Our first night in Barcelona was spent at a hostel located “five minutes from the metro”. After walking in the complete opposite direction for a few minutes, we quickly turned around and found our hostel probably about fifteen minutes away. We’ve since learned not to trust hostels on how close they claim to be to things. Nevertheless, fifteen minutes wasn’t a big deal.
After getting our key, we checked into our room (which we were staying in for one night and sharing with three other people). We headed out to get food which was nothing super special except that Billy discovered something called a “bomb” - which is essentially taking a bit of awesome, deep frying it, and giving you awesome-sauce to dip it in. I’m sure it must have had enough calories to feed a small nation. We spent the rest of the night hanging out in the common room in the hostel which was packed mostly with shrieking little girls. After spilling red wine on my white t-shirt, we headed to bed.
The next morning, we headed to our second hostel which was on the other side of the Sagrada Familia (a massive church 100 years in the making and still nowhere near completion). We trucked by it and observed its bizarre (ugly) architecture and pretty much just wondered what the big deal was - aside from its size. We found the hostel without much trouble, but ran into an issue when we realized that we had shown up about eight hours early with nobody there to let us in. After buzzing other random suites in the apartment block, someone let us in so we would stop bothering them. We encountered the same problem when we actually got to the hostel door, but one of the other guests let us in after seeing our backpacks. We dumped our stuff and went exploring. We saw Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and went shopping - found a dress (Billy) and leather jacket (Geordie) at Zara. We ended up wandering around and stumbled upon the Cathedral and a cool antique flea market. After that, we headed back to our hostel and checked in and made dinner. We made rice, chickpeas, chorizo sausage, and some kind of sauce. We also had some bread with vinegar and olive oil, and we had the white wine we brought from Bordeaux (which was deeeelicious).
The next morning we set out to find our last hostel for Barcelona. This was the apartment we had booked even before leaving Canada. We were supposed to meet “Gonzolo” outside of the building at noon. We found ourselves a bit turned around as we hit our metro stop and basically randomly chose a direction to see if it panned out. It was the wrong way. However, luckily, a very short, very friendly old man (speaking rapid Spanish) asked us where we needed to go, and proceeded to march us quickly and efficiently right to the front door all while yammering on and on about god knows what. He was pretty stoked to be helping out, and so even though we didn’t know what he was saying we smiled, nodded, and laughed in all the right places (we hope). We seemed to stop by the house that he grew up in – or at least that was what we understood by his hand gestures.
After soaking in the awesomeness of our apartment, we decided to head to the beach to check it out. By the time we got there it was almost 3pm, and the beach was absolutely packed. We managed to squeeze in a spot and laid in the sun for a couple hours. On our way home we bought some food supplies and made a delicious curry with more bread, vinegar & oil. We also decided to try the “Duff” beer for kicks. Our apartment was so adorable we wanted to take advantage of it so we just stayed in the rest of the night watching mostly 80’s music videos.
The next morning we were all jazzed to have a full beach day, but the weather decided not to co-operate. We headed down there, disappointed, and thought maybe the weather would change in a couple hours. To kill some time we walked along the harbour to La Rambla, where there were lots of stalls to look at. Found an interesting meat/fruit market and left after seeing a skinned sheep head. Barf. The weather was still crappy, so we went into the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch and watched a bit of the FIFA World Cup. That night after a bit more wandering we decided to make the same dinner that we’d have the previous day – because it was just that spectacular. We ended that night with another healthy dosage of eighties music videos.
The next morning we dropped off our bags in the baggage storage in the nearby train station and headed over to meet Sarah’s friend Adam and a few of his friends who were all backpacking through Europe as well. After a moment of brief confusion as to where we were meeting – we found each other and wandered around La Rambla and then over towards the beach. The beach was pretty much deserted because of the weather, but we waded around in the waves for a little while until we got too hungry. We went to a crappy Irish pub and had overpriced sangria and then went back to the train station where we parted ways with Adam and the gang. We got a train fairly easily and headed out towards Madrid.
