Day 1-2 - Reykjavik, Iceland
Jackie and I finally made it to Reykjavik, Iceland after 20+ hours of travel. We flew from Orlando to Newark, Newark to Boston, and Boston to Reykjavik. The most notable experience from that part of the trip were by far the Wow Airline stewardesses. I guess Wow takes a lot of pride in their very Pan-am-esque crew, cause they dedicate a whole brochure in every seat explaining the very strict beauty regimen they go through, and tips on how to achieve it yourself. It covers eyelash extensions, to say the least. After arriving, we took an hour-long bus ride through the city and all of its lava fields to get to our hostel. Check in wasn't till 2:00 pm so slept for 8 hours on the couch right by the desk. Very classy. After we checked in, we walked around the city for a few hours. Reykjavik is beautiful. Icy, but so quaint and a wonderful mix of old and new. We visited the city center, a park, and a church. All touristy excursions here are based around whale watching and hot-springs excursions. We probably will just explore the rest of the city on feet, though. I'm also still getting used to the fact that sunrise is around 4 in the morning and the sun doesn't set till 11:00 pm. Right now it's 9:16 pm, and it feels like 4 o'clock. Also, it's important to note that every single person in Iceland is blonde. They really do not seem to make any brunettes around here.
Day 3 - Reykjavik, Iceland
Today we walked over to a huge, dome-shaped, building were you can see the entire city from the top. It took us a while to get there because we decided to walk in the general direction of it, without any directions. Again, the view was beautiful. It's amazing how a place can have both mountains and ocean. On the way back we decided to follow directions, only because it's really, really cold out.
Day 4 - Copenhagen, Denmark
Three countries in one day today. We woke up super early this morning to catch a shuttle to the airport, since we had to catch a flight to Ireland. Our layover was in Copenhagen, Denmark though, and since it was several hours long we decided to go out into the city. We took a very short metro ride to the very famous colorful houses sitting by the city-river. It was packed, and I paid $13 for a slice of pizza and a water bottle. But it was worth it. We walked around for a few hours and then headed back to the airport.
Day 5 - Dublin, Ireland
Today was our first full day in Ireland. We went sightseeing on foot, which works well because everything is so close. Living in the U.S., Florida specifically, it's crazy to me that everything is within a 15 minute walk. Florida has terrible public transportation, and if you don't have a car you're not going anywhere, anytime soon. But anyways, we went to several places today - many of them being churches. There's a church on every street in Dublin, each one older and more beautiful than the last. I'm not typically one for modern churches, but these hold so much history that you can't help but be in awe of them. We also went to the Dublin castle, and walked by tons and tons of pubs. The catcalling is incredibly (surprisingly) bad, though. They honk, yell, and say downright dirty stuff. The hostel is also not that great - but I think it's just because we were spoiled in Iceland with such a great one there. If you're ever in Reykjavik, check out the Kex Hostel. If you're ever in Dublin, skip the Four Courts Hostel.
Day 6 - Dublin, Ireland
Our second full day in Dublin. We went to a festival-type event in a park, and then walked by Dublin's Trinity College. There was a wedding going on, and everyone was dressed incredibly nice. We then sat on the grass at a nearby park, while a live band played not too far away. It had rained earlier in the day, and it was really windy but it was still a good time. Jackie and I then planned the second part of our trip back at the hostel, and booked a lot of our upcoming trains and hostels. Gian (my brother) will be joining us in Amsterdam, for possibly the entire rest of the trip. Really excited about that.
Day 7 - London, England
We woke up at 4:45 am this morning to leave Ireland and make our way over to the UK. We flew Ryanair, which is known for having cheap fares and strict carry-on rules. The latter was surprising nothing to worry about, however, because they checked neither weight nor dimensions. (The $20 plane ticket was nice, though). We landed in the UK and then took a :30 train ride to the city center. London is absolutely gorgeous. It's exactly what you would expect it to be, and both Jackie and I have been liking it much more than Dublin. Our hostel is small and sort-of tucked away, and there are way less people than there were in the last one. It's so much more enjoyable. We walked around a ton today and saw Big Ben, the London eye, Piccadilly, the Westminster Abbey church, and George Clooney. That last one was completely by chance, and only because we randomly walked by the Tomorrowland premiere here in London. There's also red telephone booths everywhere, and guards every two blocks. I think this is my favorite city so far.
Day 8 - London, England
Today was filled with a whole lot of walking. I really wish I would have bought a FitBit, or something, to track how much we're walking because I bet I'd be amazed. I really enjoy it though. It's much more scenic that any other mode of transportation, and it saves you tons of money. We saw the London bridge today - which by the way is not called 'the London bridge'. The real 'London bridge' is tiny and totally anticlimactic. The one you're thinking of is called 'Tower bridge' - that's the one you want pictures with. We also went inside a little church that everyone walked right past, but it was one of the coolest ones we've been in. We were the only ones there, and we were allowed to go into the underground crypt and everything. Every old church we've been in so far has graves all along the floor and walls that you just walk over. We try to avoid stepping on them - out of respect, I guess. Also, William Penn was baptized in that church. (Founder of Pennsylvania, ya'll). We then headed over to St. Paul's cathedral, but it was expensive and closing soon, so we went to the British museum which also closed. Back at the hostel, we met two guys from the Netherlands who are in Mensa. They were nice, but the whole time I was thinking how Travis could easily school them in anything.
Day 9 - London, England
Our last full day in London. We went to the royal palace this morning and saw the changing of the guard, which is a full hour ceremony that takes place every day at 11:00 am. There were thousands of people lining the street, but we were able to push our way to a decent vantage point. I was keeping my eye on the many curtained windows, just in case Kate Middleton peeked out. Didn't happen. After that, we ate lunch at the English version of Chipotle - "Tortilla". We then walked over to the National Gallery were we saw a couple of paintings by DaVinci and Van Gogh. We also spent a little time in the British museum (now open), where we saw the Rosetta Stone and the mummified body of Cleopatra. She's was like four feet tall, at best.
Day 10 - Paris, France
Our wake up call this morning was 4 o'clock. We had a 5:40 train to make, taking us to Paris. We had planned on taking the metro over to St. Pancreas station, but when we got there we realized the first train out wasn't till 5:40. Go figure. We started the hour-long walk, but ended up taking a taxi that was idling on the street. Thank god we did, because even with the taxi ride we only made it with a few minutes to spare. We arrived in Paris at around 9:00 am, and since we couldn't check in until 2:00 we spent a long time booking stuff for our upcoming cities. Berlin is proving to be the hardest to plan ahead for, by far. We then did some laundry, because we're living that four-shirts-for-two-months lifestyle. We have three full days in Paris, so it was nice to get situated before exploring the city for the rest of the week.
Day 11 - Paris, France
Today started by visiting the Jardin des Tulieries, which is near our hostel. We had lunch (raw salmon sandwich - delicious) and then walked over to the Arc de Triomphe. It reminded me of that scene in Passport to Paris where Mary-Kate and Ashley take a bunch of selfies in the car. We then walked over to the Eiffel Tower, which felt pretty unreal. We (obviously) took tons of pictures, and turned down at least 20 people selling selfie sticks. The Eiffel Tower is a lot wider than I'd realized, and it had a huge, fake tennis ball hanging from it. Jackie and I got ice cream, and sat on the grass by the tower for a while. The rest of the day was spent walking around the Seine river, and exploring the city. I got a crepé - Nutella and banana. Tomorrow we're gonna go to the tower at night to see it sparkle.
