Sightseeing in Europe
Well its been along time but I finally have found some time to update our journal. I am emailing it since the website journal is down for awhile. Anyway I will start where I left off before.. After London we headed up on a train to Glasgow with Matt, and Susan for our hike on the West Highland Way its a 90 mile hike up to Fort Williams. The first 4 days the weather was incredibly gorgeous in fact oddly enough in Scotland we were all hot and in shorts. This part of the hike followed a Loch (lake) and we camped along it two nights and then the next two nights were spent one in the woods and the other near a pub. The following days were nice also except for the sideways downpour we experienced. Hard rain for 1 hour right before we were ready to set up the tent. Most of the trail brought us through small towns where we enjoyed a few pints, often bought for us by generous scottish folk. One couple in particular bought us a couple pints each and then offered to make us breakfast in the morning at their campervan which was parked not too far from where we had our tent set up (that was the night Pat and Matt searched high and low for a nice sight). We took them up on their offer and met them at their van the next morning. They had been travelling with their two dogs (2 big black Labs). Even if we hadn't seen the dogs we would have known they were black by the amount of black dog hair in our egg sandwiches (which were something!), and our coffee cups, but no complaints from us the eggs and bacon sure tasted good after plain old oatmeal everyday. While sitting in a pub having a pint the man next to us was eating something that looked rather unfamiliar so I asked him what is was...he proceeded to tell me it was Haggis, Neeps and Tatties a traditional Scottish meal which we had read about. Well it didn't stop there, he then asked if I would like a bite and I didn't refuse. It is very good reminding me of a type stuffing at Thanksgiving dinner and not the Stove Top kind. It is actually made very similar with the ground up innards but of a sheep. That is the Haggis part of it, the neeps are a puree of turnips, and the tatties are mashed potatoes. Later in the time we spent in Scotland Pat ordered it at another pub. I liked it and would have it again. After many long days of hiking we reached the end of the West Highland Way with a few days remaining before we had to go back to London. We decided to take a bus to Fort Augustus and went on a small day hike near Loch Ness the lake where the legend of the Lochness monster came about (the locals call her Nessie). While having a few pints the drunk man we met on the bus starts singing and Pat jokingly tells him I love to dance, so that's what I did to "My Girl" my toes were so sore after being stepped on the entire song. Matt and Pat get a kick out of it. Anyway we eventually made our way down to Glasgow to catch our train back to London.
We had a very early flight from London to Madrid. We were up at 3am to get the underground (subway) to the airport for our 6 am flight. When we arrived in Madrid we made our way to a budget accomodation area and found a great little Hostal (not a hostel), a little hotel with small, quaint rooms with the toilet and shower in the hallway. We really enjoyed Madrid and all the parks, and plazas (small or large squares where no cars drive and people gather to socialize, eat and drink, often there are little cafes or restaurants in these plazas and more common than not streetperformers of many varieties). After seeing Madrid we picked up our rental car that had the company name written all over it in orange which did not help much when we didn't know where we were going, everyone knew we were tourists and we were honked at often. Driving there is like home meaning they drive on the right side of the street, but Pat had been usedd to the left side after driving in NZ and Australia, so he had to readjust once again. I did'nt drive at all since the car was a stick shift. Anyway, we loved Spain and after 3 weeks there we could have spent another or 2. We visited Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Sevilla, Cadiz, Estepona (on the Costa Del Sol), Malaga, Granada, Ronda, and Casares, a good taste of small villages and large cities. Our fave large city was Sevilla, and small town was Estepona. One of the best things about Spain is the cafe culture, the cafes and the atmosphere is so unique. The coffee is very yummy. We tried an abundence of Spanish foods while here, some of the major ones include: Jamon (a specially cured ham, the pig legs actually hang from the ceilings of cafes and small deli's), Gazpacho (cold vegetable soup), tortilla espanola, paella (spanish rice very unique), Sangria (a wine,fruit punch, brandy type drink), and Chorrizo (very good spicy sausage). These are just a few but the most unique of the stuff we tried. Tapas are the thing in Spain,they are like appetizers at home but are often served for free each time you order a beer (they are smaller than an average appetizer and could even be just some nuts or olives). We saw many beautiful churches and some museums, the countryside is beautiful with a variety of wildflowers blanketing the brown and green hillsides. We really enjoyed Marykay's visit down near Malaga, her company was welcomed and the resort she reserved for the week was beautiful and it was nice to have a "home" for 7days, we actually made a nice homeade dinner of chicken breast, pasta, and salad one evening enjoying it on our balcony overlooking the pool and in the distance the Meditteranean. Also enjoyed the Bush's Baked Beans that Pete sent along. While she was in Spain we introduced her to some of the foods we had tried along with the cafe culture. We had a couple relaxing days just hanging out on the balcony having some beers, laying in the sun and swimming in the pool. We drove to Malaga one day and walked around there seeing the sights sat in a plaza had some beer and tapas. Another day we drove to Granada a main city in Southern Spain and saw the La Alambra an old muslim fortress, castle and military fort. We tried some yummy pastries while we were there only making us want to try more they were excellent. We drove through the mountains one day to a couple little towns one being Ronda and the other Casares. Casares was a very small village where we saw an awesome castle right on the edge of a cliff, in fact the whole village was built into this cliff, it was beautiful. One of the great things to see here were the elderly men and women dressed in their Sunday best just to walk around the town of course hand in hand which is a very common site in Spain. That same day we also headed down through Estepona a beach town bigger than Casares, but still small and quaint. We happened to be there on a day they were honoring Saint San Isidro (saint of the farmers and crops we figured after seeing the parade). THe parade and festivites were amazing down the small narrow streets with the women dressed in traditional dresses, people everywhere even watching from there balconies throwing flowers down on the statue of the Saint at the end of the parade. There were horses, and high school bands, small groups of children dancing the flamenco (a traditional Spanish dance), floats decorated with hay and vegetables and anything having to do with crops and farming. One evening Marykay took us out to a wonderful Thai restaurant to celebrate Pat's birthday. We also enjoyed a walk on the beach late in the evening and some beers on the beach at a bar during the day. We really enjoyed seeing her and spending time showing her Spain and we were sad to see her leave, but knew we would see her again soon. We then drove to Madrid returned the car and went to Barcelona which was a cool city with many street performers and a great market where we gorged on really good strawberries for $0.79 per kilo. One of the nice things about Barcelona was the big concert in the plaza near a beautiful church. Also the 2 hours that we sat in a small street watching and listening to a man and woman playing classical music him playing violin her the keyboard. Now on to Italy.
