Well, we're home in Chapel Hill safe and sound.
From Edinburgh we flew back to Amsterdam, collected our bags from the airport lockers, repacked and spent one more night in limbo. We took the train into the center of Amsterdam until it was time to close up shop, and then returned to the airport to try and get a bit of sleep. We saw one couple who created a king sized bed out of a blanket and sleeping bags, pretty lush accommodations. We opted for benches. But when 7am rolled around we were reprimanded by airport security and told to "Sit up!" It was a rude awakening.
Yesterday our flights, connections, customs and security all went swimmingly. Messing around on my phone while checking in for our long flight from Amsterdam to Boston, I realized that Delta allows you to make special requests for your in-flight meal. They have a list of 20-some very specific diets you can choose, from kosher to Southeast Asian. Katie and I decided to be adventurous, checked vegan reasoning that we might be served something less apt to cause heartburn, and hoped for the best. Truth being told, it wasn't bad. We were served tofu marinated in a tomato sauce with rice and mint pea mash on the side, along with the freeze dried bread and salad on the side of course. We were pleasantly surprised with our meal, but while everyone else was served ice cream for dessert we got grapes, so you take your pick.
We arrived to Raleigh unscathed, but tired. We were greeted by Katie's dad and by my sister, Ida. It was really great to see and hug familiar faces.
It's weird to be home mostly because it feels relatively normal. While we might have had a an adventure of a lifetime (notice my wording, I refuse to say the adventure of a lifetime because that would imply singular, one), there aren't any immediate earth-shattering changes. We've experienced and learned so many new things that we will continue to experience and learn from for the rest of our lives. It's impossible to lump-sum it all into one event or trip and say "that happened." The things we tasted, the people we met, loved (and hated), the things we saw and were mesmerized (and the things we questioned the allure of), the snafus, the moments that were hilarious as they happened and the ones that will be someday, the savvy, less than savvy, the ignorant, and cultured, all of this will stay with us forever. The trip didn't just happen, it will be alive and well for a long time to come.
We hope you enjoyed following us and our adventure. We plan to keep blogging about our more local adventures in the near future, so check back every now and again to see what we're up to! This certainly isn't the end, if anything it's whetted our appetites for more.
Will and Katie
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Our last stop here in Scotland has proved too big for one blog post!
On Monday the rain subsided and the sun came out, something we've been lucky with in our stint here. The sun seems to be following us, no complaints there.
Jon and Willa headed up our beautiful hike up to Arthur's Seat, which boasts one of the best 360 views of Edinburgh. It was a steep hike up but well worth it for the view of the city but also the view of the clashing green and grey, beautiful grass with rock jutting out.
Notice from the picture that Willa showed us all up hiking in her piping get-up! Shortly after hiking she headed to the royal mile to do some busking, but not before showing us to another great pub, the Hanging Bat. We sampled more interesting and local brew in this sleekly setup pub, and we got to do so with the aroma of beer making in the background! They've begun to brew their own and if it's anything compared to the place's atmosphere it will not disappoint.
Katie and I wandered about the royal mile, the main strip near the castle with restaurants and tourist shops. We had the pleasure of listening in on Willa's busking shift, what a treat!
We headed back to the flat where Jon had his famous lasagna hot out of the oven. It was a welcome treat after walking around in the misty cold.
The next morning we got up and at 'em. We first headed West on a train to Glasgow and then caught a train North to Loch Lommond, which is in the southern part of the highlands. We had a splendid afternoon at the loch. We hiked around the lake and up into the wooded area around the castle at Loch Lommond. The entire area is a national park, so it was all very pristine. A lot of green sloping pastures and thick woods all surrounding the lake. And once again we lucked out with te weather, sun all around.
Late in the afternoon we caught the train back to Glasgow. We decided to pop out of the train station and see what we could of the other major city in Scotland. We soon realized that we were in the midst of a city gearing up for a big soccer game: Scotland vs. Croatia World Cup qualifier.
