Friday, October 30, 2009

Backtracking: Thessaloniki

The other day when I arrıved ın Thessalonıkı, ıt was a natıonal holıday. I got there at 7am, hung out ın a coffee shop for a couple hours, and then ventured out. The whole cıty was completely closed. Shut down and boarded up. Ghost town. I started wonderıng what the heck I was gonna do wıth myself for the next 12 hours or so.

I went to an ınternet cafe for awhıle and when I came out, Thessalonıkı had woken up a bıt. Stores and shops were defınıtely stıll closed, but more people were out and about. The weather had cleared up a bıt, too. Thessalonıkı was cute and quaınt and I had fun checkıng out the waterfront. It's small, though, so ıt dıdn't take me long to pretty much see all there was to see. Here's my best shot from the day:

I headed back to the ınternet cafe because I stıll had hours tıl my traın left (or so I thought) (yes, that's foreshadowıng). For some reason, I decıded to double-check the traın schedule. Thıs turned out to be a good ıdea because the traın that I thought was leavıng at 11p or so was actually leavıng at 7:48p. Oops. Double oops because a check of the tıme told me ıt was departıng ın only an hour. I had to book ıt to the traın statıon pronto. I knew I'd never make ıt, so I hopped ınto a taxı and made ıt to the traın statıon wıth only a half hour to spare. I lıterally bought my tıcket, grabbed my pack out of the locker I'd had ıt stored ın, and got rıght onto the traın.

So that brıngs us up to Istanbul, but I'll have to contınue at another tıme. I'm on my way out the door to go to a CS party. Coıncıdentally, thıs ıs a party that I'm goıng to wıth my host and ıs the same party that I'd heard about from other CS frıends earlıer ın the day. :-)

P.S. I haven't uploaded pıctures to Flıckr yet, but I hope to soon. Also, the lower case i's look goofy because of the Turkısh keyboard. The i on the Turkısh keyboard ıs ın a dıfferent place and ınstead I get the one wıthout the dot over ıt. They're not ınterchangeable when typıng a web address, but for emaıls and blog posts, ıt's just easıer to go wıth the Turkısh versıon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Quick update

I will try to post more later, but just wanted to let everyone know that I made it safely to Istanbul. For now, I'm waiting for my room at the hostel to be cleaned so that I can take a much needed shower. Then I will be off on a search for food because I haven't eaten since last night. That shouldn't be a problem, though, because the food at all the stands I walked by on my way here smelled delicious!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Just kidding

Alright, fooled ya, I was convinced to stay in Athens one more night, so I'm not actually writing this from Thessaloniki right now. I switched my train to tonight, instead, and I'll do Thessaloniki tomorrow and head to Istanbul tomorrow night. Remember what I said about wanting to keep things flexible? :-)

Last night my host, Evangelos, took me to Lycabettus Hill on his motorbike. Lycabettus Hill is the highest point in Athens and I actually hadn't been there yet. I figured I wasn't really missing much, but I was definitely wrong.
From Lycabettus you get a 360 degree view of the city. My pictures are horribly blurry because my camera really doesn't do great night shots, but you get the idea. St. George Cathedral is on this hill and I think I got a pretty good shot of it:I still have about 10 hours until I have to catch my train tonight, so I'm going to wander a bit, see if there's any more pictures I can take, maybe chill out with coffee and a book in a cafe. Then, tonight (for sure!) - sleeping on a train.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Itinerary Update

I'm sad to say, but India may be off the table for the time being. You can bet your bippy I'm gonna try try try to make it happen, but it's really not looking good for me. Apparently it would have been better if I'd gotten my Indian visa before leaving the US, but I didn't know that. :-(

Here's the new plan for the moment. Tonight I'm going to take an overnight train to Thessaloniki. Tomorrow I will spend the day there and then take another overnight train to Istanbul. My first host in Athens, Thanos, will be in Istanbul and has said that he can show me around a bit. I'll probably spend about 5 days in Istanbul. I will see about getting an Indian visa while there, but if not, I'll head straight to Bangkok instead. Perhaps I'll be able to backtrack a bit so that I can still get to India. Right now it's all a bit up in the air. . .

Sunday, October 25, 2009


The weekend has been interesting so far. Friday was the Acropolis, of course, and then I went out with a couple of CSers that night. We went out for dinner, drinks, and clubbing and next thing you know it's 7:30 in the morning. How'd that happen? :-) We were tired, but not quite ready for the day to end so someone had the idea to go to one of the Greek islands. We went to the port, asked about the ferry schedule, and were on the next ferry to Aegina. The ride took about an hour so the picture above was taken at about 10:30am on Saturday. No sleep at all and I don't look half bad!

