A Travellerspoint blog

Malaga.....Only 4 1/2 months late :)

"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."--

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How does one go about creating an amazing blog entry nearly five months after returning home from the great place she’s trying to write about? I’ll start by explaining the delinquency in finishing our ever so popular Euro blog. I was going to let Audrey write about our amazing two weeks in Malaga, because she is obviously the better descriptive writer. Almost immediately after our return to the US, Aud had to re-pack her bags and go to London then Miami for job training. During this time, she asked me to finish the blog, which I had full intentions on doing….until I sat down at my computer. I had the worst writer’s block EVER. I think it was a combination of living up to Aud’s great blog entries, not wanting to remind myself that I wasn’t in Europe anymore and that instead of a few days of exploration to translate to our great readers, I now had two whole weeks to sum up. I tried multiple times to start the Malaga blog and each time I closed my computer unsuccessfully, I secretly hoped Audrey would come to my rescue and finish it for me.

Instead of trying to describe everything perfectly, I’m going to write more about the impression those two weeks made on me and the memories I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

It was Aud that had the genius idea about Malaga. A few weeks prior when we were in Berlin doing some trip planning we could not decide what to do with our last 12 days in Europe. Audrey said, “Why don’t we just stay in one place and use the rest of our train passes for day trips? “ And since the cold wave was on our heels throughout most of our trip, we both agreed that we should try to stay somewhere warm and preferably with a beach nearby. We sealed the agreement with a high five and immediately searched our map to look for the southern most areas of Spain. Malaga it was.

We used Malaga as a vacation from our vacation. After a month and a half of walking tours, train rides, and sightseeing, we were thrilled to do the exact opposite and park it in one place for the duration of our trip. The first couple of days we slept in, did laundry, and got our bearings on our temporary neighborhood. During those two weeks, we alternated our days between train trips to other cities and enjoying the sights of Malaga itself. We took day trips to Cordoba, Sevilla, and Granada and some of the most amazing views of the Spanish countryside. Through the entire duration of our stay, there was a cultural festival underway in downtown Malaga. So when we had time to kill we would wander down the boardwalk, snack on the various delights, and browse the trinkets from countries all over the world. Our favorite spot to hang out…besides in the kitchen with our hostel mates…was just down the block from our hostel. Across the street from us was the ocean. There were several jettys composed of huge boulders and we just happened to find these two rocks shaped just like Lazy Boys (not as soft and squishy obviously). At least once a day we would sit on our “chairs” with our toes dangling in the Mediterranean. I would usually journal and Aud would read. We would also have the ever-so-important girl talks regarding which of our friends we thought would be married having children first, or where we saw ourselves in 5-10 years. Not to mention recapping our favorite stories and inside jokes from our many nights on the road.

Even though this all sounds fantastic and dreamy, it still wasn’t my favorite part. What stole my heart about Malaga were the people we met while we were there. A small group of us were there for a week or longer….and not all by choice. Remember the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano ash cloud fiasco?? Many of our new friends watched helplessly as flights were slowly cancelled in conjunction with the ash cloud creeping across Europe. The positive side of this (for me) was that all of these people were scheduled to leave the weekend before my birthday….but now they were all forced to stay. By the time my birthday rolled around (which was only 2 days before our return to the US) we had quite the “family” at Sol Backpacker’s Hostel. We had all bonded while playing cards, exchanging jokes, and sharing our various budget friendly meals night after night.

The morning of my birthday, Audrey got out of bed before me and had a special birthday breakfast on the table when she woke me up….Travel Partner of the Year Award hello! Upon devouring my breakfast and wiping the sleep from my eyes, I notice a no-bake chocolate contraption on the community table adorned with aluminum foil flowers and origami birds. Complete with “Cat” spelled out in licorice. This “birthday cake” was made in the wee hours of the night while I was sleeping by Sally and Dom, the delightful and hilarious English couple. As I was about to get ready for the day, Colm, our favorite bunkmate, handed me a card complete with music notes composing a tune he wrote for me.

