Heading Back to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave

As I prepared to leave for the U.S. I began to think about the possibility of reverse culture shock. I am flying back for my trip to the U.S. exactly 9 months to the day that I left Boston for Berlin (Dave is flying back about 10 days after me because of his exams). Of course, upon our arrival in Germany there were a few things that struck me as slightly odd or just a bit different. Obviously the biggest shock to my system was the language barrier formed between myself and my fellow Berliners. I know enough now to get by (on the basics), but if someone mistakes me for a native speaker and our conversation steers from anything other than common plesantries I’m immediately lost. This happened most recently at the pharmacy when the pharmascist attempted to give me, what I can only assume to be, directions and warnings related to my medication. Other “shocks” included small things like all stores and shops being closed on Sundays, no hostesses in restaurants and the fact that smoking is allowed almost anywhere. I don’t think I’ll experience too much of a transition period upon my return to the States, but I know there are a few things I am SO looking forward to…

1. The food! I can’t wait for buffalo wings, cheddar cheese, butterfingers, IPAs and all the other hard to find food items in Germany. I also can’t wait to revisit some of our old favorite places–mmm…bbq brisket, fried pickles and mac n cheese at Red Bones.

2. The people- of course,! I can’t wait to be surrounded by family and friends.  And we have the added bonus of being able to attend 3 weddings of wonderful friends and family during our time home…very excited!

3. Driving. Dave loves not having a car and being able to rely solely on public transit, but I’m a Southern California girl and we LOVE our cars. I can’t wait to borrow my parents car and cruise along the CA highways with the windows down…which we’ll be doing of a lot of considering we have a lot of wedding planning to pack in while we’re in CA.

We have a jam packed couple months ahead of us as we’ll be traveling all through New England, to parts of the Mid-West and then heading out to Southern California for a couple of weeks. I think we’ve nailed down a dates and plans with most people, but if you’ll be around the Maine or So. Cal area this summer let us know and we’ll see if we can set something up!! Auf Wiedersehen Deutschland, Hallo USA!

P.S. Go Germany–Euro Cup 2012!!!

Barcelona Birthday

Last Wednesday Dave and I finally got a couch for our apartment! Even though we had to move the thing down four flights of stairs and then up another flight to our apartment it’s totally worth it–so nice to be able to finally sit back and relax in our place.  As we were enjoying our first “sitting” Dave got up and surprised me with an early birthday present: two tickets to Barcelona!  We were leaving following day at 3:00 and would be spending four glorious days in a much anticipated travel destination of mine: Spain! He had even purchased a bottle of Spanish wine to start the celebration early…such a thoughtful guy:)

Even though we flew into Barcelona we were actually only going to be spending one day in the city- the other three we spent in a beach town a little south of the city called Castelldefels. When we arrived on Thursday night we were starving, so we dropped our things at the hotel and headed out for dinner.  As we were walking we noticed most restaurants were closed, which we thought a little weird for 7:00 at night.  I knew the Spanish typically dine late, but had no idea that restaurants and kitchens don’t often even open until 8:00 or 9:00 at night?!  Luckily there were a few bars open and we found a place that served food all day. We split nachos and a cheeseburger- not quite the Spanish cuisine we might have imagined we’d find, but delicious none the less.  After dinner we grabbed a bottle of wine and some dessert and headed out to the beach. We spent a couple hours dipping our toes in the Mediterranean, sipping some Spanish wine and watching the sunset- perfect start to a vacation.

The next day we got up early and walked the quick three block walk to the beach.  The day was perfect and we spent all morning lying in the sand and playing in the surf. Come lunchtime we headed into the city to pick up some Spanish meats, cheeses and a loaf of bread. We ate by the pool and spent the rest of the afternoon reading and pool lounging before heading upstairs for a little siesta.

After our siesta we decided to head back to the beach, but this time to one of the many beach bars posted up every few hundred meters along the shore. After drinks we headed into the town for some tapas and to catch some of the Euro Cup action. For those of you who don’t follow soccer (“football”) the Euro Cup is currently underway and people are MAD for it. The competition is fierce between certain nations and everywhere you look people are tuning in for the big match-ups…a fun time to be in Europe as a sports fan. We sampled some Spanish tortilla and Berberechos (cockles) as we watched the Czechs unfortunate loss to the Russians. After the game we stopped for some gelato before making our way back to the hotel.

We woke up Saturday to another bright and sunny day and my birthday!!  We ate a delicious breakfast at the hotel and headed back out to the beach. Since our (well mostly my) pasty white skin hadn’t seen a good amount of sun in quite awhile we were both suffering from sunburns from the previous day. We decided for a birthday splurge and rented chairs and an umbrella right at the water’s edge. It turned out to be a fabulous buy and we hung out on the beach from 9:30-about 3:30.

Following our beach excursion we headed back to the hotel for a bit more pool time and some downtime.  After resting up we decided that we’d had such a good time at the beach bar the previous night we ought to go back. This time we had the good fortune to catch some live music. The band was made up of 3 Spanish musicians and the lead singer was an older ex-pat from Florida. They played old school rock, including some Elvis and all in all were pretty talented. For dinner later that night we found a spot at a place called Can Moyas.  Even though we tried to be “Spanish” about the time of our meal, when we showed up a little after 9:00 there were only about 5 other tables occupied…oh well.  We ordered a pitcher of sangria to start and then another round of the yummy Berberechos.  Then we split an order of palella and a steak- both absolutely delicious. Since it was my birthday our waiter brought over extra shots and Dave bought me a rose from one of the vendors walking through the area. At the hotel after dinner we popped some champagne and shared a big piece of chocolate cake.  I really couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing (or delicious!) start to my 27th year. Thanks baby for planning everything!!

