Sunday, October 30, 2011

Weekend in Paradise Part Two

After much delay:

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to wake up at a decent hour when your day’s plans don’t involve work? The morning after our spa appointment and lakeside stroll, we woke up ready and willing to start our day. We got ready and packed, and then headed down to the hotel restaurant for a wonderful breakfast—complete with mimosas! In no time we were on the road again.

Perhaps I should have taken a second look at the route I had planned on the iPhone's GPS. Again, Michigan boy here, I naturally interpreted the large green blob of land that we would have to cross as a “woodsy area” or something. This is exactly why 3D smart phones are a good idea!  A half hour later, as David cautiously navigated the tight corners of the barrier-less, cliff-side road , silence came over us as we both attempted to conceal our nerves (and in my case—outright terror). Knowing that my life was in his hands, and also knowing that any one of the numerous cyclists who kept appearing around the bend could send us over the edge, I bit my tongue, gripped my door handle and tried to admire the beauty of the expansive views.

Somehwere near the peak, we decided to pull over and check out a church. We'd been slowly climbing the mountain for about an hour, the past half hour of which was devoid of any sign of civilization. If I was impressed by the fact that someone had decided to build a church here at all, imagine how I looked at it when I found out it was built in the twelfth century!

The views were amazing, you could see all the way to the coastline. We took a few photos, and got back in the car, ecstatic to begin the trek down the other side of the mountain.

Soon, we were nearing our first destination.  The week prior, I was talking to a coworker about the trip we were planning to take.  Since he was familiar with Gerona, he offered some advice.  Based on his descriptions of each of the villages, we drew up our itinerary.  First on the route was Peratallada.  A medieval village that was tiny and compact.

The most astonishing thing about this village was how pristine and well-kept everything was!  Also, there wasn't a single building within the town limits that wasn't from the medieval era.  This combined with the scale and cleanness of it all made it very surreal to explore.  It was hard to remember that we weren't in a theme park, that this was actually the real deal!

There were so many interesting and unique things to look at!  And all with in a five-block-or-so radius!

Adding to the theme park feel were the numerous tourist-oriented business that formed the majority of Peratallada's commerce.  Most of the shops sold artisan crafts, unique artwork and souvenirs.  Glass blowing is popular in this region, so there were many shops dedicated to that.  There were also several accommodations for the size of the town, and many bars and restaurants, all which had a lot of character.

There were so many photo ops in such a small space!

I was ecstatic to see the moat!  Living in America, the only castles I had seen were Curwood's and Sleeping Beauty's, so every time I see something from this time period as iconic as a moat, it makes quite a deep impact on me!

I loved the top of the structure above.  It looks so ancient!

Next on the itinerary: Pals, which was also one of my coworker's suggestions.  As soon as he started describing it to me, I was on board.  Pals is another, larger medieval town—Gerona is just full of these gems!  The real charm of this village comes from viewing it from afar! The whole thing is nestled on a tiny a little hill in the middle of a vast plain.  I tried to get the perfect photo as we were approaching, but alas, I failed!  I suppose this means I have a reason to go back!

After having just experienced Peratallada, the initial impression of Pals wasn't quite as strong.  Imagine getting used to looking at this!

Really, it was just like that last town we saw on a larger scale.

Straight.  Out of.  FINAL.  FANTASY!

This was somebody's yard!  And that, my friends, is what dreams are made of!

We zig-zagged our way up the narrow streets and eventually made it to a lookout at the top of the hill, which provided an incredible view of these islands.  We had originally seen them from the church I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  It was here that we decided to chance our course.  They were so close and so awesome looking!  How could we not check them out!

At this point can you still believe we did all of this in one weekend?

As we descended back down the hill, I saw this father/daughter duo sitting on their balcony just observing people as they passed by.  I know that's exactly what I would spend a lot of my time doing if I lived there!

Back in the car, we reset the GPS on the David's iPhone.  Those crazy islands, which by now I had learned were called Medas Islands, had beckoned us, and we were on our way.

David became obsessed with the castle perched on top of this mountain!  Our route took us right to the foot of the mountain where there happened to be a cute little town.  We want to go back and explore this place someday!

