amy and brandon's travel weblog


Technically still traveling!

Filed under: Amy @ 11:26 pm

Wow, I have not written as much as I wanted to. But as Brandon & I are sitting in the A Terminal of IAD, waiting for our last flight, I figured it technically still counted as travel and that I could do a little updating.

As Brandon said, Meknes was a breath of fresh air compared to Fes. I really, really wish we could have stayed there longer. We both wanted to take in the Roman ruins at Volubilis, but I had to admit that I was just too tired at that point to try to make it happen. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the Meknes medina and a few little sights around the town. We had a unique dining experience (basically in someone’s house), and our riad there was pretty impressive.

The journey back into Spain was a very lengthy one that begin with leaving our Meknes riad at about 1am. We did not arrive in Granada til 8 in the evening. Along the way, a few interesting (enough) things happened:
- At one of the train stations in Morocco, a railway employee carried my bag up a flight of stairs for me. I had a coin out ready to tip him, and he refused to take it. I was shocked and very impressed by his kindness.
- After landing in Tarifa, I asked one of the ferry ticket agents where to catch a bus to Algeciras (no train station in Tarifa). In a strange mix of Spanish and English, it was revealed that there is a free shuttle bus from the ferry terminal to Algeciras. Jackpot!
- Upon arrival in Algeciras, we were desperately looking for signs to the train station. Following the crowd of people pulling roll-y suitcases behind them, we found ourselves at an intersection where the route wasn’t entirely clear. A friendly Spanish guy on the street starting pointing us in the direction of the station, and we ALMOST ignored him completely and walked the other way, still gun-shy from the conning touts in Morocco! The guy was right, and we got there without any problems.
- At the Algeciras train station, I recognized a backpacking guy from the bus ride from a distance (I actually recognized the instrument case he was carrying, truth be told) and made a nonchalant comment to Brandon about it. After musical guy bought his tickets, he virtually bee-lined to Brandon and me and enthusiastically proclaimed, “Bus buddies!” And thus began our chat with the Canadian Riley, who’d been making his way through Spain and Morocco for two months with no intentions of going home in the near future. If you’ve every met anyone from British Columbia, you’ll have an idea of what our new friend was like: super-friendly, pot-friendly, and eager to describe his favorite “sick” experiences. It was a fun change of pace for us to have someone to talk to.
- Inspired by Riley, we left the train station (the next train to Granada was four hours after our arrival in Algeciras) and walked about a block away for a kebab. Heaven.

Brandon has already talked about our tapas crawl: Granada is a GREAT place to do it, since most places give you a free tapa at the bar when you order a drink. We ate a lot of ham and olives, but I have never had such olives! Wow!

I enjoyed Granada on the whole: we failed to look at the weather forecast and were mostly underdressed for the chilly day, but we walked a lot and weren’t terribly bothered by it. The Alhambra complex was pretty interesting, though we both agreed that other palaces we saw impressed us more. I really liked touring the Sacromonte area of town, where the Roma (gypsies) and hardcore hippies live in caves and earth-sheltered cave-like houses. There was a particularly memorable moment when we were wandering the rustic streets and heard a cellist and guitarist just out on their patio practicing together; I think they were trying to put together a version of Satie’s “Gymnopedie No. 1.” Anyway, after touring the neighborhood, we ventured back into town to see the Royal Chapel (burial place of Ferdinand and Isabel), then up into the Albayzin, the Muslim neighborhood of Granada. That felt like going back in time, especially because so many of the shops and restaurants closed down completely at about 7pm; unheard of in Spain. We managed to find one open and enjoyed a tasty final Spain meal before walking all over town to catch our 1am bus to Madrid.

