Barcelona, Spain: Barrio Gótico

As previously mentioned, the hop-on/hop-off bus dropped us off at Barrio Gótico, which is also known as the Gothic Quarter. At one point, this area was a Roman village, and some of this great history can still be found here. There are beautiful cathedrals, churches, restaurants, and shops—all of which can be found in the 2,000 year old Gothic Quarter and any of the side streets you may find yourself walking along.

My sister and I stopped for churros y chocolate (churros, also known as a fried dough pastry with chocolate) since this is said to be a must in Spain. When the dessert is ready, you receive a plate full of churros and a cup of warm, melted chocolate, and you dip your churros in the chocolate, and enjoy!

Once we had enough to eat, we continued walking until we came across another bakery that had been highly recommended—Ecribá. We ordered a cremadet, which is a caramelized custard filled puff pastry. Once we were stuffed and had enough to eat, we continued walking around outside, until we came across an exciting parade taking place nearby.

One of the shops we passed in the quarter was a store for jamón ibérico, or cured ham, which happens to be very big throughout the country. We saw an employee cutting slices of ham (pictured below), which is exactly how the locals do it at home as well. We found another beautiful church in the area with a great sign that stood out to me. It read, “Caigas donde caigas. Allí estaremos,” which roughly translates to: Fall where you fall; we’ll be there.

As we turned onto a side street, we walked past another sign that seemed to be a campaign of some sort which read, “I’m doing nothing.” Underneath, a question was written, “How many things would you do if you were not scared?” This is definitely food for thought that many of us could benefit from taking the time to think about.

Barcelona, Spain: Catedral de Barcelona

The hop-on/hop-off bus dropped us off in the Barrio Gótico, also known as the Gothic Quarter. I’ll describe the Gothic Quarter more in depth in a later post, but as we walked around the area, we spotted the Catedral de Barcelona, also known as the Cathedral of Barcelona.

After waiting in line, we finally entered the Cathedral, which was absolutely stunning.  Construction for the Cathedral began during the 11th Century, but whatever had been built was destroyed by the Moors in 985. Construction began once again a little later on and the central part of the building was completed in the mid 1400’s. However, the building’s facade was not completed until the late 1800’s.

There are twenty nine side chapels within the church, one of which is said to contain a “miraculous crucifix,” which supposedly helped defeat the Turks during the Battle of Lepanto (http://barcelona.de/en/barcelona-cathedral-la-seu.html).

Some other interesting facts about the Cathedral include the fact that the Cathedral is dedicated to Santa Eulàlia, the patron saint of Barcelona. During the Roman period, Santa Eulàlia was tortured to death, and her body lies buried underneath the high altar. February 12th is dedicated to her, as locals celebrate a day of feasting in her memory.

On the side of the Cathedral, there is a beautiful Cloister with additional chapels, tranquil fountains, and beautiful landscaping. It has been said that from this area, you can hear nearby geese. Years ago, the geese supposedly “warned against intruders and thieves” (http://barcelona.de/en/barcelona-cathedral-la-seu.html).

There is a small elevator inside the Cathedral that takes visitors up to the rooftop. From there, we saw incredible views of the city from such a unique and special vantage point.

Enjoying Lisbon, Portugal: Part 4

Once we finished touring Castelo São Jorge, my sister and I had to make our way back to the city center, where we first began our excursion. From there, we would catch a local bus, which would take us back to the airport. As we walked through the Alfama once again, we came across another olden-day cathedral, but our best (and most delicious) find happened to be in the city center. We spotted Confeitaria Nacional—Lisbon’s oldest confectionery, dating back to 1829.

As my sister and I walked into Confeitaria Nacional, we were in awe of the assortment of pastries available on display. We had a difficult time making the decision of what to order, but one of the locals recommend that we try a Pastel de Nata—an egg tart pastry common in Portugal. It exceeded our expectations, and was the perfect treat to conclude our brief trip to Lisbon. As we savored every last crumb, the city bus arrived, and it was time for us to return to the airport and continue on our trip to Barcelona, Spain.

Enjoying Lisbon, Portugal

As mentioned in a previous post, after our trip to Colombia, my sister and I traveled to Israel for a week to visit some of our family members who live there. On the way, we had plans to stop in Spain for a few days, and it just so happens that we were able to find a flight from Miami that stopped in Lisbon, Portugal for a few hours before continuing to Spain.

We arrived in Lisbon at around 5:00am, and had nearly ten hours to explore the city before having to return to the airport. After passing customs and dropping our suitcases off in a locker room, we hopped on the city bus that took us to the city center, nearly thirty minutes away from the airport. By the time we arrived to Praça de Comércio, also known as the city center, it was around 6:30am. Almost every store and restaurant were closed, and the only people on the streets besides us were store owners getting ready to open, people who were making their way back home after a long night, and street cleaners. We had what seemed like the entire city to ourselves, so naturally, we walked around and explored.

