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Madrid

We got into Madrid pretty early in the morning and found our hostel, ‘U Hostel’, where they told us we had a 2:00pm check in time. After placing our bags in a holding room, we stepped out to find coffee and any form of breakfast. We were in a business district so everything was pricy, but we found a nice, busy café nearby. I had a version of French toast that had been soaked in cream, similar to Tower Café’s back in Sacramento but not quite as perfectly finished. Trevor had an omelet. I was also brought an omelet I didn’t order, but since our waiter was not friendly, didn’t speak English, and we were pretty hungry, we ate it.

Back at the hostel, we waited for our hosts to [ignore us, do Google searches for pictures that they didn’t know we could see in a reflection, and finally..] check us in. Unlike the last two hostels we stayed in, there was no tour of the facility, no smiling and no “Welcome to Madrid! Please take a free map.” We knew that in Portugal we had been in two of the highest rated hostels in the world, so our standards had to lower. The saving grace with this hostel was the fact that the air freshener they used throughout the place smelled like gummy bears, that was lovely.

We got settled in our room and met our new roomies, Morgan and Skyler. It turned out that these two had gone to Nevada Union highschool where Trevor had coached track and field and they knew some of his athletes. Small world.

The first night there Trevor and I wanted to seek out some authentic Spanish tapas. We walked around the busy city and came across a pretty unique meal. We had a couple beers from the tap, calamari and chose a couple tasty miniature bread bowls stuffed with different fillings. Trevor had one with tiny eels and mine had chicken and browned sweet onion. Mine was really tasty.

The second night we ended up going out with our two roommates to a delicious burrito spot (Madrid’s version of Chipotlé). I miss real Mexican food, but they actually had a pretty spicy salsa which is supposedly rare in Spain. Next, we went to a trendy gin bar (it was just OK, nothing like the one in Portugal!) and then to the bar under our hostel where we made friends with an employee. After the bar was suppose to close, our new friend kept it open so the five of us could sing karaoke into the early hours. Beers were a euro and he welcomed song requests. It was an epic ending to the evening.

Day three of Madrid was spent hydrating, relaxing and planning day four as well as our next city. We didn’t have a ton of energy so for dinner we actually settled for another burrito out of proximity and convenience. It was still very tasty the second night in a row.

A free walking tour through Madrid was on our schedule for day four. Our tour guide, Erica, was an energetic young woman originally from Columbia. We learned a lot from Erica about Madrid’s history and architecture, saw some nice views and checked out an open air flea market.

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Trevor & I in front of the BACK of the Almudena Cathedral..

That night my wonderful fiancé made dinner of spaghetti and cured meat in red sauce with spinach salad and homemade balsamic.  There was a market really close to the hostel which made most of our meals cheap and convenient.

Later in the evening we were surprised to see Erica again, organizing a social drinking game for those in the hostel who wanted to join. I don’t know what was funnier, playing King’s Cup in Madrid with people from all over the world, or the fact that we all were playing with sangria as our beverage. Either way, it was a fun game. When the game ended around midnight, a guy from New York ended up drinking the King’s cup and Erica said good night. Since the rest of us didn’t feel like going out on the advertised pubcrawl, we played another game, ‘Cheers to the Governor’. Hilarious. If you don’t know this game, do yourself a favor and Google the instructions for your next social gathering.

The next day would be our final full day in Madrid so we wanted to set foot onto parts of the city we hadn’t yet seen. We planned our walking tour around to the Parque Del Retiro and ultimately the train station so we could get information and possibly train tickets for the next days travel to Barcelona.

On the way, we stopped into an Irish pub (I swear, there is always one in every city!) for an espresso pick-me-up and WC break. For those of you who haven’t traveled to Europe yet, ‘WC’ stands for Water Closet and it is their bathroom/toilet. Further, most WC’s are not nice (i.e. no toilet seat, no paper towels, and you usually pay around €.50 to go). Fortunately, this pub had a nice WC and Trevor had a happy, caffeine-filled fiancé. We even met the very nice owner of the pub, an Irish man who had homes in both Madrid and a quiet suburb of Dublin.

Our first stop after espressos was the old post office of Madrid. I know what you’re thinking…but this wasn’t just some tiny building, this was the Cibeles Palace. Currently used as their city hall and located in Madrid’s famous Plaza de Cibeles, Madrid was not messing around when they built the headquarters of their postal service in 1909.

Nearby, across the street from the Cibeles Palace, is the Casa de America. Not quite as grand, but houses important government groups such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Madrid’s city council.

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Casa de America http://es.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casa_de_Am%C3%A9rica

Finally, we made it to Madrid’s largest public park, Parque de Retiro. This park was beautiful and very well laid out with two huge ponds, manicured flora, budding trees, several different statutes, and, my favorite, a crystal house.

