14 July, 2014

le retour à paris

finally, our two insane and wonderful weeks of eurail-ing had to come to an end. 

we knew it was time. it's always hard not to wish i'd had another day here or there, another three hours to spend in that one park i'd walked by but hadn't had time to explore, another 7 euros for that one museum i never made it to. but the 3 of us learned, over the course of this trip, not to underestimate how draining backpacking could be. don't get me wrong: marit's phone shattering, tamar's bank card not working, several of my well-worn staple clothing items falling apart-- these things weren't what tired us out. this year's been an exercise in dealing with the unexpected, and i think we're all pretty proud of the level of tenacity and resourcefulness this year has given us. 

what was tiring was simply constantly being on the go all the time, never quite relaxing. there are always those weird australians (i've met them everywhere) who stay in one hostel for weeks or months on end, setting up camp, but make no mistake: a hostel isn't a home. padlocking our belongings 24/7, navigating train transfers, switching to a different language and different geography and different everything every 3 days, screenshotting map directions before leaving a wifi area, constantly being on the lookout for public bathrooms, trying to figure out how many times we could adorn the same 4-euro pita with toppings at maoz falafel in barcelona before "unlimited toppings" turned into "please leave now"-- that's what got exhausting. awesome and fun and a crazy, crazy, crazy adventure that we missed as soon as we were all ensconced in our familiar lives and routines at home once again...but exhausting. 

with all that being said, though, marit and tamar and i were heartbroken at the thought of this being over, the downside to our magnificent year of new places and new people and new adventures obviously being that wherever there exists a hello, there will inevitably eventually be a goodbye. leaving places never gets easier, ever. and this time, it was really ending. so we decided to make the best of our final day of the gap year, fittingly spent in paris. 

on sunday afternoon, we boarded our train from barcelona to perpignan, in southwest france, and then from perpignan to cerbère, a town right on the franco-spanish border, where we were to catch an overnight train to paris. somehow our travel agent at the gare de tours had booked us the least sensical path to paris possible, sending us on a zigzag through southern france and wasting us a few euros and a few hours. it was impossible to be upset, though, because the whole situation was just too comical. and in any case, i fell 100% in love with the town of cerbère during our three (!) passes through it. forget the côte d'azur, the basque coastline is where it's at. 

like, can't you just imagine renting a ramshackle little cottage in the summer and wandering through tall grass down to the rocky beach and maybe driving along the coastline over to spain for the afternoon once in a while? ahhh. someday.

we arrived in paris at 7 a.m. freezing (we were dressed for spain, not for france!), sleepy, and disoriented. tamar was taking the train that night to the netherlands to meet her cousins and fly home from amsterdam-schiphol, but marit and i were staying the night at a hostel in montmartre before flying home out of cdg the next morning, so all 3 of us made the early-morning trek to our hostel, where we stashed our luggage and abused the breakfast/wifi privileges.

tamar packed and retrieved her other suitcase from a family friend's apartment where she'd stored it these 2 weeks, and in the meantime marit and i took a walk along the seine, exploring l'île de la cité, talking our way into getting free admission to la conciergerie, the prison in which marie antoinette was jailed, and viewing the outside of la sainte-chappelle.  then we met back up with tamar and headed out on a quest for hot chocolate at angelina on rue de rivoli. we took to go (not tryna pay an extra 7 euros to sit in the tearoom, no matter how cute it was) and drank it in the jardin des tuileries.

such a lovely, parisian afternoon. we were happy with ourselves for making use of this last day. tamar was pleased to be back in paris, where she'd spent the springtime studying french, and it was also really satisfying for marit and me to feel at home in paris. at this point, we both felt like we knew the city well and didn't feel that crippling pressure to see everything, do everything; instead, we felt comfortable, familiar with the city. 

in late afternoon, we dropped off tamar at the train station. saying goodbye was tough. although tamar and i had only known each other in person for two weeks, it felt like an eternity! there's nothing like traveling with someone to cement a bond, and it felt like we'd known each other for ages. 

our hostel was just around the corner from sacré-coeur, so marit and i felt compelled to visit. i had never spent much time in montmartre before, so i was excited to visit the sacré-coeur for the first time. 

it was phenomenal. being inside of the church felt like stepping out of time. definitely a special space.

afterwards, we enjoyed the view from the top of the hill, took the very last selfie of the gap year (!!!!), wandered around the quartier, and bought some groceries for a late dinner at the hostel before packing up and getting to bed early because we're #responsible #teens.

there couldn't be a better dernier jour than one spent having hot chocolate in the park and wandering around montmartre. it was after getting home from paris just over a year prior to this that i knew i absolutely had to do everything possible to make this gap year happen. that i got to spend the very last day of the year here felt like some kind of cosmic manifestation of my gratitude. 

it all worked out. it all worked out. it all worked out. 


p.s. how fitting it is that i'm finally getting around to posting about this.... on bastille day!