(I know this seems silly since we’re already back, but we want to finish the blog up so here we go.)
Bordeaux started out extremely stressful. Our train from Marseille encountered some sort of incident and we were delayed a couple hours. Our hotel did not have 24 hour reception, and we had told them we would arrive at 9pm so when we arrived close to midnight, I was a little panicked. We showed up and rang the bell a bunch of times, but nobody came down so we started to think up a Plan B. I had “slept” in a train station before, so I was prepared to do it again but we walked to some nearby hotels first to see if they had accomodation. The first one we went to nobody answered, and the next couple were all fully booked. By this point it was too late to take the tram back to the train station, and we were exhausted. By almost 1am we were directed to a hotel that was again fully booked, but the guy offered to call a few places for us which was really nice. No luck, but he said that he did have a room that no one showed up for yet, and even though he wasn’t really supposed to give it to us, he did. We were so thankful we didn’t even care that we had to spend more euros then planned (since we’d get charged for the place we didn’t show up to - although I haven’t checked my statement yet, maybe they were nice..) and passed out in a nice warm bed.
The next day we checked into the place we were supposed to be in the night before, and then we headed out for food. I got a big plate of pasta and the guy made fun of me when I couldn’t finish it. We decided to finally rent bikes, since we had been talking about doing so for weeks. It was a beautiful sunny day, and it was really nice to just bike around the city. Bordeaux is really gorgeous. We biked along the river and then stopped for some ice cream in a park. We had “Magnum Gold?!” icecream bars, because we had seen ads for them for awhile and were curious. They lived up to their names. We saw some Canada geese(!) and then biked around some more until we had to hand the bikes back in at 7pm.
Our plan was to go to the Wine Museum to have a tour and sample two wines for six euros, but we thought it was much closer than it actually was, and the tram ticket machine was broken so we had to walk to another one, and by the time we would have gotten there we would have only had 15 minutes there. So we scrapped that plan and decided to have a wine tasting of our own. Just our luck, most of the stores were closing.. but we happened upon a market and bought three bottles of wine. A super cheap chilled white wine, a cheap red wine, and then a normal priced white wine (that turned out not to be from Bordeaux, but nearby). We had the chilled white wine at our hostel that night, and the owner was nice enough to bring us wine glasses so we didn’t have to drink out of the bottle.
That night I had a horrible realization that we wouldn’t be able to pay for the hostel, since reception didn’t open until 7:30 and we had to leave to catch our train to Barcelona just before 7. Note to self: always book hostels with 24 hour reception. George had the hostelworld email on his ipod still, so we were able to see how much we owed for the one night. We had exact change after going to the bank, so we decided to just leave it in the room with a note. We didn’t really have any other choice. I left a note in the room, and also attached one to the door of the reception room. They never emailed us, so we figure it all turned out okay (we never left money for the night we didn’t show up for, because we figured they’d charge my card for that). After a couple days I realised that the tourist tax wasn’t included in the price, so I think we might have shorted them 0.85 cents. Oh well.
Our hostel (Vertigo Vieux Port) was advertised as being 5 minutes away from the Vieux Port metro station, but left out any direction after that except for the street name. We eventually found it after asking a few locals (one guy gave us completely wrong directions, thankfully we asked someone else). Geordie´s french skills saved us. The hostel was really cool, and we stayed in a four person dorm to save some money. Unfortunately our room mates were not very talkative. That night we went to a Japanese place to satisfy a craving for sushi, but unfortunately it was not that great and it was not cheap either.
We spent our first day there just relaxing. Catching up on the blog & photo posts and doing a mass amount of laundry. We made ourselves some pasta for dinner, which was pretty basic but delicious.