There's not a whole lot to do on Aegina, especially since some places were closed for the winter. But we wandered around and just kind of checked things out. It started raining so we popped into a cafe for coffee and decided to head back to Athens not long after that. The plan had been to go grab a few hours of sleep and then head back out (it was Saturday, after all!). But I got back to my host's house at about 8:30 or 9pm, grabbed a much needed shower, and realized I was way too exhausted to do anything else. My friends tried unsuccessfully to convince me otherwise, but since I'm still trying to get over a cold, I knew my body would be grateful for the sleep.

It doesn't rain all that often in Athens, but today it's been raining all day, at times pouring really hard. It's been a pretty chill day. I've listened to music and the rain, chatted with my host, Evangelos, read, and done not much else (although I did go out briefly to get souvlaki). Not sure what I'll do for the rest of the day, but I definitely have to get some laundry done - it can't be fun and games all the time, not even while traveling.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I (finally) made it!*

After a whole lot of "where the heck is the Embassy of India, anyway?!" I (finally) made it there on Friday. Of course, the Consular Services division had only been open from 9-11am (I didn't get there til 1:30pm), so I have to go back on Monday. It could take a week for my visa to come through which means I have to figure out what my next step will be. I have some ideas, but I'll have to post on those later.

I left the embassy and headed to the New Acropolis Museum which I believe just opened in June of this year. It's only one euro to get in because they're trying to encourage people to go; in January it goes up to 5 euros. The museum is built over ancient ruins, but there are glass floors installed so you can see them. (As an aside: I cracked up when I heard a lady say, "Look, Mark! Ruins!" Um, duh, lady.) The artifacts at the museum were very cool, but I'm not gonna lie. After awhile of seeing slabs of marble in various states of disrepair, it all starts to look the same. Especially when pieces are so damaged that you really have to use your imagine to envision Athena coming down from the chariot or whatever. I caught myself becoming jaded to it, though, and quickly reminded myself of what I was looking at. These very old pieces of marble and clay were touched and molded by human hands about 2500 years ago. Of course it's not going to be in perfect condition; that we're even able to see it today is awesome!

Then I (finally) made it to the Acropolis. (Is it strange that I don't see a city's biggest draw until I've been there for days? First Prague Castle, now the Acropolis.) When I le
ft the museum, I decided not to use the main road to the Acropolis because I'd walked it already days earlier. I just kind of picked a narrow road/path and headed in the right direction. I'm SO glad I did. I found myself in a many millenia old neighborhood at the foot of the Acropolis. It was the coolest thing ever and I had it all to myself. Perhaps even cooler is that this was no abandoned neighborhood. No, people still live there today. How cool would it be to live in this place?!

Walking around the ruins is indescribable. Even though there are a lot of tourists, restoration is taking place, and it's kind of weird seeing scaffolding and lighting everywhere, the Acropolis is still incredible. You walk through the ruins, then you get to the top and look down on still more ruins. I know I've said it before, but being there just makes you think about the smallness of you in this world. Having a bad day here seems impossible.
I'm having some minor upload issues, but I hope to have more Athens pictures uploaded very soon.

*Alternate Title - The Acropolis: Not Overrated

Friday, October 23, 2009


At some times in the last couple of days, I've thought this lovely city might be out to get me.
I've had enough little frustrations and missteps that it's almost like Athens is saying, "ha ha, you should have just decided to come here in the first place! how dare you make us a b-list destination?!"

Athens is incredibly beautiful and it has a completely different feel to it than either BCN or Prague.
Also, the people I've met here so far have been great, but man are they gonna be the death of me! As I mentioned before, I've been leaving in the morning when my host leaves. He picks me up after work and we meet out with people for dinner, drinks, and good ol' Greek debauchery. We don't get home until sometime between midnight and 2am and then do it all over again the next day. And all of this without my beloved Barcelona siesta in the middle of the day! I have no idea how they do it.

So, in case you haven't figured it out, all of my Athens pics are now posted. :-)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

By the numbers

The other night on my flights to Athens, I started to think about what kind of traveling statistics I've racked up so far. Here's what I've come up with.

In 3 weeks:
* I've been in 5 countries and visited 4 cities.
* 6,165 miles flown; 1,000,000 miles walked (ok, so probably not, but it's felt like it on some days!)
* I've been on 5 flights, in 4 taxis, 2 buses, 2 ferries, a handful of scooters, and I've already lost count of the number of tram and metro rides.
* I've stayed with 4 CouchSurfing hosts and in 2 hostels.
* 429 pictures have been taken
* There's been 1 unexpected change in my travel plans.
* My bag weighs 8.6kg which is just under 19lbs. Not too bad!
* In addition to my CS hosts, I've met 15 other CSers, plus many others indirectly.
* 2 novels read
* I know how to say please, thank you, hello, goodbye, and check please in 2 new languages (Spanish and Czech). I've only mastered hello in Greek so far, but hopefully I'll get there.
* I've been in 3 time zones.
* I've met people from 17 different countries - US, Canada, Mexico, England, Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, Germany, Egypt, Greece, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, South Africa, and Albania.
* There's been approximately 14 approximate hours of layover time and 15 approximate hours of actual flight time.

