Making Memories for Mom’s Birthday: How to DIY Update your Grandmother’s Furniture

Mother’s Day came and went this year and I still didn’t know what to get my mom for her birthday. Her birthday is June 8th so I often know what I’m getting her by mid May and have combined Mother’s Day and birthday gifts together to get one big gift in the past. Then one day her gift fell into my lap (not literally, I did not give her trash that was just floating by in the wind), an aunt figure in my life messaged me to see if I was interested in a table that my grandmother had once given her. She told me that my grandma had given it to her to refinish, but she had never gotten around to it and was now downsizing. I immediately knew that I wanted to refinish it for my mom’s birthday!

Some people think that DIY-ing is really intimidating, but you get better with practice! I’ve refinished other pieces in the past so I was ready to jump right in after I found the time and the materials to get it all done. I also thought this would be a great opportunity to show readers how easy it is to create a thoughtful gift for a reasonable price.

Here is the before and after:

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This table was left pretty natural, so luckily for me there was very little sanding to do. I barely roughed up the surface and wiped it clean before applying the first coat of paint.

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Remember to wear your mask when sanding and spray painting!

If you’re working with a piece of furniture that has been painted or stained previously, you will need to do a lot more sanding (I have a hand sander that is very HANDY [pun intended])!

 

I had two options: I could spray paint or brush/roll the paint on. Since I was short on time (with working full time now), I opted for spray paint. I purchased Chalk Paint brand because it has a great reputation (spray and traditional forms) for covering furniture surfaces well so much so that the company often claims that heavy sanding isn’t required! My mom has recently started updating some guest rooms in her house so I already knew that a white accent table would work well with her designs.

Two coats of white spray paint later, I brought the table into the house for a special treatment. The table already had heart cut-outs on the legs so the old-fashioned Golden Girls vibe would live on no matter what updated paint colour I chose to use. I wanted to go with that 90s-Florida-theme and keep my Grandma’s memory alive within the table (weird? Who cares). Plus, my goal is almost always to make my parents tear up with each gift I get them (I’m not always successful, but I have fun trying). To make the table even more special I decided to decoupage the top with a collage of photos of my grandmother.

I’d had a large folder of photos of my grandmother on my laptop from when she had passed two years ago and we made photo boards for her celebration of life. I browsed my collection and chose my favourites, then I arranged them in a word document. I printed the photos in black and white at home on white cardstock (this is important because the heavier paper allows the decoupage to work without ruining your images). I sat and cut each photo out while watching Frasier and then rearranged them into a collage that I was happy with.

This next step is a good one: TAKE A PHOTO OF THE COLLAGE! I referenced this photo multiple times during the Mod Podge stage, like referring back to the box lid of a puzzle.

There are several varieties of Mod Podge finish you can buy, but I’m partial to matte (I also already had some in my craft box). I removed and placed the top layer of photos to the side while I began adhering photos that would be overlapped later. Mod Podging is really easy. You take a foam brush, dip it in the jar, paint it on the furniture surface directly under where you want your image and place the photo on top. You then paint another thin layer of Mod Podge on top of the photo you’ve just place down. After you refer back to your reference collage photo on your phone, you prepare to repeat these steps many times with the remaining photos. I sprayed a clear coat onto the rest of the table (avoiding the collage) and was happy that it was all starting to come together.

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Here’s the finished collage!

If I had Mod Podged a piece of fabric or wallpaper that was one large sheet, the table would still be level, but the layered collage made it so that the surface had become slightly uneven. This, and the desire to protect the photos, inspired me to get a small pane of glass cut for the table top.

Most local glass cutting businesses were open from 9-5pm which made things difficult with working during the day, but I managed to find an incredibly accommodating company in Ajax, Ontario called ALL Glass and Mirrors who not only cut a pane for me over the phone, but they cut it for me within fifteen minutes of me phoning and charged half the price of local competitors (SERIOUSLY RECOMMENDED)!

Photo 2017-06-07, 5 41 19 PMThe completed project cost me approximately $50.00 (2 cans of white spray paint, 1 can of clear coat, 1 cut and polished pane of glass).

We got together for my mom’s birthday dinner last night and I was so excited to give it to her! We went out for dinner and then when we were leaving I had her stand near our crossover with her eyes closed. I pulled the table out and set the glass on the top and told her to open her eyes. I explained that my aunt May had asked if I was interested in a table grandma had given her and that I refinished it for her. We looked, smiled, and laughed at some of the photos in the collage and she said “I’m going to cry.” She didn’t, but I’ll get another chance someday.

waterboy gif.gifI hope that this project inspires you to DIY your next gift and feel free to ask me any questions! Don’t forget that Pinterest has amazing links to tutorials and you can Google/Youtube just about everything these days! To quote The Waterboy… “You can do ittttt!”

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A Photo Essay: Walking in Oshawa’s Winter Wonderland

collage-1I present you with a brief photo essay:

We love living near the dog park, but we never appreciate it as much as we do after a fresh snowfall. The Oshawa Harmony Valley Dog Park looks surreally beautiful when the trees are dusted with powder and the fields are blanketed in white sheets. I asked Chris to bring his camera for our walk on what was a truly beautiful day.

Summit, our approximately two-year-old Saint Berdoodle, loves running around in the off-leash zones at the park. She’s the first non-black dog that I’ve ever owned and I still haven’t gotten used to having a dog that doesn’t appear to suffer from severe dandruff during snowy days. Her smiles are just as big as my past dog’s though, and I enjoy watching her bounce around in a deer-like manor.

Chris and I put on our big winter boots and almost over dressed as the temperature was surprisingly warm for a snowy day. We trudged along the paths and took a lesser known route by one of the streams. We carefully crossed the ankle-deep water by stepping on dscf9234snow covered rocks (luckily, we didn’t fall in [our mothers would have told us not to do it, but like most adults we make stupid decisions sometimes]). Summit bounded across the newly frozen ice and her back legs broke through a thin patch. She quickly made it to the ‘safety’ of the nearby ground after getting some ice-cold motivation!

