Jen’s Story

Sydney Opera Hosue

Sydney Opera House

This month all of the travel stories will come from me.  I have been to Australia twice, and had two very different, but amazing experiences.

My first trip was when I was 15 with People to People, a student ambassador program here in the US.  I went for 3 weeks with a group of about 30 students.  The program was very structured (it needed to be with that many of us!) and had us starting in Sydney and working our way up the East coast of Australia ending in Cairns.

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The iconic view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge!

We saw all the sights, visited all the major attractions, and generally had a blast.  The highlights from that trip easily include doing the Bride Climb at the Sydney Harbour Bridge, staying at an eco-resort, living on a ranch in the Outback for 3 days, and snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef.  We also visited a pineapple plantation, got to hold koalas, and lived with families near Brisbane for a couple of days to see what it was like to really live in Australia.  I could probably talk about that trip for days, but I will spare you having to re-live every single moment with me.  Even though the flights from Atlanta were very long (30+ hours of travel time) it was so worth it.  When I got the opportunity to return to Australia, I took it.

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Such a beautiful country!

My second trip to Australia was the summer after my 1st year of Undergrad.  I went to Georgia Tech, was in the band there (I play the flute), and got to be part of a group of about 30 students, directors, and family members who spent 10 days in Sydney and the surrounding areas performing as part of a concert tour.  Over the 10 days we were there we did 2 or 3 concerts with Australian University bands.  This experience was so different from my 1st trip.  The 1st trip was a group of high school students.  We were closely supervised and followed a packed schedule.  On this 2nd trip, we were all adults (well, with the exception of the band directors’ kids) and we were really able to do whatever we wanted.  We spent time wandering around Sydney, visited the National Maritime Museum, and took a dinner cruise around the Harbour.

I can’t wait to take a 3rd (and 4th, 5th, 6th, etc) trip to Australia, and check out the rest of the country!  If you are looking at a trip to Australia, do it!

Under the Harbour Bridge

Under the Harbour Bridge

Wine Wednesday ~ Spanish Wine Regions & Cava

Map of Spain's Wine Regions from WineFolly

Map of Spain’s Wine Regions from WineFolly.com

Spain produces some amazing wine.  There are 7 different “wine regions” in Spain and each region produces unique, and relatively inexpensive varieties.  When I went to Spain, I only had 3 days there and definitely did not get a chance to explore all of the different types of wine the country has to offer.  Honestly, I stuck with trying a few different house wines and then enjoyed the Sangria.  I also tried Cava, sort of.

There is plenty of great information out there if you would like to learn more about Spanish wine.  My favorite source is the “Wines From Spain” website.  They break the wine regions down as follows:

  • Green Spain:  Located in the Northern and Northwest part of the country, this region enjoys cooler temperatures and a wet climate.  Dry or Tart white wines from the region are popular and quickly gaining prominence around the world.
  • North Central Spain: The vineyards in this region are generally found at very high elevations and near the banks of the Duero River.  Producing wine in this region can be difficult as the weather can prevent grapes from ripening properly, however in good years, the wine from this region is excellent.
  • The Ebro River Valley:  Rioja, arguably one of Spain’s most famous wines, is produced in this region.  Some of Spain’s most important red grapes, Tempranillo and Garnacha, are also prevalent in the region.  The variety coming from this region is due, in part, to the different climates present in this region.  My advice – try the Rioja!  You can find it in most grocery store wine sections and it is a true Spanish wine.
  • The Meseta:  This arid region boasts almost two thirds of Spain’s vineyards, but has only recently begun to be respected as an area capable of producing great wine.  This region’s focus on varietals may soon help it’s wines to become some of the more common Spanish wines.
  • The Mediterranean Coast:  The Eastern coast of Spain produces some truly high-quality wines.  While the region produces many delicious white wines, it is easily most known for Cava.  Cava is a sparkling wine, similar to champagne.  Cava is typically crisp and dry and has become quite popular in the US over the last few years.  Want to hear my Cava story?  I promise I will tell it at the end of this post!
  • Andalucia:  This region is hot.  The temperatures easily soar above 100 degrees (F) in the summer.  As a result, some excellent fortified wines and dessert wines come from this region.  This region gives us many varieties of Sherry, which are definitely worth a try!
  • The Islands:  While the Canary Islands and the Balearics produce some very unique white wines, very few of them leave Spain.  Many don’t even leave the islands!  I have never had any wines from this region, but they are supposed to be great.  I guess we will all need to take a trip to the Islands and find out!