Not too shabby, eh?

Edited to add (per my commenters):
* 1 bicycle ride
* Being missed and envied by 1 family and multiple friends back home.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A very long day (and also - dead batteries)

After only about 3 hours of sleep last night, I left my host's house this morning at 8:30am and didn't get back here until after 12:30am. (This is the first CS host I've had that didn't want surfers to be in the house alone, so I had to leave when he left for work.)

Thanos and I had breakfast together and he kind of gave me an idea of which direction I should head. I got to the American Embassy okay (re: a visa for India, but more about that another time), but it was all downhill from there. I mean, everything was fine, but I was lost in Athens for a VERY long time. Apparently, as I was told later, the trip that took me, oh, about 3 hours, should have only taken about 15-20 minutes. What? I didn't have a map, I was just kind of...walking? In a direction that I thought might make sense? Whatever. I wasn't in a hurry, so it was no big deal.

I finally made it to the city centre and was having a good time exploring. I saw the Ancient Agora and Mars Hill mostly. I was right at the Acropolis, but I didn't think I had enough time to fully appreciate it, so I decided to save it for another day. I eventually made my way back towards a central location because my host was going to pick me up after his workday and we were going to decide what to do.

We ended up going to Salamina island (totally not sure on the spelling, I'll have to check) which, according to Thanos, about 90% of Athenians never even go there, so it's definitely not on the average tourist's radar either. We got there at about sunset and it was gorgeous. We rode my host's three-wheeled scooter to a ferry, took the ferry to the island, and then rode the scooter around the island. Imagine the sea and the mountains and sunset and a quaint little Greek town and you've got the picture.

Around 9pm we met up with some other couchsurfers for dinner and drinks. We had souvlaki and tsatsiki and mousaka and this spicy cheese dip of some sort and fried Greek cheese and pita and wine. And it was delicious. :-) A guitar came out and suddenly there's a group consisting of Greek, Italian, Egyptian, and me (the lone American) singing American rock songs. It was hilarious hearing the accents, but oh so fun.

Finally my host and I ventured back, a good 16 hours after we left this morning. I'm exhausted. So even if my camera batteries hadn't died - which they did just as we hit the island (don't worry, Thanos said he'd share his pics with me) - I'm just way too tired after no sleep and a long day to upload pictures right now anyway. But have no fear because I will, I promise!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A view

It's nearly 4 o'clock in the morning in Athens and I've just arrived at my host's house. There is a freaking view of the Acropolis from my bedroom window! Oh holy moly, it's amazing! I'll have to take pictures tomorrow, but for now I'm exhausted.


A few people have asked about my SPOT updates, or lack thereof. I've been having regular conversations with my Dad about the SPOT, but I forget that not everyone is in on those conversations. :-)

I noticed early on in the trip that it appeared that not all of my messages were going through. I'd comment on having pushed the OK button three or four times in a day, but then hear the response that no emails were received. I'm still not sure what the problem is as I'm positive that I'm doing everything right. I've decided that most likely I have a defective unit, so I'm going to mail the unit home and see if Dad can deal with the SPOT customer service people to get me a replacement. In the meantime, I've stopped even trying to send messages because I know they're not going through.

It's a bummer because there's a few legs of my trip that will not have been tracked, but as soon as I have a new unit, you'll start to get those messages again.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Shots of me

Yesterday the weather was actually pretty decent in Prague. I woke up to rain, but the sun came out soon enough and it wasn't too cold. Elin, the Swedish couchsurfer who's been staying with the same host as me, was leaving for Rome (on a 20 hour train ride - yowza!) and hadn't really done any sightseeing. And I still hadn't seen Prague Castle so we set out together to see it.
I haven't really shared a lot of pics of me here, so I chose some of my recent favorites. You can see the latest Prague uploads on my Flickr page, of course.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The answer to the cliffhanger

I mentioned earlier that I had an itinerary change to talk about. Talk about cliffhanger, huh? :-) Well, I kind of forgot about the whole needing a visa thing for India. It takes 4-6 business days for it to be processed and since I was planning on heading to India early next week, clearly I don't have enough time. My choices were to either wait it out in Prague (have I mentioned that it's cold here??) or figure out some other place to go before I go to India.

I pulled out a map to see what was between Prague and India and the two clear choices were either Greece or Istanbul, Turkey. I did some research on flight prices and exchange rates and I booked my flight today. So the answer to the cliffhanger is that I leave Prague on Tuesday and will be heading to...Athens. My current CS host says he has a CS friend in Crete that I could probably stay with, so that's a possibility. And, who knows? I may still hit Istanbul before heading to Mumbai anyway. I'm meeting up with a friend of a friend in Mumbai who will be showing me around for a couple of days and he's leaving on holiday on November 10 so I have to be in India before that, but my schedule is kind of flexible up until then.