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Palacio de Cristal

We even stopped by the smaller pond across from the Crystal Palace to have a picnic on a bench. If you look closely at the picture below you can see our lunchtime entertainment. You won’t be able to make out the man playing jazzy tunes on the saxophone for tips, but there is a man across the pond, squatting in front of the stairs. This man proceeded to squat for the entire time we ate our lunch. Arms stretched out straight, parallel with the ground, he rarely took breaks for over an hour. We were too far away to tell if he was a little crazy or just doing his crossfit W.O.D.; which, let’s be honest, those are one in the same (only kidding crossfit friends!). Either way, it was impressive.

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On the way through the last part of the park we passed a field of flowering trees. This is where we noticed a bunch of green parrots eating the buds. These pretty green birds are known as Monk Parakeets and although they are nice to look at, they’ve become overpopulated in Madrid.

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We did eventually make it to the train station and got the information we needed for the trip to Barcelona. Madrid was great, but I was looking forward to the fun energy I’d heard Barcelona holds, as well as being close to water again.

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Lisbon aka Leeshbowa

As mentioned in our last post, we had made fast friends with Fernando, the guy in charge of the United States, Africa, and South America for Taylor Fladgate port. He knew we needed to get from Porto to Lisbon on Sunday, and it just so happened that he needed to be there for a wine and food expo, so he graciously offered to drive us down. This was awesome because we got to save some cash by not taking the train and we got to experience Portuguese driving, which means fast.

It took us around two hours to get down to Lisbon, including a stop for espresso if course. Once we rolled into town, we offered to help him set up his exhibit, which took around a half hour. Following that, he was going to drop us at the metro so we could get to our hostel. He then talked himself into driving us to our place, which turned out to be more than he bargained for. Not only was it about fifteen minutes up the road, but the GPS on his phone sucked, so it had us lost for about 45 minutes until we finally got it. We felt terrible, but it was his choice to offer. As he dropped us off, he said to be ready by 8:30pm because he was going to be taking us out to a wine bar to meet with some of his friends. We walked in to our hostle, called Home Hostle, and were met with smiles, a welcome shot, and a tour of the hostle. This hostle, although only 12€ a night, was rated one of the best hostels in the world. We also had no idea, but this hostle has the same owner as the one we stayed at in Porto, which was also amazing. We made it up to our room and got ourselves cleaned up just in time to meet Fernando. We headed to the meeting point and a few minutes later he rolls up in a cab, which means we were in for a good night of fun.

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Jules thinking about getting ready

We headed into an old part of Lisbon which has now been taken over by bars, clubs, and small restaurants. The roads were so small that there were electronic blockades in the road that would only allow taxi cabs and resident’s vehicles onto the roads. We arrived at our very unsuspecting wine bar and meet by Fernando’s friend Pierre. very French name, but he’s actually from Brazil, and is a rather successful song writer and producer. We shared a few delicious small plates of meats, cheeses and paillela over a few nice wines from the Douro region of Portugal. We were then met up by another of Pierre’s friends who was a film director working on a documentary. As he claims, in January, while he was filming in a remote and dangerous part of the Sahara desert, his truck rolled over a land mine and blew up the front of the truck. He did show us pictures, however we remain a bit skeptical because he didn’t have a scratch on him. Regardless, we were having a great time chatting with our new friends.

After a bit more wine we headed about a block down to a small gin bar. I think was Julia’s favorite part of the evening because the hand crafted cocktails were more than just your gin and tonic. These were flavored with tangerine, coriander, and something else I can’t remember, but they were big and tasty and we got to do some dancing, which is always a good combo.

We were a tad worse for the ware that next day, not to mention we got our third day of rain on the trip, so it was a perfect lazy day. We did our much needed laundry, and watched a couple of movies they had on demand in the theater room… Yes, it had a movie room, with IPads for people to play on. One of the most important things to remember when doing extended travel, is that it’s okay to have down days; if you don’t you will be useless and probably sick after a few weeks.

After our day of rest, we planned a nice long day of exploring. We did a free walking tour, which if we haven’t already mentioned is a great way to see the city from a locals perspective for almost nothing. They work on tips, so 5€ for a 2+hr tour through the city is well worth it. We walked all around and climbed to the to of one of the seven main hills of Lisbon where there was a Moorish castle. But due to the insight of our guide, we did not pay to go inside as it was not original. Back in 1755 there was a terrible earthquake that desired much of the city including the castle. If that wasn’t bad enough, it was at night, so everyone was burning their candles for light, which set the city ablaze. Everyone ran down to the water’s edge to escape the flames and dust, but they were met by almost no river, what they didn’t realize was that the massive earthquake triggered a tsunami which then wiped out many of the town’s folk along with the shoreline buildings. Sad story, but this was a huge part of this city’s history, which honestly was more interesting than the castle or anything else.

