Hello wonderful readers!  I suppose you are all wondering why there has been such a large gap in time between Parts 1 and 2 of my Spain trip travelogue.  Instead of pretending like it’s not weird, I’ll go ahead and be honest.  Firstly, Kevin and I broke up in early June and he played a leading role in Part 2 so it’s been a little difficult to dig up those memories with the scabs still healing.  It hasn’t been an easy time for either of us but we unfortunately needed to part ways to follow our true callings.  Luckily, we are on great terms and are going to continue as friends which has made the situation the best it can be!  Secondly, it is also summer time and I’ve been devoting quite a few hours to binge drinking outside and working on my butt tan instead of sitting at my desk typing. Whooooops.

Anyway, enough with my excuses.  Here we go!

Journey to Ripoll (ree-poy-ee)

When I left off in Part 1 Kevin and I were just leaving “La Boca” – the bar near our Air Bnb.  After a good night’s sleep we decided that we were ready to make the journey to the castle!  But first we had to go to the dreaded Barcelona airport to retrieve Kevin’s bags.  Jaime, our gracious Air Bnb host, gave us a ride to the airport and then we planned to take a bus to the train station and take the train to Ripoll.  This experience was the first indicator that the Barcelona airport was a very evil place.  They had him running all around that damn airport looking for his bags – snotty comments and eye rolling included free of charge. The amount of time it took us to track down Kevin’s bag threw our delicate travel plan for a loop and it seemed we were going to miss the last train to Ripoll!

Panic ensued and we quickly abandoned the bus idea and instead opted for a speedier taxi to take us to the train station.  Tick tock tick tock – every stoplight was agonizing.  Finally, we made it to the station and it became clear that we had missed the train.  We were both hot, sweaty, and frustrated and kind of stomped off in different directions to have our separate temper tantrums.  We reconvened and made a new plan to head back to Jaime’s and beg him to let us stay another night.

Feeling defeated and exhausted, we descended the escalators toward the train that would take us back to Sant Feliu and as we waited on the platform I noticed a screen saying that a train to Ripoll was leaving in 3 minutes!  Could it be true?!  A Spanish miracle?!  I looked at my schedule again and silly me had failed to notice that the final listing was located in a separate column and there was indeed ONE MORE TRAIN!

We found the train that said Ripoll and boarded it still feeling incredulous that we were in fact on our way.  I even asked the lady in the seat next to ours if we were on the correct train.  She assured me it was and gave me a strange look.  But I didn’t mind because WE WERE GOING TO A CASTLEEEE!!!

 

 

Llaes Castle*

A few hours later, there we were in Ripoll.  A charming village nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains; Ripoll is as beautiful as it is old.  We arrived there around 10:00pm and had the good fortune of being easily identifiable as tourists with our large backpacks.  We attracted the attention of a concerned citizen who informed us that taxis don’t usually hang out at the train station and they need to be summoned.  Being the good Samaritan that he was, he aided us in a securing a ride from a taxi that was already picking another lady up and agreed to come back for us.  All parties involved were confused about where the castle was and why we were going there at such an hour.  With the help of my Spanish skills, Google maps, and a late call to the caretaker of the castle, Marc, we were on our way!

I can see why Driver wanted to phone Marc ahead of time.  They were speaking in rapid Catalan so I didn’t know what they were talking about.  Turns out, Driver wanted to make sure there wasn’t going to be any cross traffic during our precarious ascent up with the winding, dark mountain roads.  At one point we were careening back and forth over the snaky curves when Driver abruptly stopped the vehicle to show us a real live javelina (wild boar type animal)!  This was very exciting as he’d spent most of the ride detailing to me in Spanish all of the dangerous animals that occupy the mountains.  Either the javelina was very speedy or our driver was hallucinating because Kevin and I couldn’t see it at all.  Kevin smartly pretended that he saw it and forced an excited “Wow!” to satisfy Driver so that we could be on our way.