By the time we got to L'estartit, we were parched and famished.  This coastal town was the most touristy place we'd been to all weekend, but the street we decided to eat on lined the marina and provided a decent view of the sea and the islands.  We ordered are favorite tapas and some tall beers.

While we dined, the sun finally emerged from the clouds, instantly raising the temperature at least 15 degrees, so after lunch we headed back to the car to change into our swim suits and flip flops.  Then we went and bought tickets for a mini-cruise along the Costa Brava and Medas Islands.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Costa Brava, which means "Rugged Coast" or "Wild Coast", it's the seaside strip that stretches from Blanes (an hour north of Barcelona near where I work) to the French border.

 It's named such because of the steep and rocky terrain that distinguishes it greatly from the Barcelona and Tarragona coastlines.  It is hard to believe that so much awesome is packed into one little province.  It made me feel truly lucky to live in Spain!

The boat hugged the coast, providing amazing views.  But we decided that the next time we go, we're going to rent one of these smaller boats, meant for groups of about four people.  It doesn't cost much more, and as you can see, the views must be even more intense!

On the way back towards the islands, we made our way to the bow of the boat.  We were bouncing up and down so much, it felt like my stomach was doing somersaults!  I think I was giggling more than the little boy standing next to me!  SO MUCH FUN!

The boat did a little route around the islands.  On the other side, the captain called group by group to go down to the lower level of the boat.  Large windows allowed us to observe large schools of glittering fish navigate the reef below.

When the cruise was over, we decided to get in the car and head back to Barcelona.  We had done so much, and had no trouble concluding our trip.  We'd had some serious R&R and plenty of adventure!  I've never taken so much advantage of a weekend before!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Weekend in Paradise Part One

Sometimes I look at fellow bloggers' posts documenting their recent mini excursions or road trips and I can't help but think to myself... I won.  It's not their fault.  Not everyone has some of the most amazing landscapes and impossibly charming villages so close to home.

This past weekend ended up being a big deal.  For a long time, David and I had been contemplating cashing in the lovely gift that Sonia and Manuel had given us for our wedding.  It was a Smart Box, one of those gift certificates that comes with a booklet of several options.  As soon as we opened it, we knew we were going to go with a spa day.  So, last week, we finally selected a date and facility, and decided to make it into an event.  We booked a night in the same hotel as the spa.  I consulted with a coworker to find out which little towns in the surrounding area would be the most worth checking out.  The week slowly but surely came to an end, and Saturday morning—bright and early—we were north-bound, giddy to embark on a long-overdue adventure!

MENU.  MUSIC.  ARTISTS: GLEE.  SONGS: ALL.  GO!  Despite the GPS sporadically tweaking David's nerves a bit, the drive was a blast!  It was totally reminiscent of all the road trips we used to make together out of Columbus (Chicago, Michigan, Pittsburg, Cincinnati...).  We arrived at the hotel and promptly took in what would be our home for the next twenty four hours.

The Old Wing, where our room was.
The Grand Staircase
Cute little common area by our room.
After check-in, we went up to our room to leave our belongings and change into our swim suits and robes.  Our spa appointment was at 11:30, so we headed right down.

I have never relaxed as much as I did that afternoon!  The name of the hotel is the Vichy Catalan, which is also the name of a brand of sparkling mineral water (of which the factory is right next door).  The Spa's theme was this special water, which is supposedly, due to the minerals, beneficial to the body in many ways.  We began our session with an hour in the thermal circuit.  This entailed a giant jacuzzi filled with Vichy Catalan, two amazing saunas, as well a strange path of smooth stones and water jets meant to massage your legs and feet.

After this luxurious hour, we had an inhalation session.  For about a half hour, we sat in front of tube that expelled Vichy steam in our faces.  It sounds ridiculous, but it was one of the most relaxing experiences of my life!  