The streets were filled with dark blue jerseys and kilts (Scotland), and red and white checkered jerseys (Croatia). We found an overflowing pub and naturally we went in to join in on the chaos. After talking with some diehard Scots we found out that te game wasn't a sell-out. That's about all we needed to hear, we hopped in a cab and headed towards the stadium.
The area around the stadium was fairly deserted when we arrived, about 10 minutes after kick-off. We found the closest ticket booth and asked the steward if their were any tickets available. He replied, "Here, take these." I think our jaws must have dropped and I'm sure him and his buddies standing there got a good laugh out of it, but we didn't care a bit, we had just scored free tickets! We thanked them thoroughly and headed into the game.
It was a wild atmosphere. Not a full house but that didn't seem to matter. The Scottish soccer team is not traditionally stellar, as one fan put it, "We're awful, but we've got the best fans." And we think he might have been on to something. The game was full of cheers and chants and life.
The Scots wound up putting on a show for us. They beat Croatia 2-0. Scotland is ranked 63rd in the world and Croatia is 10th, quite the upset! The game was meaningless as far as World Cup qualifying goes, but it was an experience we'll never forget. At one point some Croatian fans got a bit rowdy, we'll let the picture do the talking.
We had to sneak out a few minutes early to catch our train to Edinburgh and our bus to the flat, but soaked up every second while we were there.
Wednesday was quiet but enjoyable. We spent time playing with Jon's kids, Daniel, Patrick and Sophie (5, 7, 10). We explored the area around Jon and Willa's flat and grabbed groceries to make pizza with the kids. They were great helpers and it turned out delicious!
We can't believe we have to leave this place tomorrow. We've both fallen in love in the few days we've been here. Jon and Willa have really been great hosts, showing us the city and showing us a great time. But, nevertheless, we leave Scotland tomorrow afternoon for Amsterdam, where we left most of our luggage stuffed in a locker. From there we'll catch our flight back home to the US of A on Friday morning. At this point we can't really process that, so we'll just pretend like we're packing up for the next adventure for now.
Will and Katie
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
It's cold, windy and misty most of the time, but we are loving Edinburgh nonetheless! There's a certain charm to a place like this, it feels cozy.
We're staying with my cousin, Willa, and her husband, Jon. Despite our taking over their living room, they have been fantastic hosts! Letting us tag along to their music gigs, feeding us haggis, and showing us to the best pubs in town, it's been quite the treat!
Our first day in Edinburgh was full of great music. Jon, an accomplished fiddler who plays in several bands, had a gig with his rock band at a music fest. We went with Willa and were wowed by the unique sound, we especially loved hearing Jon improvise on his electric fiddle!
Later in the evening we tagged along with Willa to a session, or a gathering of musicians at a pub. This was no ordinary session, there were some dynamite musicians and Katie and I felt privileged to sit in a listen! For those of you who have heard her play, as you might have imagined, Willa was a huge hit on her bagpipes!
Meanwhile Jon was off playing another gig, these guys get after it non stop!
Yesterday Katie and I ventured around Edinburgh and explored Edinburgh Castle. There's so much history in the castle and in the whole of Edinburgh. The castle houses a few museums as well as the Scottish Crown Jewels. We enjoyed brushing up on our Scottish history with the castle as our backdrop.
We wandered the streets and stumbled upon these two brothers busking, or playing street music. They drew quite the crowd with their rendition of 'Scotland the Brave'.
When we returned to the flat, Jon had prepared haggis for an early dinner! We were corrected of our haggis misconceptions very quickly. For all you haggis novices out there, first off it's delicious, we both went back for seconds. Haggis is also not sheep's stomach, but is baked in sheep's stomach. It's ground meat mixed with oats and spices, and it's oh so delicious. We had it with homemade mashed potatoes, Jon is quite the cook!
