Thursday, May 28, 2009

I Heart Espana

Plain and simple.

My good friend from Madrid recently wrote that he worried Spain would be a bit of a letdown after Italy, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

The very first time I set foot in Spain was in 2002. My mom and I drove from Amsterdam to Madrid where she then left me to begin my studies as a teacher of English.

My original plan was to stay in Spain for at least 6 months and then move back to Texas.

Two years later, I was still living and working in Spain.

I've always felt at home here. It's hard to explain. There must be some Spanish in my bloodline, or maybe I was Spanish in a past life. Whatever it is, I know this is my home away from home.

I love the outdoor life. I love that at midnight you can walk down the street and find old and young out in the plazas eating ice cream and playing soccer.

I love the open spirit of the Spanish. They stop their cars for you, they laugh with you, they are friends for life. I love the food, the sights, the sounds, the literature, the's just the place for me.

I feel at a loss of words for how happy I am to be back here. I realize this post isn't very eloquent, but that's okay with me.

We leave tomorrow morning on a train for a very small town outside of Valencia where our friend P is putting us up in his mountain home. He's a great friend and easily one of the best things to come out of the Turkey times.

And if I'm not mistaken, Mr. and Mrs. W should be in the air in a few hours in route to Madrid.

Todo esta muy bien.

I've made an album with some shots of our time so far in Barcelona. I hope you'll follow the link and enjoy.

Below are some shots of the major sights we've seen while here.

Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family Church)

Casa Mila

Casa Batllo

Chris and Drums (yes, drums are a sight in this family)

Park Guell

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ciaowwww Italy

We left the Italian driving insanity behind.

This is Chris at the Milan airport. I think this picture pretty much says it all.

We have spent the last 3 days resting and recuperating along the coast of Spain.

We've been in a town called Malgrat de Mar, about 30km up the coast from
Never heard of it?  Us either.

We had to get out of Italy so we threw ourselves on the mercy of this quaint little town. A town neither of us knew anything about other than it wasn't Italy and it wasn't Italy.

We didn't take many pictures because we mainly slept and tried to recompose ourselves after more than a week of showering with 5 minute tokens, taking copious wrong turns, and sleeping on the Earth.

Sunday we slept, Monday I went to the beach and Chris read on the balcony (turns out, even some of the happiest couples hit a wall when up against ants, horrid road signs, lack of monies and 6 nights in a tent made for two...two taco shells that is).  The last day, today, we left and arrived in Barcelona.

We are eager to get out and explore the city.

And to not drive amongst crazy people nor give the Italians anymore of our life savings.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Salsa's Pictures

Let me preface this post by saying two things:

1. I asked Salsa for her permission to use her name and her photos and she consented

2. I have nothing but respect and admiration for Salsa for putting up with this traveling circus throughout her alleged "vacation" in Greece. We love you Salsa.

Now you can know that that no one is getting their feelings hurt and that even the photographer Salsa herself thinks this funny.

As we traveled throughout Greece, we had 4 cameras going. Me with my SLR, Chris with a digital, April with a digital with video, and Salsa with a camera that had so many old pictures of weddings and such on it, there was barely room for any new photos.

Anytime we went somewhere, we just used one camera when asking someone to take a group picture because we all know how annoying it is when everyone wants the picture on their camera and you end up burdening some random stranger with 4 cameras all to take the same picture.

So we'd get one shot, then at the end of the day, we would all download the pictures and share them amongst each other.

We noticed however, a small difference between Salsa's pictures, and everyone else's.

For example, here is Salsa's picture of the ocean - taken through a bus window, with a little bit of the bus curtain included for your pleasure.

Salsa's self-portrait on the volcano (there are about 3 other photos after this one but none show her whole head)

This is a very clever way to take a group photo. I think the idea was to have a picture of April and Salsa, but instead you get me avoiding the picture, April, and Salsa's right cheek.

I don't know how Salsa managed this one.  Somehow she managed to get a our wine bottle, 1. 5 wine glasses, a roll of toilet paper, and me flipping it all off!

In this shot, it appears that the two tiny people who live in Salsa's hair are jumping off while holding hands. 

April could be laughing or crying here, the shot is too out of focus to tell.

