Friday, August 30, 2013

"Oot and Aboot?"

Hey, hi, hello!

So, guess what; I'm actually writing this from home, and since I last told you about my leaving for Scotland on the first of July, I guess I've got some explaining to do, huh? I'll start off by saying I didn't forget about you here; I could never forget about you. I was just so busy/exhausted/on the move that I fell off the update bandwagon. Then I went back to work. Again. It's a good thing I didn't make any promises about regular updates, isn't it? But let's finish with the pleasantries; when I last left you I was sitting on a bus for hours heading to Scotland, wasn't I?

I arrived in Edinburgh in the early evening/late afternoon, and after settling into my hostel took it pretty easy for the evening. Grabbed dinner at the hostel, etc. the next day, July 2nd, was my only day in Edinburgh for a while, so to take advantage of this, I first took a free tour with the hostel (and saw Greyfriars cemetery, the Scott Monument, the castle, gardens, etc.), and then, in true Leah fashion I was off to the National Museum. Yupp, I went all the way across the world to go to another museum! In all honesty though, it is a fantastic museum. That, and the fact that it was absolutely pouring with rain, made it the perfect way to spend several hours, and by the time I finished there I had enough energy to wander around a bit, duck into a few shops in the Royal Mile, and head back to the Budget Backpackers I was staying at. I ate dinner at the hostel, went and re-packed my bags, and pulled out a book. I spent my evening reading and watching movies in the common room, and then I had a not-too-late bedtime as on the morrow I was to be off on my tour, and muster time was 8:30 with check-in starting just after 8.

That is how I found myself having French toast with maple syrup and bacon at 7:15 the next morning, and heading out to the offices at 7:45 with a bag on my back and the sunshine attempting to shine. And by attempting, I truly mean attempting. By the time I got to the bright blue Haggis Tours office at the end of the Royal Mile, there w actually blue up in the sky and I opted to stand in the shade after checking in. While waiting, I chatted with fellow traveller's, and by just after 8:30 we were loading onto a bus with Greg, our first driver and guide. Now, if you find yourself on a bus in Edinburgh in the near future, you may notice you never go quite the same way - the city is in a constant state of flux at the moment as they attempt to put in trams, digging up streets and generally causing havoc for the poor drivers. However, once you leave the city and get into the countryside, might I suggest just sitting and looking? It really is a lovely country to drive through, and if you're doing it with strangers, say "hi." It may save your skin and give you a good base for the rest of your trip. Namely, the people you sit by are stuck with you, and you're stuck with them, so be nice!

During our first day's drive we stopped at a gorgeous little church set on a riverbank, walked up to some gorgeous waterfalls where the rocks and riverbed were coated in moss and I found myself missing home a bit, visited Tomatin Whiskey Distillery for a tour and samples of a twelve year old single malt, visited the site of the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and then settled into our Youth Hostel for the night in Inverness. We went out for dinner in Inverness, headed to Hootenany's for some live Trad and a drink, and then by 11ish when some of us headed home we were walking back on streets that were still surprisingly light.

Culloden Battlefield 

Tour day two was the first day we would be traversing a ferry during, and it was a gorgeous day! Our first stop wasn't the ferry terminal, but instead we headed out to a stunning set of cliffs, where a touch of rain found us. But only on the cliff side, not actually on the road. Weather, you are amazing. After our little walk by the cliff, we headed off the John O'Groates to kill a bit of time, and then we boarded the ferry to the Orkney Islands (after doing a bit of seal watching, of course)! Unfortunately for us, the ferry food was disgusting and there were no sea animals out during the ride, but the gorgeous weather made up for that. Our first stop on the Islands was the Tomb of the Eagles, one of many rediscovered burial grounds. Here, it seems, bodies were (possibly) left out as an offering to the majestic eagle, and then once the bones had been cleaned, they were interred in the tomb that was uncovered by a man on his fields in the... Fifties or so. I think. If I'm remembering that correctly, which I'm quite certain I am (if I'm not, and you happen to know for a fact, let me know). Te tomb also held the bones of eagles, so that may be where the name comes from as well. ( Not only was the site itself really neat, but the cliffs in the area surrounding the tomb  were really neat; great slabs of stone worn away by the forces of nature so that you could see the exposed layers of rock, interspersed by grasses and mosses that were trying to grow out of the rock. Our last stop of the day before heading into Kirkwell for the night was at a sandy beach along one of e bridges connecting the islands, where Greg told us about the Churchill Barriers that were built during the war to connect the Orkney Islands and cut off access by water. The evening was not uneventful, but was kind of low key. Dinner in town and then a spot of fun back at the hostel for the evening. I've got to say, the hostel we stayed at was phenomenal. Super comfy and inviting, and the kitchen (which would certainly see use tomorrow) was welcoming and homey.

