Things don’t always go as planned…

Things on our to do list today:
-Go see The David
-Go see Boboli Gardens
-Go to the Uffizi Gallery

Things we actually did today:
-Slept until 11
-Had a 2-hour lunch
-Spent over 3 hours seeing the David; 2 hours and 15 min in line, 45 inside
-Went back to our hostel to change
-Bought a sweater
-Bought a hat
-Ate some pizza
-Got to Boboli Gardens as they were closing
-Got to Uffizi Gallery 5 min after it closed

So things don’t always go as planned, as we’re learning over and over on this trip. But that’s okay. The David was well worth the wait. We’ve still got time for the Uffizi Gallery and the Boboli Gardens tomorrow. Even if we didn’t get to see any of the major sights, the stuff that we have done, like eating delicious Italian food and walking all over the city, has been perfect. I think with any big trip it’s important to remember that you can plan all you want, but at the end of the day as long as you’re tired and happy, that’s all that matters. And we are certainly both tired and happy at the end of this long day.

It’s been awesome seeing some of the same parts of Florence that we saw yesterday, but in beautiful sunny weather. Oh and did I mention we went back to Mostodolce again for lunch? That makes 3 trips in less than 24 hours. The owner recognized us and gave us free focaccia upon entering today. Then as we left he said “see you tonight!” …we’re actually considering it. Florence has been a great time and we’ve still got half a day tomorrow and part of Monday morning! Tomorrow we’ve got a half-day trip to Pisa planned and Sunday we’ve signed up for an all-day wine tour of the Chianti region. But, you know how plans go…so we’ll be sure to update on what happens along the way!


Thanks for reading!

Cam & Kelly

20130531-203356.jpg

20130531-203426.jpg

20130531-203441.jpg

Advertisements

A couple rainy days in Florence

Ever since arriving in Florence, both Kelly and I haven’t had much of an urge to post anything. We can’t really grasp what it is but both of us just really haven’t felt like writing. Maybe it’s because the weather has been rainy and overcast or we don’t feel like we have much to say or share…

But, we’ve been in Florence for two days now so it’s time to share what’s going on. When we left Bern, we had planned to stop off in Milan, walk around, see The Last Supper and everything else the fashion capital of the world had to offer. However, just hopping off the train to “see the last supper” isn’t that simple. Apparently tickets sell out months in advance and you have to book your reservation just to see the famous painting for a strictly-monitored 15 minutes. So immediately our hopes of having a good stop in Milan took a major shot.

Once we arrived in Milan, the first thing we had to do was get a ticket for the train to Florence. Once again, we hit another brick wall. When you wait at most major train stations you don’t just line up and take the next available open counter space. You take a number and go up when your number is called. That’s cool, it works well…most of the time.

At the Milan train station your ticket number depends on where you’d like to go. Options include international (Group B), within Italy (Group A), some other category making up Group R and then our lucky group…Eurail pass holders, Group E. We get our number- E156- and see that they are currently at E149. We were like cool! Only 7 to go, not bad. Well when they call LITERALLY 100 different numbers for groups A, B and R for every ONE number they call in group E it’s definitely NOT cool. So even though we had 7 numbers to go (5 of which had been abandoned, so they’d call that E number then nobody would show then we’d wait another hundred numbers for some E ticket holding bastard to not show up again) it took OVER 400 NUMBERS FOR OURS TO FINALLY BE CALLED. We were just a tadfrustrated. After that whole mess we just said “put us on the next train to Florence, ciao Milan.”

We arrived in Florence around 6:30 PM, tired and cranky. Luckily our hostel wasn’t far from the train station and even more lucky, it was next to the Duomo. Inside the Duomo isn’t ornately decorated and apart from the dome itself, it’s just another cathedral. But the outside is the most decorative of any cathedral I’ve ever seen. It’s spectacular! We were both blown away and our spirits were lifted by just the sight of it.
20130531-125639.jpg
Once we got settled in at our hostel it was pretty late. Some of the people who’d been staying there all week were drinking in the kitchen. We sat down with them and chatted and eventually decided to join them for a night on the town. This was kind of a bust but we needed to go to bed early anyways. The next morning we woke up refreshed and in better moods. Unfortunately it was pouring down rain, but we set out to take in the city we’d heard so many good things about. First stop was for food. We just kind of wandered the streets until we saw a place that looked good and wasn’t too expensive. We ended up making a great decision. Mostodolce is a small bar/restaurant a street or 2 over from the big mercato centrale. It’s got a great menu and good, cheap beer. We shared a caprese crostini to start, then Cam got a pizza and I got a gnocchi dish with asparagus and pesto. Perfect introduction to Italian food!

