Fiesta Mayor de Grácia

Posted by Karie on Aug 17th 2008 05:18 pm

Each year the neighborhood of Grácia (where we lived our first few months in Barcelona) hosts a week long festival, complete with elaborately decorated streets, 15+ stages throughout the neighborhood, random competitions, and of course, food.  It’s hard to believe that an event of this magnitude is put on completely by volunteers in the neighborhood (with financial help from the local government and some serious fundraising efforts).

We had just missed the “Fiesta Mayor de Grácia” when we moved to Barcelona last year, so we’ve been anxiously waiting for it to come around again.  The street decorations and sets were so impressive that we decided to go twice so we could see them both at night and in the daytime – which are two completely different experiences.

We hung out for a few hours Saturday night, and planned to go back Sunday afternoon.  While we were wandering around Saturday night I had the good fortune of finding an event guide on the ground (which I later learned costs 5€). That’s when we realized that we were going to be able to check something off our “things to do while in Spain” list, that we thought we weren’t going to get to accomplish this year!

The “Castell,” or human castle, is a Catalan tradition where teams of people (Castellers) compete to build the most impressive tower.  It has a wide base made up of at least 20 men, and keeps building on itself with smaller people, until finally, a child (probably between 4-6 years old) climbs to the top of the tower and raises their hand with 4 fingers, symbolizing the Catalan flag.  Then they all shimmy back down.  It’s pretty amazing, and the good teams constructed and dismantled their 4-story “castle” in about 3-4 minutes.

Check it out:

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So What’s Your Favorite Place?

Posted by Karie on Aug 12th 2008 11:54 am

That’s a question we get all the time.  I try to answer it, but it’s not that simple.  It’s like asking me to pick my favorite pair of shoes!  We have loved (almost) every place we’ve been, for different reasons.  So, being the diplomatic, facilitative, terrible decision-maker that I am, I’ve categorized my favorites.  It’s not so much like gold, silver, and bronze; it’s more like best in its class. Think of it like an awards show, but instead of Emmy’s or Grammy’s, this will be… um, The Kaufy’s.

Without further adieu, ladies & gentlemen, we proudly present…

“The Kaufy Awards”
Hosted by: Me
Produced by: Scott
As Voted on by: Me & Scott

Best City to Learn a Ton of Interesting Stuff:
Berlin, Germany

Place I Wish Everyone Could See, but Without Needing an Overnight Bus:
Cappadocia, Turkey

Most Breath-Taking Views:
Croatia (all of it)

Most Incredible Architecture:
Barcelona

Best Place to Live it Up on a Tight Budget:
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

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The Bitter and the Sweet

Posted by Karie on Aug 7th 2008 04:53 pm

With the date of our return to the U.S. being just under a month away, I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking.  Shocking, I know.  Anyhow, while I am excited to go home, I am also very sad to leave Barcelona.  I was finding it difficult to summarize the reasons why, so I went back to one of my favorite activities – I made lists.  I even solicited Scott’s help, which he eagerly gave, despite the fact that he does not share my passion for list-making.

These are by no means all-inclusive. In fact, we probably won’t even realize most of the things that we’ll miss until we’re gone, but here are a few things that quickly come to mind:

What We Will Miss About Living in Barcelona:

  • Friends we’ve made here
  • Traveling frequently
  • The markets
  • Bocadillos (a super cheap sandwich on a baguette; our favorite is chorizo and cheese)
  • Not needing a car (walking everywhere or taking the great public transit)
  • Bicing (a service for residents that gives you access to thousands of bicycles around town for 24€ for the whole year)
  • Hanging laundry outside to dry (I realize I could do this at home, but not without the neighbors thinking I’m weird)
  • The warm and beautiful Mediterranean Sea
  • Neighbors, whom we lovingly refer to as: Orange Peel Guy, Monochromatic Laundry Lady, Antoni The Catalan, Celia’s Friend, and Dog with the Funny Bark
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Luggageless in Lisbon

Posted by Karie on Aug 3rd 2008 04:58 pm

A few weeks ago we were talking with some friends about how smooth all of our travels had gone.  Of all the trips we’ve taken over the last year, we have been blessed to not experience any major problems or setbacks.  I should’ve knocked on wood.

We boarded our 32nd airplane of the year on our way to Lisbon (the last flight on which we will be checking luggage until we move home), but unbeknownst to us, our luggage never boarded.  We arrived in the baggage claim at the Lisbon airport, and took notice that every single carousel had 10 +/- bags left, with no one around.  Most of the carousels were not even moving, but random bags were lying around everywhere.  “Wow,” we thought, “there are probably people all over Europe wondering where their bags are.”  Before long, we were among them.

I waited in line for over an hour to report the lost bag, while Scott continually scoured the terminal, thinking that it must be here somewhere.  With all those bags lying around, we figured there was a good chance that ours just got misdirected and would end up on another carousel eventually.  This was before we learned that it never even left Barcelona.

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Ok, So I Was Wrong

Posted by Karie on Jul 27th 2008 02:49 pm

Since I was about 15 I’ve always felt like wherever I am in life is the best.  “Life can’t possibly get any better than where I am right now.”  I’ve thought that now for 15 years straight, and continue to prove myself wrong at every turn.

