20 July 2013

Confessions of a Fresher!

So, it's been some time since my first Freshers week at University College Birmingham toasted the beginning of my university experience. It was go! Since that crazy period of time life hasn't been the same, I suppose everything happens for a reason? Let's play the ring of fire and down that dirty pint because my first days of my university experience were madness!

The summer of 2010 had come to an end, signifying the beginning of my university journey. I was ready for the life changing step of moving away from home to explore Birmingham. I had no need to be apprehensive but fear is good for us and it was definitely for the best as things didn't start too badly! The drinking and mayhem would soon begin but I was finally ready to experience the unexpected, as for coming to terms with a personal revelation I wasn't so sure about! To the left is the Maltings, the halls of residence for students who attend University College Birmingham. The middle window on the first floor was my first room at the Maltings. 142 Davenport House showed me so much, a series of events that were truly blessed!

My friends Catherine Broad and Lucy Houghton also lived in Davenport House but in different flats, it's clear to see the all the cool kids have lived in Davenport House! Over the first three months of my first semester at University College Birmingham life changed for the better, spending time with my new uni friends showed me another way of life completely. Who knew that watching films crammed into one small room was the best thing? I know that watching S Club's Miami 7 show on YouTube doesn't sound like the most riveting thing to do but it will stand to be one of my lasting memories of my Fresher period! Oh the simple things! With many other faces that joined us on the way I'm thrilled to say that I'm still friends with Catherine and Lucy! You're my Birmingham stars!

Freshers 2010 faired to be absolutely immense, with our group together we embarked on the first chapter of our uni life! Beginning with a series of great nights out that lead to the Heroes and Villains Bar Crawl, a night that became extremely eventful indeed! My life had been turned upside down it was goodbye home and hello to the student life, I was enjoying the party so much but knew that the first few weeks were meant to be insane. Birmingham had become our playground, when the sun set we donned our best clothes and started to get crazy! Pre-drinking was our way to a cheap night out for us students don't have a lot of money to spend so its wise to get wasted before we've even got to the club. Learning how to hold my drink became so easy I was putting away a fair bit dancing juice on a night out, not so good for the hangover though! I just embraced each day and night for that first Fresher period. Let's go!

Bar One became our local during our first slice of student halls living, watching shows like the X-Factor on a Saturday night would be a regular occurrence as things started to inevitably slow down. It's human nature that not everyone can get on all the time but I have to say that the general Fresher period was such a fast paced experience it would have been only but a blur if there was any negative energy. From the very beginning and through all the pre-drinks the Freshers flu probably hit all of us, its no wonder people were feeling under the weather the amount of crazy things that were going on! It was all about being a good egg and seeing that drink off! At the end of the day we were only Freshers once for the rest of uni careers. The 'Ring of Fire' showed me a thing or two but I just couldn't get the hang of 'Fuzzy Duck!' It was all about being a good egg! Looking back I know that UCB chose me rather than me choosing it! I must be drunk? Anyway, I've still got more to recount.

University changes people's lives, I had something voices in my head that needed answering! Most of the Freshers events were centered around Broad Street so they were pretty mainstream, I knew what part of town I wanted to revisit once the sun had gone down! Dressed to kill we all ventured down to Birmingham's Gay Village for a night out with a difference! The Vengaboys we're back and were performing at Nightingales, a super-club located within the heart of Birmingham's Gay Village. A little bit of physical attraction mixed with an inevitable chemical reaction sealed what I had been thinking about for a while. The jigsaw puzzled had been completed and I knew what the deal was! See I wanted my Freshers experience to have a bit of variety! The Vengaboys threw back hits like 'Boom, Boom, Boom!' and 'We're Going To Ibiza!' From that moment I was welcomed on a fabulous journey! Party on all!

So, now in October our Freshers programme had concluded to the final night at the Custard Factory. There was no custard involved only a crazy night grooving to the sounds of Alex Zane and Jaguar Skills, we had therefore survived Freshers and the first few weeks of uni as we knew it. Like I had been to the Custard Factory! I had settled into uni life without even realising it, I went home once or twice but Birmingham called me back for more! For all was about to change as we would be reminded of the real reason why we had all moved to Birmingham to study. From the very first moment in BarOne to the time we called it a night at the Custard Factory I knew that my Freshers had been one amazing and crazy mess! Friendship had been made but would this setup truly last? I was having too much of a good time to care in that moment. On many levels it was the tonic that I needed! I was ready for the next chapter of my first semester at UCB! Can I rewind time back?