20130531-130048.jpg
From there we went to climb the Duomo! 463 steps up to the very top of the famous dome is definitely worth it! Even in the not-ideal weather the view was amazing. Also, the climb to the top is broken up with a stop inside at the base of the dome. A small cat walk circles around so you can look up at the beautiful paintings on the dome’s ceiling.
20130531-130313.jpg
Outside the dome you’re afforded with a 360 degree view of the entire city.
20130531-130433.jpgFinally, a picture of the two of us.
After the Duomo we headed to see Michelangelo’s David but were sad to find a 2-hour line. We were actually going to just head back to the hostel when we ran into Luke, an Aussie we’d met the night before. He was headed to Piazzale Michelangelo and convinced us to come along. For the rest of the day we walked all over Florence with Luke. After the Piazzale Michelangelo which is up on a hill, we headed down into the small, twisting city streets. We were on a search for a wine shop we’d heard sold 2 euro house wine that was excellent. We couldn’t find it but our search led us through the city and we got to see tons of little hidden pockets of Florence. We also stumbled upon the most amazing pizza on the planet.

20130531-130917.jpg

20130531-130926.jpg
The trek back to the hostel took us across the famous Ponte Vecchio. The gold shops window displays were gorgeous. Best window shopping I’ve ever done! By then it was around 6 and it was time for a nap. After a quick rest we took Luke, as well as two American friends we’d made at the hostel, back to Mostodolce for dinner. This time I got homemade pappardelle noodles with meat sauce. So. Freaking. Good.

20130531-131210.jpg
After dinner our night was pretty uneventful. We went to a bar right next to the Duomo and Cameron made some Romanian friends who he talked to for like 2 hours. They were in awe of his size and kept telling him he was too big for a man of only 22. One of them proclaimed, “what the f*** did you eat a whole cow man?” when Cam revealed to them that he was only 22. It was a good time.
Today the sun is finally out and we plan to see the Boboli Gardens, The David, the Uffizi Gallery and more of the beautiful city streets! Hopefully later we will have more exciting stories for you. Thanks for reading!

20130531-163435.jpg(From left: Cam, Luke the Aussie friend, Josh and Brady from Kansas State and Kelly)

Our first missed-train

So remember yesterday when we were all “we’ve got a 7:30 AM train to Milan, in 24 hours we’ll be updating you on Northern Italy”….

Well things took a different turn. Depending on how you look at it, you could say it took a turn for the worse or the better. We’re choosing to stay positive.

So last night we met the coolest group of people; Renae from Perth, Australia, Liam from New Zealand and Sun from South Korea. We were all enjoying some beer and wine in the common room of the hostel just trading travel stories and having great conversation. 9:45 rolls around and we realize we’ve got 15 minutes to run to the store and get some more beers. So that’s what we do. After the second round of beers are finished, rather than go to sleep we decide to check out ‘Quasimodo’ the bar/club in the bottom floor of our hostel. Instead of calling it a night after that we joined forces with another Aussie and two Americans who led us to a Cuban bar where I promptly began speaking Spanish to all the staff only to find out none of them were actually Cuban. We danced till our legs were sore and then finally around 3 AM we decided to stumble back to the hostel. Before going to sleep I set about 17 alarms to ensure we’d get up and wouldn’t miss our train. When the first alarm went off at 6:50 I turned off all the alarms and went back to sleep until 7:30…when our train left. At that point we just said “screw it” and went back to sleep until 10 when we had to check out. We couldn’t get another train reservation to Milan until 1:30 which sort of throws a wrench in all our plans but we’re both in agreement that it was worth it. Even if we are slightly hungover.

20130529-120844.jpg

It’s tough to say what the “best” part about traveling is but what we experienced last night is definitely up there. Meeting people from different parts of the world and hearing about life in their corner of the globe gives me this indescribable feeling. And then going out together and instantly feeling like best friends is another great feeling as well. Travel friends are truly the best! Renae, Liam and Sun, and the short time we got to spend with them will definitely be something we look back on as a highlight of our trip.

20130529-121231.jpg

20130529-121429.jpg Sweet dance moves.

