Packing for Leeds Festival

Taking a break from the travel blogging and going to Leeds fest for the week where I will once again be the one standing there in the mud and telling you where to park. I will resume afterwards, and probably post a bit about the festival itself. I’m pretty excited, the line-up looks really good, and while I won’t get to see all of the bands as I’m working in the day, I do get to see the headliners. Mostly looking forward to Muse, Pulp and The Strokes. Also intrigued to see what Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye will be like as well – I’ll get back to you.

Barcelona

Our train from the festival was so packed full of FIB punters that people were standing, sitting on each others’ laps and on the floor for the two or so hour journey. Seemingly, everyone had the same idea as us to carry on their journey in Barcelona. We also had a problem finding accommodation because of this reason. Again, we were too naive, or too lazy, to feel the need to organise somewhere to stay before actually getting there. We were even laughed out of a few places who just replied disbelievingly with “today?!” when we asked if they had any spare beds. Nevertheless, our flukey good luck once again saved us and we found a hostel around the corner from the train station which had just had a cancellation. Even if the three guys did have to share a bed for the first night. A word of advice again; whilst you shouldn’t plan a trip like this too much, because things change and it’s more fun to have the freedom to make a last minute decision on where to go, it is ideal to book a room in a city which is a) full as it is peak summer time and b) also full of festival-goers desperate for a real bed and a shower.

The best way to see Barcelona is undoubtedly by taking the city sightseeing bus tour (http://www.city-sightseeing.com/tour-Barcelona). You buy a ticket for around €23 and can get on and off wherever you want or stay on the whole time and see all the sights with a running commentary on what you are looking at. We did this and got off at Santa Maria del Mar, an impressive medieval Catalan-Gothic style church. Afterwards we walked around the surrounding area, getting slightly lost and ending up in Parc de la Ciutadella, which is beautiful and had a lake with loads of tiny turtles in. We hired boats to have a closer look. There was also, for some reason, a sculpture of a giant mammoth (see picture above and excuse the childish nature of it). Then we went to find the Picasso museum, decided against going in because of the huge queue and the price, and stumbled upon another (free) exhibition across the road. This was the ‘What to wear? Maria Brillas’ wardrobe by Pedro Rodríguez’. It was precisely what the title says; a display of Maria Brillas’ clothes which were, pretty much all designed by this one guy, Pedro Rodríguez. The clothes were lovely; stylish and sophisticated, early twentieth century pieces. The dresses were amazing. The question is though, who is Maria Brillas? It was pretty unclear who she was or what she did; we guessed she was a Catalan socialite. With good clothes. Either way it was fairly interesting (and it was free).

After this, we got back on the bus and went to see Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Me, being ignorant, made a comment on how annoying it is going to see sites when they’re having work done and always have scaffolding up. This is when my boyfriend, who is an architecture student, laughed at me and told me that it is having work done on it because it is unfinished (and will remain so for another 15 years). Apparently it is common knowledge. Silly me. Anyway, it was impressive; with spires at over 90 metres, and planned to reach 170, it towers above the city with an extraordinarily intricate facade that sets it apart from the rest of Barcelona. Definitely a must-see. Carrying on the Gaudi themed sight seeing, we headed over to his Park Guell and took in its mosaic sculptures and buildings and yet again, had a wander around whilst getting increasingly lost. Nice place to be lost in though – I think it looks like a real-life version of a place Dr Seuss would dream up, curly buildings and all.

That night we decided to go to La Rambla, a street lined with bars and clubs and apparently ‘the place’ to go for a night out in Barcelona. However, as we didn’t manage to get there until around half one and most clubs were extremely expensive to get into, we ended up in a small bar just off La Rambla, which was one of the only places that was free entrance. It was actually a great place; the beer wasn’t outrageously priced and there was still a dance floor and a nice buzz about the place. Although the music choice was slightly erratic; one minute they were playing house and techno, the next a Michael Jackson medley, a Grease medley, some indie and rock and then some traditional samba music. It seemed to please the crowd either way.

The thing I liked best about Barcelona was the fact that it was easy to get around and that you probably didn’t have to spend all your time sightseeing if you didn’t want to. The city has a great feel to it when you just wander around. It’s also an extremely diverse city and has so much to offer; sandy beaches, huge shopping centres, football (I’ve heard their team is quite good), historic monuments, impressive architecture, clubs and pubs – there’s something for everyone. I will definitely be going back, a couple of days is not enough for this place!

