Today is my last day in Europe…
Oh man, what an adventure. I loved it all. Madrid, Segovia, Toledo, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Milan, Lugano, back to Milan, Dublin, back to London, Barcelona and finishing at Madrid…all in 29 days.
This trip has shown me the ultimate ends of my patience to the ultimate highs and thrills only imagined. I’ve been overwhelmed, underwhelmed, up, down, confused, enthused, tired and rejuvinated. This trip has made me see it all, all of me.
Spending my last full day here in Madrid is very fitting as would not rather spend it anywhere else and as I write this it is now 2:10 a.m. and I’ve been sitting on this balcony near Plaza Espana over looking Gran Via for about three hours now. Watching the halfmoon go from straight up all the way out and set past the Western horizon. great night, great day.
I did sport my USA Olympic jersey into a couple different bars for the USA vs. Brazil soccer game and watched them lose by a goal in the final 10 min…but that’s ok. I watched it in Europe…that’s what I’ll remember. I will write my last blog post for this trip either tomorrow or the day following, depending on my strength to even get back home. For now I listen to this and hope that all of you at some point do this.
I’m trying to stay up late and wake up really late to try and get ahead of the jet lag that is sure to doom me upon my arrival to OKC on Monday evening. This morning had me up at 9:30 a.m. and that is after I went back to sleep numerous times. Strange, but ok because I had to catch the 11:00 a.m. speed train to Madrid which set sail only 3 metro stops North of the hotel.
After I had all my things packed (and what an explodingly full backpack it is) I headed to the rooftop of the hotel to shoot some 360 degree footage of Barcelona. What a great view. As much fun and sterotypical as the skinny and winding streets are to walk in across Europe, it is definitely another experience to see the city from above….looks like mad chaos.
So, after the stunning 360 view spanning from the mountains to the Mediterrainean Sea, I headed on to the speed train to enjoy the 300 KMPH train on across Spain to Madrid. Man, we were hauling across the desert.
After wiping away the goosebumps from my arms which appeared after stepping off this train into the historic Atocha train station, I headed to the metro to find line 2 which will lead me back to Angela’s apartment (one of my couchsurfing buddies from my first stint in Madrid).
It is Saturday and after expressing my desire to go shopping (I really only shop about once a year but European clothes are lots of fun and quite cheap as well) I headed out to the stores of H&M, Zara and Sfera all which are quite popular in Spain/Europe and actually a few H&M stores across the United States (just not in Oklahoma).
So, I got quite lucky because I happened to be in Madrid during the annual “Rebajas” which is an annual city-wide sale where all clothing is near 50% off to clear warehouses to get ready for the next line of fashion. Still good for me because Europe’s “old” line of fashion is still 2-3 lines ahead of where America (particuliarly Oklahoma) is….so I’m set for another year but I really hope the bag is not overweight (Yes, I have an extra “empty” suitcase that I left at Angela’s this whole trip to bring back clothes from shopping).
So, after a couple hours of shopping (really an hour and a half of walking and 30 min of shopping) I’m set for apacking and getting ready for my 10.5 hour flight back to the United Stated in 36 hours. ugggh. I hate that flight. The flight to Europe is done over night and sleeping is a must because you land in the morning…the flight over to the ‘States is from noon to the evening and it’s bedtime when you land so you’re not “supposed” to sleep on that flight. It’s annoying. 10.5 hours is so much longer than it sounds on a plane (for those that have never done a flight of that length).
Ok, back to my first love, Madrid.
So much truth in the stereotypes of the “skinny and winding streets” of Europe and especially in Spain. Just winding down randomly throughout streets off Gran Via and Plaza Espana. I almost want to/should just stop blogging right now in these final days because words aren’t going to fully show the things i’m doing/feeling.
Tapas, mahou, Paco’s, Corrientes 348, time alone, packing and thinking about OKC. What a great day.
Today was definitely a good day. I am starting to become a believer in my original plan to finish off this trip with a couple of days in Barcelona.
