where i've been...

My travel map

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dublin and Belfast

Well, we finally made it to Dublin the other day. Like I said before, we had a great time with Amanda's family in West Cork, and I can still hear her little (hardly little by the size of him) brother's voice saying to me, "Quiet, you". Ahh, to be part of the family. :)

The day after Christmas Amanda's dad took us coursing, where two muzzled greyhounds chase a hare across a field, trying to make it change direction before it ducks to safety under a barrier. The shocking thing was, they obviously let the hare out first, and the dogs a few seconds later, and more often than not, the dogs never caught up to the hare! They really are fast little animals. There are hares all over Ireland, and since West Cork is in the countryside, there were plenty of them out on the lawns in Amanda's backyard in the mornings. I think one morning there were at least 10 of them, just sitting around, diging everything up. :) Happy little hares. We went out to Blarney to see the coursing, home of the famous Blarney Stone. We didn't stop and I didn't kiss it, seeing as how if you do, tradition states you get the gift of gab. I think I already have that, let's be honest!

We went out to another local pub the night after Christmas, and it was great. Full of locals and apparently the bar has to close at two, but they just close the doors, turn off a few lights and keep on serving until the police come, if they ever do. :) And get this, kids can be in the bars and pubs, but only up until a certain time, like 9pm. They were shocked that we Americans can't have kids in bars. Many pondered what they would do with their kids if they couldn't take them to the pubs with them. :) By the end of the night everyone was taking turns belting out songs and others were joining in. Rahima and I couldn't get up the courage to sing. I actually realized that I don't really think I know how a)most songs start or b)most of the words apart from the chorus. Hmmm...something else to now work on on those long bus rides.

So we headed to Dublin which is a VERY expensive city. We did a great walking tour and although it is expensive, it is quite pretty. We met a group of Australians living in London who shared our hostel the second night, so we all headed out together last night and are still paying the price for it a bit today. We jumped on a bus to Belfast and got here about an hour ago...which means 4pm and it is almost dark. Yikes! We are still trying to figure out the whole New Years situation, as we didn't do any preemptive planning for accomodations in Scotland (in hindsight, not very bright) and so we are still unsure if we will make it up there to welcome in 09 or if we will head back down to London perhaps. Wish us luck!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Well, after another 15 hours on buses and ferries from London, we made it to Cork, Ireland. We spent yesterday running some errands around town and then headed back to Amanda's house. Her mother was so kind and let me bake a few dozen cookies to add to the loads of food she was preparing. Baking sure made it feel Christmas-y to me. We met Amanda's lively and very Irish family, minus her sister who is in New Zealand this Christmas. Her three brothers have kept us quite entertained with their stories and accents! Last night we went to mass, then to a pub where I enjoyed a proper guiness in a real Irish pub...in Ireland. ;)

This morning we attempted to get up and go out to the beach to run into the cold water with the locals, but timing wasn't right, so we missed out. Maybe a good thing in retrospect. :). So it is now about 6pm, I am still in my pajamas, stuffed to the brim and very, very happy to be with such a wonderful family if I can't be with my own. Merry Christmas to all of you back home. I love you all very, very much. Have a very special day and know I am thinking of you all. Hugs and kisses.

Monday, December 22, 2008

well...almost to Dublin

This is just a quick note to let you all know that we have successfully made it about halfway to Dublin. We are in London, and are here for the night. Apparently this is a very popular time to travel, all train and bus tickets are sold out, until tomorrow night at 7pm, when we will board a bus that will take us all the way to Cork, Ireland, where we will spend Christmas. Guess we aren't really going to get to Dublin before Cork after all. All said and done, it would have been about the same price to fly directly to Dublin from Paris and it would have saved us a few days of travel time. Oh, and that darn eurail pass thing gets trickier and trickier. We could have delayed starting our two month usage if we had flown as well. But hindsight is 20-20, and London is quite pretty, even though the dollar is weaker here than in the rest of Europe! Guess I'd better REALLY enjoy that beer I am about to have. :)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ahhh, Paris...

The girls...with Paris in the background.

Well, I have to say, the last few days in Paris were fantastic. Leslie and Dave were amazing hosts who let us completely indulge in both Paris, and in being somewhere familiar. This is the longest we have been in one place, one bed in fact, since we left. It has been wonderful. Not only do Leslie and Dave really know how to be great hosts and tour guides, but their home has all the comforts of HOME. They have what seems like an endless DVD collection, heat, a washer and dryer, yummy food (Leslie is a great cook) and a great knowledge of Paris, the sights, the buses, etc. Despite the fog and drizzle, (and Leslie being six months pregnant) we hiked up the 700-odd steps to the second platform of the Eifel Tower the other day. It was great. On the platform they had these fun ice sculpture-like things which is not what you would expect after the little hike. At night, the Eifel Tower has a brilliant sparkling light show which took both my and Rahima's breath away. (Dave even says we gasped when it actually lit up. :)

That's the Eifel Tower in the background with all of the blue lights.