Before walking to the open field where Summit likes to play, we stopped to take photos with her by our favourite bridge. The entire walk, including twenty minutes of playtime, lasted for forty minutes and I could feel tiny drops of sweat beneath my scarf. We came home with rosy cheeks, runny noses, and new winter memories.

 

Check out our photos here:

Remembrance Day in Canada: Intergenerational Storytelling

(Photo in the Header image provided by Sam’s great-uncle from WWII)

Tomorrow is November 11th and Remembrance Day is important, but many of us (young people especially, including myself) don’t truly understand and appreciate this day of memorialization. We learn a moderate amount from textbook stories in secondary school history classes, but how impactful are facts without personal connections?

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Two posters I drew and entered into a Remembrance Day contest when I was 11 years old.

I grew up looking at the faces of soldiers or concentration camp prisoners in captioned photographs and felt incredibly bad about what they went through. I cannot, however, imagine the emotions that these photos must evoke when those faces represent one’s friends and family – it’s this special link that I find fascinating.

The thing about history books is that they often generalize or focus purely on overall facts which can dehumanize the tragedy that is war.

This is why I wanted to reach out to my peers, to see if they could share stories that have been passed down to them, share their personal experiences with Remembrance Day, and to share something about their loved one that had nothing to do with the war. I ended up only needing to talk to two friends who had expressed interest because they both provided me with a surplus of material. They are wonderful young women and I thank them for providing all of the photos in this blog as well.

Two soldier’s lives are to be featured today: one who is still alive and one who died in combat overseas.


Poppies for Poppy

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John (in the middle) and his two brothers Walter and Nick.

My friend Sam is 22 years old and she is lucky enough to have learned a lot about her grandfather John (who she calls Poppy) from the man himself as he is still alive and well at age 89.

John joined the army at 16, he was quite a bit under the age requirement, but the war was coming to an end and the Canadian army needed more men. He was to join his three older brothers who were already fighting in WWII.

“He went to basic training, and, as he tells it, he had the time of his life,” Sam comments, “he absolutely loved it.” Apparently, John really enjoyed the training schedule, the camaraderie, and the physical activity. Sam states that “he often speaks about his time in the army as the best time of his life.”

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John’s army class.

By the time that John finished training, but before he was deployed, the war had ended. He was one of the lucky ones. His three brothers Nick, Donny, and Walter all made it back home to Canada with photos depicting the innocence and youth of their fellow soldiers overseas.

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A collection of photos from WWII that one of John’s brothers took while overseas.
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Sam’s family has kept these two historical documents from the time: Ration Cards and a Prayer Book.

John’s wife Isla, Sam’s Nana, also had three brothers who fought in the war. Unfortunately, Isla’s family wasn’t as lucky as John’s – two of the three brothers died in combat. Isla’s WWII memories differ from her husband’s quite a lot. “She lived in Scotland, and had a much harder time than my Canadian-born Poppy. When she’s speaking about that time, she most often talks about rationing – and we actually still have some of her rations cards that she saved.” Sam recalls that even today, her Nana “never puts more on her plate than what she will eat, and all of her grandchildren are frowned upon when we don’t finish.”

After the war, John and two of his brothers started a moving company that they sold while Sam’s dad was still in high school.

“I can’t say that I have ever really spoken to my Poppy directly about Remembrance Day,” Sam confesses, “though when I was younger my father took me over to grab a bunch of Poppy’s war photos for me to take to school. It is around this time where he most often speaks about how much fun he had during training.”

Sam’s take on November 11th is honest and similar to what I would guess many other millennials experience. “Remembrance Day is kind of just another day to me – it’s actually my boyfriend’s birthday so it’s not exactly a focus, as bad as that may sound. I participate in the moment of silence every year, and am completely aware of what it represents, but at the same time, it doesn’t ever have a lasting impact on me.”

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John last Easter at age 88, showing everyone how it’s done!

Fun fact about John: “My poppy love love loves hockey (and being active in general)! My youngest brother is the only one in my family who still plays competitively and not in a beer league. My Poppy often goes to his games. My Poppy himself played hockey until he was 80, and I actually had a supply teacher in high school recognize my last name because he knew my Poppy and uncle for that fact.”


Descendants at Dieppe

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Hanna (one of my bridesmaids) and I at my wedding.

Hanna and I have been best friends since we were 11 years old and she’ll be turning 26 this month! She broke our childhood pact to visit Europe together, but it was for a good reason – for a life-changing university history trip! Hanna’s relation to her great-great-uncle may sound distant, but her connection to him and her family’s history is admirably strong.

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Left: George Sr., Margaretta, and their children Rennie, Mac, and Jimmie. Photo take in 1927. Right: Jimmie Burnett’s picture in the paper “Those Lost at Dieppe.”

Jimmie Burnett was 19 when he was killed in combat, but he had enlisted when he was only 16. In order to do so, his dad helped him lie to the Canadian Military and said that his son was 18 years old. Private Jimmie Burnett’s tombstone at Dieppe, the Normandy beach town where he was killed, says that he was 21 when he died, but it is actually two years off.

“He was my grandfather’s uncle on my dad’s side, Papa was named after him (Jim) and was born in ’42 about a month before the family got any confirmation that he had been killed.” Jimmie Burnett was killed on August 19th, Hanna explains that “the allied forces tried to gain a stronghold and failed miserably in 1942 (trying to create a second front and alleviate the eastern front where Russia was struggling to hold off Germany).”

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The original telegraph informing Jimmie’s family of his death and a sympathy  note from Buckingham Palace.

“I first started to learn about him when I got accepted into this History class in university that studied war and memory and particularly how we memorialize Canadian efforts in WWI and WWII. Papa had started doing some family research and when I got our assignments for the class, which included a soldier biography, I hit the ground running. We got hold of his military records and chatted with his youngest sister who was just a kid when he went to war, Margie.”

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Jimmie Burnett’s military records. Left: Letter written by George Sr. confirming his son’s falsified age. Right: A list of Jimmie’s personal effects.
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One of Hanna’s photos from her trip.