The rest, pretty much, is history…

So, do I have any closing thoughts, while things are winding down? Perhaps. I loved Sevilla. Actually, I really enjoyed all of the south of Spain, where the Moorish influence is so strong and evident. Nevertheless, I liked the very unique taste of the nation of Spain you get in Barcelona and Madrid; the country’s pride in itself is very evident in the art and national sites (like the Royal Palace). I think my two major highlights of the trip were flamenco in Sevilla and seeing Picasso’s “Guernica.” Honorable mention highlights include…
- Hearing the imam calling people to prayer in Fes (as stressful as the city was, I DID like that).
- Experiencing Moroccan riad hospitality (including breakfast and tea).
- Our “Dali Day,” during which I felt like we truly ventured into the mind of Dali.
- Jamon. Chorizo. Rioja.
- Fado Night with our hostel in Lisbon.
- The great variety of drinks we tried in Lisbon.
- The Pena Palace next to the Moorish Castle ruins in Sintra (Portugal).
- The restaurant we ate at on our very first night in Barcelona. It felt like an old tavern or something.
- Being able to communicate in Spanish with Spanish people (though admittedly, sometimes POORLY).
- Brandon buying me an ice cream cone one afternoon in Madrid.
- Rick Steeves’s guided walks that usually involved a stop for a pastry. I especially liked the custard tarts in Lisbon and the Segovian specialty pastry.
- Roast suckling pig dinner in Segovia.
- Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Barcelona by eating 12 grapes on each of the twelve strokes of midnight.
- Seeing a concert at the Palau de Musica Catalan.

I think we’ll be boarding soon, so I’ll leave it at that. Wonderful trip and wonderful memories!



Filed under: Brandon @ 11:47 pm

So, we have returned from Morocco to Spain, where we will end our trip in Granada. Fes (in Morocco), quite frankly, was obnoxious. The touts (con artists) were far more belligerent than in any country I have yet visited, including Egypt and China. Luckily, after escaping Fes, we visited Meknes, where the touts were far more low key, and shined a more positive light on the country, reminding me that the vast majority of Moroccans do not hang around the medina harassing tourists. And even in Fes, the owners of our riad (accommodation) were extremely hospitable and helped to remind us that the touts are just bad eggs. Morocco was fascinating, at times nerve wracking and at other times endless fun.

Nonetheless, I am glad to return to Spain, where we will conclude our adventures. Though we arrived in Granada later than intended today, we still had time to do our first real “tapas crawl.” In Granada, tapas are still complimentary with a drink order in many places, a rarity in Spain (though it used to be commonplace). We visited four establishments, having a drink and tapa in each. Tomorrow we will tour Granada before our flight home, our last hurrah before we return to our “everyday lives.”


Fes (or Fez) et al

Filed under: Amy @ 2:59 pm

Well, here we are in Fes, Morocco. But I guess I should start with some things that I haven’t yet said anything about. Like Sevilla. I really liked Sevilla but more for the overall experience of being there than the big “touristy” things we saw, like the biggest (in area) cathedral in the world and the Alcazar. Both were impressive, but I mostly just enjoyed wandering through the Barrio Santa Cruz and… FLAMENCO. Yes, I believe that was my favorite part of Sevilla and certainly one of the highlights of the trip. It was everything you’d expect flamenco to be, so there’s no use to re-describing it for you; I was just awestruck by the skill of the performers: musicianship, dance, all of it. Words can hardly do it justice. (I would say the same of one of my other highlights so far, seeing Picasso’s “Guerica.” How can you begin to use words for that?) The next morning, the only proper way to follow a night of flamenco was to tour Sevilla’s Plaza del Toros, where its renowned bullfights are held, in season. That was really interesting, and we learned a lot. Still not sure how I feel about bullfighting in general, but I know more about it now, at least.

We then journeyed down to Tarifa, where we walked a lot, then caught a ferry over to Tanger, Morocco. We walked again (and this time, it felt quite far, but that may be because one of the wheels on my suitcase has worn down and is no longer round) to the Tanger train station and took a long train in Fes, where we hopped in a taxi and made it to our riad (guesthouse) without getting lost. We were warmly greeted and enjoyed a well-deserved good night’s sleep.

Morocco has always been one of my dream destinations, from the days when I first thought I’d like to do a lot of traveling “when I grew up.” Now that I’m here, though I’m finding it a bit of a… complex?? place. The culture is fascinating: the buildings, clothing, foods, aesthetics, social “norms,” etc. But the huge bulls-eye painted on all tourists for hustling and such is really… well, exhausting. You can’t just wander the streets of the medina and drink it all in and drift from shop to shop without being rather aggressively approached with offers of guide services, getting to the tanneries (apparently a big tourist draw), etc. You’re constantly on your guard, so it’s hard to really relax. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying the newness of the place and looking forward to our day or two more here.