Side-note: the amount of people smoking cigarettes and carrying baguettes (both separately and at once) in this city is ridiculous.
Day 12 - Paris, France
After switching rooms this morning (we had only booked it for two nights and ended up extending for another two) we walked over to the glass pyramids you see in every Pinterest Paris picture. They're actually the entrance to the Louvre museum, which houses the Mona Lisa. We also walked over to the Notre Dame cathedral. Every one of these churches is big on confessions, and that entire side of the church always has someone waiting to confess to a priest. I can imagine it's pretty fun listening to all these people's sins. At around six, we went back to the Louvre. It's free for anyone 18-26 on Fridays, starting at six. We saw many, many statues, and the Mona Lisa. People were going nuts around her. I'd heard there was going to be a long line, but it was actually a free-for-all, and we made it to the front in less than two minutes. After that we got crepés, and walked over to the Eiffel Tower again. We laid on the lawn for about two hours, until it became dark out and they turned the tower on. At exactly 10:00 pm the Eiffel Tower started sparkling, and it was one of the most magical things in the world. No picture of video clip in the world could ever do it justice.
Day 13 - Paris, France
Today we went to the Paris catacombs. If you are not aware of what the catacombs are, consider yourself lucky. When the cemeteries in Paris became full in the 1800's, the king ordered all the dead (both previously and to come) to be buried in the underground tunnels of Paris. These stretch out for miles and miles and miles, and house the bodies of 6 million dead Parisians. It's also a huge tourist attraction - thus waiting over two hours in line to go in. They only let 200 people be down there at once, and there were a lot of us waiting. Anyhow, the tunnels are dark and cold and creepy, but also pretty interesting. There are hundreds of skulls lining the walls, and femur bones stacked almost perfectly in pattern to create walls. It looks like a scene right out of a horror movie (aka 'As Above, So Below' - based around the Paris catacombs). There's also tons of holes in the walls from visitors stealing the skulls. There were so many bodies that after a while it was easy to forget that these were real people that lived real lives. Jackie and I were saying how cool it'd be if every body had a little bio - telling you their name, and what they did or how they died. Obviously impossible, but it would humanize the whole experience. The tour lasted about an hour, which was more than enough. I've never been happier to feel the sun on my face after we got out.
Day 14 - Brussels, Belgium
After a four hour bus ride from Paris, we arrived in tiny Brussels, Belgium. It's very quiet, especially after coming from France. Everything is made out of brick, and all the signs are written in both French and Dutch. All I knew about Belgium was that Ms. Geva (Conway MS 8th grade math, anyone?) is from here, and that I should probably try their waffles. The latter proved to eat somewhat impossible, because everything (and I mean everything) is closed on Sundays in Brussels. Jackie and I looked for lunch for about an hour before we found a fast food place. We both eat relatively healthy, and have avoided fast food up until now but there was nothing else open. It was good - a higher quality McDonald's of some sorts. Then we walked around, found a community garage sale and chatted up some locals. We'll probably try to find the city center tomorrow.
Day 15 - Brussels, Belgium
We started out the day by catching a bus into downtown Brussels. We were expecting a busy city center, but that's not at all what we found. Not only were all the stores still closed (for Lent, we're told) but there was also a huge amount of men on the street. I'm talking, like, 30 men per 1 woman. To the point where we were surprised (and reassured) to see other women at times. We decided to get to a different part of town, and we eventually stumbled upon the two or three streets that make up the 'touristy' part of Brussels. These were by far more crowded. There were waffle shops everywhere, and everyone crowded the one famous thing to see in Brussels- the little peeing fountain boy. We tried the waffles - and can attest to the fact that they're famous for a reason. On the way back, we jumped on a public bus along with many other people. We'd been surprised in the past that nobody paid for a bus ticket, and that the bus driver didn't really seem to care. This time didn't seem any different, so we went along with it. Wrong decision. At the next stop, a bunch of ticket officers jumped on the bus and started (very rudely) asking for them. Tons of people didn't have them - us included. We all got pulled off the bus, and given $120 (!) fines. All the information they took from us was our name, so Jackie and I don't really plan on paying them. We leave tomorrow, and if the ticket somehow (miraculously) finds its way to my house in the U.S., I'll deal with it then.
Day 16 - Amsterdam, Netherlands
We left Brussels early this morning, and arrived in Amsterdam three hours later. We got lunch soon after, and checked into our hotel. Amsterdam was only of those places where a cheap hotel ended up being cheaper than a hostel. It's also being split between three people, because Gian got here today! We took a bus to the airport to meet him, and then all rode back together. He got settled in, and we went to get dinner. (He brought his laptop as well, so expect more frequent updates!) First impression about Amsterdam- there's a lot of bikes. The bicycles are everywhere, and so are the people riding them. The bike lane is even bigger than the car lane, and there's always the triple amount of people on bikes waiting at red lights than there are cars. Also, the famous 'coffee shops' are everywhere. They advertise weed brownies, weed cookies, weed lollipops, etc. If you dig a little deeper, the price for a gram (for those of you who care to compare to the U.S.) is around four dollars. So, yes, there's a lot of high people walking around on the street - it's hilarious.
Day 17 - Amsterdam, Netherlands
This morning we walked over to the 'I am Amsterdam' sign that everyone takes pictures with. We took some as well, and then sat down to sunbathe with everyone else while we waited for the Heineken Experience to open. Gian really wanted to do that, so we tagged along. They started by telling you the whole history of the beer and then went on to more interactive stuff. I learned how to pour the perfect beer, and got certified by Heineken as a beer pourer \m/. We all thought we'd be getting a small sample at the end but the beer was free-flowing, so Gian ended up drunk before noon. He loved it, needlessly to say. Then we walked over to the Anne Frank house, and because the wait was an hour long we didn't go in, but we stood right outside. I looked up to the window where she hid for like 20 minutes. Later at night we walked over to the Red Light District. There were two or three streets of little rooms with glass doors facing the streets, where the girls stood and flirted with people walking by. I was expecting some OBT-type girls, but they were all pretty good-looking. They were also all dressed. On the way back we stopped at a 'coffee shop' and tried the merchandise. It was a good time.
Day 18 - Amsterdam, Netherlands
The three of us checked out at 11:00 this morning and left our bags in the hotel. The plan was to take an overnight bus to Berlin that didn't leave till 11:15 pm, so we had a lot of time to kill. We first visited an old windmill in the outskirts of the city that's been since turned into a brewery. They had over 150 beers to choose from. Gian tried the house beer, and I bought some all-natural pressed juice - which was ridiculously cheap. I really wish it was as easy to get it back home. We then went back to the slanted hill where everyone sunbathes to finish the joint, people-watch and nap. Amsterdam is incredibly laid-back, and everyone seems to always been in a good mood. It's also incredibly beautiful - both dated and modern at the same time. I could really see myself living here - which is a first for this trip.
Day 19 - Berlin, Germany
Our hostel in Berlin is pretty far from the city - in the middle of the Grunewald forest. We weren't able to find anything closer because there's a huge German soccer championship game going on tomorrow, and everything was sold out. It turned out to be a good thing though, because not only is Grunewald the number one thing suggested to do in Berlin (before the wall, even) but it's quite literally a breath of fresh air after all the cities we've been in. The air smells like eucalyptus, and there's a massive river running through it that we sat by for a while. A lot of the day was spent exploring the forest trails and taking naps. We didn't make it into the city like we'd planned, but after a 10-hour night bus all three of us were pretty exhausted.
