Slow Times in Vienna

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Viennese Parliament

Like many places we have visited, we went to Vienna with no idea what to expect. We had heard that it was beautiful, and that drinking coffee in a cafe was a must. While Vienna was one of the most beautiful cities we had been to it was definitely the most uninteresting.

We booked our stay at Wombats Naschmarkt.  We chose the Naschmarkt location because the Naschmarkt is a huge foreign street market and we love tasting foreign foods.

When we arrived at our hostel, the guy checking us in couldn’t find our reservation. He asked if we booked at one of the other Wombats locations. We were exhausted from a 5 hour train ride from Prague and using two underground train lines to find the hostel. If we had shown up at the wrong hostel we were not excited to get back on the trains and start again. After awkwardly watching the front desk guy fumble for 20 minutes, trying to explain that our reservation was lost and that unfortunately the hostel was full and he wasn’t sure what he could do for us….his manager showed up and told him he was looking at the booking from one of the other two locations and our reservation popped right up. The front desk guy apologized profusely and gave us four free drinks at the bar and two free breakfast vouchers. We expressed no hard feelings and happily checked into our room.

The hostel itself was the nicest one we had ever been to. It was built in the last year and reminded us of living in the dorms in university. Our room was clean and huge. There were two bunk beds in the large space. Most hostels would have tried to fit at least three bunk beds in the room. We also had an ensuite bathroom which is a luxury when you are backpacking.

We decided to go to dinner and try some authentic on current customers – probably hard to find officially Schnitzel. We went to a restaurant and were left waiting in our seats for 15 minutes before even getting a menu. In Europe customer service is not as highly prized as in North America, while in most places we visited customer service was adequate, a lot of times we would sit in a restaurant and wait up to 20 minutes for anyone to even acknowledge us. After reading the menu, Gavin ordered classic Vienner schnitzel and I ordered a Cordon Bleu Schnitzel. Despite the wait and the warm soda, the Vienner Schnitzel was amazing, the best I had ever had. My Cordon Bleu was delicious ( although the ham was a bit salty).

After our meal we casually strolled to the local grocery store. There were three grocery stores right next to our Hostel. Our Hostel had a nice kitchen so we wanted to pick up some food for the following day. To our surprise all three stores were closed at 7pm. We thought nothing of the early closure and hung out in our hostel. We looked into possible free tours that we could do but shockingly there was none in Vienna. Our hostel offered free tours, but only on Monday Wednesday Friday and Saturday. We had unfortunately arrived late on Saturday so we couldn’t do the tour until Monday.

The next day we woke up bright and early to go to the grocery store. The strange thing was all three grocery stores were closed. We discovered that Vienna had very strict laws stating that no stores be open on Sundays, only restaurants. Gavin and I were dumbfounded. No tour, no stores, was there anything to do in Vienna on a Sunday other than go to a coffee shop and eat? It’s safe to say that we had an in day.

The following day we woke up bright and early to do our free tour! The best tour we had ever done was with Ozzy in Munich. Ozzy worked exclusively for Wombats so we expected good things from this tour. The tour started at ten but we weren’t too concerned about time because every  tour we had ever done started ten minutes later than they said it would. So at 10:02 when we noticed our tour group was gone, once again we were dumbfounded. We managed to catch up to the tour guide a quarter of a block away.

Our tour guide was elderly and did not relate to the travellers she was guiding. She spoke softly and stopped at a really inconvenient corners where there was a lot of traffic. She never waited for her group to completely gather before speaking and among other things, lacked the charisma, vibrance, and excitement that a tour guide should have. Within minutes we knew that this was the absolute worst tour we had ever been on. This was confirmed by a few people in our group who quickly lost interest when our guide spoke. Gavin and I took this as our cue to leave. We had never been so dissatisfied with a tour before and found ourselves bored and unsure of what to do.

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The Naschtmarkt

We wandered around the Naschmarkt for a bit before we used our guide map to find the museum quarter. The museum quarter had five huge museums in former palaces. While the museums would have been interesting to visit we were not too interested in having to spend hours listening to an audio guide because everything was in German. After walking around the museum quarter we walked around to some beautiful local parks. The parks all had really beautiful fountains with tons of benches and chairs. We walked towards the canal and walked through the main shopping district. During our walk we went by the Viennese Parliament and noticed a bizarre protest. The protest had about 7 people with a pre-recorded tape poorly playing their chant on a loop. After a long day of walking we went back to the Naschmarkt and bought some Turkish Delight. Unfortunately the Turkish Delights were terrible and we realized that unless you are in Turkey don’t ever buy Turkish Delights. We ate at another local restaurant and enjoyed more delicious Vienner Schnitzel.