Classes had started, initiating the beginning of my academic life at University College Birmingham, I was ready to meet a whole set of new people from my classes. Even though the serious side of things had begun it would have been simply rude not to maintain a certain level of clubbing! Our weekly routine would begin with Oceana on Monday then followed by Sports Cafe on a Tuesday, resting on a Wednesday. Returning to the party on Thursday at Walkabout for that night always fared to be eventful, especially the Varsity night that we decided to randomly join the action. Fridays would be the icing on the cake as I would finish my cooking practical and get back to halls as quickly as possible to get ready for the night to start pre-drinking. Propaganda at the O2 Academy would be what I always hurried back for on a Friday evening, it was well worth the panic! Oh no, those double whisky's! I was living for those nights!

Halloween brought the flat parties of all flat parties, for our fancy dress alcohol fueled night was very eventful indeed! I say with no regrets I had a great time and knew that if things all ended with this party I would be happy for the whole process up to then was out of this world! Let's just say what happened at that Halloween party I look back with an accomplished state of mind. Our nights out were still pretty relentless but when lights came back on we just wanted a snack before bed, it was easier said than done for the door supervisors at one takeaway got a reality check! I'm very grateful for the time I spent during Freshers 2010 and for the friends that I made along the way, some of which remain close to this day but others have gone their separate ways. It was a lesson in life, teaching me that the simplest series of events can stay with me forever! How did I ever report for work at the weekend?! That retail department store never knew of my hungover state! I'm so done!

Be a Good Egg!

Joseph Harrison

18 July 2013

From Washington, D.C To Boston...

America the beautiful?! I know some great places that you could visit along North America's Northeast coast! How about starting from D.C to Boston, with two interesting stops on the way?! Pack your essentials into a backpack, grab your passport and your sense of adventure then we're good to go! Let's love the hot-spots but remember backing the underdog is key!

Touch down in Washington D.C to begin the ultimate Northeast coast escapade! Drop your bags and get out to the White House, the Obamarama vibe is waiting for you! Washington D.C is the presidential city for sure, get to grips with the National Mall to see the Lincoln Memorial to be a part of American history. D.C has to be one of the cleanest that I've ever visited! Follow the Potomac River, find yourself in Georgetown to be transported back to the colonial days. G-Town is beyond kitsch! Look out for the Capitol Building at the far end of the National Mall where its the best place to take some time to take in the charms that Washington D.C. serves. Take your chance to laze upon the green that faces the Capitol Building or imagine your are a news broadcaster who is presenting the top headlines? Schedule a summer trip to Washington D.C for the National Mall looks better in the warm!

Use Washington's metro system to your advantage, experience a new state without thinking about it? The Pentagon stands in the state of Virginia, take a somber slant to your first few days in the District of Columbia by paying your respects at the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial to remember the souls who lost their lives. If you haven't had your fill of Virginia just yet I would jump back on the metro, going past Washington Ronald Reagan National Airport to reach Alexandria. Let Alexandria's Old Town take you back further, enjoy some down time beside the Potomac River. Just to add the Potomac River connects District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland so that's another new state you've visited, one of those is coming up next! Before edging back to Union Station why not take a stroll around the Arlington National Cemetary? Crazy I know but its the burial place of former President John F Kennedy! Washington D.C offers so much more than the White House, embrace it all! Yes!

Take the Amtrak train from Washington's Union Station to Baltimore Penn Station for the next step. Say "Good Morning Baltimore!" as you step off your Amtrak service, this city is waiting for you! Check out Eastern Avenue for true Baltimore realness! Recognise that Baltimore has grit, drama and action so respect that fact! Keep your eyes peeled at all time for Baltimore is a very interesting place that has many quirks that mirror an inner city area in England! Spend some time at the Inner Harbor to see the magnificent U.S.S Constellation, she's a beauty! Baltimore keeps it real, there's no false pretenses about this city, because what you see here is what you get! Fell's Point will show you the Baltimore of yesterday with its restored shipyard buildings and quaint line of shops. Baltimore will show you everything that a honest U.S city's got. Swing by Baltimore's Downtown area for something crazy!

Get to grips with Philadelphia's Old City first to relive that small British town feeling, its a very quaint area! Step back in time at the Liberty Bell Center and admire the surrounding gardens, this city has so much history its just bursting at the seams! If you're looking for the same grit that Baltimore possesses then you've come to the right place, Philly's Center City and Market St brings things back to the street! I loved this part of town because I just felt like I was in a normal American city, away from any pretense or false attitude. If you're into art galleries and museums then I suggest Phildelphia will be the perfect city stop! Admire Washington Square, its an international avenue with flags from the four corners of the globe. Capture the LOVE sign for yourself that over looks the flags leading to Washington Square. South Street will miss you if you don't pay it a visit, try a Philly Cheese Steak at Ishkabibble's and a drink or five at Bob & Barbara's! Philadelphia is going to be a scream!