The next day we set out for the Ile d´If, which has the Chateau d´If - an old fort-turned-prison that was the set for Alexander Dumas´The Count of Monte Cristo. It was quite cool. Some of the upper class prison cells had fireplaces, which was neat. I imagine the dungeons (which we could not see) were not as luxurious. We walked through the exhibits and then walked around the outside of the Chateau and noticed a seagull making a really weird noise - kind of like “OW OW OW”. So we went closer to it, and then George spotted a baby seagull….. and just as that happened, the mama seagull took flight and started swooping down at us. For a bird that could really do nothing to us, it managed to frighten us (well, me). We tried to snipe some pictures of the baby, but eventually gave up and kept walking. Got attacked by another seagull further on, and then as we passed the entrance we noticed a sign that said “DANGEROUS SEAGULLS (mating period)”. We found it pretty hilarious. The only wildlife on the island were seagulls and Sicilian lizards that immigrated by boats, and as we were leaving George was just saying how it was too bad we didn´t see any lizards and then we saw three. I said it was too bad we didn´t have a million dollars, but it didn´t work. Damn.
After the island we headed to the beach. It was small but nice and sandy, and packed with people. We did not end up staying because we were sunburned a bit from Nice. We walked around for awhile and then we went back and made ourselves some more pasta for dinner.
Marseille was not really what I was expecting. The beach was nice, and Vieux Port (where the Greeks had settled in something like 600 BC) was nice… but there were lots of crummy/poor/dirty areas. And almost everywhere we went, it smelled kind of like diarrhea. Quite a few cities in Europe so far have smelled like pee depending where you went, but this was beyond awful. Still liked the city, but yeah. Watch out for that smell.
We arrived in Nice with pretty specific directions of where to go. We set out to find our hostel and ended up getting to it within no time. The woman who ran it - Brigitte - was super nice and kinda quirky. It was quite a large room, so it was a shame we were only in Nice for one night.
We headed out and decided to get to a spot that had a panorama of Nice - it was closed by the time we got there, but did some photography along the way (of cool stuff like breakdancers - heck yes). We went for dinner at a nice restaurant on the boardwalk where Billy had onion soup and I tried ratatouille - because of the movie.
After dinner we wandered around then night shops with half an intention of finding chocolate cake. Finding none, we eventually headed home.
The next day we walked up to the panorama spot. It was really nice, but scorching hot up there. The rest of the day was spent at the beach. Burning. (It was great, though).
We found our place in La Spezia relatively easy - in fact the whole day went a little too well for finding things and catching trains. We stayed in a really cute place called A Posada or something.. it had advertised itself as a B&B but it definitely was more of an apartment with breakfast vouchers. The rooms were very cute and spacious though. The first day we arrived we took the train to Vernazza, supposedly the most “picturesque” of the five cities. La Spezia was only a 7min train to the nearest city and a little less than 30mins to the last one, so it was a nice place to stay. We had pasta near the harbour/swimming area in Vernazza and agreed that it was definitely beautiful. We headed up to the fort for a nice view. Afterwards we headed to the last of Cinque Terre (Monterosso) and walked along the semi-sandy beach to enjoy the warmest water yet.
Day two was supposed to be a beach day, but the weather was pretty moody. We trained to Riomqggiore (first town) and walked from there to the next city, Manarola. It is called the Romantic Road because it is the shortest/easiest walkway between cities. It was right along the water and a very nice walk. After walking around the city and having some lunch, we walked back to Riomaggiore (you have to pay to walk to the towns, so we wanted our moneys worth) and checked out the supposed “castle”. It was not exactly what I had in mind. By then, it had started sprinkling rain, despite the bizarre fact that there were barely any clouds (What?). We waited it out and then got three scoops of gelato (banana, chocolate, and caramel = major win!) and then headed back to Monterosso to lay on the beach for awhile. That night I got some very sad news about my grandpa, so that was very difficult.
