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Entries in Eurotrip 2010 (9)

Thursday
Nov112010

The Biggest Tomato Fight IN. THE. WORLD.

"What?", you say? "Wasn't that like... 6 months ago, ABBEY... why haven't you already recounted what happened at La Tomatina and how come EVERYONE else who was there has already written about it?" Well. That is because I am lazy. And I had a lot on my plate. And well. Writing this post seemed somewhat daunting because it's incredibly content heavy. So rather than do it...

Click to read more ...

Friday
Jun252010

Down in Africa

The plan for Day 2 in southern Spain was to… well… leave southern Spain. I had casually mentioned the proximity to Morocco in some of the planning e-mails I had sent B & Emmy Lee, but I wasn’t sure they would bite. I had been to Morocco on this very ferry (ha. very ferry.) during my last Eurotrip and was eager to get back and spend some more time there with the confidence that comes from traveling in groups larger than one. Fortunately for me, Brian and Emily were game, and we all woke up early to take the quick ferry across to Tangier from Tarifa.

We immediately found a nice looking English speaking guide named Majid who offered to take us around town. He offered a short day inner city tour (about 4 hours) or a longer tour which involved a minivan and took us all around the outskirts of the city as well (about 6 hours) for only €10 more. I was casually encouraging the latter, as I had already done the inner city tour, and was ecstatic when my comrades wanted the longer tour.  Yippee! I get to see something I didn’t see the last time I was here.

We started our tour in a van with a man who spoke no English, but who was nice enough, I think. He drove us all up and around town, all the while, Majid telling us about which sheiks and princes lived in which houses and took us to some gorgeous look out points from the tops of the mountains. We looked down on some gorgeous beaches, all of Tangier, back towards Spain and some berbur caves.  Majid took us to Hercules’ Cave which is a tourist trap blowhole type cave where it is said that Hercules used to live in where the water comes rushing in and what not. It was interesting, but had some GREAT views from the top of the cave. 

Next on the agenda was a camel ride, which I was SO freaking pumped for. I can’t exactly remember if I’ve ever ridden a camel before, but definitely not in Africa and not that I have any pictures of, that I can recall. So I reveled in the opportunity to overflow my facebook with pictures of me mounting a camel.  Emily handled it like a champ and seemed completely at ease on the giant cranky beast, but Brian, bless him, was a complete mess (sorry B Lee, I can’t let you off this one easy).  He was holding onto Emily so hard that she couldn’t breathe.  Anytime the camel took a step other than forward, Brian had a look of absolutel TERROR on his face.  Even when he was given the lead rope and asked to lead us around while they took our picture, he still looked like he was going to faint at any minute. And yes, he is wearing a hat in that picture remeniscent of the one Abu wore in Aladdin. Hil-air. I took a video on my phone, but he must have deleted it because I can’t seem to find it (thanks JERK) but hopefully my account of the events embarrass him as much as the video would have.

After all of this, we drove back to town to begin our walking tour. Most of what we saw was the same sort of stuff that I saw the last time I was here with Abdul, but it was interesting nonetheless. We listened to the call to prayer, browsed through a live animal market, wound around the streets, glanced at the Kasbah, had a spice demonstration (and a €2 neck massage) at a spice shop and did some Persian rug and jewelry shopping at a large store that looked strangely familiar to one I had frequented 3 years ago.  Lunch was served late afternoon at the most INCREDIBLE shish kabob restaurant for about €15 total for the three of us for WAY too much food.  We chatted with a guy who was a fellow tour guide who had dropped his customers off down the street and was coming here to eat his own lunch. It was amazing.

Majid put us back on the bus just before dark and we rode back to Spain with no incident. Dinner back at our favorite restaurant and a try at the “Best Mojitos in the World” which… surprisingly… actually was the best mojito I have ever had.

Majid also wrote our names in Arabic...

