Recap of the Best Year of My Life

If I measure 2016 by the one yardstick that matters to me, how much I travelled, it was the best year of my life. That’s hard to reconcile with how horrible the year was to the world in general, but it’s my truth.

This was a rare year of my life where there was enough money to do what I wanted to do. I prioritised paying for the big stuff, like making sure I had a roof over my head, could get from point A to point B, and that I stayed healthy. I savoured the little stuff I could afford. I refused to be a glass half empty person and bemoan that I couldn’t do X, Y, or Z because of a tight budget and instead celebrated that I was wherever I was at that moment.

I covered so much ground this year that you might have forgotten where I started. So here’s my 2016 travel retrospective.

January started in Mazatlán, Mexico. It was the second year of my life starting there and the novelty hadn’t worn off! I spent many hours cantering on a beautiful tropical beach, a weekly ritual that made me feel like the richest and luckiest woman in the world.

The lagoon at the Isla de la Piedra botanical gardens.

The lagoon in Mazatlán’s Bosque de la Ciudad.

February brought me to Mérida, in the Mexican state of Yucatán, on a scouting mission in anticipation of possibly moving there!

I saw ancient Mayan ruins!

The Mayan ruins at Uxmal.

The Mayan ruins at Uxmal.

March had me discovering the wonderful botanical gardens right in my backyard on Isla de la Piedra.

The lake at the heart of Isla de la Piedra's botanical gardens.

The lake at the heart of Isla de la Piedra’s botanical gardens.

April found me seeing Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

…and exploring Arches National Park

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

…and the town of Moab, Utah.

May took me to Cody, Wyoming

downtown Cody, WY

downtown Cody, WY

…with plenty of time to explore the Center of the West

Sacagawea at Center of the West

Sacagawea at Center of the West

… and a Japanese internment camp

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center

… before going home to Haven…

Sunset at Haven, May, 2016

Sunset at Haven, May, 2016

… before getting on a plane and technically visiting my last Canadian province.


So June took me to London, England (really!)…

London from the St. Paul's Cathedral

London from St. Paul’s Cathedral


… and to Bulgaria!

Malak Izvor, Bulgaria

Malak Izvor, Bulgaria


July took me on two trips to Sofia, Bulgaria.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

August took me to Plovdiv

Plovdiv from Nebet Hill

Plovdiv from Nebet Hill

… and across Bulgaria in a Chevy to Nessebar

Old Nessebar, Bulgaria

Old Nessebar, Bulgaria

…to Soviet ruins



Veliko Tarnovo

Tsaravets Fortress, Veliko Tarnovo

Tsaravets Fortress, Veliko Tarnovo

…the scenic town of Teteven



Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

…the Etropole Waterfall

Etropole Waterfall

Etropole Waterfall

…and a the magnificent 15th century Glozhene Monastery.

inside the Glozhene Monastery

inside the Glozhene Monastery

September saw me quit Bulgaria for Serbia and finish the month in Belgrade.

Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia

Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia

October found me in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo, BiH

Sarajevo, BiH

Kotor, Montenegro

Old Kotor, Montenegro

Old Kotor, Montenegro

…blipping through Albania

an Albanian fortress

an Albanian fortress

…staying out too late in Prizen, Kosovo

Prizren, Kosovo

Prizren, Kosovo

…not being impressed by Skopje, Macedonia

Archaeological Museum, Skopje

Archaeological Museum, Skopje


…ambling through Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona


… then through Alicante

Alicante, Spain

Alicante, Spain

… before settling in Almería for seven weeks.

The port of Almería

The port of Almería

November was spent in lovely Almería learning to live in the real Spain.

Pedestrian street in downtown Almería

Pedestrian street in downtown Almería

December saw me in Málaga for a few days…

Málaga from the top of the itinerant Ferris wheel.


…before jetting off to end the year and ring in 2017 in Amsterdam, Netherlands!

Quintessential Amsterdam scene


What a journey 2016 was, from getting more and more comfortable in Mexico to becoming a seasoned European traveler!

But the most amazing thing that happened? I was offered my key to Mexico. So my 2017 is well plotted. But before I return to the blistering tropical heat of the Yucatán, England, Quebec, and Haven beckon. So clichéd as the saying is, the best really is yet to come.

Happy New Year to all of you lovely readers!

Ambling Around Barcelona

I ended up with a ton of work due tonight because I forgot to tell the client who sends me stuff on Fridays that I’d be traveling tomorrow. Thankfully, my jobs were easy, so I decided I would do one of them in the morning, go out and walk until my feet hurt, and then come in to do the other one. I got to work around 9AM and was ready to head out at about 1PM. It was cool and very overcast, so I pulled out my cool weather clothes and made sure to pack my umbrella!

My only plan for the day was to visit a beach and then just amble around and see what I could find. But first, lunch!

I headed towards the marina area, stopping first at the same place as yesterday for a coffee. I would normally have given up on coffee so late in the day, but I’ve been on such a late schedule here I figured it wouldn’t matter. I sipped my magic bean potion as I walked very slowly behind a huge gaggle of school kids blocking the entire sidewalk and was glad to be rid of them around the monument to Columbus.

