Archive for August, 2008

Fooood Fiiiiight!!!!

Karie on Aug 28th 2008 07:11 pm

So Scott’s brother Jeff is here to hang out with us for our final full week in Spain.  We were so glad to see him that we promptly put our guest on a train down the coast, so we could throw tomatoes at him. Oddly enough, this is one of the reasons he came.

La Tomatina is the world’s largest food fight, in which nearly 140 tons of tomatoes are dumped into the tiny streets of Buñol, so 40,000 people can throw them at each other… the only rule is to squish before you throw.  Buñol has almost no accommodations, and this event is their only attraction, so most people stay in Valencia (about 45 minutes away), and take the train in for the big day.

We figured it would be best to get ahead of the crowds by taking the first train of the day into Buñol.  We arrived at the Metro station at 6:15am to discover that the train schedule had changed.  That’s when we met Wendy & Thomo, two Aussies who pulled us onto the correct train in the nick of time, and ended up becoming our new best friends for the next 21 hours.

We arrived in Buñol at 7:45am, even though the tomato fight doesn’t begin until 11:00am, so the five of us had plenty of time to get acquainted.  The streets were already pretty full when we arrived, and there was still over 3 hours and many more train-fulls of people yet to come.

We situated ourselves in a good spot, close enough to the center of the action, but near a side street which we determined would be our escape route if things got too crazy.  We happily staked our ground until about 30 minutes before the food fight was about to begin. That’s when it got so crowded that at one point I think my feet were lifted off the ground as I was suspended in the air by the shoulders.  We decided to use our escape route before the food fight even began, so we moved down the side street a bit… which quickly became just as crowded as the main road.

Traditionally, the fight is supposed to begin when someone climbs up a greased pole and cuts off the ham attached to the top.  However, it’s rare that anyone ever makes it, so the impatient food throwers just start chucking tomatoes when the rocket is fired at 11:00am.

At first we were wondering if we would even see many tomatoes down our side street, but before too long, smashed bits & pieces of tomato started making its way our direction.  Scott was the first to get a tomato in hand, which he immediately smashed on top of my head.  Oooh… now it’s on.

After a while, Scott decided that he could no longer take being so far from the center of action, and he was going to brave the crowds to get to the thick of it.  Jeff, Wendy, Thomo & I decided to stick together, which worked out great because Scott never would have left me alone to go into battle if we didn’t have our other friends around.

Scott navigated through the crowds with reasonable ease, so a few minutes later the rest of us decided to follow suit.  However, we made the unfortunate mistake of timing our invasion with the crossing of one of the tomato supply trucks.  Ever wonder what happens when a street is already completely packed and then a huge truck tries to drive down the center?  People get pushed out of the way.  As we were attempting to make our way from the side street back onto the main street, hundreds of other people were attempting the opposite.  The side street was at a slight incline, and being pushed around on a slippery incline is not good.  With Scott long gone, the four of us hung onto each other tightly and eventually called off the invasion and turned around to go back down the side street.  It was actually difficult to move in any direction, and there were a couple of moments when I was sure we were about to become human dominos.

Thankfully we got out ok and moved down the hill for safety.  The next thing we know, a rush of tomatoes came out of nowhere, and we suddenly felt like we might as well have been on the main road after all.  About the time we finished getting sufficiently dirty, Scott shows up again with a huge smile on his face, completely covered in tomatoes & holding his t-shirt, which had been shredded.  Apparently any sort of protection (shirt, hat, etc.) makes you a prime target, so when Scott started getting mixed up in the middle, he heard someone shout “Una camiseta!” (a shirt!), and that was the end of that.  We knew this could happen, so he was mentally prepared to deal with it.  (While I was pleasantly surprised that we did not see any such assaults on women, it is advised for women to wear a one-piece bathing suit or a secure sports bra underneath your shirt, just in case!)

Anyhow, the five of us are now reunited, so we take a quick break from chucking tomatoes to take a few pictures with our underwater disposable cameras (don’t dare take a real camera because it WILL be ruined!).  Then, suddenly without warning, our street became a river!  They must’ve started hosing the people or street above, which literally washed a sea of tomatoes over our feet.

Next thing I know, Scott is doing a full on dive – Slip N’ Slide style – down the street, not stopping until he reached the pool at the bottom.  I knew one of Scott’s goals for this trip was to make “tomato angels” (like snow angels, where you lay in the tomatoes and flap your arms & legs around), so for some reason I joined him.  At this point… why not?