Vienna was very beautiful, so much incredible architecture, museums, music, operas, and more parks and green space than we had ever seen in a city centre. I’m sure that if there was an opera or a musical to see we would have truly enjoyed ourselves. However as it stands, we did not enjoy our time in Vienna and found it difficult to immerse ourselves in the city and culture due to a lack of tour guides and anything to do.

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Adventures in Prague

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Astronomical clock

A recurring theme in our adventure is our desire to go to cities we’ve heard of, but as soon as we arrive we have no idea what to do once we are there. The only thing we knew about Prague was that everyone says ‘it’s so beautiful’.  We checked into our hostel, Hostel One Prague, we stayed with the Hostel One group in Barcelona. Our room was fantastic. We had a  full kitchen  and a loft with two extra beds, we had so much space to ourselves and it was a welcomed change from the usual hostel rooms we’ve stayed in.

Our first night we decided we would have some local Czech cuisine and went to a local restaurant. We had some roast beef medallions topped with some berried jam, with  gravy and bread dumplings. The meal was amazing and super cheap, about 100 Czech Crowns which is 5 dollars Canadian.  We went back to our hostel and thought to ourselves, ‘how could we stay in such an amazing room with such cheap food for only three nights’? We immediately changed our booking to stay an extra night and changed our next booking in Vienna.

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Prague

The next day we took the tram to the old square to do our free tour.  On the tour we saw the Astronomical Clock (the third most disappointing tourist attraction in Europe), The Charles Bridge (a beautiful large bridge lined with statues), the Old Jewish Quarter with the Jewish Cemetery, and many facts about the city and its history. The Old Jewish Cemetery was very interesting because we had just seen the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. When looking at the cemetery you could see the influence it had on the memorial. The cemetery was one and a half stories high with so many headstones jammed into one space. It looked so cluttered and depressing. The reason for the cluttering and the height was because back in the 15th to 18th Century the Jewish people in Prague could only bury their loved ones in one space, and when they ran out of space they added soil to the existing graves, removed the tombstones and placed the tombstones on top of the new layer of soil resulting in 12 layers of graves with over 12,000 tomb stones visible.

Midway through our tour our tour guide took a 30 minute break. Gavin and I wandered over to the Old Square to get some street meat. Gavin had been excited to go to the Czech Republic because they were historically linked to Bavaria, the land of Pork Knuckle.  We found some ham and potato salad at a wooden stall.  The potato salad was sold by weight, 30 crowns per 100 grams.  But when the woman put it into the bowl it was definitely more than 100 grams. When we were given a huge hunk of ham (which was mostly fat), the price came to 880 Crowns.  At first we didn’t completely get the conversion until we sat and thought about it. One Canadian dollar is 20 Crowns, which meant for a hunk of ham and some potato salad we paid 44 Canadian dollars!!!!

Following the tour we did a beer tour with our tour guide Bara. She was really smart and knew a lot about beer. We first went to a beer museum with over 30 different kinds of beer. Gavin ordered a beer taster of  a stout, a chocolate, a cherry, and a couple of dark ales. The chocolate beer was very strong and not great tasting. We went to a few more places followed a place where Gavin and I ordered a Czech specialty of half a duck and some potato dumplings with red cabbage. It was very delicious.  The last place Bara took us to was an old communist bar called Vodka Bar. The bar was covered in communist propaganda posters and had specialty flavoured Vodka like Honey Thyme, Jalapeño, Mars Bar, Green Tea, Coffee, and Saffron.  We had a single  beer and quickly left the bar after our tour guide had left. The majority of the people on our tour followed.

The following morning we wandered the city. We ended up making our way to the Prague Castle which was on the other side of the river and up a large hill. This day may not have sounded that exciting but there was a lot of beautiful architecture that we walked by. That night Gavin did a beer tour with our hostel and I stayed behind and read.