These trees were by the monument and I was not the only person photographing them. They are Ceiba trees, just like we find in Mexico. I’ve just never seen any there that look so roly-poly!



They have beautiful flowers.




Barcelona has a couple of cable cars. Very $$$ to ride them, of course.


I wonder if this is the world’s second biggest lobster.



I got to the turnoff to head towards the beach at about 2PM, which is right bang at lunchtime for Spaniards. So I decided to head inland to find lunch and then return to the water when I spotted this restaurant across the street:


Ooh. I haven’t had conveyor belt sushi since Eugene, Oregon! I hurried to the nearest crosswalk and doubled back to the restaurant to see if they had a lunch special. Yes. 12.53 euros for all you can eat with a drink, including beer. That’s only 19CAD, a bargain! I did a quick review check and any less than five-star reviews were by folks who admitted they came very early or very late, so the food wasn’t as fresh. I went in and was seated at the best table in the place — the first stop after the kitchen.

I dug in, knowing I wouldn’t need to eat again today. I focussed on the sushi, but did try a few other tidbits, like noodles and gyoza (dumplings). The salmon nigiri (bottom right) were were the best I’ve ever had, with the fish fresh and the rice perfectly seasoned. I could not believe what a deal I was getting. I like this format better than the all you can eat in that the portions are smaller and so you can get a bigger variety of stuff. With all you can eat, you’re committed to a large roll of whatever, plus you have to wait for your orders.


What a wonderful find and a great experience. I love stumbling on places like these!


I then headed back to the waterfront to find a beach. Here’s the museum of Catalonian History. Like most museums, there was a hefty admittance fee and a long line up. I have no regrets about my trip to Barcelona being mostly spent ambling somewhat aimlessly as I’ve been spoiled by the non-touristy Balkans.


I’d rather like to rent a Ferrari for a day… 🙂



I loved the last line on this sign:


And tah-dah!


Can you imagine how long this journey would have taken in ancient times?



I sat there for a long while, studying my map before setting off again.


“We are and ever will be a refuge city.”


The number of refugees Barcelona has welcomed.


There were some amazing sand artists at work.




I’ve seen these signs all over the parts of Barcelona I’ve visited. Half a roasted chicken with potatoes or a whole one. About twice as expensive as in Mexico, but Mexican chickens tend to be scrawny, so this might not be a bad deal, although I’d rather have rice than potatoes.



Exterior window blinds like in Belgrade.


This was an interesting building. It belongs to a natural gas company.


These signs always make me laugh. How many people had to drink the water or swim in it for the sign to be necessary?



Torre d’Aigües (water tower).


I’m starting to notice some linguistic similarities between Mexico/Spain and Quebec/France, with the younger country holding on to a purer form of the language while the older country is starting to have a lot of anglicisms. For example, Mexico has “alto” signs and you look for estacionamento, while Spain has “stop” signs and you look for parking, just as Quebec has “arrêt” signs and you look for stationnement, while France has “stop” signs and you look for parking.



Dead end.


Here’s the natural gas building again.



By this point, I was completely disoriented, off my map, and Siri helpfully told me I was in “Barcelona, Catalonia.” I had to ask a local to orientate me towards the Old City!

Here’s the natural gas building again. It’s really interesting!


I found myself for the first time in my travels since June in an area that made the hair on the nape of my neck stand up. Turns out there was a reason for it.


“No tourist apartments.” My host told me about this the other night. Barcelonans are unhappy with tourists moving into residential areas through sites like Airbnb and behaving badly. I was told that if anyone asks, I’m her friend and a guest, not an Airbnb customer. Now, I know I’m not at all the kind of tourist this sign is warning off, but it did nothing to make me feel welcome and I was glad to return to a main boulevard.


More interesting exterior window shades.



I was surprised that this one appears abandoned.



Ah, the name of the abandoned building. I found an article on the Catalan Wikipedia (who knew there was such a thing) and between it and Google Translate I learned that in 2008, major deficiencies within the building were found that halted renovations as there is not enough money to restore it properly.



Entrance to the Parc de la Ciutadella. It’s near the beaches and my map indicated it had some interesting buildings, so it seemed like a good place to end my day.



It is the home of the Barcelona Zoo.




There are abandoned buildings on it from the 1888 Universal Exposition. This one is called L’Umbracle.


And another building called the Castle of the Three Dragons.


And an abandoned museum.


That had huge chunks of rock outside of it, all labeled.



This is L’Hivernacle, a greenhouse for tropical plants during the exhibition. It is a contemporary of Paris’ Eiffel Tower.







The Castell dels Tres Dragons was the café/restaurant for the Universal Exhibition.



I liked these chameleons at a non-functioning fountain in front of the castle.





Here’s the Arch of Triumph I saw the other day, from the other side.


Toilets in Catalan are lavabos, which, spelled exactly like that, are bathroom sinks in French…


There’s that gas company building again. 🙂


I just love these details at the top of the castle!



Hommage to the Universal Exposition.



