Travel Diaries: Barcelona

We arrived here after a long bus ride from Pau and we were exhausted, but we needed to explore because we arrived in the morning. The first sight that we saw when we arrived was the Spanish Arc de Triomf. After a series of pictures, we decided to have breakfast at pannus and the pastries were delicious. I had one filled with spinach and cheese and another one that had ham and cheese. It was very satisfying, and we met other friendly tourists. We decided to drop our luggage in a storage area where you can pay to keep your luggage and explore the city. We walked around and just absorbed everything with no destination in mind. Then we decided that we needed a plan so we joined a free walking tour.

With our average navigation skills, we finally found the meeting point which was Piazza del Popolo. We were using Runner Bean Tours for the walking tour and decided on their Gothic Quarter package because there were less people on that tour. The tour of Gaudi’s works had the most people but we did that part by ourselves much later. A leisurely stroll to unearth the secrets behind the stones of the medieval quarter. From Romans and saints to warriors and kings, this mix of imposing basilicas, charming squares and narrow streets.

We started at Plaça Reial which is certainly one of the most picturesque squares in Barcelona. We saw Plaça Del Pi next which is a beautiful square in the middle of the Gothic Quarter with the XIV century Santa María del Pi church and some of the most beautiful sgrafittos in the city. Then we saw the Jewish Quarter (“El Call”) where we walked through narrow passages and past ancient houses following the hidden clues to find out what happened to the thriving Jewish community.

The last places were the Plaça Sant Jaume which has been the centre of political life in the City for over 2,000 years and the Barcelona Cathedral. We had a lovely time hearing about the history and current state of the country. We were in a group of 4 so we had the opportunity to act out scenarios that happened in the eras of kings and learned about the Giants and Big head festivals. The tour guide weaved stories of love, war and thrill while taking us through the places. It really felt like I took a trip to the past and I loved every minute of it.

It was interesting to find that Roman heritage is all over Barcelona, its impressive city wall appeared in the strangest of places and its influence was all over Barcelona. We also learned about the giants parade and the stories behind that.

It was the middle of the tour and it had started to rain. It was that type of rain that caused a standstill too heavy for an umbrella, so we had to stop the tour and decided to have empanadas at La Fabrica instead. We had fun talking to the tour guide and she gave us a lot of tips on what to eat in Barcelona. When the rain stopped, we decided to go to our Airbnb which was in Badalona (a nearby city). We were lucky to see a bus that goes directly there, and we started to search for the place. It was already late so it was a little scary, but we called the host and finally found the place atop a small hill. She was an amazing host and you can use my code https://abnb.me/e/Zz1ZdeHTv6 for $55 off your first booking.

This was also the cleanest Airbnb that I’ve been in. She made us feel at home and even gave us breakfast. Based on her recommendation we were able to go to the beach in Badalona which is less crowded and enjoy Tapas and Sangrias. On the way to the beach I got a croissant which is strange because I just left France not too long ago but it was delicious, no regrets. We stayed and watched the sunset at the beach. It was all very serene and everyone seemed to be relaxed.

While we ordered Sangrias, we met a young girl that spoke fluent English and was going to China for school in September. She was so nice and even sang happy birthday to our friend in London who couldn’t make the trip. It was beautiful.

We also decided to visit Parc De La Ciutadella in Barcelona where there is a fountain that was beyond our imagination. It was erected by Josep Fontsére and to a small extent by Antoni Gaudí, who at that time was still an unknown student of architecture. Zee was able to get souvenirs at the top of the fountain.

We had our personal Gaudi tour and it was amazing. I love seeing architecture with unique designs, they are art. Many buildings there were designed by him and we saw the Sagradia Familia, Casa Batllo and Casa Mila. Afterwards we had dinner at Foro. There I had Gnocchi with arrabiata sauce and Zee had meat ravioli with marinara sauce. It was delicious and thinking water was free, I kept ordering a refill and the the waiter was smiling while bringing it. When I saw the final bill I understood why, it was £1.50 for each refill but now I know sometimes you just have to experience it. All in all it was an incredible experience and I’m grateful for it. This was before the pandemic and I hope everyone reading this and their families are safe are healthy.

ROAMING IN ROME BEFORE THE PANDEMIC

Before the Pandemic, I was privileged to travel to Rome. This had been a dream of mine since I read history books and stories associated with Ancient Rome as a child. I read of the Roman Empire, their heroes, the wars, love stories and Christian reformations.


This trip felt surreal and I made a bucket list of places that I had to visit when I arrived. When the time came, all our plans were thrown out the window and we ended up sleeping on the day of arrival. This resulted in us modifying our plans and deciding to go on a walk tour instead to see as many sights as we could while gaining more historical knowledge about this magical city.


Our Airbnb in Pigneto blew my mind, it was better than the pictures and you can use this link https://abnb.me/e/w1E4GMVqD5 for $55 off your Airbnb. The host set up wine and chocolates before our arrival, it was beyond my expectation and we had no problems here.

Wine from our host.