Festival Internacional de Benicàssim (FIB)

We arrived late on the Wednesday night and got a coach from Castellon train station to the festival site. We had to stand since the coach was already mostly full of drunk Irish people, one who kept insisting upon getting past us in order to use the non-existent toilet.  It took us at least two hours to put up our tents and it’s not because we’re entirely clueless when it comes to camping, (although most of our tents were pop-ups) it’s because we were literally doing it with our eyes closed. The dust that was whipped up from the gale force winds was unrelenting. So there we were either clutching at the corners of our tents or sitting in them to weigh them down whilst someone else went to find heavy rocks – the ground was too dried out for pegs. Nevertheless we eventually managed to get them up, or rather just gave up and figured if we slept in them they wouldn’t blow away.

Thursday

The next day the winds had dropped, thank god, so we headed towards the beach and had lunch at the place we had dubbed our ‘usual’ when we went to the festival in 2009. It’s called El Torreon Terraza Restaurante and  is fairly basic, always packed around festival time but the service is great; they managed to get us a table for 8 within about ten minutes every time. The club sandwiches and paninis were fantastic there. After spending the day at the beach we went to the local supermarket and got ourselves some outrageously cheap sangria, drank that back at the tents and then went into the festival site to see the first of the weekend’s bands. Highlights included Paolo Nutini – one of my friends claimed he was so talented and so good looking that her “ovaries were exploding”. Apparently a good thing. After Paolo was Plan B, who despite the Spanish evening heat was still clad in a full suit. Yet that didn’t affect his set which was just as good as the last time I saw him at Glastonbury (see former post). Headliners The Streets also got the crowd going and in high spirits for the rest of the weekend. I went to sleep that night with their song, ‘Heaven for the Weather’ rattling around my head and it seemed to stick in everyone else’s as well, for all you could hear that night was people whistling or singing the tune.

Friday

Two words: The Strokes! Absolutely brilliant. They’ve been one of my favourite bands for years, and as a result I was sceptical as to what they would play and whether my expectations would ruin it for me. In the end I had no reason to doubt them; their set was incredible and went as follows:

  1. New York Cops
  2. Alone Together
  3. Reptilia
  4. Machu Picchu
  5. Last Nite
  6. Taken For a Fool
  7. Is This It
  8. Under Cover of Darkness
  9. What Ever Happened
  10. Life Is Simple In The Moonlight
  11. Someday
  12. You Only Live Once
  13. You’re So Right
  14. Under Control
  15. Gratisfaction
  16. Hard To Explain
  17. Juicebox
  18. Take It Or Leave It.
Need I say more? Absolute indie perfection. 

Following the Strokes, we watched Friendly Fires who were also immensely entertaining, mainly because lead singer Ed Macfarlane had some of the best and weirdest dance moves I’ve ever seen. Along with a colourfully loud shirt. Their catchy feel-good summer music infected the whole crowd and soon we were the ones donning the crazy dance moves.

Saturday

After another day of sleeping off the night before on the beach we went into the arena to catch the best of Saturday’s bands. Mumford & Sons played with their usual finesse, leading to spontaneous barn-dancing during the fast-paced songs and out-of-tune warbling during the slower numbers. They even played a couple of new songs which, frankly, were a welcome change. While their first album has been incredible and fully deserves all of the acclaim it has been given, I think it is about time they bring out something fresh. If anything they must be getting bored of playing the same songs over and over again. Let’s hope they’re not a one-trick-pony, and can pull an equally good second album out of the bag.

Next up, a band that have no trouble following hit albums with even better ones – The Arctic Monkeys. Cheekily (or arrogantly) coming onstage to Hot Chocolate’s ‘You Sexy Thing’, and playing a set which consisted of a medley of songs from all four studio albums, they were breathtaking. Alex Turner was phenomenal; his voice was alluring, he looked amazing and even his crowd interaction wasn’t bad. He’s not known for being terribly chatty but the effort was made – he even tried his hand at a few Spanish phrases much to the crowd’s delight. I would also like to give a special mention to drummer Matt Helders who was equally brilliant; quietly brilliant. He slips into the background all blurry-armed and you forget how essential he is to the band and their adrenaline-fuelled, lyrically flamboyant sound. They were my personal highlight of the whole festival.

Following on from the ‘Monkeys were Primal Scream, a band I raved about after seeing them at Glastonbury. Maybe it was because of the fact that they were so good the first time I saw them, or perhaps it was because it was past 2am when they came onstage and the Sangria was wearing off and the sleep deprivation kicking in, but I didn’t enjoy them half as much as I did at Glasto. Don’t get me wrong, they were still really good, but their more chilled out set sent me to sleep after the previous excitement of the Arctics.