What do you think about the change? Pretty cool change of events, right?

Prague in pictures

I'm sorry for the lack of posting over the last couple of days. It's been a combination of really terrible internet connection speeds and super cold weather that has kept me indoors. I will post more later as I have a change of itinerary to share as well as a link to more Prague pictures. But these are my favorites so far.

Update: All of my Prague pictures have been uploaded now. Check em out here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hostel life

In some ways, being in a hostel with a bunch of people from all over the world can be interesting. It's cool that you never know who you'll meet or what kind of conversations you'll have. For instance, last night I was chatting briefly with the guy at the computer next to me. We were both ecstatic about free internet. :-) The conversation turned toward food (and getting some of it) and we decided to go to the market to get stuff to prepare back at the hostel. Another guy that I'd met earlier in the day wanted in, too, so we were off. The grocery store was interesting. We'd decided on the walk that we were gonna do pasta, but somehow we were still in the store for more than an hour. A big part of that time was trying to figure out what things were. Do you think this is cream? What kind of meat is this exactly? It looks like this could be butter, but it feels too hard to be butter. And so on. It was fun actually.

We got back to the hostel and wanted to put stuff in our rooms before we started cooking so we head upstairs. Huh, that's weird. We're both on the 5th floor. Huh, also weird - we're in the same room on the 5th floor. Even weirder, we're on the same bunk (I have the bottom) in the same room on the same floor. Crazy coincidence, right?

Anyway, we cooked, ate, and chatted together for awhile. He even shared his absinthe with me. (I don't recommend it!) We are both traveling alone so today we are going to go exploring together. It will be fun to have someone to sightsee with since I've mostly been doing that on my own.

This was an example of the good hostel life. On the flip side of that is: waking up to boys doing shots of Jaegermeister at 9am; loud Australians pounding through the room on their way to check out; random middle of the night farts; etc, etc. It hasn't been bad, though. Having had no experience with hostels prior to setting off on my trip, I'd say it's been positive overall.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The adjustment to Prague has been more difficult than I was expecting, I think. I actually had a hard time walking away from the hostel this morning and setting off. For some reason, checking the maps ahead of time had me on edge. The street names and place names are unpronounceable for me.

I finally just decided that this is how it's going to be sometimes and the only way around it is to just start walking. So I did. My first priority was to find something to wear under my skirt because it's still pretty cold here. (Although the rain that greeted me yesterday has mostly moved on, the sun is still only so warm.) Well, actually, the first priority was a bank so I could get some Czech crowns; then the warmer clothes.

I ended up at the Charles Bridge which is the destination in Prague, probably the place people are most familiar with. I wandered around some more and ended up at a church - but I still don't know what church it was. I only really went in to get out of the cold, but it was pretty amazing in there. After awhile I decided I should probably head back because I wasn't sure how long of a walk it was and I was getting pretty hungry. I didn't consult the map once, I just kind of walked in the direction that I thought I'd come from. It's not too hard to do that in Prague because there are a good number of distinctive landmarks, the castle being the one that I knew I wanted to walk away from to get back near the hostel.

For food I wanted something warming, filling, and traditional. I picked a place and ordered roast pork with bacon dumplings and spinach. And a beer, of course. It was yummy good. But it brings up for me the other reasons why adjustment has been a little harder.

For one, currency conversion isn't as easy to do in your head. With euros, you multiple by one and a half and you get dollars. With crowns, you divide by 17 to get dollars. So my lunch was 133 crowns, which might sound like a lot, but that's less than $10. (As an aside, I had to buy contact lens solution that cost more than my lunch - 250 crowns - which when converted to dollars makes it the most expensive contact solution I've ever bought!)

The other adjustment difficulty is language which makes sense since Czech doesn't seem to have an abundance of vowels laying around. On top of that, how many times do you think I've started to speak Spanish before realizing that I'm not in Barcelona anymore? I'll tell you. A lot. Grrr. I know that dobry den means hello, prosim (pronounced pro-seem) means please, and dekuji (pronounced kind of like ya-key) means thank you. And I kind of surprised myself when I told the waiter ucet ('oo' like in zoo chet) prosim and he knew exactly what I meant. On the other hand, I think that more people speak English here than they did in Barcelona and that's quite the relief.