Abbey:

Emily:

Brian:

Thursday
Jun242010

Busses, bad Spanish and the best huevos rotos EVER

Back to Spain we go. And after that ridiculously stressful day in Faro, I am ready for some more normalcy.

We were more than lucky with the bus situation. We had bought tickets from Faro to Sevilla yesterday, knowing that we would need to switch trains (and companies) in Sevilla to head south to Tarifa. I searched for hours on the internet and could never find anything in the form of an actual bus timetable.  But I did know it was possible and so we thought we’d just try and figure it out. 

We caught the first bus from Faro to Sevilla, arriving in Sevilla just after noon. After I asked several confused people in terribly broken Spanish which window we would needed to visit to buy tickets to head down to Tarifa, it was finally explained, in terribly broken English, that we had to go to another bus station.  Uh. Ok?

So we boarded a local bus bound for the airport, which was promised to take us to the other station. But when the bus driver told us to get off, I saw no such station. So again, in my surprisingly terrible Spanish, I asked shop owners, passers by, a police officer. No one seemed to know where we were trying to go. Finally, a guy selling sunglasses on the sidewalk realized what I was trying to do and pointed me in the right direction. After walking to where he told us to, finding nothing in the form of a bus station, I asked one final woman in an office building who pointed us to the small staircase that led to the bus station we were looking for. Walking up to the counter, we realized that we had 10 minutes before the bus left, and it was a good thing we made it, as the next bus didn’t leave for 6 hours.

More bus riding ensued, thankfully, and we arrived in Tarifa early afternoon, in perfect time for a stroll down to the port and a stop for tapas. We checked into our hostel, a place I’d been before called the Melting Pot, had a cocktail and headed out for an early dinner. We stumbled upon the most AMAZING restaurant.  It was incredibly simple, really cheap and had the most amazing food.  We had huevos rotos, which was basically a twist on a large Spanish style tortilla with eggs, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, cheese and other yumminess. We also split a large pan of seafood paella and a couple bottles of €2 wine. The place was so great that when we got back from touring around Tangier the following day, we walked straight off the boat and back into our now favorite little Spanish restaurant. Nothing else for us to see here :)

Tuesday
Jun222010

Faro... meh

We woke up early in Lisbon to travel down to Faro. With images of beautiful white sandy beaches and tiki bars in the sand, we boarded the train down the coast.  The ride was absolutely beautiful.  Luscious green mountains, gorgeous beaches, endless countryside.  All signs pointed to a great Portuguese afternoon in the sun.  We arrived at our hostel, dropped our junk and changed into our suits ready to hike to the surf. Only. When we hiked. We couldn’t find it.

All we found were miles of coastal marshland.  We walked up and down, looked at maps, asked people. No sign of a beach. In pretty poor spirits, we turned back to the hostel and asked the owner how to get to the beach.  Taking a bus seemed to be our best option, and we went to the stop outside to wait. And wait. And Wait.

By this time, it was late. Nearing 5 PM and the sun was starting to hide behind clouds that seemed to be filling the sky. We decided that if the bus didn’t turn up in the next 20 minutes, we were leaving. And it never turned. So we left. We grabbed a quick snack at a tapas type place near the marina and then after changing clothes began the quest for a place to eat dinner. Only, like the beaches, we found the restaurants to be few and far between. We finally found a place, were staring intently at the seemingly promising menu and all of the sudden there were two gigantic yellow eyes staring at us from the roof. Then the beast lurched towards us barking the most terrifying bark ever. I can’t speak for Brian and Emily but I was terrified. Like. Scared to tears, literally. I thought we were going to die. Visa-vis dog attack.  After initially running away from said restaurant and looking for another without a gigantic beast mounted on the roof, we realized there was none and had to retreat back within reach of the claws of what I had built up to be equivalent to “The Thing” in Sandlot. The food inside was ok. But the wine was alcoholic so I didn’t mind too much. Plus, Brian finally started listening to all of the woman advice Emily and I had been pouring into him and bought us two roses off of one of those cheesy street vendors that always walk up to your table and annoy you. I know… he’s only reinforcing this nasty behavior but, it’s the thought that counts, and when it comes to Brian’s chivalry, beggars can’t be choosers. Kidding B Lee (sort of – ok no I am – at least for public purposes).

