Thursday, August 3, 2017

Winding down from Spanish vacation.

Back in Astana now. Ended my vacation in Spain just three days ago. Wow. What an amazing adventure with great people, filled with tons of fun, good times, great weather, WAY TOO MUCH FOOD, and plenty of delicious drinks. I have about 500 pictures I'd love to show you, but I've included just a few from the trip.

I'm almost in disbelief at how laid back and easy life is in Spain. Mid afternoon siestas where the streets are literally empty and the metal roll down shutters are all locked, barring any business from taking place. Beautiful sunny beaches, full of tourists and locals, lined with the a cool calm ocean to dip in. Hikes on the coastal cliffs with postcard views, leading into a small fishing town with historical architecture. It was all so amazing.

My friends Jordan and Emily, along with my sister, Daniella, were such great travel companions. With easy going attitudes and an aversion to saying no, the trip was a total success. First Barcelona, then San Sebastian, and finally Madrid. From the people, to the food, to the architecture, to the beaches, on the trains, in the streets, sitting in the cafes, shopping at the markets, everything was such a rich and rewarding experience.

I arrived a day early, took the subway from the Barcelona airport to near my hostel, where i would stay for one night. I couldn't find the damn place, so I stopped in a cafe, had a beer, croquetas, and espresso. Perfect start to the trip! Luckily, every local I talked to was very kind and willing to help. As the waitress and myself looked outside for the hostel that I couldn't find, turns out it was literally next door! So I checked in, and wandered around Barcelona for an evening. It was a great feeling to just walk and walk and walk and get kinda lost in a new city before finally looking at a map to find your way back home. The next day, waited for Daniella before checking into the air bnb I had booked earlier. Jordan and Emily would arrive a day later, and so we had a night to ourselves before the debauchery began...

Here's a brief overview of how the trip went, according to the notes my sister took:

Barcelona - Day 1:

We walked along Las Ramblas, a touristy type of street, very beautiful, filled with people and shops and smells and markets. Ended up going to Boqueria market, an open air market with food and drinks and juices and fruits and meats and tapas and spices and... people! So many people. Daniella and I found two stools at one of the stalls serving food and drinks. We had some delicious seafood, tapas style, the way almost all of our food was consumed on this trip. Also a few drinks before heading into the Gothic Quarter. A beautiful neighborhood to say the least. The narrow alleyways crisscrossing and veering here and there. There were plenty of cafes, little shops, and random squares of open space and the occasional church. We walked along there for a bit before heading back to the air bnb.

I can't remember ALL of the details, but we eventually had some sangria and people watched near the Columbus monument before making our way to Tablao de Carmen for a flamenco show. It was definitely a bit touristy, but very very good entertainment. There were some tapas and wine included and we were very close to the stage. The intense dancing and dress twirling combined with guitar, clapping, and foot stomping was really an amazing dance to witness. There were two women and two men that danced all in all. I would highly recommend seeing at least one flamenco show if you're ever in Spain.

So, after the show, which was in a restaurant that was itself inside of a historical museum grounds, the Poble Espanyol, an open-air architectural museum, just a few hundred meters away from the fountains of Montjuic. We were about to leave, when we saw a large group of about 150 people watching some movie on a projector screen in an open area. Turns out the movie was Mama Mia. Turns out it was a sing along. Turns out, all of the movie was dubbed, except the songs were in English. There were actually dancers that came out on a stage in front of the screen every time a musical number came on in the movie. Every song saw the entire crowd of people up out of their folding chairs, dancing, waving their arms, singing along. It was a surprising and fun experience to say the least. Of course, Daniella absolutely LOVED it, and I enjoyed seeing it all play out the way it did as well. We left right before the end, and got a taxi back to the air bnb.

Barcelona - Day 2:

Daniella and I were awaiting Jordan and Emily's arrival, without a direct way to communicate with them, with the last communication being that they would just come meet us at the air bnb. So I went and got myself a local sim card, and then Daniella and I sauntered on down to the cafe across the street to await the arrival of our friends. We had some breakfast, coffee, waters, and eventually spotted our travel companions wandering the streets towards the apt. We caught up with them, had a little more breakfast, and got up to the apt. to unpack and unwind a little. But it didn't really take us long to decide to just go out and start this vacation for real!

