About JR Hammond

Hello everyone my name is JR Hammond and I am currently on an international exchange at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona Spain. I would have been entering my third year in the Rotman Commerce Program at the University of Toronto St. George campus but I decided to take advantage of this incredible opportunity to explore Europe. I will be living in Barcelona for the entire year and I will be posting and blogging about all the adventures that a student of my interests could have in this incredible city. I am a social and sporty person so my blogs will be vary from everything from volleyball, bars and parties, traveling, to as simple as which bakery sells the best bread! I hope you enjoy my adventures of the September 2012 to June 2013 school year!

Girona, Catalunya!

Well after a quick 1.5 hour trip on the Renfe Train from Passeig de Gracià in central Barcelona I ended up in the city of Girona where my best friend from residence, Maria, was going to show me around for the day! So I will begin with a bit of information about Girona.

There are around 97,000 people in Girona and the city is located 99km Northeast of Barcelona. The city has deep roots within the region of Catalunya and is an incredible getaway for the weekend, especially when you have a local showing you around! With a predominant Catalán culture seen everywhere through flags, language and flyers, this small river bound city is a breath of fresh air nestled on the frontier of the Pyrenees in comparison with the big metropolitan centre of Barcelona.

I was fortunate to have Maria meet me at the Girona Train Station where shortly after we enjoyed the most incredible Patata Bravas and some Bocadillos at one of her favourite restaurants “König”. Then we were off for a tour of the old city!

Lined with incredible cobble stoned streets along the River Onyar, many have pointed the city out to be comparable to Venice with its “Cases de L’Onyar”, these picturesque houses hanging over the river with an incredible view of the city and the snowy mountain tops in the background.

With the famous church of Sant Feliu, the incredible façades of the Girona Cathedral and the stunning Roman City Walls and Fortresses, Girona gave us incredible sights to see for the afternoon.

I was also fortunate to attend the local “Sant Narcis Fires i Festes” the patron saint festival of Girona. Maria and I walked through the incredibly beautiful Parc de la Devesa, a massive never ending “Narnia like” forest of incredibly tall deciduous trees. Within this forest, as the leaves were just beginning to change colour and fall, was the local fair with all the rides and kids attractions!

After seeing some kids running around in a Zorb Ball and thne testing their luck in the ‘rotating’ Sprite bottle, we headed out for a nice stroll on the Passeig de Muralla. Taking in the views of the city and the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees with the sun setting in the background. Then it was a local dish of Costanyas, some Kürtos and lastly some good Girona liquor before heading back to the train for the return to Barcelona!

What a great trip to an incredible city and a great day spent with a good friend!

Kefalonia, Greece!

Well this was probably one of the most fortunate experiences that I had in Bergamo. I flew with Ryanair late Thursday evening from Barcelona to Bergamo and I didn’t have my flight to Greece until the next morning, so it was a night layover in Italy. However I was contacted by Andrea, a local Italian from Bergamo, through my Couchsurfing profile and she asked if I was up for a tour around the city by her. I responded within seconds and told her that that would be incredible!
So I landed with my backpack full of swimsuits and tank tops into the chilly mountain city of Bergamo located 50km east of Milan. There, Andrea and her good friend Chantal met me at the airport and we began our Italian adventure! I couldn’t believe it but they were so excited to show me around their incredible city and practice their English at the same time! We drove first to ‘The Upper City’, the walled city perched high above the city. It was like walking into a medieval city. We parked the car and walked along the walls and just looked just upon the beautiful nigh lights and Bergamo. After a bit of touring around the cobble stone streets of Bergamo, the girls took me to their favorite local restaurant where they ordered me the tastiest local Bergamo dishes, that consisted of course….of Pasta!
My appetizer was called ‘Salumi misti con polenta’ which was a mix of incredible Bergamese meats and cheeses along with their local specialty of Polenta. Then after a tasty local red wine they ordered me the famous Bergamo pasta called ‘Casoncelli alla Bergamasca’. It was the best pasta dish I have ever eaten in my life. It was a ravioli, stuffed pasta type drizzled with a tasty olive oil and garlic sauce.
Then we headed around the streets again where Andrea and Chantal showed me the historical buildings of Bergamo and where we ended up having a tasty ‘Cioccolato and Cannela’ Gelato!
The night concluded with the girls dropping me off late that evening at my hostel where I slept for about 4 hours before jumping in a cab back to the airport bright and early the next morning!