Our last full day we decided to go to the beach properly. We went to Monterosso and got gelato before finding a spot on the beach. We tanned and we went for a little swim in the water, which was very nice. After burning a little, we went for lunch and decided to take the ferry to Riomaggiore so we could see the towns from the water (we got to see Corniglia, which we neglected to visit on purpose). We then trained to Manarola to do a bit of shopping and have some dinner & wine. I decided to have the lobster linguine, thinking because it was so cheap that I would not get an actual piece of lobster… but I did, and it grossed me out. I manned up and ate it though, and it was ok.
I feel like it is very difficult to write about Cinque Terre and do it justice. It is such a unique and beautiful place.
We arrived in Florence shortly after realizing that we had no directions to our hostel. After wandering around for a good forty five minutes, we found an internet cafe where we google mapped our hostel. We walked a good twenty minutes to where we figured the hostel should have been. After asking more directions and finding another internet cafe, we realized we had gone in the complete wrong direction. Thanks a lot, google maps. We found the hostel a good half hour later - right beside the first internet cafe we had visited. Irony wins again.
Later that day we went for pasta and wandered through the multitude of shops littering the streets. They all had pretty much the same type of things, but were super entertaining. We bailed on seeing the statue of David because of both the wait and the price. After what a let-down the hype surrounding the Sistine Chapel was, we had realized we would much rather experience the city - so we wandered.
After visiting a wine shop and buying a bottle of Shiraz, we crossed over a bridge and took pictures of the city at night - most of which did not turn out very well.
In the middle of the night we realized there were at least three or four mosquitoes in our room. By the morning time - and upon closer inspection of the walls - it had become apparent that there were at least a dozen, and dozens killed by previous travellers smeared on the walls.
However, later that day we realized that I had only received one bite, and Sarah did not have any at all. Bizarre. And lucky.
In the morning we caught the train to La Spezia.
We got to Rome without much trouble. I was very nervous about it because four years ago I was with a friend when she had her bag/passport/etc stolen, but we managed to avoid thieves. We stayed in a campground called Tiber Hostel & Camping. It was about 30 mins away from the centre of Rome, but it was cheap. It had a nice big bus that transported us from the campground to the nearest train so that was handy. It was weird staying in a campground, it reminded me very much of family vacations on Vancouver Island. The grounds were nice and there was a market, restaurant, bar and pool. The “cabins” were incredibly small and shack-like, but no big deal.
Our first full day in Rome we went straight to the Vatican. We went into St. Peter’s, and then we headed to the museum to see the Sistine Chapel. The ticket guy was delightful and gave us the much cheaper student rate, even though we were in the wrong line and did not have the international student card. Superb! We saw many signs that led us to believe the Sistine Chapel was just around the corner, but it ended up taking at least an hour to walk through to it. We saw lots of cool paintings and sculptures, but by the time we got there we were kind of tired and did not enjoy the Sistine Chapel as much as we should have. After that, we did the Spanish steps, Trevi Fountain, Colloseum, and Roman Forums. It was a long day with a brief moment of sprinkling rain.
Quick note: because of a combination of falling behind in updates and this infuriatingly French keyboard, these next few updates will be shorter.
We got off our train at a stop called Mestre - a ghetto-like area just outside of Venice and took a bus to our hotel - the Ariston. We found it without too much trouble and checked in. Our immediately packed up our laundry and hiked to the laundromat. Afterwards, we spent the evening in Venice. After wandering we managed to find a restaurant Billy had looked up. It was absolutely beautiful inside and we both had pretty great meals. We took a bunch of photos and headed back to the hotel. The next day was an entire full day in Venice. We walked all over the place, saw everything. We had pizzas from a small stand in the city and had sandwiches and Italian beer at a bar called Margaret DuChamp - which happened to coincide with escaping a brief rain storm too. On our way out of the city we both bought Venetian masks as a novelty - a really really cool novelty.
The night consisted of getting horribly horribly lost in Mestre, but thanks to a helpful old man, we managed to find our way back and soothe our tired minds and bodies with Venetian merlot.