On the aforementioned European university history trip, Hanna was able to discuss the battle of Dieppe with her classmates while standing on the same beach where her great-great-uncle had been killed. At this point, she was knee deep in research and very connected to Jimmie. “I just remember bawling my eyes out when one of our profs asked ‘how do you feel being here?’ Dieppe was a huge loss of life – I think the casualty rate was like 95% – and I couldn’t believe that the allies had chosen such an easily defensible place to attack the Germans.”

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Hanna was also able to visit Jimmie Burnett’s grave site the next day. Luckily, her peers were very supportive. The combination of a number of emotional moments on her trip contributed to her feeling closer to her family than ever before. Hanna admits that she felt a stronger connection to our collective history and had never felt more patriotic than she had during that time of her life. She discloses that she felt especially “patriotic because the war ended a terrible evil in the world and was fought with purpose. Jimmie, like his brother, his sisters, and mother were a part of that.”

The pride that Hanna has in her family history coexists with her general heartache over her family’s loss. “I was so proud but also endlessly sad – my brother was 19 at the time. Could I imagine him going to war?”

When I asked Hanna about how she felt about Remembrance Day before and after her research, she told me that her family had already taught her that “it was a day worth really respecting.”

“You wear the poppy and you’re told as a kid that Canada has this really great reputation as a peacekeeping nation and between that and a number of wars, many people have given their lives in service of our country. But to form that connection and to become a part of someone’s military story, that changed me. I think about Jimmie and his sacrifice every day, but particularly around Remembrance Day and August 19. I have had it memorialized on myself with a tattoo so that I never forget not only his sacrifice, but also just him. Jimmie the 16-year-old kid who protected his family and loved his siblings and was this unique person. My Papa never got to meet his uncle but feels this huge connection to that lost part of his life. I now feel the same and on Remembrance Day get to share that sense of loss, respect, admiration and support with others all across the country.”

Fun Fact about Jimmie Burnett: Hanna discovered some personal anecdotes when talking with Jimmie’s sister Margie. “We found out some amazing stuff – like how he was this devilishly charming guy with a reputation for the ladies, even as a 16-year-old and he went AWOL a whole bunch of times during basic training because he kept sneaking off to hook up with chicks.”

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Jimmie Burnett (on the right) and his two high school friends who tragically all died in combat at Dieppe.

I believe that oral story-telling and passing down personal documents is the most important part of historical education. We all get the overview of what our nation tells us happened in textbooks, but it’s the individual experiences that will further the appreciation of Remembrance Day for younger generations.

Do you have connections to anyone who has felt the harsh reality of military pursuits past and present? Let me know in the comment section, everyone’s story is important – no matter how great or how small.

The Gift to Thrift: $8507 Wedding Budget Breakdown

(Scroll to the end to see screenshot of my Wedding Wire Budget)

I first started this blog by briefly introducing the internet to my August 2016 wedding. As I said then, my fiancé and I are really proud of how much money we saved by doing the whole thing for $8507.00. Today I thought that I’d breakdown the budget for you and give you some helpful tips when planning your own wedding for under $10,000.

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Tip #1: Before you start, buy a ‘coupon holder’ from the dollar store.
I used this to organize all of my receipts and the companies’ business cards – it was extremely helpful.

Our wedding was in Brooklin, Ontario Canada. We looked for venues within the Durham Region that weren’t typical wedding venues so that they wouldn’t come with that dreaded wedding price tag. Since our wedding was to host approximately 75 guests, smaller venues were an option and we actually found quite a few that were less than the one we ended up with. We just fell in love with the community centre’s modern architecture and windows.

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Our venue was the Brooklin Community Centre and Library, multi-purpose room.

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Tip #2: Sign up on Wedding Wire’s website.
I actually accidentally got started on the American version of the website rather than the Canadian one, but it worked out fine. Either site is recommended because of how helpful they are. Wedding Wire hosts multiple online services in one place. I personally used the budget tracker, personal wedding website, RSVP counter, and vendor reviews.


Three Highest Costs

The main chunks of our wedding budget went to catering, venue rental, and alcohol.

  • Catering = $3,393.68      
  • Venue Rental + Insurance = $1,215.57    
  • Alcohol = $890.00 (after returns)

Our catering price was actually approximately $2000.00 above what we had initially planned for. Chris and I are pretty laid back and had actually wanted to hire a local pulled pork place and use fancy looking paper plates. Due to ‘objections’ to our super casual dinner plans from both sides of our families we reluctantly upped the budget to get a caterer with better quality serving ware. This is one of the only things that we budged on to please our parents. What I’m saying is, if you’re up for a really casual dinner, you can get yours for about $2000.00 – just do your homework locally!

Our venue rental went through the city of Whitby’s permit coordinating services which was made more difficult by employees switching positions halfway through planning (the first woman was a joy to deal with and the second was not). They provided the tables and chairs without any added price which was great too, our caterer had linens.

We probably bought close to $2000.00 worth of alcohol for the wedding. Chris wanted to be overprepared and if you get help from an LCBO employee that has worked with a bride and groom in the past, they will help you buy the right amount and right size of bottles to help make returns a lot easier. We were very happy that people drank quite a bit, and we didn’t run out of anything. Our bar tender (from the caterer) worked hard that night, yet we still brought back half of what we bought!

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Tip #3: Feel lucky.
Yes, I won my wedding gown, BUT (and this is a big but) someone was going to win and it could be you. The wedding dress doesn’t have to be a big price listed on your wedding budget. You should go to every boring/tiring bridal show you can to enter their contests. Even if you don’t win your gown, there are a ton of other options to save money here. With accessories and alterations, my ‘free’ gown cost me just under $500.00 which was my dress budget before winning anyway.

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I had planned on wearing a gorgeous gown (colourful or not) from an expensive dress store like Melanie Lynn, Laura, BCBG, or The Bay. Do we really need to wear white on our wedding day? I think not. I would have had just as much fun in a bright emerald green dress.

