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A Euro-Trip with Best Friends

I’m sitting in front of Casa Batlló, one of Gaudi’s infamous architectural creations.  Behind me, cars and pedestrians criss-cross the busy Barcelona boulevard.  The bustle and traffic are startling to me after all these months in Canadian wilderness, but, as I pause and soak in the whimsical beauty lit up by rays of mid-afternoon sun, I am happy.  So, so happy.

It’s not just because I’m traveling again – after a two-month travel hiatus – that I’m so happy, nor is it simply because I’m in a new and exciting city.

I’m so happy because two of my best friends in the world are about to join me in Europe for a ten-day reunion!

Erin (middle) and Alex (right), two of my very best friends.

Erin (middle) and Alex (right), two of my very best friends.

The three musketeer, exploring Europe together! :)

The three musketeer, exploring Europe together! :)

I met Alex and Erin almost a decade ago in Bangkok, Thailand.  We had all arrived mid-school-year to teach English at a private bilingual school in the city.  Though our time together in Thailand was brief, we took full advantage of school holidays to explore the region, creating lifelong memories along the way (one of my best ever was camping on a deserted island in the Philippines with Erin; I’ve also had a few epic trips with Alex since then, most notably to Egypt and Zimbabwe).

Alex now lives in Singapore and Erin in Washington, DC, so the only time the three of us have been together since Thailand was in 2012 for Erin’s wedding.  Here in Barcelona, all that was about to change.

Three Nights in Barcelona

Barcelona is the perfect backdrop to a girls’ trip.  The city is large, exciting and energizing.  The weather is mild and sunny.  Cafes and tapas bars line the streets – the perfect places to have long lunches.  Which is exactly what we did.  Over glasses of wine and mini tapas plates, we reconnected and filled one another in on each of our lives.  We looked like total locals with our late, lingering meals.

The Gothic Cathedral

The Gothic Cathedral of Barcelona

Wacky Gaudi architecture.

Wacky Gaudi architecture.

Palm trees and balmy weather

Palm trees and balmy weather

Erin hadn’t been to Europe in about 14 years, so we did make sure to do a bit of sightseeing.  Most of it involved Antoni Gaudi.  We visited the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral that is perhaps the landmark of Barcelona.  Its construction began over 100 years ago, but, because of its magnitude (and other factors), the cathedral is still not finished.  It is hoped that the structure will be complete by 2026, exactly 100 years after Gaudi’s untimely death.

Our Air BnB was only a 7-minute walk from the Sagrada Familia, so we were lucky to catch a glimpse of its imposing exterior several times and in different light.  Though the interior was celestial, for me, the cathedral is all about its exterior facades and skyscraping arches.  I’m happy we got to soak up the grandiosity of the Sagrada Familia over the course of our three-night stay in Barcelona.

The infamous Sagarada Familia

The infamous Sagarada Familia

We did an audio tour inside the Sagarada.

We did an audio tour inside the Sagarada.

And saw cool things like the ceiling!

And saw cool things like this very celestial ceiling!

Because our accommodations were just down the road, we got to see the Sagarada Familia in all different types of lighting!

Because our accommodations were just down the road, we got to see the Sagarada Familia in all different types of lighting!

We also visited Gaudi’s Parc Guëll.  The park is massive, but we concentrated our guided visit on the inner Monumental Zone, where you can find a few preserved homes, Gaudi’s infamous mosaic salamander, and the old viaducts.  We were so lucky that it was warm and clear, and so we stayed long enough to sun ourselves, and to catch an epic view of the entire city, with the Mediterranean Sea in the background.

Admiring the panoramic of Barcelona from atop Parc Guëll.

Admiring the panoramic of Barcelona from atop Parc Guëll.

The famous mosaic salamander at Parc Guëll.

The famous mosaic salamander at Parc Guëll.

The lovely viaducts.

The lovely viaducts.

Some of the funky Gaudi buildings inside the Monumental Zone.