 

Well it was a chilly departure from Bergamo bright and early Friday morning for the 1.5 hour flight to Argostoli International Airport on the Ionian Island of Kefalonia Greece. But what an incredible flight it was for scenery. We took off and broke through all the clouds surrounding Bergamo to see the sun shining on the snowy Italian Alps behind us. Then we followed the Italian coast southbound, flying right between the ‘Boot’ (Calabria) and ‘Heel’ (Apulia) of Italy! Then it was flying west of Albania, over the island of Corfu and landing at the ocean side airport of Argostoli. I spent a couple of hours touring around the capital of Argostoli and this small Ionian Island capital before having my first ‘Chicken Gyro’ and then jumping in the bus to Sami and then onwards to the literally 500 person fishing village of Agia Efimia where my couch surfer lived.

So this trip I was going to try couch surfing. For those of you who don’t know what it is, ‘Couch Surfing’ is simply a website where you create a profile on their website and when you are traveling, you can search up hosts in any city in the world who are willing to lend their couches to you for free. Normally the hosts also show you around the city and show you a bit of the local side of life as well.

So I did some research on the website and found this couple, Auba and Athena who have a profile filled with incredible reviews from couch surfers across the world. I decided to send them a request to see if I could stay with them. Auba responded back and told me thy everything was great and that they would be happy to host for my weekend in Kefalonia, however they told me that they lived in a small fishing village in Agia Efimia where I needed to meet them.

After landing in Argostoli I jumped on a bus that toured me up through the incredible mountains of Kefalonia and then to the town on the east side of the island called Sami. However, I stumbled out of the bus and was asking around for the transfer bus to take me to Agia Efimia. I was quite nervous because there is only one bus a day between Agia Efimia and Sami and I had less then 10 minutes to find it. Turns out the nice locals led me to a bus that was also acting as the local school bus! So not five minutes after I got on, we stopped at the local school and picked up all the local Greek School kids! It was great to hear them laugh and yell across the bus all in Greek!

Anyways, I got to Agia Efimia where the ocean side town was literally empty because all the tourists had left from their holidays. I toured around the village and went for an incredible swim in the clearest water I have ever seen in my life!

Auba met me later that day and he introduced me to Athena, instantly we hit it off really well as I found out that he is a Dive Master from Spain and he was living in Greece teaching scuba diving. Athena told me tons about the local life in Greece and attempted to teach me a bit of Greek which I struggled with for the whole weekend!

However, that evening I was fortunate to have been invited to one of there friends birthday parties in Argostoli. Jerry was having his birthday and we went out to a Pizzeria in the city center. However I quickly found out in Greek culture that for your birthday, you are the one that pays and it is considered rude for those who try to pay for you. So that was a bit of a culture shock at first, especially after a full dinner and some drinks as well! We then went out to a local bar in Argostoli and made our way home just before sunrise early that morning!

Sleep was not an option the next morning because we got up at 8:00am to go to the islands big festival, “Name Day” which is the Patron Saint day of Kefalonia. In the town of St. Gerasimus the church was where they hosted this big event. St. Gerasimus was the saint that cured the city of sickness way long ago. And every year they parade his remains around in a glass casket for the people to see. A very interesting cultural experience! Then in the church you could climb down into the tomb where he was buried which is suppose to give you lucky powers. I decided to go down to take a look and had the weirdest feeling ever, there was no oxygen and I was in a place where a person had been buried for two hundred years! Anyways we went to the Gypsy Market after and then it was back home for a nap!