I had also considered buying a used wedding gown – I’ll be selling my own once I get it dry-cleaned. Women only wear these things for one day! ONE DAY – that’s nothing! I wear vintage clothes from the 1960s that have been worn many more times than these gowns that need new homes. Adopt don’t shop applies to both dogs and dresses!


Biggest Cost Savers

Four of our biggest cost savers were using grocery store flowers, not hiring a DJ, having a friend do the photography, and having nimble fingers for DIY projects.

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Have you heard of the cost of flowers for a wedding? Too much to spend on things that cannot be reused. I pre-ordered the flowers that I wanted for my wedding from Sobeys to be ready to be picked up on the morning of the wedding. Our flowers cost $158.28 – total, for centrepieces, bridesmaid bouquets, and one bridal bouquet. We arranged them ourselves and the guys really didn’t care about having boutonnieres. It’s all about considering what is actually important to you.

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One of my favourite photos from the wedding: Chris and I after the ceremony, walking out to Beat Your Heart Out by The Distillers.

We asked one of our best friends to help us coordinate the music that I had carefully downloaded for the night. We used our iPad to have a dinner music playlist, a dance playlist, and separate areas for important cued songs including those used during the ceremony, first dance, father-daughter/mother-son dances, etc. My only suggestion here is that you use a computer with iTunes instead of the iPad. The tablet device didn’t provide the option to fade into songs which as a perfectionist bothered me. Our closest friends and family enjoyed themselves and danced a bunch! My step-mom was actually impressed enough to ask me to provide the music for her parent’s 50th anniversary this past October.

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This is a personal favourite of mine

When we started looking for photography I wanted to ask people that I knew first. Amazingly, after asking my friend Caitlin Currie how much she would charge, she offered her services to me for free out of kindness and friendship. She did us a massive favour and we love our photos, we wanted to give her at least a little something though so we gave her $200.00. What we love most about our photos is how candid some of them are or the way that they look real compared to how overly Photoshopped some wedding photos are these days. They are us and she did a wonderful job.

Things that I did myself/with the help of friends and family:

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  • Cut and assembled paper decorations (bunting and paper airplanes on yarn)
  • Made our cake topper (Dollar store dinos with crafty clothes)
  • Partially personalized bridesmaid gifts (hangers and embroidered makeup bags)
  • Invitations and Guest Coaster favours (Used an easy editing site called PicMonkey.com and then used my own designs when ordering them off of Vista Print’s website when they were half price)
  • Candy Bar bags (bought brown paper bags from the dollar store and stamped 100 of them with mom)
  • Grey table runners with iron on hems (Thank you Heather Luckhart for holding the scary iron)
  • My makeup

 

Tip #4: Thrift shops, thrift shops, and more thrift shops.
When I say this, I don’t only mean storefronts, but also wonderful resale apps like Kijiji and Varagesale. I bought so many of our decorations used and for half or less of their original price. Varagesale became a personal favourite of mine because of their glorious Holidays-Wedding category in which users consistently posted barely used decorations from their own weddings. Often times, you have a large gap between getting engaged and getting married, the key is to always be on the lookout for deals and to convince your fiancé that a wedding item storage room is necessary (half of our office was dedicated to this).

So with a ton of hard work on not only my part, but the efforts put forth by my friends and family, we were able to keep our wedding under $10,000! We loved our special day without spending the price of a house down payment and are happier for it!

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Last bunch of Tips:
#5: Don’t have one set image of how your wedding should be.

#6: Things don’t have to match to work – we used an assortment of different sized glass vases for flowers.

#7: Pinterest and budget blogs are your best friend for DIY ideas, have confidence in yourself.

#8: What matters is that you enjoy your wedding, stop trying to impress people by going big.

#9: Let parental figures have the occasional win, but this is your wedding, they already had theirs and I bet they wanted it their way too.

#10: Have fun. Things will never be perfect, that doesn’t exist. Your attitude is really important in creating one of the happiest days of your life.

 


Finally, here is a screenshot of my Wedding Wire Budget page:

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Honeymoon Part 9 – (Barcelona) Wednesday, August 24, 2016 – Day 8 + Day 9 flight home:

This is the ninth entry in a series of posts featuring our Barcelona Honeymoon Adventure!


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Our last full day in Barcelona was a quiet one. We spent time in the apartment all morning and went out for lunch. Chris and I went to Placa de Reial and realized that we hadn’t gone down one of the attached side streets, which was odd since we had been down all the others.

This took us in a new direction and we found a really nice restaurant called La Castanya. The owners seemed passionate and the food was presented beautifully. Portions were smaller, but the quality of the food made such a big impact that it really did make up for quantity. We loved our lunch and decided it would be our fancy meal of the day instead of our dinner and that we’d get sandwiches from Conesa’s and watch Game of Thrones for the night.

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Photo by Chris Bowman.

After lunch we wandered the streets looking for the store that I’d bought a purse at on the third day so that I could get the name, but we were unsuccessful. We had officially been in Barcelona for over a week and had walked down small streets in our neighbourhood so many times that you’d think the store would be easy for us to find – but it wasn’t.

There are so many side streets there, the places look familiar and we were definitely able to say that we had been to many of the streets before. The issue is that a lot of the streets look very similar in style: they wind beautifully; tower above us with balconies, window railings, clotheslines, and shingled rooftops; they are littered with graffitied doors next to elegant entryways; and many connect to open squares surrounded by eateries. Each street has its own beauty, but they do get a bit confusing when you are actually looking for something you “stumbled upon” just one week earlier.

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Photo by Chris Bowman.

 

We had small servings of gelato, wandered a bit more and went to our apartment. I read Pride and Prejudice while Chris napped. We then had the quiet night that we had planned for consisting of sandwiches and Game of Thrones. Not only was I excited to get home to Canada, but my friend Caitlin Currie had sent me a selection of sneak peak photos from our wedding that I loved. I slept a total of three hours that night.

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Instagram post of our sneak peak wedding photos by Caitlin Currie.

