in the atmosphere.  We both really enjoyed Barcelona and were pleasantly surprised at how happy we were to just wander.

When we left the Sandeman's tour, we spontaneously decided to do one of their paid tours, the tapas tour.  The tour takes you to three different tapas restaurants and provides you with beverages and tapas for 14 euros.  We thought it sounded like a great deal, so we decided to do that for our Friday night.  We were pretty disappointed by the end of the night because we had been promised 9 tapas and only got six.  Also, the portions were tiny, so we both left pretty hungry.  The beverages had been described as unlimited, but definitely were not, which was another disappointment.  For fourteen euros, it definitely wasn't a bad deal, but it wasn't what we pictured.  We did have a great time on the tour because most people were our age and were ready to socialize.  We even met a guy from DC!

Since we were still hungry and thirsty, we decided to end the night at one of the other breweries on Mike's list. It was good beer and a great way to end the night.

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A good Spanish beer

On our tapas tour, they showed us how the Catalans used to drink wine.  They put the triangle end near their mouth and pour it in without letting the glass touch their mouth.  We all tried with water first and then some of the more daring people (Mike being one) tried with wine. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Getting to Barcelona

We knew flying out of the Israeli airport would take a while, so we planned accordingly.  Jenn arranged for a shuttle to come four hours before our 7:20am flight since it takes an hour to get to the airport.  We were grateful for the shuttle, but that meant getting up and out of the door at 3:00am. We were two tired Hogans.

There was a glitch with the computers at the airport and our flight ended up being delayed a half an hour.  When we arrived at the airport in Istanbul, boarding had already finished for our flight to Barcelona, but luckily, there were so many people on our flight from Israel who were trying to catch the plane to Barcelona that they held it for us.  Thank goodness!

There was a little excitement when we were on the metro from the airport into the city. There was a man with four large packages and backpacks.  He got everything onto the metro and put it by the door so that he could get everything off quickly when he got to his stop.  He took a seat nearby.  At the next stop, another man got on the metro and sat next to the first guy.  We made it a few stops and then the second guy got up and got off the metro.  On the way off the metro, he grabbed one of the first guy's bags and ran.  The first guy ran after him and, as the second guy was trying to jump the fence, he dropped the bag.  While all of this was going on, the doors to the metro closed with the rest of the guy's stuff on the metro.  Luckily, the metro driver heard the guy banging on the door and opened them back up.  It could have been a lot worse, but it was an exciting introduction to Barcelona!

Once we made it to our AirBnB, it around three and were so hungry that neither of us could think about anything except getting some paella or tapas.  Our AirBnB was located right downtown and close to a bunch of restaurants and bars.  There were a few that were advertising two tapas and a plate of paella for 10 euros!  We were so happy to get something to eat that both of us just sat there and ate.  No talking allowed. Once we got some food and sangria/beer in our stomachs, we headed back to the AirBnB.  While at lunch, we both realized not only how hungry we were, but also how tired we were.  Neither of us napped, but it was nice to spend a few hours relaxing.

That night, we had been invited to another Olmsted Scholar's house for dinner.  They were going out of town the next day, but wanted to meet us and swap stories.   Jonathon, the scholar, is a class behind Mike, but was already in Barcelona because he chose to go straight there and do language study, so they had been in country almost as long as us.  Amy, Jonathon's wife, cooked authentic Spanish food and we had so much fun with them.  We ended up staying for four hours, chatting, enjoying good food and swapping stories.  We were definitely bummed that we didn't get to spend more time with them that weekend, but we had a lot of fun meeting them and their two children.

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Ash Wednesday in Jerusalem

Wednesday was Ash Wednesday and I was definitely excited to be in Jerusalem on Ash Wednesday.  Jenn wasn't able to show us around because she had class that day, so Mike and I were on our own, which was completely fine. We're used to being our own tour guides in places we don't know.  Jenn had a great book which outlined the stations of the cross and told you exactly where each station was located, so we figured this was the perfect opportunity to walk the stations.  

While most of the stations are pretty small and are just marked by the Roman Numeral signifying which station it was, it was still an incredible experience to walk the stations of the cross on Ash Wednesday.  Jenn said that some people even rent a cross to carry through each station.

Station One: Where Jesus was condemned to death.  Present day, it's a school! It was kind of hard to find because we were expecting more of a marking, but once we found it, we saw the roman numeral and figured out the location.

Station Two: where Christ was bound, placed on the cross and given his crown of thorns.  Present day: it's a convent

Can you see the roman numerals? This is station three, where Jesus fell for the first time.  Now, it's next to a Polish church.

Station Four: where Christ met Mary.  Nowadays, it's an Armenian Orthodox oratory and a pizza restaurant! 

In the Armenian quarter, there were tons of signs and memorials for people killed in the Armenian genocide

Station Five: Where Simon of Cyrene carried the cross for Jesus

As we were walking the stations, we found this google shirt. I laughed, but I have a feeling a lot of people wouldn't....

