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Saturday, March 26, 2011


So, you all have to listen to this.



P.S.  I know that I am way behind, it's just been really crazy and I haven't had good internet :/

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lisboa is AWESOME!!!

The next morning we woke up nice and refreshed and got ready for our tour.  Braden had found a tour group called "We Hate Tourism Tours" that had rave reviews on all the websites we looked at.  It was only a year old, and we were very excited.  We went to the place where we were meeting and waited.  The driver, Martha, was a bit late, but that's fine.  We got in along with a Russian family of father, mother and daughter.  In the front seat was a girl about our age from Canada who had already been picked up.  We got started and went up through Lisbon to the suburbs.

Our first stop was in Sintra, just outside of Lisbon.  She pulled up to a bakery and told us what to order and how much we would love it.  She also pointed to a castle/palace on a hill and said that we would meet there in about 10 minutes. We got the pastries and were delighted, they tasted SO good.We were able to walk up a gently sloping hill and admire some great views and explore the area around the castle before she took us and told us about some awesome shots of cherry liquor that I am going to keep a secret for now :)

We got back into the van and drove to this garden/mansion place.  We had to pay for our own admission that I wasn't thrilled about (though it was only 4 Euro), but I am so glad we did.  I should have known they wouldn't take us somewhere stupid.  The place was like a natural playground with Grottos, hills, caves, a church and a mansion!  Here are some cool pics:

The mansion had a super cool room ont he third floor.  It was a library that when I walked into it, I though was super huge.  There was a floor floating in the middle of the room, seemingly supported by absolutly nothing.  The books went from the floor to the ceiling on thie floor and the second floor below it.  I was amazed at this floating floor and how it was holding up Braden when he walked in until I was told that it was mirrors all along the wall making it seem like there was an extra floor.  It was so cleaver and so freakin' cool.  We went up to the turret and got some great views of Sintra.

After that we got back into the van and learned that there really are no famous Portuguese people except Christian Ronaldo, and that's because he's pretty.  Photo here:

Also, the richest man in Spain is richer than the top 10 richest people in Portugal, so they really don't have a ton of money.  They are rich in scenery, though.  Our drive from location to location was fantastic.  We stopped quickly at a hotel that had a great view and then were off to Rocket Point, the furthest point in contenental Europe to the west.  We stopped fast for her to pick up lunch and off we went.  We talked about how Portuguese kinda sounda like bastardized Russian and Spanish when it is spoken, but when written is pretty easy to understand if you know Spanish.  We talked a lot about language.  We also found out that Maggie from Canada has been travelling Europe nonstop since November and has been spending a least a week in all of the major Western European cities that Braden and I are only spending 2-3 days in.  She is doing our vacation only VERY extended.  Which sounds awesome and terrible. It'd be great to really see all of these places, but I'm already getting sick of living out of a suitcase and I would not want to do it for 5 months straight.

So, we got to this point and the weather was perfect.  It was soooo cool, and the closest that I will be to home until July!!  The scenery was so picturesque, and now that we had friends, we trusted people to take a picture of us together with me not holding the camera!


After we walked around the area for a while, we stopped and had a picnic lunch right on the end of Europe.  Literally, the people of Europe once thought of it as the end of the world, with everything else nothing but water until you get to China.  So freakin' cool.  We had a lunch of a sort of choriso hot pocket thing, fresh cheese and, a European staple, red wine.  SO GOOD.  Braden even had some fresh olives.

After lunch, we packed up and headed for a beach.  The beach was perfect.  Not much else to say except the water was supa cold.

From there was an excursion to Cascais, a town on the tip of Portugal where a friend of mine from high school and Concordia, Karine Norberg, studied for a year when I was a sophomore.  It was hella beautiful and so quaint, and we had the best gelato ever.  Hands down.  It was at a place called Santini's and it was owned by and Italian, but it was so much better than all of the stuff we had the entire way through Italy.  I had lemon, mango and cream and I was in heaven the entire time.  Wow, it was so good.