Leaving Spain

Filed under: Brandon @ 12:23 am

Tomorrow we leave Spain. We will return briefly to visit Granada at the end of the trip, but this really is pretty much our farewell to Spain as we head to Morocco. We may take a pass on Ronda tomorrow, and head straight for Fes, as we did not do agreat jobplanning ahead for connections. Tomorrow morning we will hit up the Bullfight Museum (aka Sevilla’s Bullring), then depart for Spain’s south coast and a ferry for the African continent. Sadly my Kindle will probably not get Internet in Morocco, though the hotels should have wifi.

Today we saw many things, including a well-executed stopover in Cordoba to see its incredible Mezquita (our first taste of the hybrid Muslim/Christian architecture prevalent in Andalusia), and to pick Amy some oranges (from Cordoba’s abundant orange trees):

We saw Sevilla’s cathedral and Alcazar, ate some tapas, but the highlight was definitely the flamenco show we attended - it exceeded all expectations.



Filed under: Amy @ 11:58 pm

That’s what Brandon & I are right now, Madrilenos. But only until tomorrow morning, when we catch our train for Seville. We’ve recovered from the plane epic fail two days ago and have had two great days in and around Madrid. I especially enjoyed the town of Segovia yesterday; it’s just BEAUTIFUL, plus we got to have a great dinner of the local specialty, suckling pig. Today we saw lots of art – including Picasso’s “Guernica,” Velazquez’s “Las Meninas,” and Goya’s “Third of May” – as well as the Royal Palace, which impressed both of us. We’ve done quite a bit of walking, around these little towns and around the city, and have enjoyed just being here. Still, we’re exhausted, and we’ve got a couple long days ahead of us!


Filed under: Brandon @ 10:03 pm

Saw mostly everything we wanted to in Madrid (although we had to skip daytripping to Avila/Salamanca). Our meals included a Chinese restaurant, roasted suckling pig in Segovia (our splurge for the trip), and probably the first real tapas-type meal we’ve had - a very non-touristy tavern. Plus some great baked goods, notably postre segoviano and yema in Segovia.

The most impressive things we saw were the royal burial chambers of El Escorial, and the incredibly ostentatious interior of the Royal Palace. Seeing both the Prado and Reina Sofia for free were also highlights. Tomorrow we leave by train for Cordoba and Sevilla.



Filed under: Amy @ 1:40 am

Today’s blog is simply my facebook status:

Alarm failed epically this morning, so we missed our flight from Lisbon to Madrid. Had to haul ass to the bus station and make it on the BUS from Lisbon to Madrid, just by the skin of our teeth. Ten hours and a time zone later, we made it. Enjoyed a night walk, some decent food, and I finally have a wrapped ankle.

Long day. We survived, and Madrid seems fun. Day trip tomorrow.

Eating and Drinking in Lisbon

Filed under: Brandon @ 12:42 am

Our first day in Lisbon, we ferried over to Cristo Rei, basically Lisbon’s copy of “fellow Portuguese” Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer. Our next stop was the Belem district with its fantastic monastery, but since there was no direct ferry from Cacilhas (where Jesus is) to Belem, but there was a ferry direct from Porto Brandao to Belem, we taxied over there for lunch, one of our few leisurely lunch stops of the trip so far. It was a fantastic, recommended seafood meal we had. It ended up being more expensive than any of our dinners thus far (mainly because of dubious tactics to inflate the bill); however, we were able to get dinner out of the leftovers, so it was a wash. It was a huge pot of seafood, far more than we could eat in one sitting. This was actually the only sit down meal we had in Lisbon: the following night’s dinner was an amalgam picnic we enjoyed in the “dining room” nook/loft of our room: sandwiches and soups from a reccommended take out place, pastries from an ancient bakery, and wine from a liquor store.

We also had a lot of different types of libations in Lisbon: Portuguese wine with the aforementioned “picnic” dinner; ginjinha, a unique local liqueur; several different varieties of port (port is named for Oporto, the capital of Portugal) at the Solar do Vinho do Porto; some local muscadine; Portuguese sparkling sangria; and “bica,” local slang for espresso.

On the subject of food, our first dinner in Madrid tonight was at a well-loved Chinese place down the street from us. I think this is the first non-European meal we have had yet on this trip, and it was a nice change of pace. We did get some bocadillos while walking, and I am sure we will try some “Madrileno” for another dinner, but at this point all of the cuisine is sort of blending together.