Considering all 12 cities I visited on this summer gallivant, Barcelona, by far, is the most tourist friendly and I’m not talking about the tourist shops and dumb little decals/souvenirs, I’m talking about placing someone who has no idea about the city yet can easily get around and manage (with as little of hassle as possible) to see all the sites. The streets are all properly marked and names easy to find, subway is very efficient and very recognizable, bi/trilingual signs everywhere and smaller detailed maps surrounding popular corners throughout the city. I don’t know why it was so difficult for many of the European cities to come on board to the fact that tourism is a major economic factor and it doesn’t take a lot to make the city more enjoyable for travelers.
The weather got up to around 85 degrees today making a trip to the beach (reachable by subway in under 20 minutes pretty much everywhere in the city) a perfect way to relax this already beaten and bruised body. Even in this most “touristy” spot I was able to get a pitcher of Sangria and a bag of olive oil chips for around $9. I love Spain. With a towel down and the 55 SPF evenly smoothed out across my casper-like skin I napped while the waves hit the sandbank 15 feet in front of me. Perfect day.
I was there for a few hours before heading to grab some paella from the local menu del dia at a nearby restaurant just a 10 min walk off the tourist trail.
Also while in Barcelona I was able to see Gaudi’s Garden and his Sagrada Familia. The city is currently doing a major preservation on most of his buildings throughout Barcelona but that doesn’t keep the jaw from dropping and shutters from capturing moments sure to be reviewed in the following years in frames throughout my house.
I also purchased my final form of transportaion for tomorrow’s journey over to Madrid for the weekend. The last time I was in Barcelona (January 2007) the only ground transportation available was a bus that took 8 hours…but now Spaniards (and tourists) can take the speed train making that trip a meager 2 hours and 50 minutes as the train hits speeds a tad over 185 MPH (it’s like sitting shotgun in a Nascar), I love Spain.
Many people throughout this trip have asked me my favorite place so far (quite a valid question) and of course I can list off the most famous cities we all grew up reading about (London, Paris, etc.) but I’m starting to realize that those places are mostly in my head because of certain artifacts or events throughout history and I love to see those things and make them priorities in my first few hours in any city…but I don’t think artifacts should make the city, it should be the people and customs (completely realizing my bias in this statement) I choose Spain everytime. It’s such a special place. Every city I’ve been to in Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Toledo, Segovia, Granada and Sevilla) I always notice the genuine people first.
The people in those cities are proud of their culture. They are proud to live where they live. The people want to show off the things few tourists know about…the great local spots. They want to teach you their culture. They want you to leave their city wanting to come back. They want you to spread the word of how great their country and heritage is…and I do.
Spain will always be my favorite country outside the United States and whenever anyone asks me where they should travel if they have 7-10 days of vacation time…Spain. Head down South to see the Alhambra in Granada, bus over to Sevilla and marvel at their Guinness Book of World Records cathedral and see the tomb of Columbus (real name is Cristobol Colon), head to the center of Madrid for the afternoon siesta and Museo del Prado, Retiro and Reina Sofia (and of course Paco’s and countless botellines of Mahou cinco estrella), take the 30 min speed train to Segovia and stare at the 5th century Roman Aqueduct and the fairy-tale castle. Grab another speed train on over to Toledo and cross the bridge and moat in the hill-top city and over look the rivers and finish off by heading Northeast to Barcelona and grab some Sangria and Paella while sitting on the world-famous beaches.
You may not see the Eiffel Tower, the Mona Lisa or the Colesseum but those stories only go so far. Remembering conversations made in Spanish bars and cafes can be remembered with laughter and fond memories and replayed in your head over and over…until you make yourself go back the next year.
For some reason when I woke up today, I decided to walk and not use the Underground. I know that sounds exciting but while carrying my 22 pound bag around it can get pretty gruesome after a few miles.
I had to head up to Notting Hill to get my sweatshirt from my first couchsurfing host, Jen, because I left it there the first time around. It was my “Segovia” purchase so I really wanted to make sure I brought it home with me. Okay, sweatshirt…check…insanity walk…bring it on.
