A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: rwills89

Valencia

sunny 8 °C

It's 1AM, and I am in my little dorm room in Madrid. We never intended on coming here since it's freezing this time of year, but we had to go to the embassy so Ruaridh could get his passport. No big deal- from here we only planned on seeing Porto and Lisbon, and we have over two weeks to go. But anyways, Valencia:
After a few hours on a train, we arrived in Valencia, another city, it looks like. The train station is surprisingly pretty though. We pass the rows of enormous ancient doors until we get to our hostel's door, also some enormous wooden thing reinforced with massive metal strips. We realize that they carved a little door out of the big one (cute) and walk up the windy staircase to hostel reception. Our hostel is so great- it's more like a bed and breakfast, since all the rooms are doubles and there are only 11- but everything was cozy, and our room was nice and comfy- asian themed, for some reason. We were pretty trapped in Valencia at this hostel until Ruaridh's package arrived- his mom sent out a new debit card and some documents he'll need for the embassy- and we thought this would be the perfect place to waste some time. So later at night, we wander around looking for a good restaurant, and settle on this place called Pepe Pica. It was pretty good, we had fun, whatever, but when I went to pay with my card it was declined. I said I would go to an ATM- sometimes card readers are just fussy- so I ran down the street, tried a machine, and out of nowhere- slurp- card withheld. Please contact your bank. What the f**k?! Luckily we had enough to pay for dinner in cash, but just- we were really SOL, sitting, broke little ducks, until that new card arrived. Good thing our hostel provides free breakfast.
After trying the useless closed bank that stole my card, we talk to Ruaridh's mom, and, like a godsend, she wires us some money through Western Union for the few days we would be waiting. Insanely relieved, we go grab lunch at some American-themed restaurant by the post office. It was pretty hilarious- I really think visiting an American-themed restaurant is a unique European experience. After hanging around over our drinks for a bit, we head back and chill out in our hostel.
We saved the one big attraction in Valencia for today (it kind of dawned on us there isn't anything to do here) the massive Oceanographic/Science/IMAX center. All of the buildings were massive and modern and pristine, and the IMAX theater is designed to look like a human eye ball. We went to the aquarium- the best I've ever seen in my life. They had adorable little otters and those giant rock crabs off the coast of Japan that can become larger than a person. All of the tanks were massive and towering and they had a bunch of those long tubes you could walk through... yea, I'm a total loser for these things, I realize. The IMAX movie afterwards was nice, they give you these big bulky earphones that strap all the way around your head for the different languages- namely, French, English, and 4 types of Spanish. The english on our headphones was out (haha) but it was fun to be in that huge thing anyway. We stayed in to cook dinner and had a chilled out night.
It's Thursday, December 20th now, and we have 4 weeks left to our trip. This day was spent waiting in our hostel for those damn papers, since on the FedEx tracking website they claimed that they attempted a delivery but "customer could not be reached or business wasn't open." I saw no point in staying, but Ruaridh was understandably freaking out, so we hung around. It finally came later that night after we and the receptionist tried every possible way to contact Spanish FedEx- I guess something got through, since it was after another "failed delivery" notice. We are pretty excited that we get to move on Granada, via night train, tomorrow. We spent the night hanging out with people in the hostel kitchen- a guy from Cork, Ireland, a girl from Korea, the receptionist, and an English girl in med school. That was more or less everyone in the hostel.
We checked out in the morning and went to the train station to leave our luggage. We decided to go hang out by the beach, and of course it was freezing, but pretty nice. We had a nice drawn out lunch and just hung out in the general area, watching the sun gradually sink behind the city. At night we bounced from cafe to cafe until it was time to catch our train. Honestly? Not the worst way to spend a day. In the morning we will be in Granada.

Posted by rwills89 09:54 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Barcelona

sunny 15 °C

Right now I'm sitting in the "lobby" of a really snazzy hostel in Sevilla. I'm bundled up with a cup of coffee, slowly realizing that the weather very well might stay like this for the last couple weeks of our trip. Unfortunately we hit southern Spain just as the cold snap did, but it's gorgeous nonetheless. Anyways, I have a bit more catching up to do, don't I?
Barcelona, great times. Highlights- the open air market on Las Ramblas, Las Ramblas at night.. the beach.. the port.. Park Guell.. Ruaridh getting all his documentation stolen.. oh yeah. Good stuff. But I digress...