Day 20 - Berlin, Germany
After a great (and free!) breakfast provided by the one-woman show that is this hostel, we took a bus into the city. All day was spent walking around, and getting a feel for Berlin. Travis lived here for a couple of months, and had given me a few of tips of what to do before I left. Besides visiting the square where he hung out, we walked by Hitler's bunker, touched the Berlin Wall, and participated in a futbol rally. Today is the German soccer championship, and there were tons of people walking around in yellow and black - representing Borussia Dortmund. They were chanting and singing and dancing, and we were right in middle of it. Gian is an actual fan (unlike Jackie and I) and bought a Dortmund scarf. The rest of the day was spent looking at some monuments, shopping at H&M, and trying to find our way back to the hostel.
Day 21 - Krákow, Poland
Today we took an early bus to Poland, lasting about eight hours. Gian and I sat in the front row of the second level of the double-decker, so our view was nothing to complain about. We slept and ate the entire way, and it went by way quicker than anticipated. Jackie was in the back, with her own to two seats to sleep on - pretty unheard of in these buses. First impression of Poland (from about 20 feet in the air): they really respect and celebrate their dead. We passed many graveyards on the way into the city, where every single grave (yes, all of them) were covered in flowers. Covered as in you could hardly even see above-ground graves. It was shockingly colorful. We later got to our hostel, which is one of the most equipped ones we've stayed at so far. Individual shelfs, night lights, and plugs? Sold. Jackie and I did some laundry, which desperately needed to be done, and after dinner Gian and I went out for a drink. Tomorrow we plan on visiting Auschwitz.
Day 22 - Krákow, Poland
The main reason for coming all the way out to Poland was to visit Auschwitz, and today was dedicated just to that. It's impossible to put in words, really, what that experience is like. The tour lasts about four hours, and you visit both Auschwitz (the concentration camp) and Birkenau (the death camp). You walk through the same gates, rooms and pathways that the prisoners walked through. You stand in the same gas chambers where all 1.3 million people were killed. You go into giant rooms filled to the brink with human hair- most still in braids. You try to sympathize- but you can't. There's no possible way to look at the things right in front of you and imagine the atrocities that happened in that same place. It really seems unreal. Today was, needless to say, a very humbling day and one that none of us will forget.
Day 23 - Prague, Czech Republic
In today's train to Prague, we were given seats in the business executive class and we're not entirely sure why. We definitely booked the cheaper seats, but either by luck or mistake - we got a cabin to ourselves. Not complaining though! None of us are used to being so catered to (free orange juice, cappuccinos and sushi?) and made '1%' jokes the entire time. The four hours definitely went by way faster than expected, and we were in Prague in no time. This is also the first city which we've booked accommodation through airbnb, and got an amazing apartment all to ourselves for only $11 a night. The gay couple who we rented it from are the some of the friendliest and helpful hosts I've ever met. They picked us up from the train station, and gave us a tour of the apartment (which includes a pretty stocked fridge and kitchen). At night, we went looking for a something to eat. Prague is really cheap - hence the cheap accommodation. A huge burger with fries and drink included, at a sit-down restaurant, is only $5.
Day 24 - Prague, Czech Republic
Today we walked over to the Prague castle, which was farther away than we had anticipated. It was good, though, because we ended up seeing a lot of the city. We had lunch at a local cafe, rested for a while in a park, and took pictures by the city river. The church/castle is on a hill overlooking the city, so after some (a lot) of climbing, we had some amazing vantage points. Gian spotted a Uruguayan steakhouse that we're gonna try to go to tomorrow night. I'll let you know how authentic the asado actually is. We also booked everything for Switzerland, which is less than a week away. Crazy how fast time is going.
Day 25 - Prague, Czech Republic
We checked out the touristy part of Prague today. The square was full of people trying to make money - from bubbles, to human statues, soccer ball tricks and snakes. Jackie and I got yelled at by some lady for going to the bathroom for free. In our defense, she wasn't even there when we went in. She caught us on the way out and the scene she caused was so big that I would've paid had I had any cash on me. I didn't though, so after she got pissed that I asked if she took credit card, we ran out. I'm still laughing about it. We then bought lunch and climbed up to a park overlooking the entire city. We spent a few hours laying around and walking around the park. On the way back, we got the most Pinterest-worthy lattes ever. Not only could they be considered art, but they were also two dollars. Gian and I joked that if everything was this cheap, drugs wouldn't exist. The rush you get from paying $.60 for a huge slice of cheesecake is enough.
Day 26 - Munich, Germany
Back in Germany. The path that we're taking looks a lot like a big 'C'. It's pretty essential to pick a general direction (and stick with it) when you're backpacking, or risk losing a lot of time and money in backtracking - but more on that later. Today was a traveling day. The day started by tidying up the apartment we stayed at, which ended up being quite the luxury. It had a full kitchen, bathroom and washing machine (!). We then set out on our long walk to the train station. The thought of a forty minute walk with our backpacks was not a pretty one, so as soon as we got to a busy road I stuck my thumb out. It took less than ten seconds for two cars to stop. We picked the bigger of the two, and the guy (who didn't speak any English but played awesome music) took us all the way to the entrance of the station. MVP of this trip so far. The bus ride to Munich was about five hours, and I read 'A Million Little Pieces' pretty much the entire way. In Munich, we're staying in a Marriott. Jackie worked for the company for a long time, so divided by three it sometimes ends up being cheaper than a hostel. We snuck Gian in though, cause it's a two person room. Gotta save that money. We also walked around some, and tried to find some food to eat. 'Tried' is the key word, because no one takes credit cards here and we're all out of euros at the moment. It was an hour-long trial. Munich, as a city, is great though. The Germans are a bit too cold for me, but Travis should definitely give it a try. :-*
Day 27 - Munich, Germany
Today was by far one of the best days on this trip. I had no real expectations for Munich, but it ended up being in my top three favorites cities. This morning we had only planned to walk around the city and check out some of the recommended spots, but it ended up being so much better than that. About twenty minutes into our walk we came across a river in the middle of the city that everyone treated as a beach. It had no sand by the shore, just tons of white rocks and pebbles that everyone laid on. We sat down and ate our lunch, and an entire hour passed before we noticed. Once we decided to keep walking, we came across and huge public park where, again, tons - I'm talking thousands - of people laid out (and chatted and smoked and ate and laughed). It looked a lot like spring break in Florida, only with a lot less drunk meatheads. The same river also ran through this park, but with much more speed and intensity. About fifteen people surfed the section of the river that was strong enough to make waves, and people with megaphones cheered them on - this is what the picture above shows. Once the river calmed down, it became a natural lazy river that ran across this immense park. Gian, Jackie and I decided to go back to the hotel and get our bathing suits - a natural lazy impossible to pass up. We walked half an hour to the hotel and half an hour back, but it was so worth it.
The river was beautiful, but it was also crazy fast and crazy cold - nothing lazy about it. The second I jumped in the water I lost all the air in my lungs because the water was so cold. The current immediately drags you, and all of a sudden you're moving twenty miles an hour under low bridges and green canopies. All of your senses are on overdrive, because of the cold, and everything is extremely colorful. There's also no rules, no procedures, no designated entrance and no designated exit. No one tries to make money off of it so if you want to get in, its your job to get yourself out. We did this by grabbing on to tree roots close to the edge. It was a process, because the speed of the water made it pretty hard to hold on to anything. We then walked all the way back, and jumped right back in.
