7.27.2009

We're Coming Home

I think Michael Buble sums it up best:

Another summer day
Is come and gone away
In Paris and Rome
But I wanna go home

It has been an amazing trip! 100 days in trains, planes and automobiles. It has been such a wonderful experience, I am so glad Charlton and I had the opportunity to do something like this, who knows if we will ever have a chance to do something like this again. I like to think we will, but we will see. If you would have asked me three months ago if I would white water raft down a river in Thailand, step foot in Anne Frank's house or see Lance Armstrong take third in the Tour de France, I would have told you that you're crazy. I have surprised myself on this trip, and learned a lot about myself. I am glad I had the chance to share it with my best friend.

Let me go home
I’ve had my run
Baby, I’m done
I gotta go home

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.26.2009

It's Over!

One hundred days we have been gone. Tomorrow is the last (half) day before we head back to San Diego. Along the way we have done a lot of things that neither of us every believed we would get a chance to do. Today was one of those days.

About a month ago when we were in Monaco waiting for a train we had taken a look at a Tour de France t-shirt for sale at a shop. While looking at the tour schedule we noticed that the race ended on July 26th. Both of us looked at each other and said "hey, we're going to be in Paris on the 26th!".

So today we decided to stay in Paris a few hours longer and watch the end of the tour. Pretty much how it works is the final stage is today and they start nearby Paris and work their way into the city. Once there they do eight laps on the Champs-Élysées and a few other surrounding roads.

At around noon we found a nice spot on Rue Rivoli where they were going to do their laps. While Kristen was posted up there I headed off and walked to the finish line at the Arc de Triomphe. Once there I got us some swanky cycling hats and headed back to keep Kristen company while we waited for the riders.

Before the riders came, we got a chance to watch a huge parade for all the team sponsors. We saw such fun stuff as giant inflatable cyclists and other gaudy displays.

At about 4pm we finally caught sight of the many cyclists. Eight times we saw them. It was exciting and amazing how fast they go by in person. I was pretty happy because this was a good photo opportunity for me (see the photos above and below). Also, it's not everyday that you're a few feet away from Lance Armstrong himself.

Once the riders finished their eight laps and tour itself we hustled our way to our train to Frankfurt. Boy, did we hustle but we made it to our train in the nick of time. By that time we were pretty worn out, but fortunately it was another first class ICE experience. We got dinner and rest so in other words we got exactly what we needed.

We're here in Frankfurt ready for our last half day tomorrow (or today now). In the next week keep checking back as we are going to put together our final thoughts and links to pictures, slide shows and other trip related items.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.25.2009

One More Day

One more day in Paris. One more day on our trip...

Today was a rather enjoyable day. We started off at about 10:30am and headed up to Les Puces market or the Parisian flea market. Heading to this market, I didn't really know what to expect. I had heard it was pretty good, and considering the amount of French items that make appearances in fancy interior decorating, I had somewhat high hopes. At first though I was slightly disappointed. When we first got there we had to wander through the same crap that is in every swap meet around the world. Cheap household items, t-shirts, fake sunglasses, discount perfume you name it. However after strolling through that, there were a series of about fourteen markets that had large amounts of French antiques. This is where the fun began. There was old furniture, clothing, books and much more. It was an amazing amount of fun to see all the items on hand. The only disadvantage is that it was very, very expensive. Everything was about 10x the price I would have expected. Still it was fun and if any of you have a house and want to decorate it in a hoity toity fashion, this is the place to get your wares.

Afterward, we did the touristy thing of heading to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and seeing the Arc de Triomphe. Not much to report but lots of fancy shopping and no buying. After we headed back to our hotel for a much needed nap.

Once we woke up we headed to dinner at Le Pot de Terre and enjoyed our last Parisian dinner for a while. It was good, we were stuffed and were satisfied. To work off some of our dinner we headed off to see some of the sights for one final time. We walked along the Seine, went into Notre Dame cathedral, and visited City Hall. Not a bad ending for a final night. Plus, there was no rain!

Tomorrow is our final day of our trip and we are celebrating by watching the end of the Tour de France here in Paris. It will be a great way to end our time in Paris as well as our trip. Once finished we are off to Frankfurt to prepare for our trip home on Monday. Time sure flies when you're having fun!

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

On my own in Paris

After breakfast Charlton and I split up for 2 hours to see some of the city on our own. So with 25 euro in my pocket I set off. First stop was Shakespeare's. I saw it on an episode of Passport to Europe and knew I had to go visit. They weren't open when I got there so I found a cute little park and planned the rest of my afternoon. Back in the bookshop, I was blown away. It was an absolutely gorgeous space, with so many fun corners and lots of old tomes as well as everything you could want for today. Saw a few books I want to check out from the library for sure before I leave for Indiana.

Then, I made my way across the Seine to the Le Marais to look at all the cool shops. Next, a quick stop at Pompidou. After some quick pictures, I made my way down Haussmann, and popped into Galleries Lafayette. Then I hiked down Rue Royal, took some pictures at Place de Concorde before I practically ran to meet up with Charlton in front of the Louvre's pyramid.

Was a lot of fun, but it wore me out. I am definitely not cut off for extended periods of speed walking!

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.24.2009

Days Go By

Well it's been a few day since Kristen or I have had the motivation to put up anything. Part of the problem was yesterday. It rained all day so not that much interesting was going on. Basically, we got up to head to Fontainebleau which is about 40km outside of Paris. We ended up taking the train there and back, because as soon as we got there the rain started and didn't let up until we got back to Paris. So bummer.

Next, we headed to Bercy Village to do a little wandering through some Parisian stores. Once again more rain.

After the rain mercifully ended, we went off to get some dinner. I had the taste for duck confit and fortunately we found a cheap place that had it on their 10 Euro prie fixe menu. Boy was our dinner an experience in economics. We observed the following:

- Host of the restaurant calling in customers like a beckoning cat (I know, a huge warning sign, but I wanted duck confit)
- My "appetizer" consisting of four of the thinnest slices of salami ever
- Kristen's food was cold in the middle (heat lamps just don't make it all the way through)
- My dessert frommage was a tiny sliver of Brie
- The rain started again while we were eating and the ten Euro menu "disappeared" from the front

That was a shady restaurant, but like I said, I got duck confit.

End of yesterday.

This morning Kristen and I started off with a espresso and croissant then went our separate ways for a few hours. I spent my time trying to get to see a trial in the Palais de Justice. After I learned I would have to come back at 1:30pm, I rented a bike from Paris' free bike rental service. I spent the next hour riding from place to place trying to not get run over. It was a lot of fun and felt like I was really "at one" with the city. I'll have to try to do it again before I leave.

I'm sure Kristen will chime in with what she had going on while I was away, but I'll let her do that.

The rest of the day consisted of the trial. Basically in the French system, you can go watch a trial as a member of the public. There are three judges and each trial lasts about twenty minutes (you did this, you get "X" days in jail). The trial was capped off with the defendant crying at the end. Informative and a little bit sad, but a different experience.

After we were done with that, we headed back to our room to rest for a bit before dinner. On our way to dinner we passed through Luxembourg Gardens and heard some sweet music. We had come across a Russian-Jewish music band, Oy Division. We scrapped our immediate dinner plans to listen to their music for a little while.

Once finished with the music and dinner, we went to Shakespeare's, which is a nice bookstore on the Seine that Kristen found earlier today. After, we had our share of relaxing there we made our way back home to rest up for tomorrow, our last full day in Paris!

