Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Menton and beyond

I have a half hour and an typing this on my iPod, a lot has happened and I dont know how much I'll be through, but here it goes.

Menton was not quite what I expected. I guess I had gotten an idealized version in my head from my brothers description. While overall nice, just wasn't as relaxing as I had expected. One large part of this was the huge amount of steps that I needed to climb to get to the hostel, which was conviently ontop of one of the hills in the town. I almost stopped and turned back multiple times, thinking I was on the wrong path, when around each corner I only saw never ending swtichbacks or straight sets of stairs. This might not have been so bad, except for the fact that I was carrying my packs. Needless to say, when I finally reached the hostel, I was drenched in sweat. Of course thy were convienently closed until 5pm, and I was just able to leave my large pack.

I was hoping to spend the day at the hostel relaxing, as it did offer and amazing view of the surrounding landscape, but alas I had to strike out back down the stairs (knowing I would have to climb them later) towards town. Seeding how there wasn't too much more in menton than the beach, which I was still unprepared for, I spent a good portion of the day wondering, finding a cheap swimsuit, instead of relaxing like I had hoped.

5 finally rolls around, and I figures I could get dinner at the hostel, so I climbed back up the stairs, finally check in, and find out that since there was a group of 45 german school kids coming through, making finned for one more person was just toooo much.

. . .

So, I had to head back down the stairs (knowing again I would need to climb them a third time that day) to find myself dinner elsewhere. Not exactly the best start to a relaxing few days in the French Riviera. I did get a bit of time later on that first nigh to watch the sun set and read out on he porch of the hostel, which wasn't a bad way to end the day.

Since there were so few actual normal hostelling folk, with all the kids (18 year old, love lust, teenagers) around, I figured there was little chance of meeting anyone. But I was wrong. In a simple conversation over the fact that I would have to ask the awkward question of someone if they would put sunblock on my back, I was invited to join a pair from Austria for the day at the beach. Which is how I spent it. Finally I could relax, and dump my daypack at the hostel. It was a great day filled with swimming, reading, conversation and a picnic of fresh fruit and bread on the beach. The day was topped off with Pizza and wine at a park along the beach, talking and watchin the sun set.

Not a bad day at all.

And I was off again, this time to the Cinque Terre, part of the Italian Riviera. Again not expecting much from the day of travel to get there (which actually took about twice as long as I expected). But low and behold a simple question to someone I had seen at the hostel earlier, at the first train station in Italy, led to a great conversation and travel friend. Since I had not booked a hostel ahead of time, I figured I would try and stay at the same hostel that they were heading too. Unfortunately, it was booked full. So, much like Nice, I was off to find a hostel again.

And I'll leave you with a cliffhanger, as I have to go. Till next time.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Nice is nice . . . looking

So, there I was on the train with Switzerland, not quite sure which trains I'd be able to catch to get there. I was talking to a Canadian couple who where heading to Nice (my original next stop), and after looking at the map and planning out a bit of the route I wanted to take it just made more sense to go to Nice first. Also my brother had recommended a hostel in Menton, a half hour train ride from Nice. I figured I'd stay a few nights in Nice and then head to Menton to relax.

I finally get into Nice around 8:30pm after traveling all day, and start the usual hostel shopping, as I've done with no problems up to this point. Well, unfortunately the hostels where few (I only spotted two, the ones in my guide book) and full. What began next was a lenghty search for a place to stay for the night. All I could see where cheap hotels (€40 a night), and no real prospects. After an hour and a half of trekking across town, I was ready to call it quits and stay at the train station that night. When I saw a small sign in the near distance, "Hotel les oranges". I like oranges, so I figures I would take a quick look at the price. As I approached the main door I saw they offered dorm rooms. Excited at the prospect of sleep I rushed up the stairs. Sure enough they had space, and a reasonable rate. Sure it wasn't a hostel, but it would do for two nights. Even with the after-thought bathrooms in the room, where the walls didn't even go up to the cieling, and were incredible cramped. It was Nice, I didn't expect much from cheap accomidations.

I spent my full day at Nice going to the Chigall museum, the Contemporary Art museum, climbing Castel Hill (which provides an amazing view of the city and beach), and strolling along the beach. I still didn't have a swimsuit. But with no place to lock my bag up, I figured I wouldn't be swimming that day. Nice was nice, very pretty looking with it's luminescent aqua blue waters and small alleyed old town, but it was just too touristy. I didn't see how I was to relax. Which is what I've been needing to do.