Here I’m going to copy and paste a perfect description of Colm that Audrey actually started when we were in Malaga. It‘s so fantastic I had to include it and wish we had her fabulous descriptions of all our new friends:

~Colm is a ray of sunshine. He is happy 24 hours a day. He is a 30 year old musician from just outside of Dublin who enjoys the pub and good ale almost as much as he enjoys playing the Irish Whistle (his instrument of choice). Colm's wardrobe consists of: a white t-shirt, either forest green swim trunks or jean trousers (Irish for pants) with a Texas long horns belt buckle, plain brown leather shoes and if it is a bit chilly outside a white and black plaid flannel shirt. His shirt is always tucked in and his pants are always hiked up to the navel. My mind obviously went to "Oh goodness does he wear the SAME thing EVERY day?" but after about a week of speculation we were told "I was at the Dublin Airport & I knew that I was gunna be cooped up on a flight so, I left me bag by me departure gate so I could take a stroll and stretch me legs. When I came back it was gone." We aren't sure if someone walked away with Colm's bag or if airport security put it through the shredder thinking it was a bomb. Either way, Colm had to buy some new pants (Irish for underwear), some new socks or he downgraded from a custom 180 pound (money not weight) whistle to one that he found for 5 Euro in a shop here in Malaga. He wakes saying "Top of the mornin' to ya" each day and is literally the happiest person that I have ever met. ~

So, back to the most amazing birthday ever….

My favorite thing about that card is the fact that it’s obviously in Spanish and is clearly a “congratulations on the new baby” card. But the fact is Colm went out of his way to find a card for me, someone he barely knows. Later that day Lena, the girl from Canada, joined Aud and I on the “recliners” for adult juice boxes and girl talk. After spending a few hours in the sun, we headed to the grocery store for party necessities. Audrey treated us to the fixins for mojitos from scratch. Lena opted to make her delicious guacamole. The best part of the day was watching everyone help make the mojitos using the variety of utensils found in the hostel kitchen. During this Betty Crocker meets MacGyver moment, a new arrival to the hostel (Emily from Montana) set her bags down to check in, asked what the occasion was, and said “I’ll run down to the store and get some meat, cheese, and crackers to snack on so I can contribute to the party.” About an hour later as the sun was beginning to set, there we were, all seven of us in birthday hats carrying kitchen pots full of minty fresh mojitos and balloons down Calle Bolivia. Cars were honking and strangers were gawking but I didn’t have a care in the world. As we sat on the beach watching the sun set into the mountains sipping mojitos from a soup pot, I sat back and observed this scene. I felt like absolute luckiest girl in the entire world at that moment. How many people can say that a group of strangers from various parts of the world chipped in their hard earned travel money (that they were running low on due to the ash cloud forced travel extension) to make their birthday one of the most memorable ever? The events and camaraderie of that day will stick with me forever. Amazing monuments, culture, and world history aside…the memories of that day will forever be the highlight of our 64 days in Europe. I will never be able to fully put into words what those kind gestures meant to me. Chance encounters like the ones in Malaga are the core reason that I travel and will continue to travel for the rest of my life.

I would also like to thank the best travel partner ever for giving me the opportunity to fulfill several of my wildest dreams. Without Audrey calling me up one day and saying "So....I think I'm gonna backpack Europe for two months" shortly follwed by, "So come with me..." I'm not sure if I ever would've done it. I mean I would've eventually travelled to some of those places at some point in my life....but never in the way we did it. That trip certainly changed the way I view the world and I truely feel that anything is possible. Thanks to you, Aud.

Till the next great adventure....

Cat

Posted by audandcat 22:25 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Paris Part Deux

We arrived back in Paris after only 2 1/2 hours on a high speed train. Thalus trains move so quickly that we could barely catch a sig on our beeper (LOL The Hangover) I mean blackberry. Upon arrival in Paris we felt extrememly confident hopping onto the metro. This is the only city that we decided to split up so, our return felt comfortable and safe. We followed the directions given to us via email by our hostel and boarded the metro. Whenever we wait at the metro with our big packs attached to our backs I say a little prayer hoping that the train will be mostly empty. It usually isn't but I back in and beep regardless. I don't understand how even without buying anything our bags manage to feel heavier and larger with each stop on our journey. The provided directions were detailed and precise but what they didn't tell us was that we would have to climb a circular staircase with 92 stairs to even exit the metro station. Once we exited the metro we then had to walk up 36 stairs to the street that the hostel was located on. We arrived at the hostel and checked in. The nice man behind the desk then informed us that our room was on the third floor. After ascending 54 more stairs, we arrived at our room. Our hostel is clean, the staff is friendly and the internet is free. Breakfast is included but in order to get breakfast you have to go to the bottom floor eat and come up those 26 stairs. This means if we wake up, eat breakfast, then get ready for the day, sightsee (venues without stairs), return to the hostel and chill in our room for the rest of the night (which we never do) that we are doing 236 stairs every day.