In the morning we got up early and headed to the train station to find our way to Rome.
We decided that our next stop would be Venice. Our mode of transportation basically fell between a train that would take up an entire day, or a short bus to Split and an overnight ferry to Ancona. We opted for the latter and bought our bus and ferry tickets. We figured that the bus ride would only be about three hours - so we stocked up on cookies and juice for the ride there. It ended up taking us a lot closer to five hours to get there (with only a ten minute break to stretch our legs in between). It was somehow not as bad as it sounds - we are both pretty used to dealing with brutally long waits and transits at this point.
We got to Split with pretty vague directions to our hostel. We set out in search for the “theatre” which for some reason I had in my mind was “movie theatre” (we soon found out the directions meant the old city stage theatre). We wandered in what we figured was toward the city centre. I stopped to ask a woman working in a souvenier shop on the boardwalk if we were headed in the right direction. Through a combination of nodding vigorously and pointing, I gathered we were. We finally found the theatre but were unsure of where to go from there. I asked a woman working in a bakery where the street was, and she told me that we were already standing on it. This was a relief at this point because Sarah (and her comparatively tiny female bladder) was growing impatient. :)
We found the hostel with no trouble after that. After checking in, we were given “welcome cake”. This was a little dry and tasteless, but it was free cake so who am I kidding? We checked into our room on the top floor of the small apartment-like building to find we had four beds. Cool(?).
We went out exploring pretty soon after that. We found a place to eat that was recommended by a boy working there, and it was pretty fantastic. American portions at Croatian prices. We stuffed ourselves. It was not pretty. We walked around the Old City after that which ended up being really cool - and yet super commercialized and depressing. We were given a map with descriptions of things like “Check out this pillar in the bank! It is the only thing left of a really old building we built on top of.” Sarah probably knows more about the actual things we saw, but in essence it was kind of a novelty city. This was not entirely unexpected and did not really matter in the end because we were only there to catch the ferry anyhow.
When we got back to the hostel, a group of German students were unpacking enough beer to feed an army. They were celebrating the finishing of their final exams. They spoke near perfect English and were mildly hilarious. They invited us to barbeque and drink with them. We were still stuffed from earlier in the day, but I ran to the market and bought some cheap beer to drink with them. It was a pleasant night.
The next morning, we “stored our bags”. That is to say we left them in a corner of the courtyard. Seeing as I had all our money and passports, we decided to take the chance and leave them there. Our goal for the day was to waste as much time as possible. We had to catch a ferry at 11pm to Ancona. With the whole day ahead of us to waste, we headed for breakfast (omlettes!) and then searched for the beach. Apparently the beach was only 10 minutes walking distance, but it took us about three times that long to find. After burning profusely and witnessing nudity on multiple occasions, we headed for dinner. We ate outside Jupiter Temple in the Old City. It was about quarter after six when we decided to double check what time we were supposed to be at the ferry terminal for our 11pm ferry. To our horror, the ferry was actually leaving at 9pm, and check in was in 45 minutes. We legged it back to our hostel, grabbed our bags, and ran to the ferry terminal. Sweaty and gross, we got onto our ferry with no problems. Our room was tiny, but at least we did not have to share it with anyone. We stayed up on the deck until the ferry left the port and then we went to bed pretty immediately. In the morning we would be in Ancona, Italy and headed for a train to Venice.
We woke up at 6am and went upstairs for our buffet breakfast (which was included - bonus!). We docked at 7am and were tossed onto the streets of Ancona. We decided to be hardcore and walk to the train station rather than cave and take a bus. This turned out to be a rough choice as it was several kilometres to the station. After getting there we quickly figured out what time our train was leaving and jumped on. Next up - Venice.
George (and Sarah)
These next few posts will be pretty condensed, as we have been without consistent (or free) internet for awhile… but here goes!