So the next day it was off to Menton. Where I figured it would be quieter, and the hostel sounded pretty awesome. I follow the rough map that I had up to a set of stairs. I figured the hostel couldn't be too far up (judgeing by the map). As I rounded the second corner, I we a set of steep switchbacks. Not the thing a person wants to see with about 30lbs of baggage on them. So I climbed them, hit a flat section and figured I was there. . . nope. No sooner do I round the next corner when I see another never-ending set of steps in front of me. By now I'm about ready to turn back, sure that I got it wrong, but I trudge ahead. It just so happens that the hostel is conveniently located at the top of one of the tall hills that surround the town.

While the hostel didn't turn out as I expected from my brothers description, it does offer an amazing view of Menton and the surrounding hills, whose tops are often shrouded in clouds. The hostel is closed from 10-5, I wasn't going to be able to relax like I wanted, and after wondering Menton (which was more touristy than I was expecting and hopeing), I decided the only way I was going to relax was at the beach. I made that my goal for the next day.

After finally getting back to the hostel, I find they wouldn't serve me dinner because they had 45 german teenagers coming (and one more was just tooooo many). So I had to go back down into Menton, which meant climbing the stairs yet a third time in one day, three times too many. When I finally returned, hoping from a bit I peace and maybe a good conversation, I find the place overrun by the large group. Luckily, I still had the porch with a view, and I stayed there the rest of the night.

Today was a bit more successful in terms of relaxing. Which I've been needing to do, as I've been fatigued for several days. Too much non-stop going at it. I joined up with a couple from Austria, and spent the day at the beach with them. Leaving the day-pack, which has been attached to me for the past month, at reception. It was a nice break from the rest of the stuff I've been doing. And while the sun wasn't out the entire time, it was probably for the best. Even with reapplying sunblock a million times, I still have a small sunburn. I just can't win.

Well, I'll only stay in Menton one more night (tonight) and the I plan on heading to Italy. Finally to Italy, where I plan on spending a good portion of time. I'll head to the Cinque Terre first, where I plan to relax and veg for three or four more days. Hopefully I can recover there, and then plunge into the big, and small, cities of Italy.

Well, off to dinner, and hopefully a relaxing evening out on the porch, filled with books, wine, and chocolate.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


So after spending almost a week in Barcelona, I'm on the move again. This time I'm off to . . . Well I'm not really sure. I can end the day either in France or Switzerland. It depends which seat is available of me when I get to my next station.

That's fine. I'll take things as they come. Maybe I'll end up stumbling upon a really cool city/town. I'm almost tempted to just hop off the train now. Glimpses of the Mediterranian are peaking through hillside towns, filled with pastel colored, orange tile roofed buildings. Beaches hold a handful of people (but it is still morning) and the deep blue hued, supersaturated water shimmering in the bright sunlight is beckoning.

Well on to recaping and thougths. I've been through 6 countries, have two stamps in my passport (they seem to be rahter loose at the borders now with the EU), and have taken 12 trains (only 1 I didn't have to reserve), 4 buses, one ferry, and one airplane ride to get between them so far. I learned on my first train ride, which I missed, to make sure that I have the right train station. Many cities like to scatter a few of them around, just for kicks. I also learned that sleeping on either a bus, airplane, or train is not as easy for me as other people. I've had a few 1-3 hour nights of sleep on overnight trains or buses. I would like to blame the poor design on the seats, many of which don't make any sense in terms if ergonomics, even the nicer reclining ones for sleeping. At least all the trains that I've been on so far have been on time. Unlike any train that I've ever taken in the States.

I've found that many Europeans know a basic amount of current American events/politics, where most Americans (at least my age) don't really have a good idea of what goes on in Europe. I'll admit that I don't really keep up with much of what's going on in Europe, just the ocassional big news. My thougths on that are this; I feel as though The US is much more visible in the eyes of the world, due to our involvement within so many other countries as a superpower. I feel as though the US likes to be the worlds police, but this position has left us stretched thin, and not always in a favorable light in other counties. It would be nice to see the US focus a bit more on itself than the rest of the world. But I digress. I'm always amazed by the amount of unformation that Euroeans know about the States, when I have so little information of thier country to reciprocate. Maybe I should ask them how well they keep up with other countries in Europe themselves. If they are only knowledgeable about the US, how can I be expected to know history and current events in the 15 counties I hope to travel to.

Language has not been a real barrier, yet. It really is pretty true that most young adults know at least a moderate amount of English. With American music and movies playing everywhere, as well at the occasional sign in English, it's easy to forget sometimes that I'm in a country that speaks another language, until I start talking to people. But a fair amount of the people that I've met started learning English in middle/high school. About the same time that the US schools start teaching a second language. I think there is just a different perspective on learning a second language in the US, where many of us feel no need for it (I stopped taking Spanish as soon as I could), as opposed to learning a second language in Europe where the counties are much closer together and where English is becoming the universal language (in a sense). I'm always amazed at the hostel receptionists who all know at least three languages, if not more.