(Barcelona) Thursday August 25, 2016 – Day 9:

               We woke at 6:45am and got ready faster than Chris had thought we would. We waited until 8:00am to descend the steep four fight staircase one last time and got a cab on Las Ramblas. Our cab driver was a really nice guy, he told us how popular Arcade Fire (an amazing Canadian band) is in Barcelona and that tickets were sold out when he tried to get them the last time they were here.

Although the flight was longer because of the time difference, it went by the slightest bit faster than it did on the way there. I slept for a half hour, but aside from that Chris and I watched Weekend at Bernie’s, The ‘F’ Word (released as What If in most countries), we read, we played chess, and we eventually arrived in Toronto. We were home.

After hours of customs lines and a long cab ride… we were home.

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Daq wearing her new Catalonia bandana from us.

Honeymoon Part 7 – Monday, August 22, 2016 – Day 6:

This is the seventh entry in a series of posts featuring our Barcelona Honeymoon Adventure!


14489 Steps:

We woke up a little earlier than usual, but still slept in compared to our normal routine in Canada. I had been awake for an hour or so earlier in the morning after having nightmares about Daq’s health, I felt a bit better when I saw that my mom had posted cheery pictures of her and Daq at a dog park from the previous day.

 

We took the subway to Glorias and walked the very short distance to a massive flea market called Encants Vells or Mercat de Bellcaire. It’s a great place to outfit your apartment or get fabric for making your own clothes as a local. As English speaking Canadians, the market vendors very obviously tried to charge us high prices. I also found that the items that would be able to fit into our suitcase were either mass produced or a collection of overpriced vintage knick knacks.

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Mirrored ceiling covering the multiple level Mercat de Bellcaire, photo by Chris Bowman.

I would like to emphasize the power of walking away at the first price. It is very common to be overcharged at these places even if they don’t think you’re a tourist and if you ask for a price, say no thank you, and start walking away – the price will drop almost every time.

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Arc de Triomf, photo by Chris Bowman.

After walking around, we took the subway to Arc de Triomf. Chris claims that the French version is much larger, but this being my first Arc, I thought it quite tall and quite beautiful. I suggest going to this area if you love parks. Around the Arc is a long stretch of plaza lined with palm trees and benches. We ate our lunch here in the shade. We saw a nearby park and decided to take a walk, some museums are in there as well, but didn’t seem to be open on a Monday. We realized we were closer to our apartment than we thought and walked the rest of the way, finding some interesting shops to look as we went.

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Arc de Triomf, photo by Chris Bowman.

We relaxed and drank wine at the apartment. We dressed fancy for a dinner date at a place that we’d heard of called Tapeo, but when Chris looked up their location we discovered that neither of us had checked to see if it was open, and apparently they are closed Mondays.

This leads me to a helpful hint for Barcelona travelers: constantly research where you’re going. We learnt that many stores, restaurants, and most museums are closed on Mondays here. We didn’t want to change and decided to wander our neighbourhood to look for an intimate restaurant.

There are a large number of restaurants in Barcelona, but most weren’t as fancy or romantic as what we had wanted for our date night. We finally stopped at a less than authentic, yet upscale eatery attached to a posh boutique hotel. The restaurant was called Le Bouchon, it was decorated nicely, had delicious tapas, and moderately higher price tags, but we didn’t stay too long as most things were not guaranteed to be free of cross-contaminated gluten.

With some food in our stomachs we continued to wander in hopes that we would find another romantic tapas place that was also, as Chris said and I agreed, “not too big and not too full of people.” We gave up, with many places being closed on Mondays, we retreated to a random casual tapas bar, much too overdressed and tired. We ate a bit more and headed back to the apartment as we needed to wake up for 7:00am to get in line for Picasso!

Photos from our walk back to the apartment:

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Neat building that we passed on our walk to our apartment, photo by Chris Bowman.
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Photo by Chris Bowman.

 

Honeymoon Part 6 – (Barcelona) Sunday, August 21, 2016 – Day 5:

This is the sixth entry in a series of posts featuring our Barcelona Honeymoon Adventure!


12530 steps:

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Read their policies on the bottom right! Photo by Chris Bowman.

We woke up late today not feeling 100%, but still planning on having tons of fun in Barcelona. The fun night we had was definitely worth it, but we were paying for it now (haha).

 

We got ready and walked to a café that we’d read about online. Chris, being a major coffee buff, was dying to try the place out. It was a quick walk from where we were staying and was very cool inside (not temperature wise, they didn’t have air conditioning). The place is called Satan’s Coffee. Our barista had a very awesome anatomical heart tattoo on her right forearm that had splashes of colour, she was also very nice. Chris enjoyed his coffee, I enjoyed two bottles of water, and then we were off.

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Satan’s Coffee, photo by Chris Bowman.

We walked to the subway, took two quick rail lines (green and red), and walked a little more than a block to get to a brunch place that we’d researched that provided gluten free options called Copasetic. The service wasn’t amazing, but the décor and the taste was to die for. I had a Benedict, Chris had fried eggs, beans, and veggies – both tasted incredible and we were very full when we finished.

Our plan was to head back to the apartment and go to the Picasso Museum. Every Sunday after 3:00pm this museum is free which is why we waited until today to go. I was so excited! We walked the 15-20 minute walk from our apartment and then we saw the line.

It was a line to conquer all other lines that have come before it. We immediately knew we didn’t want to stand in it, but walked along the way to see just how long it went on for – it was insane. The line was longer than any that I’ve ever seen at Wonderland, but about as equal to lines to get into Toronto’s FanExpo. It would have been at least a three hour wait so we decided to go another day and that the entrance fee would be worth a shorter wait. The museum is closed Mondays, but back open on Tuesday so we designated this to be our new Picasso day.

When we got back to the apartment I was annoyed at myself for just how disappointed I was. I researched into other local museums and had hoped that we could visit the National Art Museum (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya)– it has the most gorgeous entrance and a rooftop viewpoint on top of all the beautiful pieces of art inside. BUT the nearest metro stop was a 22-minute walk from the building which seemed a little ridiculous. We were going to make Picasso happen, I just had to wait a little longer.