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.23.2009

Taquitos here I come!

The trip has been great, a wonderful cultural and learning experience, but I am definitely looking forward to coming home. Washing your clothes in hotel sinks is not very fun. Some of the things I am desperately looking forward to are, in no particular order:
  • a pedicure! - my feet have taken a real beating on this trip and need the pampering
  • my clothes - spent the last three months in a rotation of like 5 shirts, would be nice to have some variety
  • Biore strips - my face needs to be freed of all the junk in there
  • A big cold can of Diet Coke - tired of getting generic European cola
  • our munchkins - desperately need some cuddle time with the both of them
  • my family - we move in a little over a week when we get back, need to get some face time in with them
  • my car- not having to walk everywhere?! major plus
  • Rubio's - seriously, there is no explanation needed
If I think of anything else I will be sure to add it, I am sure there are lots more

Labels: , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.22.2009

Just Another Day in Paris

Starting off, I have a new policy after today. I am going to only have tarts for breakfast. They are so much more satisfying than a plain old croissant. So today it was a peach and pistachio tart and it was good.

After breakfast it was time to head off to wander around Saint Chapelle and attempt to see a case or two being tried at the Palais de Justice. However, I was foiled four times. Three times by police officers who where nice enough to tell me where the tourist entrance was, and once by a snooty guard ("This door is for French people, and you are NOT French!"... I don't know if he said it, but he was probably thinking it.)

After my run it with the law we strolled around Notre Dame until lunchtime. For lunch we had quiches and enjoyed our lunch in the Luxembourg Gardens. After lunch, we napped.

Once finished resting, we headed off to walk to the Eiffel Tower. Along the way we came across numerous stores, bread shops and choclatiers... and then (drip), (drop), it began to rain. We proceeded to hop on a train, only to find we had to catch a but to get to where we wanted to go for dinner.

After our dinner of pate, chicken and pot de creme, we headed back home to plot what to do tomorrow. While heading home we were caught in a rain storm. We finally made it home after a bit, however we looked like drowned rats in the process. Comes with territory I suppose.

Yesterday -


Today -

Labels: ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.21.2009

An American Girl in Paris

Ahh, Paris! Even though it is mobbed with tourists and its warm, there is just something about it here, a je ne sais quoi if you will. Brings back visions of tea parties and dress up when I was little. It's just special.

After much needed naps we walked over to the 5e. and got dinner at Le Tango du Chat. Absolutely delicious, I licked my plate clean! Then we went strolling along the Seine making sure to poke into Notre Dame. There were tons of street performers and the sun just started to set around 9, so we got a sunset stroll in. I love that we saved coming back here for last.

Labels: ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Bonjour Paris...

we're back! It's been 2 years and 3 months but here we are. I gave up my meat stand in Budapest so I could come! Having hit all the major sites last time around, we can truly just be Parisian for the next few days. Our pension is directly across from Luxembourg Garden, from our balcony (yes, we have a balcony!) I can see the garden and a cute little shopping street. We grabbed some lovely baguettes from a boulangerie around the corner and ate them under a tree in the garden. J'adore Paris!

Although, if you had talked to me this morning I don't know if we would have made it here! We left the hostel about 15 minutes late and didn't have enough cash for a cab, or enough change for the tram. So we walked as fast as humanly possible with our packs and got to the station a minute before our train pulled away. We were still laughing at our good luck when we pulled up to the next station and a band of chainsaw wielding gypsies and a drunk man filed into our car. I looked over at Charlton with eyes as big as dinner plates and mouthed, "we're going to die!" Thankfully the gypsies were too busy admiring their new chainsaws acquired from who knows where to pay us any attention. We hopped off at the airport and then did the normal RyanAir dog and pony show to get here to Paris.

So happy to be here, and so happy we can just be. I wont have to pack my bag again until Sunday and in the mean time I will try not to fall in Dior!

Labels: , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.20.2009

She's Staying in Budapest

From 07.20.09 Budapest 2
It's with great sadness and cautious optimism to tell you Kristen is going to be staying here in Budapest. She has purchased a meat shop and will be selling all sorts of fatty meats to old Hungarian ladies and construction workers. Remember, if you visit her during one of the bitterly cold days here during December, please ask her for a sample of her Disznósajt. It's her favorite.

Seriously though, we're off to Paris tomorrow. That may be a place I have a hard time prying her away from.

As for today we were lucky. We got great weather once again which made our climb up Castle Hill bearable. We also got to the Fisherman's Bastion before heading down to the local market where the above photo was taken.

Afterward, it was back to our hotel with some ice cream cones before Kristen had to be put down for her nap (she took some anti-histamine and was sleepy). Once she awoke we headed off to dinner and for one final stroll around the beautiful streets of Budapest.

It's very enjoyable here. In the wikitravel guide it states that this is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I would have to agree. What is even more remarkable is that it has been out of Communist control for only twenty years after forty years of being behind the curtain. For a vacation destination I would definitely recommend it. I believe it slips past as a destination for many American tourists and it shouldn't it's a fun place with a lot to see.

Labels: ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.19.2009

Hoofing it through Hungary

Having gotten in so late last night, we had no opportunity to explore the city outside the few blocks near the hostel. Today, all of Budapest was our oyster! We had planned to see everything on our list, so we could leave our last full day just relaxing. Planned being the emphasized word.

We got up with the usual fanfare, took showers and went downstairs for cereal and toast in the common room of the hostel. With full bellies and map in hand we hit the pavement to explore the city.

First up, City Park. The map's editor had said it was their favorite place in Budapest and that it had a flea market on the weekends. Flea market!? We're there! We went there straight away, took some pictures at Heroes Square and Vajdahunyad Castle and then went searching for the flea market. We found the zoo, baths, the circus and the amusement park but no flea market. But then we saw a handful of stands selling swap meet style junk, very disappointing. This was not the antiques and collectibles we were anticipating. Guess the map editor and us do not have similar views on flea markets.

We then hiked to the opposite end of Pest to see St. Stephen's Basilica, the Communist Monument and Parliament. That's about the time I started doing a jig, I desperately needed to find a bathroom. Of course, today is Sunday many businesses are closed and we were not in a heavy tourist area. What is a girl to do?! Run as fast as she can to the nearest McDonald's, that's what! Having taken care of this first order of business, we came to even more important business...what to have for lunch. We really wanted to have more Hungarian food, but didn't want to pay an arm and a leg. We headed away from McDonald's and found a little hole in the wall cafeteria that served all sorts of Hungarian dishes. The women there were super friendly and spoke excellent English and helped us make our selections (steering me away from the liver, eep!) Lunch was amazing, so good, both of our plates were licked clean.

Then it was off to Margaret Island! We went following a recommendation from my former co-worker, Andy, and he was spot on! The island is gorgeous and is like a never ending park tucked right in the middle of the Danube. We walked from one end to the other, taking breaks now and again to rest our legs. We gave up on the castle visit for the time being and headed back to the hostel for much needed naps, but making sure we got some much deserved ice cream along the way.

Hours later, we both woke up feeling refreshed but sore. We knew we would at least have to venture out for dinner or supplies, so why not capitalize on it and go see the castle at dusk (another Andy recommendation) So we walked along Fashion Street along the Danube embankment. When we went to cross the Chain Bridge we got a welcomed surprise, a summer festival! They closed off the bridge to vehicle traffic and had stages on either end of the bridge and vendors across the length. It was really fun to be a part of. On the Buda side we made our way to Elizabeth Bridge right at the twilight hour, so Charlton got some amazing pictures. Was absolutely gorgeous.