I start walking from Notting Hill all the way back to the Victoria train station and it is definitely not just around the corner. Notting Hill is situated on the edge of Hyde Park and so I decide to walk through Hyde Park and just meander on over to the train station. I had about 2.5 hours to kill so I figured I would just mosey through the park and take some photos. Well, it’s a very large park and once I found a map that showed that I was only 1/4 of the way through the park (20 min of walking) I decided to pick up the pace a little. (side note: I put my bag down for a minute break while in the park…put it down right on top of a pile of ) Ok, back to the story.
While walking through Hyde Park I read just about every tourist sign I could find; reading tidbits on the park’s origins (originally “acquired” by King Charles for hunting deer) and continued my walk past the lake and horse trails etc..
As I finally got through all of the park’s boundaries I get to a few signs that start pointing me to Buckingham Palace…sounds good, not too far off the path to the train station so I make a stop and the luck of the Irish followed me from Dublin because I got there right as they were performing the “changing of the guard” (http://www.changing-the-guard.com/). It was actually pretty cool and the crowd was enormous. People everywhere.
Now, on to the train station! (I say that with an exclamation mark not because I hate London…but I was headed to Barcelona!! Wahoo!)
Train went smooth, plane went smooth and lodging accomodations worked out perfectly. This is the part in the story where I, again, tell you how important it is to converse with people you don’t know on trips because cool things happen like this…) It’s always important to talk (you thought I was going to say “converse” ya?) to people you don’t know on trips like this because while Aimee and I were in Toledo waiting for another train to head back to Madrid (because we missed our first train) we met a family (parents in the late 50′s with 2 kids 24yr and 21yr) also waiting for the next train who were from New York. After talking awhile and exchanging trip plans we realized that I was going to be in Barcelona the same time the kids were (you know where I’m headed with this) they asked me to get ahold of them when I get to Barcelona…I did…and now I’m staying with them at a hotel. Awesome.
Totally random, again.
Great night out with tapas and a cool bar that Hemingway frequented…and yes, I tried the Barcelona Absinthe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absinthe), took me 30 min to finish, I thought it was quite gross.
As I woke up this morning I decided I would take the time to upload some videos/photos. I was told that the house cleaner was arriving arround 9 and that she would be there cleaning for 3 hours (this is very important because I need to leave before or the same time she leaves because she has a key to lock up and I obviously don’t). So, I get up around 9:30 a.m. and realize that the she’s in the house cleaning and my couchsurfing host, Lucy, has already gone to work at the BBC and I figure I have lots of time to relax and upload videos/take a shower/ or whatever. So, I turn on the computer and check e-mails and do the normal stuff and decide to upload videos and then take a shower (side note, the videos take roughly an hour each but I can upload two at a time so I do that).
After my shower I notice that it’s now 10:45 a.m. and the videos still have roughly 40 min remaining so I start getting dressed and have everything on except shoes and socks when the house keeper comes by and waves goodbye to me as she is about to walk out the door…WHOA!! I say and try to explain to her that I need to leave with her because I don’t have keys (I say TRY to explain to her because she doesn’t speak much English and I definitely don’t speak whatever her native tongue is). So she figures outwhat I’m saying and I ask her for five minutes. She goes back into the kitchen to do…whatever it is she does… and I frantically start aborting my videos, putting on shoes and socks, folding blankets, packing my bag and gathering my things to leave for the day. Whew! It was definitely a rush but EVERYTHING worked out just fine so it was kind of a fun story to laugh at throughout my walk to the metro.
I had booked a hosetel for tonight at St. Christopher’s Village and actually filmed the hostel and would upload it but pepole kept trying to ask me what I was doing while I was filming and after the third take I just gave up and found something better to do.
My second night here in London was poorly planned on my part because I just assumed I was staying with my previous couchsurfing host but I never gave her the dates and she booked a flight to Lisbon instead. So, hostel for the night, which was quite fun as it’s connected to a bar/cafe next door and tonight was Karoke night. I tried to get on stage and bust some Digital Underground or Dr. Dre (in honor of my older brother) but they didn’t have either…silly British people and their silly karoke. I was pretty tired anyway so to bed I go…OH! I forgot to mention I went to Wimbledon today. Yes, I went to Wimbledon but did not see any tennis at all, mainly because of the many reasons I don’t like London: hard to find things and with the walking it took, 100% honesty, 2 hours and 25 min to get to…let’s just say if it was my first day of the trip I would have made it work but at this point in my trip I wasn’t willing to put forth as much effort as Wimbledon required.
