Category Archives: Spain

2016 year in review

Allow me to join the bandwagon of saying that 2016 as a year was just a big ol’ thumbs down. But personally, 2016 was a big year. I finally registered as self-employed and joined the masses as a full-time freelancer and all that that entails. It’s been hard, but fruitful, and satisfying, and I still very much enjoy working for myself. And in terms of travel, well – it was probably my best year yet in that regard too. Jon and I ticked several places off our collective travel bucket list, including a country that I’d been wanting to go for absolute ages. I think 2017 may be a bit slower (I say, when I’m getting on a plane again next week…) but we’ll see how long I can hold off on making a plan to head somewhere new and beautiful.

So in the tradition of my yearly look-back – some of my travels and personal highlights from the past 12 months.

 

January – Playing tourist in London with my friend Joe. I know I go there all the time, but I hadn’t had the chance to play tour guide for anyone in a while, and it was so good to explore one of my favorite cities with one of my favorite people.

img_20160123_141224

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

February – For Jon’s birthday I treated him to a fancy weekend away at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. We had an amazing time, which included lounging in the spa, watching the Eurostar trains come in, and indulging in a truly decadent meal (which was quickly followed by a very luxurious and sensual food coma).

juniors chamber st pancras renaissance hotel

We also had a little weekend away in Bristol to surprise a friend for his birthday. A gorgeous city!

IMG_20160228_125056

img_20160228_122329

Also Jon took this picture in February, and it still makes me laugh, so here it shall be.

img_20160207_162200

March – we didn’t go anywhere, but I did buy a paddleboard and made good use of it on the river as the weather slowly (so…so….slowly) warmed up.

paddleboarding in shoreham by sea

April – Jon and I went to Barcelona with some friends of ours to celebrate a few different things – new jobs mostly! We rented bikes and cycled all over the city and ate our weight in tapas.

IMG_20160424_150947

IMG_20160424_174608

barcelona tapas

May – Jon’s Christmas present to me was a weekend away in Cornwall at a gorgeous historic hotel that had great food, fantastic outdoor space, and also happened to be dog-friendly. We already can’t wait to go back. And on the way we stopped off at Tintagel to see King Arthur’s “castle”, and everything was gorgeous in every way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_20160515_115046

IMG_20160516_110411

tintagel cornwall roadtrip

June – Phew…June was crazy. A three-week road trip of the States can be pretty intense! We did New York City New OrleansAustin – San Antonio (realising I never got around to blogging about it…oops!) – then finally Ohio before heading back to England, much poorer and fatter.

rp_IMG_20160604_103300-1000x750.jpg

IMG_20160602_125758

IMG_20160602_145558

IMG_20160607_113911

IMG_20160607_141356

July – I took a quick jaunt to Paris for a long weekend with some lady friends of mine. The trip was…not the best, for a few different reasons, but it was wonderful for other reasons. And Paris is always a good idea, particularly Paris in summertime.

IMG_20160720_230529

 

IMG_20160720_153636

IMG_20160720_164729

IMG_20160720_151724

 

IMG_20160721_133535

August – Finally, a month with nowhere to go! Some friends came down for the bank holiday weekend, we spent time on the beach and went to a cider festival, and English summer was in full, glorious swing!

IMG_20160702_134006

IMG_20160718_211511

IMG_20160724_124257

IMG_20160730_183704

IMG_20160817_182052

IMG_20160817_182624

September – Another month with no place to go, but this is also the month we got a car, which was intensely exciting. We broke it in by exploring beautiful nature further afield. The Seven Sisters Cliffs were first up.

img_20160925_164931

img_20160925_164749

img_20160925_162239

OctoberMorocco, a country I’d long wanted to visit. Hot, vibrant, completely bonkers and a great way to spend one’s 32nd birthday.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

img_20161005_121521

img_20161003_165729

November – The year began to wind down, us with it. Things took a turn for the deeply melancholy. Beach walks and outdoorsy goodness happened while the weather cooperated, and many expat Thanksgiving celebrations took place at the end of the month.

img_20161113_162200

img_20161113_160235

img_20161113_155853

img_20161113_155540

img_20161108_074530

December – Nowhere to go, but lots to do, including finally making it to the ice rink in front of the Brighton Pavilion, and taking what has become an annual walk along the South Downs Way on the last day of the year, followed by a pub lunch.

img_20161231_134633

img_20161231_133818

img_20161224_172336

 

 

img_20161218_154353

img_20161205_203358

Here’s hoping for a better 2017, in all realms.

How to spend 5 days in Barcelona // part two

Eleven years ago I was studying abroad in Dijon, France, thanks to a big juicy student loan I’d taken out to pay for it, coupled with the knowledge that if I was going to move abroad, doing it via a university program was definitely the best way to go. I was in quaint little Dijon, home of the mustard, for 8 weeks and spent the weekends traveling around Europe – Switzerland, Italy, Amsterdam, and, you know, Paris  – and that is how I first found myself in Barcelona. That summer, the long weekend in Spain was full of embracing topless sunbathing on the beach, paying for a cheap scarf and truly horrible sunglasses from a street vendor off of La Rambla, and dancing in nightclubs that my friends and I didn’t even get in to until well past midnight. It was also the first time that someone shouted at me in the street in very accented English “there goes ze baaarbie!” in a super condescending way, but that was a small part of the whole thing.