About the only good thing that came out of this night was a scene where Emily decided she needed to “free” her flower by mutilating it all over the streets on the way back to the hostel. Oh ya and we stopped at an Irish bar and listened to some, American music, of all things, and I made two new friends who told me they were moving to a “tiny town in Southern Spain.” Hey! Me too! Turns out my new friends were venturing to Tarifa to teach kite surfing and we swapped contact information.

Not a complete loss, I guess!

Thursday
Jun172010

Best hostel in the world for ser: Rossio Hostel - Lisbon, Portugal

I’ve never been one to use my blog as a space to promote certain tours, hostels, airlines or what have you.  But I am making an exception.  Because this place was the most amazing hostel I have ever been to.  I did not get paid, compensated, not even a pat on the back or a “thanks a lot” for writing this.  I am writing it because I want to make sure that this hostel is repaid for giving the backpacker community a true gem, and the best way to do that is to get other people to go there.  Here is my attempt to convince you to go to the Rossio Hostel in Lisbon. Go. Seriously.

When we arrived, it was just before 11. We expected to be turned away, bags shoved in a luggage room.  Luckily, our rooms were already ready. Luck. After giving us the typical hostel schpeil… oh wait, it was not typical. She first ran down and showed us all of the hostel amenities which included:

  • A large common room with beanbags (why don’t we all have these anymore? They ROCK!) couches and chairs
  • A large fully stocked kitchen with 24/7 cereals, fruits, juices, tea, coffee and the normal hostel leftovers
  • Free wifi through the entire building

Our rooms were simple enough, but with subtle importances only the trained hostel goer would notice. Our bunk beds were made of solid wood.  That means no obnoxious IKEA metal bunk bed creaking.  That means when Joe in the bunk on bottom is snoring and tossing and turning, at least you only hear/feel the snoring. The linens were actually soft. They were actually comfortable and the pillows were actually stuffed and not those paper lined kind they give you on airplanes. There were countless outlets, including a mini lamp attached to the headboard of every bed. Individual lighting, individual plugs. Hello?! Awesome. The room was also spacey. Although the hostel could have easily fit at least two more bunk beds in the room with some rearranging, there was no need to overcrowd, and the space was much appreciated.

The bathrooms were spotless. They were spacey, had plenty of outlets and plenty of mirrors.  The toilets actually worked, and worked well.   But what was so amazing about the bathrooms were the showers. I have literally… not taken a shower like this in years. They were so great, that while Emily and I were showering next door to each other chit chatting (throwback to the old Theta days!!) I actually commented about how I wanted to just sit (yes, sit… on the inside built in seat) and chat while the water ran. The never-ending supply of very hot water, that is. Huge shower heads with plenty of pressure, large showers with plenty of leg-shaving room.  Each shower also had a little changing area outside with a little footstool next to the towel hook to pile your clothes in case any water got on the ground to wet them up.

As if that weren’t enough, the breakfast at this place was enough to lure in most people on it’s own.  Every morning (at any time… let alone… no “breakfast only served from 7-7:15” garbage) the hostel owner cooks an AMAZING breakfast with an unlimited (yes, you read that right) supply of scrambled eggs, toast, handmade from scratch crepes with nutella, several selections of cereals and mueslis, tea, coffee, fresh juices, and fruits. And it’s FREE the morning after a night at the hostel. And, if you’re like us, and arrive early in the morning but had not booked the hostel the night before, for only €2 you can enjoy the same royal treatment.  Which obviously we took up for sure.

