I’ll be the first to tell you, 24 hours isn’t enough time to get to know ANY city. Not really. Especially a city as big and full and exciting as Barcelona. But that’s what we had, so we tried to make the best of it.
We walked. Everywhere. We hoped to see as much of the city as we possibly could, and walking is the best way to do that.
Barcelona’s version of the Arc de Triomphe
first impressions of the city from the airport bus window…
La Sagrada ft. scaffolding
Our hostel was beautiful, tucked down one of many sunny, airy Barcelona streets. It was a great first hostel for this trip. They must have been overbooked because they stuck us in a room with the male hostel workers! We didn’t realize this until we saw them moving our beds out of the room before we had even left the building. Lol.
The city is full of tall, stately, white buildings lined with balconies on balconies on balconies. It has a quirky vibe, too.
Barcelona Arts and Culture Hostel… which we FINALLY arrived at after potentially getting a little lost.
Our favoritewee elevator inside our hostel
We walked up one of the hills (Barcelona is flanked by 5 hills)
A bookshop with very few English language books…
Less yum. There were also plenty of skinned animal heads.
We ordered a ceaser salad and those little pepper/pancetta sandwhiches with crusty brown bread. SO GOOD, especially after not having eaten during or after our flight. Also, OLIVES.
We were already full when they brought us… two whole fish?
Caps on caps
This simple sandwhich was one of my favorite foods on the whole trip.
It’s a very arts/music city
La Boqueria is the market of all markets. SO MUCH FRESH JUICE.
This man was feeding pigeons… and parrots. PARROTS.
One of many pretty churches
Cutest little cafe…
We helped make a traditional dinner at the hostel.
It was an art-heavy hostel. I tried to play the uke…
The first place we ate. A quaint little neighborhood tapas joint.
Just two Americans out here trying to find iced coffee…
That time I accidentally ordered the most American drink on the menu… I don’t even like sweet drinks topped with mountains of whipped cream at home… And there I was in Barcelona with one.
We happened to be there over the time Catalonia (the area of Spain where Barcelona lies) was trying to split off from the rest of Spain. We saw signs and some graffiti referencing the referendum, but not much else (no protests or anything).
We also walked down La Rambla, a beautiful tree-lined street with space on both the sides and in the center for pedestrians to walk. Two months earlier, a terrorist plowed through the pedestrian walking area in a van, killing 15 people and injuring many more. On the day we visited, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Barcelona was enjoyable, but we wished we had more time. We were able to try the food and see some of the main sites, but we didn’t leave feeling like we truly knew the place. Instead, the day after we arrived we took the bus back to the airport and caught a flight to Morocco. One day, I’ll return and see it all. (Ok but really, who wants to go to Spain with me tomorrow?)
The text came in March, when I was just finishing up a mission trip to Hawaii, and already feeling sad about leaving that island life. On one of the last days in Hawaii, one of the girls in my small group messaged me:
“Wanna go to St. Croix in May?”
Me, being me, responded quickly with something along the lines of “Lol, probably.”
A few weeks later, it was settled. We bought our tickets and headed to the Caribbean!
“Where/what is St. Croix?” you may ask.
Well, you came to the right place. First, some quick St. Croix facts since I know you’re dying to know some background.
-St. Croix is the largest island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. You can see the Virgin Islands hanging out down there to the right of Puerto Rico.
-Christopher Columbus landed on St. Croix during his second voyage to the New World, in 1493. (I got to kayak through the bay where he landed! At nighttime. It was as scary as it sounds, but I also felt like an Indian princess, so… worth it.)
-The island was originally settled by the Dutch. The U.S. purchased the islands of St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas for $25 million in 1917, but even now, some signs, menus, etc. are still printed in Dutch.
-The ten dollar founding father, Alexander Hamilton, lived in St. Croix from 1765-1772 (age 8-15). He was born on the Isle of Nevis, and, thanks to some wealthy benefactors who saw his skill and intelligence, left the Caribbean to attend college on the North American mainland.
-St. Croix produces much of the rum consumed in the United States. All Captain Morgan and Cruzan rum is produced on the island.
-There are two big towns/small cities/districts on St. Croix. Frederiksted (the shadier one with a red fort) and Christiansted (the more upscale one with a yellow fort).
First Impressions of the Island
It was hot. And our ride for the week was RAD.
St. Croix is beautiful. Soft sand leads to the bluest water, and there are sections of dense jungle, too. The sun shone every day, but it was often partly cloudy as well, which made for some really nice beach days.
I’d been to the Caribbean twice before, so I had some frame of reference as far as what to expect. It reminded me more of Grenada than Jamaica. It’s smaller than Jamaica, and not as much of a tourist destination.