Welcome to the Empire State of New York! View everything from a greater height at the top of the Empire State Building, forget any fear of heights because the view is more than breathtaking! Claim your freedom by visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, live the American dream for yourself! Has NYC satisfied you yet? So, as darkness falls return to Times Square to admire the lights that strobe into the nights sky! Times Square brings it big, this part of New York City has to be visited otherwise its a crime! Pio Pio Peruvian restaurant in Hell's Kitchen is a must for a rustic and delicious meal. New York City is a place that doesn't sleep, so I don't expect you to! Let the streets be your runway in NYC! Take to the High Line to see what a former railway line looks like as an urban park space, it overlooks over West Village and has spectacular views of the Hudson River. New York City holds the key to greatness B!

All this travelling can get tiring so get to the Jersey Shore! NJ Transit makes things easy, take the train via Newark Penn Station to Point Pleasant for a great day at the beach to recharge your batteries. There's even a Tiki Bar at this New Jersey beach so things are going to get very crazy! Bronze your skin and show that Jersey Shore lot what you're made of because talk will always be cheap! If you're feeling hungry on the way back to New York City then get off the train at Newark Penn Station for a bite to eat in the Ironbound District. The Ironbound is home to a whole of Portuguese and Brazilian restaurants so open your heart to a side of New Jersey that's seriously underrated? It's a dead cert that the Big Apple and its little sister will change your life, there's no other place quite like it! Newark wants you more! Take a second to think Washington D.C, Baltimore, Philadelphia and NYC has passed by, there's no time for a state of dreaming because Boston will be calling soon!

Boston! This endearing city will capture your heart with its European similarities and temperamental New England climate. Take a stroll through Boston Common, get a view of the park view townhouses that could easily fit in within the Chelsea streets of London town! Discover the Freedom Trail to witness the sights that have made Boston the city it is today. Make sure you see Fanueil Hall, a building that holds close to Boston's vast history. Be a student for the afternoon by visiting the university town of Harvard to be a part of the nuvo-student vibe! I really wanted to transfer uni's to Harvard University for the grounds of the library are exactly how it's depicted in the movies! When I visited in 2012 I wanted to join a Harvard Fraternity! Just to add the Freedom Trail can take a while to tackle so start out as early as you can to get the best of your Boston adventure! Boston is a lovely slice of Britain in America! Go!

The spirit of Boston is waiting, if I had the chance to go back to this city I would go for it! But its not about me! If witches are your thing, take the train from Boston North Station to Salem. This Halloween infused town has a story to tell, following the witches path to uncover the secrets of the witch trails of the 1600's! Boston's Downtown district will bring you to the final stage of your Northeast coast American adventure, it has a dreary feel to it that resonates England for me and I know you'll love it. Boston as a city has a colonially modern vibe that makes gives it more chill compared to the craziness of New York City. Throughout the course of this trip I hope by the end point you have seen as much as possible and what you've seen you have hopefully loved? If you haven't then you should plan your own trip? So, I guess its a wrap for this Northeast coast extravaganza! The key to any successful trip is to follow a clear plan, keep within your means and have a great time!

San Francisco Next! 

Joseph Harrison

15 July 2013

Flying High... Monarch Airlines!

Since May I have stayed loyal to one airline, an airline that offers a wide range of destinations from my local airport and faultless customer service! Monarch Airlines has been my carrier of choice on two occasions during the Spring/Summer of 2013! Fasten your seat-belts please and take a moment to refer the safety demonstration because its time for takeoff!

I flew on the inaugural flight from Birmingham to Bordeaux on the 22nd of May 2013. As on-time departures go by I was very impressed with this round-trip due to the early arrival into both airports! I noticed that there wasn't really a song and dance at Birmingham Airport on the morning of my Bordeaux departure for the inaugural service, maybe the golden envelope and the French flag had something to do with it? It's not a complaint, merely just a thought. Why had I chosen to visit Bordeaux, France? I was on a family visit to my Paternal Grandparents who live in a small hamlet that's a fifty minute drive from Bordeaux Airport. At the time of booking I saw Monarch as the best option because they had announced their seasonal service from Birmingham to Bordeaux Airports, fitting with my university semester break I just couldn't say no to that flight! You'll realise I endorse my local airport. 