The first day was, as it always is, all train. Long and sllooow. Still, me and Ruaridh were excited about Dr. Gallagher putting us up in a real hotel for 2 days! (Thanks again Dr. G) We rolled in a couple hours past the time we were supposed to, around midnight, and caught a cab to our Hotel, called BCN Design Hotel. At night, with the huge buildings and bright lights, it could've been New York. I was pretty surprised at how metropolitan everything was. We got in, and the hotel was absolutely gorgeous and very modern looking. It was funny, because in the lobby it was an angry american woman complaining about her room, an annoyed looking older english couple, and us, two giddy looking teenagers with dirty backpacks. Our room was equally cool and modern, and the bed was fluffy. We passed out pretty immediately.

Barcelona looked a lot less average in the daytime, I was pleased to see. The architecture is all beautiful and the streets were all lined with palm trees. Coming here, to Europe in general actually, makes me want to know more about architecture, but you don't need to be an architect to notice the distinct style of Gaudi. We saw one of his buildings by our hotel, and it is this surreal, colorful warp of a building that looks like something out of a Tim Burton film, squeezed in the middle of a row of modern, dull office buildings. Anyway, decided to wander around the city since it was sunny and warm, so we made our way down to Port Vell. On our way through a large open square, we stopped to watch an African band play, and they were pretty awesome. Port Vell was very sophisticated and very touristy, with nice paved sidewalks and manicured grass and some modern art placed here and there. The port contained a huge upscale shopping center called the Maremagnum, an IMAX theater and an aquarium, with a ton of very chic looking al fresco restaurants. The docks were very nice, swarming with fish and big pristine sailboats. People were taking naps in the sun on the dockside cement, which I thought was cool- for a while I was starting to think Barcelona wasn't as chilled out as I thought. After this we walked along the beach to La Barceloneta, the less touristy fishing neighborhood of Barcelona. People were sleeping on the beach in their sweaters. We walked onto a rocky pier full of really adorable stray cats. One looked like it could've been no older than a couple months. It looks like the city feeds them because there were all really well kept. The sun started to set, so we went back into the city for tapas. We went to this place right by our hotel called Ba-Ba-Reeba, and got some great white wine and a variety of tapas, like little sausages, patatas bravas, grilled squid, green peppers... it was so good! Definitely started my love affair with tapas that would carry through the rest of Spain. Later we decided to do as the Spanish do and go out to dinner even though we weren't that hungry. We wandered down the always crazy Las Ramblas to Placa Real, where our next hostel was located, and which rivaled Las Ramblas when it came to livelihood and crazy people-watching. I had paella, and we got another great wine, this time red. The food was spectacular. After dinner we wandered a bit more, this time into El Raval, the former ghetto of Barcelona that still hasn't reached it's glory. We went to a bar, a former gay bar actually, called La Concha and dedicated to Sara Montiel. This place would've been incredibly sketchy if the vibe wasn't so great- peeling wallpaper, exposed piping, dark, dank, smoky, untouchable toilets- but everyone was so cool, they were playing arab music and the crowd was a great mix of young and old. The tea was great, the guys working there were awesome. After a late night, we headed back to our hotel.
The next morning we moved to our hostel, Kabul hostel, located in the fabulously seedy Plaza Real I mentioned earlier. We did more wandering, and at a local place I had the best french toast of my life. We did a lot more wandering, and found this place called the Travel Bar, a big backpackers hangout with these two Irish bartenders who were really awesome. We signed up for a tapas and flamenco tour for the following Wednesday. Later we decided to get better acquainted with our hostel, considering how many people we met raved about it, and we realized we would probably change hostels before we left Barcelona. It seemed like they really took advantage of their popular name, so the reception was bitchy. Considering how many people there were, it wasn't a very social place, it seemed like a place where people would go with their buddies to get as drunk as possible.. the food and bar were pretty awful and incredibly smoky. But luckily there are so many places to go in Barcelona we didn't have to stay long. We wandered up and down Las Ramblas a bit and then headed to bed, of course not without the usual drunken stumblings-in from 2am until 6am, the norm in most large hostels.
Another sunny morning, and we headed over to the Parc De La Ciutadella, a really big, beautiful park which contained the Barcelona Zoo and a the Gaudi Cascada. The zoo tok up most of the day, and it was really great- I haven't seen a zoo in years. This one has Komodo Dragons in it, which were pretty crazy to see. There were also dolphins, which started performing little tricks as soon as anyone came to watch them it seemed, and all kinds of other things- jaguars, elephants, seals, penguins, etc. Afterwards we walked through the park to the fountain, which was enormous but much more conventional than Gaudi's usual work. A lot of it was also covered in scaffolding. After eating and a little more wandering about this different part of Barcelona. It's a lot bigger than it seemed at first- all of the different neighborhoods are like different cities. Barceloneta was like a seaside town, El Raval had a Spanish urban feel, this area around the park was full of business buildings and Starbucks... and we ended the night in the Las Ramblas area, the quirky, seedy lively Las Ramblas part, where we saw a late night jazz show at a little, well-known place called Jamboree, literally right next door to our hostel.