We wandered down Champs-Elysee with the beautiful lights, and got to see both Sacre Coeur and Notre Dame.

We also spent some time at the modern art museum, the Pompidou.

My yummy banana and nutella crepe. Mmmmm....

Some paintings from Painter's Square in Montmartre.

The Louvre at night.

The Moulin Rouge

Delicious gelatto...they made the cones into flowers. Yum!

One of my favorite pictures so far...

Today Les and Dave headed back to the US for the holidays and Rahima and I spent our day lazily walking to some of the famous movie sights from the movie Amelie. We shared a creme brulee at the Cafe les Deux Moulins from the movie and later indulged in some delicious macaroons from the exquisite Laudree. (unfortunately my pics of the macaroons aren't uploading at the moment...another French revolt against me!) Tomorrow we start early to attempt to get up to Dublin...and are gearing up for a long day of travel. I got bored with my hair, and cut some bangs (shocker)...we'll see if I still like them in a day or two! Currently we are reveling in the last few hours of DVD heaven, watching Office Space...very french, right? :) I did make french toast this morning though, and watched the movie French Kiss.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Mona Lisa...and other works of art

Dear France,
Your country is cold. Your policies are ridiculous. Your audio-guides are confusing. Your capital city is very expensive. Please take note of these concerns and make the necessary corrections.
Annette and Rahima

This is just one example of the "carefully worded letters" that Rahima is currently composing to send to the whole of France. Every time we encounter some type of a problem or frustration, we make a mental note that will we write a letter to the people in charge at a later date. France gets a whole letter.

Yesterday we started out by going to the train station to make our reservation for our eurail pass to Dublin. Well, for starters, you need a subway pass to get to the train station and Leslie had advised us to get a week long pass. After trying to figure out the many options, zones, prices, and ticket combinations (with no help from the man in the booth except to point us to the automatic machine) we figured out which ticket to buy, only to have the machine not accept american credit cards. Luckily we had enough euros on us (even though the exchange rate is getting crazy out of control every day...it is now at 1.46 I think to the dollar...urgh).

So we headed to the train station and were bumped around from office to office for a while, until we finally got to the right ticket counter only to be told that even though we HAVE a eurail pass, we would have to pay 75 euros EACH to get from Paris to London. You see, you need a reservation on certain trains, can only make them at the train station, no calling or website help, and oftentimes you need to pay for the reservation. Furthermore, you seemingly can only make a reservation from the departure station, so you can't make multiple reservations in advance if you are traveling long distances that cover multiple areas. Then, the eurail pass doesn't cover the UK (why would it, right?) so we have to cross the UK, and then take a ferry to Dublin. Someone explain to me why this eurail pass is so cheap? Our budget has been broken mostly on this trip by unexpected transportation costs...but this one is ridiculous.

So after creative planning (maybe) and extreme frustration (along with the composition of many carefully worded letters to eurail), we got a ticket to the north of France, and we will attempt to navigate the ferries, and the crossing of the UK on our own, when we get there of course. December 22 should be a really, REALLY fun day.

Us at the Louvre

So, after nearly freezing in the train station, we headed to the Louvre. It was immense! We started with the Mona Lisa, because we figured you have to start there. It was beautiful in it's own right, and I am glad I saw it, but compared to some of the other paintings I have seen in the past few days, it wasn't my favorite! I am certainly spoiled. We decided to do one of the audio tours to help us learn a little bit about some of the art in the museum, which was good, but it was supposed to take about 1.5 hours, and somehow 3 hours later we still hadn't finished it. We chalk it up to the fact that is was harder to follow than it would seem, with a little palm pilot-like screen leading us around, but with some of the art out of order or too many staircases or turns and, even following the SAME tour, we got separated for about 45 minutes. It really is a miracle someday that the two of us are still on this trip together!

Rahima navigating the Louvre with her audio-tour guide!

The Louvre is really just too big to do in one day. There is so much to see, and the building itself has so much history to learn about. In contrast, I have to say that the Museo de la Reina Sofia (the contemporary art museum in Spain) has been my favorite so far. I got to see so many pieces that I learned about in college and are much more to my liking. For example, standing in front of Picasso's 'Guernica' was breathtaking. I must have stood there for about 10 minutes, just attempting to take it all in. You couldn't take pictures there, but I took one from the internet so you could see what I am talking about. It is 11 feet tall by 25.6 feet wide. Impressive. Huge. Beautiful. It is a commentary on the cruelties and suffering inflicted on individuals (including animals and innocent civilians) during war.