Filed under: Brandon @ 10:34 am

Amy’s alarm clock didn’t work this morning. We missed our flight. We are currently on a ten hour bus.


Whew! Portugal!

Filed under: Amy @ 9:15 pm

So I haven’t posted in a few days. Dali day was amazing. The house-museum made me feel like Salvador and Gala would just… be right there, laughing and painting and generally being crazy. They might even ask us to join them for a swim in their pool. Anyway, it was cozy and very interesting. And I LOVED his theatre-museum, so much of his work! Very impressive. I now want to learn everything about Salvador Dali.

Yesterday we traveled into Portugal (Lisbon). Brandon and I both said it feels so much more foreign than Spain, possibly because we don’t know the language like we do in Spain, but… I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel like other European cities have felt to me. We’ve learned that Portugese people don’t like Spain very much; if you go into a museum, the signs and info are printed in Portugese, English, and French. Period. Anyway, our first day was a little intimidating because of the strangeness and the language barrier, but we managed to have some good food and see some good stuff. Today we ventured into the quaint village of Sintra, where we explored two very different castles, the Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle Ruins. We returned to Lisbon for a fun Rick Steves-guided walk through the Bairro-Alto and Chiado districts, during which we tried some port and some pastry with espresso. I think we’ll join a hostel trip out for some fado tonight (look it up), then it will be another early morning to fly back to Spain (Madrid this time). And by the way, we love this hostel. Our room is more of a “suite” of three little rooms and is very quaint.

My personal crisis of the trip so far has been my ankle that I apparently pulled or tore or somehow messed up on Monday and has not stopped hurting. My Teva sandals are much more comfortable for all the touring, but they really make me stand out as a tourist. If I wish to wear my better “blend in” shoes, I will suffer greatly. I’m tempted to go buy a bandage at a farmacia and wrap it up from now on.

Well, we’ve got some packing to do, if we’re to squeeze in fado tonight AND get up early for a flight, plus I’ve got interrupt the hostel receptionist’s phone call to ask about morning taxis to the airport. So time for me to hit the road.



Filed under: Brandon @ 9:20 am

So far,our connections have been pretty good,timely and cheap. Except for one, the connection between our two hotels in Barca,what should have been a simple subway transfer, but unfortunately the three stations we passed through were on the shortlist of the few stations without handicap accessibility, and therefore no elevators, so we had to carry our luggage up and down miles of stairs.

Currently we are on the AeroBus, which should take us straight to Lisbon’s Rossio squarewhere our accommodation is.


Leaving Barcelona

Filed under: Brandon @ 10:39 pm

Early tomorrow morning we will depart Barcelona for Lisbon. Today’s adventures to Dali-ville were among the most exciting thus far, and it is definitely a bit of a trek to get there. The last couple days, I’ve been a bit under the weather, and we contemplated not going at all, but it was certainly worth it. Dali is both totally insane and utterly ostentatious; both museums we visited were furnished by Dali himself. Tomorrow we enter a country where neither of us speak the language, but we’re hoping the pace will be a little more relaxed there, and that Portugal shines its good graces on us.


Days 2 & 3

Filed under: Amy @ 9:41 pm

Yesterday was pretty wild but, of course, fun. I loved the monastic, mountainous village of Montserrat, which brought to mind the Iona Abbey a wee bit. We walked down to the Sacred Caves and checked out the basilica. The Escolonia boys choir was on holiday and NOT singing, which sucked, but it was still a nice half-day trip.

Last night we took in a concert at the Palau de Musica Catalan, which is a venue worth the trip in and of itself. The Strauss Festival Orchestra was playing and played about anything you could imagine a group with “Strauss” and “Festival” in its name playing. Unfortunately, I can’t identify much of it because they didn’t hand out programs, and we couldn’t find them.

We ended the day (yesterday) with a fabulous meal at a Rick Steeves-recommended joint called Tasca El Corral. I had a bocadillo de queso and chorizo a la sidra (with cider). Brandon chose the bocadillo de jamon and chorizo de diablo (flaming). We shared a bottle of Catalonian red wine.

