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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Days 67-70 April 24-28 The End of Scotland

Day 67-Ben Nevis

This day was on the best days of this whole trip so far. I woke up, ate breakfast, went to the outdoor supply store and got a map, got some food for the day, then hit the trail. I climbed along a creek, then through sheep pastures, which by the way it is lambing season so there are new lambs EVERYWHERE. I then started getting high into the hills. Passing a lake that seems like it was just dropped in there by helicopter. Then after that I got really high up there. Started getting into little pockets of snow with melting streams all around me. I stopped to eat lunch on a ledge, which was one of the best views I have ever had eating lunch. I don’t know what it is, but I love eating in places like this, just sitting down, stopping, and just taking it all in. It really is the best way to really appreciate a place is to just sit down and eat for a while, and take it all in. After that I kept climbing until I got to just snow and boulders breaking out. I kept climbing until I got to the top of Ben Nevis. I am not really sure how tall it is. It isn’t crazy high by any means, but it is good enough for a good day hike. After looking at the old rock weather watching hut that lay in ruins, taking some pictures, and just trying to stay warm, it was time for the fun part; GOING DOWN!! Now this really was one of the most fun things I have ever done. EVER!!! There were some tracks in the snow from people sliding down on their butts through the valley, instead of walking back down. I had seen them going up, but nobody seemed to be actually doing it. I decided that on the way back down I was going to do it of course. So I started heading to the valley I saw the marks in. As I was heading there I saw a man ahead of me who had the same idea. We both got there at about the same time and took off. It was so incredibly fast. I was digging my heels and elbows in the entire time just trying to stay in control. Every once in a while the guy in front of me would stop and so would I. We looked back at one of our stops and realized we had started a whole train coming down. There were probably 20 people coming down behind us. They must have thought it looked fun, which it was. About half way down the tracks also started to become more like a luge run instead of a sled run. It was weaving back and forth, with high walls on each side. We were just zipping down the mountain through this little valley. It was AMAZING. Almost to the end we almost fell into a large hole about 5 or 6 feet deep. I looked down and realized there was a small stream running underneath us. Luckily the guy I was with and I missed it. Unluckily a guy behind us went in, but was all right after he got out. At the end I took my shoes off, as they had been full of snow, and talked to the guy I had been following. He was a conservation worker from Ireland studying salmon migration in the area. I got some food out and talked to all of the people who had followed us down. One of the guys behind me had a altimeter with him and told me we dropped 2000 feet on that slide. I dropped 2000 feet in a few minutes on my but. AMAZING!! After a while I decided to keep going on my hike down. I walked by the lake I had past earlier and went on the other side of the hill this time. The trail I was following ended, but I knew there was another one farther down the hill I could meet up with. So I just followed a small quickly moving stream with small falls down the hill. Running down the hill with no trail was really fun. Just jumping from rock to rock, through bushes and marches. My feet were soaked, I was soaked, I had mud all over me, but I was having the time of my life. I twisted my ankle on a bush half way down, but luckily it wasn’t bad. I kept going until the stream I was following met up with a larger stream. This stream was full of deep little pockets of water, with little waterfalls falling into them. Now another fascination I have along with eating in beautiful places, is getting into water in these places. I don’t know what it is, but I always have to strip down and jump into a stream or lake that looks beautiful. I love water and it puts me at ease when I do this. I was in the middle of nowhere with no trails around me, so I stripped down and jumped in. It was a quick swim as it was freezing since it was melting snow only a couple thousand feet up. After that I got dressed, changed into some other dryer clothes I had brought with me and kept going down. I passed through a thick pine forest and then into some pasture areas again. I kept walking until my trail ended at a distillery, which I could smell a mile away. I then walked back into town and to the hostel, ate some dinner, and went to bed. What an amazing day.

Day 68-Drive to Isle of Skye

So I thought the drive to Ben Nevis was cool. I knew nothing until I took this drive. It had even higher hills and bigger and more beautiful lochs than before. I once again got angry I was not driving myself and couldn’t stop at all of these places. I did make one stop at the Eilean Donan Castle, which is a small castle built on a small island in a large loch. I stopped for a few hours and explored the castle and the area around it. The castle was originally built in the 13th century, but was destroyed in the late 18th century. It was then rebuilt in the 1930’s by a man whose clan owned it when it was in use. The insides of castle reminded me a lot of the cabin in Wisconsin because it had that 30’s or 40’s look to in the inside. It also had pictures of the family that lived in it for a few decades. Anyway, it was nice to see the castle. I walked up a hill above it and got a picture, and walked through a small town. I then got on the bus again and went to the Isle of Skye. The rest of the drive was just as amazing as the previous part. The isle was had a very eerie beauty about it. With black as black stones and creeks, waterfalls, towering black hills, and green pastures. It was a very interesting looking place. I got to Portree, found a hostel, and explored the town a bit. Portree is a small fishing town, very beautiful town though. I walked around took some pictures. Got some whiskey-roasted salmon that was caught that day. It was a great meal. Tomorrow I am going to try to see as much of the area as I can while I am here, so I got back and went back to bed, well after talking to Whitney for a couple of hours I did.