After dinner we went to a pub known for its selection of German beer to meet up with some of Willa's new classmates. She's just begun an intense creative writing program at a university in Edinburgh. It was fun to socialize and sample some great beer!
We have certainly not been disappointed with the beer in Edinburgh. Where it's been hard to come by a solid beer for a majority of the trip, Edinburgh has been a fountain of refreshing ales. We've tried some really great local beer from William's Brothers Brewery and Stewart's Brewery. There's also a new growler store around the corner from Jon an Willa's flat, the first in the UK! It opened a couple of weeks ago an sells local craft beer and cider by the jug-full!
We're enjoying a cozy, rainy morning at the flat catching up on journaling and reading before we brave the weather and head to Arthur's Seat, one of the best viewpoints of Edinburgh.
We're really enjoying our last stop in Edinburgh. We need to be careful for our last few days or we might just decide to up and stay!
Will and katie
After a whirlwind tour of Spain and Portugal we arrived in Amsterdam around 10:30am. A 10:30 arrival time means an even earlier departure time. We left Lisbon at 6am which meant we had to take a taxi to the airport around 4am. As frugal travelers we decided that it wasn't worth it to book another room at our hostel, so we spent the night out on the town. We went to Bairo Alto, a street lined with bars and packed with students. As you can imagine we were exhausted when we made it o Amsterdam. My uncle Dan (fun fact: Will has an uncle Dan who is currently in Holland, too) picked us up from the airport and took us to his house in Eemnes, a small town 30 minutes outside if Amsterdam.
Day one consisted of lounging on the couch and catching up on sleep.
On our second day in Holland my cousins Kiran and Aiden (ages 6 and 3) had a half day of school. We went to pick them up from school and spent the afternoon playing with them.
We learned that playing with young kids all day is almost as exhausting as staying up all night. The next morning we caught the train into Amsterdam to do a little exploring. Will and I have both been to Amsterdam before, so we opted for walking and wandering rather than sight seeing. We had a lot of fun taking in the beauty of the canals and watching the crazy characters of the city.
On our last day, my uncle took us into the city and took us to a few museums. We saw the temporary Van Gogh exhibit and an exhibit about the Chinese influence on Dutch culture through trading. Fun new fact, the traditional blue and white pottery (Delft) came from China. The Dutch were exposed to the Chinese pottery through trading and rather than importing it they mimicked it. After the museums we went back to Eemnes for my uncle's famous pallela.
We both enjoyed the quaint, beautiful landscape of Holland, but we are excited for our last stop visiting Will's cousin,Willa, in Edinburgh!
Friday, October 11, 2013
From Spain we moved on to Portugal for a short stint in Lisbon. We arrived by overnight bus in Sunday Morning and had an early flight out Tuesday morning. We fit a lot into a short time.
It helped that I was fortunate enough to visit Lisbon in the summer of 2010 when my sister, Ida, was studying abroad there. I remembered the basics of getting around and solicited a list of 'can't miss' things to do from Ida. She responded exuberantly, reminding me of how easy it is to fall in love with Lisbon. As Ida paraphrased a quote she found while in Lisbon, "Ahh Lisboa, que linda que ela e," or translated, "Ah Lisbon, how beautiful she is."
We were able to explore nearby Belem and its Torre and modern art museum. The Torre (or tower) is a spectacle set by itself on the beach. It takes a lot of narrow staircases to climb to the top, but it's worth it for the view.
The modern art museum was also a fun visit. There was everything from famous Andy Warhoul artwork to bizzar pieces we couldn't quite place.
For the remainder of the day we explored Lisbon and hunted down the exquisite pizzeria, Casa Nova, which I try to mimic almost on a weekly basis. We gorged ourselves on pizza and turned in early to nurse our minor ailments and wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed.
Our second day in Lisbon we ventured to the micro climate of Sintra and I'd some more exploring, but not before a delicious breakfast from our hostel.