There are some fun similarities that I've noticed. All large cites have your stereotypical corner store, which sells everything at 1.5 times the price you'd pay anywhere else, but of course it's convenient. There are always Chinese food take outs. McDonalds, Burger King, and Starbucks are universal. I even saw a KFC in Bercelona.

If someone hasn't developed the NYC blank stare into the distance before coming to Europe, I would suggest doing so. The number of people handing out pamplets and asking for donations seems only to increase as I go along. But the quality of street musicians seems to have also increased, hitting a high in Barcelona with full ensembles, salsa bands, string quartets, and rag time piano/clarinet/banjo trios. Much better than the group of 5 teens I saw in Galway, one singing and playing guitar with no feeling, one half singing, and three disinterested bored members as moral support (I guess). The beat part being they only sung the chorus from popular songs. Barcelona was a great city of music though.

While at first I wasn't sure how I was going to be as to get through 3 months of getting up and moving my life around every 2-4days, I've grown rather used to it. I was a little timid to wear my day pack ony front (big pack on back) at first not wanting to look too crazy. I don't care anymore, it's much more confortable. Plus, it's an instant bond to all the other backpackers lugging around two packs. I've come to realize just how little I need to travel. I'd I didn't want to take nice photos with my big camera, all I need is a three days of clothes and toiletries. Nothing else really. Food and shelter I can aquire in each of the towns/cities I visit. I'm really carrying around too much, yet people always seems to amazed that I can live out of the pack I have for three month (usually those traveling only for a few weeks). It's a different perspective, and makes me wonder how I will react to all the stuff that I have shoved in my basement right now.

People always mention culture shock, coming back into the States. Obviously in havn't come back yet, and it will still be a while. But it makes me wonder what this culture shock will be. Maybe there are a lot of little things that I've never noticed before that I will now. I'll have to wait and see.

Well, things are going well, I'm enjoying my time over here and look forward to more exploration.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

One Third

As of a day or two ago, I am one third of the way through my trip. It´s almost a bit hard to believe that it´s been just over a month since I left the states. Looking back at the past couple of weeks, it all seems a bit of a blur. It feels like I was just in Paris the other week, and now I´m in Barcelona. There were a lot of places between these points in time. I hope to enjoy the rest of my trip as much as I have so far, and I also hope that it continues to fly on by.

I have to say that I miss home and friends (more of the friends and family than Syracuse as a city). I have an adorably cute little nephew that I wish I could see, he´s smiling and giggleing now. But soon enough. I have lots of traveling left, and lots of sights and places to see. I´m excited to for whats next (which is Switzerland then to Italy).

So I´ve been in Barcelona for the past 4 nights, with the original intention of heading off tonight. That plan fell through when it would have cost me an additional 50 Euros to get to Geneve from here on the overnight train. I´m kind of a little fed up with the whole having to pay an arm and a leg (for me) extra, on top of the money I spent on the pass. So yesterday, when I was told the price, I said I would think about what I´d do, and just left the train station. This is, of course, after waiting 40 minutes in line to get to the ticket window. I figured I would just pick a spot in France, buy a ticket an hour beforehand and just go. I felt relieved as I left the station, and was ready for an awesome day (details to follow). Well it turns out the there is a large festival in Barcelona tonight, and if I had headed off when I was originally intending, I would have missed yet another one. It all worked out in the in.

As many things didn´t work out yesterday, in the end everything turned out just fine. The train ticket situation turned out for the best. I missed my friend here in Barcelona at our original meeting spot, but managed to catch her at her place later on. Not before running into a barber shop (which I had been looking for one most of the day) with a good 5 Euro cut. Can´t complain at that price. I´m now slightly less shaggy, though I still plan to just let my beard grow. There were one of two other small things, but in the end it was a great day.

I spent the entire day going Gaudi´s works. La Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera, and Parc Güell. All amazing examples of a archetect ahead of his time. When I think of modern architecture, I don´t think of the plain, flat, angular, empty spaces that define the current modern architecture scene (from what I´ve gathered), but of the flowing, organic buildings of an artist like Gaudi. If you don´t know who he is, I´ll try and post photos later, but do a quick google image search for his stuff.