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Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora

The next day we did a day tour to Kutna Hora, a town about an hour outside of Prague. Kutna Hora was historically a town that minted the silver for most of Europe hundreds of years ago. The town was also the home of a bone chapel, The Sedlec Ossuary. Since we missed the Paris Catacombs we really wanted to see the chapel.  When we arrived in the town we learned the bus from the train station left every 30 minutes. We decided that instead of waiting 20 minutes for the bus we would walk the kilometre and a half to the bone chapel. The walk was long and hot, but

We figured we would catch the bus from the bone chapel to the town so 20 minutes in the sun was no big deal. When we arrived at the bone chapel the building was so cold and dark.  The Ossuary was decorated with the bones of 40,000 to 70,000 people. The human remains took the form of chandeliers (which contains at least one of every bone from the human body), and coats of arms.  After the chapel we had just missed the bus into town.  We decided that waiting 30 minutes for another one would be silly so we walked the remaining 3.5km into town. It was about 34 degrees and boiling hot. A walk that normally would have been no big deal was suddenly uncomfortable and heat stroke inducing. We both had headaches from lack of water. When we finally reached the town we went to the local museum and signed up for the tour of the silver mine.

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Inside the Hradek Mine

The ancient underground silver mine, Hradek dates back to the 1300’s. The tour was all in Czech, but they gave us a pamphlet with english translation so we could understand most of it. They showed us a replica of the old wheelhouses, great machines powered by 6 pairs of horses that would draw up great leather satchels that would hold the ore. Afterwards, they gave us robes that were replicas of what the miners once wore and we descended down a staircase to one of the shallowest tunnels. It was extremely cramped and damp, with low ceilings and suffocatingly narrow corridors. There were other tunnels smaller still that one would have to crawl through in order to get to. We were told some of the tunnels went 600m deep, which seems incredible for the technology of the time. After we emerged into the sunlight again, they had replicas of the forges and coin striking processes the mined silver would undergo after it had been brought up. It was a really neat experience.

Following our tour of the silver mine we promptly walked back to the train station. The walk wasn’t so bad this time ( it wasn’t noon and we had water). We took the train back to Prague. We spent the evening hanging out in the Hostel bar.

The bartenders were very fun and had a great energy. The only draw back was that in Prague you can still smoke in bars, and this bar was in a basement with no ventilation which resulted in our clothing reeking of smoke. Smoke aside we had a great time with this bunch and reluctantly packed our bags for Vienna.

Paris! J’taime

In all honesty I was afraid of arriving in Paris. So many anxieties were circulating in my mind: would Paris be as wonderful as I remember? Would it be devastatingly expensive? Would Gavin have a meltdown at how expensive everything was and want to stay in our hotel room all day?

We took a regional train from Lyon to Paris which took 5 hours instead of the 2 via high speed train. We didn’t take the high speed train because there was only reservations in first class available and it would cost €110. When we arrived in Paris we took a look at the metro line and were immediately overwhelmed. There were so many stations we could not even begin to guess where our hostel was. We eventually found our destination and headed off to the Perfect Hostel…to our surprise we had a private room! Our room was simple, two beds and a sink. I kind of hated how we shared a single toilette with our entire floor, but there was no sweaty smelly guys so I gladly accepted the sacrifice. We fell asleep to an Italian couple fighting next door.

Gavin woke up at 7:30 for breakfast. Since I still had a cold I slept in a little until we left for the Eiffel Tower. We unfortunately were unable to to go the very top due to over crowding so we declined going up the tower for the day. We did a walking tour of downtown Paris which was pretty good. We saw Notre Dame, the Latin Quarter, Champs-Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre, Palais Royal and Musee d’Orsay. We even came across the lovers bridge where couples put a lock with their name on a bridge then throw away the key. As expected the tour guide was not as good as Ozzy ( our tour guide in Munich) but we enjoyed ourselves enough to sign up for the Montmartre tour later that day and the tour of the gardens of Versailles for the following day.

Following the tour, our tour guide invited us for some authentic French food, we thought he invited us to eat with him like Ozzy did. We were sadly mistaken, and paid a lot of money to eat alone. Despite this, Gavin and I enjoyed our authentic French cuisine. He ordered Escargots and I ate French Onion Soup. My French onion soup had a nice base and was so cheesy I choked on the cheese! Gavin’s Escargots were overpriced and required too much work to get at the tiny snail shells.

