29 May 2008

El Ultimo Dia en Barca y Espana

Today was my last day on Barcelona, and I had absolutely no plans. I finally dragged myself out of the hotel at around 10.30am, and upon stepping out, was greeted with the bright, warm sun!!! Weather.com had forecasted cloudy weather, but hooray, they were wrong. This was by far the nicest weather day I've had here; around 70 degrees with no clouds or wind.

I first visited the Palau Guell, a palace designed by Gaudi. Like many places in this city, they are currently working on some restoration, and only the bottom was open. But that's ok, because it was FREE!

Then I somehow ended up in front of la Seu, the cathedral. I have never been inside, so I went. It is really beautiful inside, and I guess it is partially dedicated to St Eulalia, which was the proper name of my great granny. That's pretty cool. Oh, it was FREE, too.

The sun was just blazing, and it was the perfect time to do something I rarely do here -just sit. I found a cafe with tortilla espanola (I had to have one note before I left), and sat there for two hours. The sun felt so good!! It was really fun to watch all the people, too.

I then decided to eat my way through the rest of the day, then walk to burn off the crap I was eating. First, my last falafal. I am so going to miss those... I haven't found anything like the ones here back at home. Then, a mcdonald's sundae, my favorite treat on the road. Then I walked until I got lost and found my way home again.

Now I'm at dinner, with a waitress who has a cigarette dangling from her mouth. CLASSY. I am in no way cool enough for this bar!

28 May 2008

Language Barriers

Language is a funny thing. Sometimes we all just want to communicate with someone, and will do whatever it takes to do it. Today I overheard a conversation between an Argentinian and a Russian; neither spoke the other's language, but both were alone and really wanted to talk.

As for me, my head is spinning. I couldn't get my head around portuguese (although I could read it ok), and in Sevilla, I was around my friends who spoke Swedish and Swiss-German, in addition to us all speaking Spanish and English. Now I'm in Barcelona, where they speak Catalan, but most people also speak Spanish...and, well, my brain is starting to mix it all up! People think I am local, and ask me for directions in Spanish/Catalan, and today some woman thought I was german and started speaking to me in her language. But, no worries dad, I am using Spanish plenty. (although, my English now is getting really bad!)

The sun was kind of shining today, so that was a great thing. I first went to the Picasso museum, which is pretty amazing. I prefer some of his earlier works to the cubist ones, and there were a lot at the museum. Then I started walking, and about 2 hours later, I ended up at Montjuic. This is a huge, beautiful mountain that overlooks the city. There was, randomly, a beach volleyball tournament going on, so I sat and watched that for a while. Then continued my walk though the mountain to the Olympic Stadium, and to the Castle, which I hadn't seen before.

Well, I still haven't seen it because I was pooped by the time I got close and didn't want to walk anymore. I took the funicular down and the metro back to my hotel. And I participated in the great Spanish tradition of siesta for a few hours.

Once awake (kinda), I did done shopping, then had dinner at a place called Princesa. Appropriate, no? I finally got to drink a few glasses of cava, hooray!

One day more before I return home; time has gone so quickly.

27 May 2008

The Rain in Spain

Let me clear something up... The rain in Spain falls everywhere, not just mainly in the plains. The weather throughout this entire trip has been marginal at best, gloomy and wet at worst. It is supposed to rain for the next 3 days, too. Sigh.

Today started early so I could catch my tour bus. I didn't realize there was no hairdryer in my room, so it started off as a bad hair day. Not good. Our first stop was Torres winery. We took a tour first by this little tram. They gave us headphones, and the tour guide was a prerecorded voice.

When we got into the caves, the music soared and it was all very dramatic. There were weird screens with a movie; I felt like I was at Disneyland on that silly winnie the pooh ride. Then, our tasting was one rushed glass, and a push to the store. This family also has a winery in Sebastopol - Marimar, I think. It was overall pretty disappointing; maybe I got spoiled by last year in Italy.

Next it was off to Montserraut. This is a very important place in Catalynya during Franco's reign; the boys choir were among the only groups allowed to keep catalan alive. It is very beautiful, set high on a mountaintop. You wonder how they got up there in the first place!