We had 8 days in Italy so we divided them up between Rome, and Venice. Rome was very busy and the first time in all of our travels that we saw so many americans. The history, the monuments and the old ruins are amazing!! It's hard to believe how old all of it is. Some of the major sites we saw include: the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, the Pantheon, Roman Forum, Vatican City, Sistine Chapel, St. Peters Basilica, a beautiful, and a very large fountain called the Trevi fountain. These are the larger more popular sites we saw many other less known ones also. We also walked through many piazzas (similar to plazas in Spain), they are very crowded with tourists and were very exhausting with vendors selling anything you can imagine, we could even for 2 euro get our name written in chinese (in Italy). An inexpensive nightlife activity was buying a bottle of wine (good tasting wine for 2 euro a bottle) and going to a piazza or a spot overlooking the ruins drinking from the plastic cups we bought at the supermarket. All of the sites and the ruins were so pretty at night very subletly lit up. Pizzerias are everywhere and it is sold per Kilo which was odd to us,but the norm here. Pizza is good here, but is basically the same wherever you get it from. The cafes are nice in Italy also but if you sit down instead of stand at the bar to enjoy your coffee and croissant you will pay sometimes 1 euro more per item. We found a great little Italian restaurant serving inexpensive food and wine. The owner's name is Dino and we saw the cook a sweet, elderly woman a little overweight she looked just like you might expect an Italian grandmother to look cooking up a big family dinner. Anyway the price was so right and the food and wine so good we ate there two evenings. As for desserts the cannoli I had was yummy but expensive. The gelato (ice cream) was yummy and less expensive and so many flavors to choose from, one of our favorites here was Tiramisu. Next it's Venice a cute, quiet, quaint little city (unless you are in the touristy areas which are CRAZY)where boats are the main transportation down the little canals which are everywhere. Cars are not seen here as the narrow streets does not allow. Most people walk or boat, you can even get a water taxi. Yes this is where you can ride in a gondola along the canals and no we didn't do it and not because it was 60 euro for one hour, but because we saw the reality of it. For instance, instead of a quiet paddle down the tiny canals with the guy paddling serenading you, it's chaos there is rarely anyone singing (in fact a couple times we saw the guys paddling arguing loudly who should get the right away in the crowded mess), loud motor boats are zooming past you more often than not and you have crowds of people standing on the bridges staring as you go under. It was rather funny to see! We came across a cool wine shop where the owner made it himself stored it in barrels in the small shop and would fill up empty water bottles or any type of bottle the customer would supply and sell it by the liter very inexpensive. It was very good wine and Pat and I enjoyed a couple liters while in Venice sitting in the piazzas or on a wall of the canal. Now off to Interlaken, Switzerland.
Switzerland is the most expensive country we have been to on all of our travels and wow it is expensive. We ended up taking the advice of friends and stayed in a hostel in Interlaken a little town in a valley surrounded by the alps. It is an incredibly beautiful place and we went on a 10 hour day hike our second day there. The hike was difficult and since we hadn't hiked for awhile, so it took a toll on us and we were beat by the end of the day. We hiked along the Eiger trail and saw awesome snowcapped mountain peaks, crossed some old avalanches, but heard some cracking rocks way up in the distance but after hiking for quite awhile on an upper trail we decided to head down to the lower trail. We also enjoyed a few amazing meadows so green with wildflowers in patches climbing all the way up the steep sides of the mountains. Besides one other couple who we only saw around lunch time we didn't see anyone the entire hike. It is definitely a place Pat and I would like to see more of. Another cool thing about the place are the trains that go up into the mountains all the way to 11,000 feet at very steep angles. There are special trains to this and the Swiss engineering of these is very neat. Believe it or not we stayed in our first 12 bed dorm while here, but in expensive Switzerland it was our best option. The hostel is nice and if I was 21 would have been a blast, but we are too old for the 12 bed dorm room thing with 21 year olds only there to get drunk good thing for the earplugs. Very relaxing backyard area with comfortable lounge chairs was the highlight of the hostel which we took advantage of our 3rd day there when we were too sore from the previous day of hiking.