Full day on the Orkney Islands was next, and our first stop of the day was an old military lookout state on a cliff. The weather was a bit dismal but the sights were not, so pulling on our jackets, settling caps, and securing scarves we headed off the bus into the wind to explore wreckage and cliffs. The group split to do some exploring, and those of us that went right headed out on a path that held a sign telling us that if we walked far enough we'd find a broch. We never found it, but we had a good time exploring before we had to start heading back to the bus for our next adventure: Skara Brae. I don't know ho much you know about it, so I'll sum it up and say that Skara Brae is a roughly 5000 year old dwelling site that was (not so recently, but recently enough) rediscovered and excavated, and that the site still remains in extraordinary condition. There is a reproduction of one of the individual dwellings on the site, and the preservation was so complete that researchers have been able to approximate or guess what most of the structures in the dwellings would have been used for. Even more intriguing? Only part of the dwellings are visible; the roofs have been covered in grass, so it appears as a hill with paths along it. This was one advanced civilization, but unfortunately no one seems to know what happened, or why these people abandoned Skara Brae.

On the same property as Skara Brae is Skaill House, the "finest mansion in Orkney steeped in 5000 years of history." []. This residence was included in our tour of Skara Brae, so we also got to tour through that. I must say, I was a happy camper when we got the the library; they had a bookcase that opened up to how a secret hiding space between it and the wall, and that's i etching I've always wanted (so, note to anyone out there that wants to give me presents, this is never a bad idea! (Jokes, I swear. Sort of.)) Anyways, the house was really neat, though there were aspects of it that were a bit strange. Not as strange as the museum we were to come across later in the trip though, so it was all good.

Lunch after the Dwelling and House was reached by a short hike and followed by more exploring; bluffs, cliffs, wildlife viewing - this place had it all. Actually, this is where we did our puffin spotting. Greg was very patient with us and helped us find the little guys in among all the other birds nestled along the cliff. Oh, and we had rosé wine with raspberries in it as a treat, too, so that was exciting. After lunch, exploring, and puffins, off we were to another location - Earl Robert’s Palace in Birsay. Here, we explored some ruins and had Orkney Ice Cream. If you ever to go Scotland, see if you can find this beauty. The dairy in the Islands is amazing, and the ice cream is made with real Orkney cream. It’s a creamy, delicious blend. The strawberry is apparently the best (a friend tried many of the flavours over the course of our 2.5 days there), so it’s a safe place to start. Our afternoon was spent visiting a few different Standing Stone Circles - Menhir circles, if you will. With a morning that started off with sketchy weather, we really lucked in and had an afternoon of sunshine followed by a team effort taco dinner and late-night cake baking at the hostel. All-in-all, the Orkneys treated us all well.


(That's not me, it's Julie)

Our final morning on the Orkneys dawned cool and bright (not really; it wasn’t that sunny yet), and the lovely Terry and Coral treated us all to pancakes (for 50p. 50p for a full pancake breakfast. Heaven!), and off we were on the bus again. It was a bittersweet day - we were snaking our way back to Inverness via some beautiful locations, but we were also saying goodbye to some of our tour group that night. No rest for the “wicked” though; off adventuring we went! Our final stop on the islands was the Italian Chapel, which was erected by the members of Camp 60 during WWII. If you ever get a chance to stop in, this little chapel on Lamb Holm is gorgeous. It’s made almost entirely of concrete (with the exceptions being in decoration), and the concrete has been painted to look like stone and wood. It has depth and detail of miraculous proportions for something that is in actuality flat! Back on a boat we went though, and away from our island home. Armed with food this time, we braved another gorgeously sunny ferry ride and then raced along to Dunrobin Castle. Why “raced?” To see the falconry show! The castle itself is gorgeous; it looks almost like a Disney castle, but, y’know, real. Really real. Actually, the castle, museum, and grounds are still family owned - the family does still use the property for special occasions! I’m getting distracted…

 All painted!

Ah yes, falconry! I’ve long thought birds were amazing, but I’ve got to say. these were something else! Well trained is an understatement, and they were certainly highly intelligent. The gentleman giving the demonstration had several birds with him, and though he had a falcon and an owl (among others), I’ve got to say my favourite was the Golden Eagle. It may be because I’m so used to seeing only Bald Eagles, but still… What a gorgeous, large creature! After the falconry display there was time to wander through the grounds, the museum (which is the creepiest yet most compelling collection of strange things - animal parts and trophies mostly - that I’ve ever seen), and the castle itself. Well. I fell in love with more than one room in that building, but it’s always the libraries that get me. Yupp, I went to Europe and fell in love with even more libraries!