20130529-121438.jpg

20130529-121456.jpg

20130529-121514.jpg This guy really likes Cam’s jersey.

Bern, day two.

Our second day in Bern was relaxing and uneventful. While Bern has a much larger personality than a city of only 133,000 people would normally have, its sights are within close enough proximity that you can spend half a day on foot and see almost everything there is to see. After we busted ourselves to get after it yesterday, we were able to sleep in this morning. For the first time in our entire trip, we were no longer trying to beat the clock to see all there is to see, but rather we were set on using this day as a “personal health day” (in the middle of a vacation, go figure…). Noon came around and the only thing on our mind was going to Coop City (grocery store) to get some yogurt, fruit, and fixings for sandwiches to make ourselves a little picnic and plop our butts next to the blue-green river that runs around Bern.

Another walk over to the BearPark to watch the bears play around in the sun and water, followed by a walk around the other side of the river bank, and our day was virtually done. In another time, we would have been able visit the cathedral as it is unfortunately under construction, but we were able to go around to the side where there was once again another magnificent view of the river, the city, and the countryside. Bern appears to have quite a few of those…

With perfect timing, our to-do list was finished at the same time a storm rolled across the mountains to cover Bern in a blanket of rain. A nap and shower later, with more dinner fixing from the grocery store (did I mention it was really expensive here?), our day is coming to an end. We wake up tomorrow early for a 7:35 am train to Milan for a few hours, before we continue on to our destination in Florence. In 24 hours, we’ll hopefully be updating yall on another nonstop travel day, this time though Northern Italy.

– Cameron and Kelly

How to: Have a cheap, but still delicious and somewhat “authentic” meal in the most expensive country in the world.

As Cameron mentioned in his description of the beautiful Switzerland, it is an expensive country. Outrageously so. But, a girl’s gotta eat. The average meal here is going to run you at least $20. Even if you think “hey, I’ll just go to McDonalds,” a meal there is going to be $15-20.

So we decided to allow ourselves one meal out then head to the supermarkets! We went to a Coopcity which for you Spanish kiddos is just like an El Corte Ingles. For those of you unfamiliar with El Corte Ingles, think one-stop-shop like Walmart…but way better. The clothes/makeup/department store aspect is of Nordstrom quality and then it’s also got a grocery store inside. Coopcity is essentially the same. So for our cheap but “authentic” meal, we grabbed ourselves one of these bad boys:

20130528-195928.jpg A Swiss cheese sampler pack. It only cost about $5 and came with a good amount of cheese. (Btw, the Swiss Frank is roughly equivalent to the US dollar so for the sake of simplicity I’m listing everything in dollars) We also grabbed a loaf of fresh bread, something that’s becoming a habit in every city we visit. This cost less than a dollar. Finally we finished with a can of tomato bisque, running us roughly $3.

We melted the samples of different Swiss cheeses on thick slices of bread and then dipped the makeshift “grilled cheese” into our tomato soup. It was like the most perfect blend of Swiss goodness and a classic American comfort food. And for less than $10 Cameron and I were able to eat a great, filling meal.

20130528-200505.jpg
So I guess the point is, even in the most expensive country in the world you can get by on a budget, and you don’t have to sacrifice taste or quality!

That’s all for now! Thanks for reading.

-Kelly

Bern: Bears, Beer, Brats, Bacon, and Browns (Hash).

Welcome to the land of the Swiss. The most expensive country I’ve ever been to may also be the most beautiful. Typical. The Swiss capital is a city obsessed with bears, as a depiction of a bear is on everything from manhole covers to the city flag, and there’s even a Bear Park (that is actually full of brown bears) that is one of the city’s biggest attractions (even for its own citizens).

20130528-160448.jpg

Beer, well, lets be honest, which European country doesn’t take pride in the beer it brews? Right next to the barengraben (Bear Park) was a restaurant that looks over the park, the beautiful blue river, and picturesque city that brews its own beer right in the restaurant. Their selection ranged from a Helles (a blonde), a Marzen (darker beer), a Weizen (wheat beer), and a seasonal beer called a Dampfbeir (“Steam beer”), and all four of them were very good and very reasonably priced!

20130528-160630.jpg

20130528-160639.jpg

For dinner, we both had traditional Swiss meals that consisted of either two links of bratwurst or bacon and eggs on top of a massive helping of the best hash browns I have ever tasted! Hearty and savory, it was the perfect meal after our long than expected trek all the way from Lyon through the French and Swiss countryside to Bern!