Back in Pest, we checked the clock...9:15! The kitchen in the hostel is only available until 10! And most affordable restaurants we already closed. So we hoofed it to the nearest grocery store (luckily a 24 hour one) and grabbed some soups and ran back to the hostel. I heated them up as fast as I could and we scarfed them down. Not that great, but it was something. Hopefully, tomorrow we wont be so rushed.

It has been a long day in a beautiful city. Still seems like there is a lot left to see, really looking forward to seeing more.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.18.2009

The Endless Train Ride Which Wouldn't End

No doubt about it, today was going to be a travel day. We got more than we bargained for though!

Starting the day off in Zagreb, we knew we had to catch the 10am train to Budapest which was due to arrive at 4:30pm. OK, we're getting to Eastern Europe. I'm not expecting everything to be smooth. This area is a little rough around the edges, but I figured if we went with the flow it should be all good.

So we arrive at the train station at about 9:30 and head to our track. While walking there I'm trying to decide what kind of train we're going to get. First thought, "Well Croatia is getting to be wealthier so maybe they have a brand new train for us. That would be nice." then second thought, "This is Croatia, we're going to Hungary, I'll probably be riding on a train made of wood sitting next to a goat and a fat Hungarian mama with a big mole on her nose."

Well at 10am the train pulled in and my questions were answered. It wasn't a nice train, but it wasn't a nasty one either. Rather it was probably an old Deutsche Bahn train from the 1980's. That I can deal with. We were worried that there weren't going to be any seats since we didn't have reservations, but after we got on our train, our "reservations" were assuaged. Apparently all the country bumpkins we thought we were going to have to sit next to were stuck in second class and on cars going to different cities. So essentially Kristen and I got a six hour ride through the Croatian and Hungarian countryside by ourselves. It was relaxing but uneventful. Since it's not that interesting I'll express it in this Haiku:

Running through Croatia
Cross into Hungary
Summer rains slow us down

So yeah, not thrilling but not bad either. It was like a lazy Sunday with reading and napping all while looking at the rainy countryside. However, with rain comes tardiness as far as trains are concerned. So unfortunately, we didn't arrive in Budapest until 7:30pm, about three hours and some change late. You win some and you lose some.

Once here we headed to our hostel, which is nice. Immediately after we headed off to get some dinner and found a nice restaurant with some Hungarian food. We ended up with a nice pepper soup and potato dumplings. Very filling and good.

Once back to our hostel we're resting for the day tomorrow!

So far I like Budapest. It's attractive and cheap. Both are qualities I look for in a city. Earlier today I was lamenting at some of the cities I've visited that are in Eastern Europe (Bratislava, Zagreb), basically since the Euro has come about, plus the weak U.S. Dollar, it's not cheap to travel there. Many times it's more expensive that the United States. While that was surprising to me, it also makes me enjoy the cities in France and Germany. Yes they are expensive, but you get all the amenities with it. In the more "remote" Euro countries, you just get a big bill. Oh well, been there done that. Next time I'll just wait for the Dollar to get stronger, though that may be a long wait.

Pictures from Today:



Yesterday:



The Day Before:

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.17.2009

Croatian Friday Night

Twilight, its that magic hour between day and night. Last night, it truly was magical. We were sitting in the garden of our hostel, sipping lemonade, while a small band played Croatian music. The hostel staff was dancing in a circle with some of the other guests. It wasn't too long and were were drawn into the crowd to dance. For a moment we weren't concerned about the heat or the mosquitoes. We were just in the moment and it was so special.

But let me tell you how we got to be in such a special place. We left Maribor around 9 and hopped on the train and transferred all morning until we got to Zagreb, Croatia at about 1. We took the tram to our hostel, dropped off the bags and then started to getting to work. Charlton got our blogs posted from the night before, and I washed all our dirty clothes in the sink so we could utilize the clothes line here and the hot sun.

Once our chores were done, we headed down the road to the Kaufman to get lunch. We got cheeseburgers from the little cafe attached to the Kaufman, as they were recommended by the waiter. They were HUGE and gave us the energy to go see the town.

First up, was the Mirogoj, Zagreb's central cemetery. The heat was really getting to me on the way there, so I sat under a tree with a book while Charlton ran around and took some pictures. Then it we took the tram to the center of town. We walked around for awhile and got to see the city. Then back to Kaufman to pick up some supplies for dinner and for lunch on the train to Budapest.

Then back at the hostel the magic began! I got our pasta boiling and we just sat back. Dinner wasn't fantastic due to the weird pasta sauce. But we didn't care, how often do you get to have a free concert right where you are staying?! A definite bright spot on the trip!

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Seeing Slovenia

Another day, another train ride, another new country; it’s all in a day’s work for Charlton and me. After our Viennese coffee, we caught the train from Vienna to Graz along the Semmering Pass, the only train on the UNESCO World Heritage Sight List. Charlton had told me it was a famous line, but I was under the impression it was for its beauty. I thought some of the views were beautiful but they were nowhere near as stunning as those from the Golden Pass in Switzerland we saw two years ago. Later, I found out the reason it was a heritage sight is because of the engineering needed to construct the rail. Not that I know much about trains, but there were a lot of large bridges they had to build to get us around…so good for you OBB.

We got to Graz around lunch time. I had heard it was a university town and was looking forward to an Austrian version of Heidelberg. Not the case. The city had kind of the generic European feel with nothing that really grabbed you. I’m not saying it wasn’t nice, but it was just okay. Not knock you off your feet beauty. We grabbed some lunch at stand in front of the Rathaus then walked around town, grabbing some Mozart truffles, then sitting down to read in a park.

Then it was back to the station for the final leg of our day’s journey to Slovenia. We had inputted all the accommodation information into the Reader so we were well prepared for when we got in. Our B&B was closer to another station but there wouldn’t be a train from Maribor’s main station to that one for at least an hour if not more. We decided to walk it. Not the best idea. It’s now the middle of the dog days of summer here in Europe. It’s in the 90s and we had to hike 35+ minutes to the B&B. We walked and walked and were getting farther and farther from town. The GPS lead us to the B&B and that’s when it got interesting. The house was set behind another so we got confused on where exactly we were staying. The one that we booked looked like it was forgotten by time. Broken chairs and random junk was all over the lawn. Looked a little sketchy. Charlton knocked on the door and there was no answer. We both were sweating up a storm and just wanted to set our packs down. I gave a loud whistle and heard one back. Hooray we are saved! We found the source and it was a man in the upstairs window. I called out to him that we had a reservation and he just responded, “they are cleaning.” Um, ok. We waited, waited and waited some more. No one came down to let us in, or said anything else to us. And it didn’t even look like they we were cleaning! Who knows the shape of the room based on what we saw out front! Defeated we turned back to center of town in hopes of finding an affordable hotel. We weren’t too optimistic, everything had been really expensive online. I had already determined we were going to have to sleep on a bench outside the train station.

The GPS led us to the center of town and we walked into the hotel right off the square. Luckily, they had a double vacancy and at 52 euros a night it was right in our budget. We lugged the backpacks up stairs to throw them in our “dorm” room, they don’t call it the Uni Hotel for nothing!