Then I moved on to see a lot of the Salvador Dalí works as well as the Joan Miró collection. I love Dalí, his works are so intricate and wacky. But it was when I was in the Miró section that I got the giggles. Which is not a good thing when you are in a museum, by yourself, trying to control your giggles. The thing is, I really like Miró's works, but some of them I am convinced, are him just really playing a joke on the art world. I mean, there are these huge canvases, with maybe 15 black dots on them. Or a splotch of blue paint. Nothing more. I am sure that he must have had a good laugh at our expense that we covet these works so highly. It's certainly no Mona Lisa... :)

So today we will head out to see the Eifel Tower and some other sights. Can wait to see what the exchange rate will be at tomorrow. And to find out how much it will eventually cost to get to Ireland. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oh, Paris in the winter...

So what does one do in Paris in the winter? Well, if you are a normal traveler, you probably spend your first day here seeing many of the sights, such as the Arc du Triumph (sp?), the Eifel Tower, the Lourve, etc. But if you are me or Rahima, you spend it, almost all day of it to be precise, in your pajamas, happy to finally be somewhere warm, nibbling at yummy food in your friend's apartment! Yep. Rahima actually didn't set foot outside today, and I did only to accompany my friend Leslie to the supermarket around the corner. She and her husband, Dave, have been so nice and have opened up their home to us for the next week. It is so good to see Leslie. She and I went to preschool together, and I love that we are still close. She got married about a year and a half ago, and moved to Paris with her husband. She is now the cutest six-month pregnant person I know. :) Even if her crazy french doctor thinks that 5 kilos of weight gain after six months of pregnancy is "too much". Us fatty Americans, huh? :)

So, we arrived from Madrid last night, via Ryan Air. Here I must dispel a few myths about the airline which has been widely touted by travelers as the Southwest of Europe. Are fares low? Yes. Indisputably. But the reason is, they get you coming and going. So we had booked a cheap flight to Paris in order to delay the using of our eurail passes, since once we start to use them we have to complete all of our travel within two months. So, we bought tickets for 30 euros each. Then with taxes, it came up to about 54 euros each. Still, not bad, right? (Here I should realize that I have had NO airline luck as of late and cut my loses. Sometimes being stubborn is not my best quality!) So then, we each had to pay 15 euros to check a bag. But it gets better. Upon arrival to the airport, they told us that in addition, we have to pay 15 euros for EACH kilo over 15 kilos. Well, my bag (obviously still containing the necessary travel solid wooden rolling pin and now three new pairs of shoes) weighed 18.5 kilos and Rahima's bag was a slightly less 17 kilos. So they wanted 90 more euros from us. We did a quick shifting of contents and carried on the extra weight (which is still going on the plane, so I am not sure WHY this policy exists). What a hassle! When we arrived in Paris, after the worst landing of my life, we had to pay 13 euros to get from the airport to the city center, because this "cheap" airline doesn't fly into one of the two major airports, but instead, one that is 80 km outside of the city. So you do the math...was it really "cheaper" to fly?

By the time we got to Leslie and Dave's, we dropped our stuff and headed out to eat. (Leslie and Dave were hosting a work holiday party at their apartment, which was in full swing, white elephant gifts and all by the time we arrived) Rahima and I found a little restaurant to eat at, with a stereotypically unfriendly french waiter. We splurged on escargot and fresh vegetables, as well as salmon for her and duck for me. (If you know me well, you know that I can hardly resist duck on a menu). It was delicious. When they brought the bill it included a 19% charge, and we were confused if that included tip or if it was just outrageous french taxes. We asked the waiter who said it did not include tip. We left 10% walked back and asked Leslie and Dave. It included tip. Gotta love the french!

So tomorrow we will head out into the beautiful, crisp, cold air of Paris in the winter and see some of the sights. Today was a good day to recharge, and I tried to throw a few pictures up on the past posts. Hope you enjoy them, and hopefully it will be easy to put more up in the next few days too!

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Yipee! We made it to Madrid. Unfortunately Rahima is sick, so that is not the best news, but we are in a nice, warm hostel for tonight and she is already asleep, so hopefully she will feel much better tomorrow. We left Sevilla at 8:30am this morning, on a six hour busride to Madrid. By the time we got settled in to a hostel it was close to 4pm and I headed out to go to the Museo del Prado and the Contemporary Art Museum (Reina Sofia) because they are both free on Sundays. Well...kind of. Apparently the Prado is only free after 5pm, so I walked down to the Reina Sofia, which is only open (but free, so techinically not false advertising) from 10am to 2 on Sundays. So I wandered for a bit, and then thoroughly enjoyed both the heat and the art in the Prado. It had a lot of art that I studied in college, which was neat to see in person. I think the contemporary art collection is much more up my alley though, so I am looking forward to heading there tomorrow before we fly to Paris to see my good friend Leslie. I can´t wait!