An attempt at a sunset photo, just a little obscured by a plastic tarp and metal column. 

Here's a shot of Chris as he and an aquarium run past the camera? Hard to say.

All kidding aside, this photo is awesome.  Very cute kitty about to use a spoon.

We miss you Salsa.  We could really use some of your photographic genius here in Italyland.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Camp to Relax

So...last night right before writing the previous two posts, Chris and I found a patch of ground and, once again, pitched our tiny tent.

We left it and came to reception to use the internet. When we returned to the tent a few hours later, it was covered in ants.

Chris decided we had inadvertently pitched it on an ant pile, and moved the tent about 3 inches to the left.

We left the tent again to go find some dinner.

When we came back, you guessed it, the tent was carpeted in ants.
It is no exaggeration to say 400 ants were crawling on it. None were inside, but we didn't want to risk waking up covered in ant bites, so we went to reception and asked how much to rent one of their pay by day campers. A "camp to relax" camper as they're called. (I would argue it's more like "relax to camp", but whatever.)

We forked over double what we would have paid to sleep in our tiny tent, but I have to say (and I think Chris would agree), it was worth it.

Here is our new home:

Like the video says, we slept VERY soundly and even managed to wake with some energy and coherent thoughts.

Today we are relaxing, eating in our mobile home, going for a run, and prepping our gear and ourselves for tomorrow's flight to Barcelona.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Camping - by Christopher

I just read Sarah's previous post about the crazy driving and exorbitant prices. I echo her sentiments that we may come back here someday, but never behind the wheel of a vehicle again.

The rampant speeding, tailgating and dangerous passing around blind mountain curves makes driving feel like I'm constantly starring in some Hollywood car chase scene. If the whole movie was just one long car chase scene.

Where all the actors motivations were, "Kill youself recklessly and for no reason!"

But when we aren't busy starring in "The Fast & The Furious 5: Suicidal Sicilians" we've been pitching tents in the quiet countryside.

I've never camped with so little gear before. We paid 50 euro for everything: tent, sleeping bags, pillows, sleeping pads and a hammer. I also haven't camped in a tent for this long before. Tonight will be night six of 'consecutive camping adventure Italy.'

We began at a little secluded site where we had the place to ourselves. As we've moved along, and the tourist season has ramped up, we've increasingly found ourselves dwarfed by our neighbors.

That shot was taken from a little site near Lake Como. We're staying in a new site close to Milan tonight and I couldn't even take a picture of how packed it is. There isn't adequate space to back up for a distant shot.

Sarah has been a real trooper. And by that, I mean she has only complained as much as someone who has never been camping in their adult life might complain about camping for six consecutive nights.

I keep telling her that I have so much gear back home that makes camping more comfortable and relaxing, like an inflatable mattress and assorted machetes. But every time I mention how much better it would be at home, she zips her sleeping bag over her head. I don't know if Sarah would really call herself a "camper" yet.

Accomodations isn't the only category of spending we've curtailed. This next shot is one I look at wistfully every few days: it's a picture of me taking a picture of the last meal I ate at a restaurant.

I look at it wistfully for two reasons; the first is that I really enjoyed that bowl of truffle and sausage pasta and it's nice to remember how tasty it was between bites of yet another Nutella-and-Jelly sandwich.

The second is that I really miss having my left pinky finger.

But paying for the bowl of pasta with it was the cheapest deal we could find. The other restaurants wanted an arm for the appetizer and a leg for the main course. So we're pretty lucky we found this place, actually. Pretty lucky.

Italy is ludicrously expensive.

Even the dilapidated campgrounds want 30 eu per night. Screaming children in the RV next to you is 'gratis' as they say in Italian. Also 'gratis' are the mosquitos, the humid squalor and the toilet with no seat on it.

Hmm? No you read it right. Almost every toilet in Italy has no seat on it. Seriously.

Two more nights and Barcelona here we come.


I wrote in my journal today "don't feel bad about this WERE TIRED, you WERE won't remember how it felt - but trust past Sarah, you made the right choice."

We have changed our plans yet again - we're not going to Venice, and we're not staying in Italy until the 26th. We're evacuating instead from Milan on the 23rd.