We stayed in Dubrovnik for four nights, which was really nice - the longest we have stayed in one place. We stayed at this place called Jele Rooms, which was owned by an old Croatian woman named Jele. The first two nights we had our own kitchen and the rooms were very cute and spacious. We made ourselves some pasta the first night which was heavenly. Nice to have a “home-cooked” meal! We got mysterious bug bites that we are pretty sure must have come from the rooms, even though we found no evidence of said bugs. Also everything seemed really clean, so it was very strange. Anyway… it was about a twenty minute walk into the Old City, and so the first day we went and checked it out and we saw lots of cats and marvelled at how beautiful the city was. It is completely walled in, and there are tons of tiny alleyways and people even live inside small apartment style places inside.
The second day we went back into the Old City and, since the weather was nice (though it had forecasted storm) we thought we would take a glass bottom boat ride. Not even kidding, it was beautiful and warm and barely cloudy and within half an hour of buying the tickets (the time we had to wait for our boat) it started really clouding over… and by the time we were out on the water it started raining. We did not really see anything too interesting, saw some fishies and I saw a sea cucumber I think. Our boat was also driven by two young boys who could barely see over the steering wheel,and the storm was making the waves pretty choppy and we were going close to the walls so I admit I was a little nervous. About halfway back to the docks we heard thunder and it really started raining. We got through the city and just as we were leaving we heard a HUGE boom - it sounded like a canon went off. Definitely the loudest thunder I have ever heard!
We decided to head back to the rooms, but on the way back we spotted a kitten on the side of the road. Some woman with a dog was trying to pet it, but it was hissing and we were afraid it was going to run out onto the very busy street and get hit by a car. We went over to it afterwards, and it was hissing and shaking and I was so scared it was going to run away. George managed to pick it up by the scruff of its neck and it calmed down, and we decided we were going to put it in his bag and take it somewhere safer. However, the more we walked towards the rooms the less we felt comfortable about just leaving it somewhere. We got back to the rooms with the kitten, and then we went to get some take-away pizza so that we could feed it some ham. It warmed to us pretty quickly and then we decided that we would just keep it in the room until the morning when we could maybe find internet and see if there was some kind of SPCA type place. The kitten was so incredibly tiny that we just could not leave it. We made it a bed in one of the lower shelves but it decided to sleep with us, and actually fell asleep wedged inbetween us and some blankets. I wanted to keep it, and George said no… and then after about an hour or so of being adorable sleepy kitten it became adorable but annoying playful kitten. It meowed every couple seconds unless you paid attention to it, so I got maybe two hours sleep that night. However, I cannot really complain as I got to play with a kitten.
The next morning, we had to switch rooms (because of availability problems) and so we were trying to get out with the kitten without Jele seeing us. Well, we get all packed up and the kitten is sleeping on the bed, and I go to move some of the bags and Jele started following me back to the room. I started freaking out, and George covered the kitten with the sheets but then Jele started to grab the sheets and saying “wash wash wash!” and so we panicked and quickly and sneakily put the kitten into the bag and I ran out. I am sure Jele thought we were weird. I went into our new room, but then she came in there to start fixing it up so I had to run back out, and then the kitten was freaking out and trying desperately to get out of the bag and I was trying to calm it down and it was meowing and oh my goodness it was insane. We did manage to get everything moved and then we walked to Old Town in record time. We had come up with the idea the night before that Old Town was the perfect place to leave little kitty, because it was walled in and there were tons of tourists and people lived there and there were lots of stray cats that seemed to do fine. We figured someone was bound to take him in. We left him in a big open courtyard with lots of tourists and some houses, and he seemed a little nervous but in a lot better shape than when we found him.
The rest of our time in Dubrovnik was spent going to the beach (which was an adventure itself, as there are no signs to where the beaches are and there are lots of small dead end streets and alleys), swimming, tanning(burning), and going in and out of the Old City. Obviously the kitten part was the most important. :)