Feeling Stupid In Barcelona

Feeling Stupid In Barcelona

 

SO I SCREWED UP.

2 days ago after arriving into Barcelona, I ranted how sad I was to have discovered that what I thought was one of my favorite restaurants, La Xampanyeria, was closed the night before the Catalan Independence Day. It had been my favorite because we all had a special night there 5 years ago where one of our monsooners finally fell in love with all of food after eating here (while the rest of us fell in love with Iberian Ham).

But that restaurant that I actually was thinking of was the similarly named (and equally popular) El Xampanyet, which was only a few blocks away from La Xampanyeria. Even Gabriela and Ramón, my two local friends who live in Barcelona, had assumed I actually meant La Xampanyet when we all met up 2 nights ago but since I was so stupidly insistent, we almost went to a closed La Xampanyeria instead.

So when I tried to go back to La Xampanyeria tonight to dine at what I thought would be a reunion at long last, I started to get vibes that it was not the same place. The first clue? The restaurant we went to 5 years ago had seats, and this one did not.

 

 

Although equally popular and equally packed, it’s standing room only, and it’s known for serving crazy amounts of free-flowing champagne with great food coming second.

And yet, we still enjoyed our time here.

 

 

But alas, when Ramón and Gabriela arrived and I showed them photos of the epic dinner we had 5 years ago, the 2 locals immediately recognized the interior of El Xampanyet and took us there, only to find it…

 

 


…closed on Mondays.

Was it actually open 2 nights ago and could we have dined there? I don’t want to know. Instead, I’m going to believe that like La Xampanyeria, El Xampanyet was also closed on Saturday night in observance Catalan Independence Day and there was no way whatsoever I could’ve eaten at El Xampanyet on this trip. Ok?

As I licked my wounds, we instead ate at neighboring Bodega La Puntual, which is run by the same people who own El Xampanyet. I guess I’ll settle for second place.

 

 

A few hours later we were joined by a South Korean named Hyungjung, whom we first met at Rodámon hostel when we checked in 2 nights ago — she was staring in our direction “as if [she] knew us” and when she said no, the only reply I could think of was: “Well, you’re about to!”

And who knew how prophetic my words would be at the time, because we would then keep running into her again and again over the course of our weekend: once more at the hostel, twice at Barcelona Sants Station while heading to Andorra, and twice more back at the hostel after returning from Andorra. WTF, mate?

Since these were obvious signs of a travel angel out there pushing us to get to know one another, we then exchanged few e-mails back and forth about meeting later for drinks. Although Hyungjung at first turned us down (she had an early flight back to South Korean the next morning), she eventually relented and brought another fellow South Korean whom she also just met at the hostel.

And of all the jobs out there, this friend is also an ER nurse!

 

 

But here’s where it gets even wilder with this supposed travel angel nudging for all of us random people around the world to get together:

1) To preface, Christina, Venkat, and David, and myself are the 4 monsooners who all went to Andorra — this is their first time all meeting one another and among their striking shared interests and similarities — 3 of us graduated from Columbia University, 2 attended Ohio State University, 2 served on Columbia College Student Council, and 3 served on EC/MAASU boards — Christina, Venkat and David all hail from mixed ethnicities as well: Christina and Venkat are both half-Korean, Venkat and David are both half-Indian, and David and Christina are both half-Central European.

 

2) With our 2 new guests, Hyungjung and her friend, both being South Korean nationals, it started to feel like this travel angel could actually exist when we found out that Venkat would be visiting South Korea next month for his cousin’s wedding at the same time that Hyungjung and her friend would be there. Venkat, however, doesn’t speak Korean to easily make that point across (although he packed a special little translation app that only made things hilariously more lost in translation)

 

3) Nevertheless, Christina is fluent in Korean and was able to fully integrate Hyungjung and her friend in our conversations. Connection made. Venkat now has more friends to hang out with (hopefully) when he’s in Seoul.