As customer service goes I was very impressed with the service conducted throughout my French flight. During flight ZB5476 the crew were professional and present in the cabin throughout the whole flight. Flight ZB5477 back to Birmingham from Bordeaux departed early, which helped because everyone wants to leave early once their holiday has finished. Merci Monarch for a super inaugural flight, it was great to see the French journalists take photos whilst I and rest of the other passengers disembarked the aircraft in Bordeaux, France. I must admit that I had traveled with Monarch Airlines before my Bordeaux flight, the destination must have been Zakynthos, Greece but the livery and crew uniform were very different on that flight. To be honest I've been on numerous flights this year so far and flying now seems like catching a bus because I'm fortunate enough to be classed as a jetsetter, but Monarch you did a sterling job! Is that the date? I better book that flight!

I hate keeping my feet on the ground but I really need to! To the right is the entrance to Birmingham Airport, its my local airport and the ever-growing base of Monarch Airlines amongst other airlines. I have already mentioned I flew with Monarch Airlines to Bordeaux, France in May 2013 but I try to fly from Birmingham Airport as much as I can! Monarch Airlines have been expanding their route network to destinations such as Bordeaux, France and Split, Croatia so far in 2013. Monarch have increased their frequency to four flights per week to Barcelona from Birmingham Airport from May 1st 2013, strengthening the capacity from the West Midlands. Contrary to belief Monarch Airlines will be bringing new and larger capacity aircraft's to Birmingham Airport to serves Monarch's Brummie route network? Birmingham Airport is growing and is attracting new airlines to serve Birmingham and the Heart of England.

Anyway, it's not just Bordeaux and Barcelona I have visited thanks to Monarch Airlines I have my sights set on a short trip to Gibraltar, another direct connection made possible with Monarch Airlines from Birmingham Airport. I'll have to see about that because this summer is looked really packed, at least I won't have to travel to Manchester or East Midlands Airports for a flight like that. I'm a blogger who is travelling on a very tight budget to see Europe basically on a shoestring, so I can't make any promises! Who knows I might win the lottery so I can live my dream of travelling the world?! When I go to Gibraltar I really want to buy a few bits from the Morrison's Supermarket and cross over the Frontier to the Spanish border town of La Linea De La Concepcion. Maybe one day Gibraltar? So, my advice to you would be to think twice the next time you are booking flights because there's nothing better than supporting your local airport! Thanks Monarch for those BHX routes! Go!

I jumped at the chance to take a short break to Barcelona on the 1st of July 2013. I took to the skies for Barcelona El Prat Airport for my alternative Spanish holiday. Choosing to fly with Monarch Airlines on flight ZB962 bright and early for a 07:15 am departure. I arrived at Birmingham Airport with a considerable amount of time to spare, but all of a sudden the 'Final Call' status was visible on the departure screens! Something told me it was too early for the final stages of boarding to be active at around 06:40 am?! I ran like a crazy person, trying to find the ground level boarding gate that was supposedly boarding! I made the flight without another hitch but my experience told me the flight was called early to help alleviate the crowded departure lounge? Departure on-time that July morning was a relief to me! Soaring towards the heavens it was time to enjoy my flight! Don't scare me again Monarch!

It was time to board my final Monarch Airlines flight for a while from Barcelona El Prat Airport to Birmingham Airport, would I experience excellent customer service once again? Like clockwork the a outbound flight from BHX arrived with enough time to spare for an early departure, I was impressed! With the disembarkation completed boarding could begin, let's go home! I would have to say that everything was faultless on this flight, I'm not just saying all this positive chat for nothing, Monarch are fantastic so it's credit when credit is due! I only had one reservation about flight ZB963 on the 5th of July 2013, this would be about the quality of the announcements that were made by one of the cabin crew, it wasn't the purser because her efforts were fantastic. I would just say for the future, boys and girls put a bit more enthusiasm into your announcements! I was a Passenger Services Agent for Virgin Atlantic Airways so I know my announcements! Flying is the one!

Until Next Time Monarch Airlines! 

Joseph Harrison

13 July 2013

Sitges: Queen Of The Seaside!

I wanted that good good so I chose Sitges for my last two days of my Spanish summer trip, a fabulous choice that I don't regret making! Watch out for the rainbows as I present Sitges, its a seaside town fit for a Queen! Bow down because Sitges only wants those guys with style! Brit was unleashed for a little while! If you know what I mean? Dios mio, no me importa!

Sitges welcomed me with a friendly greeting, the sun was shining and the beautiful people were out to play! Finding my hostel wasn't too bad, I had chose to stay in 'Sunny Sitges Flat' which is close to the railway station, so getting to and from Barcelona and back to the airport was really easy for me. Look on hostelworld.com for more information. I had come to Sitges to have some fun and finish my holiday in style! Sitges isn't difficult to navigate around because I pretty much saw all I needed to in perfect time. This friendly beach town has a wide array of coffee shops and cute restaurants dotted around the winding picture postcard streets, its very kitsch. Sitges had something to show me, I knew exactly what I wanted to see B! I loved it!