It was an invigorating experience. We all got out of that river feeling like new. (This was probably also true because the numbness of our skin meant we couldn't feel the countless cuts and bruises, but still). Once our bodies started to warm up again, it really hurt. Gian says that it's because our blood was so depraved of oxygen that our arms literally burned as soon as we could feel them. I personally liked the feeling, but you know.
We laid on the grass amongst the locals for a while, and then made our way back to the hotel. At night, Gian and I watched the Champions League game. #fuckyeahbarca #suarez4life
Day 28 - Zurich, Switzerland
Today we made it to what's been dubbed the 'most expensive city in the world' - Zurich, Switzerland. It's Sunday so everything is closed, but even if wanted to eat out the prices are ridiculously high. We passed a mini-street restaurant on our way to the hotel where a cheeseburger was being advertised for $24. Needless to say, we made the pasta we had with us. We're staying in a Marriott again, which is costing us half the price than a hostel would have because it's being split three ways. The lady seemed to like us, and said that she'd put us in one of the best rooms they have. Our view is amazing, and at the moment ACDC is playing less than a mile away. You can hear the songs perfectly. Earlier today we went to walk around, and found where everyone likes to hang out on Sundays. Another river. Straight through the city like all the others, but this one had lifeguards and lockers for everyone that wanted to swim. Of course we joined in. It was far less cold than the one in Munich, and much more crowded. There was a stretch the size of a football field that you were allowed to swim in, and once you reached the end you ran into steel bars and ladders that you had to climb out of. We swam around for much longer than we did yesterday and then, you guessed it, we sunbathed with the locals.
Day 29 - Zurich, Switzerland
We took a tram into the city center today, which was far busier than it was yesterday. We followed the main shopping street all the way down to Lake Zurich, and got on a huge double-decker ship. The boat tour was included in our local transportation ticket, so we took it to the first stop and got off. We walked around the small name-less town for about half an hour, and then took the same ship back to main street. We then headed over to Old Town, where everything looked just like you would imagine Switzerland to look like. Flowers, pointy roofs and cobblestone streets. Back at the hotel, we went looking for the super fancy sauna that this hotel offers. Not only is it dry heat AND steam, it has a glass wall overlooking the city. Set for life.
Day 30 - Chur, Switzerland
We took a short train ride today into Chur, Switzerland. Chur is a tiny city just south of Zurich, surrounded by mountains. After we checked into the single hostel in Chur, we went to walk around. We found one of the highest peaks in the city and sat for a while taking it all in. Old buildings below us, and massive, snowy mountains on all sides. It was something out of a movie. Chur is a valley of sorts, with all the buildings built around the river. It takes an hour maximum to cover the entire city, but it's also pretty modern - with expensive stores at almost every corner. There were a bunch of kids running around town, and we talked about how cool it must be to grow up here. You could literally run and play around the entire city. Later, we found a bakery and had some cake and croissants. We also found out that the tiny birds eat crumbs right out of your hand.
The main reason for coming to Chur was that the Bernina Express, an amazing scenic train route into Italy, takes off from here. I'm really excited to do that tomorrow, since it was one of the very first things I planned for this trip, but had we not already booked that a while ago I'd definitely extend my stay in this little town.
Day 31 - Tirano/Sernio, Italy
Bright and early this morning, we walked to the local train station at Chur to catch the Bernina Express. Chur was a busy little town this morning, as everyone was trying to get to work andschool. We noticed all the little kids wore reflective safety vests, even if they were holding their moms' hands. Talk about being cautious. We boarded the Bernina Express, and for four hours we were taken through bridges, and tunnels, and lakes, and valleys, and mountains. The Bernina Express is one out only three train routes in the world that is part of the Unesco World Heritage Site, and there's good reason for it. The views were breathtaking. I tried to take a few pictures but they don't do it any justice whatsoever, so I just focused on enjoying the ride. I highly recommend it, even if you have no other reason for going to Switzerland. The train route ended in Tirano, Italy - a small Italian town right on the border. We took a bus to Sernio, about 5 miles away, where they have the one and only hostel in this place. We got out way too late though, and had to walk a long way back. The roads don't have any sidewalks and after Jackie cut her leg trying to make it over a barrier, I stopped the first car that drove by. It was a really nice Italian lady, who didn't speak any English but understood that we needed to get to the hostel. We've had incredible luck with our hitchhiking 'hosts' because, again, we got taken straight to the entrance of where we needed to go. These people are such mvps, it's not even funny. After we settled in what is one of the best hostels we've stayed at, we decided to go get some food. Sernia is a tiny, tiny old town. Probably a third of what Chur was, and the nearest restaurant was back in Tirano. After one failed attempt at walking there, we came back to get the bikes that had been offered to us. We rode all the way down (Sernia is at the top of a huge hill, I should mention), without ever touching the pedals. That's how long and steep this hill is. We got some pizza, explored the town, got some groceries, and then the real fun (aka torture) began. To say that riding/walking up this hill with our bikes and groceries was hard is an understatement. It was brutal. It was 2 to 3 miles up, but we were moving so slow that it took way longer than it should have.
We arrived back at the hostel, took some showers, and went to sit at the roof-top garden. This is yet another hostel that is run by a single woman. She does everything, and she does it well. The hostel is amazingly taken care of. Clean, stocked and beyond interesting. There's a tea room where you can serve yourself any kind of tea you want, a garage full of bikes to use for free (unheard of), a soccer field that she mows herself, and the garden on the roof where you can sit under the tree (yes, there's a tree on the roof) and drink said tea while taking in the scenery in front of you. It's amazing. The lady was out in the garden most of the afternoon, planting and harvesting. She gave us the strawberries she had just picked, and they were the best strawberries I've ever had.
After dinner, all three of us joined in a soccer game with some local kids and their coach. They called each other 'Messi', 'Saurez' and 'Neymar', and we decided that the game we were playing was Uruguay vs. Sernia. The coach was a typical Italian - very loud, very friendly, and very inviting. All of his expressions were over-the-top, and hilarious. The kids were a lot free-er than they are in the states. It's hard to explain but you'd understand if you saw it. They were kids who laughed 'too loud', played 'too rough', and cursed 'too much' - but everything was alright because they're just kids.
Day 32 - Venice, Italy
This morning we had our coffee in the garden, and the hostel lady drove us to the train station. We took a train to Milan, and immediately got on a second train to Venice. In Venice we're staying in a camping ground, in our own tiny private cabin. It was only $9 a night, so even though we can hardly move in there it's so worth it. There's no wifi here, and the cabins are too small to hang out with, so everyone is hanging out in the communal area. It's cool. Gian, Jackie and I played some ping-pong, and then we left Gian so he could flirt with the local girls.