After our meal we went to Ladurée, the famous macaron patisserie in Paris. I waited in line and bought 16 flavourful macarons. Anyone who knows me knows I love the delicate French pastry and that it has been one of my goals to eat macarons from there!

Following our macaron date we ventured off to meet our tour guide for our Montmartre tour. The tour started in front of Moulin Rouge. Gavin and I had wanted to see Moulin Rouge but due to a strict dress code we were afraid to buy tickets online then get kicked out. The dress code called for no runners ( all Gavin had) and no jeans (all I had). Since we had some time before our tour we stopped by the reservation desk to ask about the dress code. We told them that since we are backpacking we didn’t have anything nice to wear but really wanted to see the show. The man at reception was so kind and told us that our “Jeans and runners would be fine at the late show, and that a lady looks marvellous no matter what she is wearing”. We promptly made a reservation for the 11:30pm show.

After booking our reservation ( which was awesome because if we got kicked out for not dressing well we didn’t have to pay anything) we ran across the street to meet our tour group. Our tour guide showed us where Amelie was filmed ( Cafe des 2 Moulins), Sacré Coeur basilica, the highest point in Paris, the last windmills in Paris, Van Gogh’s house, and Picasso’s studio. By the end of the tour, night had fallen and we made our way back o our hostel which to our surprise was a 15 minute walk from Moulin Rouge.

The next day I woke up feeling great, just in time for our Garden’s of Versailles tour. The tour was particularly pricy, €27 each plus €7 each for a musical fountain show which had every garden open. When we arrived at Versailles it started raining so we bought some cheap (by cheap I mean poor quality) umbrellas for €16.

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Palace of Versailles

We looked at the facade of the palace shamelessly decorated in gold leaf from the palace gates to the window sills, clocks, almost everything! We walked pass the palace to the gardens. Despite the tour lasting 5 hours it did not include the palace. The gardens were the size of 3 foot ball fields, With over 50 fountains, 200,000 trees and a grand canal all of which were in the French style. We took a few steps towards the first garden and suddenly the rain became unruly and unmanageable. Gavin and I tried to ignore the rain but decided to bail on the tour because the rain had turned into a storm. Within minutes Gavin and I were soaked to the bone. The second we left the tour the rain suddenly stopped and we felt sick. We decided to tour the palace and maybe see the gardens on our own. Since we had just seen the Madrid Palace Real,  the inside of Versailles was as expected, another overly extravagant castle with paintings on the ceilings and one more extravagant room after the next. The palace featured a room called the hall of mirrors: the most expensive room in Europe. The most interesting thing about the palace was how after the French Revolution the belongings in the palace were auctioned off and striped away only to be restored a couple hundred years later. The tour was quick, we didn’t see the small chateaus next to the palace (this is where the king ran away to for privacy and Marie Antoinette’s private palace) but we had been exhausted enough already. To our relief (and disappointment) the rain continued, so we didn’t see the garden’s after all. As we left the palace we were thankful to not do the 5 hour tour in the pouring rain.

We took the train back to Paris and noticed that I was sniffling. Gavin wanted to go back to the hostel but I wanted to go shopping on the Champs-Élysées. Gavin relented and we went to Laduree again and got a giant vanilla macaron (which was amazing) and I went shopping for a dress to wear at the Moulin Rouge show. I found a purple dress that would pack well in my backpack and bought some accessories. Afterwards we hurried back to the hotel to nap before our late night show at the Moulin Rouge!

We saw the show Féerie at Moulin Rouge. We were a bit worried because everyone always complained about Moulin Rouge being a tourist trap (which it was) being overpriced (which it is) and the show not being that good anyways (which is a boldfaced lie because the show was fantastic).

