A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: El Natan

Madrid, Gotham...and Ft. Mac?

Tales of the times in Madrid

24 °C

We arrived in Madrid and immediately noticed a difference from Barcelona. Madrid feels bigger. It feels like a business centre, and definitely has a different atmosphere than the laid-back café meets beach feel of Barcelona.

Nevertheless, that is not to say Madrid is not a nice city, and it was still undeniably Spanish. We went out for dinner at 9:00 pm, and still felt early. The corner store by our hotel had wine and tapas. People understood us easily and we understood them. So far so good.

We mostly did the same thing in Madrid that we had done in Barcelona. Wander randomly and eat as we saw appropriate, with a slight effort exerted to the see the sights, which were again, mostly European architecture which had mostly gotten old the first time we were in Europe. We did, however get to see statues of Don Quixote and Sancho and were interviewed by a group of schoolchildren that were doing some sort of assignment.

Donquixote.jpg

We were, at one point feeling particularly daring and decided to take the train out to the nearby Parque Warner (Warner Brothers Amusement Park). The trip there was brightened by a old Spanish man roaming up and down the cars shouting “Viva España,” singing bits of flamenco, stomping his feet and twirling his cane. He seemed to have to no desire for money; he was just Spanish and really happy about it.

The park itself was nice. We went on some roller coasters, and ate some overpriced amusement part food, and enjoyed some free shows. Including a stunt show (that was surprisingly exciting), and a batman show. The batman thing isn’t random; there was a whole Gotham City section of the park, as well as a batman themed rollercoaster. Although it was quite good in and of itself, the highlight of the batman show was probably a really little Spanish boy, dressed up like batman who was absolutely in awe to see batman in action.

Gotham.jpg

We also had a chance to visit Madrid’s famous Retiro Park. Somehow we timed it so that it just happened to be during a book fair where hundreds of stalls line up in the park with books. Also, we managed to show up at the park during the time of day when everything is closed down. So we did miss out on books, although there was an interesting photography display along one of the paths. The theme was air and the pictures were really cool, but we eventually groaned when we saw a picture of Alberta. The oil sands. That’s right…the Spanish know what we are up to.

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Time in Madrid drew to a close and we headed south to our new home, in some tiny obscure village in southern Spain to start work.

Posted by El Natan 12:52 Archived in Spain Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Nathan Kristy(na) Barcelona

Goodbye Italy, Hello Spain.

sunny 26 °C

So then we were done with Italy. Disheartened and skeptical we made our way to Barcelona. Barcelona, is also pretty hyped. I don’t usually hear it compared to Venice, Rome, or Paris, but most people who have been there seem to like it.

We arrived at about midnight on Sunday. Usually not the best time to arrive anywhere, because nothing is open and nobody is out. But Spain is different. I’m not sure if it is that Spanish people do not sleep, or are extremely good at compressing their sleep into a couple hours a day but the lifestyle was impressive and intriguing. As we drove to our hotel in the taxi passed numerous busy and bright street cafes, and we watched people pass us that seemed not be sketchy at all, but just out for a nice walk. It was clean, even for European standards, comparable to an Edmonton level of cleanliness, and not in the spring after all garbage hidden in the snow is revealed.

Barcelona actually lived up to its fame. Endless pedestrian streets, cafes, and charming alleys. Interesting architecture, nice people and delicious food. Barcelona, to us, was everything that is nice about Europe but that so many European cities lack.
We explored the city for a couple days, including a visit to the famous landmarks etc. We enjoyed a Belgian waffle, covered in rocher gelato and smothered in Swiss chocolate. We enjoyed Chinese food, sangria and walks along the beach. The weather was a pleasant 25 degrees and sunny.

The overall experience in Barcelona was actually surprisingly uneventful. Not because it is boring, but mostly because we were completely content just wandering the streets and seeing what we felt like. We wandered through the winding narrow alleys of the gothic quarter, stumbled upon somebody playing live Spanish guitar in a strange corner. The street musicians and artists in Barcelona were some of the best we have every heard or seen.
The only major attraction that we went to see was the Sagrada Familia church, and even then we didn’t pay to enter. The outside however was surprisingly interesting. We have seen lots of churches and cathedrals, but this one actually is distinct and different, if not slightly terrifying.

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Having our first positive experience since Istanbul, we headed off on a day-long bus ride to Madrid, our last major stop before heading south to work.