This is officially the most out of character thing I have ever done in my life:

The fight lasts for an hour (which I thought sounded like a long time to throw food, but ended up going by really fast).  So at 12:00 sharp, another rocket is fired and people mostly respect that the event is over and stop throwing tomatoes.  All the locals then come out onto the streets and start hosing people off, or dumping buckets of water onto the crowds from the balconies above.   This is helpful, but by no means a way to get satisfactorily clean.  There are a few showers setup around the city, and thankfully we found an area with several showers that were not yet discovered by the masses.

So now, we were (mostly) tomato free but sopping wet, so we all bought the official La Tomatina 2008 t-shirt so at least one part of us was clean & dry.  We wandered around the city a bit longer then boarded the train back to Valencia, along with every single one of the 40,000 people – possibly all in one train car.  At least that’s what it felt like.  It was almost as crowded as it was in the thick of the food fight, and even hotter.  Believe it or not, I would have rather had people throw tomatoes at me all day long than to stand on that train for one more minute.  It was by far more miserable than having tomato in my ear.

Anyhow, it turned out that Wendy & Thomo were staying near our hotel in Valencia, so we made plans to meet up again later that night, after we all had a nice shower & siesta.  They were great company, and the conversation flowed until 3:00am, like we were all old friends.  We all had an absolute blast.  Jeff even said that if this was the only thing he did on his entire trip, it would’ve been worth it all.  It was also the perfect finale trip for our year in Spain, as it summed up everything we like about travel… seeing new places, meeting new people, and doing something a little adventurous that would never fly in the U.S.  I think we’re ending this year with a bang big enough to shoot us ½-way across the world and crash-land in California!

Now we have about a week to show Jeff around Barcelona, say hasta luego (not adios!) to the friends we’ve made here, and get packed up and ready to go………!

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The Break-In

Karie on Aug 23rd 2008 09:23 pm

Tonight we had an interesting adventure.  We were on our way to the market when Scott suddenly stopped and reached for his pockets.

“Forget your wallet?”
“No.”  (super long pause)  “The keys.”
We stop and stare at each other for about 5 minutes.
(cricket, cricket)
What are we going to do?

It just so happens that our landlord, who has the only other set of keys, left for vacation earlier this week.  Also, in case you didn’t know, we live on the 5th floor, so no chance of crawling in through a window.

We tried calling our friend who’s a handyman, but couldn’t reach him. Tried calling another friend who could at least call a locksmith for us, but no luck.  As we were standing outside of our door trying to figure out who else was in town and could help us, Scott noticed a sticker on a nearby pole that said “Cerrajeria: 24 Horas” with a phone number. I took a guess that that meant locksmith, so we called.

The lady told me she’d be here in 30 minutes. 50 minutes later she called again and said it would be another hour.  Oh, and she couldn’t even estimate how much this was going to cost, but I have a feeling it would’ve included a “foreigners tax” (i.e., overcharging just because they know we’re not from around here).  I have never felt so helpless.

In the meantime the tenant in the first floor vacation rental came home, so he was able to let us in the front door of the building.  Now only one more door to go.  We were getting desperate, and we really didn’t want to wait another hour and end up paying an arm and a leg for the shady locksmith.  Scott went to assess our door yet again and started thinking that if we could get a hammer, we might be able to break through what used to be an old peep hole, which is now covered by a piece of wood, and reach inside to open the door.

The British vacation rental tenant on the first floor didn’t have a hammer, so that left us with two options: the lady at the janky salon next door, or “Antoni the Catalan”, the hermit who lives on the top floor.  Scott has had brief encounters with both, but I never have.  We decided on Antoni, thinking he’d be more likely to have a hammer.  Except that we don’t know how to say hammer in Spanish, let alone Catalan.

Scott knocks and Antoni opens the door naked.  I’m down the spiral staircase behind Scott, so he doesn’t even know I’m there, and I don’t know he’s naked. Scott used the same 3 words of Spanish about 15 times, but the repetition did not help Antoni understand what we needed.  My Spanish is marginally better, so finally I spoke up from around the corner to try to help Scott.  This freaks Antoni out, because he didn’t know I was there; meanwhile Scott’s trying to shove me back down the stairs, because I didn’t know Antoni was naked.  Once he calmed down and figured out I was Scott’s wife, I was able to communicate our problem, that we had locked our keys inside and we need a tool to hit like “bang, bang, bang”, while Scott made a hammering motion to illustrate my sound effects.

