- Les Estivales: I’ve probably already talked it up enough, but go for a Friday! It’s absolutely worth it, my time at the Estivales made my entire trip to Montpellier worthwhile, it was that good.
- BagelsandU: a little bagel shop right down the road from the hostel. It had a real NYC, gourmet feel to it, which was a pleasant surprise. I went twice and had the same thing each time, the Soho, a cheese bagel with with goats cheese, fried onions, fresh tomatoes, and a delicious green pesto. So, so good.
Tag - solo travel
I loved Barcelona. It was so fun to explore because it's so vibrant and beautiful with so many things to discover down every twisty street. Wandering around in El Born or the Gothic Quarter felt like being inside a novel or a movie. And then, of course, there are all the buildings (and benches and lampposts and statues) designed by Antoni Gaudi that make the city feel like a bright, colourful fairy tale.
I loved that in Barcelona you could just wander around all day and stumble across a half dozen things that were interesting or important or cool: that's how I found the cathedral, and a few of the beautiful old churches, and the gardens of one church that had fountains and palm trees and a group of swans just hanging out. But I also loved that there were things off the beaten path as well, and I was lucky enough to have some not-so-touristy experiences while I was there. A friend of mine from Montreal invited me out a few nights, once to a great bar that is always packed full that only serves cheap (mainly pink) champagne and good, greasy sandwiches. Another night, a girl I met in the hostel invited me out to this birthday party for a guy she'd met while salsa dancing: it turned out to be at a tiny little open-air beach bar and I watched people dancing barefoot and then running off down to the water, and then tried it a little myself. My last night, we went to the festival of Gracia, a huge neighbourhood street festival, complete with insane decorations on each of the streets, live music, a ton of sparklers and a parade with huge groups of drummers. It was so much fun.
Every morning it was open, I'd go to the Marche de la Boqueria and try a different juice. There are about twenty different stands of just fresh juices and fresh cut fruit, in amongst the stands for meat, fish, candy, wine, tapas, anything you can imagine really. The juices were so tropical, everything from mango coconut to lime melon to passion fruit pineapple (so good) and everything in between. I can't even remember all the flavours I tried, but it was always cheap, delicious and refreshing (and happily, on my way home every day!).
I also absolutely loved going to the Magic Fountain show at night. I only got to go once, but if I had stayed longer, I'd have gone every night. On the weekends during the summer, there is a huge fountain show complete with lights changing colour in time with music (half the time classical music, the other half top 40s type stuff). You can watch it overlooking beautiful views of Barcelona, and its such a fun atmosphere because everyone comes out to see it: tourists, families, backpackers. I loved it.
And then the Gaudi stuff! I found the Sagrada Familia to live up 100% to its hype, it was stunning inside and out, just such an impressive feat of architecture. I was so impressed, stunned really. It's gorgeous. The Casa Batlo was another construction of his, and while less immense then the Sagrada Familia, was still fantastical and wonderful. And of course, I loved his famous Parc Guell with amazing views of Barcelona and its fascinating aqueducts and beautiful mosaics.
I had such a wonderful time in Barcelona. I was lucky enough to meet up with old friends and make lots of new ones, and I really enjoyed myself. It's a beautiful city.
- Maoz: this little vegetarian falafel place is right next to the Plaza Real, just off the Ramblas. It has an amazing all you can eat salad and sauce bar, so you can just keep stuffing your pita full of veggies and it is so, so delicious. And cheap too!
- Hostel One Paralelo: this hostel was perfect for meeting people. It was a little walk from the touristy areas, but in a really nice quiet area. Best staff, best common areas, and they have these free family dinners every night. The best hostel.
Sometimes I think I was unbelievably naive to take on a trip like this without ever having done anything like it before, all alone, for three months. Sometimes, three months (or two months, or now, just under one and a half months) feels like an eternity. Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing and sometimes I miss home and sometimes I just feel overwhelmed.