I'm a huge fan of the art nouveau style, growning up in a house laden with furniture from that period and from the craftsman style. So it's so exciting to see whole buildings designed in this manner. La Sagrada Familia was my first stop for the day, and the size, style, and decoration just blew me away. I think it has to have one of the tallest cielings I have yet to see in a cathedral. And by now I've been in some pretty large cathedrals. Within the mess of an interior, filled with temporary fences, scaffolding, and workshops, there is amost a beauty in it's construction. The open area is only one side of the building, the other half is almost in darkness, filled with scaffolding, but filtering through this maze of workers are glimpses of bright, highly saturated light, from the distant windows. Did I mention that I'm also a stained glass fan? The windows in the interior where georgious, abstract yet highly geometric/organic, and made with bright primary colors. They filled the space with unadultured color. And what a space to fill. Gaudi, taking a lot of his inspiration from nature, designed the main columns to look like a forest of trees, with each one beaching out far above my head.

Anyway, I could go on for days about the building, but will try to post photos of it later on and let you see what I saw.

Next up was La Pedera, a housing complex that Gaudi built. The tour started with the attic, which was build all out of arches, undulating in shape and size, truely an awesome space to wonder through. This lead to the roof, which flowed to and fourth, up and down, filled with fun chimneys. I spent a food half hour, just wondering around it. And my visit ended in an art nouveau apartment, one in which I could live. I'm not sure if there where any straight lines within the entire building.

In the past few days of Barcelona, I've taken it a bit slow (hopeing to kick this cough), but have seen other fun things. Such as Gaudi's Parc Güell, what was to be a community for the wealthy which flopped and is now a fun park filled with more fun arcitectural elements. I also visited the Picasso museum, which housed a lot of his early work. For those of you who don't know, Picasso painted amazing, realistic, canvases in his early years before he pioneered cubism, and they had many of those paintings at this museum.

Barcelona has been fun, and I have one more night here before I head off. I think I'll write more on the past month as a whole tomorrow, while on the train. There is plenty to write about.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sweating in Seville

It seems the best time to write these blogs are on the train between cities. I've just left Seville and now I'm on my way to Barcelona. I originally planned to take a night train, since it's a long ride, but unfortunatly the only reservation I could make was for €100, despite the fact that I have a eurorail pass. Which I now have more issues with. So now I'm traveling all day today (€7 reservation instead) in a hot, overcrowded train, where I don't really know the language.

I guess the pass is just working out the way that I was expecting it to. From what ideas reservations would be few and far between, and cheap. Instead I've had to reserve nearly all the trains I've been on, sans one. Paying a rather hedging reservation fee on one. I had bought one with the idea in mind that I would be able to just hop onto any train at any time and travel as I saw fit. Instead it's just been a pain. We'll see if it actually saves me any money in the end. Although at this rate I'm going to need to travel on a lot of trains.

More lessons learned for future travels.

Sitting on this train its funny to notice how many people seem to have figuring out thief tickets and which seat they are in. And despite the fact that the rows of seats are numerical, people will check every rows set of numbers, leaning over those who are already seated. It's almost as though they expected everyone on the train to have already taken their seats. It's an interesting people watching experience.

Seville was a quieter city for me than normal. I only saw a few sights in the three days i was there. This could be attributed to several reasons, one of which was the fact that there didn't appear to be many large attractions, and also the temperature on average was about 100. Didn't really motivate me to go out and about and wonder around the city. The last two days I was there I was done by mid afternoon, I would just relax back at the air conditioned hostel and wait a while before I went out to venture into the heat again.

I did meet up with a friend from Syracuse, which it was nice to see a familiar face. Spent a few evenings hanging out, drawin her into the hostel culture. It's interesting, I would have never thought of it before, but you can get so much more value for a hostel than you can at a hotel. Especially when by yourself. You can book a single or double room for around 50 typically, and then you have a space to yourself, a kitchen, and open lounges where you meet all sorts of interesting people. Whereas a hotel room is just a room, no kitchen, and if you are by yourself, no easy way to meet a bevy of fun people.

Well as for Seville, it was a nice city, but it was a city. It didn't have the charm of Granada or Toledo. There were still a good part of the city that consisted of Amal winding alleyways, which I found easier to navigate by just going in the direction of your destination instead of trying to navigate streets by name. The street name signs (like most of Europe I've seen so far) seem half hazardly placed, and never on the corner that you need them on. Thus making it a difficult propositin to navigate a city by street name directions.

I did see the cathedral of Seville, which is the 5th largest in Spain (if I remember my facts correctly). It was pretty huge. And filled, again, with high vaulted cielings, and ornate decoration. I don't think i'll get old of visiting these. They are such massive, wonderous buildings that if they do anything, they inspire true sense of awe. I'm constantly amazed by how elaboratley constructed and decorated they are. So many generations and lifetimes of work went into the creation of these places of worship. I couldn't imgine going to a service each week in one of these cathedrals (which most all are still I use, that I've visited).

