Monday, March 18, 2013

And the plans for Barcelona...

A continuation of yesterday's post... here are some of our ideas for our upcoming visit to Spain!

Barcelona To Do List

After four days in London, we say adios to my sister and head south. Neither of us have been to Barcelona before, so we are really excited about this part of the trip! Some of our top priorities are eating lots of tapas and drinking plenty of great Spanish wine. I want to make sure we don't ONLY eat and drink for this part of the trip, though, so I figured out a couple other plans to add some culture and adventure to the visit. 

Free Walking Tours

A little sleuthing on the Trip Advisor website lead me to the recommendation of a tour with Runner Bean Tours. These are free tours, and if you feel it's worth it at the end, you can choose any amount for your donation. I love this idea, because tours can be expensive, and not always worth the money. From what I read, this donation system makes their tours that much better, because they're really working to earn your business. They do a tour of Gaudi architecture, and also one of the historical Gothic quarter. If we like the tours, we might just do both of them!


Biking Vineyard Tour

This is the part of Barcelona that I'm potentially the most excited for. Some of our friends recommended a cava tour in the  Pened├Ęs area in Catalonia, and I thought that sounded pretty perfect. But then I got the idea in my head that it would be fantastic to bike in the rolling hills outside of Barcelona, and I started searching online for options that included biking. I found my answer with Spanish Trails, a tour company that offers just that. It's a full day tour that includes biking between three vineyards, tours and tastings at each location, and an authentic Catalonian lunch at one of the vineyards. The reviews on Trip Advisor are incredibly positive, and I think this might be the perfect special excursion outside of the city. 


Other Barcelona Plans

Within the city of Barcelona, there are so many things I would like to see. The famous Sagrada Familia is a must see. I'd love to wander through the Park Guell, and to take in the views of Barcelona below the park. I've heard that the Barceloneta neighborhood near the water is fun to explore, too. And of course, we will eat. A lot. All day and all night. Yup, sounds like a perfect vacation to me!


Have you visited Barcelona? So many people I know have been there! What are your favorites? Anything to avoid? 

Now we have less than a month to go! Time to start making reservations for any touristy activities. And I need to brush up my manual camera skills, so I can properly capture the sights of our adventures. I hope this next month goes fast!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The countdown to Europe!

As of today, we have exactly one month left. April 17 we jet off, first to London, and then on to Barcelona. We've booked all the flights and made plans for lodging. We're using AirBnB on this trip, staying in a spare bedroom of a guy's apartment in London, and then in a cute one bedroom apartment in Spain. It's nice to know the technical logistics are all taken care of at this point. Now the fun really begins, as we nail down plans for what we're actually doing during our visits to these two world class cities!

A terribly fuzzy picture from our trip to Paris in 2008.
Joe and I are both fortunate to have traveled to Europe multiple times in the past, and we both agree on a more relaxed style of traveling. We like to soak up the vibe of the city. That means wandering the neighborhoods, enjoying slow meals in truly local restaurants, and getting to know the city on a more personal level. We're tentative about structured plans, especially plans that involve too many timetables or any kind of large tour bus.

That being said, I still like to have plans for specific "must see" monuments, neighborhoods, or museums. I don't want to spend all my time wandering, and to miss out on important parts of the city. I've been obsessing over my research, trying to narrow down our plans for what to see. Here's a preview of some of our plans.

London To Do List

I used Aspiring Kennedy's blog for a lot of great London inspiration. She's lived there for a couple years, and has a lot of helpful insider tips. A few of her recommendations:

Evensong at Westminster Abbey

A free sung prayer service offered every evening at Westminster Abbey. You don't get to explore the whole Abbey, but the admission is usually £18.00, and the prayer service sounds beautiful. It sounds like a great way to wrap up a busy day of sightseeing. 


Tour the Tower of London
I've heard great things about visiting the Tower of London. It is the center of so much British history, and sounds fun and entertaining to explore.  This will most likely fill one of the afternoons on our trip.


Famous London Shopping Spots
I can't resist a little shopping on this trip! I am dying to visit the Food Hall at Harrods, and also the famous Liberty of London. Selfridges is also on the list, and the rest of Oxford Street. As a dedicated team member, you know I can't resist a visit to the Kensington Whole Foods Market! I hope we also have time to stop by Portobello Road Market as well.


Other ideas
We'll be visiting London during the 2013 Marathon, and might have to stop to cheer on the runners on Sunday. It's the largest marathon in the world!  We have plans for major pub eating and drinking, obviously. I want to visit the Tate Modern, and the National Gallery. I think my sister and I might have to ditch Joe for a little girlie proper British tea one afternoon, too. And to balance that out, Joe suggested we do a brewery tour. A suggestion that I do think I support (no big surprise here, huh?).

Have you been to London before? What are your favorite things to do? We'd love more recommendations!

I'll be back tomorrow to share some of our plans for the Barcelona leg of the trip.  Suggestions welcome for that part, too. Any other favorite spots to travel? I could talk travel all day!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Catching Up

Well crap. The month of February just flew by, huh? I really didn't mean to stop blogging for a month, but the late winter blues hit hard, and I just couldn't find anything I really felt like writing about. Life hasn't been bad lately; in fact, it's been pretty great overall. So how about a quick recap, and we'll get this show back on schedule?

The last month has been filled with mostly classic winter things-- cooking big pots of soup, cozy movie nights at home, and plenty of grumbling about if spring is ever going to come. And after a super dry start to the winter, all the snow came in the last month or so. I've still been pushing myself to run outside, as a friend and I train for the Shamrock Shuffle 8k at the beginning of April. This has felt like a big accomplishment to me, because this is the first year I've run outside after Thanksgiving. I know I wouldn't be able to do it alone, so I'm really thankful my friend Megan keeps agreeing to run with me!

Another workout I've been getting really into is yoga. There is a great little studio two blocks from my house, and I did a one month new student special where I could take unlimited classes for $50. So I tried to take classes 2-3 times a week, to make it worth the money. What a good idea that is, because now I'm totally hooked! I'm going to buy a regular punch card to take more classes in the future, and I'm also planning to try out the yoga classes at my gym, since they're included in the membership. I like that yoga helps me to relax and calm my mind. It can be hard for me to slow down, but I'm getting a lot better. And it is a legit workout, too. I have a LONG way to go in terms of flexibility and balance, but I saw improvements just in that first month.  Do you love yoga?  I used to think it was so boring, but I just had a bad first experience and took years to try again. Now it's my #1 choice for a workout!

Beyond working out... my job is going really well. After about 5 months in my new position, I'm finally feeling mostly settled and on top of things. I still have plenty to learn, but my stress and anxiety has pretty much faded away, and I feel like I'm doing a good job connecting with the team members and maybe even helping them. Yay!  Our friends are great too, and Joe and I regularly marvel at how lucky we are to know so many great people around this city. We met some new friends through church last month, and had a great night out getting to know them. In the winter it's easy to just be homebodies, so we've been pushing to make sure to connect with friends outside of the house at least once or twice a week. 

And, lastly, we finally saw Book of Mormon on Wednesday night. It was fantastic! Great singing and dancing, wonderful characters, and just the right amount of crude and offensive joking. It was hilarious, and it was fun to be in a theatre setting where people were laughing so hard. It was four or five months between when we bought the tickets and when we go to see the show, so there had been a lot of build up to that night. It really was a great performance, and we left the theatre feeling like it was definitely worth the wait. 

And now, I really feel like Spring is just around the corner! We're headed to see my parents in two weeks, and to Europe about a month after that. So lots to look forward to as we make this final push through the cold weather. We're going to make it!