“Un martillo??”, Antoni tried to clarify.

I have no idea.  If you can hit with it, then we need it.

He disappears and comes back, handing Scott the smallest hammer in the world.  Scott asked him if he had a bigger one, but no luck. So he took the Playskool-sized hammer, and with a couple of swipes at the peep hole, he busted the cover off the other side, and was able to reach through and unlock the door.  WOOHOO!!!!  We’re inside!  I KNEW Scott could figure out a way out of this mess!  Oh, the relief.

We never got groceries, which really stinks because tomorrow’s Sunday and all the markets will be closed, but we will make do.  It’s better than sleeping outside.  And, as Scott pointed out, we probably just saved at least 100€ by not needing the emergency locksmith on a Saturday night, so now we can afford to eat out every meal until Monday.  Gotta appreciate that kind of logic… but we’re still opting for the PB&J.

Just another Saturday night in Barcelona.

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Myth Busting in Granada, Spain

Karie on Aug 23rd 2008 10:09 am

Our desire for getting the best deals on everything has really taught us to be flexible.  Budget airlines are budget-friendly for a reason – meaning that what you save in money, you usually pay for in some other way (time, leg room, sanity, etc.).  So, in order to get the best price on getting to Granada, our flight left at 6:30am, and returned at 11:30pm the following night.  This was even cheaper (and much faster) than taking a train or bus.  So we had 2 completely full days in Granada, but only 1 night of hotel, which further helps the budget.  Instead we paid in lack of sleep.

Several people here have told me that Granada is their favorite place in all of Spain.  However, as we were on the bus headed from the airport into the city, I found myself looking out the window at this beautiful city and daydreaming about anything but.  It occurred to me that the rose colored tint had worn off my glasses, and I wasn’t fully appreciating what I was about to see.  Sometimes – at least for some people – after doing a significant amount of travel, you can find yourself thinking things like, ‘oh yeah, another 400-year old Cathedral… these ancient ruins look just like the last ones we saw… how many royal palaces did they need anyway?’  I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I guess I started to take some things for granted.

We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and immediately headed out to find some breakfast, where I shared my jaded thoughts with Scott.  We made a commitment to try to see Granada as if it was the first time we set foot in Spain, and when the sleep deprivation started to reveal itself in the form of grouchiness, we were to remind each other (ok, he was to remind me) that we were having fun.  This actually worked, and we had a great time in Granada.  We were also able to test a few “myths” that we had heard for validity… a la MythBusters style (except not at all scientific and sans special effects):

MYTH #1: Granada gives away free food
If this were the only thing we liked about Granada, it probably would’ve been enough.  Almost all restaurants will give you a free tapa if you order a drink.  It usually doesn’t matter what you order to drink (soda, bottled water or cerveza), or what size it is.  The only thing that changes what free tapa you get is the number of drinks you order (as they typically get better with each round).  We found the helpings to be quite generous, so if you’re really thirsty, it’s actually possible to make a whole meal out of free tapas.  Granted, you might not be saving any money in the long run, as drinks can add up too, but it was fun to try.  I kinda felt like I was getting away with something.  Apparently there are other places in the Andalucía region that also do this, but it seems to be the most popular in Granada.

MYTH #2:  The Alhambra is the best attraction in all of Spain

Is the Alhambra the most impressive compound of palaces, gardens, fortress, etc.? Yes.  However, I personally think the Alcázar in Sevilla is still my favorite palace in Spain.  Now, I’m not ready to give Sevilla’s Alcázar the title of the “best attraction in Spain” either – I’m only using this example to justify why I cannot confirm the Alhambra myth.  I don’t want to discount the beauty of the Alhambra, as it is absolutely worth the trip.  It’s enormous, and there’s so much to see.  The Generalife gardens were spectacular, and the intricate detail of the stone & woodwork in the Nasrid Palace is unmatched.  Really.  You might drool.