Everything in Madrid is decked out for Christmas and as I was walking around today there actually a few snowflakes that began to fall. I am wearing almost everything that I packed just to stay warm and I drink enough tea from starbucks to keep me completely hydrated all day long. :) There certainly is a comfort in to-go coffee cups that I had never fully apprecited before this trip. The tapas in Spain are absolutely delicious and it is hard not to order one of everything wherever you are. :) Sorry this is a little disjointed, but I guess I am pretty tired too. I´ll try to be more coherent in the next blog...

Friday, December 12, 2008

When you´re hot, you´re hot. And when you´re not...

you´re probably in Morocco! Seriously, Morocco was great, but COLD! I couldn´t believe it. And I can´t believe that it has been so long since I have been able to sit down at a computer, with a normal keyboard, and type a bit about what has been going on.

So obviously, we finally left the Madrid airport, no thanks to Iberia, another cancelled flight and over 250 more dollars spent. I am still arguing that part, so let´s hope that money comes back to me eventually. But point being, we made it to Morocco and started our adventures in Marrakech. Of course, I have so much to say and to describe, and of course, this internet cafe isn´t letting me upload any pictures. Oh well...I´ll post some when I can.

So Marrakech is a huge city and we stayed mostly in the center of the old Medina, full of winding mazes of souks, or stores, filled with anything you can imagine, full of great colors and smells. You can walk through the souks and get lost among the myriad of little shops. During the day we had a bit of sun, and if you held still in the sunshine you actually could feel warm for a few minutes, which was great. At night, once the sun went down, everything turned very cold, very fast, and of course we were staying in places where heat was virtually unheard of. One of the many redeeming things in Morocco is the food though. It is absolutely amazing. I think that when I come home I will have a definite list of foods that I want to learn how to cook from the places I have traveled to. I bought some spices one day...imagining my future cooking endeavors.

After a few days of sightseeing there, we headed to the southeast of Morocco, on the most crowded bus I have EVER been on. An 11 hour bus ride, almost all men and our three little tourist selves, and people so packed in that some people actually stood the entire ride. We discovered that we were in Morocco for the time of a special feast, when everyone is trying to return home to see their families and buses are full to the brim. We made it to Er Rachidia at 4:30am where we were immediately identified as tourists and talked into a taxi to Merzouga (the desert) instead of waiting in the freezing cold for a 7:30am bus. While waiting for the taxi, we bargained a hotel deal and a desert safari down from about $80 each to about $45. Gotta love the low season. :)

Our luxury acomodations in the middle of the desert!

So about 7:00am we arrived in Merzouga and slept for a few hours, then drank copious amounts of mint tea, which is delicious and full of sugar in Morocco, and then hopped on our camels and rode out into the sahara dunes for about 2 hours. We got to see the sunset and then feel, once again, the intense cold that followed. Luckily we were there with a small group, but all good people, so we had a fun time. It was the three of us, two Czech guys and then the 4 local guides. In the morning we were awoken early enough to watch the sunrise, then hop back on the camels and head back to our hotel (with hot water!)

Sunrise in the Sahara Desert

The following day we headed to Fes and wandered around the shops and the Medina.
This is just a glimpse of how incredibly crowded it can get. Locals are more than happy to help you get un-lost in the medina, for a price. Many offer to be your guide from the get-go, and will barely take no for an answer. They all say they aren´t doing it for money, but to practice their english, which is not true at all. We had fun though and saw a lot of cool things. I have to say, I enjoyed Marrakech better than Fes. It is much easier to manage and I think more interesting. So we spent one day in Fes and the following day was the actual feast-celebration that we had been hearing so much about. We passed people all day long carrying or carting their sheep (for slaughter) back to their homes. Some took the sheep in carts, some over their shoulders, and we even saw one guy with a sheep on his lap as he rode his scooter through town. Amazing that of all the sheep I saw, I think only one of them actually realized what was in store for it the following day.