My time in seville also included a visit to the palace that was there. It was massive, an odd mix of moorsih architecture (which was georgious again) and new renaissance architecture in the added sections. Not exactly two styles that I would pair up. But still fun to wonder through. The palace also included a very large walled in garden. Which took a while to walk through. It did include the obligitory shrubbery maze, which wasn't as challanging to get through as I was hopeing.

Nights where spent out with my friend from Syracuse, and buds from the hostel. There was one amazing bar that had a selection of 350 different beers from around the world. So I got a chance to have some really good beers, and eat some really delicious tapas as well. Let's just say that fried eggplant and honey go together really really well.

I got what was probably the best comment I could have gotten while traveling, from the receptionist at the hostel. "You're one of the nice Americans" she said to me, after apologizing for interupting her smoking break to have her call over and help book my hostel in Barcelona. It wasn't much, but it was a nice comment to hear. Although it made me wonder what the other variety were like, and how many of them were giving our country a bad reputation. All to easy to do, it seems.

There have been some great receptionists along the way. The ones at this hostel were no exception. They were great, seeing how I had them switch my room after a night of little sleep due to a disrepectful crowd of guys who decided to turn on all the lights and have loud conversaions for periods of time between 3am and 6am. It was my first bad experience sleeping in a hostel out of 30+ days on the go. Not incredibly bad odds I guess. But ethe staff helped swrich rooms, then the next day, after the debacle with the night train, I had to book right back in, not a had hour after checking out. They were very helpful, and it makes a huge difference when you have happy, helpful staff.

I seem to be coming down with something, so hopefully I can rest on the train today, so I'm ready to explore Barcelona tomorrow! I'm super excited for the city.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Yahoo! Photos!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Crepes y tapas en Granada

Oops, I thought to myself the moment after pouring what looked like pancake batter into the pan. It was a crepe mix. Oh well. I ended up with the worlds thickest crepe. Tasted the same, there was just a lot more there than normal.

I'm on a train heading towards Seville after two nights in Granada. Just enough time to do the city a bit of justice, but I could have easily spent a week in it. It was yet another georgious city, filled with small cobblestone streets where the cars jsut fit though, and the chance of getting run over seems pretty high. Luckily the drivers know exactly how big thier cars are, passing within inches of walls and people.

It makes me wonder why so many people would put up with dragging a car through the maze of small streets. Sure there are plenty of motocycles and mopeds, and that seems like a much better way to go. Kind of makes me want to pick one up when I get back state side. I think the number of SUVs to the nunber of small cars in America is equivalent to the number of mopeds/motocycles in the cities I've seen. And for the most part they transport the same number of people, one. What a differmce that would make if America could give up this obsession with large cars. If you can't tell I'm a fan of small cars.

Anyways, the small cobblestone streets are lined with a mix of Spanish and morrish architecture, all in various states from new to fallig apart. I find the areas with old, decaying houses the most beautiful sometes. There is something inherintly lovely about old buildings that have grown into thier surroundings, or have been slowly reconqured by it's surroundings. Ruins are great. But like I said in an earlier post, since there is so much more history here, buildings have been around longer than in the states and just kind fit I thier surroundings much more natural. Grass grows on old stone walls, trees and plants have grown up right against house walls, and there are more natural colors in the buildings.

Granada had a section of the city that was all caves built into the hillside. It was there were the freespirited lived, not a bad place at all considering the earth kept thier homes at a constant tempurature, despite how hot or cold is got outside. And it got hot. There were a few more established homes and restaurants/bars further down the hill. One of which I stopped by yesterday before heading to the morrish palace of Alhambra.

Alhambra was amazing. For those reading who don't know what morrish architecture is let me quickly explain (it's been a while since I took a class on it, so I there may be a few details askew). .

Since the Muslim religious forbids the use of figures in it's artwork, they used patterns, lettering and plants in thier artwork. The effect of covering a wall with these tightly packed carved patterns, is a sense of lightness, associated with fabrics/carpets. So you end up with amazingly detailed patterns, which fill walls, cielings, doorways, etc. This palace was filled with this. Detail on a miniscule scale, and amazing patterns that would fill whole walls. The arches for doorways would have the appearance of frilly lace.

Overall I spent nearly 6 hours wondering around the palace and the surrounding gardins/other smaller buildings. This was ofciurae in the middle of the day where the sun is at it's brightest and hottest. I think I drank nearly a gallon and a half of water, and was ready to quit and go back to the hostel when, luckily, cloudy weather brought a nearby thunderstorm and cooler weather. And the sight of watching a storm move over the nearby mountains and across the city/nearby valley, with patches of soft sunlight alighting various slopes, just made my day all that much better.