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Moulin Rouge

Our ticket came with a full bottle of champagne to enjoy during the show, and our seats were very close to the stage. The inside of the venue was fantastically decorated, with the curtain made entirely of shining sequins that took on whatever colour of light shined upon it. Part of the ceiling was designed to look like the inside of a circus tent, with billowing stripped fabric supported by the columns rising up from the upper balcony. The show was incredible, with 60 dancing girls accompanied by half as many men and dozens of different elaborate costumes, all garnished with abundant feathers, boas and chains of beads. The stage changed as often as the costumes, with one part themed like a gleaming snake temple where one of the dancers was dressed as Medusa. A huge water tank raised up from the floor that she was cast into, containing no less than 6 full sized anacondas that she swam with. The time between costume and set changes was occupied by smaller acts, including a slapstick/tumbler trio, a comedian juggler, and a pair of balancing acrobats.

We really enjoyed the show. We had never seen anything more spectacular. When the show ended we discovered that the metro was closed. If we hadn’t been at the Moulin Rouge the day before we wouldn’t have known that our hostel was a short walking distance away, so we walked through the Paris Red Light District at 1:30 in the morning back to our hostel.

The next morning we had to check out of our hostel and check in to a new hostel across town. We wanted to stay in Paris one more night and our current hostel was all booked up. The new Hostel, Oops! Hostel had a lock out period from 11am to 4pm in which all of the staff, and patrons were kicked out of the hostel. This was kind of weird and extremely inconvenient because I had become really sick and our check out time was at 10am at our current hostel and we had to find something to keep us busy for six hours.

We decided to try and go to the top of the Eiffel Tower again and then go to the Louvre ( it was closed the previous day). We stored our belongings in our hostel then headed over to the Eiffel Tower.  The Eiffel Tower was built when France held the world expo in the late 1800’s. For forty years the tower remained the tallest man made structure in the world. When I visited in 2006 I never went to the top because my friend was too afraid of heights. Since then I had been to the top of the CN Tower  in Toronto and couldn’t live with myself for not going to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

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Top of the Eiffel Tower

We arrived at the tower at 10am, 30 minutes later than we hoped. When we got through the line we were able to buy tickets for the top. We jumped into the lineup to the elevator then took the elevator to the second floor, walked a meter then took a second elevator to the top. The top was very small and full of people taking photos of the scenery around. We got a couple photos then saw a height comparison of the tower with other structures. After about twenty minutes at the top we took an elevator down to the second floor. The second floor had a gift shop and a restaurant. The first floor was even less interesting.

Our next stop was the Louvre. Gavin had never been and I recalled enjoying myself when I did. Since we had time to kill we walked from the Eiffel tower to the Louvre. During that walk we got hit up by a bunch of “petitioners”: people who pretend they need the signature of an English speaker for some cause, then rob you blind. We had heard of the ploy in Madrid so we were smart to their scheme. The next set of people we kept meeting would pick up gold rings we did not lose and ask if we had lost them….so they and a partner could rob us blind. We “lost” four gold rings on a single bridge.

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The Louvre

We finally reached the Louvre and decided to use the tricks our tour guide taught us to avoid the line. The first was to use the side door, which was closed. The second was to enter through the carousel shopping centre under the Louvre.  After walking through the very small but decently high end shopping centre we ended up at the line for the Louvre. We noticed that there wasn’t really a line but officials pushing people away. There was a hand written sign saying, ” The Louvre Museum is closed come back tomorrow.” Gavin and I were confused because the Louvre was closed yesterday and was supposed to be open today so why was it closed? We figured maybe there was an incident so we decided to shop around the mall and come back.

Gavin found his perfect Australian Outback hat, a Stetson, at an outdoor/ hippy store. Gavin also found a the best mineral store of his life and stocked up on samples for his mineral collection. We also found a lock for the lovers bridge. We went back to the Louvre and saw that the Museum was still closed. We decided to go to the Lovers Bridge and place our lock then head over to the Musée d’Orsay.

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Our Lock on the Lovers Bridge

The bridge was filled with couples trying to cement their love; sales people selling locks to make a quick buck by selling locks to the couples and pick pockets. The myth was that if the couple wrote both of their names on the locks then locked the lock to the bridge and threw the key into the water that they would be together forever. We put our lock in a careful place and threw the key into the Seine river. Satisfied with our cliche act of love we went to the museum.

The Musée d’Orsay had a huge line ( probably because the Louvre was closed). While the Louvre housed artwork from the beginning of time to 1870’s the Musée d’Orsay was a more contemporary museum with work from 1840 to the present.  We got to see an exhibit called: The Angel of the Odd. Dark Romanticism from Goya to Max Ernst. It was a lot of really neat gothic art ranging over a large time period, with paintings romanticizing demons, monsters, satan and witches. There were many paintings inspired by Paradise Lost, and others of the apocalypse. There were also short clips of horror films from early cinema, including Hitchcock.