Today was our museum day, since the weather was supposed to be pretty crappy. That held true, so we decided to see to Frederic Mares museum, one man's vast collection of Spanish and European artifacts, including some of his own work since he was a sculptor. We found that almost all of it was composed of giant medieval crucifixes with various Jesus poses (as awful as that sounds) and hundred of large Madonna and Child sculptures, also looking like they were heisted from a medieval church. It was cool in ways that is really wasn't intended to be- we would just walk into a small room and be confronted with hundreds of hanging Jesus(es) staring at us from all angles... in the basement there were some tombs and ancient archways worked into the museum walls, which was very cool. After this strange little museum we headed over to the Barcelona cathedral, which I have to say was one of the most gorgeous museums I have ever seen. It was unfortunate that it was under construction, because the dark gothic peaks on the outside were covered in billboarded scaffolding, but the inside was stunning, again designed to make you feel so incredibly small. It was different than the Notre-Dame because this building actually commanded reverence from every visitor. After some unmemorable lunch, we visited the Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat, which housed the enormous chambers were Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand received Christopher Columbus on his trip from America, and a perfectly preserved piece of the ancient city underground. After several hours we had our fill of museums and headed back to our new hostel, a much better choice called Centric Point, located up in the smart, chic part of the city where the BCN Design Hotel was located. We met up with this really cool guy from Manchester named Dave. We ended up hanging out with him for the rest of the night because he ended up joining the tapas and flamenco tour we were on. We all met up at Travel bar and were served the most amazing traditional tapas, mostly "montaditos," tapa things on little pieces of toast. One was tuna with guacamole and corn, another was cheese and peppers and sweet sauce, there was calamari and grilled squid, a salsa-like one.. they were so good! After we all got chatty with a few glasses of sangria, we headed over to the flamenco venue. The venue was very intimate, and the flamenco guitarists were amazing. They looked like they could be brothers, Moriscos with the black curly hair and intense dark eyes. The female singer was incredible, and the male dancer was tapping so quickly that at some point he looked like he was levitating across the dance floor. Me, Ruaridh and Dave decided to go out after the show to a bar off Las Ramblas, since the night was still young (as far as Barcelona goes.) We were having a really great time, laughing the whole night, but Ruaridh wanted to go out and get some air since the bar started getting packed and pretty smokey. After a few minutes, Ruaridh came back in, looking like a deer in the headlights, saying his things were gone. After a lot of panicky babble, we came to realize that two guys came up to Ruaridh while he was walking up the street advertising a club, which is very common on Las Ramblas. He said they were in front of him the whole time, and he saw the two of them walk away, but somehow they got to his front and back pockets. This included his passport, green card, wallet.. everything. So while I'm trying to think of a way to handle this, Ruaridh disappears. Dave tells me he ran off to "find them" (heart attack) and so we are sitting there, waiting for him to come back. When I start getting nervous Dave says he was going to try to find Ruaridh, and he promised he would be back in 15 minutes. Some really nice bartender sees me sitting nervously and gives me a beer on the house. After a bit, Dave comes back, Ruaridh-less, but he shows up a few minutes later. We go back to the hostel and plan out what we have to do over the next few days. The guy at reception tells us that during the summer, one out of every 4 people in Barcelona are pickpocketed.
We started sorting out everything the nexy day, police reports, trying to find the british consulate, etc... we didn't do much other than that, since Ruaridh was pretty shaken up. In the morning he said he would take a cab to the american and british consulates to make things easier. We had tapas that night though, at Ba-Ba-Reeba again since it was so good. Afterwards we went back to La Concha, where the bartenders recognized us and I ended up having a very heated political discussion, albeit some language barrier problems, with some Barcelonian guy, of course all in good fun.
In the morning we had to change hostels again, this time to one called Barcelona Mar. The spanish receptionist was incredibly friendly and bubbly, and the place looked a bit run down but pretty cool. We got to our 4-bed room, which was actually in an off-shoot behind a massive 12-bed room. Ours was pretty tiny, with harsh fluorescent lights, and it smelled like still water. I got to my top bunk, and laying down my head was only a few inches below the cracked paint of the ceiling. We've seen worse, and the rooms were only for sleeping, so we hung around the common room while we waited for our laundry to finish. Later that day we went to La Sagrada Familia, an enormous spired church looming over a fairly residential part of Barcelona that Gaudi never got to finish. It was very cool, even more so that they have people trying to replicate his work and imagination to finish the rest. We wandered around the many vendors outside the church, but wanted to catch the light show they put on with the fountain on Montjuic. The area, again, was completely different from the rest of Barcelona- all of the buildings were pretty enormous, the streets and sidewalks were all wide... it just made you feel very small. The water/light/music show was really fantastic, apparently just something they do for the public a few nights a week. After fighting the leaving crowds, we took the subway back to our hostel, made some dinner and hung out. I couldn't really get to sleep in our little room, so I just counted the cockroaches. Awesome.
Our last day was definitely our best in Barcelona. We went to visit Park Guell, of Gaudi's design, and it was beautiful. The day was sunny and clear, so we just wandered around, enjoying the plants, the walks, the crazy architecture.. there was also a really beautiful Spanish-style house, a small museum. The house yard had all these beautiful flowers and trees growing, a lot of orange trees too, and those purple flowers climbing over the fence. The sound of small bands or guitarists playing around the park grounds followed us everywhere. I expected some crazy Dr. Suess looking park, but outside the food court/entrance area, it was just a beautiful place to wander. After eating, we went back to the seaside area intending to go back down to the port, but they set up a little market at the south end of Las Ramblas, so we wandered around there a bit, and I picked out a few things for friends back home. We ate kebabs for dinner... they were very good. At night we decided to go out again, for what I don't know, to get out I guess, and ended up back on Las Ramblas to see the performers and the crowds and the crazies for a last time. Oh, I hadn't mentioned the Beer Guys. These guys walk around with 6-packs of beer to sell to people. We got hit on every corner one night (not that we took of course... sketchy.) For some reason this night, the street was lined with makeshift pet shops, no dogs or cats but fish, frogs, baby ducks (awwww!!) and chicks, roosters, bunnies, etc... one guy, for some reason, was even trying to sell a pigeon. We said our goodbyes to Barcelona, and prepared for Valencia in the morning.

