the epic settle of 2014

Bye San Francisco! I miss you!

Bye San Francisco! I miss you!

If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I’m a pretty terrible planner. In fact, in the last 6 months, my departure from the states was the only thing that I actually planned ahead of time, and that was purely out of shame- after broadcasting my emigration from the states to everyone I know, I was going to look like a real idiot if I didn’t go through with it.

So naturally it is safe to assume that my recent move to Barcelona was a bit out of the blue as well. Here’s a little backstory- my first trip to Barcelona was back in 2011, a magical four-day stopover (on my way to celebrate my grandfather’s 90th birthday in Mallorca) in which I spent days wandering the streets and nights feasting on tapas and vino. Then, I was lucky enough to stay with my friend Marta, a native Mallorquina who I met when the gods brought her to UC San Diego to study, surf and snowboard with us for a year.

this beautiful lady standing next to me is Marta

this beautiful lady standing next to me is Marta

A few weeks ago, in between mopping floors, making beds and cleaning bathrooms at my Workaway position in Portugal, I found myself glued to my computer, frantically scouring the webs for an apartment in Barcelona. After a couple of days of cleaning fumes and out of control hostel guests yelling until all hours of the morning, I think I subconsciously decided I had had enough of the impermanence of hostels for a while. In keeping with the theme of the last few months, the universe responded in the form of my good friend Marta. Being the badass that she is, she literally kicked out the two guys subletting her apartment for the summer so I could move in for the month of August. I know, I’m so not nice enough to deserve friends like that.

not to mention Sagrada Familia was a block away from Marta's apartment!

not to mention Sagrada Familia was a block away from Marta’s apartment!

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oh you know, just tagging along to ‘work’ with Marta

A month later, I have an apartment, a job (and a half), and actually have a couple of friends to call my own. I set an intention for every week I was here- the first week was to decide if I wanted to stay, the second, to find a job, 3rd, an apartment, and finally, last week, I intentionally set out to make some new friends.

not one of my new friends, unfortunately

not one of my new friends, unfortunately

So how’d that work out?  I just so happened to stumble into the home base of a company that runs gastronomic tours through Barcelona’s old city during my ‘work’ week. Somehow, I managed to charm them into giving me a tryout, and am now running 3 hour long tours in which I try super hard not to bore people to death. Mostly I succeed, and the promise of food every 30 minutes or so definitely helps.

Next, after visiting what seemed like 842 apartments, I found a cute little place with 2 other girls in the newer part of Barcelona, a district called “Eixample” (pronounced eye-shamp-lah). Again, with my winning smile and sometimes awkward Spanish, I managed to convince the girls to accept me as one of their own.. and THEYRE NEVER GETTING RID OF ME. Just kidding.. they might, eventually.

The friends part is slightly trickier, but definitely looking good- here’s a few tips on how you might force strangers to be your friend in a new city:

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new friends, old friends, and dead friends at the Fiestas de Gracia

1. Couchsurfing.org: Despite having recently gained infamy as ‘couchsexing.org’ (I may or may not have totally made that name up), Couchsurfing events actually seem to have great attendance with a mix of travelers, locals, expats and random unsuspecting people who are just trying to have a quiet drink in their local bar. So far I’ve been to 3 events, and although no new best friends on the horizon, its been an overall good experience.

2. Meetup.com: Good idea in theory, but the only time I’ve tried to attend an event, I couldn’t find the group and ended up making random friends with a completely unrelated group of people and stumbled back to my apartment at almost 4 am. I call that a successful evening, although the “meet-up’ portion may have ended up a bit misdirected.

3. Facebook: there are Facebook groups for everything these days. Want to run with fellow expats every week? Group for that. Do you enjoy painting your face and blowing bubbles in the park? They meet on Sunday mornings. Have a gerbil and want to teach it to fly a kite? There’s a group for that. Seriously though, Facebook is full of weirdos and there is a niche for all of them, even me.

Moral of the story- set an intention, don’t be a lazy-ass, and force yourself out of your comfort zone- in doing so, you may just find a whole new ‘comfy space’ to enjoy! Big changes are only scary if you are scared of them- you can only be disappointed if you have expectations to begin with!