Some of the funky Gaudi buildings inside the Monumental Zone.

With the rest of our time in Barcelona, we wandered fairly aimlessly around the city (talking, of course, all the while).  We went to Barceloneta, the area of town where locals congregate along the city beach.  It was pretty happening on this Saturday afternoon, with hawkers set up along the wharf and bands performing on the street.  We had an al fresco drink, Alex got a mini-massage, and we dipped our toes in the Mediterranean as we watched an incredible lightning show in the sky over the sea.

We also wandered around the alleys off Las Ramblas, in the Gothic area.  We stumbled upon the Catedral de Barcelona, a small farmer’s market selling cheese and wine and honey, and we feasted on the best churros y chocolate in town.

We ate really well throughout our trip, actually (thanks to Erin, who had done her research).  Our first evening we dined at La Yaya Amelia, where we had a tasty (and affordable) three-course meal.  Funnily, the restaurant was almost entirely empty at 8pm, but started to get packed as we left around 10pm.  Our final afternoon, we stumbled upon Arume Restaurante, a super popular and funky place famous for its paella.  Amazing food and ambiance.  I highly recommend both!

Churros y chocolate, with some more chocolate on the side (cuz why not?)

Churros y chocolate, with some more chocolate on the side (cuz why not?)

Tapas!!!

Tapas!!!

Arume, a delish restaurant.

Arume, a delish restaurant.

Paella, and an amazing artichoke dish, at Arume.

Paella, and an amazing artichoke dish, at Arume.

A Night in Carcassonne

From Barcelona, we took the train to Carcassonne, France.  I had long wanted to visit this city, as it has a massive medieval Unesco World Heritage fortress on its hill.  On the day we arrived, we were shocked by the wind and plummeting temperatures, but we braved it and visited the fortress, anyway.

Actually, I didn’t plan the trip very well.  In the off-season, the castle and ramparts close by 5pm, and we were too late arriving to enjoy the recommended two-hour visit.  We were happy to know we could still walk around the outskirts of the ramparts, which allowed us to get sweeping views of the city.  The buildings sported the same red Roman tiles as the roofs in the south of France, but because of the dampness here, the red has gone a greenish grey.  I like that you can tell which region of France you’re in based on the color of the roofs!

View of Carcassonne from the fortress ramparts.

View of Carcassonne from the fortress ramparts.

Lots of cafes inside the fortress, but not the weather for sitting outside!!!

Lots of cafes inside the fortress, but not the weather for sitting outside!!!

Carcassonne

Carcassonne’s picturesque fortress walls.

Happy to find out we could walk the perimeter of the ramparts!

Happy to find out we could walk the perimeter of the ramparts!

Carcassonne’s Cité is full of kitsch tourist shops, which doesn’t make for the most authentic experience.  I think tourism has ruined what could have been a very charming village.  But what makes Carcassonne absolutely worth the visit is a view of the fortress walls at night.  The place looks like a Disney fairy tale castle and it’s hard to believe that, not only is this place real, but it’s 1000 years old.

Fairy tale castle, right?

Fairy tale castle, right?

Erin is the selfie queen.

Erin is the selfie queen.

Carcassonne at night - the highlight of our time there.

Carcassonne at night – the highlight of our time there.

When in Carcassonne, one must try the regional dish of cassoulet, a white bean and meat stew.  Because it was Monday, the restaurant our Air BnB hosts had recommended was closed, but the girls still managed to try the dish at the only restaurant open in the “nouvelle cite” (for one should never try cassoulet in the fortress).  Then, because it was cold and our apartment was just so darn cute, we bought wine, cheese, charcuterie, and chocolate mousse, and headed home for a proper French girls’ night.  I’m so glad Air BnB exists, as we were able to find lovely private apartments at each destination, which maximized the time we could spend simply being together.

Cassoulet.

Cassoulet, Carcassone’s infamous dish.

