Saturday, November 6, 2010

Madrid (Spain Pt. 1)

It’s been difficult to catch up with the blog with all of our various situations regarding Internet access, but I’m going to try to put as much up as I can at the moment. We’re currently in Tours, France, but I’ll post about that in a bit. I need to write about Spain. Lovely, Lovely Eh-Spain.

I think we immediately liked Spain, due to the fact that it was much easier to get into than Ireland. All we did was walk off the plane and get our passport stamped. No third degree, no threats of deportation.
No, Ireland, I’m still not over it.

Madrid was our first destination. We stayed in a hostel right above one of the Metro stops, which made it a breeze to get to. After checking-in (with the ironically Irish front desk clerk), we dropped our bags and headed out on a “get-to-know-the-place-you’re-in” walk.

In the course of a few hours, we managed to see fire dancers, fountains, prostitutes, a horse, and many huge cured hams. Welcome to Spain.

The next day we slept in, very very late. That left a large portion of the day missing, so all we really had time to do was grab some brunch and attempt to find a train station so we could book our trip to Barcelona. We immediately headed in the wrong direction without knowing it and ended stumbling upon an amazing palace and garden. We even found another train station where we were able to get by with enough Spanish to book the right seats with our eurail passes. Success out of failure. We topped the night off with some PB&J for dinner.

Day three in Madrid was an added bonus. We decided to stay and extra day due to the sleeping in and time spent booking the next leg of the journey yesterday. It was a great idea. We headed out for a stress free walk about the city. We hit a lot of the major sights and had a marvelous little picnic in one of Madrid’s large city parks.

Our last morning in Madrid did not start out well. The combination of not knowing that spain is in a different time zone then Ireland, and something strange in the free breakfast (most likely the way too strong instant coffee) set both of us off on the wrong foot. The day consisted of sickness and missing trains. Boo.

Up Next: Barcelona

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ireland... The Saga.

We left the prison after breakfast and headed towards the Underground. The plan was to take the tube to Heathrow, and then hop on our Aer Lingus flight to Dublin… seems simple enough right?

Unfortunately, the Tube workers decided to go on strike on the exact day we needed to get to the airport. This resulted in a majority of the lines being shut down, as well as their respective stations. Confused, we hoped on what trains we could, and began a long and twisting journey under London.-The Picadilly line is normally the only route to the airport, and we quickly learned that it had been shut down. We hadn’t tried any of the buses while in London so the idea of learning the entire bus system in the two hours we had before our flight didn’t seem like a good option.

That left us with the task of getting as far westward (towards the airport) as possible then maybe catching a taxi or walking the rest of the way. After jumping on and off multiple trains we found ourselves on what seemed to be the right one, even though it was labeled as something else. Like many other times in our trip thus far, we got lucky. It was the right train and we even happened to get off on the right terminal stop to catch our plane just before boarding.

-In Dublin we caught our first double-decker bus and started our journey to the new hostel where we would stay for two days before meeting up with Kathleen and Skip. The ride was fun, until we realized that the streets didn’t have signs, the bus stops weren’t labeled, and the driver wasn’t announcing anything. We borrowed a map from a fellow traveler on the bus and learned that we needed to cross a river then get off near a church. Dublin has a lot of churches and quite a few rivers. On my (Alex’s) command we jumped ship and made our way to the hostel… sort of. We were three miles away from our destination without a map. Once again we got lucky and found an add for Bailey’s irish cream that had a small map of the city. With our new info we were able to find the hostel and get in a brief tour of downtown the temple bar district.

-The hostel was nice. Finally. And just across from Temple University. We had dinner next to the Irish equivalent of the breakfast club and finished the night off with some Ben and Jerry’s, which is surprisingly popular over here.

-We dragged ourselves downstairs for the free breakfast (and a packed up sandwich and apple) then started our walking tour of Dublin. Believe it or not, we got lost. As soon as we walked out the door the Irish street naming issues got to us again. Streets can have many different names in Dublin, sometimes one per block, just to make things more interesting I guess. But we found out way back to the correct path and had a grand ol time.

-We saw some good parks, churches, Guinness bars, and bridges. We stumbled into a Irish brew pub in hopes of getting a snack before our free Tuesday dinner. We had what had to be one of our top meals in Ireland: homemade beer and irish stew.

-We may have not signed up for the free dinner, but just like anything, all you need is confidence and the dinner was ours. Add a bundle of day old pastries for dessert and then we had ourselves a great night’s sleep.