I remember the stress I felt when I graduated from high school.  I had attended the same school my entire life - Kindergarten through my Senior year. Wore the same plaid uniform, and hung out with the same kids, whose parents were my teachers.  I absolutely loved my high school years, and leaving that comfort zone was a big deal.

I then went to college, and behold, I loved that too.  I met Scott, made new friends, learned some stuff, and didn’t really want to leave, so I went back for graduate school.  For the next several years I worked for a company I loved, amongst great friends.  Scott and I got married, added Penny Lane to the family, moved a few times, relocated to San Diego, and our careers continued to advance… it just kept getting better and better and better.  Just when I thought life couldn’t be improved upon, we moved to Spain.  A full year of the most amazing adventures that I still can’t believe I actually experienced.

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The Running of the Crazy People (Oh Yeah, and Bulls)

Posted by Karie on Jul 13th 2008 11:58 am

My, oh, my… I’ll try to go in chronological order, since that’s the only way I can attempt to describe a few days of chaos in a way that might convey at least a little bit of what San Fermín (Running of the Bulls) was really like. There were a few websites like TripAdvisor.com and Phillypena.com (this guy is super cool & helpful) that were fantastic resources, but no amount of information can really prepare you for something like this.  You just have to see it to believe it, so trust me, you should really go.  These people are the craziest, friendliest and most fun in the world.  If you don’t want to read the whole blog, you can check out our videos to get a small taste.

Ok, back to the beginning… Our bus arrived from Bilbao around 12:30pm.  Unfortunately, we didn’t book accommodations as early as we should’ve, so pickings were slim, unless we wanted to pay 350€ or more per night (no thanks), sleep in the park (too old for that), or stay an hour outside of town (too young for that)… so we took what we could get.  We ended up renting a room from this company who owns several apartment buildings around town and rents out the rooms for this event.  I believe the term that someone on TripAdvisor used to describe one of their apartments was “hell hole,” so I wasn’t expecting much.

We were told to pick up our keys at their “office”, which was about a 5 minute walk from the bus station.  This is when we stumbled upon our first of many drum march band parade thingies (sorry, but I really don’t know how else to describe it).  A few days later we ended up in another one of these (this time voluntarily), and it took the crowd 40 minutes to move the distance of a small block.  Therefore, I do not recommend trying to walk through such a parade if you’re actually trying to go somewhere – and especially not if you’re carrying luggage.

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Bilbao, Spain: Gawking at the Guggenheim

Posted by Karie on Jul 10th 2008 10:37 am

We have found the most helpful city in all of Europe.  Five people gave us advice on how to get from the airport to our hotel, even though we only asked one.  People literally came up to us on the street and offered help.  At first I thought, “Do we really look that lost?!” But after noticing a pattern over a few days, I realized that’s just the way people are around here.  We also had people offer to help us at the bus station and the Metro station… in fact, that was the same guy both times.  He even missed his train to help us catch ours.  Nice, nice people.

Our primary motivation for coming to Bilbao was to see the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry. This is definitely the coolest museum I’ve ever seen – even cooler than the Guggenheim in New York designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (and we are huge FLW fans, so this is a big statement).  There is not a straight line in the entire building – inside or out – everything is fluid.  It’s artistic and engineering genius.

Honestly, the only reason I came was for the building, and I wasn’t so much looking forward to following Scott around the exhibits.  I realize this makes me sound uncultured, but after a while all museums look the same to me, unless there is a specific attraction.  However, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised to find that many of the exhibits in the Guggenheim were almost as interesting as the building itself.  The 12 Euro ticket was well worth it.  Oh, but they don’t allow cameras inside… except that everyone had cameras.  Unfortunately, I’m a rule follower, so we left our camera inside the backpack at the coat check, but if you’re the sneaky type and have a small camera, you can likely get away with a few shots… as long as you’re ok with answering to God and/or the security guards!

The museum is by far the main attraction in town, but the town itself is also lovely.  I have a friend in Barcelona who works as a flight attendant, and after a couple of trips to Bilbao, she said it’s a place she could call home.  After visiting, I can see what she means.  It’s such a welcoming city – beautiful, comfortable, medium-sized, super nice people… and tons of cool art stuffed inside one huge piece of art.


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Aunt Janice & Uncle Dave Take on Catalunya

Posted by Karie on Jul 7th 2008 03:43 pm

Aunt Janice has been one of our biggest supporters almost ever since she found out we were moving to Spain.  At first she wasn’t too happy about it, but the more she learned about Spain, the more she wanted us to move so that they could visit.

My mom (who thinks “Barcelona” is Catalan for “stairs”), gave her big sister all sorts of warnings before their big trip… “Now Janice, it’s going to be a lot of walking and a lot of stairs… Are you practicing?  Did you pack the Ibuprofen?”  So Aunt Janice & Uncle Dave were well prepared for the trip.  It also helped that my parents, being our first visitors, were our guinea pigs.  After we ran them into the ground, we realized maybe we had tried to fit in too much, so we have since improved our tour guide skills.  I’m sure they are glad to have made that sacrifice for the well being of our future guests. Right mom & dad?

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