Day 33 - Venice, Italy
We took a bus into the city today around lunchtime. Venice is an island that's connected to the mainland by a single highway, and the bus can only go in a few blocks before it has to turn around. There's no cars or roads in Venice whatsoever, so unless you're part of the rich folk who can stay in the actual island, this is the only way in. We walked around all of Venice today, and got both cappuccinos and gelatos. Venice is exactly as it is depicted in the movies, just with a lot more tourists. The Italian originality of Tirano is non-existent in the tourist trap that is now Venice - but it's still beautiful. The canals are everywhere where roads would normally be, and the boat traffic is crazy. We didn't take a gondola ride because they're all close to 100 euros ($120 dollars), and we're on backpackers budgets. It rained later on when we were back at the camping site, which is good because it cooled down our cabin. This no-ac thing is crucial. Right now it's halftime in the Italy-Croatia qualifier game, and we're eating pizza. It's a good night.
Day 34 - Venice/Florence, Italy
After checking out and eating breakfast this morning, we had some time to kill. Our train to Florence didn't leave until 6:00 pm, so we decided to walk to the beach. The world map likes to tell you that Venice is on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, but after an entire hour of trying to find the coast we gave up. Instead, we snuck into the pool at the Hilton hotel. We spent a while there and then boarded a bus to the city again. Not that it's something to be particularly proud of, but we've ridden the public bus without ever paying. I think that was the 6th or 7th time we got on, just in Venice. The drivers really don't care, and apart from that time in Brussels we've never had a problem. I'll save the $50, sure. We got some gelato in Venice and walked around some. Then we went back to the camping site, got our stuff, and went to the train station. Two hours later we were in Florence, where we're once again staying at a camping site. This one is much bigger and nicer than the other one, and right in the middle of the city. Not bad for $11 a night. (I'm telling you, traveling is a lot cheaper than you think). We have a really nice little house set-up (not a tent), and a super cool bar by the entrance. The Statue of David is less than a ten minute walk from here, so we got hamburgers for dinner (best burger ever - check the insta) and ate them sitting by his feet. I really thought David would be tucked away in some museum that you had to pay a ton to get into, but he's just hanging at an outside plaza. With nothing keeping the people at bay. How nobody has graffitied him is beyond me. While we ate (with all of Florence lit up in front of us), a man played the flute, and fireworks went off. We thought it was perfect, until the place next to us released of hundreds of floating lanterns. It was as if the city knew we were coming, and brought out all its canons at once.
Day 35 - Florence, Italy
It rained all morning today, so we hung out in the bar/restaurant area for a few hours. I had a few (too many) cappuccinos, not only because they're only a dollar but because I've become extremely addicted to coffee while on this trip. Europe has the best fucking coffee in the world, and it's really cheap no matter what you get. Mama, I think of you every time we get it. After it stopped raining, we took to exploring the city. Florence is pretty. It's old, and has a lot of charm. Full of people as well, but it holds a lot more of originality than Venice did - in my opinion. Also, forget what I said yesterday about the David statue. The real one is indeed tucked away in some gallery with a hefty admission price. We found out today that there's replicas laying around the entire city. Pretty obvious now. Anyways, I think what is making Florence one of my favorite cities is not necessarily the city itself, but where we're staying as well as the night time. It feels like a different city at night, and it reminds me a lot of Uruguay. There's music everywhere, restaurants are open way late, and people sit around on the street sharing ice cream and laughing. It makes me what to be in Montevideo so badly. We had the same burgers for dinner that we did last night, and watched the sun go down from our hill. Everyone in our camp site gathers at the restaurant/bar area when it gets dark, and everyone drinks Coronas and cappuccinos. There's not any of that during the day, so while the warm breakfast croissants are to die for, it's the nights that make Florence, Italy so magical.
Day 36 - Florence, Italy
It rained all morning again, so after waiting it out till about two in the afternoon we went to walk around the city again. The best part was the food market, which was like a big, classy food court where they serve all authentic Italian food. Gian and I splurged a bit and got some big pasta bowls. Mine was ravioli stuffed with cheese and spinach with walnut sauce - best ravioli I've ever had, and so worth it. From the Michelangelo Plaza that our camp site is next to, we watched the sun set over Florence. I also bought an authentic Italian dreamcatcher for Doni, my little sister, who had mentioned she wanted one. At night we hung out at the restaurant/bar area, drinking beers with some kids we met. Sarah and Helen from Ireland, who were the sweetest girls ever but could outdrink any grown American man, and Clause from Estonia - who hitchhiked all the way to Italy.
Day 37 - Rome, Italy
Roma! Finally! Top three cities that I've been most excited for and its finally here. We got in today to the main train station at around noon, and walked over to the place we're staying at. It's a little apartment turned 'bed and breakfast', so it's authentic, private and close to everything. We've been loving it - it's called Maison de Alexandre, and if you're in Rome and lucky enough to find availability (there's only three rooms) jump on it! Only $15 or so a night. Amazing. Just like we do when we have more than a couple of days in a city (five in Rome, a record for us), we took care of the essentials on the first day. We did laundry, went grocery shopping and took care of some booking/budgeting. These days, although few and far in between, are extremely helpful when backpacking. Dedicating an entire day to just getting organized and relaxing is pretty essential when you're constantly on the go-go-go for weeks at a time. We hung around the apartment, checking out the views from our windows and meriendando. We joke that Gian and I are slowly conforming Jackie because she's been listening Spanish music, eating dinner way late and staying up to watch the Uruguay game. She even said she was gonna have a 'merienda' when she made toast. I'm so proud. We also called my grandpa for his birthday and chatted with him for a while, and now we're waiting for the futbol game to start even though they play at 2:30 am our time. If that's not real love for my uruguayos, I don't know what is.
Day 38 - Rome, Italy
After an awesome breakfast at Marco's house (our host in Italy), we set out to the colosseum. It's literally right around the block from us, so it took less than ten minutes to walk there. We got our tickets, and spent a couple of hours in there. I've always been incredibly interested and captivated by the history of the colosseum, and being the 'animal activist' that Travis says I am, I've always focused much more on what the ancient animals went through rather than the people. It was all I could think about in there. Over a million animals (and half a million people, yes) were slayed for entertainment in there. I was eavesdropping in a Spanish tour where the lady said that in the inaugural day over 600 bears were tied up and stabbed, all while people cheered it on. It makes truly sad to think about it. Prisoners of war, as well as petty criminals were also sentenced to death in the colosseum by various amounts of creative, torturous ways. Elephant stampedes, arrows to the head, the famous lion maulings, etc. We spent a lot of time walking around and taking it all in. We also spent some time looking for my uncle's writing on the wall from many years back - 'Gonzalo comio un sandwich de mortadella aca'. We weren't able to find it! We also spent hours trying to find each other. While I was taking a picture of Gian, we got separated from from Jackie, and we haven't seen her since. Kidding - but it did take almost two hours of searching. At one point, 'Bertolas, to the exit' was heard around the entire colosseum. It was the only thing that they said all day, so we loved it. Gian joked that we were being summoned to the arena. After finding each other, we walked over to the Roman forum (the ancient government) and the roman Acropolis. It's all in ruins now, but you can tell it was something magnificent back then. Those two things took up basically the entire day. We got back to Marco's place, where I chatted for a while one of our roommates. She's this girl from Puerto Rico who was doing the same trip we were but has decided to stay in Rome with a boy she fell in love with <3 Jackie, her and I walked back to the colosseum at around ten o'clock to see it all lit up. It was beautiful.