It was getting late, so it was time to head home. I wanted to do a withdrawal and found a Deutsche Bank on my exact route. How convenient!

Vicki, I found your toad!


This sounds like a great deal if you’re not a nervous nilly like me.







The one-way system in the Old City made more sense to me at intersections between wide and narrow streets. So here, you would turn onto the wide street from the narrow street.



I liked both the shape and colour of this building.


I decided at the last minute to make a detour down Barcelona’s famed pedestrian walking street, La Rambla, since I hadn’t taken any pictures of it.


With all due respect to Barcelona, anyone who has ambled down Plovdiv’s Ulitsa Knyaz Aleksandr, Belgrade’s Ulitca Knez Mihailova, and/or Sofia’s Vitosha Boulevard would find La Rambla laughable. I didn’t see anyone who looked like a local and all the restaurants served the same overpriced menu, a far cry from the bustling pedestrian streets I encountered in the Balkans where locals truly live and restaurants are of very high quality. There is a pedestrian street just a block from my flat that is much more like what I’ve become used to.







I couldn’t resist taking a picture of all the goodies in this window. They don’t look real!



Here’s “my” pedestrian street waiting for the sun to go down to come to life.


Here’s a map of my day:


I’ve had a lovely stay in Barcelona! Next stop, Alicante.

Walking Tour in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter

There was some commotion here late last night, so my plans for an early night and morning were dashed. I got up around nine and by the time I’d done my morning online stuff and dressed, it was time to head out for my tour at eleven. I hadn’t had coffee since I’m out of powdered milk and it didn’t make sense to buy a litre of milk for the short amount of time that I’m here or drag a container of powdered milk around with me. So I budgeted to have my coffee out this week and therefore, that was my first stop this morning.

My street terminates at Avinguda del Paral·lel (Parallel Avenue), so named because it is parallel to the Equator. Remembering that this is my nearest major intersection would have saved me a lot of grief yesterday as I would have just needed to make my way back there and then look for that café where I had breakfast! But anyway, I knew it today. I walked along it for about a block keeping my eyes peeled for a “cafe para llevar” (coffee to go) sign and spotted one quickly. A delicious Americano with a splash of milk was 1.50 euros (2.30CAD). Ridiculously expensive by Balkan standards, but still slightly better than I’d pay in Canada.

I was doing the Old City/Gothic Quarter free walking tour with Runner Bean Tours. We met at the Plaça Reial by the fountain. This was the first such walking tour for which I was strongly advised to book in advance. While I liked the “just show up” format in the Balkans, it sometimes made for very large groups. By booking in advance, Runner Bean Tours knew to have a few guides.

This plaza made me realise where Mexican colonial architecture comes from!




There are two of these lamp posts designed by Gaudi. There were originally six, but four were stolen. Our guide, Ruth, couldn’t come close to positing a theory as to how anyone could manage to steal lamp posts!


Ruth, who is originally from London, UK, majored in Hispanic studies and really knew her stuff. There is no way I can come close to recapping her tour or sharing everything that I learned today. I did jot down a few notes on a map she gave us, so I will have the odd tidbit.

Just some general notes in no particular order:

  • Barcelona dates back to a Roman settlement from 15BC.
  • Catalonia was one of many kingdoms that eventually joined together to become modern day Spain and it was once a vast Mediterranean trading empire. The Catalan language is spoken as far as Italy (Sicily or Sardinia). But Catalonia declined at the end of the 15th century when another part of modern day Spain started trading with the New World and Catalonia was forbidden from doing so.
  • April 23rd is the Catalan “Valentine’s Day,” when it is traditional for a man to give the woman she loves a rose and the woman to give him a book. This stems back to St. George (yes, the same St. George of England), who supposedly slew a dragon and where its blood fell, a red rose grew.
  • The flag of Catalonia is yellow with four red stripes. The legend of its origin is that a hero without a coat of arms was mortally wounded. So a leader who wanted to honour him plunged four fingers into the wound and then dragged the four bloody digits down the yellow shield to create a coat of arms or insignia for the hero.

Off we went to our first stop, the Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi. You don’t have déjà vu, I shared photos of this one yesterday. So Saint Maria of the Pines. A fisherman in this region lost his boat and felled a pine tree to build another one. In the tree, he found the face of the Virgin and so he built a shrine to her.



This is the flag of Catalan independence. Yes, that star in the blue triangle is a nod to Cuba, with which Catalonia has strong relations.




We continued on to the medieval Jewish quarter, El Call, where the ancient synagogue was found in the 1980s. A tiny portion is available  to visit below street level in the building in the background with a lamp sticking out of it.


The streets here are so narrow that there is a one-way system. Exit…


And entrance.





We learned all about how the Jews were massacred and driven out of Barcelona by a mob who thought the Jews had caused the bubonic plague. We were asked where they went and the answer was.. the Balkans. It was kind of neat to get this side of the story I heard over there. There was a lot more about Jews and the Spanish Inquisition, but I can’t do justice to Ruth’s narrative.

In the Plaça Sant Jaume, you find Barcelona city hall and…


the Palau de la Generalitat, which is the seat of the Catalan government.