I was prepared to be wowed, like at the Vatican, but I wasn't. It is lovely, but again, it felt more touristy than sacred. I could only watch the boys choir for about 10 minutes - there were just too many people. I did find a nice walking path, so took that for a while. As we were leaving, the rain started announcing itself; good timing!

Our final stop was Sitges, a beach community right outside of Barcelona. I think had the weather been better, it would be awesome. As it was, rain dropped for most of our stay, and it was windy. There are lots of bars, and it kind of reminded me of Miami Beach. I wish the weather had been nicer!

We're now on our way home, and it seems like the weather is ok. I think I will grab dinner and a drink before heading home. Fingers crossed it doesn't rain tomorrow!!!

26 May 2008

Adiós Sevilla, Hola Barcelona

It was definitely hard to leave for the airport this morning. I said goodbye to Pernilla last night, which, not easy, and Kim and Stina very early this morning. The weekend flew by so fast...I felt like I did last time I left Sevilla, homesick for it before I was even gone; but at least this time everyone else was leaving, too, so I didn't feel like the fun times there would go on without me. I don't know if I'll make it back before our 20 year reunion; I sure hope so!

Now I am in Barcelona. I took a long nap when I got here (luckily, my room doesn't have a TV, otherwise I never would have left). When I woke up, I was starving, so went to look for the falafal place next to the Kabul, where I stayed last time. It's not there any more, but there is another one around the corner. I don't know what it us about falafal in Barcelona, but I can't get enough.

I headed up La Rambla, and found myself in the tourist office, booking a tour for tomorrow. I will go to montserraut, sitges, and a winery. Mom, you'll be happy to know that I didn't stress about the price (too much). That leaves tomorrow at 8am and goes for 12 hours... It should be fun!

I decided to keep walking up to La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's unfinished church. Though I have been there twice before, I went in to see what has changed. They've really made progress in the last 5 years; the inside is much more finished than I remember. I wonder if it will ever be done, and if I'll be able to see it then!

25 May 2008

El Ultimo Dia en Sevilla

Despite getting in at around 2 last night, I was up and out of the flat rather early (sleeping on the sofa doesn't help matters). I really wanted to find a painting for my condo, so I wanted to check out the market on front of Las Bellas Artes. I am disappointed to report that while there were some beautiful paintings, nothing really suited my place.

Rafa and Anja were leaving today, so I wanted to make sure to say goodbye. I headed back to the flat, where I also ran into the girls, and we went to breakfast after saying goodbye to the Grafs.

After breakfast, we went through el barrio Santa cruz to get to the alcazar. On our way, stina & I heard a marching band, so followed them to a nearby restaurant where they apparently surprised the management and the patrons! We eventually made it to the alcazar (I really suggest getting lost in the barrio, you find some fantastic treasures).

I didn't visit the alcazar whole I lived here, but I really wish I had. It is absolutely beautiful. It reminded mr of the Alhambra in Granada, but a bit smaller. They ask you to be quiet, which offers a nice reprieve from the busy streets. We stated and hung out in the gardens for a while, which... I wish I had known about this place when I was here!!

I went over to meet the Alm family at the Catedral, but unfortunately it was closed. Que pena! I had really hoped to go back in.

We are drawing to the end of our time here in Sevilla. It has really been wonderful.

Chillaxing in Sevilla

We are currently sitting in the piazza of pernilla's hotel, savoring our tintos and some dulces. Life is sure sweet here in sevilla!

Last night we had a great time walking down memory lane. We went to La Carboneria, a place they used to hang out to watch flamenco (I don't remember going there). I had spent the day much like I had spent my time while I lived there - walking around checking things out. I was a bit tired, 6 hours of walking will to that to you.

24 May 2008

Segundo dia en Sevilla

Day two in sevilla started out with a trip to the supermarket to get some cava and the ingredients for tinto de veranos. I lugged those
back to my hotel, packed up my things and headed over to the apartment we had rented. After checking in, I sat in the plaza and waited for
Kim and Stina, who were to meet me at noon.

They rolled in at about 12.45, and by that point they let us into the
apartment. It is a really cute place, perfect for the weekend. We dropped our bags and went to find our old teacher, Reyes, who is still
teaching at CLIC.

Unfortunately, we were too late; she was already gone. So we shopped instead, and then went to Las Columnas, where we had spent many a morning and after school hour drinking, eating, and hanging out. The guy who worked there ten years ago was still there, but they had fixed up the park and it looked so different!