Day 69- Isle of Skye

Today I went and climbed to the top of the Quiraing, which is a plateau that runs along the northern coast of the Isle of Skye for about 30 miles. There are amazing cliffs on the coast, that drop off into the sea, then about 3 miles of pasture, just jammed pack of sheep and lochs, then there is the plateau. I got on a bus in the morning that cut through the island to the southern coast, then up to the north western tip of the island, then back down the north coast. It was nice to see a lot of the tiny villages around the island. Anyway I got the Quiraing and started my hike for the day. It started around a small Loch, then climbed up about a thousand feet to another loch that was even smaller. I decided to stop and eat lunch here, and to take a swim, as usual. After my pit stop I kept climbing. It looked like a scene from Lord of the Rings or something. There was this giant plateau in front of me, with small streams, lakes, and other giant boulders exploding out of the ground. It was quite a sight. I kept climbing until I got to the top of the plateau then walked along its edge for about a mile. The views up here were breathtaking. There was a place below me that was another plateau. Something it seemed you would have to rock climb to get to. It had rock walls on all sides with a bright grassy top. After looking at this a little more I realized there were sheep with their lambs on this plateau. I have no idea how they got up there, but it was pretty cool. I looked on the map I had and saw that this plateau was named “The Prison”. I understood why. I then started making my descent following the trail. The trail kept getting muddier and muddier, so I decided to get off of it and go down the way the sheep do. I started jogging down the hill, going from side to side as if I was skiing just keeping to the ledges the sheep walk on. It was SO much faster, SO much easier, and SO much cleaner. I passed a group of women who were taking the trail down. They saw my approach to the hill and decided to do the same. They weren’t jogging down it but hey were keeping to the sheep ledges. I then reached a small creek that cut through the plateau and decided to take that the rest of the way down. I was jumping form side-to-side, rock-to-rock, until I reached the road at the bottom of the cliff. I then started to walk on the road to the next place, Kilt Rock and the waterfall in front of it. After a while of walking I decided I was going to hitch a ride to the waterfall. So the first car that went by was the group of women whom I helped get down the hill, they drove right on by. The second car stopped and was a nice lady, but the only problem was she was going north at the T in the road ahead and I needed to go south. So I kept walking and kept trying, but the entire day, she was the only one who pulled over for me. I never knew hitch hiking was so hard. I must look like a dangerous person. Anyway I walked through a couple of villages and then finally reached Kilt Rock, about 6 miles later. It was quite a sight, but besides the one sight there really wasn’t anything else to do. So I started walking again. No luck on hitching again. After another hour I realized I wasn’t going to reach The Old Man of Storr, which was my next and final destination. I wasn’t going to make it there before the last bus made its round around the island. So I got off on another trail that went down to a rocky beach and sat there for a while until I caught the bus again. On the way back to Portree I saw the old man, which is a giant boulder standing straight up with a few smaller ones around it and a giant cliff behind all of that. I got a couple of good pictures, but I was upset I didn’t have the time to really go explore it. Only if someone would have picked me up. O well. I got back to Portree and caught my bus to Inverness. Another beautiful drive and I was at Inverness. I found a hostel and went to sleep.

Day 70-Inverness/Loch Ness

Today I took a guided tour around the town of Inverness on a bus and a tour of Loch Ness on a boat. It was nice to hear all of the history that went along with the area. I visited a ruined castle, which was blown up in the 1700’s, and went through a Loch Ness monster tour. It was a good day, but I really wouldn’t consider Loch Ness area being one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland. After that I caught a bus to Edinburgh, for 4 hours, then an overnight bus to London for 9 hours. Right now I am in the airport, VERY tired and waiting for my flight back to Bratislava.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Days 64-66 April 21-23, Stirling, Loch Lomond, Kilchurn Castle

Day 64-Stirling

I got to Stirling around noon, checked into the hostel and went out for the rest of the day. I visited an old jail, an old church, the Stirling Castle, walked out to a hill that had a William Wallace monument on it, walked back to town and crossed the bridge where William Wallace had his major victory over the English. It was kind of weird walking on that bridge and realizing how many people had died in that very spot. After this I climbed back to where the castle was, found a nice comfortable spot in a mossy hill and watched the rabbits all around me. I mean rabbits EVERYWHERE. I couldn’t look somewhere without seeing rabbits. It was crazy. I let the sun go down, then went back to the hostel got some dinner and went to bed.

Day 65- Loch Lomond

I got to Loch Lomond in the morning, rented a bike and biked out to the hostel I was planning on staying at, with my giant pack on my back, keep in mind I have been buying stuff on these trips. A half an hour later there was a sign on the door saying they were closed for the next two days. GREAT. So I bike back down the hill, which was much easier, and find a bed and breakfast to stay at. After that I biked around the west side of the loch and got into the small town of Luss. This town was interesting because it was still owned by nobility and the people living in all of the houses had to pay him rent, even though they had been living there for generations and did all of the house work and such. I talked to an older man in a store for about a half an hour about all of this. We also talked about farming, hunting, anything and everything. Well I take that back he talked about all of this stuff, I could barely get a word in. He reminded me a lot of a Scottish Eldred King, for all of you who know him, just loved to talk. Either way on the way back I saw pheasant feathers everywhere on the bike trail and then a dead cock on the side of the road. This made me miss Jacobi. The older man in the town told me this area was actually loaded with pheasants as the lord of the area releases 3000 every year and they then have massive European style hunts in the hunting season. Makes sense why I saw so many feathers. Anyway after I got back from my bike trip, I was too tired to go hiking on the east side of the loch, which is supposedly the best side. Kind of made me mad that I spent around 2-3 hours trying to find a place to stay since the hostel unexpectedly closed, but whatever. Maybe I will come back someday and do that side. Either way I just relaxed, watched a little TV and went to bed.

Day 66-The drive from Loch Lomond to Ben Nevis

Wow what a drive!!! I don’t know if you have noticed from my previous posts that I haven’t been that impressed by Scotland so far. It hadn’t been what I was expecting, But it seems like right after we got north of Loch Lomond the real highlands started showing themselves. We were driving through deep Valleys with hills on both sides and lochs running next to us. There were quaint little towns on these lochs with little restaurants and bed and breakfasts. The scenery was just amazing. On the way to Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK, I stopped at an old castle that lay in ruin now. It was pouring down rain and I was on the opposite side of the loch. So I decided to try to go through a marshy area to get to the castle. I was doing fine until I went right through a patch of grass that looked solid, but wasn’t, and got my feet soaking wet. I eventually made it across and into the ruins. I was the only one there, due to the rain I guess, and this was amazing. I changed into my sandals and explored the castle. After a while I walked around to the town that was on the loch and got some lunch in a little pub. I sat there and chatted with the locals for an hour and then got back on the bus. The scenery on the drive just kept getting better and I started getting mad again that I was on public transport. I just wanted to stop and explore, but I couldn’t. Anyway, I made it to Ben Nevis, walked around to try to find my hostel, froze my feet which were in the sandals and soaking wet from the rain that was still coming down, got in, ate food, got dry, put warm clothes on, and went to bed. Tomorrow I will climb Ben Nevis I CAN”T WAIT!!!