Next, we were taken up on an elevator for the main event.  An hour-long double massage.  My masseuse was a godsend.  I'd never had a professional massage before, let alone a full body massage, and I struggled to contain my ecstatic moans.  David, on the other hand, was struggling not to whimper.  His masseuse was a stocky blonde woman who looked like her name could be Helga and who quite possibly hailed from Sweden.  Not long after her "man hands" attacked him, he was already pleading for mercy!  But, despite the pain, he enjoyed the massage almost as much as I did.  Afterwards, they gave us a few minutes to lay there before we got up and got dressed.  Neither of us could move.  The aromatherapy, the candles, the music.  It was all too much.  I was pretty sure that elevator had taken us straight up to heaven.  Luckily, the reality we then had to go back to was nothing to fret about.

We went up to our rooms and relaxed a little while watching a movie about Judy Garland.  And then we decided to take a little road trip.  David had seen a little blip on the map, representing a lake, so we decided to head up to Banyoles and check it out.  We were not disappointed.

As soon as we arrived we found a little bar right on the edge of the lake.  I saw a sign for cheap mojitos and new it was meant to be.  They ended up being the best ones we had ever tasted!  (Except maybe for Sonia and Manuel's.)

After our drinks, we decided to take a walk along the lake.  Being from Michigan, you wouldn't really expect lakes to impress me all that much.  But being from Michigan, I'm not really accustomed to seeing lakes flanked my mountains.  The combination is breathtaking and creates an atmosphere more serene that I could have ever imagined!


All along the lakeshore, there were these tiny abandoned houses where people used to dock their boats.  When I saw this one, I immediately fell in love.  I instantly wanted the deed to this little place.  Can you imagine having this as your writing space?  I just know I could gush out a whole novel in one sitting if these were my surroundings.

As we entered the town, it became clear that there was some sort of sporting event going on.  As we neared a large park, we caught the final phase of a triathlon.  It must have been a tense one, because before long we were dodging an ambulance on its way to treat a participant.  Minutes later a helicopter swooped in and landed right next to the track to rush the patient off to the hospital!  It was a truly surreal thing to witness!


After that little incident, the walk back to the car was quiet and relaxing.  All and all, the excursion was a perfect follow-up to our day at the Spa. But soon we would need dinner.  So we decided to make our way back towards the hotel.  Right by the car, we found this sign and decided to honor our brief stay here with a photographic farewell.

The route we ended up taking to get back ran right through the city center of Girona.  Just to give you an understanding, We live in Barcelona, which is part of the Autonomous Community of Cataluña.  Cataluña is broken up into four provinces: Barcelona (in the middle, on the coast), Tarragona (also on the coast, to the south), Girona (to the north, on the coast as well), and Lérida (to the west of Barcelona).  Each province has a capital of the same name.  All of the places we visited this past weekend were to the north, in the province of Girona.  But now I am talking about the city.

David and I had come up to the city of Girona once before, for a flower festival.  I fell in love with it.  It's charm is so unique and the lifestyle here is palpable.  It's not an enormous city like Barcelona, but it's just big enough.  The vibrant medieval neighborhood gives it a truly romantic air while the quirky riverside denotes an authentic European metropolis.

Now that I'm looking at photos and reflecting on that festival, I'm realizing how badly I want to blog about it!  But just to give you a sneak peak, here are a couple of photos from that day!

WOW, right!  Just wait until you see the photos from the festival.  This place is MAGIC.  And, as it turns out, it's just as spectacular at night.  

We decided to stop and eat here.  We were wondering through this trendy, old neighborhood when it dawned on David that his old co-worker's parents owned a restaurant nearby.  We asked a waitress who'd just stepped outside for a cigarette if she knew where Artusi, the restaurant in question, might be.  Low and behold, it was just around the corner!  The ambience in the restaurant was divine and the food was absolutely exquisite!  It was an ideal date night, made even better by the fact that it wasn't even planned!

An hour later, after a drive far darker than we're used to these days, we arrived at the hotel.  I wanted to party long into the night, but David had sleep on his mind.  This was probably a good thing, since we had a long day ahead of us!  A day, I'm afraid, I'll have to explain in Part Two.  I can't believe how long it's taken me just to get here!  I'm sure you'll need a break too, but check back soon to hear about the wonderful medieval villages and exotic rock islands we discovered in the conclusion of our fabulous weekend that we somehow managed to cram into a single weekend!