And our nightcap at our lovely Air BnB. :)

And our nightcap at our lovely Air BnB. :)

Two Nights in Bordeaux

This city was high on Erin’s destination list, because she’s totally in love with Bordeaux wine.  Our first afternoon there, we simply wandered around the old town, which is mostly pedestrian streets and funky shops and brasseries.  Because it was still so cold, we had a hot beverage under the heat lamp overlooking a cathedral and a square.  It felt very French.

That evening, we visited L’école du Vin, where we could sample glasses or flights of wine from the Bordeaux area.  The staff was knowledgeable, the environment sophisticated, the glasses affordable, and the pours generous.  I loved it, and Erin was in absolute heaven.

 

Bordeaux

Bordeaux’ Old Town.

We sat outside sipping on hot beverages with a view of this lovely cathedral.

We sat outside sipping on hot beverages with a view of this lovely cathedral.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux’ classy pedestrian streets, lined with boutiques.

The next day, we decided to make her dream of visiting a real Bordeaux château come true.  We hopped on a local train to St. Emilion, one of the most famous wine-making regions of Bordeaux.  We had no plan and no idea what to expect, but the village was so charming that I didn’t even care if we didn’t visit a single château.  We ate crêpes by another cathedral overlooking another square, caught glimpses of the green-grey-tinged Roman tiled roofs, and wandered past endless rows of perfect grape vines.

St. Emilion, one of Bordeaux

St. Emilion, one of Bordeaux’ wine regions.

So.Darn.Charming!

So.Darn.Charming!

Vineyards as far as the eye can see.

Vineyards as far as the eye can see.

So.Darn.Charming!

So.Darn.Charming!

We did eventually head to the tourist office, and they were very helpful in organizing a wine-tasting visit for us.  First we visited one of two domaines in the village proper that allow you to wander through their underground wine cellars for free.  It was a quick visit followed by an equally quick two-wine tasting.

Next, we visited Château Haut Sarpe, a smallish family vineyard.  The tour was in French (because we booked last-minute in the off-season) so I did quite a lot of translating, which allowed me to truly understand the entire process of wine-making from grape to bottle.  I found it absolutely fascinating, and would recommend a visit for any wine-lover or curious individual.  It made the tasting at the end all the more delicious and meaningful.  One day, I’d love to return to Haut Sarpe in September to help with the grape harvest for a few weeks – what a cool cultural experience that would be!

The Chateau we visited, Haut Sarpe.

The Chateau we visited, Haut Sarpe.

Haut Sarpe not only makes great wine, but it

Haut Sarpe not only makes great wine, but it’s a historic chateau with lots of pretty old buildings, including this wind mill.

Pretty stoked to have visited St. Emilion with my besties!

Pretty stoked to have visited St. Emilion with my besties!

Four Nights in Agde

After getting to visit three new European destinations (yay!), I brought the girls home to Bruno’s neck of the woods.  I wanted Erin to meet Bruno and see our little home and village (Alex already had back in 2015), and it was also a way for us to save a bit of cash while winding down the tourism part of our trip and focusing on soaking each other up as much as possible (because who knows when the three of us will be together again?).

I took the girls to La Table d’Emilie, my favourite French restaurant in Marseillan, for a gourmet five-course meal.  They loved it all up.  I took them to Pézénas, the medieval fortified city full of talented artisans selling their wares (the shops are much more interesting here than in Carcassonne).  And I took them to the local spa, followed by an outdoor lunch of moules frites along the edge of the Herault River.

But mostly we cooked.  We talked.  We walked the beach.  We talked.  We sang.  We talked.  We laughed.  We talked.

Enjoying dessert after 4 previous courses at La Table d

Enjoying dessert after 4 previous courses at La Table d’Emilie.

La Table d

La Table d’Emilie, in Marseillan. Fabulous restaurant.

Walking the beach (despite the wind) outside our home in Agde.