Granada was great, and I could have easily spent a few more days there wondering the mazelike old city and spending the nights drinking beer with free tapas surrounded by the travelers that met at the hostel.

It dawned on me the other day as I was in a group of people consisting of Austrailians, French, Candian, American, Dutch, and so on, that I don't of anywhere else where I would be able to meet, hangout with, and get to know so many people from so many different places than here in Europe.

Granada was great, the hostel was lots of fun, but now I'm off to Seville, where more adventures are in store.

It's that time again for things I've noticed:

Dogs and cats where everywhere in Granada. There was not a leash/lead in sight, and the cats where mostly ferrel. Living in and around the palace.

Even though it may be hot and humid, people somehow are still wearing jeans. It at least boggles my mind.

No matter how much sun I get. I don't get tan (maybe a few more freckles). And no mater how much sunblock I use, I'm always just on the edge of a sunburn.

There are a lot of Americans that travel, but it's in a disproportionate amount to the total amount of people that live our county. And the excuse that we are further away, I would say that I feel eveyone in Austrailia travels to Europe. But of course in the end it's easier for people in Europe to travel within.

At least everyone that I've met and talked to at hostels speaks english, from seviceable to fluent, except for one girl I met in France. She spoke Spanish though, so I attempted what was to be a failed conversation with someone from France in Spanish. Oh well.

American media is everywhere. In terms of music and movies. I think I hear more songs come over the radio that I recognize (or are in English) than I don't. I feel that, at least in central New York, that we don't have any stations that play international music.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mishaps in Madrid

I learned another lesson yeaterday. Don't book ahead more than a day (or double check your dates). I've done just fine finding hostels up to this point, but of course the one day that I actually book ahead I happen to book and pay for the wrong date.

I got into Madrid yesterday morning after a night of decent train sleep (4-5 hours), and was excited that I knew where I was staying and had it all paid for already. Excited, that is, untill I got there and realizzed that I had booked the night before (not taking into account the added day from the night train). Oops.

It was then I realized that I also had booked the train to Granada for the wrong day (going off of the hostel date), and that 'my tran' had already left that morning before I even arrived. Double oops.

Not to best way to start off the day. So as I was eating my €18 breakfast (the cost I had paid for the wrong day), I looked at the bright side of things. Took some time, and figured that my trip had been smooth up to this point (for the most part), and hopefully I was just getting it all outbof my system all at once. I had some good coversations with the people at my table, and felt better afterwards.

These things happen. No worries.

The rest oft day was spent at a one of the museums in town and relaxing. The museum was one of the largest privately owned collections of art, and I would have to agree. It filled a museum at least two d the size of the one I have back at home, and covered art from early italian paintings to modern and pop art. Quite the collection. I couldn't imagine owning that much artwork. There was also a special exhibit of Matisse. So a good visit to the museum, which filled my afternoon.

I had to rebook my ticket, and normaly it has taken anywhere from 30-60 minutes to get through the line. This time, I was able to walk right up to the counter. The kind lady had a great grasp of english, and even recommended several places to see in Granada. Best visit to a train station so far. Just what I needed after all that had just happened.

The day was ended with a homecooked meal, calls home, chocolate and wine. Not a bad end to the day at all. And now I'm off to Granada to see one of the most impressive morrish palaces in the world. I'm super excited. Impressions to come in the next post.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A lesson in Lisbon

I find that us Manwarings tend to be pretty trusting. A great trait until someone takes advantage of that fact. That happened today in Lisbon. I met a person, was told of a normal series of events that could leave one needing a bit of money for a taxi ride. Lots of talking, good, long, elaborate details about why she was in town, what happened, etc. It all seems to check out. I get a phone number, email address, name, and she gets a little cash with a promise to meet up at a location later on to reinburse me. Yeah, looking back I'm not quite sure what happened, but I got taken for a ride. Never thought I would fall for something like that, but low and behold, I did. Lesson learned. Cash will never leave my hands over a promise again. A pricy little lesson, but a good life lesson.

All I can think is that these people have a LOT of time to come up with amazing details to cover everything that one might ask. They should put those acting skills to use on film.

Anyways, I figured I would get that out first, so I can move onto the awesome time that I had in Lisbon. First of all there was the hostel. It felt a little like home. I was exhausted, dirty, dishelved, after a night of little sleep from Madrid. I had gone to one place, which didn't check out to my standards. But as soon as I walked into this hostel I was greeted by the most outgoing, kind, hostel worker. She immediately took my bags, shooed me off to shower, offered breakfast, and then got me set and orientated for the day. It's amazing what a difference a warm welcome makes at a hostel. And all of the workers at this hostel where the same, genuine amazing people. There was sen occasional food and always sangria available in the evening. I didn't want to leave. I would go back just to stay at that hostel for another week.