That day, Jordan and Emily were really troopers when it came to staying active. They didn't sleep till that night! I did see Jordan nodding off at one of the cafes where we stopped for sangria, but that's about it. We walked to the Sagrada Familia, the Arco de Triunfo de Barcelona, through Ciutadella Park, and ended up at the Boqueria market again for some dinner and more drinks. All throughout, stopping for sangria or beer or coffee or water along the way, of course. By the time we got back from all this, Jordan and Emily were really just beat, so Daniella and I left them to sleep early while we visited the Montjuic magic fountain. A fountain with water and lights set to music as a spectacle show. There were literally hundreds of people crowded around this fountain! It actually felt really good to have some of the water spray hit you, and there were plenty of other visually appealing buildings with steps top sit on and places to loiter around. It was Saturday after all, and people just seemed to be hanging out mostly.

Barcelona - Day 3:

We all went to breakfast at this really amazing cafe, Bar Mostassa, where the food was crazy good. Unfortunately, Daniella's iPhone got stolen right from the table. It was some really slick trick with a map and this woman that just looked deranged. Luckily, Daniella had a really good attitude about it. Unfortunately, that meant my phone was in Daniella's hand most of the trip! After that, we all took a cable car ride to the Monjuic castle, a military fortress on the coast with nice views of Barcelona. We walked around there for a bit before taking the cable car back down and then we headed to Barceloneta beach. We sunbathed, swam, drank some wine that we had brought in a cooler bag, at some cheese, bread, and for some reason we had pink donuts that we got at a mini mart. ha ha.

The beach was a great rest activity, and we started to leave just as a quick and intense rain storm rolled in onto the beach. It was short lived, thankfully, and we headed to find a taxi in the light drizzle. We got back, all showered, and got ready to go out again. We ended up at Luzia restaurant, an Italian and American inspired place with really great setting. Of course, again, the food was soooo good, except mine which was spaghetti that tasted like a school cafeteria lunch. Kinda my own fault for ordering spaghetti! O well, I had plenty of Iberian ham, drinks, tapas, bites of other foods. We all had gotten tickets to another flamenco show in Placa Reial that night, and made our way there, arriving JUST on time to stand at the bar literally as the show was starting. Another amazing experience for all of us. Having a drink, watching these intense performers dance and clap and stomp in their beautiful dresses and suits.

The night continued on, wherein we continued bar hopping for a drink here and there, visiting bar Sincopa, Manchester Bar, (English dive bar), and Sub Rosa cocktail bar, which was a really cool little cave of a bar (literally) with amazing cash only drink menus.

Barcelona Day 4 - Wow we'd already done so much, and there was still so much ahead of us!

Daniella headed out a bit earlier than us, walked around looking at some of the Gaudi buildings, LaPedrera & Casa Batllo. She also visited the older market in Barcelona, Santa Caterina, having lunch of grilled squid there before heading to Vegetalia to meet up with the rest of us. We had made it there just a few minutes before Daniella, and we all had some amazing vegetarian brunch, looking out into an open square in the Gothic district. Then, we headed to the nearby Picasso Museum, being literally the last couple of people to be allowed entry before they closed in the afternoon.

Soon after we left, we went to 4 Gats, the restaurant and bar that Picasso actually hang out at and designed the menu for. Opened in 1897, it has really amazing and beautiful decor, and OF COURSE great cocktails and food. We only had some patatas bravas and chips, but they were really good. And the vermouth was muy declicioso. We left there after 2 drinks, and kinda just wandered in a general direction, ending up at the Palau de la Musica Catalana, a beautiful music hall, where we sat and had a bottle of cava (sparkling wine produced like champagne) in the atrium bar.

Finally, we made it to our destination of Cal Pep! We'd been informed that we HAD TO GO THERE based on Daniella's friends recommendation that it was her favorite place in Barcelona. Well, she was right. Cal Pep was an amazing place and a great experience. We got sat immediately, somehow miraculously, as this place is reallllly small. The dining room (another literal cave of a room) held 20 people at most. The waiter was great, as we told him that Jordan and Emily were vegetarian, and the we just want him to keep bringing food out as per his recommendation. The service was great, the food was amazing, and our glasses were always full. We really had fun and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

We started back towards the air bnb, stopping for a bottle of wine at a bar near Santa Maria del Mar, and then at a place called Maitea for drinks and tapas, before heading back to the air bnb.

Barcelona morning - Day 5.