My bad mood needed a reset, I was hungover and disappointed which made me extremely grumpy. I did not want to be this way on our honeymoon so we had a nap (we’re big nappers).

When we woke up, I was feeling a lot better and we decided that today would be a much needed rest day. We planned to get fast food for dinner and watch “Game of Thrones” (GOT), Chris had been catching up and then we were to watch the latest season together. We walked to McDonalds at 7pm and got our food to go. We laid out our spread and set up an episode of GOT on the laptop. I thought to myself “This is awesome, what an amazing honeymoon” with zero sarcasm.

We had another –entirely different – perfect evening, this time being a lot more realistic and homey. We hung out in a very hot apartment eating fast food, and watching a binge worthy show. We researched for a gluten free gelato place nearby and walked to it. The place was called Gelaaati De Marco and was a 5-minute walk from us.

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The sun had gone down, there was a breeze blowing through the streets and we held hands as we casually strolled through Barceonla. I got one scoop of banana and another of dulce de lece, it was insanely delicious. Chris got banana, peach, and caramel, he loved his too. We sat in a square, sharing a one seater bench and admiring the dogs who passed by. Again, I thought to myself “perfect, this is perfect.”

When we finished the gelato we weren’t ready to head back quite yet so we took a longer walk through the streets and although we discovered some new ones, it was comforting to realize that I recognized the area more (I’m better than Chris for knowing where to go even though he won’t admit it).

We climbed the four flights of stairs for the fourth time that day and were completely content with ourselves. I took a shower, washed my face and we watched a comedy. “The Eric Andre Show” is one of Chris’ favourites that I used to strongly dislike, but now I somehow fully admit to loving, even when he grosses me out. We then found a John Mulaney (my favourite standup comedian) audio on Youtube and listened to it as we fell asleep. 

Possibly for the first time ever, I fell asleep before Chris. It was a beautiful day.

Honeymoon Part 5 – (Barcelona/Girona) Saturday, August 20, 2016 – Day 4:

This is the fifth entry in a series of posts featuring our Barcelona Honeymoon Adventure!


24605 steps:

We woke up early to start our train trek to Girona and rode the metro to Barcelona Sants railway station. We spoke with at least three different miserable employees who didn’t seem to care very much about helping us. We lucked into finding our train despite the lack of assistance we had been given with our mildly confusing train tickets.

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Exterior shot of the newer AVE RENFE train that we rode into Girona.

Our train was similar to those of Via Rail (Canadian) except that this train traveled a lot faster. Spain has a high-speed rail line, Alta Velocidad Española (AVE), which is run by RENFE – it made what was once an hour and a half train ride into merely 38 minutes. On the way to Girona, our train was shiny and new, but very hot inside. We took pictures of the train for our friend Ian who loves them.

Girona’s train station was gorgeous and obviously renovated within the last ten years. It was a lot less busy than the Barcelona station and the staff were much friendlier. Chris and I didn’t know where we were going, nor did we have a map of the city, but we assumed that the station must be moderately central and it turned out that the city had very helpful directional signs.

We walked into the city-centre and came across a set of old outdoor steps. We climbed them, and walked a few kilometers along what are known as “The Walls of Girona.” This upper path revealed a view of endless beauty in surreal cityscapes, but the walk itself looked as if it would never end. Chris and I went back down a set of stairs after some time and were still unable to see where it trailed off.

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At the top of the stairs before we walked the Walls of Girona, photo by Chris Bowman.
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I made Chris sit for a photo too, photo by Cassy Goulding.
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Chris with Girona houses in the distance, photo by Cassy Goulding.
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The Walls of Girona, photo by Chris Bowman.

My post-walk online research indicated that the history of the walls varies between websites. One site curator claimed that the walls were built “between the 11th and 15th century,” while another claimed that they were an “extension of the Roman walls during the medieval ages” and that they are remain as some “of the longest Carolingian walls in Europe (9th century).” 

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Beyond the walls, photo by Chris Bowman.
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Within the Walls of Girona, photo by Chris Bowman.
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Girona rooftops, photo by Chris Bowman.
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Photo by Chris Bowman.

The picturesque rooftops with mountainous backdrops were incredible – I highly recommend pushing yourself to walk along the walls so that you can see the combination of old and new architecture that exists in breathtaking Girona.

The centre of town contained many community squares and a multitude of expensive boutiques, but we excitedly happened upon a small vintage store amidst a collection of tourist shops. This unique establishment sold vintage books, antique knick knacks, and hilariously irrelevant postcards from the 1950s to today. The shop was called Portal Del Colleccionista and was run by a woman and her toddler – perfect store-keeps for the charming boutique.

For lunch, we searched for a supermarket and bought water, prosciutto, swiss cheese, a peach, and an apple. It was just right for us! We ate under a tree in a nearby square next to a statue of books. We then wandered the city streets and crossed many of Girona’s bridges, but the most beautiful and most famous bridge that we crossed was the Eifel Bridge, built by the Gustave Eifel before he built the Eifel Tower!

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View from the Eifel Bridge, photo by Chris Bowman.
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Eifel Bridge in the distance, photo by Chris Bowman.

Our day trip to Girona was a success and definitely worth the visit, but it was exhausting – some of the most walking we’d done on the trip so far. We headed back to Barcelona earlier than planned, wrote our postcards at the Girona train station while we waited for our train, and tried not to fall asleep as we zipped back across the country by train to the big city.

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The funny post cards we bought.

The intimidating stairwell to our apartment seemed even more challenging after Girona. Chris labeled the daily activity of climbing four flights of stairs as our “Thigh Thruster, Butt Buster, Calf Crusher.” We then drank some wine and listened to music in our apartment.

Spain’s time difference compared to Canada’s forced us to choose between enjoying our cultural environment or waking up in the middle of the night to watch the CBC live coverage of The Tragically Hip concert in Kingston, Ontario. We joked about how horrible it was that we were on our ‘stupid’ honeymoon in ‘stupid’ Spain instead of at home watching the Hip – heavy on the sarcasm here as we were completely aware of how lucky we were and found out Chris’ parents had PVR’d the concert on their TV so that we could watch it at a later date.