I know in a year when I think back to how I backed out of going to Venice and how I basically slept through Rome, I will beat myself up about it and think I really missed an opportunity. It will be impossible to remember how frustrated, how defeated, how utterly exhausted I am right now this very minute.

Yesterday we drove for 2 hours and we only went about 10 km. Parking in Lake Como is not to be found. Even finding the center, the "pretty" part of Lake Como is near impossible due to the lack of signs. There are NO signs.

While trying your best to navigate the maze of roads, you get honked at, tailgated, mopeds whiz past you, none of the signs make sense, you drive down one way streets, you drive down 2 way streets that are as small as one way streets, and when you do find the city center, you can't park there, so you have to unwind yourself from the "pretty" part and drive back out to the suburbs and 9 floors up a parking garage to park.

Or park in the "pretty" part and then get a parking ticket - which we did in Orvieto.

By the time all that's over, you don't even want to see the city anymore. You just want to curl up and go to sleep.

But you get out of the car and head into town anyways. Then as you're crossing the street, you witness right in front of you a moped slam head on into the back of a car - the man thrown from his vehicle, lying unconscious on the ground.

So then you go buy an orange juice, and that costs you $5.00 - for a cup of orange juice. I'm not kidding. Was this a magical orange juice? Did it have flakes of gold in it? How do people afford this?!

Then you decide you are done. You eat your pizza, change your flight itinerary and car drop-off at an internet cafe, then go back to the parking garage.
You back your car out, drive down to the first floor, stop at the gate, insert your ticket, and the gate doesn't open. Why? Because you were supposed to pay before you got the car out of the spot. You're a moron. Why didn't you read that sign that wasn't there? Now you are wedged between a white and red gate to the front, and 3 car fulls of Italians to the back.
The man on the speaker box is yelling at you in Italian, the people behind you are honking in impatience, you literally can not go forward and can not go backwards and all you want is your mommy.

After the man comes out of his booth and uses his magical key to lift the gate and tell you the story of how you were supposed to pay before driving the car out of the spot, you decide we should send all our criminals to Italy to do time in this cyclone of insanity.

You learned your lesson from the $5 city oj, and decide to find a grocery store to buy your next oj at. Along with some more bread for your Nutella because all you can afford to eat are Nutella and jam sandwiches.

In the morning, you open the oj, pour it into a cup, and it explodes all over you and your only remaining pair of pants.

And thus I am tired. And I'm moving on.

The only people that get to judge have to meet the following strict requirements:

1. Have driven this year in Italy for the first time in your life. Don't tell me "oh, we drove in Italy and it was fine...but that was 20 years ago."

2. Have made said drive without GPS

3. Have made said drive in an attempt to move between 3 or more major Italian cities

Then you and I can talk.

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem I say. So what would I do different next time?

I would not under any circumstances drive. And I would bring 500E for every day I plan to stay here. 1000E if traveling as a couple.

I would also go to about 10 other places before thinking about coming back here.

It's not all spilt milk. The gellato is unreal and the countryside is just beautiful. I don't know if these images do it justice, but we tried.

And now we go to Spain.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

L'Italia - by Christopher

So we really like the countryside a whole lot more than we liked Rome. Except there's no internet access anywhere we go.

The short story is that we decided to take our chances with b&b and cheap hotel prices, and thus set off to find a home base that we could afford.

Except there aren't any hotels or b&b's we could afford. So after driving in circles for a dozen hours (more on that later) we tracked down the only sporting goods store in the country (it's a big one though) and bought a tent, some sleeping bags and two pillows.

We got a good deal on the stuff since we didn't know where we were supposed to go to pay and just walked out of the store and drove off. I'm kidding. But we did set off the security alarm in both the sporting goods store and the supermarket, within four minutes of each other. So little has changed with us.

Our plan for the moment is to continue walking down the street in Orvieto (the hill town I am writing this from), eat a gelato in a half hour or so, take the funicular back down the hill to our car, and see if we feel like risking our lives on the road anymore today (again, more on that later).

Sarah is (surprisingly) taking to camping like a duck to water, or like Chris to Italian pizza, or like a duck to badminton, if that duck was really good at and enjoyed participating in or spectating badminton matches between (I would assume) other ducks.

