Last week, we bid farewell to Italy with a sad goodbye but a happy hello to Le Lavandou, France! Our 6 weeks in Italy was full of so many rich experiences, lots of family and way too much good food (can someone please airmail me some bigger clothes?).
Le Lavandou, France
Our next three weeks will be spent in Spain and Portugal but we made a stopover in the French Riviera for 2 nights to relax and refresh in the small beach town of Le Lavandou. The minute we saw the beautiful coastline, we were Reminded of home. It felt oh so familiar - we might as well have been in Dana Point! I mean, minus the "Bonjours!" And "excuse em wahs!" and our extreme lack of any French words. Every time we went to go say something, our words that we practiced got caught in our throat and we just looked like mutes. But, despite everyone saying that the French are very unforgiving towards people who do not try to speak their language, people were very nice and understanding! Maybe because they could smell our fear and sense our struggle each time we tried to open our mouth and nothing came out ... "Aww those poor Americans."
Le Lavandou is clearly a summer time destination for French people and tourists alike. The season ends in mid-September so while we were there, it was kind of like a ghost town - but a beautiful, beachy ghost town. Most of the restaurants were closed and the streets were quite bare but it made for walking around very enjoyable. It was just what we needed because we have been inhaling smells big city for the last few weeks so a breath of fresh air was very much appreciated.
We stayed in a lovely AirBnb studio about 10 minute drive and a 45 minute walk into the main town. The views from our bedroom were dreamy and we enjoyed coffee in bed both mornings. Sean decided the view was too perfect so he forced himself to sneeze and spill coffee all over our bed - ya know, just to keep things interesting. Just kidding, but seriously. It was everywhere.
The first night, we went to the market and picked up some food for breakfast and dinner. We also stopped at a boulangerie to pick up a baguette because the smells coming out of the tiny little shop were intoxicating. And for the record, it was the best baguettes we've ever had. Little did we know, the food that we bought that night would pretty much take care of every meal we had in Le Lavandou! Because most of the restaurants were closed (or insanely expensive), we decided to enjoy some simplicity by eating at our little table outside or on the bed while playing cards. Do not get me wrong, we love exploring all the restaurants that cities have to offer, but it was so nice to "cook" and stay in. But, we spent the day exploring the little town and sipping on French wine at the local winery called Domaine L'Anglade Which was so much fun! It was pretty deserted but that just meant we could spent time chatting with the lady providing us with our delicious tastings. She let us taste all 7 wines that were made onsite and we talked about the cities we should visit in France, the similarities of the French Riviera to California and the 9 months she spent in Australia when she was our age. Once our tastings were finished, she waved goodbye and we were stunned! We did not owe anything for the 7 tastings we just had ?! Blasphemy! When we asked, with just a single look, she basically said "of course not, this is France!" - But we could not imagine leaving without purchasing a small bottle of the amazing rose which was their most popular.
Le Lavandou, thank you for being our first taste of France.
The last 5 days, we spent eating tapas, drinking sangria and exploring the many sites of Barcelona. At first, we thought to ourselves, "hmm, I wonder what we are going to see and do in Barcelona for 5 days?" Well, let's just say that we could have spent another 5 days in Barcelona and not see a single thing that we already saw. What a magical city it was!
We stayed in an AirBnb with a really nice couple in the neighborhood of Barceloneta (little Barcelona). The streets were bustling with little tapas restaurants, fresh fruit and veggie markets and the perfect feel for a little neighborhood in a huge city. We were only a 10 minute walk from the main city center but the local vibe we experienced in Barceloneta made us feel like we were miles away (and like we were locals!).
Our first night there, we walked a whole 2 minutes to a tapas bar called Jai Ca. Welp, we went there two nights in a row so I guess that says something! It was exactly the experience that we wanted in Barcelona - a pitcher of sangria, menus only in Catalan and more tapas than we knew what to do with. We fell in love with Pimentos de Pardon (lightly fried pimentos with sea salt), Patates Brava (diced potatoes with their spicy aioli), and Bombas (mashed potatoes balls stuffed with meat and topped with a spicy sauce) ... really healthy, huh? Also, the abundance of seafood was amazing. Sardines, squid, cuttlefish, giant prawns, oh my! We sat there for hours watching people fight for a table, chit chat over different tapas, sip sangria and enjoy a night out.