Day 62,63- April 19,20- Edinburgh

Day 62

The bus ride was a beautiful drive through northern England and southern Scotland, passing through rolling grassy hills, with stone fences, that look like the Romans built them, keeping in the sheep that are grazing in the fields. After the eight hours in that I finally reached Edinburgh. I instantly fell in love with this city. With its buildings built on the side of a hill, looking like a crowd of people sitting in a stadium. It’s somewhat eerie presence it has, with ghost and witch stories in abundance. I mean it is the city that inspired the Harry Potter series, which I will tell you about later. It just had so much history in it and you could see that just by looking at it. Anyway I walked to my hostel and checked in, Then I was off to explore as usual. I walked down the royal mile, which is the old street that leads up the hill directly to the castle. This street is full of shops, some cheesy tourist shops, but also some really good shops too. I had to buy some things of course. I got myself a nice plaid wool blanket. I got some scarves for all of the ladies in my family; I got Neal his clans scarf, and a couple more things. After this I went back to the hostel and went to bed, I was still trying to recover from the last couple of days.

Day 63

I start this day off with a walking tour of the city that my hostel gave to us for free. We walked around for a couple of hours, visiting all of the major historical places in the city. The tour guide and I talked the entire time, making his tour have a bit less information then it should have had. I felt bad for the others, but I made a friend to go to the pubs with that night. Anyway on the tour we saw a very old cemetery, an old torture chamber, the café that the Harry Potter books were written in, the school that Hogwarts was based off of, the Edinburgh Castle, and much more. After the tour I climbed to the top of the hill that was on the outskirts of town and got some good camera shots. I then walked back up the Royal Mile and got ready to go out to the pubs with a few friends I met that day. We did a pub-crawl that night in the old part of town. It was really fun and cool to see some of the old pubs.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day 61-April 18, London

I was awoken at 7:30 by a security guard telling me they were shutting down the airport and were kicking all of us out. GREAT. Now how am I supposed to figure out my tickets with Ryanair. These discount airlines are not the easiest to get in touch with. I get a bus to center London. I then find a hostel, check in and go to a café to try to figure out what I was going to do. The first thing I did was looked up the ticket home, as this was my first option. Unfortunately everything had been sold over night, due to the fact that everyone is trying to get home. Sooo…. I decided I would go to Edinburgh, try to talk to some Ryanair people there and cancel my tickets and then travel Scotland for 9 days. After getting my bus ticket for the next morning, I walked around for about four hours and saw as much of London as I could for my short stay. It is nice to be in a country that speaks my language. After being in countries for the last two months that speak other languages and me having to use hand signals a lot, I am actually looking forward to the next week. It will be good. I went back to the hostel, got paced for the next morning, and went to bed to try to make up for some lost sleep in the Luton airport. SCOTLAND TOMORROW!!!!! YAY!!!!!!!!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Day 58, 59, 60-April 15,16,17-Paris and the End of France

Day 58

We arrive in Paris and take a taxi to our hostel, which is by far the WORST hostel we have stayed in since we have been traveling. The sheets were slightly better then the paper they put on doctor's examining tables, the bathrooms were too gross to even get clean in, there were hundreds of middle school kids running around all over the place, and the staff was not the friendliest. We went straight to bed, because due to the train delays we only have one and a half days in Paris, so we were going to get up early and hit it hard. We got up the next day and started the sightseeing. First Notre Dame, then Le Louvre, then the Eiffel Tower, and then we went to a nice restaurant for dinner. This was our last meal together so we ate well. While on the tower a large storm came in. It was kinda cool to watch it come in and envelope the city. After walking all day and seeing A LOT of Paris we went back and went to bed.

Day 59

Ben got up early to catch his train. He was leaving for Brussels, I was going to London to catch a flight to Morocco. We said goodbye and he was gone. I am on my own for the next 12 days. I got up and walked around the city with my pack on until 2:30. I went to Sacre Coeur and Moulin Rouge. I didn't go watch a show there. Maybe next time I come to Paris. Although it was like 200 Euros, but it might be worth it. I did see some pictures though. haha. After that I went to the train station to catch my train. I ended up in Calais France, here I will catch my train. I walked for about an hour with my pack to a small town outside the city, which is where my hotel was. The town was very odd, as it didn't look french, but then didn't look english either. It was a mix, very strange. Anyway I get to my hotel and check in. It is a bar with some rooms on the top. It is a really old hotel, with narrow hallways with old creaky wooden floors and old wallpaper. It was like I was staying at an old western saloon with rooms above. It was kinda cool. I went to the beach after checking in and walked on it for a bit. It was really cold, but cool at the same time. There was a really wide beach, because the tide is so big, and the sun was setting with ferries going by. It was nice to just stand there and watch it for a while. After that I went back to the bar, got a terrible cheeseburger, talked to the five people that were in there, which I think were all family and none spoke english, and then went to talk to Whitney for a while. After that I went to bed. I leave for London tomorrow. Hopefully I can go to Morocco. There has been a large volcano eruption in Iceland, that has caused the largest grounding since 9/11. So we will see.
Last Day in France

Day 60

After Waking up late, well late for me. I woke up at 8, and then watched a chick flick love, I am not going to say which one, but it reminded me of Whitney, A LOT. I miss her so incredibly much. Anyway I went down the old wooden stairs to the first floor of my hotel to get breakfast. I ate breakfast with a 50 some year old Chinese man, whom had been living in London for the last 20 years. We talked about traveling, the airplane problem, anything and everything. He told me that in 1991, he traveled through Europe, and in Amsterdam there were girls walking around topless all around in his hostel. He was pretty excited about this. Haha. I told him I have not seen that yet, regrettably. I did go to some topless beaches in the last few weeks, but it seems all of the topless women were either over 60 or overweight. Anyway after breakfast I went into town to print off my boarding pass for the ferry. After a couple of hours walking around trying to find a place that would let me print things off I got it printed off and made the journey back to the hotel. I ate lunch, got packed and headed for the beach. I sat there for a couple of hours just relaxing and taking it all in. Now it was time to go to the ferry. I stopped at a café with Internet. I checked my email and saw that my flight had been cancelled to Marrakech. I had expected this, but it still sucked to read. Either way I had already bought my ferry and train ticket to Luton, I didn’t have anyway to get in contact with Ryanair in Calais France, I had nowhere to stay that night, and I still had 11 days until I wanted to be back in Vienna. So these were my 3 options. 1. Go to England and either try to get a plane a few days from now to Morocco, or just stay in England for 10 days. This option was good; I could go to Scotland and then do Morocco in a couple of weeks when I planned to do Scotland. 2. Stay in France and try to take either buses or trains, to try to get back to Vienna, which would be hard right now because everybody is doing that. I didn’t really like this idea, as I am in Europe, I might as well see all that I can while I am here and not just sit in my dorm room, while all of my friends are still on break. And then there was option #3. I looked around on STA travel and found some round trip tickets from London to Indianapolis for 315Brithish Pounds. This option was to surprise Whitney and my family with a weeklong visit. I figured it up and I would actually be saving about 200-300 dollars by going with this option. This was honestly my number one option while I was leaving France. Anyway I got on the Ferry, caught the train, and made it to the airport, where everything was shut down. I thought they would open back up in the morning and I could figure out my tickets then. So I found a little spot on the cold marble floor. I ripped out a few clothes, made a nest for myself, and fell asleep, well tried to.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Days 55, 56, 57- April 12, 13, 14- Annecy- Lake in the Mountains

Annecy, France

Day 55
I HATE the French train system!!! So our train to Annecy had to get switched around a bit. We went to Paris for a couple of hours instead of going to Annecy. Then got a train from Paris to Annecy. The French strike is really pissing me off. Anyway we got to Annecy at 9:00 and went to bed after checking emails.

Day 56
One of the most Picturesque French Alps lakes, surrounded my snow peaked mountaintops, with old medieval towns dotted around its shores. This is Lac de Annecy. Ben and I stayed in a hotel in the biggest city on the lake, Annecy. Annecy is a VERY old looking town, very medieval. I woke up at 7:30, because I didn’t have dinner the night before, took a shower, and hit the town to find some grub. There was a food market going on in the streets that morning and while wandering through these ancient streets, with ancient buildings, and stands everywhere selling fruits, vegetables, and meats, it was hard not to feel like you have gone back in time. It really felt like I had stepped back to medieval times and I was walking through a market in an ancient French town. It was really cool. Besides the streets and buildings, Annecy is also cool because it has a river running through it and little canals sprouting off of that. In the main river is an old building that splits the water of the river. It is just a little island in the middle with the water flowing all around. It was really cool. So after a nice morning walk and a few pastries later, I am back to the hotel to see if Ben is up yet. He is and we hit the town again. We see the market again. An old castle, and some churches. We then make our way to the Lake, the true beauty of the area. It is so crystal clear it is unbelievable. It has a turquoise color that looks like it is a Caribbean bay, not a fresh water lake. Then with the mountains surrounding it all around, it is my type of heaven. Ben and I decide that we want to Bike around the lake. So after a tiring search for a bike rental shop, some lunch, then some more searching, we finally find one that is open. WE ARE OFF, down the lakeshore, up into the valleys, down again going through little towns. It was an amazing few hours circling the lake, with spectacular views of the mountains and of the lake. Great views of some old Château’s and just a refreshing ride with the crisp air hitting your face. We also saw a lot of Para gliders going would the mountain peaks. I think this would be fun to do. At one of our stops around the lake, I decide I am going to jump in. I strip down to my undies and dive on in. It was FREEZING, but so worth it. It was so refreshing and such an amazing lake to be in. After that we ride back to Annecy, stop at a shop to get a drink, then get caught in a thunderstorm on the last few minutes of our trip. There were lighting strikes hitting the lake and thunder that would nock you over it seemed. We make it back a little wet, but ok. Then we went back to the hotel for a bit, got dinner, and went to bed.

Day 57

I got up early again, got food at the same bakery, and walked to the lake to have breakfast. It was a perfect place to eat, with the lake, the mountains, and white swans swimming around me. I decided to take some pictures only to realize that my camera had some condensation on the inside of the lens. WELL SHIT!!! It is supposed to be waterproof up to 33 feet and has been for the last 9 months, but I put it underwater for 5 seconds the day before and it suddenly has water in it. NOT GOOD!!! So I go back to the hotel and dry it out as much as I can and then lay it on the vent. I will get back to that. We were going to leave for Paris at 12:30, since we went to the train station the other day and they said that they couldn’t book the ticket, but come 30 minutes before and you will be fine. SOOO, being the punctual types we get there 45 minutes before. They tell us the 12:30 is booked Now we will have to wait until 4:30, go to Lyon, wait for two hours, then go to Paris and arrive at 10:00 at night, only 6 hours later then we were planning. AHHHHH!!!!!! I HATE THE FRENCH TRAIN SYSTEM!!! So we get the tickets, go back to the lake and relax. I try to figure out my camera again. The condensation is almost gone and it is working fine. So I try to figure out what happened. I put it in the water again and it takes on water again. SHIT!!! I realize it is not in the places I can open it up, it is somewhere in the main part of the camera. This time it doesn’t work at all though. Well great. Now I am a third of the way through my trip with no camera. I am going to have to buy another one in Paris. AWESOME. So I give up and Ben and I go back to the train station to catch the train. On our first train we sit with some younger French people, who were very excited to meet Americans. It is weird, the same thing happened in Biarritz with two German guys who were in our room. Both the Germans and the French took pictures with us so they could put it on Facebook. Anyway I opened my camera up and put it on the vent in the train. At the end of the ride I turned it on and it worked again. YYYAAAYYY!!!! I am on the second train to Paris. It still has moisture on the inside of the lens, but I am pretty sure it will be fine after it dries out. That makes me much happier, but the days of my camera being waterproof are no more. I need to see if I can get a new one, it has been less than a year. Anyway, I am on my way to Paris. I will let you know how it is. Until then.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Days 53, 54 April 10,11-Biarritz France

Day 53
Forget the surfing, the surf was non-existent today. Instead Ben and I just relaxed on the Biarritz beach for a while then walked along the coast to a neighboring town and walked its beach for a while then headed back to the hostel, or should I say Jr. High Spring dance. This hostel was by far the weirdest hostel I have stayed at so far. It was extremely nice, but it did not have the hostel atmosphere. Instead it was full of 12-15 year olds and their parents. They had a big party that night and I could not find a quiet place that didn’t have kids running around being loud in the whole place. Then Ben and I had an Evangelist French man, who had an eye patch, wore Brazilian clothes, talked to us in Spanish, mostly saying “Todo Bien” every 5 minutes. Let me go on. He would blare reggaeish music/ Whitney Houston, or any other girly music you can think of all day long and sing to it in his falsetto voice the entire time. Then every once in a while he would break down and weep saying that he missed his father. Then he would go to clubs at night but make sure we knew he was not drinking, smoking, or doing drugs, because he walks/works for Jesus. Then would come back at about 1 in the morning. Needless to say Ben, the Welsh man that was also in our room, and I were all very worried about this guy snapping sometime. In the end we just started to join in on his very happy mood and ask him “Todo Bien?” as much as he asked us. The morning we left he woke up, asked us “Todo Bien?” we said si and then he went back to bed. Either way after the Jr. High dance and the crazy French guy in our room, Ben and I were ready to get to the Alps. But we went to the train station earlier that day to get our tickets, but do to the strike we couldn’t leave for another day. So we went back just made dinner that night and went to bed.

Day 54
It was freezing today, so no beach for us. Ben had to schedule classes for the fall and work on a paper he had to turn in soon, so we just hung out at the hostel, the kids were gone and Oliver, the French/Brazilian guy was gone so why not. I went to the lake next to our hostel, the one that smells like Wisconsin, found a spot that smelled especially like Wisconsin in a small patch of pines, sat down, widdled and just relaxed for a couple of hours. It was really nice, took me home for a while and completely restarted everything for me. It is nice that I can do this. I can just go into the woods for a while, anywhere I am, I do it at home all the time, and just relax for a while, completely clear my mind, and feel like I am starting everything over again. It is hard to explain the feeling I have when I do this, but the closest I can get to is that it is really like starting my life over again with a clear fresh mind. So I did that, then went back to the hostel where Ben and I played some Foosball for a while. I then talked to Whitney on Skype for a bit, made dinner and got packed. While getting packed Oliver walked through the door again. NOOOOO!!!! I thought I got rid of him. Nope. After some singing and being overly happy I went to bed. Annecy tomorrow. I can’t wait to get back to the Alps.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Days 51, 52 April 8,9-Train Travel to France

Day 51

Ben and I got on to the train in Granada at 9:45 in the morning. We arrived in Madrid at 2:10. We then went to the other train station in Madrid and left on another train at 4:10 and then arrived in Handeya, France at 10:20. We were then going to try to catch a bus or train to Biarritz, our final destination, but the French transit system had gone on strike that night. So we were stuck in Handeya. We were planning on sleeping on the floor of a train or bus station anyway, but somehow we lucked out. Due to the strike, the train station let all of the stranded passengers sleep in an older overnight train, for free. They also through some bottled water and toiletries in with the whole deal. Needless to say, Ben and I were quite pleased with the way things turned out. We talked to a Croatian, in Spanish, for a while about how he had to make 6 other trains to make it back home. That was interesting. My Spanish in the last 2 weeks, really has improved dramatically. I can communicate, very poorly, but communicate with most people about things. Then Ben and I talked to a girl from Bilbao, Spain, in English for a couple of hours before we went to bed. It was the best way the situation that Ben and I were in could have played out. We were extremely lucky.

Day 52

After waking up in the train the next morning it was time for Ben and I to make our way to Biarritz. We got on one bus, which took us to St. Jean de Luz, than to another bus, that took us to Biarritz. On these buses, we saw the sunrise over beautiful fields, cliffs, and waves. It was the first time I had seen the Atlantic since I had been there, and a very strange feeling came over me. I felt as if I were so much closer to Whitney then I had been for the last 2 months. I mean she was right there just on the other side of the ocean. It was as if I could take one massive leap and soar across the ocean and land right in her arms. Or as if the two of us could lean as far as we could until our fingertips touched and I would have her jump to me and I would grab her and pull her to safety. I don’t know why seeing the Atlantic Ocean made me feel all of these things, but it really made me want to see Whitney, my dog, my family, and home in general. I even looked up round trip tickets to go home for around a week, but it was too much and I really should stay and see as much as I can. But that is how much I miss and want to be able to feel Whitney. I would just jump into the ocean and keep on swimming until I reach her. We are lucky that we have skype to communicate with, but it is still not the same. You cannot make a deep connection through a computer. You can’t feel the touch of ones skin and notice simple gestures as you would in real life. I just miss to be able to see her and can’t wait for June 26th. It will be a great day in my life. Anyway we finally reached Biarritz and began our journey in France. We wandered around and finally found our hostel, which was on a small lake a couple of miles inland. The smell of this lake mixed with the smell of a 2-cycle motorcycle going by sparked another feeling in me. I miss Wisconsin. It is funny how I have spent so little time there as compared to my real home, but I consider it just as much as my home as I would Indiana. The family history, my history, the pristine lakes surrounded by mystical forests all make this place make me feel as if belong there. It is a place I will never forget and will never, not long to be. No matter how beautiful a landscape I can be in, after a while I will want to go back to my second home. It scares me what will happen to the place. Will I lose everything that my ancestors worked so hard to build and maintain? So much love and hard work has gone into those grounds, by so many different people, it would feel as if we were disrespecting every one of them, to just let it go. Just letting their dreams of having a place for their children and children’s children to play and grow. I know that place has had a huge impact of making me grow. From experiencing nature, interacting with family, pushing myself physically and mentally in sports, the death of my grandfather, the training of my dogs, the bonding of Whitney and I, the bonding of my family and I, especially my mother, and taking care of as much to my ability as I have been for the last couple of years. These are all things that have made me who I am today and they were all influenced greatly by that property and what it stands for. I am going to miss going there this summer. It pains me that I did not give myself enough time to spend there last year. I wish I had. Anyway, we got to our hostel and went to the beach for a couple of hours. We lay on the beach, walked to the lighthouse, and to a small little castle on a cliff. Then got some groceries and back to the hostel for the night. Tomorrow I am going to do a little surfing for a bit. I can’t wait. I miss all of you. See you soon.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Day 48-50 April 5-7, Granada-WOW!!! What a place!

Day 48

Ben and I arrive by train to Granada around 2:45. We walk through the newer part of town to find a bus. We find the bus that we need and hop on to get to our hostel. On the ride in this bus I realize what an amazing place we have just arrived in. While driving on cobblestone roads that weave through narrow streets limed with white and blue painted buildings, we can see the snow covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the colossal La Alhambra, which is an old walled in Moorish town/palace perched on a hill with a small, swiftly moving stream running in the valley below. The bus steered away from the stream and went into the oldest part of the town. This is where our hostel was. Smack dab right in the middle of the narrow streets. We get off of the bus and walk down a hill on a cobblestone street to Makuto Hostel, which I will tell you about later. We check in and head out to explore the city. Wandering in and out of streets, just getting lost really, we make our way back to the train station. Ben and I get tickets to Biarritz France, which is our next destination. Alright so here is the story with that. We are taking a 4-hour train to Madrid, going to the other side of Madrid and taking another train to Handeya, France. We are then stuck there for the night, since the French train system is currently on a strike and only running a certain amount of trains a day. So we are staying in the train station that night, hopefully we won’t get mugged, and then catching a bus to Biarritz the next morning. It is going to be a LONG day. Anyway, back to Granada. After we figured all of that out, we wandered back through the narrow streets to the hostel. That night we just watched a movie, because I had to register for classes, but it was still very relaxing.

Day 49

We woke up in the morning at 6:30 so that we could go and wait in line for tickets into La Alhambra. We had to do this because they only sell a certain amount of tickets a day and many people don’t get in. So we got there by 7:15 and there was already a large line. We waited for about an hour, met a nice older couple from Canada, and luckily got our tickets for later in the afternoon. We went back to the hostel, got some breakfast, and went on a walking tour with people from the Hostel. We walked through the historic streets around our hostel and then up into the hills behind the city. There we looked at caves dug into the walls that people were living in. It turns out they had been there for hundreds of years, as the gypsies were the ones who made them in the first place. When they were persecuted back in the day, they left the city and went out into the hills to live their lives peacefully. Anyway after this tour, Ben and I go to La Alhambra for the tour there. We spend 4 hours on these grounds, looking at the beautiful gardens, spectacular water fountains, and impeccably intricate palace. Alright, I have to talk about the water and the palace. First off, the water. It was amazing how the people of those days made things work. Everywhere you walk in this place you can hear water trickling around you. Whether it is fountains, small streams, little gutter like things running down every street, or the stairs that had water running down chutes in the hand rails. It was such a soothing place to be. My kind of place. I could just stay there and listen to the water for days. Now to the palace. The main part of the palace was built by Moorish conquerors. Every wall, ceiling, floor, everything in the palace was so intricate and detailed, it blows your mind how it could be done. There were so many Arabic carvings in the stonewalls, pillars, and ceilings, you just had to spend so much time in each room to really grasp the uniqueness of this place. Then, following suit with the rest of the area, it had water features throughout the inside of the palace. Everywhere you looked there were fountains, or little streams of water flowing through the place. Then you get to the Christian part of the palace. I walked through and didn’t take any pictures. They were white walls with wooden beams. I wouldn’t mine living in these rooms, but compared to the Arabic part, it was like a piece of dirt. Now why is that? Why is there so much color, culture, and attention to detail in many of the eastern countries, while in the western countries, especially North America, there is just nothing. I really do think we are one of the hardest working society in the world, but what is it all for? Where is the art going? The living life to the fullest? The culture? It seems like we are all becoming one big mixing pot and losing what is really important, our history and cultural differences. Those really are a part of us. A part of what makes this world amazing. If we lose that than, this place would be so boring. I don’t know what it is. The simplistic outlook on life of Christianity or the lack of caring about our history of the current generation, but in a thousand years, what are people going to look back on us and say? NOTHING!! None of our buildings will be around, because they were poorly built, lack of detail. We have not made anything that is truly beautiful and awe inspiring, because we are too busy in worrying about technology and money. I don’t know what the reason is, but I don’t like it. Anyway, enough of that rant. After the tour Ben and I walked down the creek and back to the hostel. On the way we stopped on the creek and put our feet in for a while and watched the sun start to set. After we got back we hung out with a couple from Canada and a girl form Washington state who were really cool. We hung out in the “Chill Out Room”, which is kind of like the gazebo in Wisconsin, but a little more enclosed, with pillows, beanbags, and couches all over the place that most of us hung out in and spent our nights, and talked away. Then dinner came. I signed up late since we were so busy from the day before, so I just stayed in the room and checked emails and stuff. We were having a Flamenco band come and play for us later, and while I was in the room 2 gypsies came in and started warming up for the show later. It was really cool. Just the three of us sitting in there, me sitting on the side and listening to them bare their hearts through their instruments. Then after a while they lit up a joint and kept on playing. Those crazy gypsies. After I ate my dinner, we went back into the room and hung out some more, while the band was playing outside of the room. We could hear them just fine and still have our own conversations while they were playing. It was really nice. But then a woman started singing and we had to go listen. I have watched a lot of people sing, many different types of music, but I have never heard anyone put so much emotion into their music as I did this woman. It was all in Spanish, and Gypsy style on top of that, so I had no idea what she was saying, but I was still so entranced I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. It was real, unfiltered singing, with the emotion as the main part of it and the singing coming in second. It was quite a thing to watch. After the show we all went to bed. What a day, VERY long, but one of the best I have had so far.

Day 50

After quite a few pieces of toast with [each jam, tea, and orange juice, as those were free to guests. Ben and I decide to head out of Granada and into the Sierra Nevada’s, for day hike. As we were getting ready to leave Addison showed up at our Hostel. I had talked to him on Facebook the night before and we realized we were both going to be in Granada at the same time. I told him where we were staying and there he was. Our hostel didn’t have a bed, but one nearby did. Anyway as we waited for him I went with the two Canadians to get some groceries. A little while later we were off for my first real hike in Europe. WE got to the entrance to the park and started to hike. We followed a very quickly moving creek for a while, ducking under cliffs and sometimes using handholds to climb around them. After a short time we took a little break and I decided to do a little climbing. I climbed to the top of the gorge that we were walking through. Nothing that crazy, it was a pretty easy climb, but it was a great view none the less. After that short break, we set off following the creek some more until the path veered away from it and headed up into the mountains. We climbed for a while until Addison and Ben both said they wanted to turn back. I, of course, did not want to do that, so I told them I would meet them back in town. I climbed higher until I reached the beginning of the pine tree line. It was quite an incredible smell due to the fact that there was wild rosemary and thyme growing everywhere just below the tree line and the scent of pine above me on the tree line. The mixture of the scents as I hugged the tree line staying at that elevation was something meant for a candle. I walked by myself taking in the scents and admiring the sights of the mountains all around me. Then I heard a rustle in the woods and saw two very small deer walking ahead of me. I don’t know what kind of deer they are, but they where about the size of a mountain goat. I sat and watched them for a while, then kept moving onward, walking on the trail that would eventually lead me back to town. After a while I saw Addison and Ben climbing up another trail, they had found the energy to get up I guess. I whistled and ran down the trail to catch up with them. We walked on a ridge for a while and then into a very grassy area of the mountain. It was a very gorgeous area, with pine trees, large boulders, cliffs, and grassy knoll. All of the sudden I came across two horses, way up here on the mountain with us. One was a stunning white and the other a rich hickory. At first I thought they might be wild horses so I told the two to be quiet, since they had not seen them yet and were talking with each other. I slowly crept up to the horses and they did not budge. I realized they were not wild, but just some farmer’s horses, which he let roam the mountain. The dark horse had his front two legs tied together so that they would not take off and be too far away. After I came to the realization that they were tame horses, it came into my mind that I had to ride the white one bare back through this grassy knoll. I went up to it, pet its face for a while, and put a little weight on its back to see what it would do. It was fine with it, so I jumped on top of it and grabbed on to its mane. I got it to go for a little bit, but it would not leave the other horse to far behind, so it would always turn back. After a few minutes of riding this horse, I got off and thanked it for the ride. Then it was time for us to find our way off this mountain. We could see the town, but the trail ended at someone’s house, the owner of the horses I presume. So we start to just climb down the mountain one ledge at a time. We come across another farmer herding his goats through the cliff. After a while we make it back to the valley and to the creek. We walk back into town, go to a café built into the cliff and get some drinks and gelato. We then go back to the hostel and hang out with our Canadian, and Washington state friends who went to La Alhambra that day. We told each other about our day, and talked the night away, until the hostel workers told us they had to close the room. We said our goodbyes and went to bed. Granada is by far the best place that I have been to so far. The people were very welcoming, the sites in the town were awe-inspiring, and the mountains were breathtaking. I recommend to anybody who is going to Spain to spend a few days in Granada, You will not regret it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Days 46, 47 April 3,4- Semana Santa

Day 46

After getting off the train in Sevilla, Ben and I were on a journey to find a place with WIFI since we forgot to pull anything up on our computers of how to get to the hotel we were staying at. After some tramping through the center of Sevilla with our packs on we finally find a plaza that has free wifi. After searching my email and the hotel website, I can’t find the place that the bus comes to take you there. By the way we are outside of Sevilla, because we didn’t book it a month before, which we should have done, due to Santa Semana. So after much searching, we decide to just get a taxi there. 30 Euros later, split between the two of us, we are at our hotel, in a tiny town outside of Sevilla. It was kind of nice though to see a little bit of the countryside. AND there was an ancient Roman Amphitheater right across the road from our hotel. We grab some lunch at a little restaurant in the this town, which was delicious. There we met an older woman from northern Spain. She talks our ears off about Camina de Sant Diego. She was very nice. She has done the whole thing. I might think about doing that some day. Maybe on bike, but I still might do it. Anyway we get checked in and then get on the BUS that will take us back to Sevilla, 1.25 Euros for the both of us. Idiots . We get on that being the only non-Spanish people on there. At the next stain the next stop a, lets say mentally challenged Spanish man that reminded me of Cuba Gooding Jr. playing Radio, sat next to me. Ben and I were the only people on the bus, many seats open, but he decided to sit with us anyway. He was pretty funny. He was talking to everyone that got on the bus and laughing away. It seemed like most of the people that got on knew him too. I tried to ask him some things, but I couldn’t understand a word he said. Usually I can make out enough things, but with him I had nothing. So we got to Sevilla and started walking around the town. Sevilla is a lot like Vallencia, but even narrower streets. I mean hard to get more than two people walking side by side in them. Pretty cool. The only thing I didn’t like it over Valencia, is I felt like it was a bit more run down and dirtier. But besides that it was good. We walked around until we ran into a procession going on. We sat there and watched the men dressed in hooded outfits , marching bands, and the giant floats carried by men going by. It was quite an experience and everyone was there to watch it. It was a very traditional thing, with many rituals. After that we walked around some more. Stopped in a park for a break, ran into some funny beggars. Check there website its Pretty good. Then we got some Paella and went back for the night. Our “Radio” friend was on the bus, but he wasn’t very lively this time. All tuckered out from a big partying day in the city. We got back watched some tv and went to bed.

Day 47

After the best breakfast I have had since being in Europe, Ben and I go to the Amphitheater next door to us. We walk around there for a while, seeing the amphitheater, some old walls where buildings were, and some murals. After that we catch the bus again to Sevilla. We explore some more things, mostly the small streets, a large u-shaped building, which was really cool, and some churches. We run into another procession, watch that for a while. We got some gelado, and some lunch in a little plaza down a very narrow street. After a few hours, we head back to our hotel and go to play some soccer in a dirt field behind the hotel. After completely embarrassing ourselves with our lack of skill, we head back to the hotel and just relax for the night. Tomorrow we leave for Granada. From everything we have heard it is an amazing city. I can’t wait to see it. Until then see ya.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Days 44,45 April 1-2-Ugh Madrid