We stayed in a house near the YWAM base, that they have specifically for vacationers. We got connected with them thanks to my friend Katey (three of my traveling companions had stayed with them last year). As a friendly bartender named Jameson told us, “It’s good to have friends in St. Croix.” Couldn’t agree more, Jameson.
Vanessa, who helped us get settled into the house, told us there’d been some strange things happening on the island, and recently a girl was rear-ended at night, and “taken” (dun dun DUHHHHHH). Sooooo… she recommended that we try to get back to the house each night by 8. I think we got back to the house by 9 that night, and more or less ignored the warning for the rest of the trip. Oops. Sorry Vanessa. And our moms.
We arrived in the afternoon, so we pulled on our swimsuits, slathered on the sunscreen, and headed straight to the beach. Rainbow Beach is near Frederiksted, and on our way there, we passed a little beach restaurant called Rhythms, where we were hoping to eat.
As we headed to the beach, we passed basically two-three miles of partying, from Frederiksted on down past Rhythms and Rainbow Beach. Men in St. Croix seem to think it’s fun to lean against their cars on the side of the road, drink, smoke, and collectively stare at women as they pass. So that was fun. We got a creepy vibe, so we headed down the beach past the party, and found a much less empty stretch of sand to spread our towels. (Later that week, Jameson, the helpful bartender, told us Sunday afternoons at Rainbow Beach are “a little wild.” Lol, trust me, we know, Jameson, my friend.)
That afternoon was honestly the only time all week that I felt uncomfortable/unsafe. Besides the groups of smoking, drinking, staring men on the side of the road, the people in St. Croix were friendly and helpful. One day, the Jeep got stuck in some sand (note to self: don’t park in deep sand), and the very first vehicle to pass by came back and pulled us out. And everyone had recommendations of out-of-the-way things for us to do and see.
Rather than giving you a day-by-day play-by-play of the trip, I’ll just tell you about some of my favorite things.
Hidden Tide Pool Hike
We heard tell of an “easy” hike to some tide pools in the jungle behind Carambola. So on Tuesday morning we headed out. It only took us about an hour to reach the tide pools, but it was a more difficult hike than we expected. On the way, we saw some interesting birds, hermit crabs, and most important of all, VIEWS.
The tide pools were beautiful and warm, and getting to them proved to be a bit treacherous. But we ignored the “stay off rocks” signs, and made it out. Of course I was too busy swimming in them and playing with the black sand to take any actual pictures of the pools themselves… So here’s a few taken by my friends.
We spent an hour in the tide pools, and then hiked back through the jungle to Carambola, where we lay on beach chairs for the rest of the day!
Wednesday night, we went to Salt River Bay (the place Christopher Columbus landed in St. Croix) to join up with a see-through kayak tour of a bioluminescent bay. We kayaked out of Salt River Bay and through open ocean, past the masts from a shipwreck (!!!!) to arrive at the bioluminescent bay. We were led by our fearless guides, Michelle and Michelle (for real).
I can’t explain to you how awesome the bio bay was. Nor can I go into detail about what exactly causes the bioluminescence (bacteria that glows, or something like that). Nor can I show you photos of the night, since we were not allowed to take our phones or cameras.
But I can tell you I’ll never forget it. I can tell you it was one of the most incredible, most terrifying, most other-worldly experiences I’ve ever had. Imagine looking through the bottom of your kayak to see galaxies streaming by. Imagine hitting the water with your hand or oar, and seeing sparks shoot outward into the water, swirling and whirling around.
It. Is. Magical. Google it. And if you EVER get the chance to kayak in one of the seven bioluminescent bays in the world, DO IT. Do it. Do it.
Kayaking at Tamarind Reef
One day we went to a resort called Tamarind Reef. This is where we met Jameson, who gave us plenty of tips. We saw a bunch of iguanas there. They were big, seemed to enjoy lying in the sun as much as I do, and moved surprisingly fast.
My friends ended up leaving, so I had most of the day to myself. My introverted side flourishes in these moments, and I planned to just lay on a beach chair reading until they returned. But free afternoons rarely go as planned, and I ended up adding a little adventure to my day.
I ended up taking a kayak out to an uninhabited island about a mile away. While there, I ran into a friendly Asian couple who had swam out (WOAH). They had snorkel gear, and told me they’d seen sea turtles. They let me borrow a snorkel mask and pointed me to the place they’d seen the two turtles. I came within about 4 or 5 feet of them! It was awesome.
I hiked around the island a bit, despite a sign that warned NOT to leave the beach because it was a wildlife preserve. I ended up getting stung by a bunch of tiny ants (apparently that’s the wildlife they’re preserving). I still have the bites on my hand a week later; if I die suddenly, those ants could be the cause.