From there, we went back to Lisbon after a stop in Belem to taste the pastries there (which, again, we fantastic).  When we got back to the meeting point we rushed to the hostel and met up with the girls!  It was so great to see them.  We sat in the room for a few hours just catching up before walking around the city a bit and going to dinner and gelato (at the Lisbon branch of Santini's).  

I tried to call Lauren, but the internet was not very good.  I'm sad that I wasn't able to talk to her on her birthday.  I tried again the next day, but it didn't ring.  I did the best I could, though, and I'll try to call her tomorrow from France.

The next morning we woke up, packed up, ate breakfast and went off to explore Belem properly.  It is an area of Lisbon that houses the President's house as well as 3 "discovery monuments".  These places are here to acknowledge the hundreds of years of Portuguese naval strength in the world and their many conquests before the 1974 revolution ended all of the territorial holds in the world (namely, Brazil and 5 African nations).  We saw some things, got some good views, but really just enjoyed each other's company.  We got back to Lisbon's city center and walked through the tourist shops trying to find Braden a mug (I had already gotten my postcard and shot glass).  He had found a mug in Belem, but I asked if he was sure that is the one he wanted and he put it back.  Well, he couldn't find one and now he blames me for himself not getting a mug, though there were many to choose from.  I'm fairly certain he didn't buy one just so I would feel bad about it.  I don't, by the way, he could have gotten a mug.

Maria and April punch each other when they see smart cars, like slug bug.  Well, I picked up on that game and got them twice.  I think it's fun, but soon I'll forget about it and then I'll get punched a lot.  They also say, "Oh Honey" a lot.  This got me thinking, what do Braden and I do a lot.  Oh yeah, we're writing a musical.  Often times when we are just walking from place to place we just kinda break out into song.  We make the words up as we go.  Sometimes it's the song we heard on the Barcelona metro by a poor gypsey, "Senora, Senorita....Estoy pobre y inferma..." other times it is Braden singing about how he knows there is somewhere out there who loves him, he just needs to find him....and other times it's about me wanting desperatly to find a McDonald's because I'm starving and poor (to the tune of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina".)

I can't finish my discussion of Lisbon without addressing the number of times I was asked if I wanted to buy pot/hashish from random creepers on the street.  Braden was asked once, but I was asked I think 7 times.  I don't know why I look like a toker, but, I guess I do.  It got kinda annoying.  It happened twice in Barcelona, too.  They just come up to you really creepily on the street and ask, "would you like some marajuana".  I'm like....wtf is happening.  Needless to say, I did not take them up on their offer.  Anyone selling drugs like that does NOT feel legit to me, and I would have no idea what was actually being sold to me.  Probably poison.

I'm really excited to catch up on Glee as well.  Regionals are while we're in Paris...I don't know if we'll watch it right away...but I really want to.  We will see, if not it will have to wait for St. Patty's day when I'll be back in Jena for a night.

We said a farewell to the girls (for a few days) and boarded our night train to Hendaye, France, the beginning of our next adventure.  We have a bed again, so it should be a pretty good experience.  

Monday, March 14, 2011

Braden's Dream Day/Welcome to Portugal

Upon arrival in Lisbon, we took some time orienting ourselves, which we have to do for every city, so it is getting easier.  The metro here was a must because the train station was quite a distance from the city center and our hostel.  We had to buy a metro card and fill it up to use it, but it wasn't terrible.  We found the hostel without much trouble and walked in.  It was only about 8:30 and check-in was at 2, so our room was not ready, but, they let us eat breakfast, store our luggage, and take showers for free.  They were so great!  Breakfast had eggs.  They were fantastic.  'Nuff said.  After 2 nights of having next to no sleep, Braden was not in the best of moods.  Hunger to me = sleep to Braden.  Lesson learned.