We caught the train to Sintra where we explored the Moorish Castle and La Quinta da Regaleira. The Moorish Castle is a beautiful hike from the quaint town of Sintra and overlooks all of Lisbon. The ruins and view are beautiful, worth the steep hike.
La Quinta da Regaleira is a majestic summer home with caves, tunnels and stepping stones prime for exploring. We delved straight in. We took every tunnel we could find and only suffered one head on rock collision. It's hard to imagine the wealth and eccentricity that it would take to build the summer home and it's grounds; it's vast with hidden intricacies and ones that have probably not been explored.
Our final night in Lisbon we tried something new. With an early flight out, we had to be at the airport around 4am. Rather than book another night at the hostel, we decided to store our bags there (for free) until we were ready to make our way to the airport. So, we spent some time at a miradorou, or a view of the city, and some time in Bairro Alto, Lisbon's famous night life, and finally made our way to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. Fun fact: this was the first taxi of our trip.
We're headed to Eemnes, Holland to spend a few days with Katie's uncle and his family. They live about 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam. We're looking forward to spending time relaxing, playing with his four and six year old, and also exploring a bit of wild Amsterdam.
Will and Katie
Monday, October 7, 2013
We arrived to Madrid, Spain at 7am and had to catch our bus out of Madrid at 10:30pm, so we decided to make the most of it. We crammed our bags into a locker at the bus station and we were free to explore.
We sipped a cafe con leche (espresso with frothy milk, similar to a petite latte) while we waited for the rest of Madrid to wake up.
We made our way across the city of the center to Parque del Buen Retiro. It's a vast and beautiful park, packed with trees, statues, and a small man made lake. Our favorite hidden treasure in the park was one of the only statues of Lucifer, the fallen angel. It sits 666 meters above sea level...
Then we ventured to Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida, passing through the vibrant Mercado de San Miguel on the way. It was packed with produce, fresh fish, meat, cheese, bread and fresh fruit juices. We sipped a coconut strawberry juice on the way to the church. The ceiling of the church was painted by Goya, who is now buried under the alter of the church. We couldn't take any pictures inside but it was a beautiful display of a scene of heaven.
It was about time for a late lunch. But on our way we bumped into Palacio Real, where the royalty of Spain used to live. We were timely and got to see the changing of the guard!
It took longer than expected to make it to lunch and we were starved. We went ino a standup meatery, serving locals what we made out to be a 'working man's lunch. We were overwhelmed by the huge menu and ended up with two beers and an order of fries. We snacked on those (without ketchup) but weren't satisfied so we continued to wander and bumped into an authentic Mexican restaurant on a side street. We couldn't pass it up. We dined on sangria and a big order of veggie fajitas. We went from famished to stuffed!
We strolled to the area around the famous art museum in Madrid, the Prado. The Prado is free from 6-8pm everyday, so we took full advantage. After lounging in the beautiful surrounding lawn, we hopped in line to see the work of Caravaggio, Goya, and Rembrandt, just to name a few. The museum is huge and we only had two hours so we by no means gave everything the attention it deserved but our favorite paintings were by Goya, his dark period. The paintings use mainly dark colors and are eerie. They depict people starving, fighting, being evicted, all dark subjects. Included in this room was Goya's famous version of Saturn devouring his son. You can easily find it online. It's startling but easy to look at for a long time.
After our time at the Prado we had to make our way back across central Madrid to the bus station. On our way we popped in to a market and grabbed fixings for a snack dinner at the bus station.
By the time we boarded our bus we were exhausted, and we were fortunately able to take up two seats each for most of the trip and stretch our legs out. After the overnight bus we woke up in Barcelona.
Will and Katie
Barcelona was an eccentric and beautiful place. It's gothic architecture is juxtaposed with the Dr. Suess-esque art monuments and structures of Gaudi. It's colorful and dark all at once and we wish we had more time to explore its intricacies.
