Weekend Getaway to Lyon, France, Part III: Les Halles Paul Bocuse Market, the Zoo, and a Sad Goodbye!

It was our last day in Lyon, and there was still so much I wanted to see. Unfortunately our flight was at 4pm, so we didn’t have all that much time. The plan was originally to have brunch, go to the Paul Bocuse market, and then the famous park. We only got 2 of them done (it’s hard to wake girls up in the morning), but it was a nice last day regardless.

We started at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, a large market selling everything from vegetables to seafood and sweets. The name Paul Bocuse holds a lot of weight in Lyon, the man has famous restaurants spread throughout the city. It was nice to see all of the different foods on display, and it probably would’ve been really nice to join many of the other French locals in having some white wine and oysters (I guess it’s a thing there?). However, I would recommend doing this on a rainy or relaxed day… it was nice to see, but there were so many other things to see in Lyon that I couldn’t relax!

There was one pastry I had never seen before: a pink pecan pie / tart. I still don’t understand how it became pink! But they were everywhere, and obviously very popular (see below). I tried a little mini tart and it was pretty tasty, but a little strange.

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Pink Pecan Pie? Say that 3 times fast.

After we saw our fill of decadence, we walked over to the Parc de la Tête d’Or (about a 20 minute walk from the market). It is a huge and very popular park on the east bank of Lyon. There were lots of people out jogging on that sunny day. The best part about the park? There was a free zoo! It made the little kid come out in all of us.15812_10153120657498162_8630147041139882711_n 19308_10153120656758162_5799640758340145148_n 10348466_10153120658878162_4053829277779108486_n 10405476_10153120657938162_1620970285394514965_n 10407314_10153120663193162_2623381908335052734_n 10616010_10153120659698162_4547364937209668876_n

Also, there was a great photo op there… and we all know how important photos are!

After wandering around for awhile, we had to rush back to the hostel to pick up our things and then head for the airport. It was a little stressful because we cut it very close, but alas! Luck was on our side. We made it back home to sweet, sunny Barcelona… but I am still dying to go on my next trip!

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Valencia: Part I

One of the big advantages of having a host family is that, if they’re awesome like mine was, they will show you around. In the first month I was with my host family, they took me around the Barcelona Cathedral, Las Ramblas, Plaça de Catalunya, MareMagnum, Montjuic, etc. But the best thing by far that they showed me was the beautiful city of Valencia, the third biggest city in Spain.

The beautiful waterfront in front of my host family's flat.

The beautiful waterfront in front of my host family’s flat. That famous Valencia sun is intense!

2014-10-25 10.32.10Luckily for me, the host father has two teenaged daughters who live in Valencia with their mother. He would go to Valencia every other weekend to see them, but the rest of the family (including me!) went once a month to see them so that all of the sisters can spend time together. It is about a 3 hour car ride from Barcelona, which was exhausting, but so worth it!

I fell in love with Port Saplaya, Valencia! So picturesque.

I fell in love with Port Saplaya, Valencia! So picturesque.

After walking around Port Saplaya a bit (which was breath-taking in itself), we walked around the city of Valencia to explore. We hit the Mercat Central de Valencia which had some live music playing and local vendors selling everything from honey to scuba diving trips. After that, we just meandered the streets a bit and enjoyed the spectacular views that Valencia has to offer.2014-10-25 12.39.502014-10-25 12.41.48

The wetlands and rice fields at Albufera.

The wetlands and rice fields at Albufera.

Later on my first day, they took me to the Parque Natural de la Albufera de Valencia. It is a natural wetlands preserve where they have been growing rice for centuries.  Doesn’t sound all too interesting, right…? Wrong! They use this rice for PAELLA. Oh heavens, that paella…. If you didn’t know, Valencia is the birthplace of paella and the family (God bless them) took me here, to the actual birthplace of paella, to try the real deal.

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The taste was beyond description. True Valencian paella is made without seafood; instead, it has chicken, rabbit, and white beans. The flavors of the rice are so rich and delicious that I could have eaten that whole pan by myself. And the lemon itself just enhances all of those flavors to an unfathomable degree. And once you scoop out all of the paella onto the various plates, there is still the delicous crust that forms on the bottom that can make your eyes roll back in pleasure. I can never have enough paella.

Ajuntament de Valencia

Ajuntament de Valencia

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After lunch, we wandered around the city some more for some laid-back sight-seeing. I fell in love with Valencia. The people are very friendly and go out of their way to help you, everyone is dressed in nice colorful clothing, and there’s just something in the atmosphere that makes you happy.

El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía

El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía

The next day, they took me for a nice stroll at the Ciudad de Las Artes y Las Ciencias. Basically, it is a group of 4 huge and futuristic buildings dedicated to the Arts and Sciences designed by Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela. The buildings are surrounded by a beautiful park, and as we were walking through I couldn’t help but feel as though I had been transported 100 years into the future. It was such a marvellous feeling.