My Cava Story…  I know I promised you the Cava story, and it’s not so much the story that’s great as it is the picture that accompanies the story.  When Sarah and I went to Spain everyone told me I had to try the Cava.  This seemed like a pretty reasonable thing to tell me since I like wine and Cava is produced right outside of Barcelona, where I was headed.  I hadn’t heard of Cava, so I did some research to find out what was so special about it.  I found out it is a dry, white, sparkling wine, like a champagne.  I guess this is where I should tell you that I like sweet white wine, the sweeter the better.  I’m not a big red wine drinker, and while I do like drier white wines now, I still find some to be too dry for my tastes. Two years ago, I really only liked sweeter wines.

Sarah and I found a wonderful chocolate shop near our hostel and they had some cava filled chocolates.  Since we were traveling on a student budget, and I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to spend 6 Euro on a glass of wine I wasn’t likely to like, I thought trying the chocolate would be a good way to get an idea of what Cava tasted like.  Luckily for all of you, and not so luckily for me, Sarah was on hand to capture my reaction to trying the Cava chocolate.

Trying the Cava

Trying the Cava

Clearly, I do not like it!

Clearly, I do not like it!

Needless to say, I didn’t like it.  It was definitely too dry for me, and I ended up sticking to Sangria and some other sweeter whites while out to dinner.  I will still be giving it another shot on my next trip to Spain.  I know my tastes in wine have changed over the last couple of years, and, who knows, I might like it now!

Tuesday Travel Tips ~ Barcelona!

I can sum my travel tip for this week up in two words:  Visit Barcelona!  Barcelona has something for everyone.  Whether you prefer the beach or the city, history museums, or modern shopping, you can find it, and, of course, you can also always find delicious food!

Inside La Sagrada Familia

Inside La Sagrada Familia

Visiting La Sagrada Familia is a given if you visit Barcelona.  It is easily the most famous landmark in the city, and definitely worth the cost of admission.  When you visit, one of you ticket options will include a trip to the top of the one of the towers.  There are two towers.  You take an elevator up to the top regardless of which one you choose, however for one you have the option to take the elevator back down, and for the other you must walk down a steep spiral staircase.  Sarah and I chose to pick the one where you walk down the stairs.  It was definitely a steep staircase.  I don’t like heights so the walk down was a little interesting, but the visit to the top is definitely worth it!

If you are looking for the beach, head down to Barceloneta.  You can take the metro straight there, or it’s about a 20 minute walk from the end of La Rambla.  Since Sarah and I visited Barcelona in December, we didn’t make it to the beach.  We did make it down to Port Vell one night, completely by accident.  That turned into one of our favorite travel memories.  We decided to have a little dance party on the bridge and take stupid pictures.  It was great.  We even got to see another “surprise road” of Barcelona.  A car drove down the sidewalk/road – I swear it was not meant to be driven on! – and we were convinced he was about to drive into the water.

If you want high-end, modern shopping, head over to Passeig de Gracia.  This street is Barcelona’s equivalent of New York’s 5th Avenue, or LA’s Rodeo Drive.  You will also find Casa Batlo and La Pedrera on Passieg de Gracia, so you can get some museums in in between shops!

There is so much to do in Barcelona, and you should definitely customize your trip to suit your tastes.  My Barcelona “Must-See” list is below!

Barcelona Must Sees:

La Rambla at Christmas

La Rambla at Christmas

  • La Sagrada Familia
  • Casa Batlo
  • La Pedrera
  • Port Vell
  • La Rambla
  • Montjuic
  • Santa Maria Del Mar
  • La Boqueria
  • Parc Guell
  • The Chocolate Museum
  • Parc de la Ciutadella

There are also a ton of other great cities to visit in Spain.  Next on my list are:

  1. Madrid
  2. Valencia
  3. Salamanca
  4. Seville
  5. Granada

What are your must-see’s in Barcelona?  Are there any other Spanish cities I should add to my list?

Our Adventure in Barcelona

It was easy to choose Spain as Travel Fare’s first country.  Sarah and I went to Barcelona as part of a 3 week, 5 country trip for our Christmas break in December, 2011, and fell in love with the city.  To really give you an idea of how we ended up in Barcelona, I should probably start with some background about the trip we went on (especially since, I promise you will be hearing about this trip – a lot).