We got two offers to go to spend the feast day with a Moroccan family, and were warned that everything in Fes would be closed that day anyway. So we ended up going to another local town about 20 minutes from Fes and spending the day with one of the guys we had met at the hotel in Merzouga. Rachid and his family were probably the nicest family on earth. They welcomed us into their home and fed us and fed us and fed us. Lucky for us, we arrived after the actual slaughter of the sheep too! We walked around town, got caught in a torrential downpour and were soaked through for the rest of the day. Remember, no heat in Morocco. We still aren´t really sure how in the heck those people stay warm. :)

Hassan, Rahima, a friend, me, Rachid(our host), and Alyson

Two train rides a ferry and a busride later, we arrived in Sevilla, Spain. Wow. What a difference! We had beautiful weather yesterday and today it is raining. Sevilla is beautiful, and has tons of streets lined with orange trees. It is really quite amazing. We will be here until Sunday morning, when we go back to Madrid and then fly to Paris. It is really nice to be somewhere kind of cold though, because it really makes it feel like Christmas finally. There are decorations everywhere and I have to say that I am pretty happy to be here. Also, it is really hard not to want to shop because every store is having Christmas sales and the stuff here is so cute! But alas, traveling with a backpack is keeping me a bit focused, although I admit to buying two pairs of shoes yesterday which I just couldn´t pass up! Between them and my rolling pin I think I have lost my mind! :)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

still alive and well in morocco

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I am alive and well here in Morocco but the internet is more difficult to access. I will blog as soon as I can to give you some updates about FINALLY getting out of the Madrid airport (more of a task than ever imagined) Makarrech, the night we just spent in the Sahara desert and Fes. Thing are cold but great. I can't wait to post some pictures!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

my second missed flight...

Who wants to be in Morocco when you can be stranded at the Madrid airport? Oh wait...just about everyone.

So, leaving Brazil proved a bit more adventurous than planned. Our last day was a comedy of errors, minus the comedy. Rahima's camera broke in Rio when it accidentally jumped out of my hand at a crowded party. So on Monday we began a mission to get it repaied, which led us all over Rio to various shops that either no longer existed, didn't have the necessary part, would need two days, or would cost an arm and a leg. Feeling responsible for the loss of picture taking ability, I decided I could live without my left arm, and we left the camera to be fixed. We attempted to meet our new friend Ana for lunch but somehow spent 45 minutes waiting without finding her...while she did the same without finding us. We then went to take a few last pictures, then hopped on a city bus to save a few cents instead of taking the subway. An hour later we arrived, only to find out that the lense they put in the camera wasn't compatible and therefore wouldn't focus. Translation: Rahima is still sans camera, but I have both arms.

So we rushed back to pack our things and catch the bus to the airport. Even with Daniel's explicit instructions, we caught the wrong bus and kept asking for directions to get to the right bus. Half the people had no idea where to send us and the other half gave such detailed directions that we had only the vaguest idea of what they werwe saying. So wander we did and just as we were about to give up, Rahima saw the bus passing us by. This sent us into a sprint, backpacks and all after the bus. Luckily for us the bus had a red light, so we caught up and got on.

This morning we landed in Madrid at 10am, and looked down to the floor below us to see Rahima's friend who was meeting us for our flight to Morocco. We waved at her, got our bags, and then stood in line to check in for our 12:20 flight. There were only 4 ticket windows open for a huge line, and a few times an Iberia representative would come by, calling out flights that were getting close and pulling people from the line. She didn't call our flight, but probably due to my recent flight history, I decided to ask anyway. She told me not to worry and to stay in line. About 15 minutes later (11:30ish) I noticed a couple who had made it to the ticket counter but were turned away and obviously very agitated. I went to the customer service area and asked what was going on and they said that our flight was now closed! I will try to spare you all the details here because I am still hot about the whole thing and those of you who really know mw know that is not a pretty place. Long story a bit shorter is that I will NEVER fly Iberia again. They could not be less helpful. We were two of at least six people who had been in line at least two hours proir to flight departure, as recommended. The others were pissed off too. I have been told ALL day long that it is not Iberia's fault that we all missed the flight. It is ours. I have argued furiously and then to the point of tears with about 7 people in person and countless more on the phone. There is apparently NO ONE who can rebook, refund, or offer another wauy to get to Morocco (where Rahima's friend now is) short of paying them $1000 US and flying Thursday night. I have filed two official complaints and we bought tickets with another airline for about $225. URGH!!!

Hopefully Alyson can disput the credit card charges and we can eventually recoup some of these ridiculous expenses. I spent over $20 in payphones today and we spent about $15 for 2 burgers and a soda at McDonalds. When people said Europe was going to be expensive I didn't think they meant the airport!

In any case, we are stuck here until 9:30 tomorrow morning. Somehow I think staying up all night in the Madrid airport will not be nearly as fun as in Rio. But maybe at least my delirium will make for good blog entries. :)