20130528-160743.jpg

A scenic (and romantic) walk along the river as well as a visit to the old 16th century clock tower/astronomical clock and we had well walked our way to the end of another fantastic day!

-Cameron&Kelly

20130528-160755.jpg

20130528-160803.jpg

Grand Lyon

Lyon has been absolutely spectacular. After a disappointing visit to Marseille we were really feeling down. But Lyon totally changed that!
20130527-120537.jpg
We arrived somewhat late in the day on Saturday. Instead of exploring with the remaining daylight we went to the nearby mall. I really needed a jacket. It’s been much colder than expected. From there we went to a supermarket and picked up provisions to cook our own dinner as our hotel has a fully stocked kitchenette in the room! Cameron made a wonderful dinner. After that it was time to explore Lyon at night! We took a bus into the city center and were delighted to see that the buildings are all really well lit at night. It was beautiful. We admired the architecture, some fun statues and sculptures and a few fountains. We called it an early night so we could rest up for the full day we had planned Sunday.
20130527-121100.jpg
Sunday morning we headed straight for the Sunday market (Marche St Antoine) along the Saone River. The market consisted of 2 long rows of little tents/food stands with a stream of shoppers walking through the middle. Stands included fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh seafood, giant oysters, tables with a huge selection of olives and tapenades, rotisserie chicken stands, cheese, bread and wine (of course) as well as a couple different ethnic stands like one with Chilean food and another with Indian food.
20130527-121620.jpg20130527-121633.jpg20130527-121646.jpg20130527-121703.jpg
Cam and I bought half of a small rotisserie chicken with potatoes, onions and tomatoes, a bottle of fresh squeezed orange juice, 2 of the best peaches we’d ever tasted and 2 huge beef steak tomatoes (Uncle Mike would be proud!).
While exploring the market we noticed what can only be described as the porta-potties of the gods. These things were top of the line. After each use they basically were locked down for 2 minutes during which a complete wash cycle from top to bottom occurred inside. So every time you went to use one every inch had just been cleaned. Amazing. America needs to get some of these ASAP, I’d be much more comfortable at ACL. 20130527-173610.jpgAfter a necessary use of these amazing public toilets we began our journey up (and up, and up and up) the hill to the basilica and Roman ruins at the top. The hike was tiring but along the way there were countless picture spots with views of the entire city. 20130527-122041.jpg
Once at the top we realized the long journey was SO worth it. The Basilica was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen and the Roman ruins were also spectacular. 20130527-122201.jpg20130527-122234.jpg
We hiked down and quickly found we were exhausted. Naturally this called for happy hour. We popped into St. James pub for some cheap pints while we rested our legs. 20130527-122341.jpg
From there we went to a Lyonaiss “Bouchon,” popular small restaurants with typical Lyonaiss cuisine. Lyon is the self-proclaimed gastronomy capital of the world so we had to try our the traditional fare. What followed was out of this world. Most bouchons offer 3-4 course dinners that are anywhere from 13-30 euro. You get to pick a soup or salad, a main course and a dessert. All of which is accompanied by plenty of wine and bread. We each had (French) onion soup to start. Then Cameron got steak and au gratin potatoes which he described as “au gratin potatoes which have been ‘au gratined’ and then ‘au gratined’ again.” They were rich and heavy to say the least, but damn they were good. I had a good portion of chicken which was served in the still-hot pot and covered in a creamy mushroom sauce along with a plate of white rice. For dessert we both got creme brûlée. Soooo good. I immediately went into a food coma and was snoring on the bus back to our hotel. !20130527-123005.jpg

That night we were too tired to do much of anything. We are now well rested and waiting for our train to Switzerland! We’re excited to see what Berne and Geneva have to offer!

-Kelly

20130527-235002.jpg

Where Montpellier/Marseille failed to impress, Lyon triumphed. For all of us who have studied/visited Sevilla, Lyon is the Sevilla of France. Just like the “NO8DO” symbol that is tied to everything Sevillana, “Grand Lyon” was tagged where ever possible: On its buses, public trash cans, and banners flown around the city. Whether it was the people, the layout of the city, the public transportation, or the attitude of the city, Lyon is grand.