Posted by El Natan 12:01 Archived in Spain Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

When in Rome...

an end to Italy

semi-overcast 23 °C

After Naples, rome was definitely an improvement. There was green life growing, it was significantly less dirty. We had also booked a fancy hotel for cheap online. So far so good.

Parts of Rome were cool. Much like Machu Picchu in Peru, many things, such as the colosseum are not as cool because you have seen them so much in pictures etc. But there was lots to do and see. We avoided actually entering any of the major sites, because it would have involved probably at least an hour of waiting and then trying to see things through mobs of people is not incredibly fun.

Our hotel was quite far out of the centre, but it did offer a cheap shuttle into the main part of the city. We took the shuttle in the morning and after a long day of roman ruins and the Vatican were back at the stop ready for the pickup specified on the small sheet we had. Apparently were 50 other people waiting at the designated point. Some of them had been waiting for hours. Strange, we thought, because there was supposed to be a pickup ever 1.5 hours After the pickup time came and went a disgruntled guy behind us called the hotel. There was no shuttle coming. Apparently the buses weren’t aloud into the city because of the G8 summit, or the cycling event (depending on who you asked) and thus nobody would be there to pick us up. Okay, whatever…if we needed to find our own way back we would have, but could somebody not have told us before that we were on our own. We planned our entire afternoon upon getting back to this spot. The fact that the bus wasn’t coming didn’t bother most people there as much as the fact that nobody had bother to tell us, and we would have just been left there waiting for a bus that never came.

We walked back to the metro and took as close as we could to the hotel. It may have been a seemingly small thing, but this was it. Italy, and maybe Europe just sucked. The good times in London, mediocre paris and fun times in Belgium from the last trip were gone from our minds. We were sick of dirty sketchy places, people trying to rip us off or not caring. We were sick of the stress we felt when people in Italy and Greece were constantly yelling and fighting. We were not sure about taking another ferry from Italy to Spain, because it was 20 hours, and still quite expensive, so we looked into flights. The only cheap flight we could find was out of another strange airport, but we saw in our hotel literature that although they only had a scheduled shuttle to the main airport, they could arrange transport to this other one. We asked.

“No.”

That was the answer. And a quick sentence about how they do nothing with that airport. We at least expected an offer to call a taxi. But no.

At this point we were about ready to go home. We were staying at the Sheraton in Rome and this is how our life was. Luckily, however we did find a way for us to get to Barcelona the next day. Having only heard wonderful things about Barcelona, we were still skeptical. Rome as a place was nice, but our experience there still sucked. Really, should Spain be any better?

Posted by El Natan 12:16 Archived in Italy Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Not Even Pizza...

Welcome to Italy

semi-overcast 28 °C

Our Italian nightmare began almost immediately after getting of the ferry. The information we had said there was a white shuttle bus from the port to the town centre, for free. We followed the crowds to towards the one white bus sitting in the middle in the huge expanse of the empty port. Apparently, however, this was a private bus, and the poeople were quite distressed, and got us on our way off across the huge lot towards a building where we found a taxi on the other side.

We had already missed the train we were hoping to take, so we asked the taxi driver in an Italian/Spanish/English mix what was the best thing to do. He told us of a train that went through a certain town, where we would change to catch a train to Napoli. Assured that train was still the way to go we agreed. He then drove us…but seemed to be missing all the exits to get into the town. We asked him if we were going to the train station. He assured us we were. We soon figured out he was taking us to the train station of a completely different city, the one we were supposed to change trains in. Concerned about the distance, we asked him how much he thought it would cost. 18 euros. That seemed surprisningly reasonable. But as the taxi meter was already over ten we asked again. We got him to answer is in Italian. Ottenta, strikingly similar to the Spanish ochenta. 80. Not 18. After a bit of an argument we finally ended up back at the train station of the proper town. The next train left in 5 hours. Awesome.

We took the train…after figuring out the strange Italian system of train tickets vs seat reservations. It basically means a constant game of musical chairs on the train, because you have to pay to reserve seats, but even people who reserve seats don’t sit in their designated seat until one person decides they want to sit exactly where their ticket says. Then a chain reaction starts and everybody has to move. Mostly amusing. Slightly irritating and stressful. We eavesdropped and were impressed by our apparent understanding of Italian. After switching trains, a lady asked a question in Italian and we were able to answer, she didn’t even notice.

Then…we arrived in Napoli, or Naples. Call it what you want. The taxi driver to our hotel tried to rip us of. The first person we talked to in Napoli ended being a big argument about how we do not need to pay him 25 euros because he helped us with our bags.