So why do I still prefer the King’s summer vacation home in Sevilla?  Maybe because it caught me by surprise.  I knew what to expect from the Alhambra, but had heard nothing of the Alcázar before our visit to Sevilla.  Second, while the intricacy of the Alhambra is impressive, in Sevilla there was a greater use of tile than stone or wood, and I am a huge sucker for Spanish (or Moorish) tile.  I’ll never forget walking into one particular room in the Alcázar that was completely covered (ceiling, walls & floor) in a combination of at least 15 different tiles. That might sound horrendous, but when you see it it’s absolutely stunning (click here for a glimpse).  It was so lively it just made me smile, and when I get that kind of emotion from an otherwise empty room, it’s hard to compare it to another palace.  That being said, most people would probably disagree with me and say that the Alhambra takes the cake hands down. You decide.

MYTH #3: if you buy tickets to the Alhambra in advance you can spend the whole day there
Close, but not completely accurate.  I do highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance (which you can do online).  The way it works is that you pick the morning or afternoon time slot (8:00am-2:00pm or 2:00pm-8:00pm) and you are assigned a time within that slot in which you can visit the Nasrid Palace.  The way I understood it is that your time slot only applies to your entrance to the Palace, but if you have a ticket you are free to spend the whole day visiting all the other attractions within the Alhambra.  In actuality, you are only free to see most things within your time block – not the entire day.  For example, our time block was 2:00-8:00, with our Nasrid Palace visit scheduled for 5:30.  This meant we were welcome to see everything else any time between 2:00-8:00, but the only set thing on our agenda was the Nasrid Palace.  The only exception was that you could visit the museum at any time, which took us, oh, about 15 minutes.

Luckily this worked out ok, as we found our time slot to be sufficient to see everything.  I had read so many reviews of people who said they could spend the entire day there, but I guess we just aren’t those people.  4-5 hours was a good amount of time for us, and even allowed us some time to sit and relax in the beautiful gardens.

MYTH #4: Your current mood makes all the difference in the world on whether or not you like a city, or even an entire country

Granada is just a lovely place.  Once I decided to check my attitude at the bus stop, I was able to appreciate all it had to offer.  Even the 100 degree heat was bearable… and of course, the inevitable flight delay coming back home.  It was a wonderful 48-hour whirlwind.

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Fiesta Mayor de Grácia

Karie on Aug 17th 2008 05:18 pm

Each year the neighborhood of Grácia (where we lived our first few months in Barcelona) hosts a week long festival, complete with elaborately decorated streets, 15+ stages throughout the neighborhood, random competitions, and of course, food.  It’s hard to believe that an event of this magnitude is put on completely by volunteers in the neighborhood (with financial help from the local government and some serious fundraising efforts).

We had just missed the “Fiesta Mayor de Grácia” when we moved to Barcelona last year, so we’ve been anxiously waiting for it to come around again.  The street decorations and sets were so impressive that we decided to go twice so we could see them both at night and in the daytime – which are two completely different experiences.

We hung out for a few hours Saturday night, and planned to go back Sunday afternoon.  While we were wandering around Saturday night I had the good fortune of finding an event guide on the ground (which I later learned costs 5€). That’s when we realized that we were going to be able to check something off our “things to do while in Spain” list, that we thought we weren’t going to get to accomplish this year!

The “Castell,” or human castle, is a Catalan tradition where teams of people (Castellers) compete to build the most impressive tower.  It has a wide base made up of at least 20 men, and keeps building on itself with smaller people, until finally, a child (probably between 4-6 years old) climbs to the top of the tower and raises their hand with 4 fingers, symbolizing the Catalan flag.  Then they all shimmy back down.  It’s pretty amazing, and the good teams constructed and dismantled their 4-story “castle” in about 3-4 minutes.

Check it out:

While all the Castellers were impressive, some teams made it look easy, and others showed signs of how difficult it really is.  There was one team that called off the tower twice after reaching the 2nd or 3rd level of people, as their human “foundation” was not stable enough to continue. However, they ended up with a successful 7 level castle on their 3rd attempt.  Another team was extremely wobbly, and one or two people in the 3rd layer nearly buckled under the weight.  I was a little nervous, but apparently I underestimate their strength and skill.

The tradition of the Castell is often carried out at big festivals throughout the region, but for one reason or another, we had never been able to make it to a show.  Until we found that event program on the ground, we thought that they only did the Castell on the last day of this fiesta, on which we will be out of town.  We thought our dreams of seeing a human tower this year were crushed, so we were thrilled to get to witness this unique tradition after all.  Oh yeah, and the rest of the fiesta was really cool too.  The Spanish (and Catalans) really know how to put on a good party.  I need to add that to the list of things I’ll miss.

