Tuesday, June 30, 2015


To understand the title of this post (and for some great background music while reading this post), watch this. Because who doesn't love a little Freddie Mercury on the blog?

Anyways, after our long weekend in Scandinavia and a wild King's Day in Amsterdam, it was time to hit the road again for a weekend in Spain. We had been looking forward to this trip for a long time, after so many cold and rainy trips, this was our first warm destination (though certainly not the last!).

I really, really, really wish I had done more in Barcelona. The problem with traveling with other people is that you don't always agree on what to do, and it's hard to venture out on your own. I also was pretty shoddy in researching things to do for most cities, something I regret. But hey, no one gets study abroad perfectly, that's why it's a learning experience! There are so many things I wish we had done and seen in Spain (cough, Sagrada Familia, cough. I know, we're terrible for not going), and I wish we had really planned Madrid and seen more in our short time there. But, instead of boring you with my study abroad regrets (I'm sure that post will come later), let's get back to Barcelona!

Sagrada Familia from the outside. 

After wandering the empty streets of Barcelona (the Spanish aren't really morning people, unless that means coming home from a night out very early in the morning!), we made our way to one of Barcelona's main tourist attractions- Antoni Gaudi's Park Güell

Gaudi is the mastermind behind the park, Casa Batlló, and of course, Sagrada Familia, which is still unfinished over 100 years after it's groundbreaking. Gaudi died in 1926, when less than a quarter of the church was finished, and it is not expected to be finished until 2026, exactly 100 years after Gaudi's death. 

There seems to be a trend in unfinished work, as Park Güell is also unfinished, but, unlike the Sagrada, is not still under construction. Gaudi, along with entrepreneur Eusebi Güell, designed the park as a neighborhood in the mountains for wealthy citizens of Barcelona, complete with a park, outdoor entertainment area (which is what you see below), and houses. Unfortunately, the project fell apart, with only a few houses and the park area completed. However, the area is stunning as is.

The park features a free area and a paid area- the "benches" that you see below are part of the paid area. Don't worry, we visited the inner, paid part on a different day, so that will come in a later post! But, for our first day, we wandered around the free area. 

Within the free area, there is another hill, where Gaudi built a stone hill with 3 crosses on top. The winding path around the tiny hill (it's not a long climb, maybe 2 stories) gives you a 360 degree view of Barcelona and the mountain range behind it. 

Note: we picked the cloudy days for sightseeing, and hit the beach on the sunniest days! Always check the weather!

After wandering, and planning to return to the park another day, we made our way down. The park is part of the mountain range, after all, and you have to climb quite a bit to get there. There are escalators in certain parts going up, but going down is alllll stairs. It's worth the hike, but just know that Barcelona's hilly terrain is not for the faint of heart. Oh, how glad we were to get back to flat Amsterdam!

After strolling along the water, we took a quick peek into Barcelona's Gothic Quarter, which is just as ornate and, well, Gothic as you'd imagine. 

Barcelona's cathedral. 

As the sun began to set, we were ready for the main attraction- the fountain show. The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc is located in front of a massive theater in Barcelona, and was, along with many sites in the city, designed for the 1929 International Exposition. 

If you're wondering why we trekked up to Montjuïc for a fountain, it's because the fountain puts on a show. I'm talking lights, music, the whole works. 

The fountain, pre-show. 

The show starts around 9, or when the sun has just about set. We got there early, and found a spot.

But first, we had to pause for a little selfie stick action (we only used this when absolutely necessary I promise). 

Then it was time for the show to start!

Ok, a little water, whatever...

Mmmm, getting better..

Oh, that's nice.

BOOM. Now picture this, with that Freddie Mercury soundtrack blasting through unseen speakers. 

While things like this usually end up being not-that-exciting (think the Astronomical Clock in Prague, yawn), we were super pumped by the end of the fountain show. It's just lights, water, and a little background music but it's still fun. 

That's the end of our first day in Barcelona! Next, we were off to Madrid for the day; don't worry, there's still a little more from Barcelona, so stay tuned!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Stockholm Syndrome

Sorry about the title, I had to!

After our two beautiful days in Norway, we hit our next Scandinavian spot, Stockholm. After an overnight bus ride- I could write a whole post about overnight buses, and I probably will at some point- from Oslo to Stockholm we arrived in the Swedish capital.