Sunday

After accidentally getting off the bus at the wrong stop and going to a terrible ‘tapas’ bar (which definitely was not tapas but just chopped tomatoes on soggy toast among other fairly awful concoctions) we actually ended up finding a lovely quieter pebbled beach to spend the afternoon on. Then we walked home in order to get food and drink, forgetting about Sunday trading hours and realising everything was closed. Luckily we found an independent fruit store heaving with festival goers as it was the only place selling cheap alcohol. Sunday’s line-up wasn’t as appealing to us so we only went into the arena for headliners Arcade Fire. I’m not a huge fan and have never bought into all the hype surrounding them although I can admit they sounded good. Which they should have really, for an eight-man band.

Festival Internacional de Benicàssim (FIB) is unlike any other British festival as it has more to offer than just the usual festival experience. For one, you’re pretty much guaranteed good weather and there’s a beach to spend your days on. Secondly, the music doesn’t start until the evening, headliners play from around midnight and the last of the main stage finishes at 4am with other acts, djs and things going on until 7. Because of this you don’t tend to see as many bands as at a festival in the UK but the ones on offer, especially this year, are well worth the trek over. The vibe of Benicassim is unique and this might be due to the fact that it’s more international; there’s a wider mix of people from all over the world sharing one incredible experience. I would definitely recommend this festival as it’s like a 2-in-1 experience; a week’s holiday in the sun with the chance to see some incredible bands. What more could you want?

The (long-winded) journey to Benicassim

I was going to go straight into a post about Benicassim and the FIB festival, however it did take the best part of two days to get there and we stopped off in a couple of places along the way; some willingly, others, not so. This is the less exciting side to interrailing; the long long train journeys and the long long waits in between. Here’s what we encountered on this stretch of the journey.

Bordeaux

We stopped off in Bordeaux for half a day to break up the journey to Spain. Since we weren’t there long we didn’t see much (although i’m not entirely certain there is a lot to see there) and spent most of the time in the city centre square enjoying a drink and a welcome change from sitting on trains. In the square there seemed to be some sort of coca-cola event going on to celebrate 125 years of the beverage, with vintage coca-cola trucks, decorated buses and people dressed up. It was slightly strange and random but we were given free frozen and ice cold drinks because of it. Oh and we also had the excitement of ‘comedy’ photos posing through the ‘head-through-the-hole’ painted boards. See above.

Limoges

However, if we thought we had a strange experience in Bordeaux, it was nothing compared to the four hours we had to spend in Limoges to wait for our night train to Portbou. It was like some sort of eerie limbo. The sky was fantastically dark when we arrived which soon progressed into a heavy thunderstorm with great flashes of lightning. As a result we had no choice but to sit in the station to wait it out and wait for our train. Even that wasn’t free from the weirdness though. We were either being stared at by an old man sitting directly opposite us for the entire time, or freaked out by a guy who sat uncomfortably close to our group for a while, then disappeared off for a bit, leaving his belongings and coming back again later. He repeated this odd charade for the whole four or so hours while we were there. Needless to say the time spent waiting went very very slowly.

Finally, the train arrived at around 1am. We had the reclining seats (didn’t splash out on a cabin) and were in a communal carriage that smelt like feet and sounded like a sea of collective snores. Nevertheless I managed to sleep the whole way to the Spanish border where I awoke just in time to see a beautiful view of the coast as the sun was rising. I would definitely recommend getting as many night trains as possible for those who are interrailing or just going on a long journey in Europe. It was only €6 (with interrail ticket), which for a journey and a night’s accommodation is not bad! You can spend a bit more though and pay for a cabin, which is probably a better idea if you’re not as strapped for cash as we were, since it’s private and you get an actual bed.

Barcelona (briefly)

From Portbou we went to Barcelona in order to get the train to Benicassim. Couldn’t believe how lucky we were to actually get a train to the festival destination – we got the last eight seats out of ten available and had to pay a first class reservation (we got a meal, drinks and a film though, so not complaining too much). So many people we talked to were stranded until the next day. Advice: if you’re going to the festival next year- book your train early! We also had to wait several hours in Barcelona which we spent in Parc de Joan Miró sunbathing, people (and dog) watching and trying to figure out what the huge mosaic sculpture there was supposed to be. Found out later on that it’s a woman and a bird. I remain unconvinced. We also had a quick wander to the nearby Plaça d’Espanya and up the hill towards the museum to see views of the city. After this glimpse of Barcelona we were excited for our ‘real’ stay in the city after the festival.