Walking the beach (despite the wind) outside our home in Agde.

And we promised each other we would meet again soon.  This trip had been rejuvenating and illuminating for our souls, and we knew we needed to make one another a greater priority in our lives.

That’s the thing about long distance friendships.  Time makes you slowly forget, adapt.  You lose the urgency of being with that person.  But the moment you’re next to one another, you remember.  You pick up where you left off, you soak it all up, you fill your heart with that person, and you hold on to them that much more tightly because you don’t know when you’ll be able to do it again.

I’m sitting at my departure gate at the Barcelona International Airport.  Our girls’ trip has come full circle, as I’ve returned to the city where just ten days before I happily awaited Alex and Erin while contemplating the quirky architecture of Barcelona’s renowned Antoni Gaudi.  I’m tired – exhausted, actually – but I am happy.  So, so happy.  Over the past ten days I have discovered three new regions of Europe, which is always exciting for a traveler.  Better yet, I discovered these regions with friends.  There’s no better way to discover a place.

Saying goodbye (for now) at the Barcelona airport.

Saying goodbye (for now) at the Barcelona airport.

Most of the photos for this post are courtesy of my lovely talented friend, Erin Socia.  Thanks for letting me share, and for being our official trip photographer!!!

  • Sarah - Love Gaudi’s work!ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer Jones - Traveling with the besties is awesome! Thanks for your amazing blog cousine! I have always wanted to take a trip to Barcelona and after reading your blog, I am feeling the travel bug even more!! Thanks for sharing xxxReplyCancel

    • Brittany - One day I would love to get to travel with YOU!!!ReplyCancel

  • Louise Jones-Takata - I love the intro photo with Carcassonne in the background. Three great looking gals visiting three great destinations!
    I have always referred to La Sagrada Familia as Gaudi’s Folly. I love his windows in the homes he designed. And then some! Carcassonne is very interesting, particularly off season (if such a period still exists). Bordeaux, a lovely city and visiting the vineyards of the regions is just s o o wonderful. Bordeaux are still my favorite.
    So very happy that you had this opportunity to be together with your best buds!ReplyCancel

    • Brittany - It’s amazing to me that, with almost every new destination I visit, you’ve beaten me to it! My aunt sure is a well-traveled woman – I guess I know where I get it! :)ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth S - As always, I loved your post. In this case, I particularly loved reading about your reconnection with Erin and Alex after several years and seeing photos of them, as I remembered meeting and enjoying them both in Bangkok. Your dad and I loved Barcelona and the photos of Gaudi’s whimsical architecture brought back memories of my smiling and even giggling when we spotted any throughout this wonderful city.ReplyCancel

    • Brittany - It’s wonderful to visit new destinations, but particularly with friends! Barcelona was a fantastic city, and I cannot wait to return one day – maybe with you?!?ReplyCancel

  • Sharon Socia - Brittany Thanks so much for this blog about your reunion with Erin and Alex. You are a great writer and I enjoy reading your blog Love SharonReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Thank you for lending me your wonderful daughter! I miss her already….!ReplyCancel

  • Auntie Freya - Dear Brittany,
    Loved your blog about Barcelona, etc. Having just been there and seeing the Cathedral (Which I thought was the gaudy’s thing I’ve ever seen – no pun intended!). I’m a true renaissance person, so I do not understand the way out artwork! That is where Louise and I disagree. I truly enjoyed Barceona and learning about the Conflict about the separation of Catalonia. A very beautiful city. And, we also visited Carcasonne which was equally as beautiful. I’m sorry that we didn’t run into each other.
    I hope you are feeling well and await the great news. Please keep in touch.
    Much love, Auntie FreyaReplyCancel

    • Brittany - It’s funny how you and Louise both expressed your [differing] opinions on Gaudi – that’s the great thing about art, isn’t it? It elicits a different response in everyone!

      So you were in Barcelona and Carcassone too! How about Bordeaux?ReplyCancel

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