Sitges is known for its Gay friendly attitude and welcomes everyone from the Gay community to come and enjoy themselves, so my first impressions were exactly how I imagined them to be. If truth be told I saw a mix of couples, singles and families go about their business during my time spent in Sitges. Lots of city slickers call Sitges their weekend home as the Rodalies train service connects Sitges to Barcelona Sants Station within thirty minutes. Judging by the picture captured on the right Sitges is a town thats made up of cute little winding streets that ooze Spanish sophistication. The men were gorgeous, as I walked past the cafes it was a sight to see them chatting and sipping their mixed drinks! Have you guessed why I chose Spain?! Me gustan los hombres Espanol! Exactamente!

When the sun sets the party starts in Sitges, something told me that my two nights spent by the seaside were going to be a blast! By a stroke of luck I met Chris who was staying in the same hostel as I was. We hit 'Carrer Bonaire' at around 11pm to find things hadn't really got started yet. 'Carrer Bonaire' is one of Sitges' main Gay party streets, lined with many Gay nightspots. Myself and Chris found ourselves in Prestige Strip Club, it was still quiet but we saw Rylan Clark's identical twin making his way around the club, he had a figure that many women would envy! It was a relief to be out on the town after three days of intense sightseeing, cheers to that Sitges! We discovered Queenz on Carrer Bonaire a little earlier but we saved that place for later. Did I have any plans for the evening ahead? I can't divulge such information! Who was I kidding I wanted to have a shameless night in Sitges! Yes, she was ready!

As the clock struck midnight it felt right for us to go back to Queenz, we had heard that things get crazy there on a Wednesday night. Queenz was an absolute scream! The bar staff were lovely and they certainly do know how to make the perfect 'local' Vodka and Coke! You've got to ask those questions because more liquor for your Euro is always a good thing in my book! Queenz was serving carnival night that night so things got pretty crazy, we met a Drag Queen who was so fabulous and for some reason the bar staff thought I looked a little bit Spanish! I loved Queenz so much I went back the next night and even though Chris had moved on to somewhere new, I still had a great night! The DJ played all the songs I adore so I was living! So, thank you Queenz for two super nights out in Sitges! If I do come back to Sitges in the near future I'll be there for a 'local' drink! I've already told you I'm not revealing anything of that kind! I'm no Bougie Queen! Perra, yo era escandalosa!

When the hangover hurts bad get to the beach, its what I did! I knew exactly where I was going because I made a detour from club to club the previous night so it was perfect! Making my way to the Rainbow flag section of the beach, I bathed in the sun and took a little swim in the sea. Clocking the talent wasn't a difficult task at all! I wasn't feeling in such a pretty state so I just stayed within the Rainbow flagged area, the weather was beautiful and I couldn't complain about the view! The beachfront was busy with all kinds of people so let's not be the hypocrites and discriminate! Sitges can be my baby! Forget the families for one moment because the hombres were serving body, body and more body! I did feel like 'I need to hit the gym!' but I'd rather bronze my skin and not care what the plastics think! I'm not usually a beach bum but I I took a chance on Sitges's 'platja'. My hangover was hideous B!

Sitges has a lovely beachfront with numerous restaurants that looked lovely, but I did my own thing because I was on a tight budget. Sat on the left corner of the beachfront is 'Sant Bartomeu' church, which looked perfectly placed besides the rocks. I had made the right choice to visit Sitges as I don't think I'll forget this place in a hurry! I made use of the supermarket by my hostel as most of my money was spent enjoying myself when the sun went down. Brit was let out for sometime, she caused absolute carnage! My liver needs a holiday because she was abused! From the countless little kitsch streets, designer boutiques, super nightlife and a beautiful beach I couldn't fault Sitges for one second. This seaside town also had a great vibe that I felt completely accepted at all times, from dancing in Queenz Bar to sunning myself on the beach I'm sure that I'm not alone in that notion. Here's to the all of the scandal Sitges served suring that July sejour! Gracias por todo Sitges!

Sitges ... Estoy Enamorado De Ti!

Joseph Harrison

Tarragona's Little Secret...

Have you heard of Tarragona? I chose Tarragona as my next target! It's a damn good job I have a sense of direction, my journey from Barcelona to Tarragona via Sitges proved to be rather problematic but ended well nonetheless. It's no secret that I'm missing Puerto Rico, so I wanted to get lost in this gem of a medieval Spanish town! Vamanos! Me refiero ahora!