We had picked up the city map from the train station and determined we could see all the town highlights by the end of the night. So we set out to see all 10 attractions, including the water tower and the world’s OLDEST grape vine. We also grabbed 2 McCountrys at McDonald’s and had McSundaes for dessert since it seems like everyone here in Maribor has an ice cream in their hand.

I had never really heard about Slovenia until my brother visited a year ago. Even then I wasn’t that familiar with the area. Maribor is really quiet tucked into beautiful countryside. There is quite a bit of Cold War cement when you venture out a little further, but it doesn’t overpower the rest. It’s kind of refreshing from all the BIG BIG cities we have visited recently. Glad we decided to take a peek.

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Through the Day

7:30am
Wake up and head down from our apartment in Vienna to find some breakfast.
7:45am
Find a delicious breakfast of Vienna Melange and some pastries.
8:15am
Return to apartment to get cleaned up and watch some BBC News.
9:15am
Check out of apartment and get 50 Euro deposit back despite my ring around the tub I left from getting the daily grime off of me.
10:00am
Catch train from Vienna to Graz while passing through the Semmering…Pass. Take in the beauty of the only railroad line on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
11:20am
Still on the train taking time to write the day’s blog post while sitting in ÖBB Business First Class. Contemplate how many people travel first class but still sleep in hostels and decide it’s probably just Kristen and I. Continue looking out the window taking in all the forests, chalets, cows and ski hills we’re passing. At the same time I’m listening to Nick Drake’s Northern Sky which provides a good soundtrack to my journey.
1:00pm
Arrive in Graz. Look for Arnold Schwarzenegger to no avail.
4:00pm
Arrive in Maribor, Slovenia, look for our hotel.
5:00pm
Still looking.
6:00pm
Still looking.
6:10pm
Found the hotel, no one is there. Stand in front like idiots for 20 minutes before giving up and walking the two miles back to city center.
7:00pm
Find a new hotel. Hotel is apparently and old dorm room. We pretend that we’re back at San Diego State.
8:00pm
Eat McDonald’s, not because we’re homesick but rather it is the only place that serves food that is open in Maribor.
9:00pm
Finish seeing the last of all ten or Maribor’s sights to see.
10:00pm
Day ends.

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.16.2009

mmm...Viennese Coffee!

So after being in Vienna for just about 64 hours we finally got our first taste of Viennese coffee (not including our coffee date with Carolyn in Berlin)

We grabbed some pastries and a Wien Melange a piece and settled into some seats jut outside the Anker bakery outside the Miedling station. We couldn't really tell the difference from a latte at home, but it was yummy regardless. A great way to start the day.

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.15.2009

Visiting Vienna

When one thinks of Vienna, visions of Lipizzaner stallions, decadent truffles, expertly crafted coffees, and rich sacher tortes all to a soundtrack of Mozart. Well, as most of you know by now, that is not how we can travel. We wish we could, but 3 months of decadence would be way out of our budget. We try to get the experience without having to break the bank.

First budget saver of the day...S-Bahn! Most tourists get into the main ring of Vienna's core by taking the trams and U-Bahn which get them right in the middle of the action. We decided to stick with the OBB and utilize the rail pass for free transport to right outside the city center. Meant a little more walking, which we didn't mind in the morning, but it was a little bit of a pain to deal with getting back to our station in the afternoon when it was hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk. A little sweat never hurt anyone right?!

While we had a lot we wanted to see in horrendous heat, Vienna is pretty centrally located. This allowed us to see everything we wanted and not have to spend money getting to point A to point B. Although there was one attraction we had wanted to visit that charged admission, the Imperial Crypts, we decided to skip them as they had gotten some lackluster reviews online. We figured we would get a better experience visiting the central cemetery (which is free) instead.

We visited St. Stephen's cathedral (another place under renovations!) and strolled down Karutnerstrasse. We stopped for lunch outside the tourist's scope and got to get some genuine wienschnetizel. It was delicious and beat the price tags at the restaurants in Stephensplatz that charged 2-3x what we paid.

Then it was off to Hofburg, one of the main palaces. We peaked at the buildings, opting to skip the museums to hold on to our euros. I watched the video of the Spanish Riding School's presentation and then we headed off. We walked to the Rathaus, checked out Naschmarkt (super cool eating courtyard) then we made our way back to the station. Making sure we peaked in at Sacher cafe to drool over the tortes (not tasting one though) and past the opera and the Hotel Bristol, so Charlton could replicate the shot from a vintage postcard we have.

Once at the station we made our way to the central cemetery to see the graves of Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and Strauss. The cemetery was pretty stunning, some of the gravestones were so elaborate. Charlton got some amazing pictures. Once again I was getting mauled by mosquitoes and the heat was really getting to me, so we called it a day and headed back to the apartment. We picked up some supplies to make dinner and came back here to weather the heat.

A rainstorm moved in and cooled off the city (thank goodness!) and we have had a nice evening relaxing, slowly packing and catching up on some news on CNN and the BBC. Tomorrow we hit the road again, this time Slovenia!



Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Oh Sweet Mother of God, We're in Eastern Europe!

Because we can't stay put for 2-3 days we needed something to do with all of our time we scheduled for Vienna. Eastern Europe anyone?! Bratislava, Slovakia is just about an hour from Vienna, and has great connections to Vienna's train stations. Our apartment manager thought we were crazy for spending our limited time in Vienna by going but we want to make sure we see as much as we can.

Although it has been awhile since the curtain fell, I think we were both expecting a trip like this:


Not so! Bratislava was a nice and refreshingly small capital city. The people we met were super friendly and everyone tried to help us get around. We had added the Wikitravel guide to the Reader but used it sparingly. We glanced at the map we got at the station along with the guide to local monuments and set off.

So like all the rest of the tourists, we made sure to hit Bratislava castle that offered stunning views of the river. Like everything else on our trip so far, the castle was undergoing major renovations. Although that worked to our favor, allowing us to see the view and some of the facade for free.

Then it was off to the historic part of town, where we saw the city's major churches, squares and statues. Not falling into the trap of paying exhoribant prices for food in the touristy part of town we headed to the square outside of Tesco for Bratislava's junk food, Richman sandwiches. The equivalent to a warm Subway sandwich with tons of mayo and pickles and such. Charlton got a yummy spinach cake one and mine was ham and cheese. Super filling and pretty tasty. Then it was off to get some ice cream to fight off the heat. Couldn't beat the .50 euro price either!

Then back to the train station, where we caught a warm train back to Vienna. Both of us were extremely hot, it was in the 90s, so we relaxed in the apartment to try to stay away from the heat. With reliable internet, we were also able to watch a webinar put on by our school and make dinner here of salad, garlic soup and goulash.

After the webinar and it had cooled off outside, we headed to Schonbrunn Schloss. We walked around the beautiful gardens for as long as I could take since I was being mauled by mosuitoes. After Charlton was sick of my crying we headed home for me to apply a generous coating of Benadryl to my bites.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

German Home Cooking



Currywurst and Greek Potatoes. Who knew some sausages and potatoes could be so good?

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.14.2009

Apartment Living is the Life for Me!

With it being the height of summer, it was becoming more and more difficult for us to book accomodations on the fly. Dresden seemed to be the worst, but we had issues with most of the cities we are planning to visit in the next two weeks.

While I was unable to find an affordable hostel or hotel, Charlton came to the rescue and found an amazing apartment rental company. Even better, they had an opening for our first choice apartment! SCORE!

One of the things I miss the most about being home is having a kitchen to use. It is always hard for us to go into grocery stores and get snacks and food when you have to be able to eat all of the things you buy if they are pershiable or throw them away. So to have a fridge, a stove and all the basic utensils is such a godsend.

