A Travellerspoint blog

Wednesday, September 5th

sunny 75 °F

September 4th: Versailles

Another breakfast of pastries and we were on our way to Versailles. The town surrounding the Chateau is lovely, but the Chateau itself is incredibly large and imposing as you approach it from the end of a vast parking lot. Past the golden gates and a long ticket line, we entered with hundr
eds of other tourists and learned how it had grown bigger and bigger over the years. We walked through rooms and halls of gilded and frescoed ceilings, with ornate furniture, and fireplaces and walls of colored marble. There were also famous paintings and sculptures and a lot of history about the kings and conquerors who had lived there like Louis XIV and Napoleon. The amount of people in the Chateau and in the surrounding gardens was at times very distracting though. We were glad to exit and take a walk through the less crowded area in the North portion of the estate, where Marie Antoinette had builly an idealic French village for her enjoyment. Tired of the hot sun and the amount of walking, we made our way to a well-recommended craperie for dinner. We bided our time before it opened by poking our heads into a few boutiques. For dinner we had various galettes stuffed with cheeses, sausage, mushroom, salad, and sauces, accompanied by unsweetened cider. For dessert we ate crepes stuffed with fruits, caramel, whipped cream, and ice cream. At the end of the day we slipped into bed early to catch up on sleep and to battle our persistent colds.

September 5th: Paris and Beaune

Daniel, Matt, Audrey, and I awoke early to try to be first in line at the catacombs, to ensure we were able to tour them before our 1:40 train to Beaune. We lucked out and managed to get into the first group allowed in and proceeded down the long spiral staircase that led to the first passageway, 20 meters underground. The four of us moved down the dark tunnels cut directly into the rock or shored up by masonry. Many were too short for Matt to stand upright and along the way plaques marked the date of restoration. Originally, the large network of tunnels had been formed by quarrying efforts to supply the city with limestone that was used in the construction of monuments like Notre Dame during the 12th century. In the 18th century, after the city had grown in size over the top of the once distant quarries, portions of the city began to cave into the tunnels and panicked Parisians forced the king to survey the immense tunnel system and to shore them up. Then in the 19th century the major cemmetary in the city began to overflow and pose a health risk to the surrounding areas, so it was ordered that bodies be placed in the old tunnels to form catacombs. It was these bones, stacked in dense, orderly walls that we passed on our tour, stretching for miles next to us and extending into the dark, barred portions we could not enter. It is estimated that 6 million Parisians were buried there. It was difficult to comprehend that the thousands of bones we saw had once belonged to living people. There were just SO many! Dim lights and quiet dripping lent the place a sombre, slightly creepy atmosphere that I found slightly thrilling. The whole walk took about an hour and only covered a fraction of the number of tunnels lacing beneath the city.

Above ground again, we made our way to the Bercy train station and boarded our train to Beaune. We passed the four hour ride watching lovely little villages and farms fly by the window and caught up on some reading. In Beaune we found that our hotel was a small, charming structure run mainly by a wife and husband. After mailing some post cards we wandered the streets in the central part of the village. Beautiful old, white-washed buildings were squeezed together between restaurants, bakeries, and boutiques along narrow cobblestone roads. Flowerpots dotted all the store fronts and several fountains and a carousel were found in the squares. Wineries were almost as numerous as the people sitting in chairs outside the restaurants, enjoying wine and escargot. We stopped into such a restaurant and had an incredible dinner of wine, beef burgundy, andouette, onion soup, cheeses, escargot, and lasagna. Dessert was a whole meal in itself, made up of ice cream sundae, poached pear in wine, creme brulee, pistachio macaroons, raspberry mousse, black current ice cream in wine syrup, cream puffs, and espresso. To say we were happily stuffed would be a gross underexagerration. We returned to the hotel, still sick, but very satisfied and slipped into our soft down comforters for sleep.

September 6th: Beaune

After a late start to the day, we walked the old ramparts surrounding the city and enjoyed the peacefulness of such a small place. At 2 we entered the Marche Aux Vins winery for a wine tasting tour. In a large, underground cellar that had once been a 15th century church, we tasted 4 chardonnays and 8 pinot noirs from local towns in the Burgundy region. Next, we had lunch in a street side cafe and followed it with a multitude of macaroons and cheese and bread from two shops on a nearby street. Completely overfull, we stopped back at the hotel to eat our cheese and to take a short rest before our gourmet dinner reservation at a well-recommended restaurant. We ate olives, escargot, duck, veal kidney, pig cheeks, wine, ice cream in various flavors, and chocolate black current cake. We meandered home, again overstuffed, and slept in our comfortable beds.