Pretty much all my knowledge of Sweden came from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series (a must-read), but since Lisbeth and Mikael aren't real, we had to explore the real Stockholm, one filled with colorful buildings, Pippi Longstocking, and boats- so many boats.

Our first day in Sweden was overcast and chilly, something I had expected, and we wandered around the city. Stockholm is a major cosmopolitan city, and it's pretty touristy, but unlike London or Paris, there wasn't anything that we had to see. One thing Tori and I would do when we arrived in cities where we didn't have a huge itinerary was to go to a shop with postcards (I tried to collect one everywhere I went), find something that looked pretty or interesting, and ask where we could find what was on the card! This helped us find so many places we never would have seen otherwise.

We headed to the old city center, Gamla Stan. If you read the Millennium trilogy you will probably recognize some of the names here. Gamla Stan is full of tiny alleys and brightly colored buildings, with an old square in the center.

Italy or Stockholm?

A statue of St. George slaying the dragon. 

After exploring the old center, we headed back across the water to Junibacken, a sort of mini indoor amusement park centered around the works of Astrid Lindgren. You may recognize her as the author of the Pippi Longstocking series (she is also mentioned in the Millennium trilogy- Mikael gets the nickname 'Kalle Blomqvist' from one of her books). 

Confession time- I was obsessed with Pippi Longstocking when I was little. Like, really obsessed. I got to the point where I wanted to watch the movie almost every single day- my family still makes fun of me for it and laments over wanting to throw the movie out the window. So, when we heard that Junibacken featured Pippi Longstocking, we were determined to go.

Junibacken is a children's museum, and if you don't visit it with someone under the age of, say, seven, it's a little awkward. It's cute, though, and Tori and I were still able to enjoy it- we were mostly driven by our love for Pippi. 

Standing on Pippi's front porch- you can tell I was pumped. 

After Junibacken, we did a little more wandering around the city, and hoped for sunnier weather.

Aaaaannddd there's the sun! Sunday morning there were hardly any clouds in the sky, and we were determined to take advantage of the beautiful weather and photograph everything that we could.

We got a recommendation from a Swedish waiter in Oslo to visit Kungsträdgården, or "King's Garden." We were not disappointed, as we arrived when the cherry blossoms that surround the square were in full bloom. 

After about a hundred cherry blossom photos we continued wandering the city, taking in the views of the water; Stockholm is an archipelago, meaning the entire city is made up of a bunch of small islands. The archipelago itself starts with Stockholm and stretches across the Baltic Sea with 30,000 islands. 

Now that the sun was shining, we headed back to Gamla Stan to capture the old city once again. Everything seemed more cheerful and charming as the buildings' colors brightened in the sun. 

The old square in Gamla Stan. 

Then it was back over the water to Sodermalm. While we didn't get to explore the neighborhood (its supposed to be the trendy, hip section of the city), we did walk along the edge of the island, which gave us amazing views of the city. We also happened to pick a time when there was a marathon, meaning we often had to stand at the edge of the walkway to let runners pass. 

Riddarholmen Church poking above the skyline. 

The view of Kungsholmen from Sodermalm, with the Stockholm City Hall on the far right. 

A house we passed along the walking trail- right in the middle of the city!

With a few hours left to kill, we hopped on a ferry that took us to one of the larger islands in the archipelago. While the town was pretty much closed down (it was a Sunday afternoon) the trip gave us amazing views of the archipelago and all the tiny islands. 

Tori hiding from the wind.

Yes, this is a floating house. It was basically a small, two-story house, except it was floating across the water! At first we thought it was anchored down, and we wondered how they got to and from land, until we spotted it later on- the house moved! It operated like a boat, and the owners were zooming across the water. I really should have taken a video, but I can't imagine living in something like this. Houseboats are usually more boat than house, and this was certainly a sight to see.

I liked Stockholm, but Norway was, in my opinion, much better. Stockholm is cute, and maybe it would have been better if we had explored another city, like we did in Norway, but I really wish we had done only one day in Stockholm and an extra day in Norway. 

I probably wouldn't go back, just because there wasn't anything I felt that we had missed. Now, I'm sure people have recommendations for plenty of things to do and obviously there is no way to see a city in 2 days, but I stand by the fact that Norway was my favorite country that weekend.

I'm sorry this post has taken two months to get up, I just now have to time to sit down and write! As some of you may know, I am interning down in Austin this summer, and I had only a few days at home to unpack and repack to move down here! So, you can expect to finally see the rest of my semester abroad and more throughout the summer!