She slept really well last night and we both woke up refreshed this morning. Sleeping in the tent is much more comfortable than sleeping in our rental car in a medieval gravel parking lot, which we did the night before.

I haven't slept in a car since college at OU (ten years ago? really?) but it was much the same as I remember it: no way to really get comfortable and difficult to get out of the car the next morning from all the soreness. But that's behind us now.

We'll be sleeping in the Umbrian and Tuscan countryside for the eight days we have left to explore Italy. We have lots of photos and video to pass on, but we'll have to wait until we can find a cheap connection to use.

This one is taking too much valuable pizza money out of my pocket to justify spending anymore time on it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Greece in Pixels

Here is the media from Greece, mostly Santorini and Naxos. Tried to par back as best I could - but it's all just so beautiful~




Dogs of Santorini



Too many videos to count (Chris enjoyed the donkeys) - just go to dropshots and donkey your way through it all.

First video of many

As a sidenote, we leave tomorrow in car for the Italian countryside. We don't plan to be near internet for awhile so no news is good news.
We be camping!

Rome if you Want to

Or don't if you're too tired.

Chris and I arrived in Rome on Monday night. Our day started at 7:45 am in Athens. After countless Metro rides, two plane rides and a train into the city center, we rolled our suitcases into the Beehive hotel and fell straight asleep.

And didn't wake up until 1:30 pm on Tuesday. That's right, we slept through our first Roman morning.

When we realized what we'd done, we quickly rolled out of bed and went to find some lunch. We happened upon a great local bakery and bought ourselves some pizza and chocolate cookies.

We then decided what we really needed was a map, as we came to Italy guidebookless.

We scoured the nearby train station for the tourist information center the hotel had told us about, but after what felt like hours (but was probably only 15 minutes), we left empty-handed.

On the way home, a wave of absolute exhaustion flooded over me. I peeled off into the hotel while Chris continued the search for a map.

One minute after laying down on the bed, I was asleep.

I'm sure you're waiting for me to say that after a nap I woke up all refreshed and ready to see Rome - sorry to disappoint you.

Chris woke me up to eat some dinner, then I came straight back to bed. And slept through the night.

I fought naseau and fatigue well into Wednesday afternoon. Around 1ish, we decided to drag ourselves to the Colesseum and the Forum. That's right, I said "drag." I'm sorry, but we've seen a lot of rocks folks, rocks in Turkey that date back to 2700 B.C., rocks in Greece that go back to 1000 B.C., so seeing some A.D. Colesseum rocks felt like going to look at an old IBM desktop computer.

On the way there we had a big fight over who knows what. I decreed that I would just see Rome on my own, so we both went off on our seperate ways.
Three minutes later, I realized I had no map, and no money, and no cards to get any money.

So I turned heel and chased Chris down the street yelling his name.

I cried and he agreed to not let me be alone in Rome.

Still without any kind of guidebook, we just kind of wandered by buildings such as this

with really no idea what it was.

But we did it. We walked to the Colesseum, we looked at the rocks, we tried to imagine what it was like back in the day, and then we decided to go back to the hotel.

Here's the part where I know you want so badly to judge us for not getting out and getting after it. I judge myself really. But until you've landed in Rome halfway through a 100 day European odyssey, I don't think you can really make a fair judgement. I would love to hear from someone who has made this same sort of trip and compare notes.

If we told you we were sick, you'd say "ah, that's too bad" and feel really understanding towards our situation.
But, if we told you we're just plain tired - that would not be as easily tolerated.

Luckily, Rome has so much to see, we know we'll be back one day. It's an easy enough city to get to, and a good jumping off point for other areas of interest in Italy.

So we're not going to feel bad about our lack of motivation.

We're going to listen to our bodies and Rome when we want to.

From Greece to Rome - by Christopher

I spent 36 days in Greece.

After that, Sarah and I flew from Athens to Milan. Then we flew from Milan to Rome, where we've been staying for the last three nights.

We leave tomorrow. I've never been more ready to leave a place. There are three reasons why (at least three):

1. Our budget is depleted. We spent more in Greece than we intended to. We've found affordable food in Rome, but ticket prices at tourist sights are steep. Which means we don't have the money to be "tourists" in Rome.