From Dunrobin, off we were to the YHA in Inverness where we proceeded to have a group pizza dinner and then a laundry party. Oh yes; don’t bother partying in the kitchen like everyone else - head to the laundry room to see what’s up! Post-party we went into town to Hootenany’s for some drinks and entertainment, off to Miami (a club, not the city), and finally home to our beds after saying our final goodbyes to some of the group.

I think I’m going to leave you here. Not because I’m an evil genious (promise, I’m not!), but because I haven’t updated in a while and I feel bad. Also because I need to go through my photos and make sure I get the sequence of events later correct. AND because this is a good place for a pause; we’ve chatted (I’ve talked at you, but y’know. You’re always free to leave comments!), I’ve given you a partial description of my time in Scotland, and there’s a natural break between one guide and the other. Seems like a decent place to stop, yeah? Sorry there are so few images, but I’m at work (I’ve been on my own for like, three hours. Come see me sometime?!).

Peace, love, and happy travels!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Heh, It's Only a Month Late

Been a while, eh? So, after I finished in Switzerland, off I was to Nice for the night before flying up to Ireland. My day in Nice was largely uneventful - washing and chores, then off to my budget Ryanair flight for Dublin. Got to the hostel around midnight, so nothing was done but sleep. That's alright though, because the next morning it was off to find the Shamrocker office and begin a new adventure - 7 days in Ireland with strangers! 

In total I spent about 11 days in Ireland, but the tour was only 7 of those. We started, of course, with a drive out of Dublin along the river Liffey, and off we were to the Blarney Castle. Guess who kissed the Blarney Stone? Yupp, this girl. So, if you didn't think I spoke enough earlier, I'd like to remind you that I now have "the gift of gab." You're hooped! Haha, so after the castle and some sightseeing and photos and such, we made our first overnight stop in Killarney. I know a song about Killarney, and I bet you do too, but it was the wrong season to sing it. By about 6 months (I was in Killarney June 22). Oh, did I say June 22? I sure did. I celebrated my 23rd birthday with kissing the Blarney Stone, eating some excellent lamb stew, and a trip to listen to a storyteller. The storyteller was one of the most bizarre experiences I've ever had, but it was also a good time. Then off we all went for a night out - dancing for a few hours, then back to the hostel in Killarney for the night. 

Second day of the trip, and where did we head? Why, Dingle and Ennis, of course. Because we were working our way north, this route made sense. It also gave us all some fantastic opportunities. We drove along the river Shannon, stopped at some amazing beaches, drove along the cliffs... It was an amazing day. I waded our into the water and "left part of my soul" in Ireland, to be rejoined with me upon my return in 20 years (at Coumeennole Beach), saw beautiful coastlines, and thoroughly enjoyed the day. When we reached Ennis we had group dinner, and off we went for drinks and live music. Again. Haha, but in all honesty, the live music was brilliant; a traditional band consisting of a few guys, and when we arrived we were almost the only ones there (it was a Sunday, too). By the time some of us left, the place was absolutely packed. However, we needed sleep for the big day ahead of us, so off we went to our beds. 

Right, so our next evening stop was in Galway, a city that I absolutely adored. I mean, it was enchanting and picturesque and just.. Ugh. However, to get there we made multiple stops; the first was Portal Tomb, then an ancient fort, then on to the Cliffs of Moher, and finally into Galway we rode. The Portal Tomb was really neat - a structure that's something like 2000 years old, still standing nearly as it was made (though the top has been moved and the bodies inside removed and now sitting in "the basement of a museum somewhere"), and slowly being reclaimed by nature. I don't know if I've previously mentioned this, but most of Ireland seems to be like that and it is amazing - structures just slowly being reclaimed by lush, green nature. Or the Burren. After the Tomb we drove around a bit looking to find a fort that Dave knew the approximate location of, and when we found it we basically climbed around and explored an ancient site. Again. The pièce de la résistance of the day though, I've got to say, was the Cliffs of Moher. Have you seen Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? Well, the cliff that Dumbledore and Harry go into? That's here. Yupp. And the cliffs themselves were incredible. High and grand, they were breathtaking. Regal. Stunning. And we got to see them in the sunshine! I don't know if I can do the cliffs justice, so maybe I'll give you a few photos. 

Portal Tomb
Ancient Fort

Cliffs of Moher
Galway Hostel wall

After the cliffs it was into Galway for a group dinner, drinks at Skeffs, and then dancing. Overall this was a fantastic day, with the knowledge that the next day would also be fantastic as we were off to the Aran Islands!