Our trip to Barcelona in April was different in almost every single way that a trip could be different. But there was one place that I wanted to have another go round with, from the first time. The one thing I did want to do while we were in the city was something I’d missed the last time around, when my meager funds were better spent heading towards the cheapest tapas available and my portion of the gallons of sangria that were being consumed. What was the thing? A trip inside the Sagrada Familia. Paying 25 Euro was definitely not a thing I was willing to do 11 years ago.

However, 2016 Ashley is very very willing to throw 25 Euro at a weird, uncompleted, surrealist old church in Spain, believe you me. So Jon and I booked our tickets online and headed to the amazing church on an early Sunday afternoon while Pete and Tilly headed to the football ground.

IMG_20160424_132621

 

IMG_20160424_134207

IMG_20160424_135422

 

IMG_20160424_135838

This is the only façade that was completed while Gaudi was alive. His death is so ironic and interesting – he was leaving the church in 1926, and wasn’t paying attention to where he was going (which was apparently normal for him) and he was hit by a tram! The trams in Barcelona are completely silent, it’s creepy. Anyway, since he was a notoriously dishevelled man, he wasn’t recognized as THE Gaudi at the hospital, and his rich friends didn’t find out what had happened to him for a few days. By the time they tracked him down and asked the hospital to treat him basically as the rich guy he was, he said that “his place was there with the people” and then he died. Tragic. But also – pay attention when you’re walking, everyone. It’s not that hard to not get hit by a train.

IMG_20160424_150056

We even paid to go up the completed towers of the church. It was amazing. And terrifying because it’s QUITE high up, you have to walk all the way back down (down narrow spiral stairs) and other people are also trying to walk down.

IMG_20160424_152035

The light inside is stunning.

IMG_20160424_152642

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I want to live in this flat (which is just across from the church). Can you imagine?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Terrifying.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That light!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The church build is still in progress – it was started in 1882, Gaudi passed away in 1926, and it’s still going. No surprise, it looks very very different from how it looked 11 years ago when I was last there. But apparently it’s supposed to be finished by 2026, so I will definitely plan another trip to Barcelona for that fabled future day. How amazing to see it finished – I hope I can finagle it.

How to spend 5 days in Barcelona // part one

The rest of that title should be “…if you’re me and/or my friends and it’s April of 2016”. Who am I to tell you how to spend your time, you know?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A series of celebratory things came our way for Jon and I and a couple of our friends, so we all headed to (you guessed it) Barcelona for a citybreak and some sunshine at the end of April. Because the sunshine+heat combo had not yet descended on the south of England where we make our home, and  you gotta do what you gotta do to keep from descending into a cold and deep seasonal depression. (Sunshine and heat have landed now, and it is glorious, and hopefully they stay awhile).

parc de la cuitadella Barcelona

We flew out of Gatwick early on Friday morning and landed in a slightly chilly Barcelona, which was a teensy bit disappointing, but at least it was warmer than the cloudy London we’d left behind. We hustled straight out for lunchtime tapas and stumbled on a tasty little joint down the street from our hotel, but fell into less of a tapas situation and more of a “more food than four people could ever eat” situation. It was a strong first meal. We were overly ambitious.

barcelona tapas

placa reiall

There was lots of wandering – wandering was our main goal, as we had very little on the docket other than 1) soak up Vitamin D, 2) rent some bicycles, 3) eat and drink our fill. Our hotel was the lovely Barcelona Melia Sky and even though it wasn’t very close to the hub of the city, it was easy to get to and the staff were super nice to us, storing our bikes every day and just being sweet people who speak lots of languages.

barcelona

catalan barcelona

We rented the bikes from a guy with fantastic tattoos at Pedal Bike Rental, and it was without a doubt the best choice we made on the trip. Barcelona is big. So much bigger than I remembered! But it’s easy to get from A to B and they have a nice public transportation system too, including a nifty tram. But the cycle lanes were the game changer for us and it was easy to get where we wanted to go, although we switched out the bikes for taxis or trams in the evening when we knew we’d be drinking. Don’t drink and cycle guys!

barcelona architecture

This trip continually brought to my mind how much travel has changed since I first went abroad as a wee little baby in 2005, which, I think, was right on the cusp of a wider change thanks to all sorts of technological advances. I was studying abroad in France that summer and traveling on the weekends, and I remember having to go to a computer lab (that we were allowed into once a day) where I could sit on a public computer and look at potential hostels in whatever country I was going to, and I don’t know… Mapquest directions from the main airport or metro station or something? How did I buy tickets anywhere? How did I not die? It’s not like I had guidebooks for literally anywhere. I just…went. And wandered and maybe did some big ticket items that everyone knew to do.