Roman, Roman, Roman, you say?! Well yes, Tarragona has a Roman flare about it. Captured to the left is the Amphitheatre that I found at the top of the hill, close to Rambla Vella. It was amazing to see such a contrast between locations as that very morning I had left behind Barcelona for the seaside town of Sitges, to then discovering this Roman marvel so it was a pleasant surprise. I decided to admire this ancient point of interest from a distance as I had so much to see in such a short space of time. Being so far up from the sea was great as I could gaze into the distance, the Mediterranean sea on a sunny day is a view that can't be complained about! I despise maps so I half followed the street signs but my heart wasn't prepared to compromise, you already know that Tarragona was giving me life! The Roman vibe shined through the chilled streets of this Spanish town! Had I been taken back to the 'Rich Port?!'

Did I forget to mention that Tarragona is really easy to access by train from Barcelona Sants Station by using Renfe Media Distancia trains, be warned if you're travelling from Sitges as I discovered at my own peril! After my stressful journey I was completely satisfied that Tarragona was definitely serving Mediterranean realness! The train station was small but boasted electronic departure and arrival screens so I was in the know for my return journey back to Sitges. Don't worry about walking lots, this town is centred around small sections that are accessible without a map. I was hungry for Tarragona, the pace of Barcelona led me wanting something sweeter with out the crowds! Barca seemed so faraway! Serving hot couture the Roman Amphitheatre looked just how it should of with its semi-crumbling facade I knew Tarragona was the trick for me! I wasn't paying no admission fee, taking my photos from a distance I'm paying my contribution in this blog. Oh no she better don't!

Tarragona's old town took me back to somewhere that I loved good, somewhere that I visited in September 2012. I felt like I was back walking through the streets of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico! With the 'Plaça De La Font' in front of me and the alfresco restaurants dotted along the street I was in heaven! Forget any preconceptions you had about Spain because this town breaks the mold, leave the buckets and spades for later! Taking a few moments to take in the scene I had encountered I was down right in love with Tarragona's 'Plaça De La Font!'. I do suppose that invasions can eventually be beautiful, I think it's a stunning blueprint for a new territory! That part of town showed me a maze of quaint side streets that I didn't question like I had done in Barcelona, I respected the foundations because Tarragona served something that can only be described as legendary. No pierdas ni un momento en Tarragona!

The weather was beautiful, not to hot but just right so all my worries had gone! Tarragona's old town was just mystifying, I want to go back their now! From the hustle and bustle of Barcelona it was bizarre but super to feel the calm that Tarragona's old town brought to my trip. I decided not to eat at one of the restaurants pictured as I wanted to walk a little bit further to discover more, but I know if I didn't find anywhere better I would have been back to the 'Plaça De La Font'. Anyway, I must tell you a secret because I never originally intended to visit Tarragona, due to family recommending this town I just couldn't resist a jaunt to this sensational town! My family recommendation paid off, so next time your nearest and dearest advice a place to visit just go for it! I appreciated the council building that stood before at the end of the parade of restaurants, I would love something like that in Bilston! For Spanish colonial chic you need to see Tarragona! No, that wasn't a question!

Embrace La Rambla Nova! A formidable yet charming street that runs through the center of Tarragona's town centre. It's the centre of the 'Nouveau Riche' with posh designer shops and a pedestrianised walkway. The abundance of trees accentuated the breeze as it cooled down the heated afternoon. La Rambla Nova De Tarragona had such a lovely vibe, chilled yet the local people still went about their business without a fuss. I didn't really notice the tourists, something that I love because some of us can be a rowdy and shameless bunch of folk! Not me for I'm good like that! By this time I was so hungry, so much so I nearly ate a Dominos Pizza, such a no no! When in Spain its best to be adventurous and enjoy the local cuisine. Ay, dios mio!

In the distance of the photo on the left is pathway to 'El Balcón del Mediterráneo', another reference to the Roman Era. Forgive if you do not understand my Spanish talk, the above place translated into English as 'The Balcony of The Mediterranean'. Trust and believe, Tarragona is a town I will never forget! Onto the subject of food, we all love a bargain and to eat well without feeling guilty about the bill but Tarragona ticked all of those dreaded boxes. As the time grew closer for me to get my train back to Sitges I found a lovely little street-side restaurant that had special deals on their food and beer, a perfect combination! I ate two delicious courses and drank two ice cold 'Mahon' beers for as little as £12.00! I was loving the arroz Cubano! Tarragona served in all the right places!

Tarragona ... Seguir Sirvendo 'Mediterraneo Estilo!