-In the morning we had our breakfast and walked to the train station. We didn’t know what Kathleen or Skip looked like even though they would be our hosts for the next week. Luckily Skip was able to tell by our packs that we were the travelers he was picking up... For the next few days we saw castles, ate great food, stayed in an amazing house in the Irish country side and dined with Roger Whitaker.

Up next: Spain.

Friday, October 8, 2010

London? I'm over it.

-Breakfast in the jail/dungeon was crowded but well stocked. Bread and Nutella was plentiful. We bid our cell ado and headed out into the free London air for the day.

-The rain came early but after a struggle we managed to get Ace (our trusty netbook) online. We booked flights and a, hopefully much better, room while snacking on more pies and drinking more Americanos.

-After the caffeine took effect we were off to see… what we had already seen. There was more walking along the river, looking at churches, and eating pies.

-Somehow Maddy had missed the tower of London the first time we walked right by it (see day one/delirious time), so we decided to see what it was all about. Both the tower bridge and tower of London were pleasant surprises in a city that we had fully squeezed the life out of.

-Back at clink we discovered our first theft. Of the three meat pies we had left, only two remained. We had discussed the safest place to leave our packs for the day, and even though the bags were left untouched in the same room, European thieves apparently cannot resist the temptation of fresh meat pies.

-Note for future: lock up pies.

Off to Ireland we go.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Goodbye Greenwich

-We had a quick breakfast, packed up our stuff, and checked out of the hostel by 10:00.

-We then rode the tube to King’s Cross, the home of our current residence, Clink 78. It used to be a prison… and it definitely feels like one. We left our bags in the “Luggage Room”, and headed out to see Buckingham Palace.

-Amazingly, we made it in time to see the changing of the guard… something neither of us knew was scheduled. Right place, right time.

-We then meandered through Hyde park, and somehow decided that going to Picadilly Circus would be a good idea. It wasn’t.

-After lunch at a TERRIBLE Chinese restaurant, we decided we needed to see the London Film Museum (or “Movieum” as it’s known).

-The Movieum was not as much fun as it’s name would imply. Tired and annoyed, we went to the “Real Food” market that was going on in the art district, and revived our spirits with Americano’s and a large brownie.

-Next was the search for dinner. We weren’t optimistic, due to our day’s track record, but we were hungry enough to try again. Things definitely ended up in our favor, thanks to the lady from the “Pie Minister”aka the only nice person in all of London. We bought 2 mini meat pies and got 6 for free.

-We got to see the Parliament buildings and the London eye after dark, which also helped to turn the day around.

-That was until the clink took us in. (and Alex starts writing because Maddy is tired)...Our French roommates loved chatting, hair dryers, and cologne. It made for a not so restful night of sleep.

But what can you expect? Sleep in prison is never easy..

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Day 2: London Time

-After a free breakfast of toast, cereal, and tea in the bar at St. Christophers, we were off on our first of many pilgrimages to the town of London. It was the first, but by far the best.

-We took the “tube” into the Westminster station, and saw Big Ben as soon as we completed the maize of escalators out of the underground.

-We saw the Houses of Parliament and the Westminster Abbey before the rain hit. Luckily it wasn’t anything too severe, but it was definitely enough to convince us to do some relatively indoor activities… So we went to the Aquarium and rode the London Eye.

-Afterwards, we went to the Globe Theater and walked across the Millenium bridge to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

-The day ended with a ride on the tube, followed by dinner at the bar below the Hostel.

Day 1: Greenwich

Pronounced gren-itch, not green-witch, as the lady at the “Information” desk helpfully pointed out to us.
Below is a list of highlights from the trip:

-A hot chicken dinner and a viewing of Toy Story 3.

-A disoriented trek through the London-Heathrow airport, and miraculously discovering the “Information” desk, where a woman directed us towards the train and helped end our agony.

-Then came the ticket booth, where we unsuccessfully tried to use our credit cards to purchase a train pass. Thank goodness, because we would’ve bought the wrong thing anyways. A good old-fashioned ticket salesman helped us find the right thing, and we were on our way to Greenwich.

-A brief moment of jubilation was had.

-After an hour and a half of train time, we arrived at the correct station.

-We dropped off our bags at the hostel and headed out into the great unknown, where we delightfully stumbled upon closeout priced Ethiopian food from the Greenwich market. Dinner.

- A post meal walk was had, where we managed to scale the largest hill in Greenwich… it wasn’t much, but the view/sunset we saw at the top was good.

-We then journeyed further to find a grassy and surprisingly nice park, which was home to our first “old church” sighting. The steeple looked like a needle.

-We made it back to the hostel by dark and promptly passed out on our bunk beds.