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So What’s Your Favorite Place?

Karie on Aug 12th 2008 11:54 am

That’s a question we get all the time.  I try to answer it, but it’s not that simple.  It’s like asking me to pick my favorite pair of shoes!  We have loved (almost) every place we’ve been, for different reasons.  So, being the diplomatic, facilitative, terrible decision-maker that I am, I’ve categorized my favorites.  It’s not so much like gold, silver, and bronze; it’s more like best in its class. Think of it like an awards show, but instead of Emmy’s or Grammy’s, this will be… um, The Kaufy’s.

Without further adieu, ladies & gentlemen, we proudly present…

“The Kaufy Awards”
Hosted by: Me
Produced by: Scott
As Voted on by: Me & Scott

Best City to Learn a Ton of Interesting Stuff:
Berlin, Germany

Place I Wish Everyone Could See, but Without Needing an Overnight Bus:
Cappadocia, Turkey

Most Breath-Taking Views:
Croatia (all of it)

Most Incredible Architecture:

Best Place to Live it Up on a Tight Budget:
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Best Beach:
Cádiz, Spain

Place That Convinced Me That Places Like This Really Exist:
Cinque Terre, Italy

Most Unique Experience:
Running of the Bulls
(although this title could be rivaled when we go to La Tomatina in a couple weeks!)

Best Food:
Karie: Florence, Italy – one particular bite of gelato that had the most perfect
cookie-gooey-crunchy-gelato ratio I have ever experienced
Scott: Athens, Greece – 2€ gyros

Place We Would Most Like to Live Later in Life:
Ronda, Spain
(or anywhere in the Andalucía Region)

Place We Had the Most Fun:
Anywhere we visited or traveled with friends & family
(I know that’s a cop-out, but it’s true)

Place We Got the Most Bored:
Tie between Málaga, Spain and Zurich, Switzerland

City with the nicest people:
Bilbao, Spain

Place We Most Want to Go Back to See More Of:
Eastern Europe

Most Unforgettable Place that We Only Need to See Once in Life:

And for the final award of the evening…. (drumrollllllllllll)

Favorite Country Overall:
(this might seem biased, but the voting committee has spoken)

-Close Curtain-
-Cue Wild Applause-

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The Bitter and the Sweet

Karie on Aug 7th 2008 04:53 pm

With the date of our return to the U.S. being just under a month away, I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking.  Shocking, I know.  Anyhow, while I am excited to go home, I am also very sad to leave Barcelona.  I was finding it difficult to summarize the reasons why, so I went back to one of my favorite activities – I made lists.  I even solicited Scott’s help, which he eagerly gave, despite the fact that he does not share my passion for list-making.

These are by no means all-inclusive. In fact, we probably won’t even realize most of the things that we’ll miss until we’re gone, but here are a few things that quickly come to mind:

What We Will Miss About Living in Barcelona:

  • Friends we’ve made here
  • Traveling frequently
  • The markets
  • Bocadillos (a super cheap sandwich on a baguette; our favorite is chorizo and cheese)
  • Not needing a car (walking everywhere or taking the great public transit)
  • Bicing (a service for residents that gives you access to thousands of bicycles around town for 24€ for the whole year)
  • Hanging laundry outside to dry (I realize I could do this at home, but not without the neighbors thinking I’m weird)
  • The warm and beautiful Mediterranean Sea
  • Neighbors, whom we lovingly refer to as: Orange Peel Guy, Monochromatic Laundry Lady, Antoni The Catalan, Celia’s Friend, and Dog with the Funny Bark
  • People here actually go places on the weekends instead of cleaning and running errands
  • Manchego cheese
  • Budget airlines (ClickAir specifically… even though they lost our luggage)
  • Stumbling upon random parades, music and fiestas in the streets
  • Spanish children, specifically Celia’s Friend (see “Neighbors” above)
  • Funny Christmas traditions
  • Double cheek kisses hello & goodbye
  • Lack of frivolous lawsuits and political correctness
  • Getting emails/comments from strangers on our blog (as well as from people we know!)
  • A real reason to use Guiseppe, our GPS device (this is one of Scott’s contributions, in case you couldn’t tell)
  • Being sheltered from the media
  • Monday or Saturday… no difference to us!
  • “Mañana, mañana, mañana…”