We went out for dinner to a Gluten Free Pizza place that we had read about called Messie Sin Gluten. Pizza is my favourite food and the restaurant did not disappoint! They had 26 kinds of gluten free beer for Chris and every pizza was gluten free so cross contamination wasn’t an issue. If you don’t suffer from Celiac disease, Messie also has another location that uses regular dough.

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Feminist street festival on the left and me faux-singing with a paper mache version of the alien opera singer from The Fifth Element on the right.

We were having a lovely time and were ready for an impromptu adventure. The street festival extended to Messie’s neighbourhood and we wanted to see the festival nightlife in action. While Chris and I wandered around the Gracia area we found a feminist street festival that also housed vendors of the revolutionary cause to liberate Catalonia from Spain. Fittingly (activism-wise) a Spanish punk band was sound checking on the stage which struck our curiosity.

Fun fact about my Christopher: he is a pilot who is an excellent photographer, drummer, and he loves punk music. He proposed to me in his favourite Clash t-shirt that has holes in both armpits (I’m trying to convince him to let me make it into a pillow).

The band didn’t start the actual show for another half hour so we wandered through an awesome space street and also found a craft beer shop called The Beer-Ket! We drank bourbon and danced to Los Tronchos with a crowd of friendly Spanish punks.

On our way to the metro, we glided along in marital/bourbon bliss and met a wonderful New Zealander to whom we gushed about our admiration of his country – telling him it is at the top of our travel list. He laughed at us for being so in love with his home country as he was always getting away from it in his travels.

Before going into the apartment we went into one last bar near our place called Nevermind. It was a 90s grunge themed bar, yet they tended to play a wider range of 90s music than that. We each had a drink, enjoyed each other’s company, the music videos, the graffitied/stickered walls, and then went back home to bed.

This was our party night, we are not very wild partiers, but we had a great time!

Chris took a lot of really great photos in Girona, here are more of them:

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Photo by Chris Bowman.
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Photo by Chris Bowman.
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Photo by Chris Bowman.
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Photo by Chris Bowman.

 

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Photo by Chris Bowman.

 

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Photo by Chris Bowman.

 

Honeymoon Part 4 – (Barcelona) Friday, August 19, 2016 – Day 3:

This is the fourth entry in a series of posts featuring our Barcelona Honeymoon Adventure!


13194 Steps:

Chris and I ended up sleeping in again today on our new later schedule. We decided that today was going to be a bit more relaxing since we are planning on doing a day trip to Girona tomorrow. I’m definitely the kind of person who appreciates a rest day.

We got ready and took the metro to the beach. We figured that we needed to be able to say that we went to the beach at least once on our trip and I got to go in the Mediterranean Sea which is a big deal for me! It was a very sunny day so we only tanned for a half hour or so before packing it in. We had read that the further down the beach you go the less touristy it becomes, but the area was still very packed. We got off the metro yellow line at the Ciutadella Villa Olympica stop and walked south-east to the shore line, I’d suggest trying to go even further down to see if it’s more isolated.

What I love about the beach in Barcelona is how many older women feel comfortable going topless and how many older men feel secure enough to wear Speedos. I had considered going topless for the experience, but the self-conscious Canadian in me held me back. Besides topless ladies and Speedo-‘covered’ men, I’d like to comment on the ratio of gorgeous women to men. There were so many beautiful young women in extremely sexy bikinis at the beach we went to, but only a handful of young men. I’ve seen you in the city guys, why do you not go to the beach? Heterosexual men and lesbians of Barcelona, go to the beach, your odds of meeting attractive women multiplies there by approximately 100x.

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Our favourite photo of the entire trip.

Chris and I aren’t big beach people, but we took a selfie with an oblivious sweet old man in the background (he was sweet because his significant other rested on the towel that they had brought and he stood by her side the whole time, without a towel of his own – he may have been enjoying the views I mentioned earlier though). This photo may actually be my favourite of the trip because of his oblivious photo-bombing. We got a little colour on our skin without getting burnt and headed back to the metro. We picked up some apples, prosciutto, and Havarti cheese slices at the store and had a super affordable lunch in the apartment. We drank some wine with it, had showers and tried to figure out our next plans on the laptop.

Before getting on the metro we went to McDonalds because they actually do some gluten free options in Barcelona! Chris had been missing the odd gross burger (I’m not a fan) and I got a much needed ice cream cone so it all worked out. We decided to check out some shopping as we like to believe that we are thrifty people who know when to tell each other to “treat yo’ self.”  THE shopping area in Barcelona turned out to be full of expensive designer stores that we wouldn’t want to spend excessive money on – it’s “treat yo’ self,” not “go broke for one pair of jeans.” I did however find a small shop tucked away on a side street called Melocoton that had excellent clothes and even better prices! We quickly realized that this was not the shopping district for us and returned to the apartment for the second time (MORE STAIRS).

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Our stairwell/vacation exercise equipment. Photo by Chris Bowman.

We wanted to find a gluten-free restaurant nearby so that we didn’t take the metro for the millionth time in one day. It was a fantastic idea. We found a sandwich place called Conesa, it was about a half hour wait in line, but the prices were amazing and so was the food. We ate our sandwiches on the steps of an old parliament building and took in the sights of the streets.

I cannot emphasize enough how amazing it is that there are so many small side streets that each have more beauty and history than most of the architecture that I’ve seen in North America in my whole life. Architecture alone –graffiti and all – makes Barcelona easily the most romantic place that I’ve ever been in. We stumbled across a store with good prices and cute purses so I got a new one to replace my Varage Sale find that is looking a little rough.

 

As we continued walking I was able to pet a handful of dogs, trying out the new phrase that I insisted on learning from the internet “puedo acairciar a tu perro” (can I pet your dog). We found a closed in square where we sat on the steps of a historic building and listened to live acoustic flamenco music being performed by a man on the patio of a restaurant. On our walk back to the apartment we also got to hear an older man singing a beautiful opera solo in the streets.