In case you were wondering, I do have pictures to share, but it will have to wait. There are eight computers for internet use at the hostel (5 working), but the two that I've tried so far today don't seem to want to download my pictures from my camera.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I'm not in the Mediterranean anymore

Nope, definitely not still in the Mediterranean. I was on a plane this morning headed for Prague and as soon as I got here I thought, "Huh. It's a little bit colder here." Yesterday in BCN it was 27C (about 80 degrees F); today in Prague it is 12C (about 53 degrees). And it's a bit overcast and fall has for sure arrived in Eastern Europe. So far it looks beautiful. I haven't seen a single Gaudi building (don't think I will) and that's kind of a nice change of pace. I don't know yet if my clothing will be warm enough, but the exchange rate is pretty good so I should be able to buy something cheaply if I need it.

The whole flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants thing seems to be working out okay for me so far. (Knock on wood!) I didn't buy my ticket to Prague until late last week. I found the hostel online yesterday (with a couple extra for backup) and just kind of pointed to the address when I got in the taxi. FREE internet at the hostel (woo!) so I've now been connected for about 2 hours. I caught up on email and even found a CouchSurfing host for the weekend who I will probably meet up with sometime this week. I still don't have a Prague travel guide, but maybe they'll have one at the hostel or the guy at the front desk will be able to tell me where to go. And I haven't eaten since my last BCN breakfast, so maybe I'll wander for awhile and see what I can find (with a bank being up there on the priority list since euros won't do me a whole lot of good here).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Being Barcelonin

My last couple of days in Barcelona have been pretty low-key; I've joked that now that I've done all or most of the tourist-y things, now I'm just being Barcelonin.

Friday morning I checked out of the hostel and headed toward my second CS host's house. We hung out for awhile and then headed to Park Guell. Guell commissioned Gaudi to do all of the work in this park. It was originally supposed to be a new type of community, but Guell changed his mind, I guess, and decided it was just be a park.

Afterwards, my host made dinner and we went with other CSers to a pool hall and then to the casino. I did it up in true Spanish style on Friday night as I don't think I went to bed until about 7am! No gambling for me, though; I just watched the boys lose their money.

Since Friday was such a late night, Saturday was a day to be a zombie. My host and I didn't wake up until about 2:30 in the afternoon and then we laid around being lazy and watching movies all day. Watching Spider-Man in Spanish with the subtitles on, gave me an opportunity to try to learn more, so that was interesting. It may have even made the movie better (which I'm not a fan of to begin with).

Today we are going to head to Montjuic, one section of Barcelona that I haven't seen yet and then we'll go out to dinner later. We're also going to try to go to a bookstore that sells books in English because I could really use a Prague travel guide.

A thought on Prague: I'm excited about moving on to the next leg of my journey. At the same time, I'm quite nervous. I'm just starting to get the hang of things here and find my footing. I think it may be harder to communicate in Prague. Just a guess, but I have a feeling that there may not be as many English speakers there. And I don't have a CS host lined up yet either. I have to remind myself that I had these same nerves before I came to Barcelona and I will likely have them many more times in the coming year. Nerves aren't a bad thing, right?

One last thing :: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, GAIGE! My nephew turns six today. Hopefully his mom will send me some pictures (hint, hint).

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pictures update

I had some time today to go through and give descriptions for some of the pictures today, if you're interested. As I was doing that, I realized that there were a bunch that I hadn't rotated prior to uploading, so. . .sorry about the head craining. I'll try to remember about that before I upload pics from here on out.

Also, thanks for the comments on the pics so far. I've had fun reading them and responding. :-)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

At home, but not at home

The last couple of days in Barcelona have been kind of interesting. I haven't done any really tourist-y or sightseeing things. I still wander and explore, but it's not as intense as it was last week.

My routine has been similar. My day gets started at about 10a or so. I wander/explore for a few hours, have a meal, go back to the hostel to rest or read (who am I fooling? I always fall asleep!), and then go out for awhile.

Yesterday I was in the L'Eixample neighborhood again. I found an internet cafe that isn't exactly right around the corner, but it's .02 euros a minute and - the best part - there's NO countdown clock. Geez that thing stresses me out! I stopped at a grocery store to get dinner: a fresh baguette, an assortment of cheese, some chorizo, red globe grapes, and a bottle of wine. And spent only €5! Plus that's what I'll be having for dinner tonight, too, so that's the best €5 I've spent so far. I met up with my next CouchSurfing host around 11pm. He had a surfer with him and we met up with a friend of his and yet another surfer. It was so cool sitting in a room, having a beer, with a British guy, an Albanian guy, a South African girl, and a Portuguese guy. If you concentrate real hard, you can probably hear all the accents in your head. :-)

Today I decided to get outta BCN for awhile so I hopped a train to Penedes, wine country. The scenery on the way there is crazy. It's some serious countryside. It's hard to describe, but it almost looks like a green desert. If you've ever seen Napa Valley in California or Tuscany in Italy (other famous wine areas), maybe it looks like that. . .but I've never seen those places, so I'm not sure. I didn't actually go on a wine tour, didn't feel like spending the euros, but it was nice to get out of the city for awhile. My night will be low-key. I'll go back to my room, have some dinner and some illicit wine (wine's not allowed in the hostels cuz they only want you to buy what they sell).

