What comes to mind when you hear February 14th? Is it the day of love and romance; shops filled with hearts, roses, and chocolates; the celebration of a lasting relationship? Flash back to 2005's Valentine's Day and you will find a different type of relationship: the friendship of Shiv and Lil.
Meeting at the University of Toronto through a student group, Shiv and Lil ended up working together after graduation. Despite embarking on separate but yet similar paths, they remained close and decided to celebrate their CMA graduation with a trip to Europe. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips (at the very least) that everyone needs to take; one that a lot of their friends have already had the opportunity to experience. With that in mind, Shiv and Lil planned out their journey hoping to accomplish 3 simple goals:
1) Stick to a strict budget of $2500 each. (Not so simple! but it can be done!)
2) Have a blast!
3) Arrive home safely!
Over the course of 10 days, Shiv and Lil will be visiting 8 cities in 3 countries, starting first with Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, then Rome and Milan in Italy, and lastly Nice, Cannes, Marseille, and Paris in France. When it comes to their plans in each city, the ladies are hoping to just wing it! They do have a few must-see places and must-do activities however. In Barcelona, they want to gaze at the unique architecture of Antoni Gaudi, check out Olympic Port (definitely a highlight for Lil), and enjoy some authentic paella and sangria (this one’s for Shiv). And rather than taking in the art and history of Rome and all the fashion of Milan, the ladies simply want to find out if Italian pizza, pasta and gelato really do taste better! In Paris, the ladies hope to catch a show at the Moulin Rouge and visit a few of neighbourhoods such as the Latin Quarter and Montmartre.
Now that we’ve learned about Shiv and Lil’s friendship and all the fun they will be having on their awesome European vacation, let’s find out what’s been going on behind the scenes.
[caption id="attachment_1438" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Shiv and Lil’s first international trip together to Chicago[/caption]
Saturday, September 17th 2011 – Toronto Pearson International Airport
6:55 PM – So we made it to the airport. What a battle in itself! Last night Shiv and I were on the phone realizing how completely unprepared we were for this trip. We had yet to book our flights and travel within Europe, we hadn't packed, and we needed to confirm our ride to the airport!
So, late at night we tried to tackle the first issue: booking the internal travels. The horror when we realized that all the flights we looked at one week earlier had actually increased! What?? Don't they usually advertise last minute specials? You couldn't get much more last minute than this. Our budget!! It was going to be tight.
So rather than sit around all night and figure it out, we did the mature thing. We went to sleep.
In the morning, after we each spent a good two hours powering through the last of our work emails (SEE, WE'RE HARD WORKERS! OUR BOSSES SHOULD READ THIS) and then continued searching through flights and train rides. The night didn't make the prices decrease so again we did the mature thing. We decided to figure it out once we arrive in Europe.
We both managed to pack, clean up, and meet at my place in time for my dad to drive us to the airport. On the way over, I very confidently stated we would be flying out of terminal 1. After my dad drove off and we looked at our flight information (something you’d think that two bright individuals would have already done) we realized we needed to be at terminal 3.
A jump on the link train, a bit of speed walking, and 20 minutes later, we found ourselves outside Gate 30 waiting to board our flight on route to our first stop: Madrid.
Sunday, September 18th 2011 - Madrid, Spain
The plane ride to Madrid was very smooth. We arrived on time and the biggest challenge turned out to be finding transportation out of the airport. Due to our tight budget, we were foregoing the taxi ride into the city centre for the express bus downtown (only 2 Euros instead of 25). Since we were taking the train to Barcelona later that day, we didn't spend a lot of time looking around. Instead we immersed ourselves into the Spanish culture and looked for a nice park near the central station to lie down and sing songs. The singing probably isn't part of a typical 'siesta', but it helped us relax after the long flight.
What was interesting was that we weren't given weird looks. If anything, lying on the ground in the middle of the day was quite normal. The Spanish, as we have come to realize, take a much more relaxed approach to life. Asking for food "to go" is unheard of! In fact, even when we went to a food court at a mall in Barcelona, it was assumed that we would be sitting down to enjoy our food. Though Madrid didn't look any different than home, it was definitely calmer and much slower-paced!