Today was Gaudi. After the breathtaking and almost overwhelming Sagrada Familia, we danced around Parc Guell for at least half an hour before finally finding our way in. In this struggle, we met a fun couple from Russia; the wife & I spoke to each other quite awhile in Spanish! I felt amazingly accomplished, and getting lost was, to me, worth this conversation. Anywho, a LONG walk to the Metro allowed us a glimpse of Casa Vincents, then it was off to La Pedrera (Casa Mila). My favorite, though, was the next stop: Casa Batllo, on the Block of Discord. We were both worn out, so after making it through this impressive house, we collapsed at Catalana Cerveseria for a tapas-style dinner and pitcher of sangria. (We had “crunchy camembert,” fried green peppers, sauteed mushrooms, patatas bravas, and fried calamari. Yum!

We’re both exhausted now, hanging out in our new hotel, Hotel Senator Barcelona. Kind of like a Holiday Inn. Early rising tomorrow, though, for a Dali day trip to Cadaques and Figueres.


New Years Dinner

Filed under: Brandon @ 3:25 pm

Rather than making reservations at some extraordinarily expensive gala, we celebrated New Years the Catalonian way: in private. Since our accommodation has a kitchen, we made our own dinner, and on the cheap: prosciutto tortellini; spaghetti with pesto and mushrooms; convenience store pastries; and of course, twelve grapes for the last twelve seconds of the year. Sadly, I failed and left about four in the glass.

Currently we are on the train back from Montserrat and tonight we have tickets at the symphony.


First Day, Amy-style

Filed under: Amy @ 8:08 pm

I have learned that many things in Barcelona are small and understated, as we walked past at least three things for at least a block before realizing we had overshot them. Having said that, though, we always got ourselves back on track.

ANYWHO! What a wonderful, beautiful city! The City History Museum taught us a lot about the original Roman settlement here, then called “Barconi,” and we saw some amazingly well-preserved ruins from that era. We saw LOTS of art today! I think I most enjoyed… either the one painting the Museu Picasso had from his “Rose Period” or his “The Piano.”

Well, since this is pretty much Brandon’s domain, I’ll let him fill in all the details; I’ll just provide the… what do they call it in sportscasting? The “color commentary"? Yeah, the one who adds little quirky anecdotes along the way. I’ll do that.

Final highlights from today: Having an entire exchange with a ticket sales person at the City History Museum IN SPANISH!, buying two cheap plastic “champagne glasses” filled with twelve grapes each to ring in the New Year Catalonian style, and being here with BRM.

Day so far

Filed under: Brandon @ 8:02 pm

After landing 30 minutes early in Barcelona and quickly picking up our luggage (and accidentally picking the wrong ATM setting and getting ripped off for an extra 2.5% on top of the normal 3%), we quickly checked into our first accommodation, and immediately hit up two museums in succession: the City History Museum, basically archaelogical ruins of Barcelona from Roman days; and the Picasso Museum, then went up to Montjuic and saw the Joan Miro museum. We were pretty much arted out at that point, then hiked up to Montjuic Castle, which made us walked out as well. We ended the day with the Magic Fountain show but wait, the day is not over yet. We still have to ring in the new year.

Also, I have given Amy access to post on this blog. I am sure she will do a much better job than I.

landed at bcn

Filed under: Brandon @ 8:09 am

Just landed safely at BCN. More to come later.



Filed under: Brandon @ 9:18 am

We just had a successful flight from SHD to Dulles on a propeller-driven airplane. Next we fly to Newark, and then onward to Barcelona. Lots of time to kill at the moment, as our Transatlantic flight is overnight. We will arrive in Barcelona 9am local time tomorrow, 31 December. This isn’t a terribly interesting post, I know. Hopefully they will get more exciting after we actually land on foreign soil.

At the moment, however, we’re looking forward to getting some bangers and mash at Firkin & Fox here at IAD.



Filed under: Brandon @ 9:31 pm

This is an experiment. This marks the first iteration of an active journal intended for updating during one of my trips abroad.

Not entirely coincidentally, this also marks the first trip where I hope to have fairly regular access to the Internet while traveling.

I certainly do not guarantee that I will, in fact, utilize this access and keep this journal updated, but that is at least the idea I have at the moment - to post to this journal while in Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. As I will be abroad between Dec 30 and Jan 15, I hope there will be at least one update to this journal during that interval.

After the conclusion of the trip, I certainly intend to create a photojournal as I have done for prior trips. I hope though that this journal can offer some brief anecdotes from amidst the chaos of very densely-packed international travel.

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