Oh! And I forgot to mention. Today I also went to the post office to buy stamps. So that's a grocery store and a post office in the last two days. That's what I mean by my title. I'm doing normal, everyday things that I'd do at home, I just happen to be many miles away and trying to use a foreign language while I'm at it.

Here's one of my favorite pictures from today. I was walking back up the road toward the train station (which, conveniently enough, is right next to the Freixenet winery).
And I like this shot taken from my hostel's rooftop, too. Other pictures have been uploaded to Flickr, if you want to check them out.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Ok, so it took LOTS of uploading time, but I finally have all of my pictures so far (well, except for today's) uploaded for your viewing pleasure. There are no labels on these whatsoever - that will take longer - but if you have questions about something specific, let me know and I'll try to answer.

Click here for the link.

Change of location

Yesterday found me wandering the streets of Barcelona again. This time I wasn't lost, I was just looking for a hostel to stay in. I'd had one picked out, but when I arrived they didn't have any rooms, so I had to go searching for another.

Somehow I managed to find a pretty cool one in a completely different section of Barcelona that I hadn't explored yet. It's €22 per night and breakfast is included. That cost is actually quite low considering the neighborhood. My street is Paseo de Gracia and it's a pretty high end neighborhood. Directly next store is Cartier. On the same block is Burberry, Rolex, Tumi, and other pricey stores.

I was kind of sad to leave my first ever CouchSurfing host yesterday when I set out for the hostel, but now that I'm here, I'm glad that I decided to do both. Last night I met people from Seattle, Texas, Chicago, Germany, Australia, and Mexico. It's pretty cool the wide assortment of people that are here. Most of them are young (there's a whole gaggle of 17 year old Germans running around), but I've seen some people in their 60s, too.

How about some pictures of La Sagrada Familia? This church has been under construction for more than 100 years and it still doesn't look like it's close to being finished.

The church is so massive that you can't even get the entire thing into one picture. It's crazy big.

I haven't quite decided yet what I'm doing today. More wandering, perhaps. And I'm going to start thinking about an excursion outside of Barcelona.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Church day

Sorry about that little rant there yesterday everyone. It was a bunch of things getting to me all at once, with the additional stress of having a countdown clock screaming at me.
First I wanted to share a few pictures from the last few days until I getting everything uploaded and can share the whole set.
How about a shot of me on a bike by the waterfront?

Is it any wonder a person can get lost in this city?

The market yesterday was very cool. I imagine it would be a good place to start learning a new language because everything is labeled (except in my pics, of course).

One last shot. How about one of me when I was smiley in the park yesterday?
Today is church day, hence the title of my post. I'm going to check into my new digs, a hostel near La Catedral. Then I'm going to jump on the metro and ride out to the L'Eixample to see La Sagrada Familia. Hopefully there will be some pretty great pictures to share!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Annoyed with technology

Today was another good day; I got to explore the La Ribera neighborhood and I went to this huge park that is essentially Barcelona's Central Park. I can try to talk more about it later, but for the moment I´m too busy being annoyed.

I apparently was under the misguided impression that technology would be fairly straightforward on the road. Sure, I thought, internet cafés might not be on every corner (in BCN they are) and they might not be very speedy (actually, not bad on that front either). But phones, cameras, and SPOT devices are giving me a world of trouble that I just wasn't expecting. (Btw, if you're one of my SPOT contacts, I discovered today that messages have been sporadic. Not sure why, or how to fix it, but hopefully it works itself out.)

So here's the deal. I'm done for today. No real blog post, no pictures, no links to share. I'm in a beautiful city that I'm really starting to get to know and love and I don't feel like being annoyed. If I keep trying to make technology work for me right now then I will be. Sorry I don't have much to offer today, but I'll try to make up for it.

Lazy Sunday is Barcelona - is there anything better?

Yesterday was a successful day in Barcelona! My host had asked me if I wanted to join him for a 2 hour yoga class and I was all over it. . .until I realized that it was a €20 class conducted entirely in Spanish. That dollar amount translates to about $30 (for comparison purposes, my regular class in Bmore is $8). I decided not to go because it was a lot to spend for a class that I may not have even understood. I went to the internet cafè for that time instead.