Did I mention the Aran Islands? Why yes, I did. We spent this magical day exploring Inis Mor, the loveliest of lovelies, on bicycles. Yupp, bicycles. I've done more cycling in Europe than I've done at home in probably years, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe I should get my (mom's) bike out more often and use it? Anyways, cycling aside, we spent the day exploring and visiting ruins, cemeteries, seals, and donkeys. Also, don't let anyone ever tell you it's never sunny there; I got the worst sunburn of my whole trip, along with windburn, here. Yeah. Sun and wind! Also, spent some time looking at wool and knitted products, and they were so pretty and warm! I want them! 

Upon our return to Galway, via ferry of course, we went to dinner, had the most incredible, light, fluffy Bailey's cheesecake, and then went to have a quiet drink and listen to some live music. I've got to say, this may have been one of my favourite nights on this particular tour - just sitting with a cider and listening to a couple guys play guitar and sing, no pressure to do anything but listen and chat. Heaven on earth. Also, I got to listen to Galway Girl, sung by locals, in a a pub in Galway. I think that's pretty special, don't you?

Galway to Derry today, and our first stop? Leenaun for a "cheeky morning Irish coffee," or in my case a Bailey's hot chocolate. Have you guessed my preferred Irish whiskey drink yet? At home I only seem to drink it in the winter, but when in Ireland... Anyways, the drink and photos (this is where they filmed The Fields, so of course we needed photos!) we're followed by amazing scenery - the area we drove through was on the National Geographic's top 10 most scenic drives, so as you can guess it was stunning. Another up for the day? We stayed in a hotel in Derry, not a hostel! 

We got into Derry relatively early for us, and this was excellent, because we went on a walking tour. I'm not going to say too much, but the walking tour was amazing. Our guide was a postman in the Bogside before being a guide, and he grew up during the troubled times, so his personal connection to everything he spoke about was amazing. The murals they've put up were incredible, and the atmosphere of hope and joy was evident. It may have been the weather, but I like to think that after all this area has been through, it is slowly healing and looking to an optimistic future. Our night in Derry was pretty quiet, and bed wasn't too late for this tired traveler. 

Derry to Belfast with a few touristic stops, and what's happening? It's raining. I can't really complain, we've had amazing weather, but as we were off to the Giant's Causeway and Carrik-a-Rede Bridge today it was a bit of a shame. I've got to say though, the weather being to fierce made the causeway absolutely incredible. Winds and rain combined with a misty front to make the causeway more mysterious and incredible, and the narrator and tour were entertaining. The rope bridge, Carrik-a-Rede, was also amazing, though I have to say I've been on scarier suspension bridges. This may be because the wind had died down though. Anyways, yes, overall a beautiful day of views, not hindered by the rain but in some ways enhanced by it brain also seems to bring out the lushness of Ireland, which is incredible in itself. 

As it was our last night together we had dinner out as a group (at a place my father would have loved - a bar absolutely teaming with billiard tables) and then went out. We didn't actually stay out too late, but we had a good time!

Time to head "home" to Dublin on June 28th, but first we had a Black Cab tour of Belfast. In the rain. The city was unique, and I've got to say, though I didn't feel unsafe, there was still an air of unease in the city sometimes. It may be because the city is still divided though, and still trying to heal and work through its past. Either way, the tour was really well done and the murals here were powerful. 

Lunch ushered in our departure from Belfast, and on our way back to sunny Dublin we stopped at a monastery to see some original Celtic Crosses. Here we're some serious crosses. 2-3 times the size of an average person, at least, the crosses were heavily detailed and depicted religious stories. Most intriguing, these crosses were hundreds of years old,if not thousands, and they looked excellently preserved. 

After checking into hostels, etc. back in Dublin a few of us got together and headed to Whalen's, where they shot part of PS I Love You, intending to have dinner. Whalen's didn't serve food, so we settled for a pint and then headed back to the Temple Bar earlier for food and planning. We settled plans for the next day, our last day together for those of us who still remained, and then I headed back for bed because I'm boring and was exhausted. 

What plans had we made? Well, firstly we'd planned to head to Kilmainham Gaol, and secondly to the Guinness Storehouse. The Gaol was incredible; the history, the preservation, the guide.. The entire experience was well done, and the straightforward way all the history was presented was admirable. There was no blushing over the past, and the conditions were laid bare: it wasn't some faerie place and conditions were harsh. However, at times the conditions in the jail were better than the conditions outside, and all this was presented along with information on the occasions of use for the jail and the important political prisoners held and executed inside. 