After the museum we went back to the Perfect Hotel to collect our bags and head over to the Oops! Hostel. The Oops Hostel was very nice and modern but very out of the way. The only thing that rubbed us the wrong way was the mandatory lock out, which really didn’t apply to us because we had a train to catch the next morning before the lock out. While staying at the Hostel we shared a room with two British girls. Since Madrid We had very little social contact because for whatever reason the places we stayed people were not social. So when Jen and Emma were social, spunky and cheery we were thankful. They told us about how they visited the Paris Catacombs and we told them about the Louvre’s mysterious closure. Jen said she had read the british news earlier and that it mentioned the closure. Apparently the Louvre was closed  due to the workers striking. The workers striked because of pickpocketing which had gotten so bad that the workers were fearing for the lives from aggressive pickpockets working in teams of up to 30 people. What was worse was that children who could get into the museum for free were pickpocketing from the staff and patrons. The new information made Gavin and I feel frustrated that the Louvre was closed on our last day in Paris but understanding of how the staff felt.

Paris was way better than I remembered. We were so afraid of everyone being rude to us but oddly everyone was really kind (except Japanese Tourists, they were really rude and pushy). We never ran out of things to keep us entertained and educated. It was expensive….but I can’t wait to visit again.

Barcelona part 3

After a fantastic two days in Port Aventura we begrudgingly went back to Barcelona. Up until this point Barcelona had been a port city for us. In total we probably spent a week in Barcelona but because we had been using it as a port to other places we never spent more than two days in the city at a time. It wasn’t until our third stay that we realized we hadn’t given the city a real chance and that maybe we had done our visit there all wrong.

We arrived at Barcelona Sound Hostel, a nice little place with an eccentric hostel manager. The hostel was located in kind of a red light district part of Barcelona, which was slightly sketchy but had cheap food so we weren’t too disappointed. The next morning we decided to go to Sagrada Familia and from there do a bus tour.

IMG_2315Sagrada Familia was astounding. We knew the building was so incredibly detailed and elaborate that it was taking 200 years to be built but for some reason we thought this detail only applied to the facade and not the inside of the building. The inside made you feel like you were inside a forest, with so many detailed pillars growing towards the high ceilings and branching off. The stained glass was beautiful and in the Gaudi style. Every single thing inside the cathedral was elaborate from the stair cases to the specially made confessionals. It had taken us only 30 minutes to see the completed portion of the cathedral (we didn’t go on the tower tour because the wait was too long). When we were about to leave we noticed a mini Gaudi museum about the church. The museum highlighted Gaudi’s influences from nature and how he re-designed the cathedral several times before he finally settled on its current facade. My favourite part of the museum was seeing the progress of the cathedral from the 1800’s and to see the future time line of the construction. Sagrada Familia was Gaudi’s masterpiece and I think it’s pretty cool that so many people believe in continuing to build his masterpiece for over 100 years after his death.

After the tour we went to the Sagrada Familia Gift shop where I bought a really cool salt and pepper shaker in 2009. My pepper shaker had broken and I wanted to replace it. Unfortunately the store no longer had the shakers so we wandered around the tourist area to find replacements. I didn’t find perfect replacements but they were close enough.

We then hopped on a bus tour to take us to all of the great architecture and see the sights of Barcelona. We were on the bus for 30 minutes when Gavin got over taken from exhaustion from Port Aventura. We went back to the hostel and got some terrible donairs and took a quick nap before going back on the tour bus.

Personally I enjoyed the bus tour because it was the only way to get around the entire city and see so many sites like where the Olympics were, the Agbar Tower, and the various different Gaudi buildings. I also got to learn about the urban development of Barcelona which I loved. Gavin on the other hand hated listening to a deadpan British woman on headphones as we passively sat on a bus in the pouring rain for five hours. It’s safe to say I don’t see us doing anymore bus tours.