We climbed the three floors to our hotel in sticky heat and worriedly discussed the amount of garbage everywhere here. Is it really that dirty? We read up on it and apparently there was a nice area not too far from where were staying. Also Napoli is the place where pizza comes from. Time to go out for pizza.

We followed the map…but the nice place we were promised was no different than where we arrived. We could not find a place that sold pizza. Not a place that sold any sort of food really. We went to mcdonalds.

Now when I say Napoli was dirty, I mean unbelievably dirty. Paris is dirty, but Paris is a sort of euro-dirty that we overlook. Latin America is dirty, but it is something you get used to. Athens was dirtier than both of those, but it still had nothing on Napoli. Literally piles of garbage in the street. There was a sidewalk with an impressive number of small sausages. Pieces of scooters. Couches. Paper. Feces. Plastic. Pretty much anything you imagine can be found on the streets of Napoli. The people were rude and constantly trying to get money from us, although we are quite sure they were much better off than we are. The one redeeming experience was the trip to Pompeii, and the nice modern and inhabited town of Pompei (only one ‘i’) right outside. Here we were able to have the famous pizza from Napoli, which was good, although it didn’t really live up to the hype.

But other than that Napoli was horrible. We have been to huge cities in “third world countries” that seemed to generally manage to get their garbage where it belongs. The only thing we could think of that compared to Napoli was a documentary we watched about people living in a garbage dump in Guatemala. Our expectations of Europe were plummeting rapidly. Athen's and Napoli in rapid succesion was discouraging. Italy, however still had another change with us, Rome.

Posted by El Natan 12:02 Archived in Italy Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Αθήνα

Athens Greece

sunny 28 °C

After an overall great experience in Turkey we were excited to get to Greece. We took the overnight bus, with a midnight stop at the border. I got searched as did the a black Guatemalan guy on the bus. Once they realize that our luggage is just as boring as everybody else’s they must be disappointed.

The hard to understand Turkish changed to hard to decipher Greek. I could usually figured it out, or at least how to say it. If engineering has taught me anything, I have a pretty good understanding of the greek alphabet.

We slept for most of the ride, awake for a minute now and then to see mountains and olive trees. It was so very…greek. Apparently our route took us right past mount Olympus…although I cant say if we saw it or slept past it…

The greek countryside faded into grungy city. Welcome to Athens.

Lonely planet describes Athens as “a city few fall for”, but does give I credit for recent improvements since the olympics. But we thought really? Athens? It can’t be that bad.

Where we were dropped off it seemed alright. A park with some ruins across the street, and aside from the fact that we were completely lost, it seemed pretty nice. We made it to our hotel and realized the the niceness was concentrated in a small aread, and the grunge we had witnessed upon coming into the city was the city.

We decided to walk towards the nice area to eat. We walked down sketchy streets where people unashamedly injected themselves with various substances. It smelled and it was dirty. I am usually pretty forgiving of gross city. I like big cities, I like lots of people and I can accept that sometimes that means a little but of gross. But this was bad, not to mention scary. It also wasn’t just a neighborhood, it was everywhere except the really nice touristy area (also, for some reason all of the hotels, even the nice ones aren’t in the nice area).

We had overpriced and disappointed greek salad. Although, admittedly the feta was really good. We hid in the hotel for the rest of the night. Then we hid in the hotel for most of the next day. With a quick break to eat and climb the acropolis to see the Parthenon and such. It was pretty cool, but because of extensive reconstruction…most of the ruins were covered in scaffolding, or not actually "ruins" at all due to their recent dismantling and rebuilding. For some reason, ruins aren’t quite as cool when they are ruined at all. Probably our favorite ruin in the city was a huge column that had fallen over. That isn't a joke, for some reason it was much cooler than everything else.

We left the next day on a long bus through the countryside, along the mediterranean to the port town where we would catch our ferry to Italy. The drive was actually nice, and we were reassured that a Greece outside of Athens was actually quite beautiful. Even the port town was nice and much more pleasant then Athens, which you don't usually expect of port towns. We got our ferry and set up in some uncomfortable “airplane style” seats for a long overnight ride to Italy. Although we hadn’t heard the best things about many people’s experiences in Italy, we tried to optimistic, anyways, after Athens it couldn’t be that bad right?

Posted by El Natan 07:22 Archived in Greece Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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