We went to a pizza place in front our Airbnb and each got a pizza. I got the anchovy pizza and Zee got a salami pizza. We had no idea the portions would be a lot and we ate the leftovers for breakfast the next day. We also got the Haagen dazs Macadamian nut brittle ice cream that I cannot sadly get where I live. It’s absolutely amazing.

DAY 1

On the first day we decided to make plans that would not be too stressful. We started the day with pizza from Re di Roma which I had seen from Damon and Jo’s Youtube channel and it was recommended by Jo. A slice was 1.50 euros and they had unique flavours that I had not seen before not to mention the slices were square. I had a bacon and egg pizza and Zee had a margherita pizza. Zee taunted me by eating hers slowly, but I overcame the temptation. It was delicious but for some reason I enjoy having pizza and ice cream. So, next we had to have gelatos and we went to the second place recommended by Jo which was Gelataria Procopio. I was so excited about trying the exact flavors that Jo had and it was a match made in heaven as my lips met that gelato.


We went to the park opposite the Gelataria and enjoyed the gelatos while absorbing the scenery of this city filled with a lot of history. It felt like a dream and in this weird trance, I whispered ‘Roma, sweet Roma’. I imagined what had transpired in the past and saw physical signs that helped my imagination. I noticed that when I got to a place saying the words ‘Ciao’ really made people friendlier and they felt like you tried to relate with them. Also, in some places I had to read from an Italian translator because not everyone spoke English, I also relied on my French background a lot since they share a Latin origin.

DAY 2

The second day in Rome was Zee’s birthday and we had plans that involved relaxation. The day before we had found the closest spa called Hammam Roma Templum Salutis. We chose to have the complete Hammam treatment package and they gave us a complimentary facial because it was Zee’s birthday. Everyone there was really friendly, and we had a good time there. Fully exfoliated and relaxed, we headed to dinner because we had spent close to three hours at the spa.

We had dinner at Tonnarello’s where there was a 20-minute wait, but the food was fantastic. We had the beef lasagna and for dessert I had tiramisu and Zee had a vanilla ice cream with strawberries. I whispered to the waiter when I first arrived that it was Zee’s birthday and after dessert arrived, the waiter signaled to the whole restaurant to sing the Happy Birthday Song. It was a tear filled moment and I was so touched. Seeing everyone sing it from different parts of the world in the restaurant was amazing . I could not stop smiling and we had a nice night walk afterwards.

DAY 3

On our third day in Rome, we went for a walking tour early in the morning at 11am with Rome’s Ultimate Free Walking Tour to better embrace and understand the history we were privileged to see. Our tour guide was energetic and brought the city to life with his tales and jokes. We went through the emotional rollercoaster of Emperor Augustus who built a tomb for himself and wrote all his accomplishments on the wall opposite the tomb to the story of the 8 large obelisks that were carried away from Egypt as gifts.


Amid the tour, we visited a gelato place called Gelateria Della Palma that has 150 gelato flavors. I had more than three flavors in a large cup and also got a pastry called a cannoli. They had gelato and pastries, Oh! The dream that manifested into reality. I truly recommend this place in your visit to Rome.

We visited the following places during the tour: Mausoleum of Augustus (The tomb of Rome’s First Emperor), Piazza Navona, Castel Sant’Angelo, Piazza del Popolo (The people’s square, The largest and most spectacular piazzas in Rome), The Pantheon (Built in 113 A.D, The best preserved Roman Monument in the world), Ponte Sant’Angelo (The most beautiful bridge in Rome featuring Bernini’s Angels) and Vatican City.

The tour started at Porta del Popolo and ended at the Vatican City which we found out has about 500 citizens who were only male. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the St Peter’s Basalica. It was built on Saint Peter’s tomb and is the largest church in the world. It took over 100 years to build the church and it was free to enter but it took over 1 hour to stand in a queue and go through security. It was worth the wait and I went in beholding the splendor, taking it all in. When I was done admiring the beauty of the church, I then went to pray in an area they have designated for only prayer. It was a very quiet area with security making sure you did not take any pictures there and that you were solely praying.


There was also security earlier at the entrance that checked your dressing because you couldn’t wear outfits over the knee and expose any private part of your body. I met up with Zee afterwards and we decided to have dinner before heading to the Colosseum, one of the seven wonders of the world.

We went to the Dodo Ristorante for dinner but they were not open yet because they usually open at dinner time which was an hour later than when we arrived. We were able to charge our phones at a nearby store because I always forget to buy a power bank when I travel. They were so nice, so I asked the lady there what her favorite pasta was and that was what I ordered at the restaurant. I had the Carbonara pasta and Zee got the marinara pasta. We also had a glass of sweet white wine because we were in Rome and it also goes with the aesthetic.

Pasta at Dodo Ristorante

We had a gelato at Gelateria da Constanza and then proceeded to enjoy it at a nearby fountain before finally heading to the Colosseum. We touched the walls and imagined what had transpired in the past. It was amazing, after a series of pictures, we sat down and enjoyed the view while watching the sunset. It was the perfect end to the day.