But those sometimes, they're getting further apart. They're lasting less time. They're becoming easier to talk myself – or more accurately, write myself – out of. They're easier to anticipate: if I'm tired, or if its a travel day, I've learned to prepare myself for the feelings. The recognition that I'll probably get overwhelmed on a given day isn't enough to stop myself from getting overwhelmed, but when my crazy brain starts to set in, it's easier to remind myself that its ONLY the fatigue talking, that the feelings I'm having aren't because I've made a huge mistake. And some of those sometimes I still ask my mom for advice, or send out some snapchats, or write to the people I care about. All of it helps.
Travelling alone has been completely different than I imagined. It's been better and it's been worse. Mostly better. Sometimes worse. It's been better because I never believed I would meet so many great people so easily, and because I've learned I really love exploring on my own and stopping to see buildings and alleyways and street performances on a whim. Whenever it's been worse, it's because I feel far away from the people who know me best, people that I don't have to explain myself to, or it's been because I'm exhausted and I wish someone else could figure out hostel arrangements or the train schedules, just this once. But mostly, travelling on my own has just been different. It's been surreal sometimes to find myself on the beach/climbing up a hill/exploring a market/taking the bus with a handful of strangers. It's been strange to figure it all out on my own and realize (astonished, really) that I am the only one responsible for taking myself on this trip with all of its details and stops and day trips. It all seemed so much more complicated before I left than it has been in reality, but that doesn't make me any less proud of myself.
And speaking of the logistics, I've been pleasantly surprised with how much I have enjoyed creating this plan as I go. I've been really happy to find that my Eurail pass makes taking the train so easy. I've learned that I love navigating cities. I've been grateful time and time again that I'm travelling with a backpack, not a rolling suitcase, and that I can move easily and hands free wherever I need to go. My bag is about 22 pounds, which feels really heavy when its on for too long, but which is generally very manageable for me. I haven't yet regretted packing anything, and I have now packed that bag what feels like a hundred times. The packing cubes are a total lifesaver, as have been all the individual Ziplock bags breaking everything up.
I think if I was to do this trip over, knowing what I do now, I'd probably do it for two months: most of one with a friend, and then the rest on my own. That said, and I know it doesn't really make sense, but, I also wouldn't ever go back and change anything if I had the choice. Three months was a long time for my first solo trip, but even so, most of the time, I'm finding it so positive: I feel more relaxed about not having every last detail planned out, I'm taking on board more recommendations, travelling alone has made me *so* much more open to talking to people than I ever was before, and my coping skills, while still nowhere near perfect, have definitely improved. I have no doubt that this has been an incredible experience, both in terms of what I've gotten to see and do, and because of what it's taught me.
I've learned how much I love to swim far out in the ocean to think and meditate, because I always come back to shore feeling way more grounded. I've learned that I love to seek out vegetarian restaurants wherever I go and have long, long lunches alone with my book. I've learned that I'll happily watch any street dance performance, even more than once. I've learned there's nothing better than a message (or text or photo) from someone I love. I've learned small hostels are better. I've learned to sleep on the train. I've learned I can handle it.
Just past the halfway mark, I'm feeling good. I'm feeling like the end is simultaneously still far away and yet very rapidly approaching. I feel so ambivalent about finishing my trip: I want to see my loved ones, but I don't want this to end, and I don't have the answers I want about what to do next. Trying to tell myself that's normal, that's okay, that it'll all work out in the end. I'm feeling so appreciative of my friends and my wonderful family who have all been so encouraging and positive. I love you all!
- El Estragon Vegetariano: a sweet and delicious little vegetarian place in a quiet, pretty neighbourhood. I had the lunch menu which included a starter, main, dessert, bread and water for 12 euros and it felt almost wrong because the food was so incredible and so generous. I had a salad whose dressing I would do anything to acquire the recipe for, a delicious rice bowl with fried eggs, and poached pears in dark chocolate sauce. It was amazing, I had a long lunch, read my book, and was happy.
- El Tigre: the tapas bar I was raving about that serves cheap drinks with free tapas. It's a bit of a madhouse inside, and there are no seats, but it's such a fun local atmosphere.