 

4) And given all these random but seemingly fateful connections, the 6 of us — from all around the world speaking 2 completely different languages — were able to spend the next 4 hours bantering like old friends over drinks and shisha at cozy Ziryab Shisha & Cocktail Lounge, all the while knowing in the back of our minds, we would never get together like this ever again.

 

5) (and Gabriela and Ramón are just awesom for meeting us two nights in a row and putting up with our general craziness

 

After things began to close at 2am, we ignored the calls of a convenient taxi ride and decided instead to take a leisurely stroll back to our hostel through the many beautiful neighborhoods of Barcelona.

 

 

And with that, we close the next chapter to another memorable travel weekend.

 

20 Hours In Andorra

20 Hours In Andorra

 

Getting some much-needed rest after a late night in Barcelona, we woke up at 10am to catch an 11:45am Direct Bus (that’s the actual name of the bus company!) from Barcelona Sants Station to Andora la Vella.

 

 

Once you arrive at Barcelona Sants, the bus station to Andorra sits adjacent to the main train station on the right:

 

 

You should pick up your bus tickets to Andorra at the small office located in the bus station, regardless if you bought yours ahead online or if you want to buy them in person:

 

 

Line up by 11:30am as the bus arrives about 10-15minutes early from the Barcelona airport:

 

 

Once you load your luggage on the bus, it’s off to Andorra without ANY bathroom breaks or stops on the way! FYI, the free wifi on the bus works great…but only when it’s in Andorra.

But enjoy the views! The whole ride takes about 3 hours.

 

 

At about the 2.5 hour mark, the bus smoothly glides through the border between Spain and Andorra with not even a quick stop; if you’re sleeping at this point you could miss the entire border crossing.

 

 

Andorra is famous for being the tiny country wedged between Spain and France along the east Pyrenees mountains. It’s Europe’s 6th smallest country covering 181 square miles and its population of 85,000 speaks French, Spanish and Catalan. 

Its capital, Andorra la Vella, is the highest capital city in mainland Europe. Although Andorra is not officially part of the EU, it uses the euro as its official currency, and it’s regarded as an EU member in trade/manufactured goods but as a non-EU member for agriculture.

Most importantly, it’s the second part of my microstate tour of duty, having already visited Gibraltar and most recetly, Liechtenstein.

We arrived in the capital city of Andorra la Vella exactly at 2:45pm.

 

 

We then got our bags off and walked 15 minutes to possibly Andorra’s only hostel with character, Barric Antic Hostel.

 

 

So what is there to see in Andorra la Vella? Not a lot, but the city itself is quite quaint and charming.

You can start fittingly in its Park Central:

 

 

From here, walk north to the very modern Parliament Building at the edge of its western Old Town.

 

 

Then there’s quaint Old Town, lined with narrow and charming streets that all date back to the original settlement of Andorra:

 

 

Right by our hostel on the western part of Old Town is Casa de la Vall, the 16th parliamentary house and seat of the Consul General that overlooks the modern Parliament building.

 

 

Step out into the plaza in front of Casa de la Vall and you’ll get sweeping panoramic views of the Pyrenees valley and the capital city below:

 

 

Close by and still in Old Town is The Church of Sant Esteve from the 11-12th century, open only during mass in the second half of the year.

 

 

Extending from the church is Town Square, where you can get more panoramic views of the valley.

 

 

At this point we got a bit hungry, but where do you eat when nearly everything closes on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of a siesta on Catalan Independence Day?!

At reliable Mama Maria, of course:

 

 

After a quick dunch/linner, we headed east from Old Town into Andorra’s eastern New Town:

 

 

This “new town” is essentially one huge shopping mall, given Andorra’s recently former status as a tax-free merchandise haven.

 

 

Along the northeastern part of the town is Caldea, supposedly one of the largest spa complexes in Europe.

If you go anytime after 7:30pm you can pay a discounted price of 31 euros to enter (with massages starting at 28 euros for half an hour and 50 euros for an hour) for a 2 hour stay.