What We Will Not Miss:

  • Pick pockets and purse snatchers
  • The Euro (what a budget buster!)
  • RyanAir
  • Paying .45 cents for 2 ice cubes
  • 63 stairs to get home (not just regular stairs, but crooked/uneven stairs that are older than the United States!)
  • The mullet as an acceptable fashion statement
  • Putting bread on your table that you don’t ask for, then charging you for it
  • Mediocre Mexican food
  • People cutting in line (apparently it is acceptable here to step in front of anyone who makes the mistake of leaving a small space between themselves and the person ahead of them)
  • The clothes we brought with us
  • “Mañana, mañana, mañana…”

What We Look Forward to in the good ol’ USA:

  • Family & Friends
  • Penny Lane (best dog ever)
  • Meeting Davis (our godson), as well as other friends’ babies that were born since we moved
  • CVCF
  • My shoes, clothes and accessories
  • Full time dual income
  • Target.  Ah, Target.
  • Cheez-Its
  • Jiff peanut butter (although we’ve had plenty of this here thanks to our smugglers visitors)
  • Reasonably priced Listerine
  • Good & affordable sushi
  • Having a toilet paper holder
  • A full size shower with good water pressure, and a hot water tank that lasts longer than 5 minutes (to quote our friend Neal from Ireland, “Taking a shower in America is like getting shot with a firehose.” We miss that.)
  • Knowing where to find what I need (Thanks for sending me the rubber bands Dev!)
  • Understanding everything everyone says (in most neighborhoods)
  • Having our friends from Barcelona come visit

…Just to name a few.

I’m sure we’ll think of many more things over the next few weeks, but perhaps this list will help you understand our mixed emotions about moving back to the U.S.  Silly as they may be, apparently these things that first come to mind are what’s important to us.  Did we forget anything?  Feel free to add your two cents if there’s some treasure that we’ve neglected to mention.

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Luggageless in Lisbon

Karie on Aug 3rd 2008 04:58 pm

A few weeks ago we were talking with some friends about how smooth all of our travels had gone.  Of all the trips we’ve taken over the last year, we have been blessed to not experience any major problems or setbacks.  I should’ve knocked on wood.

We boarded our 32nd airplane of the year on our way to Lisbon (the last flight on which we will be checking luggage until we move home), but unbeknownst to us, our luggage never boarded.  We arrived in the baggage claim at the Lisbon airport, and took notice that every single carousel had 10 +/- bags left, with no one around.  Most of the carousels were not even moving, but random bags were lying around everywhere.  “Wow,” we thought, “there are probably people all over Europe wondering where their bags are.”  Before long, we were among them.

I waited in line for over an hour to report the lost bag, while Scott continually scoured the terminal, thinking that it must be here somewhere.  With all those bags lying around, we figured there was a good chance that ours just got misdirected and would end up on another carousel eventually.  This was before we learned that it never even left Barcelona.

Unfortunately ClickAir, our favorite budget airline, only has one flight per day from Barcelona to Lisbon, so our bag would not arrive until the next day’s flight.  Also, because this is a budget airline, there is no compensation for lost luggage.  If I wanted that, I should’ve purchased the travel insurance for 15€/person… which by the way, still would have cost more than repurchasing all the basics.

Oh well, whattayagonnado?  We’re pretty laid back travelers at this point, so we just sighed and joked about how wonderful it was to not have to lug our stupid bags through town and up the stairs to the hostel.  “Oh, how nice it is to be luggage free!  We should really travel without luggage more often…”

We were able to scrounge up some toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and underwear, but by then many of the stores were closed so we were unable to find deodorant.  (Or at least that we deem acceptable.  Yes, we are still American deodorant snobs.)

The next day we got ready in a jiffy, and headed out to El Corte Ingles, which is a huge department store with a supermarket in the basement.  After we found suitable deodorant, I decided to test the skills of the lady at the MAC make-up counter, to see what she could do with my bare face.  I usually don’t like to take up their time unless I actually intend to buy something, but this time I was just hoping someone would have enough sympathy to give me some moisturizer and cover up the dark circles under my eyes.  I think the girl was so pleased that someone would allow her play dress-up with them, that within 15 minutes I looked like I was going to the prom… except that my hair looked like crap and my clothes weren’t the freshest.  I didn’t match with my own self, but it was kinda fun anyway.