L'Hemisfèric

L’Hemisfèric

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L'Àgora

L’Àgora

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However, unfortunately the city of Valencia no longer has the funds to maintain these amazing structures, and the normal wear and tear is beginning to show without the proper maintenance. Also, these buildings (sadly) are relatively unused except for a few concerts and events. While an amazing attraction and a must-see, it is unfortunate that the proper planning did not go into this project.

2014-10-26 12.16.14As we were walking around the City of Arts and Sciences, we happened upon a stand selling Horchata. Now, back home in California, horchata is a delicious but very sweet drink made from rice and cinnamon. However, here in Spain, Horchata is a drink made from Tiger Nut or Chufa in Spanish. The Tiger Nut is found in Africa, then it is dried and goes through an extraction process to obtain the sweet liquid inside. It was pretty good… but I think mostly an acquired taste. I personally prefer good old Mexican horchata.

L'Umbracle

L’Umbracle

2014-10-26 12.46.32Finally, we ended our trip there by going through the gardens. This was during the fall, so I am sure in the Spring it is even prettier. The park surrounding this all is also amazing; it is huge! Trees, little rivers, plenty of grass and activities… I wish I had a park like this near me! I think I’d have a lot more motivation to go out running… Or so I’d like to think…!

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Baby Steps

Fountain at the Parc de la Ciutadella

Fountain at the Parc de la Ciutadella

I am really glad that my school decided to start me off slowly. Everyone else I know in the program started a full day on Monday, and I have been going off and exploring the town. I am excited to start school, of course… but I am also extremely excited to explore Barcelona!

Tuesday morning I agreed to meet with my tutor to be introduced to the classes briefly and be shown around the school. The school is such a maze! There are millions of flights of stairs going every which way; it will definitely take me some time to get used to it.  I guess the original buildings were houses that they converted into the school which gives it a very unique feel. My tutor took me to one class after another, telling the students who I am and that they cannot speak castellano or catalan to me, only English.  I waved awkwardly at them all, wondering how this year would go. I only have experience teaching high school students, but this year I will be working with students as young as 3 years old. Gulp. I don’t know what it is about small children that intimidates me… but I guess we will find out.

By the end of all of the introductions I was exhausted. I took a small nap when I got home and then decided to explore a little bit more of Barcelona since I had a few hours before I needed to meet with the family.  I looked up a few locations on Trip Advisor and decided on trying one of their “suggested iteneries.” There was one called Barcelona’s Secret Block that sounded intriguing so I tried mapping it out by metro and then headed off. Once I got to the location I did my best to find the buildings and specific areas that Trip Advisor pointed out but ended up walking around in circles. Without an internet connection (and very little patience) it was extremely difficult so I finally decided to just head off in a random direction and hope for the best.

I ended up at the Parc de la Ciutadella, which is a very large and beautiful park near the ocean in Barcelona.  I did not see much of it, but after a few minutes of wandering around aimlessly I came across this gorgeous fountain that took my breath away. Sometimes I guess it pays to just go with the flow. I decided to spend some time there and ordered a cappuccino and just sat there in front of it, taking in the fact that I am in Spain. That little fact seems to allude me daily… it is so surreal. But there it is. I am in a completely different country on my own, and everything I have experienced so far has been amazing. I feel so blessed.

I sat there for awhile taking it all in, sipping on my cappuccino, and also reading from the book “Eat, Pray, Love” (I thought it to be a smart choice in reading material considering the situation). After some time, I decided to walk around some more and see what else I would discover.

imageAnd then I found the Arc du Triomf. So beautiful and majestic, yet simple.  There was a gentleman blowing large bubbles, which seems to happen at all of the main monuments in Spain (I also saw something similar at Plaça de Catalunya). I don’t know why, but seeing it all… the trees, the street performers, the tourists, the beautiful palm trees, and of course the monument itself… it just transports me to a very happy place.

I found a small cafe nearby and decided to have a sangria and a sandwich while I continued to enjoy the monument.  Toward the end of my meal, I heard a loud peal of thunder… I haven’t heard thunder in years! But then I realized I forgot to bring an umbrella (the weather said it would rain but it had been sunny most of the day), so I finished up my meal and got onto the subway.

I exited at my station and felt the rain pouring down harder than I have felt in a long, long time. Everyone was hiding underneath the overhangs or staying in the station, but who knew how long the rain would last? I shrugged and decided to trek home, smiling as the rain drenched my clothes.  I arrived home dripping wet… If I was back home in America, this would have ruined my day. But something about doing this in Spain… no problem at all. I have noticed that I have this overall feeling of contentment ever since I have come here, and I hope that it doesn’t go away.