The Guinness Storehouse was almost as far from the Gaol in atmosphere as we could get, which is a good thing, naturally, but it was equally as entertaining. I'm not a big fan of beer, but even I poured and then drank a pint. I've got to say, Guinness in Dublin is far superior to other beers... 

The rest of the day was spent wandering around, and then in the evening I headed to my last minute decision: Riverdance. I went and saw Riverdance in Dublin and 8 year old me rejoiced. Everything was a Celtic story and nothing hurt. It was a lovely show, an the perfect way to end my stay in Dublin. June 30 saw me flying to London, catching the tube to the hostel, checking in, catching a bus to see "Big Ben" and Parliament, Trafalgar Square, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, and the Thames, and then spending a quiet night. Why? July 1st would see me sitting on a bus for 9 hours to get to Scotland. Happy Canada Day!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Let's try to play a bit of catch up before bed?

Ah, so, I left off at Paris. Well, after Paris is was back onto the bus and into Switzerland. Fun fact: for a neutral country, the Swiss are very well prepared for an attack. Seriously, they've e got like, airplane hangars covered in grass to look like hills and explosives under bridges. And all men are militarily trained, etc. crazy. Also, Switzerland is gorgeous. Like, seriously stunning. 

So, I spent my two days in Switzerland in Lauterbrunnen, right by the Alps. I had a waterfall two minutes from the campsite I was staying at, and a view of the Alps from the window of the kitchen. Ah-mazing. So, what'd I do? I spent my two days with a group of Kiwis and Aussies (as I seem to do). The first morning was spent exploring with my roommate, Alice. Hiking up behind the waterfall, going off to Trummelbach Falls for a few hours, walking in the sunshine and listening to the cowbells.

Oh yes, I'm not kidding, the cows wear bells. As do other livestock. Apparently for cows it means the bigger the bell, the better they are at producing milk. Random fact of the day? 

Anyways, the afternoon was where the fun truly started: white water rafting. Oh yes, I went rafting I. The alps of glacier fed rivers. Not only were they glacier fed rivers, they were fast rising glacier fed rivers. So fast rising, in fact, that we were not legally allowed to do our second run and so had to do the first one twice. Now this was my first rafting experience, and over got to say, it was fantastic. If you're ever in Interlaken, I recommend Outdoor Interlaken for your outdoor needs. Our second day out the others went canyoning, and it sounds like it was amazing as well. 

After a hard day's work enjoying amazing, lush, sunny, green countryside and chilling, thrilling water it was a night for fondu (which I wasn't impressed by) and then drinks and chats with the Busabout crew. Dancing at the Bombshelter followed, and our 8:15 am departure the next day was still met. 

Yupp, after our night we still made it to the shuttle. The others went into town to go canyoning, and off I went to Seilpark, the high ropes obstacle course (think tree-go but higher, friends). This too was loads of fun, but I've got to say that until I did the very last run, the black one, I wasn't challenged. However, when I finally got to the black run, after about 3.5 hours, it was hard. Not hard enough to dissuade me, but it took a bit of blood and sweat. The second amazing day in Switzerland ended similarly to the first, except instead of having bad fondu I made myself some pasta and chicken for dinner. 

I've got to say, Switzerland was one of the places I wish I'd managed to spend more time, if simply for the scenery. The entire area was gorgeous and even though I was doing "extreme sports" (not that extreme, honestly) I felt really at ease and at home. Perhaps it was all the open land and farms after Paris. 

Getting further and further behind.

Wow, oops, got a little behind again. So, I think I've got to tell you about Paris, yeah? Did I already talk about San Sebastián? Oh good, I did. Wow, this all seems like forever ago; time really does fly when you're having fun! So, Paris...

Anyone that knows my itinerary, or me, knows that Disneyland was a must for me on this trip - I'm only going to potentially be in Europe once, so I'd better hit up as much as I can, and because my Bucket List includes visiting as many Disney parks as possible, I had to hit up EuroDisney! First off, let me say, it felt like Disney and home when I walked in. Even though I was in a different county, and everything was different, there was that wonderful feeling of familiarity I get when most things Disney are involved. So, I got off the train and entered security around 10:15 (park opening was at 10). By 10:30 I was walking onto Main Street and catching my first glimpses of the castle! I teared up a bit, I'm not going to lie. It maybe been the fact that I only got about 5 hours of sleep the night before, and less before that, but there was actually a bit of choking up. I spent my first day wandering and going on rides, watching excited children, acting like a child, and just generally enjoying myself. I got over to their second park late in the day and did a few things while the parade was happening at the main park, then when it closed I was back in the main park for a few more rides and then the claiming of the spot for the fireworks show. This year's show, for the twentieth anniversary of the park, centers around Peter's shadow and an adventure it goes on. The entire show was fantastic, and I'm so glad I stayed to watch it (it started at 11; it didn't start getting dark until well after 9). Of course, the end of the spectacular show meant the end of the day, and it was back onto a very crowded metro I went. The walk to the hostel was uneventful, much unlike the morning walk to the hostel which had involved a creepy guy shouting at me in French about going with him...