We camped at a campsite about 15 kilometers outside of the city center and our only option for transport was the frustrating 40 minute bus commute. Other than that the campsite was quiet and on the beach, but we were too busy (and the weather was too dreary) to take time to sun on the beach.
We had two full days to explore in Barcelona. The first day in the city we explored the main food market and replenished our snacks (we wouldn't be caught without them). We made our way down the the port, Port Vell, and explored some of the eccentric artwork there.
Then we made our way to the church of Santa Maria del Mar. It was plain stone with beautiful stained glass. There was visible mildew on its high ceilings, a mark of its age and authenticity.
Then we strolled through Bari Gothic, the gothic district known for its architecture. It's also the old part of the city so the streets are tight and it's a fun area to wander. The architecture is drastic and looming, but there is plenty of life in the little streets to brighten it up.
We took a water break at the Arc de Triumph. It was a nice square with plenty going on. Notably, there was a very competitive game of bocci ball going on.
We then headed to the close by Picasso museum.The museum was housed in four conjoined estates in the Bari Gothic, a beautiful space in itself. We both really enjoyed this museum and were surprised to find that Picasso didn't always paint in the fashion his art is often defined by. The geometric style that Picasso is best known for was a later phase for him as an artist. He was very talented as a young artist and studied at the Prado in Madrid copying the masters. Then he had a transitional phase where he colors outside of the lines a little. This is where we found our favorite paintings. Not overly realistic, but still not quite the geometric style Picasso is most well know for. It was an eye-opening experience for us as amateur art appreciators.
We went back to the food market for a quick bite to eat, and then we headed to Boadas, a bar that Hemmingway and the like we're said to have frequented back in the day. No menu, no prices posted, but we went for it anyway. The bartenders sport bow ties and perform slick tricks while mixing the drinks. There were lots of handwritten letters and black and white pictures of famous people in the bar back in the roaring twenties. A cool spot, it was worth the splurge. This concluded the excitement for the day and it was back to the tent for us.
The next day we started a little later than planned (we both thought the other had set an alarm). We got up and at 'em and made our commute into Barcelona.
Our first stop was the biggest flea market in Barcelona. It's housed in an open-air, covered, three-story terraced structure and the ceiling is a mirror. It's filled with junk, antiques, knicks and knacks, and clothing. Katie picked up some groovy pants.
Next we made our way to la Sagrada Familia, the famous church drawn up by Gaudi. I say drawn up because it's still under construction! This eccentric church, complete with a Christmas tree jutting from one it's sides is an aritectural wonder. It's eccentric, fierce and beautiful. It's truly one of a kind. Every unique feature was inspired by a simple structure found in nature. When creating the church Gaudi was very progressive with the architecture, decoration and logistics. The church isn't ornamented like your average church. So far we've seen a scale that ranges from gaudy to plain, this church adds a new dimension to that scale. La Sagrada Familia is decorated with concave and boxy human figures, not your chiseled and realistic statues. The pillars on the inside are decorated with lit up bulbs, decorated with different biblical creatures and lit up in different colors. There is a door that has part of the Lord's Prayer in 50 different languages representing unity and cross-culturalism. Gaudi even built a school on the grounds of the church so that the children of the construction crew could attend without undue stress. The church is one of a kind.
After our Gaudi site seeig splurge, the highlight of our evening was seeing live flamenco dancing! Quite the experience. It's an up-tempo tap dancing with flamboyant outfits, set to passionate Spanish music. We only got to see a 30-minute set, but man did we enjoy it!
We were sorry to only have two days budgeted to Barcelona, but nevertheless we caught another series of buses to Lisbon, Portugal the next morning (an 18-hour endeavor in total). We're happy to say we will not be spending anymore nights on buses. We've wracked up a weeks' worth of nights on buses! It's a savvy way to travel, saving money on paying for accommodation, but it is certainly not accommodating to sleep!
More soon from Lisboa!
Will and Katie