Llaes Castle
Llaes Castle is situated just outside of Ripoll and is the former fortress of Wilfred the Hairy built in the 10th century AD.  It has now been restored and renovated to accommodate larger groups on holiday.  It is seriously beautiful.

Llaes Castle*

 

We arrived at the castle around 11:00pm and everyone was waaaasteddddd.  After receiving a warm, slobbery welcome we joined in the fun!  Everyone kept telling me they were excited to see my reaction to the view from the castle in the morning light as it really wasn’t much to look at in the dark.

They were right.  When I woke up and peeked out the window of the living room we were assigned as our sleeping quarters (less than romantic but STILL IN A CASTLE) I was enraptured with the grandeur of the vista.  The landscape was painted with green, tree covered rolling hills as far as the eye could see.  The air was warm and dry with a breeze carrying the scent of the flowering wild mountain thyme that carpeted the area.  It was breathtaking.

Llaes Castle Dining Room*

Llaes Castle Bedroom*

Castle life was pretty fun.  There were around 20-22 people staying in a castle that slept 16 so quarters were a little cramped.  It was amazing how much beer, baguettes, and weird Spanish snacks we crammed in the 2 refrigerators they had on site.  We were there for about a week and every night was a party!  I drank so much delicious and inexpensive wine and cheap Spanish beer that I thought I would burst.

 

 

 

 

 

View from castle balcony*

At some point, the best man accidentally drained the water reserves of the castle while fiddling around with the electrical switchboard,  This did not win him any praise and greatly inconvenienced everyone who wanted to take a shower as well as the owner of the hostel down the road.  Why was there such an easily accessible single switch that drained 6,000 litres of water from the castle’s reserves you ask?  For cleaning.  The problem was fixed in short order by having the neighbors close their tanks to let the water build back up again.

Castle well Llaes Castle*

 

 

Hostal La Serra de Llaers
There was the cutest hostel ever at the bottom of the road that provided some welcome reprieve from castle life as a boozy field trip destination.  It was a damn adorable place.  It seemed to be older than time with its uneven whole log floors, indoor wood stoves, and historical artifacts dotting the walls.  A few of the wedding attendees were staying there and the owner, a most friendly and jovial man named Chavi, invited us to pop down for some drinks.  I don’t think he expected us to drink quite so much as we wound up depleting his entire beer stock and did a solid number on his liquor supply.  He liked it though and hung out with us and had a good time.  However, toward the end of our stay he was mobbed by guests who were attending an archery festival/competition and was less than thrilled about the water scarcity issue.  I think everything turned out alright.

Girona
Kevin and I didn’t rent a car, but other people did, so we did our best to weasel along on whatever field trips we could.  One of which was hosted by the wonderful Sisters Bracey who allowed us to accompany them to the fair city of Girona.  Girona was the site of an ancient Iberian settlement dating back to 79BC and is now a major modern Catalan city. Girona has a rich and interesting history and has been conquered and reconquered many times over.  It was also a major battle site during the Napoleonic era and is home to many historical sights and monuments.  Unfortunately, with travel time and other obligations we were only able to spend just over an hour there.  Kevin and I managed to squeeze quite a bit into that one little hour.  We ate overpriced Chinese food, kissed a lion’s butt (see image below), saw a mugger apprehended by citizen heroes, and even managed to stock up on more cheap, delicious wine before heading back to the castle.

River Onyar, Girona

Me kissing the Lioness butt.

Illegible plaque describing the significance of the Lioness butt

The Wedding
Finally it was time for the big day and the castle was a-bustlin’ with activity!  Flowers were being picked and arranged, decorations and food were arranged, and the grubby partiers slowly but surely donned their Sunday best. I was reluctantly drafted into the Womens’ Chorus and rapidly learned the song “Edelweiss” from the Sound of Music to be performed during the wedding.  I also happily accepted the duty of making a vegetarian paella for the wedding feast.  It was my first time making the traditionally seafood-filled Spanish dish but I gave it my best shot and received glowing reviews.  Perhaps I’ll give it another go and post the recipe on this here blog!