Day 45

After a beautiful train ride through the countryside of Spain I realized that I hated trains. All they do is taunt you with the hills, valleys, lakes, streams, and quaint little towns, that I will never see. I would rather not see them at all, if I cannot enjoy these places to the fullest. I have a problem of wanting to see everything in every minute detail. I hate just zooming by hills that I want to climb to the top of or villages I want to go into a restaurant and talk with the locals. That is just me though. Seeing the cities is good, but it doesn’t show you the real side of Spain. Anyway we got to Madrid, now to find the hotel that we booked the day before. It was actually called an apartment, as it had a full kitchen and a office area. It was more like a condominium. Anyway after riding the Metro to the third to last stop it would go Ben and I get off and try to find our way. First we are in a suburb, with older people sitting in the plazas and moms walking together with their kids in the strollers. It was kind of weird and nice at the same time. Anyway we keep walking and got to the outskirts of the suburb to a few huge empty lots full of trash and large apartment complexes scattered around the area. It was a little sketchy, but the hotel looked nice, and it was only 50euros a night. So we go into the office and try to check in, but they tell us we are at the wrong area to check in. She redirected us to the security guard office. There we paid the security guard and got our key. I know VERY sketchy. We got to the room, open the door, expecting to walk into a mess, but it was just liked the pictures showed, two beds, a kitchen, a bathroom, and an office area. I was a little afraid of something happening to us that night, but we will just have to wait and see. We try to find an open supermarket so we can cook food, but due to Easter week everything is closed. We luckily find a Chinese man in a little room selling some food. We get some food, make some very crude spaghetti and go to bed. There is no wifi offered in our hotel so we just went to bed. Well tried to. The couple next door to us was having a little fun and kept us up for a while. Then we went to bed, hoping nobody came in and stole our stuff at night.

Day 46

We made it through the night!!! Time to explore Madrid. The problem was, was that Madrid was just as I expected, a large city with no charm. I was looking forward to the art museums, but since it was Good Friday it was closed. So Ben and I walked around a while seeing some of the sights, then fell asleep in a park for a while. Don’t get me wrong, Madrid is a beautiful city, but it was just that a city. Without the museums it just isn’t a place that is worth visiting only for a couple of days. I am sure it would be great for people to live in that like living in large cities, but I am not one of those either. So Ben and I went back to the hotel at about 5, bought a soccer ball and played some junkyard football in the lots next to our place. It was really nice to not do the tourist stuff and just relax and have fun doing normal everyday activities. After that Ben went into the main hotel, acting like we were staying there and asked for the wireless network password. They gave it to us and we went back to the room and watched some American TV for the first time in two months. While in Valencia one of Ben’s friends told us about a website that had them. FINALLY I can watch Lost, It’s Always Sunny, and some movies. So after a few episodes of It’s Always Sunny, and some more noise from the neighboring couple, we go to bed. Tomorrow we leave for Sevilla and have a great time for Semana Santa (Holy Week). Until then.

Days 41, 42, 43, 44 March 29-April 1-I Found my Wannabe Spanish Hometown

Day 41
After checking into our Hostel, which was really cool. It was built into the side of a church and was very bright and clean, with an amazing kitchen. Ben and I start walking around the old part of town. Valencia is full of tall towers that come from hundreds of years ago, bright blue ceramic dome roofs, marble sidewalks, and giant wooden doors. It is really a beautiful town. It is very laid back and has many things going on at the same time. It is the one place I have been so far that I would REALLY like to live for a while. Anyway we met up with another one of Ben’s friends, Brittany and a few of her friends for dinner in a large courtyard with a massive church at one end. We sat there ate and drank, until the sun had almost set. It was a very charming square, especially at dusk. After that we went out to a small little bar and went to the second story and drank and talked for a while. The girls were all very nice and fun to hang around. Then Ben and one of the girls and I went to another bar, almost a discotheque, but not quite. We stayed therefore a while then went home for the night. It was a good day, getting to know a beautiful city, and meeting amazing people.

Day 42

We met up with Brittany and her best friend again and walked down the Rio. Which used to be a river, but they dammed it and now it is just a beautiful park. We climbed on some children’s playgrounds, jumped over some fountains, and strolled through some shady walkways. At the end of the Rio was the La Ciudades Artes y Ciencias., which is the picture you see when you look up Valencia. They are some giant modern buildings, which look like space ships, with giant bright blue pools surrounding them. It is really stunning. We walked around for a while and then went to the port where the America’s Cup is held. We sat there for about an hour just relaxing. It was nice. Then back to the hostel for a nap. After dinner we went to an Irish pub for a couple of hours and met some more of the students studying in Valencia. Another GREAT day.

Day 43

WOW!!! I never realized Easter could be such a pain in the ass. Because of Easter all of Spain is crazy right now, so Ben and I Had to change some plans. After going to the train station and waiting for about 2 hours, we are told that all of the trains to Granada are booked for the next couple of days. They told us to go to the bus station. We hop on a bus and a half an hour later we get to the station. It will be 45euros. Our eurorail pass doesn’t work for busses. SOOO we go back to the hostel, go to the market and get some food, which the market is really cool. Full of meats hanging, fruit stands of any fruit you could want, and fish stands of all kinds of fish and live eels and octopus. Either way we get some food and go back and cook lunch. I meet a cool guy named Patrik, who is from Maine during lunch, and then Ben and I go BACK to the train station to get a ticket. We decided to go to Madrid, then go down south, there are more trains from Madrid, than there are from Valencia. So we wait in line for another hour and then get two tickets one to Madrid, and one from Madrid to Seville on Saturday. After that we go back to the hostel again. I go down and try to climb one of the towers, but it is closed. Instead there is a procession of Priests and drummers going through one of the main squares. I get a gelado cone, sit on a beautiful fountain and watch this for a while. It was the first time in a while I had sat down and just taken every thing in. It was an amazing experience, with the drummers, the priests, and the whole experience. It was a great way to end a terrible day. After that I go back and make some Paella, a traditional Spanish food kind of like stir-fry. It actually turned out VERY well considering I just through things into it. After a shower Ben, Patrik, and I meet up with Ben’s friends at the Irish pub again and drink a few beers, then head to a discotheque. After a couple hours of dancing we went home and went to bed.

Day 44

I woke up in the morning made some breakfast and met up with Patrik to go and climb the tower that I wanted to climb the other day. We get to the church, with people singing in it. That was cool in itself, then climb the spiraling staircase to the top. It was an amazing view of the city. After taking some pictures and getting another cone of gelado, Patrik and I sit on the fountain eating our cones and talking. It was a nice morning. After that I went back and got packed. It was time for Ben and I to head to Madrid. I really didn’t want to go. Valencia is by FAR the best town I have been in. I could stay there for a long time, but if I did, then I wouldn’t see anything else. SOO it is time to go. Good by Valencia, Hello Madrid.