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Now that I finally have a job, I enjoy the weekend so much more. We make such an effort to take advantage of them! Of course this has meant plenty of time at the beach, but the best part is that now that we both have incomes, we can start checking off the list of things in Barcelona that I've yet to experience! Yesterday's mission accomplished: The Barcelona Aquarium!

Whenever I go to an aquarium, the two things I'm most amped up for are the sea horses and the manta rays. Sea horses are just so damn cute and awkward! Manta rays on the other hand, well, let's just say that they and I have a connection. Whenever I come across one, it always swims right over to me, greeting me with a giant smile. Basically, we're tight. And now that I live on the coast, it makes me feel good to know that if I were ever to find myself stranded out in the sea, my buddies would most likely come to my rescue.

The truth is that Sydney's Aquarium spoiled me a bit, and I don't know if another will ever live up to it. But Barcelona's reminded me a lot of Sydney's! The Sydney Aquarium is nestled into Darling Harbor while Barcelona's resides in Port Vell (Old Harbor). Both feature enormous tunnels below the harbor that allow you to observe the marina life from an unbeatable perspective, as well as a wide array of species to observe!

If you visit Barcelona, and you like Aquariums, I'd definitely recommend checking it out!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Nostalgic Tunes

The last couple of days, I've been listening to some of my old school favorites. You know those old CDs you practically wore out, the ones that somehow missed the migration into digital media? It's been almost surreal listening to the likes of Matchbox 20 and Third Eye Blind on an iPod while maneuvering through Barcelona. This setting—this life—is a harsh contrast to the one I lead when these tracks last graced my ears. I love being able to appreciate them in a whole new way.

A long time ago—i.e. over a decade ago—I joined Columbia House. This was in that particular phase of life when it becomes very important to establish a personal taste in music. I guess the "personal" part was a little unclear for us preteens, as we crowded the malls with a pocket-full of allowance to pick up whatever titles we could recognize from the local top 40 station. This lead to a pretty awkward selection when I chose which 12 CDs the company would send me just for joining the club. I spent a good twenty minutes this morning trying to recreate the list, and somehow I actually managed. So here they are!

  1. Oasis - (What's the Story) Morning Glory?
  2. Vertical Horizon - Everything You Want
  3. TLC - FanMail
  4. Cherry Poppin' Daddies - Zoot Suit Riot
  5. Barenaked Ladies - Stunt
  6. Incubus - Make Yourself
  7. Britney Spears - ...Baby One More Time
  8. Third Eye Blind - Self-titled
  9. Will Smith - Big Willie Style
  10. Matchbox 20 - Yourself or Someone Like You
  11. Eagle Eye Cherry - Desireless
  12. Savage Garden - Self-titled
Some of these albums I only listened to for a little while before tucking them away, never to be played again. Others, though, would go on to define me a little bit. The albums by Matchbox 20, Savage Garden, Incubus, Vertical Horizon, are some of the most influential and nostalgic soundtracks of my life! I vividly remember listening to these songs in my room, back when listening to music was an activity by its own right—not just an afterthought. I remember soaking in the melodies and the lyrics and feeling like certain songs were written just for me. I don't get that feeling very often anymore. Isn't that sad? But occasionally I do, sometimes with newly discovered music, but more frequently with these cherished relics of my past.

I chose these CDs at random. They were completely influenced by whatever music I was hearing on the radio and/or my friends were listening to at the time. But when I listen to some of these albums today, they feel like a part of me that's engraved way down deep. Do you have any music like this? If so, how did you discover it? And do you still listen to this day?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Anniversary(/ies)

I'm finding it hard to blog lately. My mind is consumed by the waiting game. 10 days ago, I had my third interview (and presented my second project) with the company for which David now works. I received positive feedback and was told they would be in touch within 10 days. Well, today is Sunday, so hopefully this week will bring news whether it be good or bad!

The problem is—well, I shouldn't say "problem"—the thing is that this isn't just a job, but thee job. The company is practically the anti-Abercrombie. The position I would have would be 100 times more creative than my previous one and infinitely more important (as the design team in this company is small and tight, as opposed to my last job in which hundreds of designers touched the product only to have it mutilated later by the merchants and/or directors). Anyway, I know I have to stay positive and not place all my eggs in one basket and all of that other stuff that I try to live by—but when you want something as bad as I want this, it becomes nearly impossible to uphold these virtues.