I know there’s not a lot I can do to get people here, as most people use the reviews on hostelworld.com or other sites to fuel their hostel decision making process, but if I can influence anyone to take a second glance at this place when they’re looking for hostels in the Lisbon area, I will feel like I’ve done my part in good society.   The family running this hostel are good people and deserve to be rewarded by full rooms and good reviews.  So PLEASE! Go stay here when you’re in Lisbon and leave them a good review. I promise, for <€20 a night, you won’t be disappointed.

Emily lounging in a hostel bunk

The view from my bedroomThe computer room area

The main common room area

Tuesday
Jun012010

Hello sun, it's nice to see you again.

Leaving Germany, for me, was pretty easy. I was impressed by the culture and history of this country, but for some reason, getting back to Spain was something I couldn’t stop thinking about. Although I knew we had a couple of days before I would be “moving home” so to speak, just being back in a country where I could feign knowledge of the language was, at least, refreshing.

We only spent 2 days in Barcelona and not a lot happened, so I will spend a paragraph, at most, recounting the events. Our entire existence revolved around food and booze. We walked around La Rambla, got tapas, drank beer, searched for paella, and that’s about it. On our second day, Emmy and I took the hop on/hop off bus while Brian attempted to go pick his cousin up at the airport (HA! I thought I could leave the kid to his own for 5 hours, but he didn’t seem to make it too well on his own and ended up taking the wrong train an hour in the opposite direction of the airport). After we reconnected with B Lee and his cousin, we grabbed paella down by the port and just went back to the hostel to go to bed. Super exciting.

But I wasn’t too bothered by our lame existence in our short days in Barcelona because we made up for it in awesomeness once we got to Lisbon. First off, our hostel was the most amazing hostel. EVER. It is so amazing, that I will spend an entire blog entry tomorrow telling you why it’s awesome and why you should make a trip to Lisbon JUST to stay at this hostel. But in addition to this, I just found Lisbon to be a really magical city. Its absolutely beautiful, first off, and located right on the water in a river inlet. We walked for a long time, down to the water, around the downtown area initially looking for a beach, but without too much direction couldn’t find one (only to find out later that there isn’t one near, and you must go about 30 minutes by bus to get to one).

The best part of this city for me was what we did once we realized that the beach wouldn’t be an option. This involved the likes of sitting down at a street café for round about 5 hours. The scene was pretty simple. Emily had a book. I had a computer and a notebook and was busy recounting the events of the past couple of days. Brian his journal and was doing much the same as myself. Each of us had a drink of choice: a jug of Sangria, a bottle of wine, a capriocha. We sat there and drank, ate tapas and listened to an amazing guitarist for hours. It was warm enough for sun dresses and I finally felt like I was getting warmer to home.

To top it off, we had an incredible dinner at McDonald’s. Don’t judge. It was incredible. And then we went back to the hostel to participate in a bit of karaoke night (that turned a bit too weird for our likings) and to watch the Simpson’s and Family Guy on a gigantic tele. It was the perfect down evening we were all looking for since we started this incredible binge drinking trip over a week before, but none of us had enough courage to ask for. It was a calmly unspoken agreement when we all retired before 11 and we all woke refreshed the next morning and ready to catch the train down to Faro.

Tuesday
May252010

Berlin in a Day

We strategically arrived in Berlin very early in the morning and grabbed a bite to eat at the hostel before meeting up with the free Berlin tour we had looked up in Munich. 

Our walking tour was put on by New Berlin Tours, which comes highly recommended.  Our particular tour started at the Brandenburg gate and was led by a cheery Irishman named Barry, who we came to love very much and who did an absolutely fantastic job leading us through the city on this cold drizzly day.