My first impression ofnlisbon wasn't a great one. I was tired, I didn't understand anyone (well that hasn't really changed, it was cloudy and gray. In a city that is full of small and late streets lines with pastel and brightly colored buildings, where the streets and sidewalks are tiles stone, it really doesn't come alive till the sun comes out to light it all up. What a difference there was in city before I arrived at the hostel (grey) and when I set out for the day (brilliant, clear blue sky). It's amazing what the proper lighting will do.

I spenty first day wondering the streets, taking in both the tourist sexton, as well as old-school Lisbon. Where the streets consist of the sizes barely large enough for a car and large enough for motorcycle (maybe). Tiles cover everything in Lisbon. Houses are sides in them and they show up everywhere. It was great to walk around for a while and just explore. My final destination was a castle set up above the city. It gave a great view of Lisbon from above. Filled with warm orange ceramic roof tiles, constrasted with a cool blue sky. Day one was finished off hanging out with a small group from the hostel (consisting of three from Germany, and one other from the states. It's amazing the people that you will meet traveling at hostels. I'm always amazed at how well people from other countries speak and understand English. Anyways, there was delicious food, I had the most amazing salmon which quite literally melted in my mouth. It was a good first day in Lisbon.

Day two consisted of visitng a small town nearby called Sintrs. It was filled a georgious mix of ecclectic buildings, colors, and small back alleyways. The day was spent hiking up a large hill with both a moorish castle and palace ontop of it.

The castle was amazing. A good set of ruins, which I spent a few hours climbing about. It was almost fairytsle, with sunspot dabbled woods, and old castle round hidden amongs the undergrowth. I wish a camera was able to accurately capture such a scene.the other half of the castle was in the hilltop, with a commanding view ofthe surrounding landscape. It was fun to sit in the old seats, covered in moss, and wonder who else had sat here before in all the centuries before.

The palace was painted fun colors, and filled with ornate decorations. Most cielings were filled with tiles or fancy stonework patterns. There were more details than one person could shake a stick at. Not only was a it a georgious palace (couldn't take photos inside), every window offered a picturesq view of the surrounding landscape, as the palace was set up on one of the highest hills around. Not a bad location at all, as long as you didn't have to climb up to it everyday.

The evening was filled with sardines, fresh off the grill, good coversation, and a good old festival going strong out in the street below. It was filled with colorful streamers, lights, music, people, dancing and food. It gave a great little peak into the culture of the area.

Today was filled with a few museums, an exquisit cathedral, lots of sun, and more good times in Lisbon. I have the feeling that I may need to revisit the city someday (and I hope the hostel is still there), and do more day trips to surrounding towns and villages. There is plenty to see and do.

Now it's time to attempt to sleep on a train again.

I'm currently sitting on a night train Lisbon, heading out of Madrid, and hoeping to be exhausted enough to get some sleep along the way. It's been hit and miss with sleep on transportation. The last experience was good (Paris to Madrid). I forgot to write about it even (I think). So let me recap.

Paris and the surrounding country side was green, lush, and pretty flat. Kinda like parts of the midwest. It was nice, but not a landscape that really stands out in my mind. The light grew dim and I lost sight of the Paris landscape. Sleep ensued, and upon waking my eyes where presented win a feast of visuals that were beyound anything I've yet seen. The closest landscape that I can compare it too is Arizona's.

The sun was low, setting the land ablaze with an orange glow. It was mountain terrain, filled with hills, valleys, slopes that lay untouched, astrew with rocks. This rugged terrain would do. Off to one side the vista opened up to valleys upon valleys like this, with the occasional small town strewn in for a change. The land was orange, grey, and green.

I noticed later on the day what a difference the land made on the cold of the sky and clouds. As they were slightly warmer than the clouds I've seen elsewhere, different from your typical cool/fluffy white clouds.

Anyway, Toledo.

Toledo was a great time. The center of it is a small city on a hill, with maze-like streets and an old, ornate cathedral to boot. It's streets are cobblestone-clad, intimate, filled to the brim with stone houses towering about the street lettng in just enough light to bring warmth to the street. Occasionally these would open up into small squares where there would be small parks of trees and people lounging lazily in the sun. A sun soaked city it was.