We got up early this day to go see Park Guell, a beautiful wonderland of mosaics and architecture. It was really like a willy-wonka fantasy land of architecture. We walked around there for a bit and ended up at this amazing lookout over Barcelona called Tres Cruces (Three crosses) where you could see all of Barcelona. Luckily, the weather was cool and a bit cloudy for us, so it wasn't too hot to be outside that day.

It was still relatively early so we went and had breakfast at this place called Brunch & Cake. I don't know what it was, but the whole trip we had really good timing or karma or something because we would always get sat right away at all the places we went to. Brunch & Cake was this hip cafe where the food was more culinary artistry than your average bagel and cream cheese. My salmon eggs Benedict was served on a black charcoal waffle with a summer salad, loaded into a literal shovel spade. It was really awesome and delicious. Check out the pictures of some of our food.

We headed to the train station to depart for San Sebastian, but first we had some time to kill, so we locked up our baggage in a train station locker for 5 EUR, and went and hung out in nearby park for about an hour. Then we boarded that train with our few beers and light snacks we picked up from the train station. Even the little pre-made sandwiches from the train station were fresh and satisfying.

San Sebastian - Day 5:

We arrived around 9:30 p.m. Got the keys to the air bnb, which was reaaallllyyy an awesome spot. Nice and big, cool weather coming in through the windows, nice bathroom, clothes washer, kitchen, and pretty good location. We ate some dinner at the pintxos (PINCH-oh's) bar right next door to us, Oliyos. The drinks were great and the food was good, a common theme that we all just couldn't escape even if we tried. That night we walked down towards the beach and got our feet a little sandy before heading back to the apt. for some much needed sleep.

San Sebastian - Day 6:

We had a small little breakfast of pastries and pintxos at the close by cafe La Tahona and Bar Luis, sitting on the street side tables watching people walking by, starting their day.

This was the day where we made our way along a 5 mile coastal hike from San Sebastian to Puerto Pasajes de San Pedro, a small beautiful fishing village. The hike was actually a bit challenging for us, and halfway through we stopped atop a coastal boulder, having a little lunch of local fruits, goat cheese, and bread that we picked up before the hike. It was freakin amazing and beautiful. Somehow, we all decided to take a little off the marked trail shortcut, and it was really off the beaten path. We were almost trailblazing, coming to one point were the path became very steep downwards and then back up. But we did survive and conquered the off-trail path, finding our way back to the marked trail, and heading briskly to the end of the trail, as we were all getting hungry, and we were sober! for way too long!...

Upon arrival at Pasajes, you see a really large inlet channel where shipping boats arrive to unload the cargo holds. We took a small .70 EUR ferry across the channel to where there were restaurants and cafes. We had a few drinks at two different cafes, one with some small tapas. The language barrier here was more apparent, as the town was really small and mostly people only spoke Spanish or Basque, with a small amount of English. So we eventually took the bus back to San Sebastian, getting to more pintxos to eat on the way back to the air bnb. Baztam, Munto Restaurante, Casa Alcade, all for drink and pintxos. We had plenty of amazing food and good drinks that evening.

San Sebastian - Day 7:

I went with Jordan in the morning to grab some breakfast items so we could cook for ourselves in the apt. We got back and cooked some eggs, had apricot, some really thin Spanish bacon, and some OJ and coffee. It was a nice reprieve from always going out to eat.

Afterward, we got ready for the beach! La Concha was the beach we went to. Blazing sun, soft sand, chilly ocean water, all lined with a stone seawall backdrop and some scattered large boulders and small flysch formations jutting out from the stone walls carved into the beautiful beachfront town.

We spent hours at the beach, and yes, I got slightly burned on my back. But what a relaxing day it was.

Later that night, after showering and whatnot, we headed to Ganbara, a cafe/restaurant that we had been attempting to visit since we arrived in San Sebastian, but had always been closed. So we got there right as they opened, and once again got sat immediately in the downstairs restaurant area. Another cave of a room with stone walls and cozy interior. We chose this place because it was renowned for it's mushroom dishes. Turns out it was also a Michelin star restaurant, so knock that off the bucket list... :) The food was really so good. Daniella and I shared some tuna carpacio, and had charcoal grilled monk fish. The food was good, drinks were good, desert was good. Beyond good actually, it was stellar. Really a nice time with friends.