We moved on to the rear of the cathedral.




Next, we went to the cloister of the cathedral and Santa Llúcia’s chapel.





Santa Llúcia was a 13 year-old-girl who refused to renounce her faith and was subjected to 13 tortures as a punishment. This is why there are 13 white geese (symbolising her purity).





















Next stop was the Plaça Sant Felip Neri. This is one of those stops that was really interesting and that I would never have known about without a guide. The church is original to this place, but the building beside it was moved there brick by brick.


This building was also moved brick by brick to this site. You can see from the shoes that it used to house a shoemaker’s workshop.


The church still shows damage from the Spanish Civil War. Ruth gave us a really good primer on that, but I couldn’t even begin to sum up that convoluted history, so reminiscent of more recent Balkan history…





I saw this style of church a lot in the American Southwest, including the Alamo.


I appreciated this design on the underside of the balcony.


This is one of the rare places in Barcelona where you can see remains of the original Roman walls. There were 76 of those square towers.


This would have been the original gate into the Roman settlement.


This building is arguably the ugliest in Barcelona (and ironically the seat of an organisation related to architectural design), but the point of interest is the murals by Picasso showing important parts of Barcelona’s culture. These giants and the people are castellers and form a tower. It sounds a lot like cheerleading pyramids, but more insane, and is a major deal in Barcelona.






Here’s another thing I would never have found on my own, original Roman columns.








“Centennial of the birth of the outstanding folklorist Joan Amades i Gelats. To all the lovers of the traditions and customs of Catalonia. The president of the government of Catalonia.” Two days in Barcelona and I’m already translating from Catalan! 😀




Now, we’re at the Plaça del Rei (not to be confused with the Plaça Reial) These are medieval ruins of a palace and watchtower. It was also the site of a cemetery for not only people who were executed, but also their executioners.



This basket would have held firewood for nighttime illumination.


We moved into a more working class neighbourhood with the street names telling us what businesses were on that particular stretch. This is the street of the silversmiths.



I don’t have any decent shots of our final stop, Fossar de les Moreres, because of the throng of people. It actually had nothing to do with this church. Instead, look at the bottom left, with the red thing arching up. That is an eternal flame symbolising a crushing defeat of the Catalonians in the 18th century.


It was almost 2PM at the end of the tour and I was beyond ready for lunch. Off I went to find a menú del día. I must not have been in a good part of town for that as I saw few signs for them and what I saw was expensive or poor value. I wandered for a bit as the sky started to spit and then it began to properly rain.


The store of miracles.





Just as it began to rain hard enough to be annoying, I found lunch! Or rather, lunch found me. I normally avoid touts, but when I was approached by one at the end of a narrow alley who said that they had an English menu inside, I ignored my rule as they weren’t trying too hard to bring in tourists and the restaurant was practically invisible. Their menu was 11 euros and did not include a drink, but the options seemed hearty.

It had been almost six hours since a meagre breakfast, so I decided to have the most substantial option for each course. I was brought a lovely portion of fat green olives to nibble on as I perused the menu. I’m so glad I like olives now! I started with a decent spaghetti with meat sauce. The second course was two small grilled sausages that were amazing and served with a side of cannellini beans cooked in garlic. So simple, but so delicious! The food was definitely a step up from what I had yesterday. They had more options for dessert and I asked for something with chocolate, getting a small square of thin layers of chocolate cake alternated with thin layers of chocolate mousse. I was happy with my lunch.

Next, I decided to wander by the waterfront. I will go to a proper beach tomorrow!








The Mirador de Colom, a monument to Christopher Columbus.


















Park of the three chimneys.



Vicki, I found your purple scooter to go with my pink one!


Here’s the bar/café where I had my coffee in the morning. Molino is a windmill.


I had to take a picture of this Burger King offer just to show that the U.S. does not have the monopoly on over the top fast food options!


I got in around four and had to do a couple of hours of work. To my surprise, I got peckish around eight, so I decided to go check out the pedestrian street a block from my flat. It was starting to get quite lively with the bars serving tapas and pinchos, both being small snacks. I’d like to eat tapas at some point, but they are an Andalusian food, not a Barcelonan food. So I’m happy to wait until I get to Almería (which is in Andalusia) to try them, where they should be cheaper anyway.

After wandering the street for a bit, I decided after passing a kebab place that a doner was exactly what I was in the mood for as I could take it to go and at 3.50 euro (about 5CAD) it wouldn’t be too much of an indulgence. The guy making the sandwiches was moving at a quick pace until my order, but there was no one behind me. So he stopped for a bit so we could chat.

This is something I missed so much in the Balkans, those superficial quick conversations with the people I met during my day. It was definitely better when I left Bulgaria and met so many more people who spoke English but here, I know I can walk into any business and be able to read the menu and talk to people without having to ask first if they speak my language. Like in Mexico, I’m fully aware of how much work I have to do to reach fluency, but my oral comprehension has improved exponentially since the fall of 2014.

It was a very lovely second day in Barcelona! I was looking at the long lines outside popular museums, like the Picasso, and really not feeling cheated by my not being able to treat Barcelona like a vacation. I am getting so much out of the city by living like a local, taking it slow, and just walking around.