2. We are exhausted. Traveling from Athens to Rome depleted something more vital than cash which we can't quite name. My theory is that we've simply been on vacation so long that our bodies don't know which end is up anymore. Our dreams each night have become filled with confusing conflicts as our subconscious tries to make sense of our new nomadic lifestyle.

3. Finally, look at this picture.

This is just one little corner of Greece, a cafe by the waterfront on Santorini. This kind of startling natural beauty became commonplace for us during our time there. It's to be found, literally, around every corner.

Coming from Greece to Rome has taught me something very important about myself: I vastly prefer the beauty of nature over the beauty of man-made things. Especially the gorge of man-made things that clutter this city from end to end.

What I've found in Rome is very good pizza and a collection of crumbling monuments to dead people's vanity. A great portion of them are not even original, but patchworks of the old and the new. When I read about these monuments in an attempt to find a deeper meaning, I find little besides murder, conquest, pillaging, and suffering.

Tourists crawl over these eroding rocks like thousands of bugs. I find my eye drifting to the few lonely trees which have managed to survive in this riot of competing hard surfaces. As all around the ceaseless honking of cars and the chattering of mobs drown out whatever aesthetic sensibility I might possess.

By contrast, the whole of Greece (even busy Athens) is a sleepy backwater. I'm not strong enough for this city right now. Every place I go I am overpowered by some new crush of humanity manically dodging speeding vehicles just long enough to snap the billionth picture of some gruesomely martyred saint.

How can you fault me, when this is what I've just come from:

That last picture is just some lucky (rich) person's patio. The first picture is just a dusk shot of another breathtaking vista, literally as common as the cold on every island I traveled.

We collect our rental car and set out for the Italian countryside tomorrow. I've no doubt that very soon I'll discover the best parts of Italy for me, in it's wilder regions.

It could be that we find ourselves regretting our state of exhaustion (both monetary and visceral). It could be that one day we look back and think, "We just didn't try hard enough to see the sights of Rome."

But I doubt it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day Moms!

We love you so much and appreciate all you've done to help make us the people we are today.

You are the best.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cars and Sand Don't Mix

In Naxos we decided to rent a car in order to have more freedom to beach hop.

Or to get lost, depending on whether you see the glass half full.

After driving aimlessly for about an hour, we managed to find one nice beach and proceeded to lay there for about 2 hours.

When our bellies started rumbling, we drove off to try to find some lunch.

As it's still the off-season in Greece, and as we were on some very obscure, deserted beaches, finding food proved harder than just saddling up to a McDonalds or even a gyro stand.

We searched for at least an hour before finding a local who directed us towards a restaurant he assured us was open. We didn't find the restaurant, but did find another local who drew circles in the sand for us to follow.

The last set of directions led us to yet another non-restaurant, where the man encouraged us to follow not the main road, but the "other" road to get to the restaurant.

As soon as we turned off the main road and onto a loose sand road, I knew we were in trouble. We all knew - but we drove down it anyway.

We giggled and awed in amazement at how well our little Ford Fiesta was standing up to the loose sand we were driving through, until...


Stuck in the sand.

We all got out and pushed, but the wheels only spun deeper into the Earth. As we were pushing, "The Final Countdown!" came on the radio and we all gave one last, strong push - but it was like pushing a boulder. That car wasn't going anywhere.

So...we hiked about half a mile back down the beach to the non-restaurant and admitted our story of irresponsible tourism in hopes that the Greek locals would know what to do with us.

Five minutes later, George had his dad's tractor pattering down the sand and headed to pull us out. I steered as George's dad pulled the car about a mile out of the sand road and back on to the main road.

As Chris walked alongside the car, George remarked to him that "we got very far! How did you get so far?"
Way to go us.
He also confirmed that only 4 wheel drive vehicles are suppose to drive down that road.

All in all the detour only cost us about 45 minutes, but a lot of pride. Lesson learned.

You would think that next we ate lunch, but oh no. We got lost, again. This man in an orange sweater had to lead us on his motorcycle about 30 minutes along some winding mountain passes before we finally found food.

Our "day on the beach" turned into about 2 hours on the beach. But hey, if your car is going to get stuck in the sand somewhere, it might as well be a perfectly beautiful beach populated by helpful Greeks.