In hindsight, my initial impressions of the city were correct. Lyon has done wonders for my impressions of the French. The people were friendly, the food was amazing, and the public toilets (all except the for the ones in the train station) were free. Bottom line, I was as impressed with Lyon as I have been with any other European city. While one great city is not likely to completely change my impressions of the French, Lyon has most definitely swung my opinion very much in the positive. Seeing the other parts of the countryside on our continued train ride from Lyon to Geneva, I am beginning to see why Southern France is considered by many to be a very poor representation of what France is really like.

We leave France with a much renewed optimism and I can fully say that I am looking forward to returning to this country and having Paris “melt my heart!”

Cameron

P.S. Switzerland is everything that I hoped for and more. It’s raw beauty is even more than I could have imagined and look forward to having a day and a half in Bern.20130527-235011.jpg

20130527-235018.jpg

20130527-235038.jpg

20130527-235047.jpg

20130527-235031.jpg

20130527-235023.jpg

I Don’t Know Lloyd, The French Are Assholes – Part Dieu

Unlike my better half, I waited until I wanted to pass my judgement on the French. Kelly might have been quick to remove the “ass-hat” from atop the French head, but I wasn’t so sure. While Montpellier was interesting and the community was actually larger than I expected, seemed rather interconnected. Marseille however, was a completely different world. An ancient city even before the French took over, Marseille has a rich history that has become slowly buried beneath a wave of what appears to be poverty, potentially due to a massive influx of North African citizens from many different countries, as well as an epidemic of organized crime (or so I read…). Having said that, it is obvious that in a not so distant past, Marseille (France’s second largest city) was once a shining star for its country and citizens, in addition to its tourists.

When Kelly and I first got into Marseille, we already knew we did not have much time. We arrived around 6 o’clock and were leaving the day after at 2:30 pm. So all in all, we did not have much time to see or do many of the different things we would have liked to have accomplished while we were here. After settling into our meager private room in the city center, we immediately made our way down to the port where there were countless boats, businesses, and beggars. Grabbing a baguette or two, a packet of chorizo, and some cheese that turned out to be almost exactly like cream cheese, we squatted on the edge of the water to eat our meal and watch the sun go down.

After sleeping in and not being able to visit the Chateau d’If due to rough sea weather, as well as not having enough time to take any of the other many boat trips out to the islands or calanques just off the coast, we were feeling pretty low. We decided to make the best of our situation, trek all the way out to where the port meets the open ocean, see as much as we can and then make our way back to the train station. The lack of time coupled with an exceptionally cold and windy day kept us from truly enjoying the beautiful waters off the coast of Marseille, but as we made our way to the nearest bus station, we found an incredible cathedral that had spectacular Moorish/Muslim influence. Although we did not have enough time (if this whole “lack-of-time” thing is getting old, you can imagine how we felt being there…) we got some great pictures of the intricate Moorish cathedral along the coast.

Once back at the train station and boarded onto the next train to Lyon, we were anxiously awaiting to arrive in France’s third largest city in what we had heard to be a real secret of not only France, but all of Europe. Once we got into Lyon, it was obvious that the rumors were true, and Lyon was a much more modernized as well as welcoming city to its travelers and citizens alike. A 5-10 minute walk to our awesome hostel (more like hotel) and we had arrived. The first two priorities were to hop on over to the Mall de Part Dieu and get Kelly a jacket (as it has been much colder than we initially anticipated), and then head back towards our hostel where we were able to visit a supermarket and get supplies to make ourselves an awesome home cooked meal (tortellini and ravioli tossed with spinach, tomatoes, and pesto and a side of grilled zucchini) while we actually have a kitchenette. We are getting ready to check out what Lyon’s nightlife has to offer, as well as look forward to the special Sunday Market going on in the Marche Saint Antoine, as well as the Vieux Lyon and some old Roman ruins close by.

Bottom line, after a couple of hours in Montpellier, a day in to take in Marseille, and a day and a half to see what Lyon has to offer, the jury is still deliberating on what to make of the French, but so far, Lyon is doing a great job to remedy whatever Marseille may have hurt (although any country that charges you 50 cents or a Euro EVERYTIME you want to use a public toilet doesn’t make me want to write any love letters home…). I’m optimistic that after Lyon, and then Paris in a month or so, my completely biased feelings towards the French may change.

Cameron.

Barcelona on a Budget

We’ve arrived in Marseille and are enjoying a nice bottle of Côtes Du Rhône and some “downtime” at the hostel (downtime = blog time).