Posted by rwills89 09:18 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Nice

And how Nice it was! (sorry)

sunny 18 °C

Right now I'm watching the last few streaks of blood red twilight disappear behind the Andalusian hills. It's been hard catching up on my blog with this kind of scenery distracting me- white, glistening little cities in the distance, nestled between mountains, rows of hills lined with trees and red dirt- but alright, I guess as far as this is concerned I'm still in France.
Our next stop was Nice, a playground for the wealthy, but not totally inaccessible for us poor folk. We got an early morning train out of Paris, and I can remember slivers of it- waiting in the train station, nibbling on croissant and waiting for the sun to rise. Watching as cute French towns yielded to a wilder Mediterranean landscape, all palm trees and striking azure water and red-roofed stucco houses climbing the hillsides. Our surroundings gave me a renewed surge of excitement for travel, for what laid a few steps ahead, which in our case was Spain. We got off our train and stepped into the warmth of the afternoon sunshine, and took the tram to the spot where our hostel's shuttle was supposed to pick us up. We dropped our bags and shed our extra layers. I was so excited- the blue sky, the warm weather, the palm trees- this was all very new, very welcome after the weather from the first half of our trip. They were selling flowers in a small makeshift open air market where we were standing, and the smell enhanced the whole memory- now, when I think of Nice, I can still smell the flowers. I would be smelling them for a while anyway, as the stupid van never came and got us. We were waiting for near a couple hours, not even left with directions, because after a half hour we would've walked whatever the distance was. After trying this and that, Ruaridh finally flagged down the van while I was looking for a payphone and we made it up the fairly short distance to our hostel. It was really lovely- it was perched above the city a bit, in a quiet area full of vegetation with lots of places to hang out outside. It all had that vague but really nice humid smell of plants that you get in tropical places. We have dinner at the hostel, which was great at only 6 euro or something, and some wine, and hung around a bit before heading off to bed.
The next day was fantastic. T-shirts and sandals all day... ahhh. We went back down into town, stopping to pick up some fruit, cheese and baguette- from the baker's of course- for lunch. We went into Old Town to the fruit and flower market, full of fresh vegetables, spices, oils, preserves, and of course fruit and flowers. It was really crazy there, full of local shoppers, wandering tourists and barking vendors. The place just made you want to cook. Once we were done wandering, we went down to the beach for our little picnic, admiring the beautiful blue water and the town curving down either side of the shore. Soon after we headed up the side of a steep cliff to see a waterfall and some ruins of a chapel. It offered some pretty incredible views. After a bit more wandering down the coast, we decided to head back since some clouds were rolling in.
And the bad weather begins! I think it's chasing us. We woke up to some thunder and rain, but no matter, it was still SO warm compared to Paris. Since we made a pact to see absolutely no museums during our stay, we just bummed around, read and planned little details for more of our trip. We slipped and slided back into town to pick up some groceries, but that was about it. Nothing of import.
The weather persists the next day- U.S Election day! But we decide to go into Monaco just to say we did. We also knew of an aquarium in Monte Carlo which was supposed to be pretty great, and both me and Ruaridh seem to share the affection for aquariums, so it was all good. We got on the bus from Nice, and actually passed right through Monaco without noticing into some other similarly rich place. We got off and walked along until we were back in the area. Lots of expensive shopping places and massive flats and mansions overlooking the sea. Monte Carlo was on a piece of the coast jutting into the sea, or at least the aquarium was. We went in, and it was pretty great. On our way out, we wandered around a bit more, saw the Super Yachts (complete with cape) and billboards for super yacht insurance. The casino was very pretty, as was the area around. We were in jeans and our hiking shoes, so we didn't bother to see if we'd be let in. There were lots of very shiny and sleek looking cars, which Ruaridh, with awe and reverence, explains are Aston Martins and