That night was spend having Souvlaki and Pita with the best olives I have ever tasted! We then ended up at a local Greek bar in Sami and danced to Greek Music until way to late!

The last day was the best, we woke up and decided with all of Auba and Athena’s friends that I had gotten to know quite well, that we were going for a hike! So we made our sandwiches and drove up into the middle of the island where we were on top of the mountains! We hiked through the forests and olive groves for about forty minutes before coming out to the most pristine beach ever. Polished white stones with about 300m of beach, crystal clear water, and not a soul there whatsoever! After snorkelling and cliff diving for around 4 hours, the sunset had started and we returned back for a great last night out eating Gyros, Calamari and Feta with tons of Greek Salad at the local Greek Tavern!

Then it was a quick flight back to Barcelona and the memories of a great Greek Island Trip to Kefalonia!
 

 

Alghero, Italia!

Well this was the official start to the hopefully the many travels to come with Ryanair’s cheap discounts around the continent of Europe. We found this flight for 9.99€ each way and my buddy Stephen from California and I said that we had to take advantage of this opportunity!

So we ended up taking the 1.5 hour bus ride from Barcelona to the secondary airport used mainly by Ryanair in Girona, España. After that it was suppose to be a 1 hour 15 minute ride to Alghero however being the last flight of the night, I suppose the Ryanair staff were extra tired because we touched down in Alghero not 45 minutes later! So Ryanair experience number 1 was smooth and extremely efficient!

First sights of the beautiful Italian island were unfortunately during the night time, but we checked in at our Bed and Breakfast located right along Via Lido (Beach Street) facing west over the Mediterranean Sea. We had an incredible balcony to watch the sunsets and the beaches had white sand that was as fine as silt!

But it was an early rise the next morning to head off for some coffee and to see the Old Walled City of Alghero!

Little bit of history, the last colony to have control over Alghero before it was added to the Italian state system was actually Catalunya. So the history of the Aragón and Catalunyan empire still has its effects it the old city where the majority of the street names are in Italian and Catalan as well!

But this walled city was used by the Spanish, the Carthaginians, the Romans, and the Phonexians way back when in history. Now adays, it is the major tourist attraction that displays its stunning walls along the ocean, its incredible churches within the city, and of course…the best ITALIAN FOOD EVER!

So day one began at what became my favourite coffee spot. It was a small coffee spot along the wall where you sat drinking your coffee overlooking the ocean with not a hint of land for the eye to see. I found my new favourite coffee drink called the Macchiato which is literally a coffee cup that is lined with Nutella and then the coffee is poured in, so that when you take your spoon, you get a spoonfull of Nutella and Coffee at the same time!

Then it was touring around the churches, the theatres, the defence towers and the rest of the old city that made days 1 & 2 go by pretty quick! Quick food notes, Incredible type of De-Caf coffee made from a local Barley in Sardgena, Cafe D’Orzo…highly recommended to try just for the rich taste. Pizza Capricciosa, Amaro Liquore, Ichnusa (2012 is the centennial birthday of this local Sardegna Beer) Limoncino (Local favourite liquor which is similar to our Limoncello) and of course the incredible array of Pasta, Pizzas and Gelatos that you can eat all day long. I also tried for the first time an incredible plate of Swordfish, it was very tasty!

An extremely good place that we found was San Francesco’s Pizza. This small little Pizzeria we ate at everyday and the owner would make fresh Margarita Foccia Pizza every morning and cook it right in front of us when we arrived! The best tasting pizza in Alghero by far!

The last day we jumped on the tour bus and headed north along the incredible coast line to the cliffs leading down to the 65 million year old Grotto di Nettuno (Caves up Neptune) After descending 652 steps we ended up at these caves and took the tour, seeing incredible Stalagmites and Stalactites formed by dripping fresh water from above and depositing calcium carbonates to form incredible columns in this massive cave.

After the last evening spent having gelato and watching the sunset, we hopped on the Ryanair flight back home and were left craving just one more plate of pasta or pizza of Alghero!

The Crazy and Beautiful Island of Ibiza!