Day two in Disneyland was a very laid back day. I actually started my day in park 2, doing al the things I'd missed the day before. Then, of course, I had to browse the shops and see Mickey Mouse! I met a family from Aruba in the line to meet Mickey and would you believe it, the dad spent about a year living in Canada and working with the banks out east (primarily in Nova Scotia). Huh. After Mickey, I grabbed a very late lunch (which was perfect; I avoided a cue) and wandered and rode rides before claiming a seat to see the one thing I'd missed the day before that I'd wanted to see: the parade! Call me a child all you want, but Disney parades always make me smile. I happened to be surrounded by children, so for one of my good acts for the day I put some of them in front of me where they could see, and their parents could still see them. The lady with the baby next to me was thrilled when the fairy godmother tools special interest in her baby, and I got to finally see Tinkerbell and Peter Pan. 

That's the one thing I noticed about EuroDisney: even though there are characters out and about, there aren't as many out as in California. At all. And I didn't get to meet my favourite two, so now I really do have to go to Cali. What mor can I say? I had a fantastic time, left this update for far too long, and now I'm trying to remember everything without taking out my diary. Stupid. Ach, well. Ciao!

Friday, June 14, 2013

It's about a 14 hour drive day

I'm starting this with a disclaimer: it's 6:30 in the evening and I'm typing this on the bus I got on at 8 am this morning. Any terrible grammar, spelling, loopy-ness, etcetera may be the results of being stuck on a coach for an extended period of time. 

Right, well, where were we last? Mmmmn, Madrid? Well, after Madrid it was back on the coach for a trip to San Sebastián. There was an option of going to Pamplona, but because the running of the bulls festival isn't until July, and because I want to get up into Ireland, I forewent that destination. So, San Sebastián. It's on the coast! Actually, it's on the Atlantic Ocean, so I've dipped my feet in that now. Yupp. Ticked that off my bucket list yesterday, but I'm getting ahead of myself. 

The day on the bus was basically just that - another day on the bus. When we arrived at the Urban Hostel and checked in, our busabout guide took us out on a pintxos crawl. If you aren't sure what those are, they like tapas but instead of a full plate of them you get one or two. Basically, you walk in and see a bar covered in food, get a plate (and drink?), and choose a few pintxos. (I'm not sure I'm spelling this right, I know there's and x in there though). Depending on the place, they may charge you when you're done by the amount of toothpicks on your plate when you're done. So, we had Basque cider (super good. Dry and intensely flavored, though) at one place, which they pour from a height to aerate it a bit and carbonate it; pintxos and sangria at a second; and sangria at a third. Basically we spent an easy night eating, drinking, and getting to know each other :-)

Next day was a busy day. Well, sort of. It depends on your definition of the word "busy." On the bus over to San Sebastián we watched a film called "The Way," which I highly recommend. I cried in 'public' watching it (yay, sleep deprivation), but that's not the point. It covers a man's journey on La Camino del Santiago, a pilgrimage from the French Pyrenees into Santiago, Spain. The movie was fantastic, and the journey itself looked not only beautiful and challenging, but inspiring (you'll understand if you watch the movie. Seriously, I recommend it!). Turns out there's a section of the Camino that stretches about 6.7 km and is just outside San Sebastián, so Brittany and I spent the day walking that. We were gone about 7 hours total, and we walked to Pasaia, had lunch, and walked back in over thirty degree heat - we figure it was about 17 km in total. It was hot, and it was worth it. First of all, we had to ask for directions to the trail, which wasn't difficult because thankfully Brittany spoke Spanish (I met her on the bus. Honestly, I keep meeting awesome people on busabout). Turns out the slightly older man we asked (into his sixties at the least, if not early seventies?) walked the trail for about two hours total every day, and instead of just giving us directions he actually walked a portion of the trail with us. This trail goes up part of a mountain, winds around the head so you almost continuously have a view of the ocean, and the descends again into town. It's absolutely gorgeous, and because it was such a nice day, was breathtaking. Anyways, this older man walked a portion of the trail with us, gave us directions at a crossroads (one path was the extra hour or so to Pasaia, the other was another 4-5 hours to get to France. Walking.), and sent us on our way. How nice was that? So we did some more walking and enjoyed some more gorgeous views, saw some aqueducts (walked over one, actually. Because it was a shorter route than going around), looked at ruins, and eventually began our descent into Pasaia. On our way down the very numerous steps, we ran into another older man, this one say 8ish years younger. We initially just said hello in passing and such pleasantries, but as we asked about how long it would take to get to Pasaia we fell into step. This man ended up accompanying us nearly into town and suggesting a fantastic restaurant for lunch for us. We had some excellent experiences with locals in San Sebastián and surrounding areas in just a day! :-)