Day 39 - Rome, Italy
We rented vespas today around noon, and headed to the Vatican. The Vatican City is on the outskirts of Rome, but it only took us around fifteen minutes to get there. We felt like locals on the scooters, even though the traffic is way different than in the U.S. We also picked the worst day to be out on the street, because a lot of them were closed for parades and rallies. Nevertheless, we got to the Vatican and after covering up from neck to knees, we went inside. It is huge inside, and there's a lot of people praying, crying and lining up to touch the feet of statues. People were crowding to look at everything, so Gian and I ran a social experiment. There was an air vent on the floor in the middle of the Vatican and we both stood right by it staring down into it like it was super interesting. In less than thirty seconds we had an entire group around us peering down into the air vent.
We then walked over to the Sistine Chapel, where we waited in line for about half an hour. The 'room' in the Vatical museum that is considered the Sistine Chapel is a lot smaller than I'd imagined. It is incredibly impressive though, and I got a couple of pictures of the Creation of Adam even though we weren't allowed to take pictures.
On the way back, traffic was pretty much at a standstill because of a housing rights rally in the middle of the city. We rode on the outskirts of the street, but at one point Gian weaved in and out of some cars and we lost him. We rode around for a while looking for each other, but weren't able to find him. We also have no map, and no wifi, so we weren't able to get in touch. Luckily, we had said earlier in the day that if anyone got lost we would meet up at the colosseum. So, to the colosseum we went. It took Jackie and I around two hours to get there because of all the road closures, even though it was only supposed to be a twenty minute ride. We waited around for like another hour, and finally we spotted Gian. I've never been so happy to see that guy, and I was so proud of him for getting to our designated place without any help. He said he must have asked more than forty people for directions, but he also liked how much of Rome he had seen with all the riding around he did. I was just happy I didn't have to tell my mom that I'd lost my little brother in Rome.
We got back to our place, and got dinner and hung out for a while. At around midnight, Gian had the idea of going for a 'midnight ride' on our scooters. This time there was nobody on the street, so it was a lot easier getting around. We went to the colosseum, which was lit up and empty. And also to the city center, where there were tons of bats flying around the sky. We have to return our scooters at noon tomorrow, but for only $25 they were definitely worth it.
Day 40 - Rome, Italy
Today was a relaxing day. We woke up early in order to make it to the bar next door, where we got free breakfast for staying at Maison de Julie. Marco had run out of space at Maison de Alexandre, so we've moved over to his Cousin Teresa's bed and breakfast - Maison de Julie. Cousin Teresa (you have to say it with an Italian accent) is extremely sweet, and extremely Italian. Her expressions are over the top, and she tries to be accommodating in every way. Ten points. We got free cappuccinos and orange juice and pastries, and then we came back to our room to lay around for a bit. Afterwards, we headed over to the Roman Pantheon and the Fountain of Trevi. Unfortunately, the Fountain of Trevi is under renovation so it was drained and covered by scaffolding. It's fine though, because that just means I have to come back to Rome sometime soon. Speaking of, Rome has become one of two cities in this entire trip that I could consider home. I feel really comfortable around the Italians. Maybe it's because it's in my blood (all four of my grandparents are Italian, and I've been traveling with my Italian passport this whole time), but their lifestyle really clicks with me. Everyone is full of life, and selfless, and just plain nice. It's true that they treat everyone like family. Plus, Italian is very similar to Spanish so I have an easy time with the language. It's a win-win-win everywhere.
After the fountain, we stopped at an outside restaurant where Gian and I got the best pasta dish I've ever seen. I feel like I call every meal the 'best thing ever', but this really was. It was spaghetti with all types of fresh sea food mixed in. (Another win- they really know how to eat).
We then headed back to Teresa's place, and took two hour naps. We have fans in this place (what is air conditioning again?), which is a very nice touch.
Day 41 - Rome, Italy
We explored everything that there was left to explore in Rome today. We walked over to the ancient chariot-racing tracks, which is completely in ruins. It looks like a big grassy ditch. They have pictures depicting what it used to look like, with seats and marble arches, but none of that is there anymore. Two blocks away is also this door (which the locals call 'The Secret of Rome') that looks like any ordinary door on a white wall, but if you look through the keyhole you see an incredibly long stretch of tress on both sides with the Vatican in perfect view at the end. The Vatican is several miles away, so it was pretty amazing. Nobody really seems to know of it either; There was only two or three people there when we went. It started pouring not long after, so we took shelter in an old church that was around the corner. We met Gisella there (or I should say Gian met Gisella there), an Argentinian girl traveling by herself. She's been to Uruguay many times, so it was nice talking to her about that. She went with us to the 'mouth of truth', which is this big rock with a face on it that legend tells if you stick your hand in his mouth and you've ever in your life told a lie, he bites it off. My hand is still intact, so what does that tell you? We also went to a couple more places, but you know. Later at night we got pizza and gelato, and went to a pub to watch the Uruguay-Paraguay game. We're on to the quarter finals, so you'll hear more of that later.
Day 42 - Athens, Greece
We had a 3:40 am wake up call this morning, so we could catch our early flight to Greece. We arrived to Athens at around nine, and waited a couple of hours for Jackie's mom. She is joining us for Athens, and Jackie will be staying there with her when Gian and I go to Santorini tomorrow. Jackie's mom got a really nice hotel package with her flight, so we're staying right on the water in a little city outside of Athens. We've asked three different locals the name of the city and have gotten three different answers, so I'm not exactly sure where we are. We got some drinks and sat by the shore all afternoon, though. Greece is exactly as I had pictured it so far. Everything is blue and white, and a little run-down. Isn't Greece considered third-world? I'm gonna look it up after I write this. Nevertheless, it is absolutely beautiful and I already know we didn't plan enough days here. The water is blue as can be, and cold. After hanging out all afternoon, we got dinner at this little local Greek restaurant with amazing food. It was a family-run restaurant, in what seemed to be someone's backyard. All the tables were outside, and the guy grilled everything right in front of you. Gian and I got some authentic Greek meal - eggplant stuffed with meat and cheese on top. It was great. We headed back later and again sat by the shore. Gian and I have another early wake up call tomorrow to catch our ferry to Santorini, where we'll be for a couple of days before coming back to Athens.
Day 43 - Santorini, Greece
After waking up before dawn for the second day in a row, Gian and I found out that the public transpiration doesn't run very early in Greece. Our ferry left at 7:00 am, and the port was an hour away, so the only option left was to call a taxi. We cringed at the price - $50 - but that's what we ended up doing. At the end of the day, $25 each for an hour-long taxi ride isn't too bad. It also took away all the headaches of figuring out transfers and schedules, so I'm not too worried about it. We got to the port, and quickly boarded our 'ferry'. Ferry is loosely worded, because that thing was a massive high-speed ship. Everyone had reclining seats, and we both slept the entire way there. We got to Santorini at at around noon where the hotel staff picked us up. I found this amazing hotel (Manos Villas, if you're interested) for only $25 a night on hostelworld. They have a pool, a bar, and we get our own multi-level room. And free pick ups from the port. Poppy, the lady that runs the hotel, told us that there might have been a mix up though, and one of our nights wasn't confirmed because the hotel was full. She asked us if we minded the possibility of being sent to the hotel next door and because we said it wasn't a problem she treated us to a free meal and wine at the restaurant. Afterwards, we settled in, got some (more) food at the supermarket right next door, and took a bus to the beach. It was only a 15 minute ride to the other side of the island, and everyone seemed to be going to the same place. The beach was a black-sand beach, which I've never been to before, so it was really cool. We laid at the beach for a while, ate, slept, and later climbed the huge cliffs next to the shore. Santorini also has red-sand beaches, and white-sand beaches, so we may have to visit one of those tomorrow.