09 July, 2014


barcelona was wonderful. sunshine and seaside and gaudí and fresh fruit and picasso. what more can you ask for? 

all of our mornings started with a stop at la boquería, which quickly became our favourite place in the city. 

la boquería from the outside
 conveniently located along la rambla just a few blocks from our hostel, the covered market was a treasure trove of delicacies: chocolate-covered strawberries on skewers, multitudes of empanadas containing various fillings, plastic containers filled with sliced mangoes or coconut chunks, sacks of dried fruit and nuts, stacks of argentine-style alfajores, hefty slices of egg and cheese tortillas. of course, there were also slabs of raw meat and fish, the occasional fin or tentacle dangling perilously into the walking aisle... but we won't talk about that.

one scoop dark chocolate chili, one scoop mojito. so goooood.
manteca de cacahuete, anybody?
but what brought us back time after time were the smoothies. strawberry/kiwi? mango/coconut? papaya/maracuya? it was impossible to pick just one, and luckily they were priced so cheaply that we didn't have to. after 6 weeks of getting our carb quota in the form of buttery french pastries and cheap cereal and toast at hostels, the idea of overdosing on fresh fruit sounded like a veritable heaven.

on the right: a blackberry/coconut blend.
the other thing we fell in love with in barcelona was gaudí. the whole city is a love letter from the architect to his native catalunya. vibrant hues, swirling shapes, the absurd and the romantic entwined-- it's like the architectural equivalent of magical realism. even the parts of the city that weren't designed by gaudí share his flair for the marriage of whimsy and elegance.

we loved wandering around barrio gòtic, the old city.

a big priority for us to hit in barça was the museu picasso. 

on one hand, i feel like at this point declaring oneself a fan of picasso is a bit like declaring a love for abe lincoln, or for beyoncé. picasso is so much a part of the art canon that it almost seems silly- redundant, even- to say you're a fan. it's not cool or edgy to love picasso. 

and yet. the museum was phenomenal. maze-like and overwhelming, yes, but encompassing work from every era of picasso's life, starting all the way from his early teenage years. here's the deal about picasso: he was just so. damn. good. at. everything! throughout his life he experimented with (and created!) so many different styles and media and he was absurdly good at all of them, from his early realist work to the blue period to the rose period to cubism and even to ceramics. the museu's crown jewel, however, is the collection of all 58 paintings in las meninas, picasso's re-imagination of the titular velázquez painting. another highlight of the museum was the temporary exhibit, which consisted of work inspired by picasso, and showcased a variety of artists, including basquiat and condo. let's just say we saw everything there was to see in the picasso museum.

and now onward to the parks of barcelona, which are renowned. it's for good reason; they're beautiful. we climbed up to the top of parc de montjuïc and were rewarded with a panoramic view of the city... and a prime portrait-taking location.

the next day, we headed to the sagrada família. the ticket fee- even with a student discount- to visit the church and also go up the nativity tower (an added cost, but we'd heard it was worth it) was steep. we justified it as our one pricey tourist attraction in the city-- we were cheap about everything else, but is there really any point in going to barcelona if you don't see the sagrada família?

gaudí, you outdid yourself.

our fav sign in the adjacent museum... picturing a bunch of chileans sitting around just being like, "yo CHILL, we're working on it."

also a must-see was parc güell, another gaudí masterpiece.

when we weren't consuming smoothies or admiring art and architecture, we spent our time strolling along rambla de mar, catnapping on port vell, drinking sangria, attempting to find affordable tapas, having to navigate our way home from some random road where our cab driver abruptly dumped us because he slammed into a motorcyclist (yes, really), hitting up locals-only bars, fighting in two languages with our ridiculously awful french roommates, making friends with the vendors at la boquería, and having heart-to-hearts whilst walking down la rambla.

and of course, on our last night in barcelona-- the last night of the gap year, really-- where else would we find ourselves but clutching pints of guinness in an irish pub?

we toasted to the gap year, to friendships new and old, to adventures, to aprovecha-ing and profiter-ing our way through this year/life, to travel and to all the weirdness that inevitably comes with it.

salud, santé, prost, sláinte; it didn't matter what language we said it in. some sentiments are the same in every language.

cheers to the gap year.