Joseph Harrison

12 July 2013

Barcelona: El Cor De Catalunya

Barcelona is a city that is super cool, sophisticated and crazy in many respects, I couldn't just publish one blog I saw so much! Catalonia happens to be the region that Barcelona belongs to. I've been very lucky recently to discover a whole new side of Spain, an area that's far away from the buckets and spades of the tourists resorts. Anem a arribar al cor de Barcelona! 

Barcelona has a special heart, its a city that has a crazy cool vibe. Let's take this to the streets! La Rambla presents a whole host of classy restaurants and cafes for all to enjoy. La Rambla has lots of quirky side streets that have personality and edge, its not just a pretty and predictable tourist area. I didn't get lost whilst discovering this part of Barcelona's city centre due the clear signs. I walked so far that I found myself in Vila De Gracia, a super swish neighbourhood that boasts some of Barcelona's top shopping boutiques. I wasn't fooled by the facades of the high-end stores! Barcelona really owns its past because I didn't see many new buildings that were super charming! From the swish to the sketchiness I learnt that Barcelona is like a rabbit warren with many corners that can be explored from the polished avenue of La Rambla but I endorse any sign of urban craze! Tingueu Confiança en l'alternativa! Si!

Barcelona is a big bustling city that has so much going on, but let me dispel a common fear about the tales of Barça's pickpocketing woes. Throughout my time in Barcelona I did not have anything stolen at all and I felt quite safe if truth be told. It's all about staying vigilant and trusting yourself. That popular promenade or whatever its referred to really impressed me much but I was already crazy in love with the vibe of Barcelona I took each sight in my stride. I was too impatient for my own good so dinner was out of the question because like each trip I was desperately seeking that adventure! La Ramblas as a whole took me to another dimension, I recognised that Barcelona is a city that serves something different with its timeless architectural wonders and its defiant to dance to the beat of its own drum! Oh, I ate tapas for the first time in a restaurant along La Rambla! I really didn't know what to think but the Sangria kept on flowing so I was very happy with that! Vamanos B!

Welcome to the Plaça de Catalunya! This place took me to the centre of Barcelona's old Spanish vibe. A hype of activity can be felt whilst at the centre of the square with people walking to work, meeting their friends or just taking things slow. As I stood in the middle of the square I gazed at the surrounding grand buildings in amazement! I had a feeling about this sight, the whole atmosphere of the place fitted perfectly with the Barcelona energy. I found this point of interest on the second day I spent in Barcelona. If you have the chance to see this great place I would seriously recommend a visit! Think Piccadilly Circus without the stress and neon lights because the Plaça de Catalunya is a meeting of minds with a busy but relaxed frame of mind it can get confusing. I have such an affinity with Spain and Spanish culture so I being a part of such a moment was all I wanted to do! Barcelona té cap estrès! Well a little bit!

The meeting point for many and the avenue that accesses seven other directions to seven other streets including Passeig de Gracia and La Rambla. De debò B? I found that walking from my hostel along La Rambla brought me straight to the Plaça de Catalunya, well give or take a ten minute walk. If you want to be at the centre of action this square is the best place! I felt that there was a wide variety of people going about their business in the plaza, even though a main road circled the area there was still a feeling of calm and energy at the same time. I found Plaça de Catalunya simply by chance, I really need to start taking more chances! Have I mentioned Barcelona's got an amazing metro? Well, its amazing once you get your bearings because its got way more lines than the London Underground! Give or take a few wrong turns I always found my way back to where I needed to be whilst in Barcelona. I am certainly not a fan of pigeons, so I did some ducking and diving! Ay déu meu!

Obviously Barcelona doesn't do Tesco so the market is the best place to find some tasty Catalan delights. Mercat St Josep La Boqueria showcased top quality market trade! This market pleases the locals and tourists alike. I could not believe the amount of colourful stalls selling sweets and chocolates that looked absolutely fantastic! I must add that the fishmongers were selling a wide array of produce that looked amazing. Talking about fish, I jumped at the chance to try some local market food. My lunch consisted of a piece of beautifully fried Tuna with a large glass of beer. The crazed atmosphere at the market during that hot July afternoon infused the intense array of colours, smells and conversations! Per descomptat jo volia més!

The hustle and bustle of this colourful Catalan market was perfect, I need to be back there now! I have a sweet tooth so I treated myself to some fudge, it was delicious! If you have watched reality show Geordie Shore then you will have seen this market, the poultry and cold cuts section to be exact. This market is open from morning until night so there's no wrong time to visit! Be ready for the madness of this market its a fast paced hype of entertainment, trust! I feel blessed that I had the chance to experience a place like Mercat St Josep La Boqueria because its super cool! I found yet more urban craze on my unplanned diversion from the market but I was living! That being said I can now see why Barcelona is one step closer to being the heart of Catalonia! Això no era una pregunta! No!

