Thursday, June 6, 2013

Day 21: Dublin to Chicago

Day 21. Upon arriving in Chicago, we have been given a moment to relax, eat, and reflect upon what we have just finished. We feel happy, relieved, sad that it’s over, fulfilled, and proud of achieving the successful planning and enactment of what, to some, would be seen as a logistical nightmare. We are so grateful for the opportunities we have been given, the things we have seen, the people we have met, the stories we will always have to share, and the fun we have had together. I hope that you have all had some fun reading along and feel that you have seen the world with us. We have taken a total of 1,955 pictures over the last three weeks, so if you ever have a few hours and want “the whole story,” feel free to see us for what would surely be more fun for us to tell than for you to hear. Thank you for your interest, we will see you soon with stories in tow. As we have heard in the last 21 days: Slan, Auf Wiedersehen, Arrivederci, Adio, Comiat, Adios, and Goodbye until our next journey.

Brandon and Mary

As a bonus (and because we had some free time) we combined our two lists and came up with our top-ten favorite experiences:

Honorable Mentions:
Laying on the Beach in Barcelona
Seeing the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
Walking La Rambla/ Seeing La Boqueria
Eating Local Cuisine everywhere we went

10. Panoramas- It seemed like everywhere we went in every city, there was some high up place from which to capture an amazing view of the city, as seen by the great panoramas that Brandon has been able to make. We couldn’t have asked for better sights to see.
9. Football at the Brandenburger Tor- This was one of those “Right place at the right time” things. Two german football teams were competing for the final championship title and they were broadcasting it live at the Brandenburger Tor. We stood there in the rain watching FC Bayern for the win.
8. Strativarius- We weren’t exactly sure what we were getting into buying these tickets, but we were able to see a large collection of some of the best violins ever made played in concert. The imtimate atmosphere of the Berlin Philharmonic Auditorium was really cool too.
7. Tower of London- This is the longest running military tradition in the world. We planned way ahead to get these exclusive tickets and were able to watch the entire ceremony and hear the famous phrase, “Halt, who comes there?”
6. Hanging out in Rome- An all-encompassing phrase like this is necessary here because this city was just so amazing. We loved just sitting by the Trevi Fountain, enjoying the Piazza del Popolo, or riding Segways in the park. The city all around was really a great place to be.
5. The Phantom of the Opera- A spontaneous purchase just hours before the show, we are so glad we did it. The show was of course incredible, but we got to see it in the theatre where it premiered. How cool is that?
4. Lycabettus Hill- For a short ride up a tunneled funicular, the view was well worth it. It was our first night in Athens and what a way to see it. We watched the sun set over the city and the acropolis, something we never thought we’d see.
3. Il Papa- By a strange series of events, we were taken down very specific roads that led us right to the Pope. Yes, we spent the whole morning in the Vatican but where did we see the Pope? In the middle of the east side of Rome. It was unbelievable.
2. Roman Ruins- There was a lot of explore here. All the history behind the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill was an entire morning of incredible sights.
1. Bullfight- We saw a bullfight in Spain during the big festival of bullfights. This was truly an experience unlike any other. We got lucky with some great seats, got to see some great matadors and enjoyed another experience we’ll never forget.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Day 20: Madrid to Dublin

Since our new flight today didn't leave until 8:35, we had an entire afternoon in Madrid to explore the things we didn't have time for yesterday. To start off the day, we had a breakfast in a little cafe which actually held us over for longer than we expected. Then we walked southeast and walked through the beautiful Botanical Gardens, which was something we wanted to do yesterday, but couldn't because we had to get to the bullfight. But we were so glad we found the time to do it today because the green oasis was a relaxing atmosphere in which to just mosey the day away. Next, we went to the Prado Museum which houses famous art from Raphael, Rembrandt, De Goya and Reubens. It is also free for students under the age of 25 (and a whole slew of other people in very specific other circumstances, so you might check that list if you ever find yourself in Madrid). That was a nice way to spend peak sun and most of the rest of our day in Madrid, until we finally got hungry for lunch. We again found a unique little cafe (with records for placemats and cassette tape cases for bill holders) where we "enjoyed" some unique food. The Menu del Dia included a choice of a first course, a second course, and a drink. Brandon chose a salad, steak bruschetta, and a coke, while I chose soup, ham and mushroom bruschetta, and a coke. However, the menu did not specify that the salad was drenched in a ice-cream-sweet dressing and that the soup was refrigerated (UPDATE: I just googled it and found out that is Gazpacho, a typical spanish soup. Glad we tried it!). Also my bruschetta was made of mostly garlic, so that was interesting, but it was a unique experience that we will never forget. Finally, around 5pm, we headed to the airport for our penultimate journey, the flight from Madrid to Dublin. We were there pretty early but eventually got checked in and sent on our way. Now we are writing from the Dublin Airport McDonalds, where we are hunkered down in a very secure fort-type table where we will endure the final night of our trip before flying tomorrow to Chicago at 11:25am local time, arriving in Chicago at 1:45pm local time. We will be sure to let you know we made it safely when we are back in the good ol' U S of A.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 19: Barcelona to Madrid

An early morning again (7am!) found us finishing the last of our loquats and on our way out the door back to the airport. As per usual, we arrived and departed without delay. We arrived just after noon in Madrid.