Soon it was back to the supermarket, where we ran into Pernilla, Jens,and kids. Then off to meet Rafa, Anja, and Leandro by the Catedral.

We kicked off the night at a roof bar, where the clouds started rolling in. We had a great view of the Catedral, which was sounding its bells every 15 minutes or so. Dinner was crazy... 3 kids running around, and 7 adults trying to remember what tapas we ordered. Finally the kids pooped out and were sent home with the spouses, and the Sevilla 5 remained.

It was really like old times. We finished a few bottles of wine, and talked about how we were all a little scared to come come back here, because we weren't sure if it'd live up to our memories. So far, it has.

It soon started pouring; we made a mad dash through the rain the get home. After hanging out in the apartment for a bit, it was time to send home the visitors and go to bed!

23 May 2008

Primera Dia en Sevilla

I found out a little more about the festival yesterday. From what I can tell, it was the festival of the Corpus Christi. When I have a chance, I will look it up and let you know more. One interesting thing, though...they cover the ground of the procession with rosemary. I couldn´t figure out what it was at first, I thought it might be incense. But then it dawned on me...the heat had started to cook the rosemary a bit, so the whole area smelled like it. It is a very nice smell, though it made me crave Aunt Trish´s potatoes.

As I was walking around yesterday, I saw the King of Spain! I happen to be walking by the Alcazar (I was lost, again), which I think is still used as a royal residence, though I could be wrong on that. I saw a procession of cars go in, but didn´t think much of it. I read my map wrong, so had to turn around, and on my way back we were all shooed out of the way by the police. A procession of cars went by, and the man in the first car waved to us. It was the king! I had just been watching a show about his very cute son (some couple got married the same day as the prince, and then had a baby on the same day...this is, I guess, big enough news here to deserve a talk show appearance), and they had showed a picture of the king, so I knew right off the bat who he was. This was confirmed by the guy standing behind me, freaking out about seeing "El Rey." The Infanta Elena (princess) was also with him. My front desk guy didn´t believe me, but the paper confirms he was in town yesterday to inaugurate a statue or something.

Pretty cool, huh! I have now seen the King of Spain and the King & Queen of Sweden. Now if I could only get close to Prince William or Harry... (I kid, I kid)

22 May 2008

Tinto de verano

When I lived in sevilla, we drank tinto de veranos all the time. They are essentially a wine cooler - red wine with Fanta. Today I had one with my tapas dinner... Served by a bartender that looks like Javier Bardem. Que bueno, no?!

En Sevilla... Una fiesta loca

Luckily, I was able to check into my hotel room when I arrived, even though it was about 5.30am. Sevilla was still buzzing...when I arrived there were street closures and a party still happening at catedral, a club that opened 10 years ago when I was here!

Apparently, today is El Dia de Sevilla, or something; it's acity-wide holiday. I had every intention to go watch the procession, as it either started or ended ( or both) right outside my hotel. I fell asleep instead.

I had planned to take a day trip to Cordoba today, so I finally got up from napping and got ready to go. I was not in any way prepared for the maddness outside. I think every Sevillano is in the barrio Santa cruz. Because of the holiday, everything is closed, so I couldn't go to the tourist office for a map. Instead, I got my bearings and headed to El Corte Ingles (of course), figuring it at least would be open.

I was wrong. It was closed, too. So I started walking, and soon found the street on which I used to live (pictured). I remembered the area clearly, although it has changed a bit. Still trying to find the train station, I got myself completely turned around, and ended up back at my hotel. Heh.

They gave me directions, and I fought my way through the crowds (really... Think bay to breakers combined with st. Patty's day/union street fair and you almost get a sense of the crowd), finally arriving at the station at around 2pm. Unfortunately, I had just missed the train, and the next one's not for another hour, which just isn't worth it. I sat to write and now will head back downtown.

The weather is pretty perfect. Not cold like Lisbon, but not deathly hot. I am hoping by the time I get back to the hotel, the crowds will have gone home for siesta. I was right! They were gone!

The Bus

I don't have the greatest history of long haul bus rides. The last one I took, in Argentina, I spent 15 or 16 hours (it was only supposed to be a 12 hour ride, max) trapped in a winsow seat next to a poopy baby. My expectations were not so high, then, for this 7 hour overnighter.