After a gigantic lunch - don't let anyone tell you the Spanish don't eat we'll - we let our stomachs settle in a bit, and then it was back on the trail. Because it was now about 3pm, it was the peak of the day's heat. 35 degrees in town, slightly cooler up the mountain and there was a nice sea breeze. Sometimes. Actually though, the walk back wasn't bad, and I'm proud to say I didn't hurt the next day even though this was my first big hike in a while. On our way back into town we ended up hiking (walking?) with a guy slightly younger than us who grew up in the Basque Country and is studying in San Sebastián, so over the course of the day we had very pleasant, slightly long, conversations with locals. I may not have understood much of the first two, because I don't speak Spanish, but the third was in English! So, yes, back to the hostel about 6ish, showered, and I'd been hoping to go on an 8pm sunset cruise organized by the hostel. 

Unfortunately, the cruise was cancelled. Instead, we had "Basque night out" with unlimited sangria while watching the sunset, drinks at a few bars, and games on the pier. A good night out, and I got to know some of the others at the hostel more. Actually, I got to know my fellows busabout companions better, including the five guys from Victoria. Small world. 

When we got up on Thursday, it was pouring. Ah, San Sebastián in the rain - not the best. We headed over the river and did some shopping, and then when we went back to the hostel I headed into Old Town to explore. Found my bracelet and post cards, then I headed to the beach. By this point it had finished raining, but the sky was still dark. Still, nice beach. No beach glass; I walked the length in search and found very little rock washed ashore, let alone glass worn out enough to bring home, but I tried Mama! Still, I walked the length barefoot and dipped my toesies in the Atlantic Ocean 😊 then it was back to the hostel for a bit of reading and relaxing, off to the market, and I cooked myself pasta at the hostel last night. My dinner cost me less than ten euros, and I have enough groceries left to make more later (I also look ridiculous carrying all my bags. I'm fixing that before I get the metro tonight)!

Now, it's Friday and I'm on the bus. Again. Still. However, I'm headed to Paris, and that means... Disneyland! Yupp, I'm going to Disneyland tomorrow and Sunday, and I couldn't be more excited about it. I've got to get the metro to Nation, and then hop on a train to the park, but it's worth it - it's only about a 45 minute ride on the train anew the park doesn't open until like 10, so I can even sleep until like 7:30 or 8! 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Go, go, go! When you're only in a city for 2 full days (or three nights, pick yer poison) that's what you do; you go. Honestly, it's sort of crazy and it's still surreal to me that I'm even here experiencing these things, but that's the way it is. Valencia was two nights, so that was crazy-ish, but not overwhelming. Valencia was a large city, but the historic centre wasn't too large. Just confusingly arranged. 

Guess what I saw in Valencia though. I'd say you'll never guess, but I'm not sure. You might. It's not always typically associated with Spain, and I didn't know I'd be seeing it, if that clears things up (I know it doesn't, don't worry). Alright, so I saw the Holy Grail. You know the one Monty Python's movie is in search of? The one that has countless movies dedicated to a quest for it.? Well, I saw it. Or if not it, exactly, I saw what is accepted as being "it." Yupp. S that's a thing I can add to my resume? 

Other than that, Valencia was a bike tour and a lot of walking and exploring. Cathedrals, markets, museums, etc. Valencia has it all, and I saw a good deal of it, including an international market in the gardens in the riverbed. Valencia was good to me, the hostel was nice, but I didn't sleep much there because one of my roommates had a cold and spent the nights snoring. Oh well, such as happens. 

After Valencia it was off to Madrid for three nights. I'd say three crazy nights, but they weren't mad, the days were. First night in Madrid we got dropped off, I headed to my hostel, and it turned out hostelworld hadn't sent them my reservation, even though I had my confirmation information. There was no bed for me! I talked to the receptionist, she made some calls, I waited, she waited, and eventually she ended up giving me a bed where I was because someone who was supposed to have checked in hours earlier hadn't and didn't return some calls or texts. I felt bad about taking a bed that may've belonged to someone else, but at the same time I was exhausted and ready to put my bags down. I ended up in a private room, with an e suite bathroom, and I took a bath! I'm pretty sure it was just supposed to be a shower with deep sides, but I just wanted a bath so that's what I turned it into. I felt like a million bucks when I went to bed, and even better upon getting up. 