 

 

 

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sometimes traveling doesn’t cost an arm and a leg

Just a bit of dignity and some elbow grease.

Seriously though, gone are the days of overpriced hotel rooms and tours that make you sign over your first born child before you even leave your home country. I mean, all of those things still exist, and I know there are still subscribers to the world of “Europe on $200 a day,”  but I’ve found that the scrappier and cheaper it gets, the more fun I have.

nothing screams luxury like a blow up swimming pool

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wouldn’t you consider sleeping here over a hostel bunk bed?

This time, that meant delving into the world of hitchhiking and work trade-  yeah, I know, hitchhiking is dangerous, you never know who is going to pick you up, you might get kidnapped, stranded… I KNOW. However, I could also be robbed at gunpoint in the middle of San Francisco while minding my own business, or hit by a car while crossing the street in middle of nowhere, safe-as-hell Ojai… both of which have actually happened. (ok to be fair in the first instance the gun was fake, but still). The work trade portion of my adventures were actually probably more damaging to my health and safety than the hitchhiking was.. mostly due to a lack of sleep and lots of cleaning product fumes.

Anyways, you can all breathe easy (especially you, Grandma, I know your heart probably stopped for a second) because I made it to Spain and won’t be trying my luck in this country.. at least with hitchhiking and cleaning products. Everything else, I can’t make any promises.

 

Would I recommend using Workaway for someone who is looking to save a bit of money while still hanging out in a rad country? Hell yeah. Since my room and food was covered, the only money I spent was basically on watermelon and sangria ingredients. What would NOT recommend however, is going into the workaway experience without fully understanding the terms of your work trade. Lets just say I was not prepared for over night shifts or cleaning multiple bathrooms a day.

mad art skillz

mad art skillz

Hitchhiking, unlike Workaway, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend to everyone looking to travel cheaply. If you don’t feel like standing on the side of the road for an undetermined period of time holding a sign or your thumb in the air, feel free to rule out this method of transportation. (or, you know, you’re in a country in which hitchhiking is illegal). For me (and my lovely Australian friend on whom we can pin this newfound addiction) it became a game- we would try to make eye contact with as many passing cars as possible, and for those that didn’t stop, try to figure out the weird hand signals that drivers would give us to indicate that they were not headed where we were trying to go (“Wait does that mean you’re staying here? you’re turning around? I don’t get it.”)

off we go

i swear im not high in this photo, i was just running on 3 hours of sleep.

I met a lot of interesting characters over the last couple of weeks- an older woman and her mother from Mozambique that drove us 20km out of their way while blasting 70’s tunes, a baker in the process of developing sweet potato, bean and nut based baked goods who raced me to 3 different bus stops before we found the right one, and the guy in the amazing VW van filled with baby wipes and toilet paper- to name just a few.

other favorite: THIS GUY.

other favorite: THIS GUY.

Though I’ll miss my new favorite game, word on the street is that hitchhiking in Spain isn’t quite as fun, so I’m planning on trying Bla Bla Car (a ride sharing weebsite) for my trip to Barcelona on Monday or Tuesday.

 

Portugal, where I almost got airlifted to safety

I haven’t been writing much lately, although I can’t say its for a lack of content. In the last 2 months I’ve spent time with family in Liverpool and London, reconnected with friends and (host) family in Spain, and made my way through Portugal. This post is coming to you from a short pause for a long breath in a sleepy city called Faro, the capital city of the Algarve in southern Portugal, not too far from the Spanish border. After doing the traditional hostel-hop through Porto, Lisbon and Sintra, I finally found a Workaway position at a fairly new hostel in downtown Faro.