Ferraris (whatev.) The rain starts up again. We head back into the city center of Nice to see "W." in spirit of the elections. We were completely soaked by the time we got to the theater. They don't let you in the physical building until 20 minutes before the show, and don't even have popcorn! The French just don't know how to do movie theaters. Nevertheless, I thought it was very interesting. We got back for the "election party," where they played the election stuff on some large screens. and although I wanted so badly to stay up and see the results, we were 6 hours ahead and I just couldn't do it. I was falling in and out of sleep, and even though it's silly I couldn't sleep. I felt sick, I felt like it was going to be the same shit all over again. We were in the room next to the converted chapel, where we had breakfast, dinner, the bar and the computers. This is where the party was, so I got to hear all the chatter of the party. At some point I woke up and heard that special music, so I threw on my jeans and ran next door, where some kids were hanging out outside. They told me it was Obama, and I went back to bed, quite relaxed.
The next day was completely uneventful since rain battered the town for most of the day. That's the thing about Nice, its a vacation town, and if the sun isn't shining there is nothing to do. We would've left, but we were holding out for the sun that was promised to us, because we really wanted to get some beach time in. The morning after wasn't so bad, but we changed hostels, unfortunately to one not nearly as nice, but much more centrally located (only a block from the beach.) Today we had to do laundry, reserve tickets for Barcelona, and send some things home. When night came we decided to wander around the pedestrian streets a bit and found an unfortunately mediocre place for dinner, but you can't always make the best guesses, right? The rain started up again, which put a quick end to our night. Tomorrow's our last day in Nice, and regardless of the weather, we are going to get out.
Our last day in Nice was pretty great. We wanted to see some more of the Cote D'Azur, so we hopped on a bus to go over to a beach called Villefranche and a beautiful town called St. Jean Cap Ferrat. We really had no idea where to get off, as none of the bus stops were really marked, so we got off at a pretty looking stop and wandered around. We ended up at St. Jean Cap Ferrat first, the most beautiful town in the world. Gorgeous houses hidden by tropical flowers and palm trees, jutting out into crystal clear water dotted coast below us. Vines covered in little purple flowers crept onto every stone wall on the streets. The roads were surprisingly unpaved, considering all the expensive cars parked on them. We made our way down to a little beach next to the port where some locals were walking their little dogs or taking an afternoon swim. Lush cliffs rose for miles to our left. In front of us was a bright blue expanse of water, with a lone white cruise ship a few miles out. By the cliffs, the sky was bright blue with a few tufts of cloud, and out by the port to our right we saw some black clouds moving in. From where we were, we could see the heavy rainfall a few miles away. It was a very cool sight. We hid in a cafe for a while as the storm passed over us, then we slipped and slided to the bus stop, intent on finding Villefranche. After walking here and there, we found ourselves walking along another little port, unable to find the beach. There were swarms of fish under the little sailboats, so we hung around, without much to do, and watched for a few minutes. Then, right in front of our eyes, a little octopus jetted into view! It was so cool, I've never seen one outside an aquarium. It was just jetting to and fro in the shallow waters before settling into a little crack out of view. That was very exciting. Still bent on finding this beach, we ended up wandering around the coastline for the rest of the day, climbing crumbling weed-ridden stairs, wandering around impossibly beautiful tropical neighborhoods, ambling up and down pedestrian streets. We found a beach finally, not "the beach" but a beach. I don't know exactly where we went wrong, but it ended up being a great day anyway. Tomorrow we head to Barcelona, and Ruaridh tells me that his dad, in a lapse of sanity, booked us 2 days at a 5 star hotel in Barcelona. We were both really pumped for that. Barcelona was a long trip from Nice, but we decided to avoid the night train situation. I was excited to move on, but Nice is one of those places where you can accidentally spend the rest of your trip and not even notice. Next- Barcelona!