After our bus tour we realized we were starving. We decided we would go to a grocery store to get some food. On the way to the store we stopped by a pub to get a €3  mojito. We ordered some Patate Bravas from the pub. Gavin and I joked that in Spain they tend to cook food from frozen and serve it to you. We laughed about how our Brava sauce was probably from the local market and if we were lucky they would add seasoning and pretend it was their own recipe. Sadly we weren’t far from the truth. When our Patate Bravas arrived they were wedges, not Patates. Then there was no brava sauce, which 3 minutes later was brought to us via No name brand bottle that we had to pour ourselves.
It was at this moment that we kind of missed Athens. The food was always amazing and made in house, served with a fantastic salad. By this point we knew it was time to leave Spain.

Barcelona At Last

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Sagrada Familia

Our flight to Barcelona was routine and uneventful. When we landed we were distraught to see thunder, lightening and rainfall. Happy to be out of Athens we didn’t let the miserable weather get to us. We took the regional train from the airport to Barcelona Sants. We then took the subway to our hostel, Hostel One Sants.

We were greeted by a friendly face and a free vegetarian dinner of chickpeas and something else made from the hostel managers grandmother’s recipe. We ate the amazing Spanish dish then crashed in our hostel bunks.

The next morning we needed to go back to Barcelona Sants and book our reservations for a train to Madrid. We decided to walk to the train station because Gavin and I were too cheap to pay the €2 euros to take the train. As expected we got lost so we ended up taking the train anyway. We eventually made our way to the station and booked our reservation.

La Pedera

La Pedera

We then made our way to the Sagrada Familia, the famous cathedral that was taking well over 200 years to build. Gavin had heard of the cathedral, but didn’t think anything of it until he saw it. The church was so elaborately designed and intricately constructed. You could easily see why it took so many years to build it. Sagrada Familia will not be finished construction until 2020. We then walked to the Robson Street of Barcelona, Passing de Gracia. Passing de Gracia had all the pricy stores you would expect except it also had buildings with fantastic architecture like the La Pedrera and the Batiló. We ventured briefly into the Old City where we had Spanish Tapas for the first time.

Before long we had realized that we spent the entire day walking around Barcelona and we were immediately hit by a rush of exhaustion. We took the train back to our hostel, ate some of the free late night dinner (something like scalloped potatoes) and went to bed so we could get a early start on the next day.

Cruisin in the Aegean Part 3

The next day we woke up in Heraklion (Crete). I was so excited because Crete had so much history, until I remembered that cities with a lot of history tend to be industrialized….so we literally walked up the Main Street by the port. Nothing else happened. There are a total of three pictures.

Santorini

Santorini

Later that day we ended up in Santorini! I was super excited to be in Santorini because it is the what people think of when they think of Greece. It was supposed to be the complete opposite of Athens. Which it was, because everything was clean and every store was closed and we were facing dangerous winds. We tried to make the best of Santorini but it was very difficult. We were supposed to stop by and take photos of the island but it was too foggy…we were supposed to stop by the town of Thera but the wind was so dangerous we ended up going back to the boat as soon as it got dark. Santorini was really disappointing but what can you do?

We went back to the boat and once again we were approached by the cruise director to nominate a gentleman for the Ms. Orient Queen Peagant. Gavin sat down pleased that he had humiliated himself the night before so Adam from South Africa got nominated. He refused to dance like Gavin the night before but he was told that there would be no dancing, which I hope was comforting.

When time came for the Ms. Orient pageant, it turned out that Adam had tricked the cruise director into nominating his older brother Alex into the pageant. Adam and the rest of the Contiki tour sat back and watched Alex, a man from Colombia, a man from Argentina and our +1 try to win the title of Ms. Orient Queen.

The first part required the men to show off their muscles. Alex was embarrassed, our +1 of course took it too far and made things awkward…especially when they had to show their abs. The second part required the contestants to run across the lounge and kiss as many women on the cheek in the audience as possible in 30 seconds. When it was Alex’s turn the cruise director encouraged the Contiki girls to help him out so the 9 of us lined up so that Alex could kiss the 9 of us on the cheek. Alex won the kissing competition!