First things first, we had to find our hostel. This has been the closest and nicest hostel so far-- we upgraded to a private bed room with private bathroom and it is so close to a major subway station. We are LOVING it. Our next order of business was to pick up the tickets to the bullfight. The office was closed until 4:30 however, so we made a little trip around the west side of the city. We saw a giant palace and a few plazas before stopping for lunch at a small little cafeteria and venturing out on some new foods, about which we had very little information. It turned out to be some delicious chicken, and sausages on a bun.We made our way back to the city center and picked up the tickets. Then, since the bull fight didn't start until 7, we explored the east side of the city, working our way south down a shady boulevard and then north through a green oasis of a park. By 6pm, we were ready to head to the bull fight park, so we took the metro up. Plaza del Toros was right outside the metro station and just the outside facade was a sight to see. We got inside and waited in the shade for the fight to start. Tickets are sold according to weather: Sun, Shade, and Sun/Shade. We bought the Sun tickets, since they were cheapest, but it turns out we were in the shade before the fights even started, which was awesome! Tonight they had 3 Matadors and 6 Bulls, and each one was a unique fight. Brandon took a ton of pictures and videos to try to capture the essence of the experience for all of you. We can't wait to show you because it was really one of the coolest things we've seen thus far.

After the fight--around 9pm-- we came back to the hostel and tried to check in on our flight for tomorrow, which we found out was cancelled without notification. Luckily, Brandon was able to find us a new flight which was A) cheaper and B) a later departure which meant more time in Madrid and less time in Dublin. Perfect! With that peace of mind, we went out for a late dinner at at Taqueria, a mexican food joint, which was delicious but a little overpriced. We each had 3 little mini tacos and a glass of Rum and Coke with a double shot of Havana Club. Now we are in for the night and will update you tomorrow from Dublin, our last stop!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Day 18: Barcelona

Today began with a metro ride to La Segrada Familia, a famous church by architect Gaudi. We arrived and found that the line was too long for us to wait in, so we took some pictures of the exterior and went on our way. After all, if we weren't going to wait to see St. Patricks in Dublin or Westminster Abbey in London, we sure didn't need to wait here. But we got some good pictures, and then found a little place for lunch-- yes, it was lunch time already since we didn't have to wake up until 10am today with little on the agenda besides RELAXING.

After lunch, we walked to the Arc de Triomf, which again was just a nice thing to see from the outside. The walked continued to the famous La Rambla, a street of vendors and cafes. There is also a market called La Bocqueria which sells fresh fruits, juices, baked goods and other delicious food items. Since we knew that the rest of the day would be spent on the beach, we bought some Loquats (Brandon's favorite Chinese fruit) and Cherries to enjoy in the hot sun. We finished walking La Rambla, which culminates with a statue of Christopher Columbus pointing towards the Americas (even though Brandon insists that he isn't really pointing in the right direction...).

After changing into our bathing suits, we got to the beach around 4pm. We lounged around for just over 2 hours, which left me quite sunburned-- but I did ask for it since I purposefully didn't apply sunscreen since I want to return home with a tan as evidence of vacation. But despite my eventual pain, the afternoon was incredibly beautiful. It was unreal to be swimming and laying on the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea, something we never thought we would be able to do.

Around 6, we went to dinner at an Irish Pub, even though we ordered Mexican food. It was pretty decent, but our ultimate quest for the evening was more sangria. So we walked back to the oldest street in Barcelona to get another liter of the stuff we had last night, but they were closed. We found that a lot of shops are closed on Sunday and Monday. Luckily, we knew of a place right on the beach that was selling a 1.5 liter pitcher for 9.99, so we walked back to that place, grabbing some gelato on the way. An evening of bliss has led us here, back to our empty hostel room, and our last night in Barcelona. Tomorrow, our last new destination and our only day in Madrid. We'll let you know how it goes!

Day 17: Athens to Barcelona

Sorry this comes a day late, but we were super tired, so today you get a two-fer.