Posted by rwills89 08:06 Archived in France Comments (0)

Paris

overcast 8 °C

Paris is hard to talk about. I got some really bad news from home when we got in to the main station about a childhood friend, so the first few days- most of Paris, actually- is a tired blur. But I tried my best to have fun, and Ruaridh was really supportive.
I'll start off by saying that right now I'm actually on a 3-coach train from Granada to Sevilla. I am a month (?!!) and several hundred miles away from all the shitty feelings an sunless days we had in Paris. The pain and homesickness is still there, but thankfully much less intense. I suppose I'll start where I left off-

Our morning trip out was a little hectic, but after leaving Geneva it was your pretty normal train day. We got in and found our hostel, which is pretty far from the action but was fantastic. The dorm beds had these little curtain things and reading lights on the walls. There was a bar/restuarant downstairs that had good food, mostly American cuisine though, and good music. I don't think we did anything for the rest of that day.

We wanted to start the next day with a little walking tour to orient ourselves. Our guide was a Canadian kid in his twenties who was hysterical, and it made some of the dreary history and less-than interesting "modern art" sights a bit more bearable. The tour actually took a large part of the day, and afterwards we tried to see the Musee D'Orsay but it was closed. After a bit of aimless wandering (something we've gotten into the habit of for every city) we saw some nasty black clouds barreling in from behind the gold-tipped obelisk and decided to hightail it back to the hostel.