Station Six: Where the veil of Veronica was created.  Now, it's just a wall.

Station Seven:  Where Christ fell for the second time. Now, it's the sight of a Franciscan chapel.

Station Eight: Where Jesus offered a bunch of women a sermon.  Now, it's next to a Greek Orthodox monastery

The ninth station: It's located at the top of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and we actually saw it the day before with Jenn, but we went again.  It's where Jesus fell for the the third time.

Station Ten: at the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was stripped of his garments. We bought a rosary and I said a prayer, while Mike was a creeper and took a picture. 
It only took about an hour to walk through the stations, but by the time we were finished, it was lunch time.  We got shawarma at this little, hole-in-the-wall restaurant and it was delicious. Mike even got a second one! It had a small salad bar to put all sorts of fillings and stuff in your pita and we were both in heaven.  I think I'm still team falafel, but Mike is team shawarma and I don't think either of us would turn down a falafel or a shawarma....ever.

I guess you can find an Alabama fan store anywhere....

I can't....

Where's your yarmulke, little guy? 

After lunch, we wandered around the Old City for a while before making our way towards the Mount of Olives.  The Mount of Olives is where it is believed that Jesus will come back, as well has where he ascended into heaven.  As we were walking towards the mount, we kept getting offers from taxi drivers for rides, but we turned them down.  I guess most people take a bus/cab/car up to the top and then walk down.  Not us Hogans.  We like to make it a little more difficult.   The hike up to the top is not easy.  I was winded walking up and stopped along the way.  I used the excuse that I wanted to take pictures, but really, I was just tired.  Most of the churches were closed along the way because it was lunch time, but we've seen our fair share of churches, so we weren't really too bummed.   

We're really mature and were able to read this and keep a straight face. Not.  We're actually middle schoolers and giggled at the name "Dung Gate"

love those olive trees

the cemetery at Mount of Olives

Instead, we decided to go to the tomb of the prophets, which is the tomb for Haggai, Zecharia and Malachi.  You have to walk down these stairs into the a cave, which is pitch black.  We were greeted by this old Russian man who didn't speak any English, but handed us candles and gave us a complete tour in Russian. While Mike and I didn't understand a single word he said, it was a cool experience. We thanked him and continued our trek up the mountain. When we made it to the top of the mount, all of the shortness of breath and hiking was worth it. The views from the top of the mountain were beautiful.  There is a great view of the cemetery and the Old City.  It was breathtaking.


We took a minute to take it all in before we were encouraged by drizzling rain to head back down.  The walk down is definitely an easier trek and I can see why people choose to drive up.  Luckily, the rain held off as we walked down.  We walked through the Old City again and made our way back towards Jenn's apartment.  It started really raining and by the time we get back to her apartment, we were pretty wet.   Luckily, we had done a lot of sight seeing, so we didn't feel too bad hanging out at her apartment where it was dry and warm.  

Around five o'clock, we headed out for dinner. There is a grillhouse that Jenn recommended and we were all about it.  I didn't even order any sort of meat (the Catholic guilt about eating shawarma on Ash Wednesday was still eating away at me), but there was enough pita, hummus, and dips to fill me up.  It was amazing.  My only regret was not taking a picture of all of the dips.  
After dinner, Jenn and I went to Ash Wednesday Mass while Mike and Jenn's fiance Zach went to a bar. Going to mass was fascinating.  It was on the first floor of a hotel and Pope Francis stayed at this hotel in 2014.  I've been to Ash Wednesday Mass ever since I can remember and the actual mass wasn't any different.  In fact, it was pretty uneventful. There wasn't any singing, the homily wasn't anything especially moving, and the mass was over in 45 minutes.  The most interesting part of the mass was when the time came to get the ashes. Unlike every other Ash Wednesday where I got ashes on my forehead, this time they put them on the top of my hair.  When I asked Jenn about this later, she said she thought that it had something to do with safety and violence in Israel. The other fascinating thing about going to mass in Jerusalem was the congregation.  In the United States, the congregation in a church is sometimes diverse, with lots of white, Asian and Hispanic people.  In Turkey, we've found that it's mainly European expats with a  few Turks. I kind of expected kind of the same thing in Jerusalem (why I'm not sure), but I was SO wrong.  There were people from all over the world.  There was even a group of people from Sri Lanka.  So interesting!  It was such a cool experience to attend Ash Wednesday Mass in Jerusalem.

We ended the night pretty early since our flight was at 7:10am the next morning.  Due to security, you have to get to the airport three hours early when leaving Israel.  Add in the hour shuttle ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and we figured we'd be waking up around 2:30am. I've stayed up later than that! Crazy!!

Overall, we had a blast in Israel! We had great hosts who were amazing tour guides.  They had differing views on the situation in Israel, which was so interesting to listen to their viewpoints and made me more intrigued at the situation.  It was also an incredible experience to be in places where Jesus and the Holy Family lived.  It was a wonderful week and we're so thankful for the experience.

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