Thanks to the sweet Asian couple who took this picture, shared their water with me, and lent me their snorkeling gear. Yay humanity!!
ALMOST back to safety, I felt safe enough to get my phone out of the waterproof pouch and take a few pictures from the sea.
On the ride back, I felt like there were definitely a few unexplained bumps against the bottom of my kayak, so I rowed faster and faster! The sharks didn’t get me this time (probably because they were in my imagination), but it might be awhile until I go ocean kayaking again.
I spent the rest of the afternoon snorkeling and lying on the beach. That night, the girls came back and we watched crab races in the restaurant. Our crab did not do well. Luckily, we didn’t have much money on him. (I think we were all expecting it to be some kind of intense basement event, possibly illegal, but it was actually very kid-friendly.)
Some Other Fun Things:
We preferred Christiansted to Frederiksted. We spent a little time shopping, walking along the marina, exploring the fort, and EATING.
Roosters and chickens EVERYWHERE.
We didn’t see iguanas until the last two days, and then we saw so many!
When you’re trying to eat conch quesadillas but roosters keep sneaking up on you…
Christiansted National Historic Site (Fort Christiansvaern)
Point Udall – The Easternmost Point in the U.S.
We rose at 4-something one morning to watch the sunrise here. It was a beautiful drive and the views were good on the way back, but unfortunately there wasn’t much of a sunrise. I hiked down toward the water but gave up because my flip-flops couldn’t handle the thorns and steep rocks.
One cool thing about Point Udall? It’s the easternmost point in the U.S. This means I’ve been at the Westernmost point in the U.S. (South Point, where I cliff jumped in Hawaii), and the Easternmost point in the U.S. this year!
Cruzan Rum Distillery
St. Croix’s biggest export? Rum. We toured the oldest distillery on the island, and let’s just say it was the most entertaining tour I’ve been on since… well, ever. Most interesting fact I heard: They transport the rum in tanks marked “ethanol” so they won’t be hijacked on the road!
Ironically, Rhythms, the beach-side joint that looked over-crowded and a little scary the first night, ended up being my favorite restaurant. The food was amazing and it was a nice, relaxed place. I’m glad we gave it a second chance.
Raspberry mojito, Painkiller, Red Stripe. Yum.
Everything in St. Croix runs on island time, so if a restaurant opens 15 or 20 minutes later than it’s supposed to, it’s no big deal (everyting is irie, mon). Cats and roosters happily wondered in and out of restaurants; one outdoor restaurant even had toy guns for customers to scare off territorial roosters.
Christine’s is the cutest little French cafe!
This food was SO GOOD.
What you can’t see here is the cats and chickens that bothered/befriended us all through the meal.
The bathroom at Christine’s. Uh, quaint?
Devouring passionfruit creme brulee.
La Reine Chicken Shack is a popular local place. They only have a certain amount of chicken each day, and when they’re out, they’re out. If you’re ever on the island, be sure to stop here for Johnny cakes, chicken, and rice.
Coffee bar at the end of the world…
Actual bar at the end of the world.
Mount Pellier Domino Club aka The Beer-Drinking Pigs
Out in the middle of the St. Croix jungle, there are some pigs.
“What do these pigs drink?” You may ask.
Beer. They drink beer. It is hilarious and strange and definitely made for tourists.
The hilarious (stereotypical Cruzan) bartender told us it all started years ago when a patron at the bar set his beer on the ground, and a pig named Buddy wondered over, tipped it, and drank. From then on, that man would buy Buddy the Pig a beer every time he came to the bar.
These days, the pigs drink O’Doul’s, because pigs who drink fully alcoholic beer pass out by noon (and, you know, animal rights… PETA… all that jazz).
So uh, I added “Feed a pig a beer” to my bucket list, then checked it off.
Estate Mount Washington Plantation
We found an old plantation on a tip from some locals. It was off the main road, free of tourists, historical, and beautiful.
With each highlight I post, I remember something else we did that I want to write about, so I’ll finish with a few photos, and I’ll be back to tell you about one of my favorite days on the island in a later blog post (monk baths, an abandoned resort, and a spooky, slimy predator are involved).
Moments after jumping off the Frederiksted Pier, we saw turtles in the water, and then, what looked like a potential barracuda
Thanks, friends, for giving me one of the best times I’ve ever had on an island. Or anywhere, for that matter. So much love.
All in all, it was a successful vacation. In a place like the Caribbean, I’d get bored if I was just being lazy on the beach for a whole week. This trip was the perfect blend of adventure and relaxation. If you go, I recommend renting a Jeep. It’s not too expensive, and the roads would be nearly impossible to conquer in a less durable vehicle.