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Above: Reconstructed Moorish castle on the left, identical copy of the Golden Gate in the background

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Above: National Archaeology Museum

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Above: Julia loves her anchors, and anything with nautical theme really

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Above: we found a free modern art museum, that’s an Andy Warhol behind me

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Above: Julia being Julia

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Above: A little slice of Rio De Janeiro

We made friends with a guy from Canada and a girl from Germany on our tour and we all went exploring for food. We found a restaurant which was not very good, but it sufficed, then we went in search for a famous pastry shop that claims to have the best Nata in the city. Nata is a delicious little egg and creme tart with a warm flaky crust. At 1€ each, they were cheap, easy to eat, and wonderfully fattening! After our tasty treat, we went back to our hostel.

If you didn’t know already know, I’m one hell of a lucky guy. I mean, the girl of my dreams agreed to marry me. Not only this, but she is one hell of a cook (I also cook, so it’s fair, she’s just better at it)! At this hostel, the mother of the owner, “Mama” as she’s known, makes dinner for the hostel six nights a week, which is again a great way to meet fellow travelers. However, we are on a strict budget and we can’t afford to spend 10€/$13.50 for every meal. So Jules hopped in the kitchen next to Mama and made us some pasta with red sauce with custom ground meat from the butcher. At about 5€ total, we find feeding ourselves to be much more cost effective. Plus going to the store and communicating with people who speak different languages than you is part of the experience of traveling. After our nice candlelight dinner we shared a bottle of Portuguese wine from the Douro region with some fellow hostelers. Through their recommendations we had a game plan for our next day; to visit some other town.

That next day we hopped on a regional train which took us about an hour outside of Lisbon to Sinatra. This was a beautiful little city near the ocean which has a Moorish castle, national palace, and a couple other castles and sites we didn’t have time to see. The Moorish castle was occupied around the mid 800’s ad, however there are artifacts showing this area to have been inhabited since around 5000bc.

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Above: View of the castle from the town below

We took the local bus up a very windy and narrow road to the top of the mini mountain to the Moorish castle. The area was beautifully lush, so we decided to do a bit of hiking around. We would have hurried to see everything but each of the different sites charges around 10€/$12.60 to get in. Needless to say, we were happy just to explore things from the outside. All in all, it was an enjoyable day trip which we would recommend. Just know that it’s a bit costly.

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Above: Moorish castle

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Above: National Palace

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Above: Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and we–we took the one that led back to the bus stop, and that has made all the difference.

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Beautiful day with a beautiful girl

Once back in town, we threw together a quick dinner and sat around talking with people about the day’s events. We all decided it would be a good night to go out. On this evening, we went out with the following nationalities: Canadian, Germain, Brazilian, Finnish, Australian, and Spanish. We love doing this, until you have spent a night of fun with a multinational group of peers, you haven’t learned new ways to party! Great way to end your stay in a city, right? Unfortunately, this was not the ending.

Our German roommate, Julia and myself all got back around 3:00am, got changed, and hopped into bed. When we left our four-person room earlier around 10:30pm, we did not have a fourth roommate, so when someone came barging in at 5:45am, it startled us. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, some drunk guy coming in late/early makes a bit of noise, than passes out. However, this was not the case as he was not alone. This splendid young fellow brought some classy young gal back to the room. Julia, with ear plugs and sleeping mask in use, did not wake up. They were quiet for a while so the German guy fell back to sleep, but not I. We were in bunks which were adjoined on the wall, and these two and myself were on the top bunks, with no partition. So make a long story short, they went at it for way too long, shaking all four beds. Don’t ask me how, but Julia remained asleep, and for that reason, I kept my mouth shut. I even made noise, got out of bed, went to the bathroom and came back, but they didn’t even as much as slow down. I was furious, but too embarrassed to say anything, which I’m mad at myself for. After a brief intermission, the second act began, and I had had enough. Obviously they didn’t care about fellow roommates, so I had the man running the place barge in and threaten to kick them out if they didn’t stop immediately.

By this time it was about 7:30am, so I went down for breakfast as I knew I could not go back to sleep. I headed to the train station so I could buy out train tickets on the night train over to Madrid. I think I annoyed the lady by being there early and waiting outside the door. So I’m pretty sure she decided to screw me/us over. On a night train you have a few options. A regular seat, bunk beds, or a private room. We wanted the bunk bed option, so I asked, confirmed twice, paid the fee and went on my way. Later that evening when we get to the train, I asked the attendant with locating our spots, who then directed us to regular seats. I told him that they were supposed to be in beds, and he told me that we had only paid for the seats and because it was late notice the bunks would be 50€ each. Needless to say we took our seats, right behind a loud Portuguese man. Which was followed by a bumpy, long 10 hour overnight ride to Madrid.

I’ve enjoyed the night life of Madrid before, so I was looking forward to sharing some tapas and sangria with my love.