Our tour took us around Berlin highlighting important places and points of interest in the history of the city both in relation to Nazi power and World War II as well as its later importance in the communist race and obviously leading up to and finishing with the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Barry showed us the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, The Holocaust Memorial, and dozens of other museums, monuments and memorials.  Barry entertained us with a half hour or so rendition of the story of the fall of the Berlin wall from the steps of the [protestant church at the end].  In addition, he gave us a very interesting visual of what it would have been like to try and cross the Berlin Wall from East Berlin to West Berlin including dozens of booby traps, armed watchmen, snipers and electric fences. 

One thing I found extremely interesting was the similarity of stories between the walking tour we received in Munich and the one here.  Both guides spoke of a terrorist attack on a building in their respective city by the communists that led to the beginning of Nazi power and eventually World War II.  When we were in Munich, we were informed that the Commy’s set some old building on fire which led to Hitler being given power to imprison anyone.  When we were in Berlin, we were informed that the Commy’s set some old building on fire which led to Hitler being given power to imprison anyone. We asked Barry what he thought about this and naturally, he said the guy in Munich was lying.  I guess I could Wikipedia it, but I’m lazy.  So if anyone figures out which story is correct, let me know.

After our walking around, we did what we are famous for on this trip.  We ate dinner at the hostel, started drinking, and never left.  We started with the most amazing cheeseburger I think I’ve ever had.  It had 100 things on it that I can’t remember: avocado, fried egg, beets, god knows what else.  We ended up playing a combo game of quarters and “I have never” and drank way too much Jaeger and that was that. 

Friday
May212010

Munich: The Third Reich and Dachau

Originally, I was going to only write one post about our 2.5 days in Munich, but since yesterday’s was 100% about booze, I decided I would separate the drunk part of our trip from the sober part because Munich does have a lot to offer besides beer.

Though, the first thing you should do is go to the Hofbrauhaus when you get to Munich.

The SECOND thing you should do is go see the city.

I’m a big fan of walking tours – especially cheap/free ones.  Today we had planned to go on two.  The first of which was a Third Reich Tour around downtown Munich and the other was a tour to Dachau which is a town about 30 minutes outside of Munich and is home to the first Nazi Concentration Camp.

The Third Reich Tour was amazing. We met up with our guide who was from the states and who walked us all around Munich telling us the story of Hilter’s rise to power starting at the beginning. We learned all about the Nazi Party, Hitler’s first political speech at the Hofbrauhaus, the Nazi headquarters building, the struggle between the Nazi’s and the Communists for power in Germany and the similarities between the rise of the Nazi party and current events.

Turns out, when Hitler declared “war” against the communists, he did so by blaming a terrorist attack on them and getting the people to believe that communists were all terrorists. In doing this, he instated a law that any person could be arrested if they were believed to be a potential terrorist and for no other reason.  These terrorist prisoners were all sent to Dachau, which was setup as a holding ground for political terrorists, but turned into the first concentration camp.  Some of this just sounds way to similar to some things going on in the world right now.

In addition to all the history, we learned about how the Nazi party and it’s reputation has impacted present day Germany.  It is still illegal to do the “Hail Hitler” salute and if you are caught doing it (for any reason, no matter who you are and how much you’ve had to drink) you will go to jail, and your fine is 1 month’s salary of whatever you make. Cuh-razy!

Dachau was amazing as well.  There’s not really a lot I can say about concentration camps other than, you need to go to one. Walking around this place, the bunkers, the maintenance halls, the torture rooms, gas chambers and extensive open yard space really made you feel a bit eerie. Each room brought more stories of prisoners being forced to stand for hours in one spot, being tortured and beaten by guards and living on the smallest of small rations.  And the most shocking part of the whole thing for me, was that Dachau was actually used as a “model” concentration camp and was the one that was always filmed and photographed to send propaganda that the camps were really not that bad.  We saw radiators in each torture chamber and when journalists came to see the camp, these were always turned on and happy plump looking prisoners put into the cells they contained.  And although I had heard stories of gas chambers and mass executions hundreds of times in school, seeing them for my own eyes was just.  Unbelievable.

It was absolutely incredible.