Just because we are talking about food, let me jump ahead a few days to this other restaurant that a local chef and tour guide recommended to us: La Champagneria. At first, we were like "A restraunt dedicated to champagne? Ehh, sounds kind of swanky." Well, we were wrong! Down an alleyway, with no signs and the only thing to point us in the right direction were the people gathering around outside to fight for a spot in the tableless bar. This place had hundreds of empty bottles of champagne and smells that you can only dream of . We squeezed our way in with some friends that we met and quickly (and stressfully) ordered a glass of "cava" (Spanish sparking wine). With our lack of knowledge of the the Catalan language, we ordered a "jamon" sandwich and a "hamburguesa" ... I could only assume that was a burger and thankfully, it twas. Holy moly macaroni sauce sprinkled with love and everything good. IT WAS AMAZING! The burger was made with a sausage patty and melted cheese and the ham sandwich was the perfect blend of salty ham and crusty bread. And then the rose cava washed it all down way too easily. The best part? € 8 for all of that. Needless to say, we went back the next day.
Ok ok, food and drinks aside: Barcelona has some of the prettiest architecture of any city that we have visited. Knowing That there was so much to see but not having a clue how to see it all and let alone understand it, we decided taking a tour would be the best thing to look into. Thank the Lord for the good ol 'Internet: we found a company called "Hostel Culture" that offers FREE TOURS everyday in Barcelona (as well as a few other cities!). The first one we did was an architectural tour of all of Gaudi's work around the city. His art is whimsical and made me feel a little bit like I was in the middle of Whoville from "The Grinch" (I hope I did not just make Gaudi turn in his grave). The tour itself was 2.5 hours and incredible! Our tour guide was fun, very intelligent and passionate about her city. We ended at the Sagrada Familia where we stood in awe of the incredible impact that Gaudi had in Barcelona and the way his art added so much beauty to this wonderful city.
The second tour we did took place in the Gothic Quater of Barcelona where we learned all about the ancient history of Barcelona during the Roman times, medieval times, the Renassiance and even the time surrounding Christopher Columbus' journey that founded the Americas. We viewed where he stood on the steps to ask the king for a sponsorship to fund his journey. It was so surreal! Our tour guide was awesome, funny and extremely knowledgable. we learned so much from him during the tour that we could not believe we did not pay a cent for it (other than the tip we left). Seriously, look into Hostel Culture tours - it's a gem!
That evening, we decided to get a taste of the famous "Barcelona night life" by joining in on a bar crawl organized by the same company, Hostel Culture. So many people from our tour group were there and we had a total blast with the mix of cultures that were present: Americans, Australians, Germans, Canadians, Grecians, and Russians! We danced, we drank, and we concurred that yes, Barcelona sure does love their nightlife and so did we.
Last but not least was the magic that we experienced from the Magic Fountain a little outside the city center. Multiple people said that we needed to hop on the metro to experience this amazing site so of course, we could not pass it up! Having no idea what to really expect, we were stunned at the beauty of the water show that went on from 9pm to 11pm. Think the Belagio water show but x's 100. The setting for it was in front of a beautiful building, the music was a mix of jazz, movie themes, classical music and Spanish tunes and everyone that was present sat there in awe of the beauty . The best part? It reminded us of Disneyland! Oh how we miss Disneyland. You can take the Call's out of California, but you can not take the California out of the Call's!
Oh also, we came across Barcelonas version of "Oktoberfest" ... it looked like a really great attempt BUT now that we've been to the real Oktoberfest, nothing else will ever compare! However, they had my most favorite carnival ride ever there so we let the butterflies settle, hopped onto the "bomber" and screamed our heads off while getting amazing views of Barcelona from (I do not even want to think about how high we were) way above!
Lessons Learned This Week
We already we miss Italy but excited for exploring new countries!
We can not wait to go back to France and drink some more roses and eat every baguette in site!
Fresh air is good for the soul.
Eat all the tapas in Spain and order half sizes so you can try more!
Always get the house Sangria - it's way too good to pass up.
Ask tour guides for suggestions on what to see!
Search "free walking tours" everywhere we go.
Hang out with like minded traveler's, locals, and have a blast while doing so!
Appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of every single city we visit.