The next competition required the contestants to grab a woman from the audience and then run to her cabin and get dressed in her clothes. When the men came back they were given make up and were told to walk the runway. After a gorgeous strut Alex walked away with the crown and a bottle of champagne. We went to the Disco Disco bar to celebrate his win. We all sat down and after ordering glasses we were joined by our +1 who brought a bottle of his own champagne to share with us. Everyone felt obliged to return his kindness and we all sat quietly sipping champagne with him while the boat tipped back and forth. Our + 1 as expected kept making awkward comments the point where most of the girls slowly left the bar. The boys on the other hand thought he was hilarious and stuck around to see what other strange things he would do. This was when he ordered a special margarita that had the words, “I Love You” for Courtney, our tour manager. Courtney kindly accepted the lovely drink, which was followed by our +1 telling her he loved her, making the situation once again very awkward for everyone.

After the exciting afternoon everyone went to go pack our bags because we docked in Athens the next morning. Later we decided to spend one last night together at the Disco Disco bar, it was pretty uneventful until our +1 declared his intentions to marry our tour manager with a 3,000 year old ring, despite their “recent rough patch”  a patch that Courtney did not know exist.

The next morning the entire Contiki group had breakfast together before we went our separate ways. After the cruise ship docked we got on our coach and Courtney passed on last remarks and played “Summer of 69” one last time. Most of us got out at Syntagma square and hugged eachother good bye. Gavin and I grabbed our bags and headed to our hostel to spend another two days in Athens….AUGH!

Gavin and I reached our new destination, a hostel that had a 96% score on hostelworld.com. When we arrived with our heavy bags in tow we were shocked to learn that our booking for a 3 bed hostel for €23 each had been moved to another hostel that was “around the corner”. More like, around the corner up, the street, to the left, and down a block… When we arrived at the new hostel we got rebooked into a 4 bed hostel for the same price. Gavin and I were dumbfounded, we had booked a completely different hostel online with a smaller room and then they decided to change our booking to a different place and charge us the same for a room with more people in it!? We were frustrated and asked for the room that we had booked, a 3 bed hostel. Unfortunately the only room with three beds was a private room for €34 a night each…we were paying €30 each a private hotel room a week previously and they wanted us to pay more to stay in a hostel!? Gavin talked the hotel manager into giving us the 3 bed hostel room for €23 each, the bonus was that we didn’t have to pay for the third bed which was nice.

Gavin and I settled into our hostel room. Gavin took a shower and noticed a dirty towel had been left in the room. When we were about to sleep I noticed a small bed bug crawling on my pillow. We jumped out of bed and looked for more bugs. We didn’t see any but we did however notice that the sheets on the mattress were filthy. Gavin and I went to the Hotel manager and demanded cleaner sheets and placed the cleaner sheets on the plastic wrapped mattress. We then pulled out our private sheets from home and placed them on top of the bed and slept in them. The next morning we woke up to eat the “free” breakfast that we got from the hostel.

At the President Hotel we got hot eggs and sausage and cakes and spinach pies and Milk pies and salad and fruit and so much amazing stuff. At the hostel we got a roll and a boiled egg. Everything else we had to pay for. At this point we just did not care anymore and desperately wanted to get out of Athens, but we had to wait until the next day for any such luck.

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

We decided we would spend our last day checking out the Olympic Stadium. Every surface was covered in Graffiti, glass walkways were destroyed and had cones directing people away. An artificial pond was brown and filled with Garbage. When we reached the train station we were informed that the Greek Train workers were on strike, and refused to drive the trains to the airport on the day we had to leave. Gavin and I sighed with frustration, It was just another day in Athens.

Munich Part One: Our Hotel

On our last weekend in Germany we decided to do an overnight trip in Munich. The trip was so fun and exciting I decided to write about it in two posts. This post is dedicated to our Hotel: Cocoon Hotel.  Our Hotel was actually pretty cool; cool enough to garner it’s own blog post!

Hotel Cocoon is a post-modern glorified hostel! The rooms were tiny and the decor was kitschy. Despite this, all of the things that made the hotel special really did make the hotel the most memorable hotel I have ever visited.

This was the lobby:

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And this is a gallery of us enjoying the lobby:

 

When we entered our hotel room, which was the size of a dorm room, we were excited to see this cool nook:

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And shocked to see this shower….inside the bedroom….next to the bed…sharing a sliding door with the toilette:

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All in all, our hotel was pretty cool and we were excited to stay there while we were in Munich; stay tuned for what we did in Munich!!