So, off to take a shower then to bed. Quite noisy outside but I think I’ll put some Norah Jones on and pass out soon. Cheers, from London. Barcelona tomorrow where I will be in my 8th different language city (they don’t speak Spanish in Barcelona, they speak Catalon).
Well I left Dublin this morning to head on over to London and the airport process was so much easier this time around. The last time I flew Ryanair I experienced the most hectic lines I’ve ever stood in (but everything was good becasue I had 5 hours til my flight when the lines opened). It took me about 2 hours to get through the lines to fly to Dublin so I got to the airport really early again for this flight to London…took about 1.5 minutes this time. I was the only one at the counter and handed the lady my flight info and passport, she turned and handed it to another lady, that lady looked it over and stamped it and handed it back to me. “That’s it?” I asked. “That’s it,” she responded.
So then I sat in the airport for a couple more hours. I just don’t get Ryanair. How it could be so hectic and then so easy?? I’m not gonna complain to them though because this last flight I took literally costs $5.99. Yup, five dollars and 99 cents…total…after tax. I don’t get it, but I love it.
Upon arriving into London, about 3:00 p.m. I had to take the 30 min tram into the city center from the airport…$33 U.S. dollars. traveling is so funny. $5.99 for a flight from Dublin to London but $33 from the airport to the city. I have an enormous love/hate relationship with London. Now comes the love part.
I had roughly four hours until I met up with my couchsurfing host, Lucy, so I decided to walk around London for awhile. London is gigantic. I first headed to Parliment Square where all the biggest tourist stuff is; Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Thames River and the London Eye. Always an eye-opening little square of famous “history-book”buildings.
After I left Parliment Square I tried to make my way on over to Hyde Park, without a map. Bad idea…well, bad idea if the priority was Hyde Park. My actual priority was a park to spend a couple hours in while I waited til 7:00 p.m. for my couchsurfing host, Lucy. I got way lost. London is a very cool city. So much history, so much to offer, so much to see that even my four days total here really doesn’t scratch the surface (that is another “love” part of London). But, London is a big pain for the traveler (me) who like to walk from place to place because London is gigantic!! I would love to place the London Underground (the tube) on a map of Oklahoma City and see exactly how far it spreads out on a map that I’m familiar with (there are many smart people out there reading this that could convert the scale…let’s talk).
So, after I realize just how lost I am (by the way, doing this sort of trip where you are in a new city every two days you are constantly lost, and very frustrated often) I start asking people where Hype Park is. Now, for as popular and big as Hyde Park is I figure that to be an easy question, it’s not. London is THAT difficult to walk around (rephrase, very easy and quite a great walk if you have no destination and just want to wander around) but I got many vague points to Hyde Park, some”not too sure of the streets” and a few “I’m a tourist and have no clue”‘s so I decided to settle for the closest park I was too, Regents Park.
Great park and made some friends with a very couragous squirrel and the scary pigeon that wouldn’t stop staring at me.
So, now that it was near 7:00 p.m. I decided to head to the couchsurfing host’s house. I end up getting off a stop too early (definitely my own fault) but since the price of a one-trip underground trip costs $6.75 in American (New York’s is $2.00…another one of my “hate” parts of London) I decided I would walk from. Remember how I mentioned how huge London was?? It took me 45 minutes to walk there. Now, part of that was because: 1. I didn’t really know where I was going 2. London doesn’t like to label their streets with signs very often because that would be too convenient for tourists and 3. Even if they did name the streets the name would change every two blocks because that’s a good way to label streets….geez, ok that was the hate part of London coming out in me, again, sorry.
So, I get to Lucy’s and things were great from then on. She was a lot of fun and a great person to sit and have a long conversation with. She works for the BBC too so we had a lot of good conversations about media and TV…she works in the “Event Coordination” department…we talked about soooo many cool things… how come the U.S. media never really talks about anything but the United States? The European Union has some great news going on right now; great time to be here and learn.
Well, bed time. Tomorrow, London again and maybe Wimbledon. Cheers from London.