 

 

It’s essentially one huge futuristic indoor and outdoor playground for adults that’s a cross between Spa Castle and Iceland’s Blue Lagoon.

 

caldea-blog-31

piscina-caldea

 

We spent a good hour here taking it all in: the main Grand Pool with all its smaller spaceship-style jacuzzis, multiple outdoor jacuzzis, multiple outdoor pools, a large steam room hamam, 2 dry saunas, a water massage room, a cold room, a cold plunge pool, 3 nap rooms, a restaurant, a Roman/Turkish Hot Pool, and a Roman/Turkish cold plunge pool.

Not a bad way to end your day.

 

 

If you’re walking around Andorra this late at night, it becomes almost surreal how empty the streets are:

 

 

Along the southwestern part of town, climb up a set of stairs and a bushy, rocky hill to get on Rec de l’Obac, a 2.5km long paved illuminated path that overlooks the city (there is also an identical one in the northeast called Rec del Solà).

 

 

After about 10 minutes along this path, we headed back down to the main city:

 

 

Then we headed up north again into Old Town:

 

 

And to end our night, we lavished over a dinner outdoors in the terrace of Papa Nico restaurant.

Although it serves a similar menu as Mama Maria, the service and quality of ingredients are noticeably superior.

 

 

After a few more beers, we’re going to head back to bed before getting on our morning bus back to Barcelona!

 

An early morning in Andorra

 

 

- At time of posting in Andorra la Vella, it was 19 °C - Humidity: 96% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

Reunited In Barcelona, 5 Years Later

Reunited In Barcelona, 5 Years Later

 

Oh Barcelona: It’s been 5 years! That trip was special — it was the first trip I ever done with a large group (and look how far we’ve come!).

And now I’m back. While 4 of us would meet in Barcelona tonight to begin our weekend trip to Andorra, our group size somehow still grew twice as large, because you know — it’s the monsoon way.

After an 8am-8pm shift in the ER, I got on a overnight TAP Portugal flight from NYC to Barcelona via a 4 hour layover in Lisbon. Upon arrival, I had already made plans for our group to meet up for a 9pm dinner at one of my favorite places to eat, La Xampanyeria (Edited 9/13/16 — I realized that I actually was thinking of the similarly named and equally popular El Xampanye with 2 other friends I had met back in NYC, Gabriela and Lillian — Gabriela had recently moved to Barcelona a year ago and Lillian was finishing up a work trip.

But once I checked into impressive Rodamon Hostel at 8:45pm, I got a facebook message from David that La Xampanyeria was closed in observance of the Catalan Independence Day the next morning. Apparently nobody knew this was going to happen last minute and every other tourist was apparently freaking out about so many unannounced closures of their favorite restaurants. So in a texting firing circle among me, Gabriela, Lillian, and David, we decided to meet instead at Bar Bitacora at 9:30pm.

 

Reunited!

 

We soon were joined by Ana and Carolina, 2 friends from Portugal whom David had befriended on his walking tour earlier that day, because why not?

 

 

And no meal is complete without jamón Iberica! A reunion so so delightful.

 

 

After dinner, we then waited for Christina who had just flown into Barcelona and was supposed to meet us at Bar Bitacora after checking in. But when a hour passed by and we were kicked out of the restaurant for loitering, we decided instead to head to a nearby bar and wait for her there. 

Another 30 minutes passed and Christina at this point, was still lost. So I went out into town to retrieve her. After a good run and a few points of both of us stealing WiFi at random bars and cafés and momentarily messaging each other our progress and dropped pins, we eventually found each other. Relieved, we then rejoined the group and finished the night off with drinks in the Gothic Quarter and lazily walking around the area at night. Mission Accomplished! 

Tomorrow we meet with Venkat at the Barcelona Sants station for our weekend trip to Andorra.

 

- At time of posting in Barcelona, it was 32 °C - Humidity: 40% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy