After some of the wildest nights of my life at a place called the Indian Lounge in Barcelona where Bav worked as a DJ, Aaron and I spent the night crashing among fellow backpackers in an airport about an hour or so outside the city. During the train ride to the airport, both of us talked about childhood memories, future goals, and how lucky we are to have this opportunity. We made it to Rome around lunch time today, to find an ancient city with its jaw-dropping structures and history. People are friendly here and we spent most of the day wondering throughout the city taking dozens and dozens of photos. I’ve never seen anything like this city before. They have columns sitting in ruins that have more years of history than the entire establishment of the United States. Later on in the evening, Aaron and I found ourselves in a park scattered with ruins, dimly lit by Rome in the distance, watching shooting stars overhead. The last few days have been the Italian nights of shooting stars, as we were told by our host Riccardo, a Rome native who works as a sound technician for all types of gigs including popular concerts and even speeches by the Pope. We met his friend Diego and the two of them shared more history about the city than we ever could have learned from sightseeing (we should work on our Italian though…he he). Later we went out for coffee, which in Italy is incredible; it is unreal how amazing it is. After that, Riccardo graciously drove us throughout the city, seeing the Coliseum, Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peters in English), and other sights of the city by the light of the moon without a tourist in sight (other than Aaron and I of course, fighting over who could take the best night-mode pic). Tomorrow we pick up Kali from the Termini train station and prepare for another day of endless photos.
By now we have seen the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna), Santa Maria (an incredible cathedral tucked into the Plazza della Repubblica), several archeological ruins, and the Patheon. As I review the photos on my digital camera I am continually astonished by these incredible sights, built by hand thousands of years ago, standing today as monuments of Rome’s past, present, and future.
After waking up on the train, Aaron and I ventured out into the city of Barcelona. Perhaps one of the coolest cities I’ve ever seen, Barcelona is a jumble of cultural identities with an authentic Catalonian beach-town vibe. We spent the majority of the afternoon walking around Vila Olympica, where the Olympics were held in ’92 as well as the Mediterranean coastline and the beach (apparently nude…we felt a bit overdressed). Later that evening we went out for drinks with our hosts Bav (from UK) and Michal (from Poland) and fellow couchsurfers from Estonia. The nightlife here is loads of fun and yet again (thanks to couchsurfing) we have already made friends in a city far from home.
With Max’s advice we spent the day yesterday roaming through the streets of Toledo. Only the pictures can describe how beautiful this place was. Although I got way more sun than I had bargained for, the weather was breezy and Aaron and I enjoyed a nice picnic lunch we bought at the local grocery store in the plaza by the Cathedral. Later that afternoon, we made our way back to Pinto where we hung our laundry to dry and went with Max and his daughter to a great new park in the city. As we ate our tapas dinner at a restaurant overlooking the pond as people paddled small boats past, I realized that memories like these are what make a journey. However nervous we may have been initially, Aaron and I both know now that couchsurfing was the perfect way to meet local people and experience travel in a completely non-commercial, genuine way. After dinner we climbed high-ropes in the park, 20 or 30 feet up, looking at the lights of Madrid in the distance.
Today we hung out in Pinto with Sammy (Max’s daughter), went to the supermarket to stock up for the next bit of our journey, and watched a bilingual Harry Potter! We made friends with some locals at an internet cafe and made our way to Chamartin to catch the night train to Barcelona. I find myself now in a couchette (sleeping bed on night trains) writing peacefully the brief details of our travels.
Day two in Madrid was delightful. We enjoyed a day of rain which cooled down the city, normally 110 degrees in the sun this time of the year. We started our day at the Museo del Prado which had three stories of beautiful artwork and sculptures. I particularly like the main exhibit featuring the artwork of a famous landscape artist (Patinir). Aaron and I had lunch in the oldest bar in Madrid based on the advice of Max. After deciphering the menu, I ended up with the Tortilla Espanola, a local potato omlette. We also visited the Plaza Mayor (very impressive), Catedral de la Almudena, Palacio Real (the palace of Madrid), Parque del Campo del Moro and Templo de Debod (two of the many city parks; great for photos and local entertainment). Our stay in Pinto is great. We managed to find a supermarket as well as get lost for about 20 minutes. Aaron and I rely heavily on asking questions but are finding that the phrase book, although great for asking the question, still leave us confused as to the Spanish response. Altogether, we are managing just fine; found a local bakery this morning and as I eat my breakfast and write this, we are on our way to Toledo, a city to the south of Madrid. P.S. Last night we found ourselves reminiscing about the Jungle Book, as Max had the soundtrack to the film in German and knew the entire story by heart. Talk about memories.
Templo de Debod
Parque del Campo
We made it to Madrid yesterday. The heat is very intense here, but the beer is cold and cheap. Aaron and I are modestly working on our Spanish (he is doing better than I am). We enjoyed our afternoon walking throughout Opera, Sol, Plaza del Prado, and Atocha’s incredible train station complete with turtles. We spent an hour or so in a beautiful botanical garden taking dozens of pictures. We spent our evening in Pinto with our host Max, his daughter Sammy, friends Vanessa and Thomas. He had a barbeque in our honor. We enjoyed great conversation as each of them knew English as well as German and Spanish (that pretty much makes Aaron and I slackers!). Till next time.
Amsterdam is amazing. The city is absolutely breath-taking, clean, and quiet. With a population of roughly 700,000, relatively few cars scatter the streets bustling with bikes as far as the eye can see. While in Amsterdam for the day, we saw Dam Square, Reimbradtplein, the Red Light District, the Opera House, the canals of course, and Amsterdam Central Station. Aaron and I are embarking on a three and a half week journey across Western Europe. While we are traveling, we are using a site called couchsurfing.com to manage our stay in each city. Through this website, you meet people online and request to stay on their couches. Our host Enrico was an incredible first experience to the world of couchsurfing. We went around the whole city, laughed and shared stories of our lives, family, and friends. He helped us finalize some details for our journey in Italy and he even made us sandwiches for the road! All is well in Amsterdam.
Aaron and Enrico
Everything is new. Trains are a foreign language. Food is an incredible experience of curious yet deliciously edible combinations. Aaron and I arrived in Amsterdam, made our way to campus (Den Haag) and back, and ordered some sort of hamburger with egg, pineapple, ketchup, mayo, and cucumber, surprisingly tasty. While enjoying the sites of Amsterdam we realized how tired we were and spent a couple of hours napping in the park. I awoke to the laughter of Dutch children as the crawled behind Aaron to retrieve the ball they were playing with…of course he was completely incoherent. We are now enjoying the Pride Festival in Rembrandtplein Park, the weather, and our new home in Holland.