The location here is great, allowing us to make quick transfers into and out of the city. We are also close to shopping and one of the castles. Can't beat that! Next time if we can I think I will try to book apartments for the whole trip, its like having a home away from home.

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.13.2009

Waiting in Wien

We said good bye to Prague this morning. No time to see sights but just just enough to get packed up and to our station to get reservations for our train. Our reservation cost, basically went to providing us with juice, sandwich and the Austrian equivalent of Swiss Rolls. The train had very little air conditioning and we were excited to get to our apartment we arranged in Vienna.

We made the short walk from the station and rang the bell, and nothing. Rang it again, and still nothing. We waited a few minutes and rang again with still no answer. Charlton then took the reader with the manager's contact information and attempted to call her at a pay phone. And then the phone wasn't working. Then off to another phone, thinking we had missed her. Finally Charlton got her on the line to find out she forgot and would be there as soon as the traffic would allow about 1 hour and 45 minutes later.

So far all we have seen of Vienna is a park bench. Fantastic!

Update:

We have gotten our apartment in Vienna and are relaxing. Phew! Traveling is tiring!

Some pictures from yesterday. No pictures from today, it wasn't that exciting!

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.12.2009

The Story of Hansel and Gretel

Today we were Hansel and Gretel in the Czech wilderness. However, first like any good story you have to understand the background.

We got up this morning and Kristen, Nathan and I did our usual routine of going down to breakfast right after we woke up. After Nathan got all his luggage and supplies together to head back to England. Kristen and I then escorted him on the subway to boot him out of the country.

After we bid adieu to him (for a few weeks at least), we went on our merry way to fill in all the cracks of Prague goodness we missed yesterday. The first item was to walk up the immensely large Petrin Hill to see a rip-off version of the Eiffel Tower and eat sandwiches Kristen made using burgled hotel breakfast supplies.

While the top wasn't too exciting, the trip up and down was. There are cherry and apple trees all over on the path leading up the hill, so we got our fill of free cherries and apples provided by Prague City.

Once finished we wandered around the city some more and headed back to the hotel around 5pm for some much needed rest.

At 6:30 is when our story really begins. Behind our hotel is a very large forest. I had been eyeing it since we got here. So we set off on a quick pre-dinner hike. I figured we would be gone for about an hour, but we hiked too far. There were too many paths and not enough memory on our part. Additionally, the GPS was safely tucked into bed in our hotel room. After wandering for quite a while and having numerous conferences of how desperately lost we were, we finally made it back to the hotel just as light was disappearing from the forest at about 9:30pm. Let's just say we almost turned into Bear Grylls.

Fortunately, we returned just in time to have a fabulous dinner of fresh picked Golden Delicious apples, oil kissed potatoes and imported English chocolate. Actually, it wasn't just in time at all. The restaurant by our hotel was closed. Our hotel bar wasn't selling food. Our dinner really was apples, potato chips and some leftover chocolate Nathan got us. It was very very sad.

Other than that, it was a pretty fun day and we're looking forward to Vienna as well as destroying the hotel breakfast tomorrow in retribution for not serving us food. That'll teach them for closing early and not giving us the candy house we so deserved.
AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.11.2009

Bohemian Rhapsody

Is this the real life
Is this just fantasy
Caught in a landslide
No escape from reality
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see...


Bohemia. Today the three of us, Nathan, Kristen and I all headed off to the amazing city of Prague. Before I got there I had read quite a bit about the city. It's beautiful they say, you have to go see it they say, it's well preserved they say, it's cheap they say. It was all true. Except for the cheap part, but the essential characteristics of beauty and historical significance were true. However, Prague is no longer off the beaten path for tourists as there were large crowds and the accompanying prices to match (though still cheaper than Western Europe). Still it is a place I am absolutely glad to have visited.

Starting the day off we headed off to the center of the city from our hotel right outside the main part of the city. Our first stop was a beautiful garden with fantastic landscaping and peacocks. Yes there were a lot of peacocks including a white one who was trying to continually fight a pigeon.

After we headed up to the Prague Castle and checked out one of the main sites of the city. We saw the changing of the guards, got a great view of the city and then headed back down. Once finished we headed off to lunch and thanks to Nathan had a great meal of dumplings, goulash and the like.

We then headed out to wander around the city and take in the local architecture. We checked out the Charles Bridge and much more. After a long day of running around we headed back here to our hotel for some much needed rest.

Overall, I like Prague quite a bit. I can tell because at this point in our trip we have seen many beautiful cities with amazing architecture, however Prague was still impressive. The next indicator is that I typically take 150-200 pictures per day and today I was up to about 500, so in a way today was 100%+ more interesting than a typical day! Tomorrow we have more exploring on the docket after we send Nathan on his way, so we'll see what the day brings then! (Plus I'm going to get a Golem)

Prague -



Dresden -



Germany/Poland -

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.10.2009

From Dust to Glory

We woke up this morning nice and rested. Our mission today was to explore the city of Dresden. We had gotten in later yesterday and decided to take some much needed rest rather than check out the city. In a way the rest was good, however I wish we had more time in Dresden. It was a phenomenal city and has come a long way from the 13 of February in 1945. Starting off, we wandered into the city past the Hauptbahnhof and emerged into the old town right by the Frauenkirche. We then walked around the old city some more and saw all the sights it had to offer.

It's hard to put what we saw into words. Basically though, it was gorgeous. It didn't seem like it was over the top, but rather good looking without trying. Rather than being a Disneyland, it was more like a natural park. It's hard to explain, but it was enjoyable and a place I would recommend everyone to visit.

Afterward we headed outside the older part of city and went to the Volkswagen Phaeton factory. Once there we convinced them to give us a tour in English and spent the next few hours taking a look at the assembly line of the Euro 100k+ car.

Once finished we walked through a huge park after our lunch of 1/2 chicken and cucumber salat. From there we walked back through the city and hung out under some overhangs to avoid the rain.

After, we made our way to Prague. I fell asleep as soon as we got on the train. When I woke up I wasn't sure if we were in Germany or in the Czech Republic. However, when I looked out the train window we were in the countryside with many old building AND Communist era apartment houses. So then I knew we where there.

Once we got to Prague, we met up with Nathan and got some delicious Czech food to cap off our day. Not too bad, we're all looking forward to see what tomorrow has to bring.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.09.2009

In-N-Out...of Poland

We had a wonderful breakfast with Carolyn, Panos and Butch and had to pack up our bags to hit the road for the last push before heading home. So hard to leave family, especially since Carolyn and Panos absolutely spoiled us with their hospitality while we were there! thankyouthankyouthankyou!!! Excellent excursions, food and company! (I can't wait to make currywurst and your greek potatoes Carolyn!)

After big hugs we got on the train and headed to Berlin's new Haufbahnhof. The station was really impressive, we were disapointed we couldn't explore it very much. We hoped on a train headed toward Gorlitz, so we could have a little excursion to Zgorzelec, Poland. When we boarded our train connection in Cottbus, we had a harsh awakening that our rail passes didn't cover that leg as it was part of a private rail...DOH! So 24 Euros lighter we finally made it to the border of Germany and hiked across the bridge to Poland.

Zgorzelec wasn't much but it is surprisingly how different from Germany it is even though its so close. We made our way to their cultural museum that used to be a museum for the German Kaisers and they have pulled all the statues out and have scraped everything from that time, leaving big blanks. It was kind of interesting. After we saw all there was about to see we headed back to Germany and made our way to Dresden.