Posted by jdock 07:43 Archived in France Comments (0)

Monday, September 3rd

Loving France

overcast 70 °F

September 2nd: Barcelona and Paris

Sagrada Familia was well worth getting up early for, despite being sick as a dog. The first outer entrance depicted scenes of the crucifiction in a heavy-handed, angular fashion, while the opposite entrance depicted the conception and birth scenes in a realistic, organic style. Inside, giant columns supported a ceiling of sunburst and sunflower-like shapes and the walls hosted beautiful stained glass windows in a fractured gradient of colors. Afterward, we boarded an eight hour train ride to Paris, where we made friends with a French boy and his mother. We learned a few more phrases and enjoyed the French countryside. After checking into the Oops! hostel we found dinner in a nearby restaurant. Red wine, duck, potatoe cheese casserole, salad complete, and rumpsteak with bernaise sauce helped us forget our runny noses and aching feet temporarily and we slept very well.

September 3rd: Paris

We stumbled upon a little bakery after a late morning and breakfasted on eclairs, croissants, tarts, and macaroons. After that Notre Dame was first on our list. Mass was being held as we walked quietly through the darkened hall of columns and monuments to saints. My favorite part was climbing the towers to the top of the church after a lengthy wait. From a walkway between the towers all of Paris could be seen with her many churches, museums, white buildings with orange chimneys, and the river Seine winding through. Gargoyles along the walls ranged in shape from gryffins to monstrous people and in the South tower was a giant bell. Next, we grabbed quick hotdogs from a street vendor on our way to the Louvre, which was just a few blocks North. We focused our efforts on the Grecian and Egyptian artifact collections, as well as the Italian paintings. We saw Venus, Psyche and Cupid, busts of philosophers, Aphrodite, the Mona Lisa, The Wedding Feast, The Coronation of Napolean, sarcophaguses, hieroglyphs, a mummy, pottery, and so much more. By the end of the Champs 'Elysees we were ready for a break and stopped for dinner where we had rumpsteak, fois gras pate, entrecôte steak, duck, creme brulé, sweet cheese in raspberry sauce, and meringue with custard. I had an unfortunate chocking incident that scared everyone, but a few heavy whacks on the back by my friend Matt set me right again. And then we were off again! Our next stop was the Arc d'Triomphe for some photo opportunities. Next, of course, was the Eiffel Tower where Audrey and I convinced the others to climb the stairs to the top with us. We counted 677 stairs to the windy top where we could see the city lights and all the places we had visited during the day. Finally, exhausted but happy, we drug ourselves home and got to sleep around 2.

Posted by jdock 13:56 Archived in France Comments (0)

End of the Seventh Day

My Body is Betraying Me

sunny 65 °F

August 30th: Barcelona

We spent our first full day in Barcelona walking along La Ramblas, the main thoroughfare in the city. The day was dark and cool and we missed most of the heavy rain. The boys needed closed toed shoes and pants for the clubs our hostel was planning to attend that night. We checked out the large food market, La Boqueria, and had incredibly delicious fresh coconut milk. Along the street, every 30 feet or so, men selling whistles tweeted at us and there were a few street performers in strange costumes, taking photos with tourists. For lunch we ate pastries, paella, pizza, and sangria in an upscale cafe. We returned to the hostel and joined our house mates on a pub crawl to a beachside bar and a club. We met a large group of Egyptians and ran into one of the New Yorkers we had met in Madrid a few nights prior. We danced for a few hours to popular American songs and took a taxi home.

The Boqueria

The Boqueria

August 31st: Barcelona

After the late night before, we awoke around 11 and decided to head to the beach by metro. The beach was surprisingly not crowded and a small breaze kept us from getting too hot. The boys immediately ran down to the shore and jumped into the ocean with gusto, while Audrey and I watched the bags on the sand and began to work on our tans. We noted the European way of tanning was more... revealing. It took me some time to gather the courage to enter the sea, since I had developed a terrible rash from the tomato juice trapped in my clothes at La Tomatina. I was embarassed, but my friends convinced me that swimming would cheer me up, and possibly speed up my skin´s recovery. The Mediteranean water was warm and very salty. We bobbed around, enjoying the sun, and occasionally goofing off by trying to launch one another out of the water. After a nap in the sun we lunched on paella, olives, pizza, anchovies, juices, and ice cream. We wandered through the old portion of the city, past Catedral de Barcelona and the Picasso museum and headed back to the hostel for another night of pub crawling. This time, we had a much larger, more balanced group of people with us and it seemed everyone had a very good time. We met people from Chicago, army men stationed in Naples, and saw our Egyptian friends from the night before. No one slept until about 5am.