When Mat got back, we decided to go to the waterfront for lunch. He took his rollerblades and I took one of the free bikes. Bikes are free for residents - you pick them up at one spot and drop them off again at the same spot or any other place once you´re finished riding. The weather was beautiful yesterday, 27C, and a lot of people were out enjoying the weather. (For my SPOT contacts, message #1 yesterday was sent from here.) We rode around and explored Barceloneta, another neighborhood, and just had a nice Sunday. Then we stopped for lunch at what Mat insists is the best pizzeria in Barcelona. It was very good, but I was embarrassed when I asked for a box to take the rest home with me and Mat told me that that´s not really something that Barcelonins do. Oh well, I wasn´t gonna waste good food and good money! I have a picture of the bike with the ´za strapped to it! :-)

Then I was off to the Museo Picasso because it´s free on the first Sunday of the month. I was a bit worried, though, because after being SO lost the day before, I wasn´t really relishing being lost again. High five for me because I didn´t get lost going there or coming back! Woo! (SPOT message #2 sent from here.) The museum was crowded, but not overly so. Most of the works shown were from Picasso´s earlier years, so a lot of it wasn´t familiar. There were a few that I really liked: La Copa Azul (the blue cup) from his blue period; Autorretrado con perro (self-portrait with dog) was a line drawing; and photos of Picasso and his wife on a balcony in 1957. I guess I just didn´t remember that Picasso was alive that recently. Also, I had no idea that he was really into ceramics for awhile there in his later years, too.

Like I said, I made it back to the apartment without getting lost. I just chilled out for awhile, read and played cards. Then Mat and I decided to go to "the best place ever" to get a mojito. He didn´t let me down this time, either. It was a good mojito! And a good way to end a Sunday.

Today is off to a good start. Mat messaged me that I can stay an extra night, so that´s awesome. On my way to the internet cafè I saw a guy rolling a tire down the street and another guy pulling this hand-cart thing loaded with fresh baguettes. Both made me smile. And today on my agenda is the Museu Xocolata and exploring the La Ribera neighborhood. The one bummer is that my camera batteries died as I was about to upload pics and I still don´t quite have it worked out how to upload multiple pictures at once. More pictures are coming, I swear. You´ll probably get more than you wanted, actually. :-)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Felíz cumpleaños a mí padre

Happy birthday to my Dad! It´s only 6am back home, so I´m hoping I´m the first one to wish him a happy day.

Alright. So. Some problems solved, others arise. I have access to my pics now, but the new problem is uploading them all at once. I will figure this out eventually, so just bear with me until then. I know people are anxious to see pics, though, so I´ll share some now.

I think my favorite BCN tradition so far is breakfast. No big breakfasts of bacon and eggs or french toast here. No, instead it´s café con leche y pasta chocolaté. I could get used to this. :-)

Yesterday I mentioned that I´d taken a ton of pictures of doorways and narrow streets. Here are just some of them.

Since I spent so much time in the Gothic Neighborhood yesterday, I have to share some examples of that, too.

And also, since I was so taken aback by the fact that I got to see actual Roman ruins, here´s a shot of a Roman wall; it was part of early Barcelona´s defense system.
That should do it for now. I´ll post a link to the full set as soon as I figure out how to do it. And if the post ends up all sorts of discombobulated with the pics - I apologize. I´m still not very good at the formatting aspect of this.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Things I´m learning

I started my day with about 4 trips back and forth between a phone store and the apartment where I´m staying this morning. I bought a SIM card yesterday only to find out that my phone from home is, in fact, locked (and can´t be unlocked - I tried to have them unlock it for me). So I had to buy a new phone which is global and unlocked and can be used (hopefully) for the rest of my trip. But there were complications with unknown PIN numbers and the whole phone and instruction book being en Español. Eventually I got it figured out. Kind of.

Then I spent the rest of the day lost. Well, I was calling it "wandering," but let´s just call it what it is. :-) I had a destination in mind, Barrio Gótic and the Museo de Historia de la Cuidad. I have something to say about the museum, but first some bullets on things I´m learning about Barcelona and things I´m learning about myself.

About Barcelona:
- Streets are sidewalks; sidewalks are streets. People walk and drive wherever they want it seems. But it works for them, so I just always carefully watch where I´m going and pay attention to what I´m doing.
- Dogs aren´t often on leashes here. No idea why, but they stick close to their masters so I guess it doesn´t matter.
- Mohawks, dreads, and rattails are all still popular hairstyles. The rattails are weird, but I like seeing all the mohawks and dreads.
- A lot of people speak English, but just as many don´t. I´ve had conversations with a lot of non-English speakers. You´d be surprised, but it mostly works. A little bit of Spanish from me, a little bit of English from them and somehow the transaction takes place.

About myself in Barcelona:
- I´m a total sucker for interesting doorways and alleyways (but really they´re very narrow streets so I don´t know what they´re called). I´ve taken tons of pictures of both.
- I really love turning a corner, not knowing what I´m going to see, and being completely wowed. It´s an awesome feeling.
- I know more Spanish than I thought, but it´s still not enough. :-)
- Being lost isn´t all that bad and can be kind of interesting because you´ll run into things you weren´t expecting or wouldn´t have run into otherwise. . .my limit, though, is when I´m starving and all I want is to feel like I know where I am before I stop to eat. Grrr.