Something else unique to backpacking- "laundry days." Tuesday, the next day in Paris, was a laundry day for us. It is a "day" because first off, a hostel is not a hotel, you cannot "send out" your laundry and go about your business. Secondly, although all your clothes can be done in a medium-sized load, it is all you have and would under no circumstances leave it unattended. So yes, unfortunately this took up a lot of time. Ruaridh left at some point to pick us up some breakfast- since Germany, he's been completely addicted to chocolate croissant-y pastry things, and here there is a bakery on every corner, so lucky him. After our laundry we checked into our next hostel- reluctantly, because St. Chris's was great, but unfortunately booked for the next couple nights. It was technically more central, but because of the distance and the weather we still needed to take the smelly metro everywhere so it really didn't matter. After checking in to our more typical hostel, complete with tacky paint, windy, narrow creaking steps and dangerous metal-rod bunk beds- ladderless, tricky tricky- we decided to give the Musee D'Orsay another go, and I'm glad they did. I'm no art buff, and I tried really hard to remember some of the artist names, but alas I draw a blank. The works there were really incredible, and the museum itself is an old converted train station, so the building itself was artful. After art-frying our brain, we made some dinner and chilled out at the hostel, discussing exactly how we wanted to spend the rest of our days in Paris.

The next morning we headed off for the Latin Quarter, which would've been a great wandering-about neighborhood if better weather had allowed it. We decided to do as the Parisians do and stop off in some cafe for a long, drawn out lunch. It was fantastic- if the french can do one thing, they can cook. I've gotten into the habit of drinking wine with lunch and dinner since it is so good and so inexpensive- cheaper than water, actually (at least the stuff we were drinking, heh) After lunch we headed to the Notre Dame, which, despite the many cathedrals we've seen, really struck me. It is one of those cathedrals designed to make you feel so small, amidst this huge presence that at the same time was so intricately decorated. It turns out, though, that most visitors were not as captured, so we had to shuffle along amidst the camera flashes and chattering and all that until we could finally escape. After this, we wasted some time strolling in and out of souvenir shops, then dropped by a cafe to warm up over some coffee for a loong time. We tried to think of another obligatory tourist trap to visit and decided to hop over to the Arc du Triomphe. Turns out yes, it was an arc. I took pictures for tourists aplenty, and just as we were about to take off we noticed the traffic circle from hell, and decided to stick around for a bit. Apparently it is the most dangerous traffic circle in Europe, with 12 roads converging into this traffic light-less roundabout, averaging one accident per 30 minutes. It was the most exciting thing we've seen in a long time, actually. Little motorcycles crossing over 6 lanes, buses diving into its heart with reckless abandon, not to mention a few idiots who decided to run across. Once we started to go numb from the cold, we headed back and after making dinner- baguette and pasta has become a diet staple, by the way- spent the night talking to people from the hostel, mostly the 3 Aussie girls in our dorm, who were really funny and easy to get along with.
The next day yielded similar crap weather, and I'm starting to doubt our cleverness in picking the fall for Europe. We wandered around the Bastille area, and I got a nutella crepe (mmm.) We fought the driving rain to wander through a graveyard- and right before halloween! Ravens and everything. We saw, of course, Oscar Wilde's grave, which was covered in lipstick kisses of all different shades, and then went to see Jim Morrison's grave, much smaller and blocked off, with some flowers. Afterwards, we sloshed up to the nearest cafe. It was very strange, because they had posters up in the window of Jim Morrison and his grave, but with thick, violent scribbles and X's over it in black crayon. Once inside the cafe, they had posters up of Jim Morrison all over the place, unmolested. It was all very strange. On the way back to our hostel, I picked up some sushi- apparently we crossed through Paris's asian quarter- and some meat from a butcher (for Ruaridh, naturally.) We ended up spending the night downstairs in the kitchen area again, drinking cheap wine with the Aussies and watching a group of Spanish hostelers sing and dance and stamp their feet and drink and laugh, because that is just what Spanish people do.
Our last day in Paris ended up begin a jumble of all the huge sites we didn't get to yet. Namely, the Louvre, the Chat Noir, and ze Eiffel Tower of course! We saw Montmartre in the day, so it was less glamorous and mostly just seedy. We saw the Moulin Rouge, and I imagined how pretty it must be lit up at night. I had wanted to see a show, but at a 90 euro cheap seat it just wasn't going to happen. Afterwards we wandered down to the Chat Noir for some coffee, still reminiscent of it's former seedy glory. There were sill some tobacco-stained pillars from the original building. You could imagine the room filled with smoke, the sound of someone pounding out a jazzy tune on the piano in the corner. After this we went over to the Louvre. We had perfect timing, actually, I'm quite proud of this. It was Thursday and the Louvre stayed open until 9, with discounted entrance after 6PM. We arrived around 5 from the metro stop, and as we entered the corridor containing the inverted glass pyramid, we saw the slews of people, hanging out or drinking coffee, waiting for the museum to drop it's prices. We booked past them, bought tickets at full price, and for the hour we actually had a great deal of the museum to ourselves. The day crowd was gone and the night crowd was yet to come. We decided first to go see all the big works, the Mona Lisa, the statue of Venus, etc and then take our time with the rest. The Louvre was amazing and at the same time very intimidating- just thinking about all that there was to see made you want to curl up and take a nap. We wandered down vast hallway to vast hallway, works of art in their own right with their beautifully painted ceilings. After a few hours we got to the point you get to in museums where you can no longer process any artwork and your brain starts to throb. We headed over the the Eiffel Tower just in time to see it light up in a glittery light show- it was very cool. Afterwards it settled to a pretty blue, enhanced by the fog settling high over the city. We were in the perfect spot, across the river with the bridge twinkling white in the distance.
That night we were back at St. Chris's, and it was halloween! Over dinner at the restuarant downstairs we ran into a couple guys from Canada and another from California. We ended up talking to them for a few hours, but decided to bypass the zombie party in the "club" downstairs and took an early night. The next stop was Nice, and honestly, despite the romance and the history of the city, I just wanted to get out of Paris.