The next morning we forced ourselves out of bed early so that we could make sure to see as much of Barcelona as we could in a day…and we saw A LOT (I have a couple ugly blisters to prove it!). We quickly dropped our bags off at the hostel and hustled downtown to catch the start of a walking tour around the Old Town of the city. Our tour guide, Gorka, was awesome and showed knew a ton about the ancient and medieval history of Barcelona. He walked us through a big portion of the gothic quarter stopping at number of different stops along the way. We learned about a few interesting Catalonian traditions and even got to see one: the dancing egg!  Every year during Corpus Christi a number of sites along the city display “dancing eggs”- these eggs are supported by water fountains and they look as though they are dancing atop the water (see picture below if you don’t believe me).  Another tradition we learned about takes place during Christmas. It’s common for every Catalonian home to have a statue of the “Caganer“, which you’ll see in the photo below, is a man taking a dump. It’s placed as part of the traditional nativity scene. There are many thoughts behind why he’s part of the Christmas tradition, but our guide believed the man to symbolize the circle of life and putting back into the earth what you take out. Whatever the reason, it’s a fun tradition but probably not one I’ll be implementing in our home in the future. The last part of our tour lead us to Plaça del Rei. Being a bit of a history buff this was one of my favorite stops because of it’s connections to King Ferdinand, Christopher Columbus and the Spanish Inquisition. Even though it’s long been proven false the steps in the square were rumored to be the place Columbus met King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella after his return from the Americas…pretty cool!

Following our tour we stopped for a quick bite before heading over to Parc de la Ciutadella.  Before finding out that we were going to Barcelona last week I really didn’t know much about the city. I’m a little embarrassed to say that my only knowledge of the city came from an episode of the Bachelorette a few years ago when Jillian had a date there.  The big thing I remember from her date is that she met the guy by this gorgeous fountain…so naturally I had to find this fountain and see it too! The fountain is not actually known as “the fountain from Jillian’s season of the Bachelorette”, but the Cascada. It’s absolutely stunning and I took a million photos as we wandering around it.

We continued our stroll through the park checking out a small lake with row boats, a number statues and small plazas and getting in a little people watching. It was Sunday and the park was crowded with groups having picnics and parties. The whole area was beautiful.

From the park we decided to head back into the Gothic Quarter in an attempt to get into the Picasso Museum (which was free after 3:00pm).  Unfortunately the line just to get in the museum was probably 300 people deep. We opted to skip the wait in an attempt to see some more of the city, so we hopped on the metro and headed up to the Antoni Gaudi designed cathedral, the Sagrada Familia. The Sagrada Familia is a beautiful church in the center of the city. Construction on the building began in 1882 and amazingly enough continues to this day. Some sources put the expected date of completion to be 2025/2026, but who knows?!  Again, we opted not to go inside due to time constraints, but we walked the entire length of the church’s exterior and were so impressed with everything about it.

Next we made our made our way over to Casa Batlló and La Pedrera to check out some more of the famous Gaudi architecture of the city. Gaudi is Catalan’s most famous architect and considered the “figurehead of Catalan Modernism”.  His style is unique and immediately recognizable, plus it’s everywhere in the city. 

We hadn’t quite had our Gaudi fix so we hopped back on the metro and headed up to our final “big stop” of the day: Park Guell.  The park is located a little farther north in the city and isn’t the most accessible. From the map it looked a good 10-15 minute walk, but the map didn’t show the fact that it’s basically located atop a giant hill.  Fortunately the path was well marked and there were even some escalators to help with the climb, but we definitely got a workout in as we made our way to the top. It was all worth it though and the park turned out to be my favorite site of the day. There were long winding trails leading visitors around to the many important sites within the park- many created by Gaudi himself. We spent a couple hours trying to catch everything.  We also visited the park during the Spain v. Italy match of the Euro Cup and could hear cheering and horns throughout the surrounding area the whole time…it was great!

As we descended back into the thick of the city the sun started to go down. We found a nice outdoor table near the University and grubbed on some sandwiches and a couple tapas. After dinner we tried to experience a little bit of the Barcelona nightlife by headed to a bar Maddie recommended called Chupitos that opened at 10:30, however when we arrived around 10:45 they still looked to be setting up and one of the staff told us they weren’t opening for another 20 minutes. At this point we’d been walking around for 12+ hours and it was raining…needless to say we decided to be old foggies and started back towards the hostel, which actually turned out to be a smart choice given that the metro system shuts down at midnight on weeknights. We were wondering how a city that starts their nights so late could close transport so early, but we got our answer the next morning when we saw huge groups of people piling out of clubs at 8:30/9:00am!

Our flight left pretty early on Monday so the only thing left to do was find me some churros con chocolate (something my friend Becky has been telling me about for more than 6 years now)! It was a little harder to find than anticipated, but we eventually spotted a place, chowed them down and made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.  It was a perfect birthday trip and I’m already planning our return trip to Spain:)