Later that day, we took a super fast train out of Madrid to get to our next destination: Barcelona. At 275 km/hr, it took just over two and a half hours, and as fast as it was, we were still able to see some breathtaking sights. We noticed that a lot of the roads do not follow perpendicular patterns as seen in North America. They’re narrow and winding, and definitely not built around two way traffic.
Sunday, September 18th 2011 - Barcelona, Spain
Once we reached Barcelona, cognizant of our budget, we debated figuring out the metro system to get to our hotel. But given that it was now 9:30 PM and we had not slept in a bed for over 24 hrs, we decided to go with the cab.
Our hotel was clean and comfortable. Pleased with the accommodations, we got our second wind and headed to Plaza España for the fountain show that we had passed earlier in the cab. The fountain water, lit beautifully with an array of colours, danced to music both new and old. A lot of people – locals and tourists – were out to enjoy the show, and as we soon discovered, Barcelona is a city that never sleeps. People are out at all hours of the night and most cafés, restaurants, and bars remain open well into the morning.
As soon as the show was over, we decided to check off one of the must-do activities on our list, so we went for some tapas and paella at a Spanish chain restaurant. What’s the difference between Spanish food and North American food? Portion control! The portions were just right and a lot less than what one would be used to coming from Canada and the US. Maybe that's why the Spanish are so slim!
After filling our bellies with some yummy food, we headed towards our hotel for some well deserved R&R. Of course we got lost, but it was almost a good thing as we were able to take in Barcelona’s beautiful buildings along the way. It is an old city but it has done a fabulous job of mixing modern buildings with its historical identity. It’s also pretty safe because we made it back to our hotel just fine.
Monday, September 19th 2011 - Barcelona, Spain
Our first morning in Barcelona was somewhat annoying; our hotel is undergoing construction and we had a hard time getting that much needed sleep we were looking forward to from not having touched a bed for 24 hours! But we managed to roll out of bed and make the most of our day.
Our hotel is centrally located so we were able to easily walk over to the port area where the air smells splendid and the streets are lined with palm trees making you feel like you're on a beautiful tropical island. That is until we made our way to the world famous street La Rambla – a long street overcrowded with tourists and with every tacky thing that may appeal to them. It had to be seen but Lil and I were not too impressed so we quickly left.
We opted to grab something to eat instead. There are numerous squares around the neighbourhood and multiple areas around the city where you can sit down for some great food and to enjoy a drink or two... or more! Side note: you don't need to tip as much in Spain as we do in North America. The wait staff are paid much better here so you usually have to just round up your bill for tipping. But it is completely discretionary!
After we ate, our goal was to visit the must-see Olympic Port but sleep took priority over sightseeing so we went back to our hotel for a nap. Anyone who knows Lil and me knows that we love our naps! So 3 hours later, we got dolled up and headed out again. Our online search led us to check out 7 Sins – apparently a great club. But after getting lost here and there and unsafely pulling out our map in the corner of dark streets, we located the spot only to find it totally deserted! Then it dawned on us that it was a Monday night and maybe Barcelona actually was a city that occasionally slept. Not ones to give up, we managed to find a crowded bar nearby. We downed some beer that Lil accidentally ordered in her confusion with the Spanish language, had some delicious sangria and tapas, and headed out to find a place to dance the night away.
Ironically enough, we ended up at La Rambla again where a pushy but useful club promoter ushered us into a lounge (can't remember the name... of course due to my bad memory, not intoxication!). There, a very young Danish boy named August struck a conversation with us. At this point Lil proceeded to show us that geography is definitely not her forte. August asked us if we knew the capital of Denmark, and with extreme confidence, Lil shouted, 'Oslo!' Oh boy.
We left our young new friend, who was definitely hoping the 3 of us could be more, and headed to a club called Blvd. We ended our night there with some great dance music and an unfortunately younger crowd. But we had a great time nonetheless.
At this point of our night you’d think it was about 2:00 AM, right? Well it was. This really is a city that doesn’t sleep, or at least the people sleep really late, even on a weekday. Barcelona is definitely growing on us!
Be sure to tune in to Part Two of Europe on the Fly with Shiv and Lil to find out what adventure awaits the ladies at their next destination!
- Kiana Amirpour
[series title="Europe On the Fly" title_wrap="div" limit="5" list="ol"]