While we were getting to Lisbon, we got a text from the girls in London.  They were supposed to meet up with us around 10 and should be flying, not texting.  It turns out they were late to their flight by 4 minutes and British Airways had given away their tickets as they were "no-shows".  BAD NEWS.  The tickets were non-transferable and they were not going to rebook them, they'd have to buy their own tickets.  WORSE NEWS.  All the flights for that day were booked, so they would have to buy another hostel in London and fly out the next day and not get into Lisbon until 3 in the Afternoon.  THE WORST NEWS.  This meant that we were going to be in Portugal alone for 24 hours, with them 24 hours and then leaving.  We were very sad, but decided to move on with our plans as scheduled.

We looked up times and found a train up to Porto, Portugal, and explored the city while we waited for the train.  We saw the river that runs from Spain through Portugal and enters the Atlantic Ocean in Lisbon's port.  It was low-tide and there were beaches.  It was really cool.  I tripped and almost landed on the jagged rocks below, but NBD.  When the time of our train came, we got on and saw that the chairs and room were far superior to our night train and were pissed, but nevertheless, we settled in for the 3 hour ride and took a nap.

When we got to Porto, we walked around the station for a long time trying to orient ourselves.  I (finally) found a map and for once in my life could not make heads or tails of it.  I knew where we were and where we needed to go and even what streets we had to take, but I could not for the life of me execute this plan.  We ended up walking down a huge hill only for it to turn out a dead-end and having to walk all the way back up.  After that fiasco, we buckled and bought metro tickets.  From there it was very easy and we found our way, after a point in the right direction from the Tourist Office, at the waterfront.  It was gorgeous!  There was a huge bridge, and we needed to cross it to get to our destination.

You see Porto is where Port Wine is made.  All of the Port in the world (I think) comes from here, and this is why Braden was so excited to visit.  He had been raving about coming here since we arrived in Europe, and it was really living up to his expectations!  We chose to go on a wine cellar tour for only 4 Euro that included two small glasses of wine at the end.  Braden chose Sandeman's because that is the famous one he knew, and I'm glad we went there.  It was so cool, and they have one of the first official logos for a product in the world.  It's called "The Don" and it combine the Portuguese student's cape with the Spanish hat.  This is because the company made Port and Sherry, which was from Spain.  The tour and guide were awesome and the Port Wine was the best wine I have ever tasted.  It was so fantastic.

We hadn't eaten since breakfast and I was feeling a bit tipsy from the 20% volume of the Port Wine so we ate at Sandeman's restaurant.  It was fairly cheap and had a view that couldn't be beat.  I had a burger and Braden a Portuguese meat sandwich covered in hot sauce, and, of course, we each had a glass of Port.  It was so relaxing and wonderful and it was really beautiful.  It was just such a great experience.

The walk back wasn't at all fun because it was entirely up hill for about 20 minutes, but we managed and got back to the station just in time, we do that a lot.  The train got us back to Lisbon safe and sound and we went straight to bed.  They were so comfy and we slept like rocks.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Madrid/Goodbye, Spain :(

(These accidentally are now out of order by one post, whoops....deal with it)

In the morning, I slept a little later and took a little longer in the shower than I should have and because of that  had to pack too quickly.  I just threw everything in there and it ended up being lopsided and very heavy, which I regretted in the hills of Madrid.

We kinda ran to the train station and then ran to buy our tickets.  Barcelona Sants, the station, thought it was an airport and had security at 3 different points and a bag scanner.  To each his own, I guess.  We got onto the train with about 5 minutes to spare and settled in for the ride.  I read the entire time on the Nook (I'll write about my book later) and it was no time before we were in Madrid!

It was also very warm there (thank God, I'm not ready to give up this warmth).  The ride, as Braden had pointed out, looked a lot like Southern California, and made me miss one of my homes away from home.  We went to the ticked office to book our night train from Lisbon to Paris and the first office told us the train didn't exist and sent us to the International office.  Ugh.  We got there and the woman tried to tell us again that it didn't exist.  She was the 3rd person we had talked to about this train and the first that actually looked it up.  Probably because we were not taking "no" for an answer.  When she looked it up for the day we wanted, though, it was FULL!  U.G.H.  Fail.  We tried to book it so many times and now it was sold out.  We had to buy the ticket for the day before.  Now we have to rearrange hostels and book a new one.  On the plus side, I'll get to see another city in France :)

We walked to our hostel (of course entirely uphill) and checked in.  There was a mix-up and instead of a 4 person room, we're in a room to ourselves.  Fine by us!  We don't have to be so stingy about security this way!  After orienting myself with the city on the map for a while, we went out to explore the Spanish Capital.