Castle Chapel, Llaes Castle*

The wedding was wonderful.  It took place in the chapel connected to the castle and was simple, elegant, and charming.  The bride and groom are good friends of Kevin’s and their union had been long awaited.  Love was in the air as our guitar serenaded rendition of Edelweiss echoed throughout the small chapel where not a dry eye was present.

Ben and Annie’s wedding in the castle chapel.

Ben and Annie’s beautiful wedding.

After the wedding we sat down to a feast of fire cooked paellas, fruit salads, potato salad, delicious bread, and copious amounts of wine.  The sun setting over the distant hills provided the perfect backdrop for our transition from classy to PARTY.  Our funny friend Chad appeared in his Ghostbusters costume and sparkling wine rained from the heavens.  A truly magical evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ripoll
The following morning I was wretchedly hungover but still managed to make the field trip to Ripoll.  I hadn’t spent much time in our neighboring village and had grown tired of hearing secondhand accounts about its coolness.  While we were there we visited the Monastary which was founded by our prolific friend, Wilfred the Hairy in 888 to help repopulate the area after conquering it.  It was awesome to inspect the catacombs and Romanesque sculpted portico.  It is also the burial place of Wilfred the Hairy and man other notable former leaders.  We never made it to the Cathedral, but had a good time exploring the town and visited the grocery store twice.

Ripoll Group Photo

 

Don and the old Ripoll train station

 

Ripoll

 

Regresar a Barcelona (tr. Return to Barcelona)
Rather than dealing with the train system again, Kevin and I opted to drive back to Barcelona in the fancy Mercedes van that our comrades had rented for the trip.  We had a fun slumber party at their Air Bnb after a rollicking good time hanging out on the beach, touring La Sagrada Familia, and storming the unsuspecting streets of Barcelona full of beers.

After our friends departed, Kevin and I had one more night to ourselves and were graciously welcomed back to Jaime and Latifa’s home.  I think they were beginning to wonder if we were ever going to leave… We spent the day checking out the Gracia neighborhood and took a cab to Montjuic which was ultra cool.  It is an old fort/castle/torture dungeon/lookout and is situated on a hill above the city with a beautiful view of Barcelona and its harbor.  It is accessible by funicular which we obviously rode and is surrounded by beautiful gardens and museums.  Montjuic played a major role in both the Catalan war and the Spanish Civil war and still had canons on display.  Also, Lluis Companys – President of the Generalitat of Catalonia- was assassinated there.

View from Montjuic funicular

 

View from Montjuic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canon at Montjuic

 

Kevin peers into torture door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Montjuic gardens and Kevin

 

The end of a full day of exploration was spent sitting on the boardwalk gazing at the Mediterranean.  We made our way home and woke up bright and early to catch our flights.  Jaime arranged a taxi to bring us to the airport early in the morning so we would have plenty of time to deal with the bimbos that run the stupid BCN airport.

 

The Barcelona Airport aka HELL (I’m really about to complain about the Barcelona airport right now so grab another beer and settle in)

We made it to the airport on time, parted ways and went to check in at our respective airlines.  Kevin finally caught a break in his bad luck and made it on his flight on the first try.  I had no such luck.

The first problem occurred while checking in.  Unbeknownst to me, some airports give passengers “pop quizzes” cleverly disguised as small talk while waiting to check in for flights.  They ask for your passport and then start asking “How long have you been in Spain?” “Where did you go?”  “How long did it take to get there?”  “How much did that ticket cost?”  “Which color metro train was closest to you?” “When was your laste bowel movement” etc.  You get the picture.  It was annoying and early in the morning and I assumed they were just being chatty to entertain me while I waited in their obnoxiously long line.  But no.  It was a quiz!  Apparently I failed (probably due to my reluctance to engage them in conversation at all…) and got a red sticker placed on the back of my passport.