I stayed in a hostel that was a renovated castle, just on the other side of the river that runs around the cit center. Not only was it a castle (awesome in it's own right), but it was one of the cheapest and offered some of the best amendities, as well as a killer view of the city across the river. I almost wished I had book another night and didn't have a train ticket already set to return to madrid (and then to Lisbon). I think there was a musical festival tonight this is what I get for locking myself into dates. And unfortunately the set is going to happen in Lisbon. I'll leave the night before a big festival. Oh well, I need to tkae an extra day somewhere, as I seem to be moving one day ahead of everything that is happening.

Well, while Toledo didn't have a lot to offer in terms of museums and churches, the city had a charm in it's own right. And I could spend all day trying to navigate the mess of streets. Wondering how a public bus gets through and around some of tv corners in the city. Most roads where only a foot or two wider than a car. It's good fun when you have to duck into a nearby doorway for the car to get past you.

The town did have one amazig cathedral. While quite a looked from the outside, the inside truely shined. With high gothic vaulted cielings, majestic stained glass, and a no photo policy. I had to sneak a few photos in though. It was so large, and there were so few attendants, it was easy to do. The whole cathedral was covered in ornate carvings, including a pretty amazing scene at the back of the church. It's hard to describe, so I'll post photos later. Needless when they made this, they went over the top. Intact it really got me wondering about cathedrals.

Obvioulsy most came from a time where those in power where the church and lords/barons. These buildings technically where built to gloify God, but I don't think that was the main point when they were made. They show off the wealth and power of the church as an estabishment. The more elaborate, the better the relics, the more people and pilgrims you would attract and so fourth. I think they lost origial purpose in some of these buildings.

Well, there's more to that thought, but it's about time to attempt sleep on this train. Next update will be from/about Lisbon.

Monday, June 8, 2009


For the second time in my life I watched as the trAin I was to board left the station in front of my eyes. Not exactly the best start to a day. I got lost in conversation with a few people at breakfast and before I knew it I had only a little time left to make it to my train. Unfortunately it appears the metro system here in Madrid was against me. Both lines had a 4 minute wait. This is the only time I've run into multiple waits so far. That extra 8 minutes made me just miss my train to Toledo. I have to wait for the next one.

I was so frazzled, tense, annoyed, frustrated, and anxious. Not a good thing for me to be.

I needed to stop, rest, and gather myself up again. Be still.

So here I am, writing this from a small coffee shop in the train station. I have a ticket for a train in an hour. Everything is ok. I'll just be arriving a little later than expected. I just need to remember that I don't need to worry about these things, I'm not really constricted by a set timeline and I can take things as they come. Such as this instance.

Madrid has been nice. Despite being a rather large city, I find it isn't nearly as packed with things to do as other cities I have been in so far. In the two days I've been here I've visited two museums. The Prado (they say the second best collection of masterpieces to the louvre) which did have quite the collection, and the Sophia, a modern art museum. I still don't get a lot of modern art, at least not viewing it on my own. Sometimes I feel the concepts behind these pieces are so abstract, that there is no way a normal person could get at the artists point. If there was a point to begin with anyway. Sometimes I think modern artists don't really know what they are doing and are just really good at selling crap to museums. Just create a little story to go along with the dark empty room with a small pile of sand in the middle (it represents the world as a collective of skills and knowledge, which, while it may add up to a large pile in the eyes of an individual grain of sand, it is but a small part of a larger unseen sphere) , and walk away with a check in your pocket.

Anyways, my first day was spent milling about those two museums. I finished off the day journaling with a glass of wine and chocolate at the hostel. It made for a fine day of activity.

Sunday was more laid back. The only item I had on my agenda was to go to the bullfight later on in the day. It was a good day filled with wondering about the city, on a little self tour. There were a few nice plazas, a cathedral, palace, and several parks along the way. It was a relaxing day, set at a very nice relaxing pace. At the end of it, I was off to the bullfight.

The stadium was packed, and boy did they pack you in. Luckily my section had a few empty seats around me. Otherwsie you have space just for yourself, and nothing else. But what a spectical it was. The excitement of the crowd at the death defying antics below.

What a showoff event it is. The matadors exhude masculinity, it is a gladiator sport of sorts, except instead of another human it's a fight to death with the bull. They are out there, posing in front of the bull mere inches in front of it with the flag behind thier back, completely exposed. Showing complete control and calmness in the face of danger. Most important it's about the agility and accuracy of the final blow to the toro. If a matador has put on a good show, and strikes deftly and acurrately to kill the bull, he is well rewarded by the crowd.

It was definately completely different than anything I've experinced before.

Madrid has been nice, but I've exhiasted it already. So I'm now off to Toledo for a day, before heading to Lisbon.