“Keep this place in mind. A better place is hard to find. There is no place like this place anywhere near this place. So this must be the place.” -a wise sign spotted somewhere on the island
A few days ago, my dear Canadian friend Robin messaged me, “I’m going to New York this weekend. Can you come see me?”
Over the next few days we messaged about our favorite places in NYC, and where I’d want to go if I came to see her, and The Phantom of the Opera. (Which she is going to see on Broadway tomorrow. The jealousy is real.)
Everything inside me screamed “Yes!” But my responsible, finishing-up-the-semester, only-has-a-part-time-job, going-on-lots-of-weekend-trips-soon self had to say “No.”
A year ago, I was saying yes to trips like this all. the. time. And some of my favorites were with Robin. From our famous Welsh castle-hopping, backpacking, too-much-American-diner-food-eating, canal boating weekend…
To a weekend in London that included sleeping in hostel rooms with triple bunk beds and 18 strangers. Pretty sure one of us may have started that weekend with literally -7 Great British Pounds in her bank account. I won’t mention any names.
I do miss those days. Study Abroad weekends were the most frivolous of times. Almost every single weekend included at least a day trip or two. I remember the feeling of being so spontaneous, weightless, able to go wherever, whenever, and I miss it. Once you’ve traveled or lived abroad, it is difficult to stay in one place for long. You always feel like there’s some new place you could be seeing, or some adventure you should be having.
Today, I’ve been thinking about all the things I’ve done over the past few days that have made me happy. This weekend hasn’t been glamorous or overly-adventurous, but it has included plenty of happiness. Most of it has just gone unnoticed because I haven’t taken the time to be grateful.
A couple days ago, I baked this delicious bittersweet chocolate cake with lime cream. Holy goodness. And gluten free!
I also baked some whole wheat cinnamon rolls (for you gluten lovers). Baking is something I really missed while living abroad, because I did not have the kitchen utensils, the beautiful, open kitchen, or the ingredients I have here. Baking is also my go-to way to de-stress. The closer it gets to finals week and the end of the semester, the more I bake. (It’s one of my similarities to Dr. Izzie Stevens.)
On Saturday, I babysat my nephew for a few hours. We went to the park, watched the big kids skateboard, had ice cream, and saw (part of) Zootopia. I also read to him, and of course his book of choice (that we read no less than 4 times), was a book about Tommy taking a train to New York City. Cool. Awesome choice, Desmond.
Last night I hung out with friends and played cards at Prince Street Cafe. Today I was able to worship at my church, where I have to admit my attendance has been sporadic over the past few weeks. It was really good to be back. After church I went out for lunch with several friends and Living Room co-leaders.
Earlier this week, my cousin Warren and his wife Lorna were here to visit. I had so much fun taking them around Lancaster with Warren’s sister, Wanita, and my brother, Clifford. We cafe-hopped and saw a bit of Amish country. Showing other people my home alway reminds me of all the things I love about it!
Today is a beautiful day. I’m not sure why spring is having such an impact on me this year. Have I always been the person that brings up the weather in every conversation, or is this new? It’s been 2 years since I’ve experienced a Lancaster County spring, and I was unprepared for the beauty. Spring comes slowly, with scattered warm days, rain, and even occasional snowy days in April. Then, one day you walk outside and all the trees at your house seem to have budded overnight, and your soul soars. Spring is my favorite season because it’s a season of growth and new life. My apologies to the allergy-prone.
This afternoon I’m ignoring my schoolwork for a few moments more, lying in the sun, reading the book Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul, by John and Stasi Eldredge. I feel like most “good Christian girls” read this book in youth group, but somehow I missed that particular rite of passage, so I’m actually reading it for the first time, for a Bible Study I’m in now. One thing that stuck out to me in the first chapter is that the passivity I see in a lot of people of my generation (especially guys-but maybe it’s just easier for me to pick it out in them) is not a new problem. Adam’s fatal flaw was passivity. So I guess you can say it’s an issue that has been around for a long time. I’m excited to see what the next chapter says about Eve, although maybe that’ll be a bit more of a slap in the face to me?
This weekend hasn’t been glamorous, but it has been filled with some of my favorite “home” things. I love a relaxing weekend spent at home almost as much as I love a fast-paced weekend of adventure and travel and will-we-catch-our-train(?!) moments. Much of the time, I’m too busy to appreciate the little things. When I think back to Scotland, it’s hard to remember how much I longed for “home” things, like my family, bad-for-you cereal, my bed, driving my car, and my mom’s kitchen + the ability to bake anything. Though I do love a good train journey with nothing but a backpack to my name, I’m pretty content with a weekend spent right here.
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” -Terry Pratchett
How was your weekend? Did you get carried away, or stay right where you are?
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