The red sticker seemed pretty ominous, but only entailed a little extra searching of my carry on items.  It was annoying and invasive but I wasn’t alone; there were 10-15 other people who had also failed the test. After a brief snoop through my belongings I was sent on my way.

As luck would have it I didn’t make the flight.  I took it in stride as it is very common while flying standby to not make every flight.  So after the flight was boarded I approached the gate attendant and inquired about when my next flight was.  Usually after not making it on a flight they bump you to the next flight of the same destination which is usually in a few hours or sometimes the next day.  The gentleman at the desk said they didn’t do that there.  He also said that United didn’t have an office there and I would have to ask someone at the customer service kiosk what I should do.  I think I made him repeat it 3 times as I was very surprised at this turn of events… but I forged ahead, determined to get the heck out of Spain.

Despite being pretty airport savvy It took me about 30 minutes to figure out how to get out of the security gate area and back to arrivals.  Actually, I had to enlist the help of an employee who helped me use the staff elevator because there was no way to get out of the security gate area.  So bogus.  Next I found the customer service desk where the nicest employee in that whole damn airport was stationed and she confirms the gate attendant’s statement that there are no offices for United at the airport and that I needed to call United to transfer my ticket to the next flight.  I explained that I didn’t have a way to contact them and that I needed a real computer, not a smartphone, to manage my ticket online.  Only Nice Person tried to help by explaining that United has other airlines service their flights for them instead of actually helping their customers.  Gate Attendant had mentioned that there was a United flight from Barcelona to Munich to Newark (my intended destination) so Only Nice Person directed me to the Lufthansa desk to see if they could help me.  The Lufthansa lady was pissed that I was even asking her about this and she seemed to be the only person who understood my rage that there was no one there to help me and that I was being led on a wild goose chase through the hell that is the Barcelona Airport.  She tried to help but couldn’t access the ticket as she worked for a different company.  Go figure.

So I returned to the Only Nice Person who then directed me to the Ground Travel (or some dumb name like that) desk as she said they were the primary servicers of United flights.  Ground Travel Guy was also nonplussed that I was bothering him about this and as he couldn’t do anything and said that I should just call United.  I explained that I couldn’t call United as I had no phone service and would also need my brother to phone them as he is the airline employee and it was 3:00AM in CST and he was certainly asleep.  He suggested I try to adjust the ticket online which seemed like a nice idea, but requires an actual computer, not a smartphone (more on this later…).  Very Unhelpful Ground Travel Guy ended up directing me to a payphone about 10 feet behind me.

I don’t know what the problem is with those freaking payphones but I COULD NOT MAKE A SINGLE CALL.  The directions on the phone were in Spanish (which I can read) and were easy to understand and I tried calling United about 25 times.  Then I plopped down onto my bags and started crying.  I figured these tears would be a good opportunity to make Very Unhelpful Ground Travel Guy feel guilty for being a dick to me, and it worked.  He softened his tone and pretended to empathize with me but continued to maintain his unhelpful stance.

I brought my tears back over to Only Nice Person, who I think would’ve given me a hug had I asked, and she didn’t know what to do either.

All other options exhausted, I facetimed my mom.  Bless her heart she awoke groggily at 4:00AM and wound up purchasing me another ticket with the assumption this would be refunded because I already had a ticket.  Satisfied that I had secured a flight home, I left the airport and set about enjoying my last day in Barcelona.

I went back to Jaime’s (he and Latifa are seriously the best people ever) took a nap, freshened up and hit the streets looking for fun and excitement.  I tried to meet up with Seki (a friend I’d met in Mexico) but we unfortunately missed each other due to lack of phone/internet services.  I proceeded to take a tour of the bars in the Gracia neighborhood until I landed at Cafe Camelia, a delightful vegan cafe.

I had some dinner and quickly made friends with the server and her friends who had stopped in to visit her.  They were so fun and nice and welcomed me into their conversation about their personal lives.  It was so fun to feel like I was a part of their girl gang, gossiping and talking about boys.