lunch barcelona

This time around, I had a SIM in my phone that meant it worked exactly the same as in the UK. I’m not addicted to my phone in any way, but I could easily Google maps the fastest path to a place from the hotel, or figure out what public transportation was best to take, or how to ask for directions in the appropriate lanaguage (Catalan isn’t Spanish!). When we aimlessly wandered into a new area and realised we were hungry, I could do a quick check on the map of the area to see if there were any restaurants with good reviews nearby. If we wanted to find a rooftop bar – again, quick Google, make a decision, check the map, go there.

cycling in spain

architecture barcelona

It’s just so helpful. And while I think carrying tiny computers around in our pockets can be bad in a lot of instances, for travel, it can really enhance the experience too, if you let it. With great power comes great responsibility, as they say. No wasting time accidentally heading straight into tourist traps – the option to cast a wider eye around where you are, with a world of knowledge at your fingertips is a magical thing, particularly on a short trip. So it’s more of a balance thing – being able to disconnect from the world at large is a wonderful, wonderful thing, and there are worse things than being lost.

placa barcelona
While I would never advocate for never leaving home without your phone, I think a good balance of luddite unplugged time with thoughtful use of the technology available to us can really enhance a trip to a new place. And it did for us, this time.

la boqueria barcelona

boqueria

 

la boqueria

dudes in barcelona

Anyway, back to the trip! We whiled away most of an afternoon in the Placa Reial in the Gothic Quarter after a long walk through Las Ramblas, which was more bustling than usual thanks to their St George’s Day celebrations. It turns out that the Sant Jordi festival in Catalonia is a really charming celebration that revolves mostly around books and roses, and it’s more similar to Valentine’s Day than the St George’s parade in England (which usually descends into a weird standoff between the EDL and the anti-fascists out to protest them). We were very confused until we figured out why florists and bookstalls were everywhere, then our pants were charmed right off.

sant jordi barcelona 2016

wandering in barcelona

parc de la cuitadella

Of course we visited the huge marketplace known as La Boqueria and sipped on freshly squeezed juice while making our way through the maze of stalls selling every food item you could imagine. And here’s my tip – don’t buy anything from the outer ring of vendors! It can be found cheaper in the interior bits (like that juice : 2.50 Euro on the outside that we gladly paid for, and then 1 Euro in the center).

zero kms restaurant barcelona pizza

On our last night in the city we were also celebrating the beautiful Matilda’s 30th birthday and she booked us a table at Zero Km for her birthday meal. The restaurant focuses on producing food from ingredients that are sourced as locally as possible, with nothing coming from more than 100km outside of Barcelona. We had pizzas and tasty salads and wine and it was delicious.

barcelona ashley

placa santa maria del mar

Barcelona is the perfect city for not making plans. We had a few main things that we all wanted to do (Pete and Tilly went to the football stadium, Jon and I took a tour of the Sagrada Familia), but other than that we adhered to a loose pattern of cycle – tapas – cycle – walk around a cool area – cycle – wine – rinse and repeat, all in the sunshine.

IMG_20160424_174608

And of course there’s Gaudi everywhere, making his aura felt all over the city, surreal lumps and bumps on random buildings here and there. But I’ll talk more about him soon enough.

IMG_20160424_184713

Between the actual pounds of patatas bravas, padron peppers (lightly fried and dipped in salt), and the slabs of tomato bread that we ate at nearly every place we stopped, it’s a wonder we could move at all. But it was probably the perfect fuel for all of the general locomotion we were putting ourselves through! And let’s not talk about the huge hunks of cheese we brought back that’s still taking up far too much space in the fridge right now in my attempt to not eat all of it straightaway.

rosa negra barcelona

So what would I actually recommend for a 5 day visit to this charming, wonderful city? I’ve got a few ideas…

ashley tilly barcelona

See and Do

bikes barcelona

Gaudi party – gotta catch ’em all!

  • La Sagrada Familia – 1.5-3hrs. Can book online if you want to go in.
  • Park Güell – a great day out, book tickets for the paid bit online before you go, because entry is timed.
  • Casa Mila & Casa Batllo – these beautiful homes are just down the road from each other, so easy to do a quick walk/cycle by.

Parc de la Ciutadella – we spent our Sunday morning here, and it seemed all the families of Barcelona had the same idea. There was an impromptu dance lesson happening with a few dozen couples in a pavilion, children were everywhere, and it was just generally a nice place to catch the sun, snooze, and/or have a picnic.

Bike Rental – Pedal Bike Rental were really lovely!

Exploring – park your bike and pick a neighborhood – L’Eixample, the Gothic Quarter, El Born…pick one and go for a wander.

 

Eat and Drink

placa reial

 

Rosa Negra – amazing Mexican food and margaritas.

Zero KM – pizza noms!

Mercat Princesa – Like a mall food court, except for so much better, and with alcohol. Stalls sell skewers, more patatas bravas, local wines, pizza, and so much more and it seems to be a place where groups of friends meet to have a bite and a few drinks before heading out into the late night.

1881 above the Musee de Catalunya. The food was pretty expensive, but the drinks are good and worth it for the views from the rooftop bar.