Posted by rwills89 07:58 Archived in France Comments (0)

Interlaken

The rest

sunny 11 °C
View Fall 2008 on rwills89's travel map.

The rest of Interlaken was fun but obviously not as exciting. Since we liked the area so much, we went up to Lauterbrunnen again- turns out we never got to the "real" waterfalls, haha. It was another gorgeous sunny day, although a bit chillier, and we took the actual route, which was much more picturesque with much less cow poo. On the way we saw a woman who was taking her 5 bernese mountain dogs for a walk, some puppies- they were so adorable, and it made me really miss my first dog (also a berner.) The "actual" waterfalls were enormous, and we had to take a tunnel lift up to the highest one, then worked our way down. A lot of them had to be viewed from inside the caves, it was pretty awesome.

We decided to stay a little longer and switched to a hostel called Balmer's Herberge, the one and only party hostel in Interlaken. It was really big and really cool, kind of a series of oversized log cabins with central courtyard hangout areas and a very infamous downstairs bar. My only complaint was that it was a little too Americanized- full of screechy overprivileged Californian girls on a school trip, from what I gathered, and a bunch more americans and aussies looking to get as drunk as they can, as fast as possible, with the mental capacity to match. Luckily not everyone was like that- the first night we started talking to these two Canadian girls, Jenna and Jess, who were hilarious, some of the stranded and slightly-cooler-but-just-as-drunk californians, and these two startlingly good-looking South African guys. That night we went down to this bar, the "biggest club in Interlaken," which was a basement with some music and strobe lights, haha. But it was still nice, and the drinks were affordable.

The last day we wanted to make a day trip to Bern, since it was only 50 minutes away and we basically spent all our switzerland time in Interlaken and the alps. Despite having a bit of a rough morning, we got out early for the last day, deciding to whittle it down to the basic highlights. It was a cute city, but so obscenely expensive that it really took away from the experience. They had an open air market going on, so we checked that out, but basically just wanted to see the bear pits and the fountain of an ogre eating a baby. The bear pits were a little depressing- one brown bear wandering around apathetically, occasionally sitting for people who gave them the "bear food" that can be purchased there. Lots of cool fountains, but never caught the ogre. Shame. We found a bookstore that had a huge english section and stocked up, despite our wallets screaming in agony. It's paper and ink! how can you people live with yourselves... anyway, our last night in Interlaken, so we headed back to the hostel and talked more with Jenna the canadian and this nice but somewhat creepy missionary (i think) from Kenya. Went back to the bar, but decided to take it much easier- met up with the South Africans again, incredibly nice guys. The Kenyan missionary came down- Father Buzzkill- but went up after realizing it wasn't civilized enough. It wasn't long before we went back up to our room- decided on an early night- but we ended up talking to this really awesome couple in our dorm from Vermont, which spanned a few hours. In the morning we leave for Paris!

Posted by rwills89 15:07 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

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