We checked into the hotel, got dinner at Lidl and then have spent the whole evening trying to book the rest of our hotels for the trip (getting harder as more people are travelling now) We are still waiting on one more confirmation and then we are set and it should be smooth sailing from here.

Tomorrow we explore Dresden and then we end the day in Prague where we will be joined by my brother Nathan!

Labels: , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.08.2009

A Somber Day

Today we woke up without a solid plan on what to do during the day. After a long discussion we decided to visit Sachsenhausen concentration camp. This camp is outside of Berlin and easily accessible for a day trip.

As expected this wasn't a place to go to feel happy. However, Kristen and I have been to Germany a few times now and felt that it was best to see an essential part of German history, no matter how repugnant it may be.

The camp itself is a cross between how it used to be and a modern museum. It was very informative giving details of the camp, its workers and its prisoners and victims. What was the strongest for me was the fact that there was no pushing the blame aside. Many times I have visited museums in Germany and blame for World War II has been placed aside, where in reality it was all of Germany that deserves blame. At this museum/camp, they explain it for what it was, pure and simple murder, done by murderers. It was very poignant and essential stop for every person. As said many times, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. It wasn't fun however it was something that I was glad that I did.

Afterwards, we went to a wonderful Austrian coffee shop, Kaffeehaus Morgenrot to wind down from the day. We had an excellent piece of cake as well as a hazelnut tart in addition to some hot chocolate with Arabian spices.

For dinner my Aunt Carolyn made some currywurst with Greek potatoes which was absolutely delicious.

After a long and educational day we're heading to bed and getting ready for our trip to Poland (surprise!) tomorrow.

Now: Photo catch up

Last Day Lisbon



Berlin 1



Berlin 2 (Today)



Enjoy!

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.07.2009

Berliner for a Day

As stated below Kristen and I took the "day off" from traveling and just relaxed here in Berlin, or in Hermsdorf more specifically. Up until 5pm the highlights of our day included:

- Taking a shower
- Doing laundry
- Surfing the internet
- Petting Butch the cat
- Eating lunch

After 5pm things got more interesting. We headed off to a marketplace and got some delicious Greek food and after a long post-dinner walk we saw such Berlin highlights as the Brandenberg Gate, The Reichstag, The Holocaust Memorial and much more.

We are full, we are clean, we are happy and for a night, we were German!

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Gutentag Berlin!

We got in super late last night/this morning and were so happy to be staying at Carolyn & Panos' house (Charlton's aunt and uncle). Beats hostel living that's for sure!

We stayed up late and had pasta and salad. After all the grocery store junk we were eating in Portugal it was great to have a home cooked meal.

We have lazed about for most of the day so far, eating a relaxing breakfast and doing some laundry (hooray we will have clean clothes!)

Germany has really been a second home for us on this trip, nice that we can recharge our batteries now that we just have a few more weeks to go!

Labels: ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.06.2009

Adeus Lisbon!

Today was our last day to enjoy Portugal. We had breakfast of pateis de feijaos and mango soda and packed up some of our stuff. Then it was off to Belem to see the rest of the major tourist sights:

We then grabbed lunch at a place in the heart of Belem, some traditional Portuguese dishes, monk fish rice and pork, potatoes and pickles.

Then the highlight of the day...Pasteis de Belem! The cafe is world renowned for their custard tarts, and they were fantastic! So delicious!

With full bellies we then made our way back to Baxim to get us some bica or Portugese coffee. We didn't find the cafe that we passed the other day that Samantha Brown visited but found a really cool old coffee shop that only locals were at. We each had a thimble sized cup at the bar and it was really good. Really strong but good.

Then back here to pack up the gear and head to the airport. Next stop...Berlin!

Labels: , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.05.2009

Following in the footsteps of the Moops…er…Moors

Sleeping in our attic bedroom is so relaxing! The cool Lisbon breeze wafting in the window, it’s a treat. We both sleep really well, I got up around 7 and played on the internet and watched as the sun began finding its way into the watercolored streets and alleys.

After Charlton got up, we ate some patesis de feijao (bean custards) and got ready for the busy day of sightseeing ahead. First, we made our way down to the Cais do Sodre port and caught the ferry over to Cacilhas, the sleepy little fishing neighborhood across the Tejo river. We walked along the streets, seeing how most Portuguese spend their Sunday, until we got to the top of the cliff overlooking the river where the Cristo-Rei statue is built (Jesus statue, similar to Rio de Janiero’s) It offered stunning views of the city, and gave our legs a major workout!

Then we headed back to the ferry port to get lunch in the Baixa neighborhood. I had pored though magazines here at the B&B looking for good cheap restaurants. So we programmed them into the Garmin and set off, drawback is today is Sunday so all of them were closed! We finally found the equivalent to a Portuguese Subway and got some sandwiches and soup.

As if that wasn’t adventure enough for one day…we took all the travel guides advice and headed to Sintra! We hopped on the train and headed to what Lord Byron called the most beautiful village in the world. And he wasn’t lying! Sintra was stunning and very quiet and green. We had a nice walk through the historical center and then headed up the hills to the Moorish castle. There are such beautiful buildings and scenery, I think Charlton would have been hard pressed to take a bad picture there.

Then we headed back to Lisbon and were on the search for dinner. Most cafes were too expensive for us but we lucked out and DIA was open. We picked out two soups and some other snacks and came back to eat them here. Pictures can be deceiving, Charlton’s soup which looked like mostly peas with meatballs was mostly meatballs with an odd pea thrown in. The soup I selected had looked like a chickpea stew, but when we opened the can it was all rubbery and chewy and where were the chickpeas?! We gave up on mine and finished off the rest of the snacks to round out our dinner. Curiosity got to us finally and we looked up what I had picked out, um, COW FEET! Ugh! Maybe we can now join Andrew Zimmern on Bizarre Foods? haha.

We took the rest of the night easy and just relaxed. We will be leaving the bags here while we make our last run at Lisbon seeing its neighborhood of Belem.



Labels: , , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.04.2009

Moroccan Food



We came, we saw, we ate and we were full. Of the numerous amazing things to see and do in Morocco, the food is near the top. That's not saying there isn't that much to see or do, but rather how good the food is.

Labels: , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Catching Up

Photo catch up time!

06-29, Fes Day 1



06-30, Fes Day 2



07-01, Fes Day 3



07-02, In Transit

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Anar al llit a Barcelona, Acorda-se em Lisboa

Last we left off Kristen and I were set off and running here in Lisbon. By the time we got settled into our room and recovered (i.e. showered the sweat from Barcelona off of us) it was about noon.

First destination, lunch. We took off in the general direction of the old town Alfama and stopped for lunch along the way. Typical of us we avoided anyplace that had an inkling of a tourist and ended up in some side shop where the owner and chef spoke no English. We were fortunately treated to a nice lunch of steak, eggs and fries. Not bad, cheap, tasty and filling. Exactly what I look for in a lunch.

Once finished we headed off to Alfama. This is one of the oldest districts in Lisbon and one of the most enjoyable. Similar to Fes, this district is an absolute maze with houses being used as walls. Much of the fun however is getting lost wandering up and down the streets. That’s where you get to see the real Lisbon. Old ladies leaning out their windows, men feeding stray cats only to chase them out later when the cats come in for more, basically people living their lives. We managed to get up to St. George’s Castle and wandered many streets before we decided to come home and relax. Along the way I found a popular dish which I plan on trying before I head out, sardines.