Really, though, I'm not here to write about my nerves. Two days ago marked my year anniversary of living here in Spain. In addition, it marked the first time David and I have been together for a year. There have been so many ups and downs between this:

June 17, 2010
Suite in Casanova Hotel

and this:

June 17, 2011
Picnic in Trinitat Vella Park

I decided to celebrate the occasion by surprising David after work with a picnic in a local park. It was so nice to lay on the grass and look up at the sky while reminiscing over the trials and triumphs over the past 12 months.

I feel like it'd be highly appropriate to do a really thorough recap post, much like I did for my 3 month anniversary, but I just don't have the mindset for it. Way back, when David was still with me in Columbus, we made a plan. That plan included being apart for a long time (which ended up being nine months in total), working hard, saving money, and eventually my moving to Spain. But the plan didn't end there. The final part of the plan concluded with both of us finding decent, permanent jobs and making enough money to support ourselves (with perhaps a little extra to go towards semi-frequent trips back to America!). David has upheld his end of the deal! He just got hired by a new company, with a permanent contract and better pay! Now it's my turn! I never thought a year would go by without my finding work, but here I am, and now that I'm so close, it's increasingly difficult to concentrate on all of life's other blessings!

Regardless of whether or not I get this job, something will come along soon, because, well, it just has to. When it does, despite having less time, I know I'll have more drive to write. I'll be able to focus on the numerous other post ideas I have brewing. Not to mention I'll feel like a valuable human being again. I'll have a real life which might even provide new stories to share! (If I blogged my day to day right now, the redundancy of posts like: "looked for jobs today—nothing promising—got really nervous—then became lazy—then got guilty about being lazy and started cleaning" would probably drive away more readers than I have to begin with).

Well, I'll wrap this baby up before I get too carried away. I can't even conclude properly, that's how frazzled this situation has me! If you made it this far, please wish me luck this week! And I promise as soon as I know something, I'll write and share!

Monday, May 23, 2011


Back in college, I read or heard somewhere that if you quit smoking by the age of 25, your lungs could eventually reverse all the effects of having been a smoker. I never looked into it any further, and I'm not entirely sure it holds any ground, but it became my mantra and my excuse. I could continue smoking until I turned 25, and then simply give it up.

Well, my 25th year came and went. But it was just too hard, smoking was part of my identity, one of the first character traits I developed the year I began to figure myself out. Not only that, but I seriously enjoy the act of smoking. Now I'm 26 and quite possibly going through one of those quarter-life crisis thingies. Bottom line: it's time for a change.

I've been toying with the idea of giving up the habit for months, but as I've told everyone around me who's expressed concern, I wasn't going to be successful until I was ready. I needed to be committed.

I got a pretty bad cold last week. It had me cut back to about one or two cigarettes a day. Any smoker can tell you that our colds last a bit longer than those of non-smokers. There's the duration of the bug and all its nagging symptoms, and then there's the relentless cough that carries on for at least a week after everything should be out of our system.

In the midst of a phlegm attack, lying in bed one night, I just decided that it was time. I wanted to be healthy again. I wanted to be able to run greater distances, climb stairs without getting winded and even hit some of those high notes Jason Mraz is constantly taunting me with, reminding me of my past glory. More importantly, with my bank account depleting so quickly and no sign of a job just yet, I don't want to spend another dime on a pointless bad habit. So I stopped.

It's day three. I still don't feel like a non-smoker. My poor lungs won't let me, and neither will my nerves. I feel almost crippled by my fragile emotional state and I am constantly coughing up phlegm. It's disgusting and painful. But It's part of the process, and so in essence, progress. Plus, I think I'm getting a pretty intense ab workout.

Anyway, I wanted deliver the memo here on my blog. That way the cat is out of the bag and I actually have to hold myself to it. Also, quitting isn't the only change I'm undertaking. Another important one is writing more. And if I have the will power to quit cold turkey, the simple act of writing more often doesn't seem so unobtainable, does it?

That's all for now, writing just makes me want a cigarette!