Our first night back in Paris we layed low. We got caught up on the ever so popular blog, did our laundry at the Laverie (doesn't going to the laundromat sound so much more glamorous when you say it in French?), took a hot shower and turned in for the night. The next morning we ate breakfast and set our sights on the Musee du Louvre. We dedicated an entire day to this, one of the world's largest museums. DaVinci's Mona Lisa is probably the most famous piece at the Louvre so we fought the crowds of Japanese and teenage tourists to see that right away. I had always imagined the Mona Lisa to be a large, detailed painting of this mysterious woman. It blew my mind when I was finally able to see her. The painting itself was quite small. It was encased by thick glass surrounded by a wood railing and further baricaded by a red velvet rope. I am glad that I was able to spend a few moments gawking at this work of artistic genious. We spent the next several hours wandering around the huge former royal palace admiring as many of the 35,000 pieces of art and artifact as we could. A few of my favorites included the Venus de Milo, a beautiful depiction of the godess Aphrodite and an ancient Egyptian statue of Ramses II. The list of masterpieces displayed in the amazing coridors of the Louvre goes on and on. The thousands of years of history exhibited here are a true testament to progress, genious and beauty. When we were museum'd out we decided to take advantage of the sunny day and spend some more time in our extremely comfortable semi reclined lawn chairs in the Tuilieries Garden. The clouds were moving quickly though the air exposing the sunshine just enough and a cool breeze rushed through the sunbathers making the air crisp and clean. There were lots of friends exchanging laughs as they walked, lovers exchanging smooches on their picnic blankets and families creating memories everywhere you looked. It made me realize that life no matter where you go is great and it is the people that surround you that change you every moment.

When the breeze turned into wind we left the gardens to return up the hill to our hostel in Monmontre. We made a fantastic dinner for less than €5 and enjoyed our room roomate free with the windows open. Scilence and fresh air are always welcomed in foreign countries in awkward hostel rooms. It is hard to focus on a good book when all that you can think of is "have they showered in the past week?" or "are they talking about me in that unknown language?"

The next morning The Chateau Versailles was on the agenda so we woke up, packed snacks for the road and found our way to the more suburban (vs the metro) RER trains. Our quick journey took us to the masterpiece of King Louis XIV. He didn't like the French people or the city of Paris too much so he built an amazing palace and equally impressive gardens in the city of Versailles as his own personal escape. When we arrived at the palace we were told that we would have to wait for 2+ hours and pay €20 to even walk through the doors of the palace. We made a fantastic choice and opted to stroll through the 1,000 acre gardens instead. The day couldn't have been more beautiful. We have had many cold days on this trip so the sunshine and blue skies as far as the eye could see made us extremely happy. The weather along with the perfectly manicured gardens were breath taking. We walked around for a while until we found Le petite Venice. Since we had such a terrible taste in our mouths for Venice we decided to park it by this man made lake for some sun and fantastic conversation. Besides the swans that kept eyeing me up (**reminder, I HATE birds) it was an amazing afternoon. We said our goodbyes to the golden gates of Versailles and made our way to the Eiffel Tower to grab one last crepe. It was a beautiful Tuesday evening so there were entertainers, street vendors, about a million tourists and pick pockets everywhere you looked. We enjoyed the entertainment, scenery and a delicious sugar and creme crepe before heading back to the hostel for one more yummy cheap dinner.

Rise and shine came early the next morning knowing that we had a night train booked for that evening. We ate breakfast, packed, did some internet-ing (thank god for free internet) packed groceries for our looming train ride then found a cinema that was showing the new movie, Remember Me in English. We wanted to see if Robert Pattinson was more than just the pretty face that we admired in the Twilight movies. As an actor he was more than just Edward Cullen. We were impressed with his portrayal of a brooding, emotionally distraught 22 year old Tyler Hawkins. Cat and I didn't say a word during the movie but emerged from the theater with puffy cry face from bawling during the last half of the film. After composing ourselves, we took the nearest metro to the train station.