September 1st: Barcelona

My worsening cold kept me in bed until late, but we managed to see a 14th centruy monastary, Monasterio de Pedralbes, and a beautiful park designed by Gaudi, park Guell. The view from the park, which overlooks the city from a large hill, was staggering. The late afternoon sun made every building in the distance a warm pink and we could see many of the places we had visited the days before. The park was quite crowded, probably because it was Saturday, so we had some trouble taking photographs of the interesting columns, buildings, and the famous mosaic lizzard. For dinner we wandered North of our hostel and stumbled onto one of the many restaurants situated on the edge of a small square. We had spanish wine, salmon in gaucamole, hamon-stuffed mushrooms, sandwiches, calamari, bread with tomato and olive oil spread, and potatos in a creamy sauce. Churros stuffed with sweet cream provided the perfect desert. And now, I´m off to bed to nurse my cold and my rash and to get a full night´s sleep for the first time in days. Tomorrow we´ll be visiting Sagrada Familia, the giant church designed by Gaudi and still under construction, as well as taking a very long train trip to Paris. Buenas noches!

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Posted by jdock 13:38 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

End of the Fourth Day

Lack of sleep, lots of fun

August 26th: Madrid

We landed at 8:30am at the Barajas airport in Madrid, feeling very tired from the long plane flight and missing our friend Phil, who we eventually recovered. Knowing we had to stay awake to adjust to the time change, we dropped our bags off at our hostel, Las Musas Residence, and spent the day walking through the flea market, Basicilca de San Francisco, Catedral de la Almudena, and Palacio Real. After a quick nap in the hostel, we had sangria and tapas of all shapes and sizes outside Plaza de Mayor under some misting umbrellas - croquettes, calamari, chorizo, bienmesabe, etc. Our meal was at one point interrupted by a very persistant old man who didn´t speak a word of English. After shooing him a few dozen times our waiter finally got him to leave, but we suspected he may have cursed our friend John in the process. "Vamos, Antonio!" is now a catchphrase of the trip.

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August 27th: Madrid

After a full night´s sleep we woke early to get to Puerta de Atocha to make seat reservations for our many trains through Spain. Our friend Audrey (who´s knowledge of Spanish is fair, but a little rusty) did an incredible job of communicating all of our complicated plans and managed to get us all set up, though with a little modification to the itinerary because the night train on the 1st was full. We now need to spend an extra day in Barcelona, rather than Paris. Next, we explored Museo del Prado, where incredible classic paintings and sculptures are housed. Lunch in a sidestreet restaurant consisted of olives, chorizo, gazpacho, and Spanish wine. The rest of the day we walked throughout the city, visiting Park Retiro, Fuente de Neptu, Fuente de Cibeles, Puerta de Alcala (the arches), and Gran Via. We wandered into a small street lined with restaurants that had outdoor seating and settled on a bar that had an extensive menu. We were a little more adventurous and tried Rabo de Toro stew, which is bull or ox tails cut and seasoned much like brisket and seated in a squash puree. It was a little fatty, but very tasty. And for the last part of our night, we joined a large group of people from our hostel on a tour of bars and clubs in the area. We ran into another Alpha Delta Pi, some New Yorkers, and a number of Australians. Much amusements and very little sleep were had.

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August 28th: Valencia

We caught an 11:40 train to Valencia out of Puerta de Atocha and got to see some of the countryside. Our Hotel Olympia was a pleasant upgrade in accomodations, but the smell of the city as a whole was an incredible mix of body odor, sewage, and humidity. After an exuasting trek along the park strip that cuts through Valencia, we made our way to Oceanografic. It is the biggest aquarium in Europe and has large glass tunnels through the tanks so that you can see the creatures swimming slowly above and all around you. My personal favorite was the the giant sawfish, but our group was certainly intriqued by two mating walruses. Later, it was difficult for me to sleep because my head was filled with thoughts of what the next day would bring: La Tomatina!!!