Day 44 - Santorini, Greece
We slept in today, which was much needed. We woke up around noon, and after eating some 'breakfast' on our balcony we took a bus to Oia. Oia is the famous little town from which any picture you've ever seen of Greece is taken in. The white houses on the cliff, the blue roof churches and restaurants, the amazingly cobalt blue ocean and the red sunsets - that's all Oia. Chances are, it has been your desktop background at some point. We spent the day walking around the cobblestone streets, and taking pictures of pretty much everything. All of it is straight out of a movie. We also walked down the huge hill which Oia is situated on, to go swim in the water and dive off some rocks. We found this little spot, where only ten or some people were sitting at. Some girls were in the water, and an older guy was diving. This was the same guy that later speared an octopus and sold it to the restaurant next door... There was a big cliff about 50 yards away, and Gian and I swam to it to jump off it. Again, so exhilarating. I'm not sure why we're always jumping into some kind of water but I'm very okay with it. After drying off, we climbed back up the hill. It was hard, and we could have made a donkey carry us up for only $5, but I hate when people use animals to make money and the animal does all the work. So, forget that. Oia is famous for its' sunsets, and after finding the spot where all Google pictures are taken from - we settled in. The sunset was really red and orange and beautiful. And definitely worth the fight to get to the bus station before the other 500 people. Luckily, we got on the first bus out. I've been told it can take up to 2 hours to get back to Fira (the main town), because everyone tries to leave Oia at the same time. Lucky positioning on our part - the bus stopped right next to us. After we got back to Fira, we went downtown to get some dinner. We ate at this authentic Greek restaurant, where I had stuffed peppers and tomatoes. We later walked back to the hotel, and once again ran into Poppy. She had found a way for us to stay at the hotel for our second night, and even gifted us a wine bottle for being such good sports about it to begin with. She said she was 'blessed to have guests like us', and I gave her a hug cause she's the one that's great. I finished the bottle while Gian was off somewhere, and I'm a little tipsy writing this right now, but it's fitting because the whole day was great and I can't think of a better way to end it.
Day 45 - Athens, Greece
Today we caught the early ferry back to Athens. This one made quite a few stops at all the islands in between, so it took around six hours. We made it back to our hotel in Athens at around four o'clock and decided to stay in and relax for the rest of the day. We carried two chairs to the shore, and took naps. We woke up with some time before the 'spa' closed at eight, so we went there. That hotel spa was intense. You had to sign in at the front, and shower caps were required everywhere. The pool had several strong jets for your back and feet, which was perfect because carrying your life in a backpack for two months tends to make your muscles sore. There was also a steam sauna, which is my favorite thing in the world. Jackie and her mom got back from being in the city at around nine, and we all hung out for a while. I'll be taking a nap pretty soon because Uruguay plays at 2:30 am our time, and I have to be up to watch it.
Day 46 - Athens, Greece
We checked out of the sea-side hotel this morning because Jackie's mom is heading home. We decided to stay one more day in Athens ourselves, so that Gian and I could actually go see the city. After two hours of various modes of public transportation, we finally got to the apartment we rented on airbnb. The guy greeted Jackie and I (Gian waited in a cafe because it was more expensive to add a third person), and gave us a little tour. The apartment is incredibly modern and stylish, and worth much more than the $14 a night we paid. We think the guy owns the whole building (four floors, one apartment on each floor) because he asked us to turn off the water heater before we leave - inside a different apartment. And gave us permission to use the four floor for laundry - incredibly helpful. After he left, we got Gian and relaxed for a bit. Jackie and I left at around three o'clock to go see the sights. Gian was way too tired from staying up to watch the game last night and decided to pass. Jackie had also already done everything with her mom, but she didn't mind going and it worked out great for me because it was like having my own personal tour guide. And her and her mom had found a stack of tickets on the floor the other day - to everything we planned on doing - so we didn't have to pay for anything. We first went by Zeus' temple, and the first Olympic stadium. I was so impressed with the condition the stadium. It doesn't even look a hundred years old, let alone three thousand. We then when to the Acropolis, where we saw the Ancient Agora (where all the ancient Greeks used to live), and the Parthenon. It was a steep climb up, and much like everything else in Europe at the moment, it was under renovation. Despite the scaffolding though, it was incredibly cool. You can see all of Athens from up there. We later went to Plaka, the famous shopping neighborhood. This is where everyone gets the authentic Greek jewelry and souvenirs. We didn't buy anything, but we did get baclava at a little outside cafe. Baclava is an authentic Greek desert - much like pie but with many layers and hard, so you have to use a fork and knife. They drizzle it with caramel sauce and put a scoop of vanilla ice cream on stop. It was beyond delicious.
Once we were back in the apartment and it was dinner time, we realized we didn't have a stove to make all the pasta we'd bought. We ended up creeping into the apartment in the third floor (the one with the water heater switch), to use that kitchen. We're not entirely sure if it's someone's house or not (I'm guessing yes because of all the love letters on the wall), but there was no one there and TECHNICALLY he had allowed us in there. Nevertheless, it was risky and nerve-racking so we made our pasta and got the hell out of there. We ate, listened to some music, and booked our very lasts hostels (!). Overall, a very successful day.
Day 47 - Barcelona, Spain
Two Ryanair flights later, we're in Spain. We flew back to Rome early this morning, where we caught a connecting flight to Barcelona. Once we got to the airport, we figured out how to get to our hotel. We're staying in another Marriot here, since Jackie's employee discount once again prevails over hostel prices. We get an incredibly nice hotel, with a rooftop pool and spa for $19 a night each, whereas hostel prices were up in the 30's per night. I'll take it. We also ended up taking a taxi to the hotel, because we were pretty far from the airport and local transportation would've cost us each as much. We hit a lot of traffic though, and there's nothing more nerve racking than watching that meter go up and up and up while the car doesn't move. Once we got the hotel and settled in it was already four o'clock, so instead of going to the city we hit the beach. There's one right next to us, which is perfect because that's my favorite thing to do, anywhere in the world. This one specifically is topless, which makes it a bit more fun. We spent a few hours there, and then went to the spa. Much like every other hotel spa in Europe, though, they closed at 8:00. I find that kind of weird because the gym is also in the spa section and I'm pretty sure most people like to either start their day with the gym, or end it with the gym. I'm not sure why European hotels don't provide that as an option.
Day 48 - Barcelona, Spain
Public transportation in Barcelona is incredibly good. That's my first impression. The subway covers the entire city, and everything is easily described and laid out. We bought a subway pass lasting ten uses, and plan to visit the entire city with it. The early afternoon was dedicated to visiting Camp Nou, the FC Barcelona Stadium. It was the only thing that Gian had demanded we do this entire trip, and he was smiling the whole way there. He took pictures with everything too, which is highly unlike him. The girl at the counter let us buy student tickets even though they're just meant for European universities, which was a nice plus. The visit took about an hour, where we read about the history of the team, saw all of their trophies (including the latest 2015 trifecta) and ended by going out to the stadium. We took pictures, and sat on the seats for a while. When we were walking out he said that visiting that stadium was something he'd always wanted to do but was sure he'd never get to do it. It made me really happy that he'd gotten the chance to. We then jumped on the subway again, and headed to the city center. The center was bussing with people, and there was typical Spanish music everywhere. There were a lot of vendors everywhere, and we ended up going into the indoor farmer's market. It was by far the best one I've ever been to - and I've made it a point to visit all eight back home. They were selling tons of fresh fruits, smoothies, candies and food. All three of us got a fresh fruit smoothie for a dollar each. We later got back to the hotel, and Gian and I headed to the beach. It was perfect beach weather. In front of us were two girls our age, topless, who had a group of guys around them, openly gawking. These guys had literally formed a circle around them, and after a while the girls got up and put tops on. It was so uncomfortable to watch. Nevertheless, the beach was great, as it always is, and I'm looking forward to it tomorrow.