Well what an adventure this was! I registered for a five day trip to Ibiza with 200 other exchange students for a week of some of the craziest parties in Europe as well as some of the most prettiest beaches and sunsets in Europe.

The adventure began with a 9 hour boat ride on a massive 15 story cruise ship from Barcelona to Ibiza that left at 11:30PM and got in the next morning at around 8:00am. We met up at the Port of Barcelona where I met my new good friend Simone from Tuscany in Italy. He didn’t speak a word of English yet spoke a great mix of Spanish~Italian, so the entire week was not a word of English with him and the other Italians and full of Spanish speaking!

After sitting on the deck of the boat sharing a bottle of wine and watching the start from the middle of the Mediterranean we decided to put out sea legs to rest at about 4:00am and get ourselves ready for the crazy adventure that we were embarking on.

We arrived in the Port of Ibiza and saw the Dalt Vila which is the High City that overlooks the entire city of Ibiza. However, Ibiza is the name in Spanish, all the signs in the Balearic Islands are in Catalan, therefore we were officially in Eivissa! We took a bus to the North West side of the island to the city of Sant Antoni, there we took a nice needed nap before heading down to the beach!

Night #1 was crazy! The Spanish party very late and verrrry long! We met up with everyone form our group in one of our rooms at 11:00 for pre-drinks and some dinner, then at 2:30am we decided to leave for the biggest and best club in Ibiza, Amnesia! There was over 6,000 people there for the famous Foam Party that lasted until 8:00am the next morning! So it was  a short sleep before we were back on the beach again!

Then the next day we went to the Biggest Clubbing Area in Ibiza, Platges d’en Bossa, where all the beach clubs are located! It was Bora Bora for the sunset and then back home fore a Botellón with the boys!

The next day was old town Ibiza where we toured around the history High City and saw some incredible views of the city. But we then headed to the incredible beach of Cala Salada where the water was crystal clear and we were feeding the tropical Mediterranean fish with our toes!

After renting the smallest car I have ever seen in my life we toured around the entire island catching the best beaches and then ending up at Platges Compte for the island famous Sunset!

That night was at the massive Club Café Olé Space, where we were there until 9:00AM before returning back to the hotel to grab our bags and get on the boat back to Valencia and then Bus to Barcelona at 10:00am!

Little Sleep for the whole weekend but loads of fun!

Mercè 2012

This is Barcelona’s official time to celebrate! Mercè is literally a festival where the locals shut down the entire city and flood the streets for 24 hours straight for 5 days. Here is a little history about the Paton Saint Day of Barcelona.
Barcelona La Mercè lasts for around 5 days and is a festival held in honour of Mare de Deu de la Merce, the Patron Saint of Barcelona.

La Mercè is the annual festival of the city of Barcelona in CataloniaSpain. It has been an official city holiday since 1871, when the local government first organized a program of special activities to observe the Roman Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mercy, La Mare de Déu de la Mercè in Catalan. Although the actual feast day is September 24, the festivities begin a few days beforehand.Some of the most important features of the festival were introduced in the year 1902, when parades included papier maché “giants” known as gegants i capgrossos, the first Castell competition in the city, and a popular dance from Empordà that was becoming popular throughout Catalonia. The holiday has enjoyed immense local popularity ever since.

Allright so the Correfoc which a famous Spanish event is probably also one of the most dangerous things I have done in my life. Literally Spaniards dash down a packed street of 80,000 people with sparklers and shoot them at the crowd! We were advised to wear long sleeved clothing and protective head and eye wear! When in Barcelona, do as the Barcelonians do! What a cultural experience!

Here is a bit of history!

If you are going to experience the Correfoc it is highly advisable to take protective clothing because often powerful sparkler fireworks are sprayed into the crowds. People should bring hats, protective glasses and thick long sleeved tops that will protect you from the flying sparklers.