In December 2011, Sarah was living in London, our friend K was living in Scotland, and our friend E and I were living together in Atlanta.  We were all graduate students and decided to spend our break together in Europe.  We carefully planned out which cities we wanted to visit, got through our final exams for the semester, and had the greatest adventure ever!  I finished my exams a week before E so I was able to fly over to London to spend some extra time with Sarah before we all met up in Vienna.

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Barcelona was the 2nd city of the trip, and was really the city that I chose.  I had wanted to visit Spain since I was little, so Sarah and I found a cheap flight from London, booked our hostel, and headed out!  After a very early morning, we landed in Barcelona where Sarah was very surprised to see that signs weren’t in Spanish, and hear that people weren’t speaking Spanish.  I had been warned, and probably should have told Sarah, but I didn’t even think about it! (Sorry, Sarah!)  Barcelona is in the Catalonia region of Spain, and many of the people there speak Catalan, in addition to Spanish.  After some initial surprise about the language we hopped on the metro and headed into the city center.  It took us what felt like forever to find our hostel, but once we did (after an interesting adventure with a Spanish pay phone) we got settled in and laid out a plan to see as much as we could in a few short days.

"Our" Chocolate Shop

“Our” Chocolate Shop

We started out wandering toward Passeig de Gracia, one of the main streets in Barcelona to go see La Pedrera and Casa Batlo, both buildings designed by Gaudi.  On the way, we found “our” chocolate shop, La Rambla, beautiful parks and buildings, and impressively long lines of people waiting to play the lottery.  After checking out the buildings, which we did not pay to go in, headed back toward La Rambla.  I had read that there was a huge market located on La Rambla and, being the foodies that we are, Sarah and I knew we had to check it out.

We reached El Mercat de Sant Josep, or La Boqueria as it is commonly called, and we were in food heaven.  There were tons of stalls where people were selling fruit, meat, cheese, vegetables, bread, and most importantly, chocolate.

Fruit in La Boqueria

Fruit in La Boqueria

The market was filled with a mixture of tourists taking pictures and Spanish people actually out doing their shopping.  Sarah and I quickly got delicious fruit smoothies and chocolates to enjoy while we explored.  We even ended up buying various fruits, breads, and a Belgian waffle to call dinner.  For our first night, we turned in pretty early.  We had been up around 3am to get to the airport and we were exhausted.

Day 2 in Barcelona began with chocolate croissants at a bakery near our hostel and was spent exploring again.  We visited La Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, El Barrio Gotic, and the Chocolate Museum!  On day 2 we also learned about the surprise roads of Barcelona.  Sarah and I were walking down what we swear was a sidewalk – really, there were other people walking on it too! – when a car came down it out of nowhere.  We thought maybe it was a mistake, but it happened more than once throughout our trip!  Day 2 also brought the interesting experience of walking into a restaurant and trying to explain to the people working there that, yes, we were there to eat.  I studied Spanish all through middle and high school, and even some in college, but hadn’t really used it in a few years.  I managed to explain that although it was not dinner time, we did want to eat.  To be fair, it was almost 7pm, and we were hungry.  It was our dinner time, even though it was still early for most people in Spain.

Party at Rambla del Mar

Party at Rambla del Mar

Day 2 ended with Sarah and I deciding to go wandering at about 10:30pm.  We ended up at La Rambla del Mar in Port Vell.  It was beautiful at night, and we just relaxed and talked… until we decided to have a dance party!  It was just the two of us, acting crazy, but it was a blast!  We even found some nice people to take our picture.

Day 3 was our last full day in Barcelona and we spent it going to Montjuic, an old fort on top of a huge hill, and the Palace in the morning, followed by more wandering and a visit to a Christmas market in the afternoon.  My Mom collects ornaments and I was determined to find one for her.  I didn’t quite succeed but I did find a pretty candle holder that says “Bon Nadal” (Merry Christmas in Catalan) on it.  After shopping, Sarah and I visited Santa Maria del Mar, a beautiful old church, and did some more exploring before dinner.

On our last night in Barcelona, Sarah and I had decided that we had to make sure we had tapas.  This was easily our best meal in Barcelona.  We had Spanish tortilla, patatas bravas, and chorizo, and I ordered a glass of sangria, which was delicious!  After dinner we headed back to the hostel to meet up with K, who was flying in that night so she could fly to Vienna with us the next morning.  Sarah and I loved Barcelona.  There is so much more of Spain to explore, and I can’t wait to get back!

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Sarah with her tapas!

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Jen with her tapas!