Day 49 - Barcelona, Spain
Today is Sunday, which means that like every other Sunday - no matter the country - the city is dead. Every single city in Europe shuts down on Sundays; people take their rest day very seriously. Absolutely nothing is open, and the streets are bare. We've learned not to judge a city by its Sundays, which is good because the Barcelona from yesterday is no where to be found today. Luckily, the subway ran as usual - which is quite unusual. Getting around on Sundays is usually a bitch, because all public transportation options run on minimalistic schedules. The subway in Barcelona continues to win gold medals in my mind though - we went everywhere today without a problem. We started with Southern Barcelona, just because Gian wanted to go to 'the biggest futbol store in the world'. It, however, was closed. Instead, we got some amazingcafe con leches and croissants. On the same street were a bunch of people exchanging trading cards. It was a pretty funny sight - little kids, their parents, and 'street vendors' all discussing, amd exchanging, and buying these cards. They had everything - Pokemon, Yu-gi-oh, Futbol, NBA, etc. Vendors had huge binders full of these cards, and every time they would exchange one with a kid they would mark it off their list of 'needs'. It must be something that happens every Sunday, because these were the only people on the street. We then hopped back on the subway and headed to la Sagrada Familia. It was under renovation (is anyone surprised, guys?), but it was just as huge and glorious as everyone had mentioned. My uncle, Gonzalo, had especially recommended we go there, so we had to check it out. We ate lunch in the plaza right in front of it. We then headed back to the city center, where we saw a few of the historic buildings Jackie had on her list. Back at the hotel, we went down to the beach and spent a few hours there. We got pretty lucky to have this little beach right next to us - it's a really great way to spend the last few hours of daylight every day.
Day 50 - Madrid, Spain
This post is actually being written on the morning of Day 51, because yesterday was pretty complicated. We woke up at the crack of dawn to catch a high-speed train to Madrid, that would get us there at around eleven in the morning. Little did we know, the tickets we'd bought were for July, not for June, so they didn't let us through. Buying a new ticket for the train would've cost around $170, as opposed to the $60 we had, so we sat in the train station for a while figuring out our next move. Gian voted to stay in Barcelona, while Jackie and I wanted to visit Madrid. Eventually the money argument won out, and we decided to book last-minute flights for $80 each. This flight wasn't till 5:30 pm, so we took the subway to the airport (again, Barcelona with the public transportation win) and waited around for a few hours. Finally, we boarded and took the one hour flight to Madrid. Once we got to our hostel at around 8:00 pm, we made pizza and pasta and hung out at the roof-top bar. Gian and I were paired in the dorm (probably because of our last names), and Jackie was sent to the floor above. She got lucky though, because Gian and I had the worst roommates known to man. Up until now, people in hostels have always been super courteous to each other - always being quiet when someone is sleeping, or using flashlights instead of turning on lights once it's past midnight. This group of six Brazilian guys, though, thought they were the center of the universe. They put on music at three in the morning, turned all the lights on, never closed the dorm door, yelled, wrestled, etc. We said something to them a few times, and they would stop for five minutes and then start again. We also tried switching rooms at like four in the morning, but both of the rooms they sent us to had people in every bed. Thankfully they checked out this morning - after waking up everyone on the floor - and I'm really hoping we get some better people
Day 51 - Madrid, Spain
Update: We got better roommates! We also explored as much of Madrid as we could today, and as much as the weather would let us. We visited many palaces, and sat in many parks. The overall theme of today, however, was how hot it was. Madrid is going through a heatwave (covered on all news channels), and temperatures reached 46 degrees Celsius (over 100 Fahrenheit). We drank lots and lots of water, and sat in lots and lots of shades. We also shopped around some, which included finally going to Brandy Melville! It's one of my favorite stores of all time and Florida doesn't have one, so it was life changing. I bought the prettiest ring and comfiest shirt in the world. We sat on the grass in a shady spot right next to the Ritz Carlton afterwards, since their free wifi could reach us and free wifi has become somewhat of a commodity these days. We also bought a pint of ice cream on the way back, and shared it at the hostel. Tomorrow we depart for what is our very last city in this two month adventure. It's hard to believe I'll be home in three days, and bittersweet in so many ways.
Day 52 - Lisbon, Portugal
We took a bus into Portugal today - Lisbon, specifically. It was about eight hours long, and it dropped us off at around 5:30 pm. We then took the metro to our hostel, the Urban Garden Hostel. It was one of the cooler hostels we've stayed at; they even gave us a welcoming beer! It has a very different vibe from all the other ones we've stayed at. There's lots of workers, many of them our age, who live at the hostel itself. Most of them are backpackers who decided to extend their stay, and earn a little cash on the side. It's a cool idea. There's also not many people, which makes it fairly personal - much better than big, party hostels. Jackie and I got assigned to the 'Wet' room (which is an all-girls room, and has umbrellas hanging from the ceiling), and Gian got assigned to the 'Morning Wood'. We hung out in the communal area for a while, and later made dinner.
Day 53 - Lisbon, Portugal
We woke up for the free pancake breakfast today, which was pretty good. The workers themselves made pancakes and passed them out while everyone chatted around the table. There was only six or eight of us, so everyone got their fair share and more. Gian, Jackie and I later left to explore the city. We walked over to the Commerce Plaza, which is the center of town, and climbed the steep hill to the castle overlooking the city. We didn't actually go in, but the area around it was also interesting. Lots of little restaurants and souvenir shops. We ate our packed sandwiches by a balcony overlooking the city. Later, we walked down to the shore. We found the smallest beach known to man, where a few people were sunbathing. It was literally no more than forty feet long. We were planning on going to the real beach, but we were told it was over an hour away. Plus, none of us have any euros left. We also hung out at the hostel, and watched Borat. It was interesting how all the Americans were laughing at the movie, but no one else found it funny. At around nine o'clock we went to the American restaurant right across the street for our last dinner. We had burgers and milkshakes - a typical Portuguese meal.... They were playing the best music videos of the 00's, so we overstayed our visit to reminisce with Britney Spears, Shakira, Akon and Atomic Kitten. Jackie and I have to wake up around 3:30 am tomorrow, to catch our many flights back home. Gian will be checking out around noon (and getting home before us!).
Day 54 – Home!
Five flights and 28 hours of travel later, we're home! After so many months of planning, it's very hard to believe everything is already behind us. This backpacking trip was everything I had hoped for, and everything I'd ever dreamed of doing. It also ended up being cheaper than I'd budgeted for, which is a definite plus! I'll be posting some of the questions I've gotten asked about this trip in a separate entry, but I just want to say that traveling is easier and much more affordable than you think. If you're wanting to do it but don't know where to start, send me a message and I'll help you out.