Cameron posted about our personal experience in Barcelona and now I’d like to post some friendly traveler advice about doing Barcelona on a budget, and also in just a few days

If you’re only going to Barcelona for 2-3 days you’ve got a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time. Many of the city’s popular sights however, require lots of waiting, as Cameron discussed in his post. So it’s good to know what’s worth the wait and what isn’t.
Worth the wait: La Sagrada Familia
Don’t be daunted by the long line at Sagrada Familia. It moves fairly fast and is DEFINITELY worth the wait. Also, because we’re talking Barcelona on a budget, bring a school ID. You don’t need an ISIC card or another version of an international student card. Our Texas Tech ID’s worked just fine. Also, if you’re recent grads, hang on to your ID’s. They don’t have expiration dates on them so as long as you still sort of resemble your picture, you can get the student discount! Skip the tower tour and just get the tour of the basilica, that’ll save you another 3-4 euro.
Not Worth the Wait: The Gondolas from La Barceloneta Beach
When our good friends took the gondolas it was during off season and thus relatively deserted and less expensive. If you aren’t going during peak season then by all means take the gondola ride. The view is incredible. But the long lines during peak season just aren’t worth the wait or the price. You can rent a bike for 5 euro or less and take your own scenic route up the mountain. In the words of our friend Brant, “the ride is great. Especially going down, all brakes.” 🙂 If a bike ride doesn’t sound like your style, head to Parc Güell via public transport. The park is free (the museum isn’t but IMO it’s pretty skip-able). The views of the city from Parc Güell are just as breath taking as the views from the gondolas and they are FREE! Well, minus the small cost of public transport to get you there.

Other budget tips:
We stayed at Sun and Moon Hostel which is only 15 euro per night even during peak season. As we mentioned in previous posts, Sun and Moon’s location cannot be beat. Even better, they have free breakfast (pictured below) and they give you cards which are good for a free dinner at the nearby Travel Bar. You have to purchase a drink but their beers and wines are around 3-4 euro and the free meal it gets you is definitely worth it. Our first night we got a huge plate of spaghetti and the second night they had chili and rice, also in huge portions. If you aren’t staying at a nearby hostel you can still get the awesome dinner deal for just 1 euro! The food really was good, and though it wasn’t authentic Spanish food it was definitely in the budget. Also the staff at Travel Bar are so great! One of the main bartenders is English but he was an Air Force kid who lived in San Antonio and Tuscan at one point. He also happened to be a Cubs fan and when I showed him my Chicago Cubs debit card he was so delighted he promptly made us red, white and blue shots on the house. If Travel Bar doesn’t already sound awesome to you, you’re crazy. But, if you need more convincing, they offer FREE walking tours at 3 different times per day, as well as cooking classes 3-4 nights per week and pub crawls for a reasonable price. For nightlife on a budget meet up at Kabul Hostel or Sun and Moon Hostel each night around 10-11 and join the group of fellow travelers as they hit the town. Hostel staff will lead the group to clubs and bars with great drink specials and no cover. It’s a great deal…almost too great. Take it slow. The bars/clubs don’t close until 6 AM.

La Barceloneta beach is free and incredibly entertaining. The same goes for Las Ramblas. If you want pictures of the street performers it will cost you a coin or 2, but as long as you avoid the pricey souvenir stands and just walk down the street, you can enjoy this great attraction for almost no cost. Another free attraction is the light and fountain show at night at the Art Museum in Plaza Espana. You can take the metro there for very cheap. The lights, music and fountains are a beautiful sight.

Hit up a Supermercat and buy a fresh, still piping hot baguette and some cheese or lunch meat and make your own delicious little sandwiches as you walk through the gorgeous streets. Cameron and I did this and were able to feed ourselves for around 3 euro TOTAL, and the bread, meat and cheese were all delicious. Add a bottle of wine and your meal is still under 10 euro, a bargain for two people!

Finally, one of the best ways to enjoy any city for free is to just get lost among the city streets. Grab a map, head out and just wander aimlessly then find your way back. I think that’s quite possibly my favorite part of traveling; just walking among the locals, taking in the true heart of the city, it can’t be beat.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to share! Thanks for reading!