We continued to drink win in Constitution Plaza, and headed to another bar, Zibbibo, we decided would be a good spot to go, because it was open... Turns out it was a GREAT spot to go to. The bartender made Jordan and I some really good old fashioned cocktails that took 8 minutes of stirring to make. Worth the wait, and we sat outside at some tables in an open plaza area. Afterward, headed to another bar/cafe, Relojberri, where we shared a pitcher of Sangria before calling it a night again.

San Sebastian morning - Day 8:

Another light breakfast of eggs, toast, jam, fruit, grapes, and juice at the air bnb, before packing up and dropping our luggage at the train station. We walked around and shopped for a few hours, before visiting the Baztam bar again for more pintxos before departing to Madrid.

We arrived late in Madrid, got a taxi to the air bnb and met with the owner's mother for a quick overview of the city and neighborhood and what to do and where to go. The neighborhood we were in was really cool and hip. Plenty of young tattooed people, characters, sounds of evening fun, bars, cafes, etc. We had some wine at a place called La Falda and then La Playa Lavapies for vermouth drinks and tinto de verano. Also ended up at an Indian restaurant late night for some food, placed called Safaran. Actually was really delicious and perfect for late night food.

Madrid - Day 9:

We had breakfast at a great cafe called Pump Pum Cafe, fresh food, avocado toast, delicious coffee, perfect cozy atmosphere. Just really nice and easy and calm, just like all of Spain really. Walked into this Spanish comic book store called Al Coleccionista, where we found some funny adult Spanish vintage magazines and other interesting comics. We walked to a leather shop we had been planning to shop at, but alas, it was closed. So we walked to Almudena Cathedral, next to the royal palace and walked around inside for a bit, taking in the architecture, stained glass windows, and murals and statues. Then close-by, we walked outside of the Royal Palace of Madrid before walking along the Paseo del Pinto Rosales street and Parque del Oeste. Can't forget that we stopped for a minute so some of us could use that .10EUR public single occupant restroom that played some nice jazz music for you while you occupied it.

We took the Teleferico (cable cars) over Casa de Campo with a view fo the Madrid skyline and the Royal palace. At the top there was a little cafe where we had a beer and shared a mozzarella panini, before taking the cable cars back to the starting point. We stopped at El Estragon Vegetariano, a vegetarian cafe that was also very delicious. We decided to head back to the apt. for a little siesta and recharge for a few hours. It was much needed and I can see how this is a good idea on a regular basis.

We had some late night snacks and the Market de San Manuel. Olives, tapas, vermouth, chips, just some snacks really. Then we headed back because boy were we tired!

Madrid - Day 10:

We all had a nice late breakfast at Lap Cafe, then headed to the El Rastro outdoor flea market. It was a Sunday thing where one street is closed down for vendors to setup stalls. Daniella and Emily both got purses, but really nice ones actually for a decent price.

Ended up at Cascorro bar for beers and just to get off our feet for a minute, then back to Mercado de San Fernando for drinks and food again. Ended up again at the Playa Lavapies bar for about 5 rounds of drinks before we had dinner at Bar Barbieri and, once again, wonderful wonderful food and drinks.

The next day Daniella and I both had flights out of Madrid, hers being early and mine in the afternoon. So I'm sure I missed plenty of details about our trip but there was so much we did, I could never really explain or remember it all! I saw Daniella off that morning and then hung out with Jordan and Emily until about 12:30pm. Jordan got himself a pair of boots made from Spanish leather, really nice.

It was such a great trip I was kinda sad to end it, but at the same time I was SOOO happy I got to experience such an amazing trip with my great friends, my sister, and also that we managed to do so much in our short time in Spain. I'd definitely consider going back sometime and spending more time in some of the same places.

 Now, I'm here in Astana, back at work. Yesterday I talked to my superior, and I'm giving my resignation today. I am just not satisfied with this job, with my life here, and with the future I would have with the company, or this industry for that matter. I figure I could have a job I don't like in the states just as easily, and have a much better quality of life at least. So I'll be heading back home soon, to Florida, before I eventually move to NYC with my sister sometime close to the beginning of next year. I'm really not sure what will happen, or where I'll end up, or what I'll do for work, but I'm okay with that and I'm glad that at least I've had this experience in Kazakhstan. I'm excited for the future still and can't wait to eat real chicken wings and have a Publix sub.

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