I have a largish job to do tomorrow, so it will be a shorter final day exploring the waterfront. I’m leaving at 11AM on Friday to go to Alicante, which is a bit more than halfway to Almería. The train there, while cheaper and faster than the bus (!), is more expensive than my flight was from Skopje! So in hindsight, I realise that I would have been better off financially to stay in the Balkans longer and fly straight into Almería. Live and learn. But would I have gotten to Barcelona otherwise after my Almería stay? Not likely… Alicante will thankfully be much less expensive (25CAD a night versus 43 for a private room in a hostel right downtown). After that, just one more expensive bus or train ticket and then no housing or transportation fees for seven weeks. Phew!

(I can’t believe it’s 12:30 and another super late night for me. I really don’t think that the Spanish sleep…)

Getting Orientated in Barcelona

I don’t know if it’s residual jet lag despite my having been in Europe four months, but I tend to wake up about five hours after going to sleep, read a bit, and then manage to sleep for another two to three hours. I went to sleep around 2AM this morning and when I groggily woke up some time later, I thought there was no way it would be 7:00. It was 7:30! I couldn’t believe how dark my room was. I heard my host get up at some point, but managed to get back to sleep until about 10:00, when things got really loud in the building. Not a great night, but not terrible either.

Since I had no food with me and hadn’t eaten since my sandwich last night, that was my first priority. I pulled up directions on my phone to the nearest tourist info centre so I could get a paper map and headed out.

I’ve chosen to approach Barcelona rather like I did London. I never thought I’d get here and there isn’t anything I feel I must do. Moreover, I am not on a vacation budget and having spoiled myself rotten in the last four months in the affordable Balkans, it doesn’t feel like a punishment to do Barcelona on a shoestring. So I’m happy with spending my free time ambling around and seeing what I come across. I will take a free walking tour tomorrow, though.

This church is on my street.


I’d done my research on mealtimes in Barcelona and knew that I wouldn’t do better than a coffee and pastry for breakfast at 11AM. So I popped into the first café I found (at the end of my street). Prices were terrifying, but it is what it is. A normal coffee was a small mugful and had milk in it, a pleasant surprise on both counts.

I made my way to Plaça de Catalunya, an important square in downtown Barcelona on the edge of the old city. I knew I would find there not just the tourist info centre, but also a SIM card for my phone. I’ve been doing without phone service since I arrived in Sarajevo, not having been in any one country long enough to make it worth getting one, and I’ve really missed it. Since I will be in Spain at least two months, it was worth getting one here.

Here is a fountain in Catalonia Square:


And one of the many buildings around it.


There was a huge lineup at the tourist info centre, which is underground, so I just grabbed a free map and went back above ground to Movistar’s Mobile World Centre store in the hope of getting a SIM card. The set up was similar to a Telcel store in Mexico, where you go to an info desk to say what you want and are assigned a number and a queue based on your enquiry. This first attendant asked me if I had my passport as, like in Bulgaria, your SIM has to be registered. It was then a longish wait to be told they were out of rechargeable mobile SIMs. Since the attendant got snappy with me when I asked her at one point to please slow down, I was glad to have an excuse not to give Movistar my business. But the attendant did redeem herself a bit when she said that the El Cortes Inglés department store next door has a telecom section on the seventh floor, but she had no info beyond that.

I went into the fancy schmancy store and up seven very slow escalators to find a whole floor devoted to telecom with counters by different companies. I’d done some preliminary research and knew that everyone has comparable prices and coverage. So when an attendant from Vodafone asked if she could help me, that was that. For 21 euro, I got a rechargeable SIM with 2GB good for one month, 100 minutes anywhere in Spain, and I think unlimited text messaging. I asked if I could get an Almería number and she said that the numbers are good for all of Spain. She registered the SIM using my passport info and then did her thing to put the SIM in and get it set up. The process was much quicker than it is in Mexico and comparable to what I experienced in the Balkans.

Phone sorted, I headed to the Gothic Quarter, the old part of Barcelona.





I wasn’t really “feeling” how touristy and full of expensive shops the area was so I started to duck into narrow alleys to get a tiny bit off the tourist track.


But it was hard to get lost. 🙂


I LOVE Gothic architecture. I’ve seen some gorgeous churches in the Balkans, but there’s just something about Gothic design that makes my heart skip a beat.





I’m not sure how I managed to fill three whole hours from leaving home, but I did! 2PM is the start of lunch hour here and I knew to look for a “menú del día,” a three-course menu for a set price, usually around 10 euro. I’d seen a few menus by the time I was ready to eat and had gotten an idea of what to expect. So I just went into the first restaurant I saw that had a menu with things that sounded good and that would be good value, that had no English on the menu, and that didn’t have tourists!