I went to bed a little later than I intended, but woke up refreshed and ready to get the f*** home!

My farewell to Ellen the kitten, my namesake.

The Barcelona Airport – The Saga Continues

I decided to save some money and take public transportation, instead of a taxi, to the airport which proved to be harrowing at 7:00AM while everyone else was trying to get to work.  But I made it with plenty of time and after shaking off the slimy negative feelings of the prior day, I approached the check-in desk with poise and confidence.  I did my best not to shoot steely glares at the stupid, evil United “employees” that I was culturing a personal vendetta towards and instead focused my hatred on passing their ridiculous quiz.

WHICH I DID!

I nailed it.  I’d spent most of my train and bus rides thinking of the perfect answers to their persnickety little questions and got the pink, instead of the red, sticker placed on my passport.  Even though the flight was delayed for 4 hours the cards seemed to be stacked in my favor.

However, the clouds darkened when the person at the desk told me that they couldn’t find my ticket.  My confirmation number simply didn’t exist.  I readily explained that I had purchased TWO tickets for that particular flight and started forking over all available paperwork to help her find my damn ticket.  She maintained that the ticket didn’t exist.  Unadulterated frustration, sleep deprivation, and lack of caffeination took over and I burst into tears.  I hope her knowledge of English slang wasn’t too good because some rather unsavory verbiage began spilling from my trembling lips in her direction.  Between gasps I explained to her that A. This was some fucking bullshit and B. That it was completely insane that NO ONE COULD HELP ME WITH THIS TICKET and C. What the hell was I supposed to do?

The “employee” was caught off guard by my emotional outburst but did not display any sympathy toward me.  She coldly recommended that I locate the public computers and use one of them to fix my problem.

PUBLIC COMPUTERS?!?! Public Computers!!!!  Why had nobody told me about these yesterday as I was basically ramming my face into the cussing payphone the day prior?  Because they are evil.  Most of the humans at the Barcelona airport are very awful and have no idea where anything is or how things work around there.  This was evidenced by their lack of assistance in my attempt to find the fabled public computers.

I located Only Nice Person again and after looking at my blubbery face she asked me if I was alright (a first!) and gave me vague directions as to where I could find the computers.  Now that the floodgates had opened, I was having a very difficult time controlling my tears and I can only imagine how pathetic I looked pushing my luggage around with my sob-choked, cherry-red cry-face.

Airport Crybaby

I was having no luck locating these computers.  I found another information kiosk which, to my surprise, had another nice person there whom I had to return to about 3 times because her shitty directions weren’t getting me anywhere.  I finally found the business office where they said the computers lived and and asked the person manning that desk where the computers were.  He told me that there were no public computers and curtly dismissed all of my other pleas for help.

At this point I started looking around for Ashton Kutcher and the “Punk’d” camera crew because this shit was getting ridiculous.

I didn’t know what else to do so I went around to the patrons populating the business cafe and started begging them if I could use their computers.  To paint a proper picture, I will describe myself as a puffy-faced, crying, dreadlocked girl in a bright purple adidas t-shirt pushing my luggage around (probably with snot dribbling down my mouth) asking strangers in fancy suits with shiny shoes if I can use their laptops just as the “DO NOT LET ANYONE TAMPER WITH YOUR LUGGAGE” announcements were blaring over the loudspeaker.

Needless to say, no one was willing to let me use their computer.

I returned to the Second Nice Person at the dubiously named “information” kiosk who finally gave me proper directions to the computers (which I had been so near to when I was told they didn’t exist..).  I was really at the end of my rope and was about to start cussing out strangers.  Well, maybe I did a little bit.  I was attracting some curious stares with my ugly cry-face and began instructing passers-by to “take a f*&%ing picture” if they were going to continue gaping at me.

Finally I found the computers and paid 4 stinking Euro to use one to buy a THIRD TICKET.