Paris

En route

Before we got to Paris, before we even left the platform in our home town in fact, I, being probably the world’s most stupid person, realise I forgot to put my InterRail train ticket in my bag. This is the most important thing that we actually needed for the trip, besides our passports so you can appreciate my parents’ annoyance at my phone call begging them to find it and bring it to the station. Not very easy when even I was unsure of where I put it since it had arrived about three months before. In the end there wasn’t enough time anyway as I had to get on the train and set off without it. Luckily, my friend Leanne was meeting us in Paris in a couple of days time and could bring it with her so a major idiotic catastrophe turned into a minor annoyance, mainly for my parents (who also found out when they got home that I got a speeding ticket the week before, let’s just say, it was a good thing I was away for a month).

Moving on from my stupidity, after we got the train to dover and the ferry to Calais it was pretty late and we stayed over in a Formule 1 hotel for the night, which we nearly got kicked out of for all sitting and talking in one room after, god forbid, 10pm. The guy on reception came storming in, shouting in French and shoving his hands in peoples’ faces. Bit of an overreaction we thought, since you couldn’t hear us unless you actually stood outside the room. We moved though, in a shameless Inbetweeners apologising “sorry sorry sorry” style. He didn’t seem one to mess with. He didn’t even accept our apologies. Although, it was probably a good job we got split up in the end, since after the consumption of very cheap wine (€4 for 5 litres, and lots of it) one of us, I won’t name, threw up in the sink – and on someone else’s toothbrush. It was cleaned up though, no harm done. Except for the toothbrush owner obviously.

Paris

So the next day we got the train to Paris and, after walking around like the lost tourists we are, we eventually found the bus to the campsite and set up there. We stayed at Camping de Paris, Bois de Boulogne (http://www.campingparis.fr/index.php) which was probably the cheapest and most reasonable place we could get in Paris – it is an extremely expensive city! In the afternoon we went back into the centre and walked around the Palais Royale and the gardens around the Louvre, which are absolutely stunning, especially in the afternoon sun. Then we walked down the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower and sat on the grass nearby. However most of this was cut off because a stage and venue were being set up for, I presumed,  the Rock en Seine festival. There were adverts for this all over the city and the line-up looks brilliant – Arctic Monkeys, The Kills, Miles Kane, Lykke Li, The La’s and loads more (visit http://www.rockenseine.com/). Might be worth a visit next year if this one is anything to go by.

The next day we went up to Montmatre, the hill above the city upon which boasts stunning views and upon which the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur sits. The narrow cobbled streets behind the Basilica are lined with artists and souvenir shops. Some of the art is fantastic, some tacky and nearly all outrageously expensive. Still, this is one of my favourite areas of Paris, the views, the buzz of people and the typically french atmosphere as a man plays the accordion outside a tiny restaurant. It is also a location used in one of my favourite films, Amélie. 

After this we walked down towards the Moulin Rouge, just as a sight to ‘check off’ although from seeing it before I could remember it wasn’t as impressive as you would expect from a ‘must-see’ location in Paris. From here we went to Notre Dame, which absolutely is as impressive as you would expect and then walked down the Seine again towards the Eiffel Tower. This is the side of the Seine that I love, where booksellers display lines and piles of books and magazines, new and very very old. We then went up the tower but only got to the second level (it was cheaper) which also, to be honest, you can still see the entire city from and don’t have to scare yourself into going up the rickety lift to a windy point 300 metres from the ground. Or maybe that’s just my opinion – I seemed to have developed a minor fear of heights after we got that far.

I think that Paris is one of my favourite cities in Europe, of what i’ve seen anyway. It is beautiful, cultured and boasts some incredible sites. However, it is also an exclusive city; if you are a student on a budget then it is fairly limited since food, accommodation, travel and entrance fees are all expensive and above what we paid for in other cities. It’s more of a place you wander around in a fantasy, deciding on places you would live (they all had roof gardens) and go to ‘when you grow up’. That’s what I spent most of my time doing anyway.

Post-travel recovery and incessant photo uploading

I have returned! All in one piece and without (too many) mishaps along the way. Currently veging on the sofa, watching tv and uploading a month’s worth of photo’s on Facebook and annoying everyone on there in the process. I have a feeling I may have been ‘removed as a friend’ from one or two contacts by the time it’s finished. Having said that I only took around 450 and my friend Leanne was slightly more snap-happy and managed to rack up an impressive 1200, give or take a few…

Our trip only varied slightly than planned, starting in Paris, going to Benicassim and stopping off in Bordeaux and Barcelona along the way for a few hours. Then from the festival we stayed in Barcelona properly and then went to Monaco for a day, had an unexpected few days in Turin (stranded because of the European’s love of a good strike) then went to Venice, Budapest, Prague, Munich and finally Berlin. Unfortunately couldn’t make Amsterdam since it was Gay Pride week and all hostels were completely full or ridiculously expensive.

So here follows a narrative of it all, place by place. Hope you enjoy reading about it, since I definitely enjoyed living it!