We figured that the curse with night trains would be broken on our third try. We were convinced that the travel gods had punished us enough with our overnight train first from Venice to Vienna then from Berlin to Paris so, we one up'd our preparedness from Berlin and came packing snacks, just-in-case meals and stocked a few bottles of wine to ensure a comfortable ride. Then we found out... OUR TRAIN HAD BEEN CANCELLED due to a Paris train strike. Various attendants for the train company attempted to subdue our anger by directing us to other train attendants who spoke less English than the last. We ended up finding someone that told us to wait for an announcement about where we were to meet the bus. Around the time that we were expecting the announcement Cat and I decided to be annoying Americans and ask AGAIN about the status of our travel. The one person that spoke English then told Cat that there were busses waiting on the side of the station and that Cat should tell the other Madrid bound passengers immediately. We quickly found the bus that we were looking for, dropped our bags and got on. This bus looked nice but after taking a second glance at our seats I realized that it was much smaller than most chartered busses. No one was up to speed on where we were going or when we would be there so, we just got as settled as possible and made friends with the older English couple sitting behind us. We made light of the situation, chatted for a while, then I took a very uncomfortable nap. After our first stop at a truck stop somewhere 4 hours outside of Paris, we dipped into the first bottle of wine attempting to subdue the anxiety attack that I was about to have. Before we started this trip I came upon a head phone splitter. It's a little gadget that you hook into your Ipod that splits sound for 2 sets of headphones. This came in handy as we enjoyed our bottle of wine. The other passengers of the bus were starting to fall asleep so we lip synched to random balads, musicals and rap songs to eachother for a good hour and a half. We then got drunk and tired so we eventually fell asleep. I don't think that I have ever been as uncomfortable than I was on that bus at any point in my life. The lights were on, it was stuffy, reaked of body odor, children were crying and I was contorted into a seat fit for a 12 year old. At one point while Cat was open mouth sleeping, I even resorted to standing for over an hour. The night crept by and at 9am we pulled into another truck stop. Every red eyed passenger rushed to the counter for espresso before heading to the bathroom and back to the bus. When I returned to the bus I overheard an English woman speaking Spanish to the only man wearing a name tag on our bus. She was saying "But we're all going to Madrid". It turns out that Madrid wasn't the final destination of this bus ride. We were bound for a train station in a small Spanish town about 400 Kilomiters outside of Madrid. We all waited in anticipation of where we were going next. About an hour later we pulled into a tiny train station and were hearded onto an empty train. We arrived in Madrid an hour later. After again gathering our belongings, we marched up to the customer service desk at the station. Luckily we ended up fighting for compensation or acknowledgement with two families who spoke English. We all had to speak to the one customer service attendant that was able to converse with us. He was extremely patronising and didn't provide any type of solution to our problem. At one pont one of the English dad's pulled out his camera to document the situation. The Spanish Policia didn't like this much and demanded that he erase it or he would go to jail. After bantering back and forth for a good half an hour, we got the man's name, exchanged information with the other English speaking families and decided that dealing with the situation via Cat's hate email would be better. When we left the office I made the observation that security guards and police officers had gathered near the exit. They were probably worried that one of the non espanol speakers was going to go off. Gotta be impressed that they were prepared... I almost did.

Cat and I found the metro,headed to another train station and booked our tickets for the next train to Malaga, the next stop on our journey. We wanted the issues of the past 24 hours to be behind us as quickly as possible. The train ride through the Spanish countryside went by quickly as I narco'd and Cat watched a movie provided by the train. I couldn't help but think about how comfortably I could have slept on that train as opposed to the bus provided. We exited the train confident that our bad travel jou jou was behind us. Again, we followed the directions given to us by our hostel which instructed us to get on one bus then transfer to another bus. It gave us the bus stop where we were supposed to exit and the hostel should be just across the street. It seemed easy enough but nope... it was a bit more interesting. The first bus went well. We got onto the second bus quickly and were anxiously awaiting our stop to flash across the screen. When we thought we had gone to far Cat asked the bus driver where our stop was and he then informed her that we had passed it about 5 or 6 stops back. We got off of the bus and started walking in the direction from which we came. About 4 gallons of sweat and 45 minutes later, we found our hostel.

As soon as we checked in, we dropped our heavy backpacks, kicked off our tennies and ran out to the beach to enjoy a chat and the sunset. As we lounged on the beach we couldn't help but say... "Watch out Malaga. We have arrived!"

Till next time know that we are safe, happy, healthy & lathered in sunscreen on the beach.
Love love,

Audrey
(and Cat)

Posted by audandcat 07:08 Comments (0)

Red Light Special

**Parental Advisory**

The following blog will contain information regarding things we learned about Amsterdam....including prostitution, marijuana, and magic mushrooms. I'll try to keep it as PG as possible. Mahalo.

Ok, so let's start at the beginning..... We arrived in Amsterdam late afternoon in the middle of a rain/hail storm. Joy. Thankfully, our hostel gave fantastic directions. We ran to catch the #21 bus and twenty minutes later were delivered right to the door of our hostel. The showers in Paris were gross, so the first thing we did at our new digs was de-lous ourselves. After a good scrub and hot shower, we decided to check out the area around our hostel and soon discovered that there was absolutely nothing to do. We did, however, find ourselves a kebap vendor and grabbed a bite to eat (Pete was right, Berlin's are the best). Instead of turning in early, we opted to grab a tram into the nightlife district, Leidesplein. I immediately set my sights on The Bulldog, Amsterdams first coffee shop. This is my theory....why not smoke a little pot in the one place thats it's legal and regulated. Well, technically it's still illegal but we'll get to that later. Not really sure what the whole system is, I asked the bartender for the "menu" because that's what I read when doing my homework for the trip. He points to the snack menu. I smile and say "um not that menu". He then points to the joint in his mouth and when I nod yes, he points to a small bar behind us that we passed on the way in. Located on this bar was a button. When you press this button it illuminates a marijuana, hash and reefers (joint) menu. Underneath a sign that says "Officer on duty" you tell the person what you want, they let you smell it to make sure you like the quality, and then you pay. Not all the coffee shops are this formal, but since the Bulldog is a chain and has multiple locations I'm sure they are subject to more inspections. Aud doesn't smoke, so she ordered herself a Coke Light (they don't have Diet Coke in Europe) and sat patiently as I enjoyed the local culture.