Faro train station at sunset

Faro train station at sunset

For some reason, my creative juices just aren’t flowing these days- not sure if that’s due to the fact that I’ve spent the last 2 nights working overnight (1am-9am) shifts at the hostel, or if I’m just not doing the right things to stoke the fires. I think the issue is that I don’t want this to be the type of blog where I just say “hey, look at this thing I did” and then post idyllic pictures of landscapes and the occasional selfie. I want this blog to portray my brand- I see myself as a bit of an eccentric, slightly off the wall, majorly sarcastic, with a healthy dose of adventurous spirit and an air of “well, that sounded like a good idea at the time.” The things you read here should reflect that. Anyone can fly into Europe, take a few photos of old stuff, recap their meals, and tell you how many bleeding Christ paintings you can find in the Prado (fact: its WAY too many).

That said, this is probably never going to be a typical ‘travel’ blog. Yeah, I travel. And I blog. But unfortunately, my specific type of travel blogging is probably not going to be a great substitute for your handy dandy Lonely Planet.

So…. Spain. but mostly Portugal. (I promise I will time-blog-hop back to my time in Spain at some point!)

Portugal is effing gorgeous. After living in the states for so long, you forget how OLD stuff is. Europe is old as fuck, and the architecture, urban planning and art reflect that. To be slightly more specific, according to Wikipedia, Porto’s origins date back as far as the 4th century. So when America was founded in 1776, Porto was over a thousand years old.

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streets of Porto

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view of the Douro river

After an altogether too short couple of days in Porto, I rushed down to Lisbon to catch the Optimus Alive music festival. Lisbon is like many European capitals- a juxtaposition of the old and new, one overlapping with the other in often ridiculous ways. I can’t help but giggle a bit to myself when I find a Zara store tucked next to a thousand year old church (which has been plastered with ads for an upcoming DJ set), or when the nearest Metro stop is located underneath a statue of Dom Pedro IV (one of Portugal’s kings). Then, to time warp my brain a little more, I headed to Sintra, home of castles, parks and old stuff galore. Although Sintra seems to cater largely to sightseers, its one of the few super touristy places I’ve visited that I feel is truly worth it.

Quinta de la Regaleira, Sintra

Quinta de la Regaleira, Sintra

However, because we all know I can’t adhere to norms (and I hate spending money when I don’t have to), I decided to say eff the tourist buses, and head up to the Castelo de los Mouros (est. somewhere between the 8th and 9th century) which happens to be located on a giant cliff overlooking the town of Sintra. Now, the 6 km hike up to the castle wouldn’t be that big of a deal.. if I hadn’t decided to take my own ‘shortcut’ which consisted of literally climbing up the face of the mountain.

if you go to sintra, this is NOT the path to the castle. at least not the path of least resistance...

if you go to sintra, this is NOT the path to the castle. at least not the path of least resistance…

The climb up was actually pretty fun. I got to find out if TOMS really are decent hiking shoes (for the record, not so bad) and I got to put my out of practice rock climbing skills to the test. In the end, I made it to the ‘top’. I use quotation marks because the top of the climb unfortunately did not coincide with the location of my destination. It did, however, have amazing views of aforementioned destination.

soooo… this is awkward. anyone see a road I could borrow?

soooo… this is awkward. anyone see a road I could borrow?

My ‘pat yourself on the back for a job well done’ moment lasted about 10 minutes.. long enough to snap some epic photos, a couple terrible selfies, and take a few deep breaths before realizing I had no freakin’ clue how I was going to make it from the boulders I was perched on to the castle 200+ meters away. If everyone is supposed to have a moment in their lives in which they strongly believe they will have to be rescued by a helicopter and possibly the foreign version of a SWAT team, this was mine.

 

but dat view doe…

but dat view doe…

Anyways, crisis (and panic attack) was averted, and eventually I squirmed through the bushes and over (and under) the boulders to make it up to the Moorish Castle. Moral of the story: next time bring climbing shoes… and, uh… maybe don’t take shortcuts?

Three days in Sintra and I managed to get my fill of old stuff.. although if I could have convinced my hostel to let me stay and work there, I totally would have. That place was awesome. (Nice Way Sintra Palace, FYI)

And that brings me to Faro.. kind of like Porto’s less old, not as picturesque, more lacking in wine’s younger brother. Which will be another silly story for me to share, and for my grandma to read (cause lets be honest… everyone else just looks at the pictures).