With my confirmation number in hand I confidently strode up to the check-in desk, bypassing the passport quiz people because I had already passed their stupid test (and screw them anyway).  While the “employee” was processing my ticket, his manager came up behind him and took a look at my tear-stained face then looked down at my passport and without pause slapped a red sticker on it so that I would have to have my bags searched AGAIN. 

I hated that manager so much in that moment.  Like, I think I could’ve kicked her but I knew I couldn’t argue with her because she had the power to keep me trapped in that hellhole indefinitely so I begrudgingly kept my mouth shut.  I set about feeding myself some flavorless, overpriced pasta and avoiding the pushy, obnoxious people that seemed to make up the entire demographic of that airport.  I wandered around for what seemed like years and bought some socks in an attempt to use retail therapy to improve my mood.  Didn’t work.  The only thing that worked was chugging beers.  Drinking your lunch anyone?

I decided that since they refused to take me seriously that it was only right to show them the same courtesy by bringing my beer along to the extra security search.  I had already gone through it the day before so I knew the program.  I lushily assuaged the other security check victims that it was really “no big deal” and regaled them with my description of the quick and easy search ahead of them.  This seemed to relax the other victims and we all became fast friends.  I even offered a lady a sip of my beer which she politely denied.

THEN I MADE IT ON THE FLIGHT AND I WAS SO HAPPY AND AM STILL HAPPY THAT I WILL NEVER HAVE TO SEE THOSE PEOPLE AGAIN!

I spent the flight rejoicing that I was homeward bound while watching the entire first season of “Sex and the City,” and politely ignoring the aggressive caressing occurring between my seatmates.

BUT THEN I WAS HOME!

Back in the U.S.A.

My flight landed in Newark around 6pm and I was immediately relieved to see the United Airlines desk with a smiling, helpful looking human behind the counter.  She was as confused as I was about the Barcelona airport bullshit and patiently sorted everything out for me.  I was scheduled to depart at 6am which gave me a full 12 hours to enjoy all that the Newark airport had to offer.

Turns out that Facebook is actually good for something and that is when you make mention about sleeping on an airport floor and an old pal from middle school that happens to live in NYC reaches out and invites you over!

Cowabunga!

I slammed some espresso and set about navigating the trains from Newark to Manhattan.  It took about an hour and gave me my first taste of the NYC subway system which seemed surprisingly less advanced than the metros of foreign cities I’ve encountered.  It was cool though.  And smelly.  Butt finally I made it!  My dear friend Paul and I had a great time catching up.  He took me to a cool gay karaoke bar that served delicious Indian roll ups which I happily snarfed.

Around 1am I began my journey back to Newark.  I was very exhausted and struggling to stay awake during the train ride.  I was pinching myself, listening to rap metal, etc.  Hard work.  But I made it back to the airport in plenty of time and breezed through TSA (apparently 2am is a great time).  I found my gate and began settling in for a little snooze on the airport floor when I remembered the socks I’d purchased in the Barcelona airport.

My feet were so stinky and I was proudly patting myself on the back for buying new socks so that I could sleep in sweet smelling comfort.  However, to my great dismay, the evil demons at the ridiculously overpriced sock store had forgotten to remove the theft protection device from my socks.  So they were all stuck together in one of those magnetic, ink-spraying things.  Actually they still are to this day as I’ve lacked the gumption to remove it.  I silently cursed the Barcelona airport jerk-offs one last time as I shook my metaphorical fist at them for getting the last laugh.  Never again though.  I’m never going back there unless I have to.  Which is fine by me because the Madrid airport is significantly more beautiful and probably has better food.

Thank you for reading this obnoxiously long post about my trip to Spain.  I wish I had something to give you as a reward but you’ll have to settle for the personal satisfaction that you made it through the whole thing.

With one million love,
Your ardent blogger,
Ellen

 

 

*Photo credit tripadvisor.com.  They took way better photos of the castle than I did AND it’s like free advertising for them. Right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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