Brace yourselves for a big shock here.....The next day, we did the free walking tour. Is everyone composed? Good. Lee was our guide for the tour and she was awesome. It was her first tour back after being sick, so she was very enthusiastic and excited to show us around. One of our first stops was the Red Light District. Before we got there, she stopped to warn us about taking pictures. The prostitutes in the windows take their professions very seriously, as well as their body gaurds. A few things can happen if they catch you taking pictures. Including but not limited to:

1. Your camera could wind up in the nearest canal.
2. You could wind up in the nearest canal.
3. Something will be thrown at you and not in a gentle or friendly manner.
4. The "victim" will come outside (in her dental floss) and throw a jar of yellow liquid (not lemonade) on you.

We were standing outside a row of windows with their "product" on display listening to the information our guide was bestoying upon us. Behind our guide were three older tourist ladies taking pictures of the various surroundings, when all of a sudden we hear someone screaming and swearing at the top of their lungs. Not two seconds later, much to our delight, we see a beer can go flying through the air at full steam and just nail this lady with the camera in hand. I didn't have the heart to go up to her and do a sniff test, so we'll never know if it was beer or urine. The timing was absolutely perfect!! Who knew we'd get an interactive tour? POP QUIZ: Does anyone care to guess what the age of the oldest prostitute in Amsterdam is? I didn't think so....but I'm gonna tell you anyways :) 82 years old!!!!!!! And get this....she's got a waiting list. {enter puke noise here}

We also learned why the houses appear to be leaning every which direction....The original foundations of the houses were built on wooden stilts, which obviously start to decay after many years. When the houses start to tilt and the frames shift, the owners tend to just replace a window here, or a door there, until they have to completely replace the entire foundation under the house. See, it's not all about pot and prostitutes. Speaking of pot, Lee also gave us the history of how Amsterdam developed its acceptance of marijuana. Back in the 70's, they had really bad problems with heroin and cocaine use. Their resources were strecthed thin trying to crack down on everything so they decided to put drugs into two different categories. Hard drugs and soft drugs. Marijuana and magic mushrooms were put into the soft drug category and therefore de-criminalized. They let the peace lovers smoke their peace pipe and focused all efforts on the junkies. And get this....it worked. Outside of pickpocketing, they have one of the lowest crime rates around. Amazing. There are all kinds of guidelines and regulations for the coffee shops regarding the amounts they can have on the premises, and how much they can sell to you etc etc. Basically, as long as people aren't being idiots about things and not trying to export pounds of marijuana on the streets, they turn a blind eye to the people who like their occasional (or frequent) joint and space cake. The issue with magic mushrooms is even more interesting. They were just as accepted as marijuana until 2008 when someone with mental issues (this was a proven fact not my opinion) drank way too much alcohol, decided to eat some shrooms, and have the grand delusion that she could fly. Because no one does stupid things when under the influence of alcohol and the autopsy revealed that she had eaten halucinagins, mushrooms were soon deamed illegal. The coffeeshops were told they were allowed to sell off their remaining stock. Here's the kicker, no one took inventory of all the remaining stock for every single coffeeshop selling these little darlings. So, if you ask around you can find places that are still selling the "last of their stock", two years later. Genious. We opted to avoid these, since the buildings already look like they are reaching out to grab you when your sober. We also saw the coffee shop, Dampkring, that Matt Damon shot in for Ocean's 12. The tour wasn't all drugs and scandal. Like everyother stop on our trip thus far, we also learned about Amsterdams WWII history.