In preparing for the trip, I found a walking tour itinerary, so we followed the directions and began our tour. After walking through the city center, we made our way to the first stop, Igreja de Madalena which dates back to 1783, although it has a history that dates back centuries before. “This Church was founded in the 12th century, ordered by the first Portuguese king, D. Afonso Henriques in the 12th century, yet it has suffered many transformations over the centuries, namely in 1363 when it was quite destroyed by a big fire; in 1512 with other architectonic alterations; in 1600 was partially destroyed by a small cyclone; and with the big earthquake of 1755 was almost totally destroyed and rebuilt afterwards, maintaining some ancient elements, as well as several Lisboa’s buildings that wererebuilt after the big catastrophe” (www.getportugal.com).

From here, we walked down the street until we came across Igreja de San António, also from the 1700’s which was built atop what is said to be the saint’s birthplace. After walking around the church, we found Sé de Lisboa, which is Lisbon’s cathedral. Here, in Lisbon’s oldest building dating back to 1150, is where Saint Anthony was baptized and where the casket with the remains of St. Vincent, the official patron saint of Lisbon are located. (http://www.golisbon.com/sight-seeing/cathedral.html).

We were fortunate enough that by the time we made it to each particular site, the doors were just being opened for entrance. Our morning was off to an incredible start, as we were able to see so many beautiful sights, but this was only the beginning!

Day 2 In Antigua, Guatemala Continued

To pick up from my last blog post, after lunch, we continued to walk around Antigua to see some of the more well known sites. We happened to have eaten lunch right next to the Arco de Santa Catalina, which was built in the 17th century as a passageway for the Santa Catalina covenant and an adjoining school. Its purpose was for the nuns to pass from from one building to the next without having to go out into the street. This arch is the only remnant of the covenant, and is considered by many to be a “must-see” in Antigua.

From there, we continued to walk along the street and pass through a local market shop with traditional trinkets and goods. We then came across Convento Santa Clara which like so many other buildings had been destroyed by various earthquakes since the 1700s. Following our time at Convento Santa Clara, we found La Merced Cathedral which was built in 1548 and rebuilt in the 1700s since it had been destroyed twice by earthquakes. The Cathedral was beautiful and had a stunning view outside of both the scenery and of locals picnicking and enjoying the sunset.

We made our way back to the hotel (and passed the Arco de Santa Catalina once more) to get cleaned up before going out for dinner. We had to get a good night sleep though because we had a big day ahead of us the following morning.

Day 2 In Antigua, Guatemala

Our first morning in Antigua was spent at El Convento de las Capuchinas, the largest covenant in Antigua built solely by Capuchin nuns in the 1700’s. Unfortunately, after some destruction caused by an earthquake, the covenant was abandoned, but restored in the mid-1900’s for the pubic to see.

From there, we walked over to the Catedral de Santiago, which has ruins dating back to the 1500’s. Although the cathedral was destroyed twice by two different earthquakes, the ruins were still beautiful and it was a great sight to see with an abundance of history behind it.

Following our morning excursions, we took some time to walk around the city and explore a local market. While doing so, we came across a nice, small restaurant to have lunch at before beginning our afternoon explorations which will be continued in an upcoming post.

Passing By Slovakia to Get to Budapest

As our time in Poland had come to an end, it was time for us to embark on our next journey to Budapest, Hungary. The bus ride took over six hours, so we made a few pit stops along the way. Our first stop was to the oldest Roman Catholic church in the upper Orava region (consisting of northern Slovakia and part of southern Poland). Orawka, built in the mid-1600s and featured on the UNESCO World Heritage List, is covered in beauty every which way you turn. The paintings, sculptures, and the history behind this church were beyond impressive to gaze at. And when I didn’t even think it was possible, upon seeing the breathtaking scenic route outside of the church is when an even bigger impression was made on us.

While passing through the remaining parts of Poland, we came across an array of magnificent houses which we were told are owned by farmers. The farmers want to make their property as enticing as possible so that their children will stay at home and help them with the farm, as opposed to moving out and working elsewhere. As the bus ride progressed, we had to say “do widzenia” (goodbye in Polish) to Poland, and hello to the Donovaly Ski Resort in Slovakia, where we stopped for lunch along the way. Both the inside and outside of the restaurant we ate at made for great pictures, so when all the patrons were finished eating, they had to compete with one another to take pictures in all of the prime locations.

It was already evening time when we arrived to our hotel in Budapest, so after dinner, we took a walk around the city. We came across an incredibly elegant coffee shop (where of course we had to take some picture), and then spotted the Budapest Opera House. Franz Joseph I (Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary) built an opera house in Vienna but his wife Elisabeth, more commonly known as “Sissi” insisted that he build one in Hungary as well because of her love and fondness for Hungary. Franz Joseph agreed but only under the condition that it couldn’t be bigger than the opera house in Vienna. When the newly built opera house opened in the late 1800’s, he attended an opera but left during intermission because the outside of the building was more beautiful than the one in Vienna, and he never returned.

We concluded the night by walking through the city, which led us to an area filled with local food carts alongside a music festival where a guitarist was playing the guitar behind his head. We then spotted the Budapest Eye and found a hangout park where locals were enjoying the company of one another, sitting, listening to music, and drinking. It really brought my attention to how lively this city is, and I couldn’t wait for our tour to begin in the morning.