While not as big a nightmare as Argentina, it still stank... Literally. The gentleman next to me smelled of mothballs and sour breath. He was unhappy from the get go, and wanted to make sure we knew. He fidgeted the entire ride, including when we stopped to get food. The way he was acting, I thought for sure he was getting off at one of the early stops - when he had a very loud phone conversation at 1.30am, I thought he was telling someone he'd be there soon.

This was not the case, though. As we approached Sevilla, and after he had picked his nose clean (seriously), he jumped up and prepared to run from the bus. It was a good 10 minutes before the stop! I guess he needed to be the first one off. Once we stopped, he ran and blocked the luggage compartment, moving everyone's stuff until he could find his own. I almost had to hip check him to get my own bag!

Lisboa: El Fin

I spent most of my last day in Lisbon in the area called Belem. It is down on the water, and has some of the oldest sights in Lisbon, as well as the president's residence. I went into the monastery, which had a beautiful church, but didn't go any further because of the massive tour groups (mostly Portuguese kids and Germans).

It was soon time to eat, and I resumed my search for liguicia. I must have looked at over 50 restaurants for it while in Lisbon. (the front desk worker at my hotel even tried to fond me some) I finally found a place with it listed on the menu! I was so excited...but, when I sat down and asked for it, the guy looked at me like I was crazy and said no. As if they would actually have something listed on their menu! After lunch I went and got a pasteis de belem, a really famous and delicious custard tart type thing. Yum!

There were two monuments down by the river that I wanted to see - the monument to discovery and the belem tower. I could not, however, figure out how to cross the street (there was a fenced railroad track in the middle). I finally figured it out, only to later find the stairway that led underground. Anyway, it was SO windy by the water, looking at these things wasn't much fun. I saw the monument (which is pretty awesome), but, as I was heading to the tower my bus arrived, so I jumped on it. Oh well!

Mybus didn't leave until 9.30pm, so I spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly and shopping. Before I knew it, it was time to head to sevilla!!

Lisbon is a beautiful city; it reminds me a lot of buenos aires. Lots of old, historical sights, but it isn't as well taken care of as other parts of Europe.

21 May 2008

The Trouble with Portuguese...

...is that I cannot speak it.

Most who know me know that I am really good with languages. I pick up Swedish ok when I am there, and Italian, too. But not Portuguese. I am having an impossible time with it. I can say thank you, which I knew before I got here, but beyond that? Nada. Even when someone says
something to me, and pronounces it correctly for me, I can't get it. Oh well, I only have a few more hours here!

I started my day in true "katie" fashion - bright and early. It is a beautiful day, so I figured no chance of them cancelling my tour. I hopped on the first bus and headed out. Because I was so early, none of the momuments were open yet, so i decided to continue on the bus for the full circuit. It took about 1 hour, and ended at el corte ingles. Hooray!

If you find yourself in Lisbon with a web-enabled phone, you may want to head into el corte ingles. While I would never encourage sponging off of someone's unsecured wifi (ahem), you just might be able to find access there. Just sayin'. I stood around there for a bit and checked my email; I probably looked creepy as I wasn't even looking at any merchandise. As I walked out, it dawned on me that I probably could have gone to the cafe or something, instead of just standing there looking like an idiot.

I am now waiting around for my tour bus again, to take me back to the Belem area. The bus is supposed to come every half an hour, but their sense of time seems to be different than mine. While in Belem, I want to try the famous custard pie thing, and try to figure out a way to
cross the faux Golden Gate Bridge and go up the faux Christ the Redeemer statue. Apparently the views are awesome.

20 May 2008


I just ate dinner... About 25$ for salas, a huge steak with side, and wine. It feels like Argentina!!


I am currently at the Solar do Vinho do Porto Lisboa (turns out it wasn't closed), the main place in Lisbon to taste various ports. So far, I am on glass #2 (pictured above). To taste, it is as little as 1euro! And, the give you a full glass! The first one I tried I really liked, and they sell a bottle for about 10$. I am tempted to get some to share in sevilla!

Lisbon: Day 2

Looking out my window this morning, I had a hard time telling if I was still in Lisbon or if I had been magically transported back to SF. I saw the "Golden Gate Bridge," and it was covered by fog. It was almost surreal!