Day three in Amsterdam was beautiful. According to weather.com, it was to be the only nice during our stay and we took full advantage. First, we made our way to the third stay of the trip. Because of spring break season and Easter weekend, the availability (and affordabililty) of beds was rediculous. Our first two nights we stayed at two different hostels, and our last two nights were spent at a room we rented from a nice Dutch lady named Donna. After ditching our bags, we opted to start the day with a stroll around the Red Light District and people watch. After seeing more boobs and skin than necessary, we navigated our way through the alleys of Amsterdam to the Anne Frank House. See, we did educational things too. During our stay in Berlin, we managed to pick up a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. It was really interesting to walk through the house as I was also in the middle of reading the diary. For instance, in her diary, she talks about how she decorated her room with pictures of movie stars from magazines and newspapers. Some of these clippings are still on the walls today. Everyone should read this book. The insight and knowledge that she possessed at such a young age is asstounding. That evening we decided to stay in for the night and watch TV because for the first time our entire trip, a few of the channels were English!!!! We watched a movie, as well as Oprah, MTV, and the Disney Channel. We were beyond excited.

Our last day in Amsterdam, we slept in and watched TV in bed. I know it sounds like we were wasting the day, but after a month and a half of not having our own space (or TV in English), it was a great way to recharge our energy and give our brains a break. We finally left the room around five that evening so we could grab dinner (and I could make a farewell visit to a coffeeshop). The night ended perfectly with Pearl Harbor on TV. You can't top a dinner date and chick flick with my one of your besties on a Saturday night.

We got up early the next morning and caught our train back to Paris. Just when I thought all the shocks of Amsterdam were over, Audrey overheard four American dudes discussing what their prostitutes were like. I am now scarred for life. If I ever find out that someone I'm dating or interested in has been to Amsterdam, I will require a lie detector test and full panel from a doctor before getting serious.

I can sum up Amsterdam as one place everyone should see in their lifetime. Walking around the Red Light District is like walking around an alternate universe. There are women of all shapes and sizes in windows morning, noon and night and the scent of marijuana is everywhere, literally. You can't tell weather it's wafting out of a "coffee shop", or walking past you on the sidewalk. I was in constant awe and shock the entire time we were there. I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I loved seeing it.

<3 Always,

Cat (and Aud)

Posted by audandcat 02:12 Comments (0)

J'taime Paris!

Sexy, sophisticated, sultry

Our 9 hour night train ride from Berlin to Paris reconfirmed our hatred for night trains. After our terrible night train from Venice, we swore to avoid them at all cost but, when we couldn't find accommodations in Amsterdam that fit our timetable &/or budget, we decided to utilize the flexibility of our Eurail pass to split up our time in Paris. In order to do this we had to cave and give the night train another try. We boarded this train prepared with fully charged Ipods, books, German beer and our most comfortable clothes. Once we settled in and noticed that we were alone, we did a little happy dance hoping that it would stay that way. Unfortunately a Chinese exchange student and his mother joined us in our car at the next stop. I couldn't help but think "Okay, I can deal with this. At least we have heat unlike Venice" as we continued toward our destination. After having our tickets checked, drawing the curtains, popping in the "I will sleep on this ride" play list, we stopped again picking up the 5th passenger for our carriage. At this point, the Chinese mother & son had sprawled out making themselves very comfortable. The carriage was stuffy and stifling. Cat, #5 and I spent the next hour fidgeting trying to find a cozy way to somehow enjoy a 9 hour train ride. I finally was so exhausted that I found a way to uncomfortably narco without repeating the headbanging motion all night. Cat & #5 weren't as lucky as I was so they went to the dining car for a refreshment. After a successful nightcap, Cat & #5 returned to start the battle of the window. #5 would open our tiny window to let some fresh air in, only to have the Chinese son close it again. It was pretty fun to witness but after the 10th time it got a little bit annoying. We woke in the morning to an announcement in German. Luckily #5 was able to translate the message that we would be arriving in Paris 4 hours late because of some mechanical issues. ARGH!!!!!

When we finally got to Paris, we found the metro & navigated ourselves to the Aloha Hostel. After living in Aloha land for three years, there was a very large part of me that was hoping that a huge Polynesian man or woman would be running a hostel schmeared in hibiscus flowers and faux palm trees playing IZ's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"... nope. This hostel was anything but Aloha. On the plus side, we could see the Eiffel Tower from the front door so... We checked in, surveyed our safe yet dirty and unfriendly surroundings then went to the grocery store. We, thanks to a budget & hostel guest kitchens, are making some fantastic, healthy, soooo unbackpacker-like meals. If you are lucky enough to get stuck on a semi deserted island with one of us... you are pretty damn lucky. Cat says "If Betty Crocker & Macgyver had a baby, it would be us". I would have to agree. We filled our bellies then decided to go see the symbol of Paris, The Eiffel Tower.