Once back at our place we did something that wasn’t terribly exciting. We rested.

After a few hours we took off again to get a typical dinner. For us on this trip a typical dinner is food from a grocery store. Tonight is was Portuguese sausage, cheese and salad, plus the usual potato chips, or Batatas as they’re called here.

With dinner finished we continued to relax. I decided to get fancy and go on the roof to get some picture of the sunset over the 25 de Abril Bridge. To get to the top of the roof I had to strafe along the outer edge of the building to get to the top. A little risky but it was nice watching the sun set in a large city with no one around.

All in all, Lisbon has been a great spot to be in. I’d like to see more of Portugal, but that will have to wait for another trip. The weather here is phenomenal and the food is very unique. Portugal is a little out of the way when compared to Paris or Munich but it should be a destination that isn’t skipped. Of course I shouldn’t be saying anything because the smaller amounts of tourist here is a good thing!

Addendum:

As stated earlier our Barcelona “pension” had a lot of rules. Here are some from the top of my head. Keep in mind any violation of these rules involved either a fine or getting kicked out on the street.

1. Check in at 4pm, check out at 10am
2. Wake up call at 9am
3. Shower from 8am to 11pm
4. Internet from 8am to 11pm
5. Do not try to fix the internet if broken
6. Do not plug anything into the computer
7. Shower for less than seven minutes
8. Clean the floor if you wash your feet
9. Turn off all lights
10. And so on…

Needless to say we were living on eggshells, which was probably against the rules.

Labels: , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Growing up Gaudi

We woke up early at the pension, packed our bags and headed toward Barcelona’s main station to hideaway our bags so we could explore more freely. It took longer than expected, so it was about 10 by the time we grabbed some pastries at the station (sadly no churros con chocolate there!) and hopped on the metro.

First stop, Parc Guell! We walked around the park designed by Gaudi and walked around the outside of the Casa-Museu Gaudi. It was hard to take any good pictures near all the animals at the entrance as it was mobbed by the other tourists. So we spent most of our time in the upper areas of the park, sweating up a storm in the 97 degree weather. We hiked all the way to the view point at the Three Crosses of Calvary viewpoint for a fogged in view of the city.

Then it was back on the metro, to grab lunch at la Boqueria. We had wanted to get pictures with Juan at Pinotxo Bar, like Rick Steves recommends, but it was so crowded there we couldn’t get close. We walked around the market instead grabbing some jamon and fruit which we ate on our towels in the middle of La Rambla.

We then walked through Barri Gothic and saw the cathedral and then popped back on the metro. We got off at Pg. Garcia and visited Gaudi’s Casa Batillo (and by visit I mean viewed from the outside…not going to wait in line and THEN pay 16 euros!) We also peaked down the street to Fundacio Antoni Tapies to see the metal cloud structure on the roof. Then it was off to see more Gaudi…this time checking out La Pedera Espal Gaudi. Again more lines, more admission fees that we passed on. When you only have a day in the city and so much to see, you have to pick and choose wisely. We headed off toward Sagrada Familia making sure to stop and take some pictures of Casa Les Punxes in the process.

Sagrada Familia did not disappoint. This was our attraction that we decided early on that we were going to wait in line and pay for. We did have to pass on the elevator ride, couldn’t afford the hour long wait, but it did offer us more time to visit the museum downstairs with tons of information on the cathedral and lots of models of the structure. I won’t delve into how beautiful the church is, Charlton’s pictures will explain it a lot better than I can, but we definitely would love to go back when its finished if we are still up and kicking.

We were getting short on time, but we made a stop at the Arc de Triomf so Charlton could take the pictures he missed out on when we were walking to the hotel. Then it was back in the metro so we could collect our bags and catch the train to Madrid.

In Madrid, we had to connect to the station where our Trenhotel was leaving from. Gave us about 2 hours before we had to leave, Charlton went on an expedition to get some dinner from the grocery store and I watched over our bags at the station. We scarfed down our food in the waiting area and then with anticipation headed toward the train.

We had sprung for a double cabin as all the guidebooks say Spain can be sketchy for night train travel. We hoped that we would have a full bath with our bunk beds. But we only had a small sink *cue sad trombone* They did hook us up with free breakfast (eggs or fruit and your fill of pastries) and bottled water for the trip. We settled in for the night to awake in yet another new country.

Labels: , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Olá Lisbon!

We got into Lisbon first thing this morning, after having breakfast in the train's dining car. However, the information we brought with us on our B&B didn't have the house number so we spent a lot of time at the train station seeing if they could look it up for us. They wrote down the street clearly for us and we figured we could find it marked when we got there...

Signage? Names on doors? Silly Charlton and Kristen! You are in the neighborhoods of Lisbon, its not like there will be a banner welcoming you! We wandered around for a good hour or so with our packs and finally used the internet at a hostel nearby so we could get the address. Phew! We got settled into our room on the top floor of a cool old building and chatted with the owner and played with his cat before getting cleaned up and making our plans for the day.

Now its time to get going!

Pictures and Barcelona recap to come tonight! Happy 4th everyone!

Labels: ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.03.2009

En route to Barcelona

Our flight out of Morocco was at 2 pm, “finally, a decent time!” we said. We took our time in the morning, eating breakfast, reading and packing. We left the riad at 12 and had no issues getting to the airport.

When it was time to board our flight we had the typical RyanAir fun of trying to jockey for position to get the best seats. Running across the tarmac always works, and we had seats in the 2nd row.

Since Turkey I have started drinking coffee again…not such a great idea when you also have strong Moroccan mint tea in the morning and have to finish a bottle of Diet Coke before you get to the airport! Having only a piece of bread in my stomach from breakfast I felt pretty nauseas the flight and the bus ride from Girona to Barcelona. Thankfully, we did not have any H1N1 questionnaires when we got there, otherwise they may have quarantined me!

We got to the city around 6:30, found our pension and checked in. Having found it at the absolute last minute we got an awesome location (everything else was already booked up or was way outside our price range or nowhere near Barcelona) Although there are more rules here than I have ever seen (7 minute showers, c’mon!) you can’t the 46 euro price tag.

Since we already have reservations for the Madrid to Lisbon night train we figured we would best to get reservations from Barcelona to Madrid so we don’t miss our train. We walked to the train station and took a number and waited. And waited and waited. The ticket staff ended up working overtime to clear the queue. We left at 9:45, after having received one ticket for 7 am and having to wait again to have him change it for an evening train.

Then we set out looking for food. We hoped that La Boqueria would still be open and we could get something at one of the restaurants in the market. We hightailed it across the Barri Gothic and down La Rambla to see the last stalls close up. Knowing everything would be super expensive on La Rambla we walked back to our hotel and got some food at a restaurant near the train station (tortilla for me, Catalan sausage for Charlton) Then we walked to the convenience store and picked up snacks and hustled back to the hotel to take showers before quiet hours (both of us in 15 minutes, has to be a new record!) And then we attempted to get some sleep even though our room has no AC and just a fan to circulate the warm Barcelona air.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Relaxing in the Riad

While sitting on Café Clock’s rooftop our first evening in Fez, we saw a sign for all the events being held at the café during the week: belly dancing, yoga, calligraphy, movie showing and a concert. Both our eyes fell onto the calligraphy posting. The Arabic calligraphy is so beautiful here it would be fun to take a class, and it was being held on our last evening in Fez…perfect!