For my first course, I went with Greek salad. I wasn’t expecting just tomatoes and cheese, but it was very good and the included bread was perfect for mopping up the dressing. Yes, that’s a beer behind my plate, included in my 10 Euro cost! I got the beer because it was more monetary value than a soft drink and, well, you know me and beer. 🙂


My second course wasn’t worth a photo, just soggy frozen fries with a very generous portion of moist grilled chicken breasts without any sauce or seasonings. Like in the Balkans, there was oil and vinegar on the table, so I used the vinegar (balsamic) to spice up my meal a bit and make the fries nicer. The chicken really hit the spot!

There were a lot of options for dessert, including cake and fresh fruit. The waiter and I shared a laugh when, after he listed all the dessert options, I said, “The first one, please,” and he had to remember what it was!

It was a vanilla cake with nuts and really good!


And the menu. Which, thankfully, was in Spanish, not Catalan! The first thing on the menu is peas sautéd with ham. I was surprised by how many people were eating that as they were not even nice fresh sweet peas. The first item for the second course is rabbit and I have to say I was tempted to try it.


One thing I will like about eating out in Barcelona that I also liked in London is that you don’t have to tip!

I then decided to amble over to Barcelona’s most famed landmark, the Sagrada Familia Basilica.


“A coffee a day is the key to happiness.”





These little motorcycles seem to be a very popular mode of transportation in Barcelona.



Now, this is how you do an Arch of Triumph!



This part of Barcelona is a feast for the eyes!







I was rather underwhelmed by the Sagrada Familia Basilica…


Until I got closer!





I was tired and had about a 5KM walk back home so the plan was to route myself home from here with my phone. But my phone went from 20% battery capacity to dead as I was doing that!!! My street was not on the map! I decided that I would use my map to route myself back to Catalonia Square and from there try to retrace my steps from the morning. Once I got closer to Poble Sec, I could ask for directions if I got stuck.

This is the scooter I’d buy. 🙂


I like seeing the name of my country when out of it.



Catalan really does look like a hybrid of French and Spanish. “Sweet Catalonia, homeland of my heart…” and off to Google translate I go. 😀 Okay, I did better than it as I don’t agree with the translation although it’s on the right track. “Sweet Catalonia, homeland of my heart, when I’m away from you, I die of longing.”


I love the random owl on the building!




“Her only crime was to be a free woman.” Need to check out this book!


Such quirky buildings!






So many scooters! This is back at Catalonia Place.


From there, I knew I had to take the famous La Rambla pedestrian street. I racked my brain trying to remember the name of the street I’d taken to turn off onto La Rambla and suddenly remembered that it was similar to the name of one of Contessa‘s dogs, Carme (the dog is Carmeh!). From there, I very slowly retraced my steps, looking for familiar landmarks and names I could remember.




I did really well until I got to one large boulevard that did not look familiar at all. I was in an area that was still on the map, but which did not have the names of the little streets. I was able to locate that boulevard and then another big one that I recognised, which was in the opposite direction than I’d turned down the first boulevard. I turned around, made my way to the second boulevard, and from there, I recognised the café where I’d had breakfast. Behold, the church on my street! 😀


It was a lovely low-key first day in Barcelona. I’ll admit that I’m having a bit of sticker shock, which is tamping down my enthusiasm a bit. I wish I could have made the 11AM walking tour of the Gothic Quarter today, but it will happen tomorrow and I will have more juicy details to share rather than just general impressions. But I am very happy to be here, thrilled that I can understand people and they me, the weather is gorgeous, there’s palm trees, and the city is so much more walkable than many Balkan cities I’ve been to (sidewalks!!!).

I’m going to attempt to call it an early night so that I can get the bulk of tomorrow’s work done before my tour… I have two nice workspaces here, the kitchen table and the terrace, so I should be comfortable.

Skopje, Macedonia, to Barcelona, Spain

I had to put in a solid morning of work yesterday, so I was glad that Skopje didn’t hold enough interest for me to not be disappointed I couldn’t use the day to do some more exploring. I was flying out at 6:20PM and wanted to leave around 2PM. Work was done by 11AM and I spent a good hour packing and making sure the flat was tidy. I then went out to run a few errands and to see if the city had a different vibe on a week day.

Not really. 🙁 There were more people around, but the city still felt soulless. I wasn’t even tempted to get a coffee or lunch because of both prices and the lack of anything nice to lay my eyes on.

The Skopje 2014 project was supposed to give Macedonia’s capital a more appealing neoclassical look. The project has been pretty much universally panned and deemed a failure. Buildings, statues, and monuments were placed willy-nilly and there was so much financial waste. This is a city that has no sense of self and is the first place I’ve visited where a tour guide was so obviously embarrassed by the things he had to show us.

So yeah, Skopje was definitely one of my least favourite cities I’ve visited.

I forgot to mention something after I did my tour. After the 1963 earthquake, the bus depot ceiling collapsed and all the buses were destroyed. So London loaned a bunch of red double decker buses. Skopje eventually gave those back and ordered some left-hand drive models from China. This is one place where they could have put their own mark on something that didn’t belong to them, by having the buses painted a different colour…

This intersection had a rather interesting mix of buildings, especially with the fortress in the background.




Skopje’s surroundings are breath taking. It’s a bit like Sarajevo in that it’s surrounded by mountains, but Skope hasn’t expanded up the hills yet.