I mentioned the Museo de Historia de la Ciudad (City History Museum - had you guessed right?). I think it was ToadMama who asked me if there was really old stuff in Barcelona and I´m pretty sure I said that there´s older stuff than in Baltimore, but nothing really old. I could not have been more wrong. There are Roman ruins here and I had no idea. The museum was cool because on the floor you enter on, it was modern day Barcelona. Then you get onto the elevator, go down, and you come out in Barcino (Barcelona when it was ruled by Romans) in 5 BC. So, so cool. The whole museum above has been built over ruins and you walk along a metal grate or glass walkway through the actual ruins. I touched a wall built over 2000 years ago and when it occurred to me that that is what I was doing, I nearly cried. Really. It was way more emotional than I can describe, knowing that you are just on this planet for a blink of an eye. I wish I could have taken pictures, but it was forbidden.

Then I was lost for another hour and a half or so. I kept thinking I knew where I was going, but it turned out I wasn´t even going in the right direction. Over and over again. With the help of a map! I´d probably still be lost if I didn´t have the map.

I stopped for dinner which was really just tapas and ate some yummy food. I had the dos platos menú for €6.50 - ensalada verde (green salad), conejo en cazuela (rabbit in sauce), y una cerveza (beer, but I think everyone knows that one). I met a man named Juan who didn´t know a lick of English, but again, somehow we chatted for a bit and made it work. He bought me a beer just as he was leaving, so that was nice.

I went back to the apartment to see if my host was home and promptly fell asleep - was it the two beers, jet lag, or walking around all day that made me sleepy? Couldn´t tell you. My host, by the way, is very nice. He´s a Frenchman who´s lived in BCN for about a year and a half. He likes it a lot more than Madrid where he lived for 3 years. He´s been the perfect host - he made dinner for me last night, has gone above and beyond accomodating for me, gave me keys so I don´t have to work around his schedule, and has just been all around a cool guy. He also wants to travel the world, so we´ve had plenty to talk about.

Oh! Two random notes: 1) Spanish Scrabble right before I left ended up helping me more than I thought it would. One of the players used the word ´migas´ which I´d never heard before. It means crumbs. Today I passed a store called Buena Migas, Good Crumbs, and I only knew what it meant because of Scrabble. 2) I´m keeping a running list of ways I know I´m not in Baltimore anymore. There are already some interesting tidbits on there and I´ll share them at some point.

Gotta wrap it up, this has gotten kinda long, but first I need to send out an SOS for IT assistance. I brought my camera, the cord that connects it to the computer to upload pics, and a flash drive to save the pics to as backup. The problem, that I didn´t remember until just this second, is that my camera came with software for uploading pics. I have no idea what to do. I plugged the camera in, but without the software nothing happened. Is there any way around this?? I can´t possibly wait a year to show pictures. A year´s worth wouldn´t fit on my camera anyway. Anyone out there have any ideas?

Friday, October 2, 2009

I made it

I´m in Barcelona! It´s been a long day and a half of travel, but I´m here in one piece. Both of my flights actually landed ahead of schedule. I´m very tired, but I don´t know if that´s jet lag or just lack of sleep in general. I didn´t really want to sleep on the plane to London because I was trying not to totally throw my sleep cycle off. But all of the excitement has been exhausting - as soon as I was settled in my seat, I was out like a light and only woke up when my ears popped during takeoff. Sleeping at Heathrow was fitful because it was FREEZING at the airport. There were a few other sleepers in the same area as me and they were wrapped in trash bags to help ward off the cold (yes, really!). And to the person who was obsessed with me taking socks along (waves hi to Laura), thanks because otherwise I might not have toes right now. :-)

I got off the bus at Plaça de Catalunya and had no idea which direction to head, so I figured I´d just start walking and try to get a feel for things. I must´ve walked in a circle because at one point I said out loud to myself "oh, I know where I am now." Which made me just laugh because, really Shannon? No, you have no better idea where you are now than you did an hour ago when you were at that same spot. Look, I´ve only been here for just over 4 hours and I´m already talking to/laughing at myself.

Nothing else really to report so far. I´m kinda taking it easy and plopping down in cafès and parks. The weather is beautiful so hopefully soaking up some sun will help with the jet lag. I haven´t taken any pictures here yet. I have my full pack with me and I don´t want to mess with my camera. But I´m already eyeing up things that I´d like to shoot tomorrow. I meet up with my host in a few hours and the first thing on my agenda will be a shower and change of clothes. Beyond that I´m not sure.

Also not sure if any of this is coherent at all, but I´m blaming it on exhaustion. I´m aiming for more coherence next time.