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We finally got back to the apartment and climbed the four flights of stairs for the third time in one day that had left me exhausted and ready for our early night before our journey to Girona tomorrow. Chris and I say with our feet up, sipping glasses of wine, and resting – wining while unwinding.

Rest day = not many photos, but the Girona day trip makes up for that! 

Honeymoon Part 3 – (Barcelona) Thursday, August 18, 2016 – Day 2:

This is the third entry in a series of posts featuring our Barcelona Honeymoon Adventure!


17554 Steps:

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Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, photo by Chris Bowman.

Life in general seemed to start later in Barcelona: people ate later, partied later, and the stores often opened later.

Chris and I took our time sleeping in and getting ready, we left the apartment around 11:00am. We hopped on the metro and switched lines to get to our first stop of the day. Chris and I wanted to be able to say that we at least saw the outside of the famous Guadi’s Sagrada Familia in person, but didn’t want to spend too much time there. I have always thought that this cathedral’s architectural style resembled that of an ant hill, but it’s more like a termite mound to be exact (See the photo of Chris standing next to one in Australia below). Fittingly, the surrounding area was covered in busy ant-like tourists filing in, out, and around the cathedral in groups. After we took our photographic proof of being there we quickly decided to explore the streets nearby to get away from the crowds.

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A picture of Chris next to a termite mound in Australia a few years ago. Doesn’t it look a lot like the cathedral?!

Chris remembered that our apartment host Marc had mentioned that a street festival was happening near where we wound up. We took the metro, switched lines once again and made our way to Chris’ general idea of where Marc had previously pointed to on the map. After 15-20 minutes of walking in one direction, Chris realized that it was actually about that same distance in the opposite direction of the metro station! Chris also being my incredibly handsome ever-pregnant wife when it comes to peeing, needed to find a bathroom and we were interested in finding some coffee. As we headed down the same street that we had just walked up, we found a beautiful café with dark interior and an owner who didn’t speak any English. The café was called Aloe, Chris had an espresso, peed to his hearts content, and the owner kindly offered to take a photo of us in his shop.

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California Dreams street festival, photo by Chris Bowman.

We continued down the street and were delighted to have found the festival. At first I thought that it was an entire festival dedicated to Jules Verne, which would have been cool on it’s own, but it turned out to be even better. Different streets had collected materials to upcycle all year long for the theme of their choosing. The first one we entered was Jules Verne themed, but others included: under the sea, Game of Thrones, roller disco, California dreams, feminism, and they also had a ton of stages where we presumed live music was showcased at night. Chris bought a gluten free beer and I got some Sangria as we walked the streets and explored some local stores.

I bought a shirt of a Bull Terrier tattooing spots onto a Dalmatian that I was very pleased with (see below).

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As we wandered the streets, we saw a little storefront called Aeroteca. Floor to ceiling, the shop was filled with plane-related knickknacks, hobby sets, décor items, educational materials, and more. The two guys in the shop were big plane enthusiasts (clearly) who had a multitude of plane simulators for people to train with. I loved that they treated Chris like a bit of a celebrity for flying a DC-3 plane from WWII (the company he works for does mineral exploration and has fitted a large machine in the back that engineers run to measure levels in the ground below). Chris and the storekeepers talked plane jargon for a good 15 minutes and they gave us a detailed tour of their place, it was adorable so I made them take a picture together.

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Chris with the two nice guys from Aeroteca. (Doesn’t the guy on the left look a little like Jay Baruchel?)

After searching for a gluten-free restaurant for a while, we found a little Italian place with excellent food called Piras Braseria. On the metro home I got to pet a little Beagle/Jack Russell Terrier who was behaving so well on the train! We had walked quite a bit that morning and made our way up the four flights of stairs to have a much needed hour nap.

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Chris and I on the Terraza 360.

Chris and I decided to eat dinner later to immerse ourselves culturally so we left the apartment for 8:00pm and had drinks on a very cool terrace with views of the whole city – it was called Hotel Barcelo Raval: Terraza 360. It was very modern and swanky with small hot tubs on two sides of the circular patio and those large standing binoculars that you always see in movies about travelling to New York that allow people to take a closer look at the cityscape. This is definitely one of the best places to take in the rooftop views.We saw a cathedral at the top of a hill that was lit up with what looked like a purple spotlight. Storm clouds surrounded the cathedral and contributed greatly to the distant building looking like a villainous castle from a Disney cartoon. Apparently the cathedral is called Tibadabo.

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My drawing of Chris in Palosanto.

We found the BEST place to eat tapas (my concluded opinion after our whole trip) near Hotel Barcelo Raval called Palosanto. It was wonderful because they had sketchbooks and crayons at the tables for patrons to draw in and they will sometimes put the drawings on the wall. I’m hoping that mine will go up so that I can say that I have art in a restaurant in Barcelona – not sure how I would ever find out though, someone let me know if you visit and see this drawing! The food was insanely good, Chris and I each had two glasses of wine and were feeling a delightful buzz.

We walked back toward our place, but were feeling great so we stopped at another small bar and had patio bourbons. I met three more dogs personally on the way home (a bonus in my books), one who was adorably spoiled and eating at the table with her owner!

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Spoiled Spanish dog who is happy to be photographed by the paparazzi.

So far, we love that there are so many small streets that lead us to constantly discover new squares and romantic places no matter how well we think that we know the neighbourhood. We researched and planned our next two days when we got back. I then laid in bed and thought about what a truly fantastic day it had been.

Collection of other photos from day 2:

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Sagrada Familia view from further streets, photo by Chris Bowman.
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Photo by Chris Bowman.
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Photo by Chris Bowman.
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Me being attacked by a garage squid in the Under the Sea street festival.
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Close up of the paper mache surfers above us at the California Dreams street festival, photo by Chris Bowman.
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The Game of Thrones throne at the related street festival, photo by Chris Bowman.