This is a car from a driving school. I’ve seen such cars all over the Balkans and wonder, based on how people drive, how many people actually go to driving school! 😀


I got back to the flat around 1PM and had a message from my host that he couldn’t preschedule a taxi for me, but would call for one at just shy of 2PM and he would send me the company name, car number, and negotiated price. What an awesome host! My flat was an especially good deal because he doesn’t require guests to pay the cleaning fee. But there is a house rule that trash must be taken out by the guest. So at 1:40PM, I dashed down the four flights to the street and then up the street to the nearest dumpster.

Dealing with trash in this manner is something that seems common in the Balkans. Instead of having garbage collection at home, you take your trash to a dumpster or communal garbage cans and it is picked up there. So if you’re renting a flat in, say, Belgrade, get in the habit of bringing down your trash when you go out for the day and putting it in a public garbage can or dumpster.

My taxi showed up at bang on 2PM. My driver spoke excellent English, having spent his formative years in Vancouver, BC! Wow! We had such a great talk where I was able to sum up my trip to the Balkans with some questions. First, we talked about Skopje and he whole-heartedly agreed with my assessment of it being soulless and not having its own identity. He said, and I quote, “If you’re depressed after two days of visiting here, imagine how people feel living here!” Eesh!

There are a lot of gambling cafés all over the Balkans, but there seemed to be even more in Skopje. My driver said said that’s what you get in poor countries run by criminals and boy did he wish his parents had chosen to stay in Canada. LOL

Traffic was bad getting to Alexander the Great Airport and it took almost a full hour to drive the 25KM!

The airport is pretty small, but very modern. I was flying Wizz Air again, so I knew that even though I’d checked in online to save the huge in-person check-in fee, I still had to go to the check-in desk for a pre-document check. Slight hiccup, there was no Wizz Air desk open. I was rather confused as my paperwork had said I should check in “at least” three hours before my flight (so at 3:20 and it was 3:00). An attendant for another airline must have seen my confusion and beckoned me over. She put in my flight info and said that the check-in desk would be open at 4:20 and that the “at least three hours before” was wrong as it’s now “two hours before.” Augh! I had really hoped to check in, get through passport control and security, then have a late lunch and hunker down with a book or something.

Well, lunch was still on the table as there was a café at the entrance. Prices were outrageous, but, really, not worse than anything I’d seen in Skopje. I ordered a pretty decent puff pastry thing with diced chicken and cheese on top and took my time eating since the café had power outlets and so I could use my phone without any discharging the battery. Skopje’s Alexander the Great Airport has good free wifi. It kicks you off after 30 minutes, but you can sign back in immediately.

The check-in counter opened at 4:20 on the dot and I managed to not be anywhere near the head of the queue. When I finally made it to the counter, the attendant weighed my bags. I was shocked that my suitcase weighed 14.5KG when it weighed 9.5KG at home and in London and I’ve got less stuff in it! I’d say their scale is WAY off! But the attendant still gave me approved stickers for both my bags and did not say anything about my purse, the bag I bought in Sarajevo, in which I’d put everything I wanted handy for security.

Next stop was passport control/exit interview. They won’t let you on the plane if they don’t think the destination country will let you in. So I was pretty confident when I cleared that that I wouldn’t have any trouble when I landed. I did have a brain fart and had no idea how long I’d been in Macedonia! I said, “Two or three days,” and the rather dour woman said flatly, “Close enough,” before giving me an exit stamp.

Security was super easy. I just had to throw my computer, iPad, and phone into one bin with my purse and liquids, then send my two bags through without getting a tray for them. Nothing was questioned, not even the jar of peanut butter I’m convinced would have been confiscated in the Canada and US.

I was glad I’d had lunch since the only food on the other side of security was a bakery with premade sandwiches that were even more absurdly priced or Burger King. I had about 10CAD worth of denars left and thought that would be enough to get me some food for the plane. Nope, because I had to buy a bottle of water because the sign in the bathroom said the water was not potable. So I hoped that the sandwiches on the plane would be cheaper than in the café.

By this point, it was already just past 5Pm, with boarding commencing around 5:50. I thought I would have so much time at the airport, but it flew by! I had paid for priority boarding so I could have both my bags in the cabin and it was hilarious to watch everyone line up in the regular ticket queue while I was by lonesome in the priority boarding queue when I knew full well that we’d have to wait to board and I really wouldn’t gain anything speed of boarding wise. Sure enough, our tickets were checked and then we were shoehorned into a waiting area until we could get on the plane.

By some miracle, I’d been assigned a window seat, which made up for the absolute lack of legroom and the really big (not obese, just tall and muscular) guy crammed into the seat next to me.

I started to choke up as we took off. I hadn’t planned to leave the Balkans so quickly and I felt like I wasn’t quite done with them. I will have to go back!

Thankfully, it was a short flight (2.5 hours). And even more thankfully, sandwiches were quite a bit cheaper than at the airport. I got one with ham, cheese, dijon, and onion chutney, which was very tasty and nourishing. I really don’t think it’s worth buying food at most airports that only have sandwiches and the like and then trying to juggle it with all your luggage when prices and quality on the plane are comparable. And I never know what’s going to get through security so bringing my own snacks is so hit or miss. Might as well just pay the 5-7CAD for a very decent airline sandwich.