After this pandemic is over, I pray Italy will be able to recover and I can walk those cobbled streets once more. I am praying for everyone in the world and I hope those of you reading this are safe and healthy. God be with us and we will get through this together.

https://youtu.be/Ot0-CxqUo_s

TRAVEL DIARIES: LONDON DAY 2

Decision making is not one of my strong suites and to make up for this flaw, I always over plan down to the minutest detail. In the light of the disruption in the form of a flight delay, I had to regroup and plan my next day itinerary. The theme of the day became : ‘A tourism centered day’. It was time to be a tourist and I loved it. We started out at Buckingham palace where we went to watch the changing of the guard but as in usual London fashion, it began to rain. Through the crowd of people seeking shelter  and  with no umbrella in hand, we missed this event.

We made the most of it and walked confidently towards the palace. It was a storybook come to life. I filmed this magnificence regardless of the weather and decided not to miss it for anything. We took pictures there of ourselves and other tourists, our joy overlapping despite our cultural differences. We were in London.

Buckingham Palace in the rain

The rain decided that it was just joking around and truly began. We began to then seek shelter and were fortunate to discover a café called Crumpets not too far from there where we had a typical English breakfast consisting of toast, bacon, sausages, baked beans, eggs and tea of course. One order was more than enough for two, I could not imagine eating this humongous meal alone. It was delicious by the way and I definitely recommend it.

English Breakfast at Crumpets

The rain subsided and we discover a red telephone booth outside the café and we took our official tourist photos beside it. The phones apparently work, and I was surprised to discover that.

Red Telephone booth

Next on the itinerary was the famous Westminster abbey, where we took amazing pictures and witnessed a vegan protest not to far away. The london eye was not far away and we discovered a dog as large as a bear on the subway, what a sight. London is not complete without the street and subway musicians who bring life to the city. What a joy to behold, it was like I was given a theme song for every part of the adventure.

Crossing the famous Millineum bridge on the way to St Paul’s cathedral, we had some interesting encounters with funny photo bombers who were excited to be in our photos. The sight on this bridge consisted of most of the city and all I could feel was wonder. I researched and found that at the last floor of Tate modern, I could see the whole city for free. Who will turn down that opportunity? That was the last sight of the day and the theme song was shallow accompanied by a guitar. What a perfect end to my tourism filled day.

TRAVEL DIARIES: LONDON DAY 1

This was the moment I had looked forward to since the beginning of the year. I was in London!!! This didn’t seem real, but it was. I could hardly sleep the night before and left early to avoid a hassle. I arrived at O’Hare airport at 3 pm but due to maintenance delays, I took another plane at 9.30 pm because the one assigned to me was still delayed.

I arrived at Heathrow airport looking lost but excited and using my trusted friend, google maps to get to the agreed meet up point with Toto. My previously planned itinerary was thrown to the wind because the probability of a delay was not factored in, coupled with the unaccounted factor of my fatigue after an 8-hour flight.

Watching a YouTube video on how to get an oyster card helped me to familiarize myself with my surroundings. Following the instructions, I obtained the card with ease. With this card, I took the train to meet my friend at Green Park Station. Amidst the crowd at the station; I did not locate my friend and I could not call her because I had no sim yet.

With no other option, I did what they do in every book; I looked for the nearest café with free internet connection. Finally, I was able to reach her on the phone and found that she had not even left where she was. Getting comfortable at Caffe Nero, I decided to order brunch consisting of hot chocolate and a sandwich as shown below.

Brunch at Caffe Nero

My friend eventually arrived by 2 pm and we searched for a bathroom with an app called sit or squat. This app helps you locate nearby bathrooms ranging from clean to fairly clean. We found one located at a nearby hotel called the May Fair which was exquisite and as clean as they had predicted.

Afterwards, we went to get a sim from three that functioned in all European countries. It had unlimited data in the UK and 19GB in other European countries that I roamed in. I never had to worry about losing connection to the internet wherever I was located because the connection was amazing.

We had an all-white themed birthday party to prepare for later in the week and as such we searched for the perfect outfits. We did not find any outfits on this day but had fun shopping anyways. Finally retiring to our Airbnb in Canary wharf, we planned for the next day.

Silver Jubilee

Dear little me,

I am happier than I’ve ever been,

This is the age that you’ve dreamed of,

I am not exactly what you envisioned,

But where did you get that vision from?

I am you,

The vision is now you,

Now I see that all I need to be is a better you.

You were and are perfect as you are,

I love you all the more now,

You’re brave, strong and bolder despite hidden fear,

You take more chances,

You engage with people now,

I am so grateful for the person you are.

Now, you have lived a quarter of your life,

Societal pressure makes it seem like you’re old,

Like you have no choice in what comes next,

Like it’s automatic.

Dear little me and current me,

You have your whole life ahead of you and now you know,

You can be anything no matter what age you are,

It’s never too late to have a dream,

It’s never too late to take a chance,

To get three-quarter of your life in place,

You have to live passionately.

With this, I look forward to more of you.

Thank you little me for who I am now,

Thank you God for grace to see another year.

Signed,

Current me