We started our self-guided city tour at the Plaza del Sol, which is the point that all major roads in Spain lead.  It is also where the statue of the symbol of Madrid (a bear climbing a fruit tree) is found.  It was not very crowded and made us happy already that we were leaving the majority of the tour groups behind us at least for a while.

After exploring there and getting some cheap food, we walked over to the Plaza Mayor, the main plaza in Madrid and saw people sun-bathing.  We loved Spain for its weather, and Madrid did not disappoint.

From there we moved on to the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) which turned up closed because of an official event.  Spain still has a royal family, so it was kinda cool thinking there was some royal function going on.  We then walked around some of Madrid's really awesome gardens and just relaxed the rest of the day.  Madrid is a great city, but there isn't a ton to do.  That night we went to the Hard Rock and got drinks and an app.

When we got back to the hostel that night, we did not expect what we saw.  The entire hostel had turned out for the "All you can drink" Sangria party the hostel was throwing.  It was very loud and messy and all of the public areas were filled with people.  It wasn't a very welcoming looking place and it did not look like a lot of fun, so we just went up to the room.  It was SO loud.  We had some e-mails we had to check for the changes we made to the trip, so we waited until it quited down to go downstairs to where the Wi-fi was available.  It wasn't until about 12:30 that everyone finally went out to the clubs.  When we went downstairs, we saw that the police had arrived.  I guess one of the other hostel guests had called the police because of the noise and they were going through the halls telling everyone to leave or quiet down.

There was an Irishman at the front desk who asked us if we knew what was going on.  He called us "lads" and said we had an American accent, and didn't believe us when we told him his Irish accent was just as thick.  He informed us that the hostel was host to 80 students from Dublin and they were there until Thursday.  Thank God we only had one night in that hostel!  The police left and we did our internet stuff and we hurried up to bed before they all got back from the clubs.  Our room had no window and was very hot and the fan didnt help much, so getting to sleep wasn't very easy and just when we did finally get some zzz's in, they came back and didn't go to bed until around 8.  They kept knocking on our door because we were the only room on the floor that didn't have Irish occupants, so they assumed we were a part of their group, and they kept slamming all the doors.  It was probably the worst night of sleep we had gotten up to that point of the trip.

In any case, the next day we checked out on time and went off to do a little more exploration.  We were taking a night train to Lisbon and it didn't leave until 10ish, so there was no hurry all day.  We saw all the fountains that you were supposed to see (some that night and some during the day).  We also did some more walking in the park.

My thing I was really excited to do was the Royal Palace, but it was kinda just like every other palace and once you've seen one they all blurred together.  There were far too many people in this one and the hallways were blocked by Asain and Spanish tour groups and it really detracted from the whole experience.  I would say it was beautiful, but I spent so much time stuck between people that I didn't really enjoy myself.  Overall, Madrid was not our favorite, and the weather the second day was overcast.  It just left a bad taste in our mouth after how awesome Barcelona was.  I think I would like to explore the south of Spain a little more, but I probably won't go back to Madrid.  We did, though, eat Churros in the city they were invented.  LOVED THEM!!

That night was our second night train.  After having such a great experience with the first one, we were excited for this one, except that we had chairs instead of beds.  We heard they were fine though.  They weren't.  That was by far the worst night of sleep and I will never subject myself to that again.  The man in front of us had an awful snore, the lights were never turned off, and our seats were not very big and didn't recline.  I had to tie a scarf around my head to block out the light and listen to the "Braveheart" soundtrack the entire night to block out the sounds of people not really sleeping and constantly moving around. It is well worth the extra 20 Euro for a bed.  WELL WORTH.  We got to Lisbon, on time though, and Portugal was awaiting us.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Waking up on a train was so cool.  I was convinced it was the only way to travel.  Go to bed in Torino and wake up in Barcelona.  Except, no.  We woke up somewhere in the south of France and were still hours from Barcelona.  We ended up being about four and a half hours late to Barcelona which really sucks because it is such an awesome city.  We had our jackets on and our layers and we went out of the station and walked to our hostel.  In like 30 seconds I was dripping in sweat.  It was like 60 degrees.  P.E.R.F.E.C.T.