We strolled past many charming cafes of Paris that first night. I am by no means a cigarette smoker but somehow sitting in a sidewalk cafe, enjoying an espresso & a long Cruella DeVil style cig seemed sexy and alluring. Then I smelled the cigarettes and quickly changed my mind. The Eiffel Tower shot out at us from behind a tall building when we rounded the next corner. It felt as though it was lit to be showcased for only me that night. I couldn't take my eyes off of it. We took tons of pictures and managed to avoid the Africans selling glowing souvenirs just long enough to find a crepe stand. We shared the most amazing chocolate, banana & creme filled crepe. Well... I did. Most of the bites that Cat took ended up on her purse or shoes but still. So yummy. We strolled back to our hostel fat, happy and extremely extremely tired.

The next morning we woke up, had breakfast and got ready for a day of exploring the city and some of its most famous landmarks with NewEurope. Our guide was a 20 something guy from New Zealand named Alex. We were shown everything from the Latin Quarter to Notre Dame and the Louvre to The Champs-Elysèes. When we finished the tour we found some amazing semi reclined chairs by a fountain in the Tuilieries Garden to relax in. We returned that evening to enjoy another *home* cooked meal before we went on the Paris Pub Crawl!

After the Prague Bar Crawl fiasco (if youve been following our blog check out the comment from the Bar Crawl owner about our blog :) we were hesitant to participate in another pub crawl but, we found out that NewEurope actually ran this one (not just endorsed it) so we decided to go. Our tour guide Alex was running it and had promised to leave no man/or woman behind. We met the group by the actual Moulin Rouge Cabaret Lounge. There were couples from Wisconsin and Austrailia, 2 male students from India, about 5 girls studying abroad in England and one crazy lone traveler from England. We had a great time chatting in bars then walking through the very safe very controversial Parisian red light district. The final stop of the night was the very posh Cosmopolitan Place. It was here that we parted ways with the rest of the pub crawlers to make our hostel's 2:00am curfew. Overall the night was a huge success. We had a fantastic time and made some great friends.

The next morning we woke up and took off to remember some influential people that chose Paris as their final resting place. We went to the world's most visited graveyard to pay our respects to Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wild and Jim Morrison. There are over 800,000 people burried in this cemetary. The carefully organized, tightly situated family plots make this place of remembrence very intriguing and, if it can be said about a cemetary... beautiful. This same day we made our way through the pouring rain to the Pantheon. The crypt of this beautiful building houses the tombs of Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Marie Curie and others deemed influential enough to be recognized here. The day was a welcomed change of pace from museums and palaces.

The first couple of days in Paris seemed to be a huge success. We took in the city of lights and enjoyed its allure... This is not the end of our adventures in Paris. We'll be back after a fun filled weekend in AMSTERDAM!!!

Till then peace out homies!

Love love,

Aud
(and Cat)

Posted by audandcat 10:49 Comments (0)

Ke-bapping around Berlin

Hey there!! Audrey and I apologize for the huge delay in our blog!!! We haven't had free internet since we left Berlin and our last hostel in France charged €2 for 30 minutes. Anyways, let's see if I can still do Berlin justice even though its been over a week.

Our hostel was very different from the other places we stayed at before. It was basically a three bedroom/two bathroom apartment that was converted to a hostel with a plethora of Ikea bunkbeds. When we first arrived we gave each other the "Uh oh" look. But after chatting with the staff and getting checked in, we felt quite comfortable. The people who run the hostel (Esther, Lynus & Gray) have assigned it an African theme and send their profits to Zambia. Pretty awesome if you ask me! They tried to plan different activities each night to bring all the guests together. By this point, Aud and I had put ourselves on a strict budget and therefore did not participate in the nighttime endevours. But we made sure to get to know the others over breakfast every morning.

The first day in Berlin we decided to....you guessed it....join the free walking tour!!! These tours are fabulous and just happen to be in most of the major cities we've stopped in. Berlin was interesting to me because there was not only the WWII history of Berlin, but the East/West/Communist history as well. They took us to the area where Hitler committed suicide. Parts of his bunker still remain underground. It's actually a parking lot in the middle of a bunch of buildings. It's not marked and you would never know what it was unless someone told you....reason being....they don't want to remember Hitler and what he stood for. We walked through the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. That was especially interesting to us because we saw and learned about a cemetary in Prague which was the inspiration for the memorial in Berlin. We also saw the most expensive hotel in Berlin, which also happens to be the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony. Not quite important or inspiring, but I found it a good chuckle in the midst of all the history we've been emersed in for the past month. Also on the tour, we saw the book burning memorial, Brandenburg Gate, Wall Victims Memorial (commemorating the 191 people who died trying to cross from East to West), Checkpoint Charlie (where the sign still stands saying "You are now leaving the American sector"), and Museums Island. After the tour, we found our way to a church that still shows the damage of being bombed in WWII. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. I loved it. It's one thing to hear stories from over 70 years ago, but it's a whole other thing to actually see it. Only one of it's towers are still standing with the portion of the roof that didn't burn down. After this long day of walking, we headed back to the hostel to make din and lay low for the night.