We spent the entire day exploring Lisbon, and saw almost everything else left on our “must see” list… toured Jerónimos Monastery, sampled Pastéis de Belém down the street at the bakery of the same name, Belém Tower, wandered the Bairro Alto, shopping streets and squares, and one of my favorite activities, Tram 28.  The trams (similar to the trolley in SF) are a normal part of public transportation in Lisbon, so there are several lines that run through the city.  However, Tram 28 is a great tourist attraction in and of itself.  Not only does its route take you by many of the famous sites, but it zooms up and down some of those hills so fast it feels like you’re on a roller coaster.  Good entertainment, for the price of a regular public transit ride.

We were exhausted by the time we got back to our hostel, and super bummed to realize that our bags had not yet arrived.  I made a call to the airport, and was assured they would be delivered that night.  Around midnight, I finally gave up and waiting for my shampoo to arrive, and did the unthinkable.  I washed my hair with bar soap.  Yes, I did.  I could get away with not washing it the first night, with the hopes that our toiletries would arrive the next day.  But now, the next day was over and the shops were closed.  Oh the horror.  I actually considered not washing off my make-up so at least I’d have one thing going for me the next day, but upon further thought I concluded that this would likely not be a benefit.

Sintra, Portugal
Part of the motivation to go non-stop on our 2nd day, was so we could fit in a day trip the following day.  Sintra was referred to us by a friend, and once I started doing some research I read over and over where people said it was their favorite place in Portugal, or even in all of Europe.  It is home to three national palaces, beautiful landscape and views, and is credited for the birth of Romantic architecture.

A round-trip train ticket from Lisbon cost 3.40€, and takes about 40 minutes.  Once you arrive at the train station, everything else is uphill.  Until fairly recently, there was no public transportation to take you to the most popular palaces at the top of the mountain, so if you wanted to see it, you had to hike up the mountain to get there (which we hear takes about an hour for a person in good shape).  Thankfully, now there is a bus.  A 2-way ticket costs 4.50€, and is worth it if you’re short on time and/or too lazy to walk.

We headed straight for the Pena National Palace at the top of the hill – one of the most unique palaces I’ve seen.  It’s often compared to the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria (which is believed to be the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s castle), which we had visited while driving through Germany in March.  For budget purposes, we opted not to tour the inside of the castle, but for 7.50€, you can access the famous yards and the exterior of the castle, including the courtyards and chapel.  Everything I had read was true – it was a truly unique palace with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and Lisbon on the other.

There are plenty of attractions in Sintra, but it can get pretty expensive to visit all the palaces, gardens, etc., so we didn’t even come close to seeing everything.  Even with what we did see, it was a great trip; but I’d imagine it would be a nice play to stay in a B&B for a few days and take your time hiking through the beautiful mountains and exploring all the history.

The Best Birthday Present Ever
We returned to the hostel from Sintra only to be disappointed yet again that our bag had not yet arrived.  It was cool for the first couple of days, but now I was starting to worry that we were going to go back to Barcelona without it.  Scott was more concerned that his body was so attached to these clothes that it might reject new fibers if he tried to change.  Or maybe he was trying to pretend it was still Wednesday, so he wouldn’t have to acknowledge the fact that he turned 31 that day.  (Except that Scott barely even knows when his birthday is and has a tendency to think he’s older than he actually is, so I doubt this was the case,)

We decided to splurge on a birthday dinner (splurging just means eating at a place with a table versus our usual picnics on a bench or lawn) and tried to have some fun to keep our minds off how shabby we looked and felt.  Then, just when we had given up hope, Scott got the best birthday present of all (and so did I) – our luggage.  Granted, it came at 9:00pm, and we had to leave for the airport at 10:30am the following morning, but those last 13 hours we felt more comfortable than we had in days.

We really liked Portugal, so having only one pair of clothes and no skin/hair products for the entire trip really allowed us to use our time for the most important things, like getting out and about, rather than silly things like combing our hair and digging through the suitcase for a clean shirt.  I have reached a new level of low maintenance.  Thank you ClickAir for yet another lesson in patience; cheap flights are not the only service you provide.

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