We woke up at 5am (what?!) to leave the hostel and hop the trains to the airport. We got there in plenty of time and had a fine flight. We arrived in Barcelona around 2pm and took the trains from the airport into the city. Our hostel is RIGHT on the beach in a little area called Barceloneta and even though our hostel wasn't exactly opened when we arrived, after a few minutes the owner showed up and checked us in and showed us to our 4 person (yay!, we paid for a 6-person) bedroom in which no one else is staying (yay!). We got lucky (again!) with a room to ourselves, which has been so nice. So after getting settled and ready for the city, we went out to Santa Maria del Mar, a church right by our hostel. It was made for the poor people by the poor people and it is a beautiful yet simple church. We were even taken up on the roof in a guided tour that literally took us up onto the roof of the church for a full 360 degree view of the city. I was really nervous being that high up on a peaked roof, but it was completely safe and secure.

Back on solid land, we walked back to the cable car station in Barceloneta and took the car over to Montjuic Hill, just across a little port. We got off on the hill and saw another nice view of the city. A little walking around showed us an old Olympic Complex and Museum of Art (though we didn't go into that one) and finally ended up at the Magic Fountain at the north end of the hill. At 9pm, the Magic Fountain started its show and we hung around for a bit to watch the show.

Finally, around 10, we were getting a little hungry, so we found a tiny little cafe on the oldest street in Barcelona and got some Tapas and Sangria. It was a really authentic meal that was a great end to our first evening in the city.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Day 16: Athens

Wow, titling this post has really brought to life how far along we are in this trip. 16 days of travel already, and just 5 days left. Sitting here eating fresh Greek Baklava in our hostel, we recognize that we have seen so much and continue to experience wonderful new adventures every day.

Today was our one full day in Athens, and of course the number one thing to do is see the ancient ruins. The forecast predicted 88 and sunny, so we knew that if we wanted to get up to the acropolis, we should do it early to 1) avoid the line and 2) do the hike in the coolest weather. So we got up at 7am and made it to the acropolis by 8am, right when it opened. This really was one of the best decisions we made. We pretty much had the parthenon to ourselves! So we walked around the area taking in both the ruins and the view of the city below, and then went back down to see the rest of the sites spread throughout the city. We saw the Hadrians' Arch, Temple of Zeus, the Marble Olympic Stadium, and both the Roman and Ancient Greek Agoras. It was really awesome to see all these sites-- especially to see the scale. These things are huge!

By 2:30, we had seen everything our ticket included, so we went back to hostel and changed into our swim suits, then took the tram over to the coast. We decided not to do the ferry to an island because we didn't want to spend $20 each to get to an island and only have a few hours there, plus we didn't know what time we would be done seeing the ruins. So we just got on the tram and we were planning on going to a beach at Voula or Glyfada, two highly recommended coast cities, but once the tram hit the coast (40 minutes into the ride), we decided to just hop off and get onto the beach. As everyone had been telling us, the beaches on the mainland weren't really anything to write home about. So we set up a towel and we each went to go feel the Aegean Sea. It was cold, so we didn't go in past toe depth, but at least we felt it! After an hour of drifting in and out of consciousness, enjoying our first time of relaxation in days, we became a little chilly and headed back towards the city center to find our final Greek meal. A brief google search showed that a little mom-and-pop called Paradisiako was the best place to get fresh calamari and good ol' Greek home cooking. We enjoyed the calamari, some roast chicken and wine and then searched the surrounding area for our Baklava. With dessert in hand, we retreated to our hostel for some R and R, and will be going to bed now before our extra early flight to Barcelona tomorrow.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Day 15: Rome to Athens

Another day of travel. Our flight today was on easyJet, which we were a little concerned about but for now reason. Our total weigh in was only 23 kg, way under our limit! Though there was no food service on the flight, it was quick and safe and our luggage arrived without problem. We got to our hostel and found that we were in a four bed room with an ensuite bathroom, and the other two beds are empty! It will be nice to be alone for another night. Tonight we walked over to Lycabettus Hill and took the Funicular up the hill and found an incredible view of the entire city. We got up to the hill at 7:30 and just enjoyed the breathtaking view for an hour before the sun set over the acropolis. We enjoyed a Grecian dinner in the cafe on the hill-- a pork and lamb pitas and a greek salad. It was quite good! After dinner, we went back up to the viewing point and saw the city all lit up and then climbed down the hill on foot (a feat for me, with my poor choice of shoes!). We got back to the hostel and now we are trying to figure out what to do tomorrow. We are definitely going to see the Acropolis as soon as it opens (8am) and then hopefully we will be able to go to a beach somewhere for the afternoon/evening. Our hostel receptionist recommended Temple of Poseidon by bus, but the women at Lycabettus Hill recommended Aegina Island by ferry. Stay tuned tomorrow to see what we decided to do!