Before I knew it, we began our descent into Barcelona! I could not believe how fast the flight went.

We landed at terminal two of Barcelona El Prat Airport. There was a huge lineup for passport control, but it moved very quickly. I was greeted by the customs officer with a “Hola,” to which I replied, “Hola.” He had a glance through my passport, stamped it, handed it back, and said, “Bienvenidos.” That was it! Wow! He didn’t ask how long I’m staying or anything. I wish I had asked him to confirm my exit date, but I believe it is the 12th of January. I’ll have to double check that.

Next, I wanted to take out some cash to make sure I could pay for my transport in case they didn’t take credit cards. I knew that I could get a cheap train or bus into town, but my flight had been so inexpensive (60CAD) and I was coming in so late that I’d decided I would take a taxi (50CAD) to the apartment since I had originally budgeted 200CAD to get to Spain. I would never have paid that if I’d arrived in the afternoon, but I knew my host was staying up late to wait for me and I just wanted to get there. Well…

Terminal two of Barcelona El Prat is by far the worst airport I have ever flown into. There was nothing after passport control. No ATMs, no information, and while the bathrooms were open, they had no lights! And there was no internet. I vaguely remembered reading something about taxis being a bit cheaper from terminal one and looked around for information on transport there, to finally find a sign for a free shuttle being thataway. I headed there and found some Scottish tourists trying to get information out of the driver, but failing since he didn’t speak English and they had no Spanish. I asked the driver if there was an information desk they could go to and he said they’d have to go to terminal one. Another woman who spoke, I believe, Catalan (more on that in a bit), was trying to figure out where to catch her flight. I have no idea how she got to terminal two, but I was able to coax out of the shuttle driver that she probably had to go to terminal one as well. So I “wasted” quite a bit of time translating for people at terminal two!

I finally got on the shuttle to terminal one and it was a surprisingly long drive. But I knew I’d save about 10CAD on my taxi ride so it would be worth it. Terminal one was busier. I was beyond done by this point, so I went to the information kiosk and asked for an ATM (cajero). I followed the directions and found a row of ATMs. I had to try two to get one that would give me money. That will be my last time for a bit paying the steep $5 withdrawal fee since the Deutsche Bank in Spain is a member of the Global ATM Alliance. It was just unfortunate there wasn’t one at the airport.

Armed with cash, I went out to look for a taxi and when I approached one I was rudely told I had to “go downstairs.” I was really regretting by this point not having gotten on a bus marked “Centro” at terminal two! I could have just done that and gotten a taxi from downtown. I went “downstairs” and followed the signs to the taxi stands. There, I was assigned a taxi. I showed the driver the address and gave my neighbourhood. He said that it would be about 30 Euro, the usual rate to go downtown, and would I be paying cash or card? We had a bit of a chat on the way in, the usual question of where are you from, where are you coming from, what are you doing here, etc. Oh, it was so good to be back in a country where I can communicate with people!


Barcelona is part of Catalonia, which is basically like the Quebec of Spain, a nation within a nation with its own language, Catalan. Spanish is not the language of business here and all the signage has to be prominently in Catalan first. So while just about everyone speaks Castellano (European Spanish) and I will have not trouble communicating orally with people, I can’t fluently read the signage! Catalan seems to be the love child of French and Spanish and so it’s fairly legible to me, but it’s still definitely a foreign language. So I’m still not quite somewhere that I can communicate easily. It’s still “better” than the Balkans, though!

My driver found my flat in the Poble Sec neighbourhood without any trouble. I had a really hard time finding affordable accommodation in Barcelona on my “vacation” budget of 50CAD per night — a private room in a hostel started around 80CAD! But by being flexible, I found a private room in someone’s flat on Airbnb at a price I was willing to pay (about 43CAD a night). Poble Sec is about a 20-minute walk from just about anything I’d want to see in Barcelona so I knew I’d found a bargain. I did the private room in someone’s residence when I was in London, but the setup was more like a boarding house. Here, I would essentially be a flatmate and I thought it might be awkward, but the reviews said the gal is easygoing and almost never home anyway.

The flat is at the top of the building, five flights up, and what a climb it was up a very narrow and dark staircase! It reminded me of the climb to the flat in the movie “Barefoot in the Park.” But I finally made it and was happy to find a neat little room with a comfy bed waiting for me as well as a very relaxed host who was in no hurry to get to bed. We gabbed for about an hour and she just about convinced me to go to Morocco after Spain… 😀 She put me at ease and made me feel a bit less weird about living with a total stranger for four days. When she excused herself to go to bed, I asked if she’d mind if I took a shower (trying to be mindful of the noise) and she said to absolutely go ahead.

By the time I’d showed and was wound down enough to go to sleep, it was almost 2AM. Holy smokes, what a long day!

But I had made it to Spain! One adventure might have come to an end, but a whole new one is starting. Story of my life these days. 😀