We got up at our leisure and had breakfast in the riad’s courtyard. After examining the guidebook we decided to try to find the Jewish quarter on our own or at least get lost in the medina in the process. We ended up doing the latter, walking for what seemed like forever on streets that were next to where we started and not on the opposite end of the medina like we had hoped. We took a break at a café lining one of the main streets near the blue gate for a Coke and some people watching.

Since we still had some time to kill before our class at 3, we came back to the riad and read some and packed up the laptop to make use of the wi-fi at Café Clock. Once we got there we announced to the manager that we there for the calligraphy class, he had asked if we had signed up…signed up?! He said they had the class scheduled but unless there was interest they didn’t call the teacher in, but he would call him now to see if he was available. Charlton and I settled into a booth and started working on our hotel reservation for Barcelona while we waited. The manager came back and told us the teacher would be in at 3 for the class, “so he will be here in 3 minutes?” Charlton asked. The manager laughed and said “it’s almost 2, not 3!” We looked at each other and started laughing, we have been off an hour the whole time we have been here! Guess that shows we have really been on vacation here in Morocco! After an hour, the teacher arrived, but before the lesson could begin we asked the manager the price (we have learned our lesson after assuming costs elsewhere). We figured the class would be 50 dirhams per person like the yoga class offered, but were told that it was a private lesson not a group session so the cost was 250 per person (about $63 for the 2 of us!) We apologized to the instructor but said that was a little too rich for our blood and we would be unable to participate. We stuck around in the café a little longer making sure we caught up on the blog, and high tailed it out of there as soon as we were done.

We planned on trying another restaurant near the blue gate for dinner as we had tried all of the Moroccan dishes that Café Clock had to offer, and there was no way we were going to be able to show our faces there again. But when we got back to the riad, the staff invited us to have a couscous dinner here with them. We hung around the riad playing backgammon and reading until sunset when we all headed up to the roof. There we were treated to one of the most magnificent dinners of the trip: couscous with caramelized onions, raisins, chickpeas, and lamb. It was amazing! For dessert we had delicious melon and some mint tea. The view of the medina was spectacular and made for a truly memorable evening, a great way to say to goodbye to Fez.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.02.2009

Bienvenido a Barcelona!


Hey everyone! We just got into Barcelona this evening and have done a little exploring, more just looking for food. We will update more as soon as we can, limited internet access here at our pension (and so many rules!)

We will be seeing the rest of the city tomorrow and then will be heading to Madrid to catch our night train to Lisbon!

Labels: , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

7.01.2009

Quick Ramblings

As we enter July, our final month of the trip a lot of thoughts continually fly through my mind. First, I am amazed at how quickly the time has passed. Last night Kristen and I were taking a look at our pictures from Japan. In one way it seems like a distant memory, but in a way it also seems like it was only a few days or weeks ago. A trip like this will do that to you.

Another thing that I’ve thought about is how I haven’t been bored or homesick on this trip that much. Typically when I’ve gone on a long vacation there will be a few days when the travelling is frustrating and getting to me. On this trip I have rarely felt that way. Perhaps it is because we are seeing so much in a short amount of time. In a way other than Thailand we haven’t had the chance to sit down and relax enough to let boredom set in. This is a good and bad thing. While we’ve done a ton, we haven’t had a chance to get the understanding of a place that you get when a few weeks are spent there. In my opinion this is fine though, we can go to the places we like later when we have more time and money to enjoy them. Alternatively, if there is a place we don’t like we know we never have to return. This is better than the guilt we would have if we had spent thousands of dollars on a two or three week vacation.

As our time here in Morocco draws to a close I’m surprised on how much we have gotten to see and do. Yesterday as Kristen and I were standing on the roof of our pension, overlooking Fes, I was reminded of a story which I told her.

Back in 2003, I was studying abroad at Oxford, which was my first time I was in Europe and out of the country by myself. A group of friends and I were trying to decide where to go during our couple day break from school.

“How about Morocco?” someone said. I thought at the time, wow that seems so exotic. Maybe a little bit too wild for my taste. This was only a few years after 9/11 and I knew that Morocco was Islamic and in Africa. Did I need a visa, would they be friendly to Americans? Too many questions ran through my mind for it to be considered a viable thought.

I ended up going to Berlin where my Aunt lives. Granted, this was a new experience for me and one I thoroughly enjoyed. But part of me knew that there were more places I wanted to visit in the future.

Fast forward six years. I’m standing on a rooftop overlooking Fes, Morocco. Two weeks ago, Turkey, a month ago I was in India, six weeks ago, Cambodia. All those places I never, ever thought I would have the opportunity or fortitude to visit. However, here I stand looking back knowing that I did it. I saw what I had set out to see, surprising myself (and Kristen) in the process.

Labels: , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Medina Maze

Today was our first full day in Fez, if you can count waking up at 10 a full day. Our courtyard facing room, gets no light when we pull the curtains closed so we didn’t begin to stir until we heard noise outside. Charlton had arranged for our tour guide to come around 9:30, and we assumed we would have breakfast at about 8:30 giving us plenty of time to get ready for the day. With sleepy eyes we glanced at the clock and saw it was 10! You can tell we have been really pushing ourselves that the first time we don’t have a train or a plane to catch time goes by the wayside.

We grabbed a table in the courtyard and were brought Moroccan bread, olives, butter, cream cheese, apricot jam, coffee and mint tea. At first neither of us thought that would be enough, but surprisingly it was very filling. Perfect for a whole day of touring the medina!

Our guide, Halim, showed us all around the old town...not like we saw everything. There are 947 alleyways in the medina, and we probably walked 100 max. We learned the history of Fez, and got a glimpse of what life is like here. We visited the Attarine medersa, one of the many religious schools, which was absolutely gorgeous. We walked through many of the old souks, or marketplaces, that used to specialize in just one product. Now however, many of the different goods are intermixed, so you can go buy a goat head right next to the vegetable stand. How convenient! We also got to peek into the Kariraouine University, founded in the 10th century, the world’s first university (it predates Oxford, Nathan!) as well as a mausoleum.

Fez is the handicraft capital of Morocco, a fact not lost on us as we visited a shop for almost every type today! We got demonstrations on carpets, brass work and fabric making. We also visited a shop that takes seeds from Argan trees (only native to Morocco) and extract the oil to use for beauty supplies and cooking. I got practically a full body treatment with all the samples of moisturizers, lip balms and perfumes…not to mention the spread for some bread! We also visited one of the tanneries that Fez is known for. We were lead to the upstairs terrace that had a fantastic view of all the vats used for dyeing. It was around noon when we went and we both were apprehensive of how strong the smell would be after reading all the guidebooks, however, the terrace was far enough away that we were not assaulted by the smell of all the sheep, cow, goat and camel hides. They had beautiful jackets, bags, belts, ottomans, and of course shoes, all very nice pieces.

We got back to the hotel around 3ish, a full day of sightseeing. We relaxed in our room reading and napping for awhile and then ventured out for an earlier dinner as we hadn’t had lunch. We headed back to Café Clock’s rooftop terrace where we ordered the Fez platter, a sample of Moroccan tapas, and chicken couscous. Both dishes were delicious! The couscous was amazing!

On the way back to the hotel we did a teensy bit of shopping, making sure to pick up a hand of Fatima to add to our Christmas ornament collection for the trip.

Labels: , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Older Posts