Puc Obtenir un Amén?

Joseph Harrison

10 July 2013

Barcelona: Ciutat De Gaudí

Is Barcelona the city of Gaudí? Barcelona is home to a collection of architectural wonders, all of which were created by Antoni Gaudí. I traveled to Barcelona, Spain in July 2013 to see what all the fuss was about. So, what's so special about the Sagrada Família or Parc Güell? What's the furore about a stately home called Casa Batlló?! Què té d'especial l'obra de Gaudí?

Standing before me was a truly remarkable sight, a cathedral that towered above me from where I stood. It's like with anything that attracts attention its going to be busy, a huge queue of fellow travelers were waiting to see inside this marvel of architecture. I had only a short time in Barcelona so I decided to take my time to focus on the top three Gaudí landmarks, taking the views from outside in I aimed to come back to this sight the following day. It's crazy to think that construction of this cathedral started in 1882, Gaudí had an immense task on his hands that he never saw to be completed. 2028 is the anticipated date of completion, now that's some project to manage! Les aparences poden ser enganyoses, però ella és una bellesa! Sí!

I returned the next day to see what all the fuss was about the previous day. Getting in line early is what needs to be done, visiting this landmark doesn't have to break the bank because it only cost me 18 Euros. The inside of this basilica blew me away, I took some time to walk around to take in the shear beauty of the high ceilings. Taking some time for reflection is something that has to be done, this wonder needs to be visually appreciated. Visiting the Sagrada Família took my breath away, its advisable to be respectful with your camera as there are certain zones that aren't meant for photos to be taken. I can wholeheartedly say that visiting the Sagrada Família was a once in a lifetime moment, a bit like when you catch a glimpse of the Cinderella castle at Disney World, USA!

Sat on the top of Barcelona's hectic cityscape is Parc Güell, a Gaudi infused park with breathtaking views of Spain's alternative city. Reaching Parc Güell was an interesting experience, I took several sets of escalators to reach the gates of this majestic park. Built on the hill of El Carmel in the Garcia district of Barcelona from 1900 to 1914, time has tested this park but it looked so beautiful to me on that hot July afternoon. Like with every popular landmark that I have been to the masses of tourists didn't phase me, you just have to push through and make sure you see what you want to see. I saw everything that I wanted to see at Parc Güell that day. How I got there I'm not too sure because the Metro station was in an awkward location, but I quickly found the ascending escalators that took me near the top. The weather was beautiful with a constant beam of heat that warmed the breeze. Oh life!

Parc Güell has the most endearing features, from the winding paths that twist up and around the main park area. The panoramic view that can be seen from the very top is just like being in a postcard, it's truly amazing! The cave like structures were something else, located below the mosaic viewpoint of the park stands the cool and dark area that takes the heat away from the midday sun! Now, I did mention that there was a lot of people at the park when I visited but it didn't take anything away from the truly exceptional architecture that I saw all around the park. To make everything even better there's no admission fee to access the ground that make up Parc Güell! The best things in life are free! Right from the entrance to the top of the viewpoint the attention to detail was effortless! Parc Güell showed me that Barcelona has a rich past that will satisfy many more visitors into the future! Parc Güell, em va impressionar molt! A view better than a postcard!

My final crusade in the city of Gaudi was to Casa Batlló, a former stately home to Barcelona's most richest family. Located in the heart of Barcelona stands this formidable building that boasts some clever designs that date back to 1877. I'm not one to venture inside museum type places but I jumped at the chance to experience the grandeur of the Casa Batlló. Listening to the audio trail that took me back to the heyday of this mystifying work of art was out-of-this-world. I learnt that Antoni Gaudi never had a firm construction plan for this project. The Casa Batlló made its way into the genre of Art Nouveau, a design type that I would have no problem to be associated with. When I saw that house I wanted that fine piece of real estate! Boig!

Barcelona had shown me the Sagrada Família and Parc Güell, but was the Casa Batlló the best Gaudi orientated sight I saw during my Barcelona trip? I must admit that the Sagrada was amazing and that Parc Güell took me to new heights, but the Casa Batlló gave the opportunity to tread the boards of a former Barcelona stately home that was built in such a fashion I still can't believe how amazing it looked to me. I do wonder if a building of such stature and design would be able to be built today? From the artsy opening mechanism of the windows to the intricate tiles that reflect the different shades of light I was blown away by the surprises that this house showed me! Not bad for a house made of bones?! Barcelona got lucky with such a genius, so thank you Antoni Gaudí for your craft!

Antoni Gaudí, un veritable geni de Barcelona! 

Joseph Harrison