Our second day we decided to start with a leisurely stroll along the Eastside Gallery ( it is the longest strectch of the Berlin wall still standing and it is covered in Murals). It was about 70 degrees outside and after our delightful walk, we opted to find a park to people watch. For anyone planning on visiting Berlin, it's very easy to confuse a park and a cemetary on the maps. And that's exactly what we did.... wandered into a gigantic cemetary. After stopping to pay our respects for the approaching funeral procession, we made our way to the nearest exit. We eventually made it to a lovely park where we ate our home made sandwhiches, watched some people play volleyball and took a siesta in the sun. It felt amazing to have a slow and lazy day in the middle of all our sightseeing. Once again, we headed back to our hostel to whip up one of our amazing budget friendly meals and turn in early.

The next day, we set out to find some things that weren't included in our walking tour. Audrey's friend Pete was our own personal google while in Berlin and among the many things he told us to do was to eat a Doner Kebap. We didn't get what the big deal was, but made sure the Doner Kebap was on the to do list. First, we took in the sights and smells of the Turkish Market where there was everything from fresh fish to fancy handpainted doorknobs. Upon leaving the Turkish Market we spotted a walkup Kebap vendor. Let me tell you that this is one of the most amazing food creations I've ever had the pleasure to wolf down. We watched the Kebap man shave the lamb from this huge chunk of rotating meat on a stick with a freshly sharpened sword. The fresh warm pita was smeared with a 100% offensive but equally as delicious garlic sauce. Kebap man then piled on the meat mixed with cucumbers, tomatoes and equally offensive onions.

  • *On a side note....You may have noticed that I've used the word Kebap alot.....and no, it's not a typo. They are spelled K-e-b-a-p. Aud and I found it very amusing that it was not called a Kebob. So for the rest of our stay in Berlin (and the duration of the trip) we try to use the word as much as possible. Say it a couple times in a row and tell me you don't chuckle. Ke-bap, Ke-bap, Ke-bap.**

After devouring our first Kebap, we visited the Death Strip (the only area where both sides of the wall are still standing) and the artist squats. That was interesting. The art scene in Berlin is amazing. When the Berlin Wall came down, any other kind of demolition was put on hold and some forgotten about. In turn, that left all of these abandoned buildings around Berlin. Many of them have been turned into huge galleries by various artists and hippies who decided to take up residence. Apparently, they are about to get kicked out. Because of all these artists, the area is very popular and now the property is worth ALOT. That evening we met up with Armin. He is a German native who grew up with a close family friend of mine. We had an interesting Friday night drinking the best German beer around and trying to learn German words with Armin, his friend Manfred and Manfred's dog Julia. On the way to the Metro, we spotted a late night Kebap stand. They were messy, delicious and just what we needed at midnight on a Friday night after consuming a few too many pints. I'm not sure if more wound up in my stomach or on the floor of the metro.

Our fourth day in Berlin was pretty low key. We had to catch the night train to Paris that evening so we didn't have much planned for the day. We slept in, caught up on our laundry and went to purchase our train tickets. With some extra time to spare, we decided to return to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and see the exhibit that is underneath it. Out of all of the Holocost Memorials we've seen, including Dachou concentration camp, this one was the most powerful to me. On this trip, we've learned alot about the horiffic brutality of WWII. But this exhibit was the first time I got choked up. Of the items on display were biographies on individuals and entire families, as well as various letters and journal entries. These are all very rare findings because when the SS took people away, any of their possesions not of monetary value were destroyed. The piece that affected me the most was a post card. It affected me so much I'd like to share it with you all. I will include it at the end of this blog. Just to warn you, it's very hard to read but extremely moving and a realistic depiction of the times.

We had some extra time to kill so we made one last run for our favorite Kebap stand outside the Turkish Market (and a 45 minute metro ride away), then headed back to the hostel to pick up our bags and set off to catch our night train.

Over all, we had a fantastic time in Berlin. Not only did we see and learn some incredible things, it was great for our bellies as well as our budget. Next stop.....Paris!!!

<3 Always,

Cat (and Aud)

The translated post card from the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe exhibit:

"My Dear, don't separate from Michel. Don't let yourself be taken to the children's home. Write to Papa, maybe he can help you, and write to Paulette. Ask the furrier across the way for his advice. Maybe God will pity you. We are leaving tomorrow, for who knows where. I'm hugging you, in tears. I would so much have loved to hold you in my arms again, my poor children, I will never see you again."

Posted by audandcat 10:36 Comments (0)

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