Up early to move hostels, I checked my bags into the new hostel's luggage room, had a fantastic, organic yogurt parfait for breakfast, and went on the free walking tour the hostel was offering. I think the walking or bike tours on my first day in a city a my favourite way to get a bit of a taste for the city. The free ones especially are normally excellent- because we are choosing how much the guide is making, they normally provide excellent tours and a willing to give dining suggestions, etc. After the walking tour we went to lunch, which is apparently the largest meal of the day (it was delicious) and were there for a few hours, so by the time we split to do things it was near four pm. I headed off with some other busabouters and ended up spending a few hours at the Prado museum with a guy named Marino who is here from... Victoria, BC with friends. Small world! Since we'd gotten into the museum for free (it was a Sunday deal), it wasn't as disappointing when we were kicked out around 7 without seeing all of it. 

Back to the hostel we went, and off to do our own things - for me this was checking into the hostel and settling into my room. If you're ever in Madrid, UHostel was gorgeous. It's fairly new, and it showed. Clean, large rooms, nice beds, good sized lockers, fantastic showers, nice common areas, and a really welcoming, comfortable feel in those common areas. There were swings and a water fountain on our floor, too! Anyways, after settling in I went downstairs to meet up with the guide who was taking "us" (me and a group from another hostel) to a flamenco show. I liked flamenco as a kid, and seeing it live in an intimate setting (12 or so of us, the two guitars, singer, and dancer, and the guide in a small basement like area) was excellent. It was passionate, emotional, and thoroughly thrilling. After the flamenco, I walked back to the hostel and was asleep fairly quickly. 

Day two in Madrid-my last day! This day was also action packed, of course, but it started a bit later. I allowed myself a bit of a lie-in, had breakfast, went to the chemist (I've either still got allergies, or a bit of a cold; maybe both), and then headed off with two girls to the Thyssen Museum where we saw art by Picasso, Monet, Degas, Cezanne, and more. For a once private collection, this place was excellent. Two hours covered the museum and it was off to the largest park in Madrid (Rialto?) for a chance to see the Fallen Angel fountain. As something that is pretty rare (depictions of the descent of the angel, or the fallen angel himself are supposedly very rare in statuary), it wasn't as grand as I expected. However, it was still pretty darn impressive. The guys rollerblading around the fountain with their Walkmans and doing some sort of routine were amusing too, haha.

Our theoretical last stop of the day was an Egyptian temple that was given by the Egyptians to Madrid. This was closed, but still. It's and Egyptian temple in Spain. It's also the closest I'm probably going to get to Egypt for a little while, so it was neat to see. The park also afforded a lovely view of the city; added bonus! The reason this was our theoretical last stop is that we weren't planning on going elsewhere after this stop, but we did. We went back to the royal palace, and even though we couldn't get in, we saw the gardens and had a short wander - gorgeous, as expected. Off to the Opera theatre to catch the metro, and back to the hostel to re-pack and prep for tomorrow. 

I was planning on going to dinner alone, so I grabbed my ipad for a book and headed downstairs. Turns out I wasn't dining alone, I ended up getting tapas with the guys from the Island. The place we ended up in was really neat - you ordered a drink and got a plate of tapas with your drink. I ordered a glass of white wine, and I'm not sure what it is with the Spanish, but every time I order a glass of wine I get like, 1/3 of a bottle here. I'm not sure if that's normal, or they just really want to make me drunk? Either way, good wine, nice tapas, and when we rolled out of there we went back to the hostel for free sangria and drinking games. Yupp, the hostel provided sangria and space, and a guy came in to lead drinking games. Basically, for about 90 minutes we played a huge game of King's (Madrid rules, which are basically the same as home?). After the games, we had an option of a pub crawl or not. Because I was getting on the bus in the morning, I opted for no more drinking. Hung out for a bit, and then it was up to bed for bus day!

So, sitting here and writing, it's bus day. I'm en route to San Sebastián, and just left Pamplona. The Basque countryside is gorgeous, and I'm excited for two full days on the north west coast of Spain! :-)

Drop me a line if you want, or a comment, or a hey. I'm with people now, but I know that in just of a week I'll be flying solo again, so I would love to hear from home! Also, I'm missing everyone! 

Love and hugs for all,