Carrefoc in Barcelona La Merce festival
The crowd receive a shower of sparkler flames at the Correfoc Barcelona La Merce festival

There is normally 2 types of Correfoc on the same evening. One of them is for the children and is a lot more tame than the “adult” Correfoc which happens later on in the evening

The Correfoc event takes place at dusk. Normally along and around Via Laietana. The road will be closed off and then opens to “The Devils”.

The Devils are special community groups that dress up like devils and parade the streets during certain festivals in Barcelona. La Merce Festival is one such festival. The devils run up the streets with bangers and hand held fireworks. Lots of bangs and fire is the order of the day. Fire breathing dragons (or at least sparkler-breathing dragons) also roam the streets with Devils skipping along with spiralling fireworks held in their hands.

THIS LINK SUMS UP EXACTLY WHAT IT WAS LIKE!
CORREFOC

Also every night is the famous Firework Shows. By far the best fireworks that I have ever seen in my life! 35 Minutes long and over 200,000 people watching them! All of the sudden on the last song, every Barcelonian lit up a sparkler while listening to the music! Seeing that many sparklers at once was incredible! Watch this link at least at the grand finale and watch what we were seeing in amazement!

Finale of Fireworks!
(This link is the grande finale after 35mins of fireworks! Note this is the Song of Barcelona that symbolizes the city!)

La Sagrada Familia!

This incredible Gaudi Building was lit up at night and played an amazing light show!
http://youtu.be/he5w0bnMmuI

Tossa de Mar Boat Cruise

Well this was my first adventure outside of Barcelona and it all began with my German friends Marie and Jennifer as we headed up north along the Mediterranean to the small village of Tossa de Mar. This is where we were going to tour around the small village for a while before we embarked on our first boat cruise around the Balearic Sea in the Mediterranean. The small village was absolutely incredible. Situated right on the sea this city was named the “Ciutat Vela” (Old City) for it’s massive fortifications on top of the hillside overlooking and protecting the city.

We then went for a four hour boat ride cruising up and down a small portion of Costa Brava. We reached one point just south of Tossa de Mar where we laid anchor in a deserted bay and threw out the water mattresses and floating trampoline to where all of us jumped in and enjoyed the warm water!

After a few more hours of cruising we returned to Tossa de Mar where we toured around and climbed up the ancient city’s fortifications. With absolutely stunning views looking north and south along the coast, we sat and took in some nice autumn sun rays before heading back to Barcelona that evening.

Font Màgica

This was actually one of the nightly spectacles that is shown in Barcelona on a Thursday to Sunday basis. Move over Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas because these “Magical Fountains” in Barcelona by far out do the most impressive water shows I have ever seen.
This show is a mix of music with a backlit liquid water life. Hot summer evenings are spent admiring this 15 minute show that mesmerizes countless onlookers. Situated right in front of the Palau Nacional (the National Palace), the performance in the water is seen at times like seeing fireworks or a mystical cauldron of fire!

Attached is a video that a Russian guy got when they were doing the light and water show to Disney Music… in Spanish! He got way better views then I did so I put his link up!

http://youtu.be/lboyx8pounY

Catalunya National Holiday

So this was by far one of the most interesting days that I got to spend in Barcelona. This was the Catalunya National Holiday which, on every September 11th, the nationalist Catalunyans march around the city claiming that Catalunya (the state which Barcelona is apart of) should separate from the rest of Spain. There were over 1.5 million people in the march this year which ran right past the main road by my residence. They have been trying for over 300 years to separate from Spain but have never succeeded. They still hold pride in there two official languages, Catalan and Spanish, but have still yet to achieve official independence. We then attended one of the concerts that night at el Arco de Trionfo, full of people and fireworks and great music!

Aussie and Torin’s Visit!

This time I was extremely fortunate to have two Canadian Buddies come and visit me. Austin and Torin from Okotoks made Barcelona their first stop in there journeys throughout Europe, Asia, and Australia. They boys got in on September 11th and they left on September 20th. We had 9 solid days where the Canadian boys tackled Barcelona! From Parties, to Bike Tours, to Beach Times, to the FC Barcelona Football game, we really managed to get around the city and have some fun!