After some trouble involving me turning the wrong way on a street, we found the hostel.  We had to sit and wait 45 minutes before we were able to check-in because the man behind the desk was doing something else and then a different group of clueless girls had to check-in before us.  When we FINALLY were able to go explore the town it was almost 4.  We walked along La Rambla, a pedestrian zone with a ton of vendors and street performers and then made our way to La Segrada Familia.

This church rocked.  It was like the hippie cousin of the Vatican.  The coolest thing about the church is that it is not even done.  When it is done, it will rank amoung the tallest churches in the world.  Even uncomplete, this church dominates the Barcelona skyline (as we saw the next day).  Here are some pictures of the church.  Bear in mind it is a work in progress, so there are some cranes and plastic covering some stuff up.

We also went up to what is now the top, but later will only be halfway:

After doing that, we went back to the hostel and then to dinner.  It was an early night because we wanted to get a lot done the next day.

We woke up early and went immediately to the coastline.  There was a dock system that went out into the port and had good view of Montjuic (The hill we went up later that houses all of the Olympic stuff).  It was so pretty there!

There is also a monument to Columbus, Chiristopher.  He either is from there, left from there, or gained support there.  I am not really sure which.

From there, we walked La Rambla again and headed toward the Gaudi sector of Barcelona.  Gaudi is the archetect that built La Segrada Familia.  He did pieces all over the city, and one street has 4 of the buildings he built.  They are all so unique and different from one another!

This one is by far the coolest, it's like water.

At the end of that walk, we got on a metro (having bought a 10 trip pass) and made our way up the funicular to Montjuic.  This was probably the best decision of our day!  We started out with seeing the Olmpic stuff.  For those of you who were unaware, Braden is obsessed with the Olympics, and since the '92 summer Olympics were here, we were in for a treat.  All of the buildings and stadiums were in one area and they had great views.

The '92 torch

From there we walked over to what we assumed was a church but ended up being a museum.  It was also home to the end point of a marathon we had seen earlier.  This was my second European marathon!  Pretty cool stuff.  There were some pretty fountains there, too.

After lounging there for a time, I really wanted to see the sea.  So, we walked up a huge hill.  I mean like, we needed to take a break halfway through it was so steep and long.  It was not a fun walk, but it was so worth the reward.  We got a beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea and were able to do some tanning in the grass on the hill for about an hour.  It was so relaxing.  I also found super cheap postcards and bought those to send out.

These made music when you stepped on them, Braden loved them.

We walked down the hill and took the funicular down to the metro and then went to the opposite side of Barcelona and up a totally different, but no less steep, hill.  This one was really bad and parts even had escalators.  It was really an accomplishment to get to the top of that one!  It had a better view of the city and from there the sea was in the background!  It was also home to more fun creations by Gaudi.  Braden says his name fits him, and I think I agree.

Here is the world's largest single park bench!

Also, this guy is on a ton of postcards from Barcelona, and he was really cool.

Here are some more random Gaudi creations.

From there, we went back to the hostel after a long walk back to the metro station.  On the way, we found a shotglass for me and a mug from Braden.  It was just such a successful day.  We wanted to have traditional Spanish cuisine, so we went to one of the places that had outdoor seating and was also still pretty cheap and had tapas and paella.  Funny story about that, Braden thought Paella was pronounced "Pallella" like our friend Steph Villella's last name.  He keeps saying it now just to make me laugh.

The dinner was really good and when we got back to the hostel I read in the lounge and got so caught up in the book I didn't go to bed until 1!

The next day we were off to Madrid.