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August 29th: Bunol

I had a mishap with setting my alarm correctly, but we got off to an early start to try to beat the crowds to La Tomatina. The line at Sant Isidre station was about 300 people long when we arrived, but it moved quickly and we found ourselves in Bunol at 10am. We armed ourselves with sandwhiches, sangria, and cervezas, and followed the crowds down through the winding streets of Bunol. Everywhere people were wearing funny costumes, exposing bathing suits, and white t'shirts. Every few minutes the crowd would burst into song or chant "La Tomatina!" and whip themselves into an excited frenzy. We snuck down some back alleys and managed to end up in the road that the tomato trucks would have to drive down on their way to the central square. The crowd was incredibly dense and from above the locals poured water from hoses and buckets onto us. People would laugh and simply scream for more. As the 11 o´clock start time approached, the excitement in everyone was growing and I took the opportunity to climb onto my friend Matt´s shoulders to film the crowd. People went nuts for my camera and I launched them into another round of chanting "La Tomatina! La Tomatina! La Tomatina!" It was the best moment of my whole day. Soon the first truck appeared and the crowd somehow managed to press against the walls to let it pass ever so slowly. We were pressed together so close that you couldn´t move, couldn´t hardly breathe, and from above people in the trucks pelted us with gobs of tomatos. When it had passed, people began scooping the mess from the street and the fight began. Within moments tomato pulp was covering every part of us and I was very thankful I had brought goggles. Four more trucks passed during the hour and by the time we decided we´d had enough, the street was 6 inches deep in tomato juice and pulp. We made our way along more back alleys, where we could stop beneath locals spraying water from hoses and wash ourselves. The smell of tomato followed us all the way back to our hotel, where we paid for a room simply to take showers and wash any clothes we were brave enough to try to keep. We agreed that we wouldn´t feel like eating tomatos for some time.

A 5 o´clock train out of Nord station gave us a few hours to nap and update our journals before arriving in Barcelona. The sun had already gone down by the time we reached Sant Jordi Diagonal hostel. We were completely wiped from the long day and got to bed as quickly as we could. Though we did have some trouble with Daniel´s bed falling out from under him. Thankfully he wasn´t hurt and no one had been on the lower bunk at the time. Bed resecured, we all dropped off into dead sleep.

Posted by jdock 01:07 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

One Day Till Takeoff

Final Preparations

semi-overcast 60 °F

It's Official: I'm on Vacation!

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Our trip was conceived back in February when my plans to visit Europe with another friend fell through and I discovered that the Alaskans had been dreaming of something similar. A few weeks later I had successfully invited myself along and the detailed planning began. Now, months later, I can hardly believe that we're actually going! I have so many apprehensions about local customs I'm sure to make a mess of, and I worry about delayed trains and hostels that may have misplaced our reservations. Buuuut I'm trying to remind myself that I have everything I could possibly need packed, good friends that will have my back, and Google. I don't want to have too many expectations, but I can't help but think this is going to be the trip of a lifetime!

All that said, I wanted to post our itinerary of when and where we'll be during the three weeks, along with some of the things we'll be doing and seeing:

Itinerary

8/25/12 Flight out of Seattle 8:35AM
8/26/12 Arrive at Barajas airport in Madrid, Spain 8:30AM
- check in at Las Musas Residence hostel
- explore the city leisurely: marketplace, churches, plazas
8/27/12 Second day in Madrid
- Pueta de Sol square, the Royal Palace, Retiro park, bars
8/28/12 Valencia, Spain
- Check in at Hotel Olympic
- Oceanographic aquarium, beach, Gulliver park, get to bed early
8/29/12 Bunol and Barcelona, Spain 6:30AM
- participate in La Tomatina tomato throwing festival in Bunol!!!
- check in at Sant Jordi Diagonal hostel in Barcelona
8/30/12-9/1 Barcelona, Spain
- park Guell, gaudi architecture, window shopping, beach, bars, clubs, marketplace, TravelBar tours and classes
- bid a fond farewell to Phil in the afternoon
- board overnight train to Paris 8PM
9/2/12-9/5/12 Paris, France
- arrive in Paris 8:30AM
- check in at Oops! hostel
- Eiffel tower, catacombs, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, chateaus, shopping
- Versais day trip
9/5/12-9/7/12 Beaune, France
- check in at Hotel de France
- wine tasting, relaxing, walks through the countryside
9/8/12-9/11/12 Cinque Terre, Italy
- arrive in Monterrosso and work our way through Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomagiorre
- hiking, swimming, kayaking, cliff diving, eating
9/12/12-9/15/112 Rome, Italy
- check in at The Yellow hostel
- the Vatican, the Colosseum, famous statues, churches, marketplace, shopping, bars
9/15 Flight home to Seattle 11:50AM - 8:55PM

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Just some photos to wet your appetite until we have ones with us in them!

So, my hope is that this blog will be a way to share some cool photos and videos with friends and family, along with interesting stories from the trip. I will try to have a new entry up every 3 days or so, but don't be too mad if I fail. Most of the hostels should have computers, but I may also just be too tired or having too much fun!

Posted by jdock 23:19 Archived in USA Tagged planes packing europe Comments (0)

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