-Kelly

20130524-183233.jpg

20130524-183121.jpg

The Devil Still Lives in Barcelona

It wasnt until I got off the plane and on to the bus to take us into the city center that I remembered how much I love this place. A beautiful city. A beautiful country. A beautiful people. But one fact remains most obvious after our first full day in Barcelona: the devil still lives in Barcelona. That saying is a running joke among the handful of us who came here two and a half years ago used to describe the grit and grime and sweet temptation that lives behind it’s beautiful facade.

After much unanticipated drinking on the first night, our second day was much more productive. Fighting through our hangovers, we began the day the same way we started the last one, at the open air market to find some sustenance to soak up the remaining alcohol in our system. With a fresh coating of grease in our veins, priority number one was to go to the train station, activate our Eurail Passes, and reserve the first leg of our trip, from Barcelona to Marseille.

With business out of the way, the real fun could begin, starting with a visit to the exquisite Sagrada Familia. The unbelievable intricacies within each of its different naturalistic designs are astounding. Though not as large or even close to as old as la Catedral de Sevilla, la Sagrada Familia is a wonder in a way that compares with no other. Wholly unique while equally as impressive, it is truly an architectural achievement beyond anything I have seen.

Tired of standing in lines (though the worst was yet to come), we decided it was time to hit the beach and relax along the sands of the blue and beautiful Barceloneta Beach. Crowded and crawling with people trying to sell you stuff, it was still a magnificent feeling sitting on the European beach and enjoying the sound of the waves (while enjoying a few other European beach pleasures).

After a mojito or two and a dusting off, and it was on to the next adventure, or in this case, a long line. We decided it would be something special to take the gondola up to the top of the hill and find the cactus that our friends found and carved a Double T (a symbol of our alma mater, Texas Tech) into at the old castle/small fortress at the top of said hill. While the base of the gondola said the estimated wait time was 45 minutes, and the round trip price was 16.50 euros, we thought this time the challenge of hiking up to the scenic castle and finding the cactus would be worth the time and money. Waiting in line for about an hour and a half (all the while having to listen to some rich pompous American jackass talk to random tourists about him and his buddies annual world golf tournament) only to be ferried by air to a quite useless and anticlimactic position of the hill we want to be on, this was beginning to be more than we bargained for.

Amidst thoughts of turning back, we doubled our resolve to make it to the top of that hill, and find that cactus if it was the last thing we did (or at least until the sun went down). After an aimless hike up the hill, and another expensive and arbitrary gondola later, we finally reached our destination atop the hill and at the castle. It took much longer than we expected to find the cactus, but just when we were about to give up, we found what was obviously it. A massive cactus carved with an innumerable about of names, letters and symbols. But, while we found our treasure chest, we couldnt find the Double T, probably grown over or most likely carved over. 55 Euros gone with sore feet and sour grapes, the adventure was alas a waste of a great deal of time and money that in hindsight probably could have been used for something just as memorable at a fraction of the cost.

Exhaustion wearing us thin, we fought our way back over to Las Ramblas and our hostel, desperate for a meal and a beverage. After another round of free dinner with the purchase of a drink, lying down for a nap was the only thing we had on our mind. A long and successful day had left us tired and dehydrated but satisfied nonetheless. With night upon us, it was time to check off the last two things off our list: meet up with my old friend Mason Lytal and go downtown to Plaza de Espana to see the giant fountain and the Museu National D’Art de Catalunya. A spectacular sight during the day and even more so at night, seeing the museum one last time has been on my list since before I left Barcelona the first time. Unfortunately, we either arrived too late or they just dont do it during the week, the experience for Kelly, Mason, and his friend wasnt the same as my own the first time: with bright lights and colors lighting up the night sky while the massive fountain dances spectacularly to music. Despite this, the trip to see the museum was still well worth it and recommended to any and all that has even a moment of spare time in Barcelona.

With everything on our wish list checked off and an early train awaiting us in the morning, it was time to say goodbye to mason and goodnight to barcelona to get some rest before we begin the real challenge of our trip: everywhere else. Up to this point, this trip has been a relative walk in the park as we have so far arrived in a city we have visited before and were familiar with its customs, culture and could speak the language. However, as we journey on to our many other destinations, we will be encountering people places and cultures we are unfamiliar with, unable to speak the native language. While it wont be easy, that is half the fun in itself. We are arriving in France with cautious optimism ready to take on the second of nine countries! We look forward to what is ahead and hope to keep you updated as we continue along our journey across Europe.

I’m finally posting this from a random McDonald’s in Montpellier waiting for our connecting train to Marseilles.

Regards,
Cameron