I had a rough time getting out of bed this morning, but once I did, it was off to take one of those hop-on, hop-off bus tours. I walked over to the starting point...only to find out it was cancelled today because of the weather. This makes absolutely no sense to me, as the weather is just a heavy fog, but, I guess this is cause enough for this company (I saw other open-top tours happening, so I wonder what the real deal is). This forced me to remap my entire day. Not a bad thing, I just wasn^t prepared for it!

So far I have walked around Baixa and Chiado, and up to the Alfama. Saw the Sé (cathedral), which was pretty boring looking from the outside, but inside had a beautiful nave and altar area. Then when up to Castelo Sao Jorge, which offered one of the most magnificent views of Lisbon. It was stunning, really. Now I have gotten myself lost on the way back from the Castelo; I am hoping to hop on the #28 tram that all the guidebooks/shows recommended. It looks pretty cool.

The weather canºt make up its mind...hot or cold, misty or dry. It is a bit of a hassle having to pull the sweater on and off, and on and off again. Oh well. Hopefully while I have been sitting here, it has cleared up a bit and I can work on my tan. (donºt worry, dad, I am wearing sunscreen!)

19 May 2008

Arrived in Lisbon!

After a brief stop in Frankfurt (well, I guess not too brief... I had time to have a big german beer and all-beef sausage, even though it was 10am), I arrived in Lisbon.
The picture is the view from my hotel room. Look familiar? (if you can't see it well, it looks just like the Golden Gate Bridge).

It is about 5pm here now, so I won't be doing any extensive touring today, but I am going to go check things out a bit.

18 May 2008

At the Airport

I'm at the airport, waiting in the security line. I am disappointed that they made me check my luggage (because the flight is full, they are being really limited with how much you can carry on... I was over by about 1kg, or 2lbs).

I really hope my luggage makes it; they checked it through to Lisbon so we'll see!

This security line is a bit of a clusterf***. People all over the place, and no one there to direct traffic. The line is poking along, but at least it is moving! There is a woman in front of me with a large plastic water bottle, which I thought weren't allowed through security. I'll be interested to see if they let it through.

16 May 2008

The Countdown Begins...Really Packing This Time

Luca has decided to park himself across my stomach as I sit and write this, so I apologize for any jumbles. I think he knows I am leaving him in two days!

So my bag is almost packed. It seems really empty, though, so I am wondering what I am missing?

It is seriously half empty. All that's missing is my camera chargers, makeup, and possibly one more skirt. But that won't fill up much...I must be forgetting something, right? I guess I'll find out when I get over there, huh?

12 May 2008

Europe 2008: Packing Up

When I first booked my tickets, mid-May seemed so far off. I felt like I had a ton of time to wait, plan, wait some more, get ready. How the heck, then, did mid-May sneak up on me so quickly?

I spent this weekend taking care of things around my house, since it is my last weekend before I leave. And, I know I'll have a lot of work to do at work this week, and there are meetings each evening, it seems, so I need to be prepared.

This doesn't work all that well for me, a known procrastinator. I like to do anything but what I need to be doing. However, I am now down to crunch time, and I need to get moving. So I cleaned up, made my list, and started to do laundry. This week, I'll do the shopping I need to do for last minute items (like earplugs and sunscreen), and make sure I have all the little items I need.

All my tickets have been booked, all my hotels reserved. I am still debating on a few tours, but have a little time on those. I think my list is pretty thorough, and hopefully I won't forget anything important!

And, this time next week, I will be landing in Lisbon for my Portuguese adventure!

11 May 2008

Wildflower 2008: On the Race

Well...I finished!

Back in January, a few friends and I were talking about Wildflower. One was trying to convince the other to do the Mountain Bike Triathlon course. I said, I would do it! It sounded like fun...I had only experienced Wildflower as a worker, and that was 10 years ago, so it would be great to see what it was like on the athlete side. And...why not do a triathlon?

I actually never thought I would say that. Much in the same way I said I would never do a half marathon (or more), I am sure at some point I emphatically said I would never do a triathlon, no matter the distance. This is why I try not to use the word never anymore; it always comes back to bite you!

My attitude towards training was as it has been in the past: not that interested. I swam a few times, ran once or twice, and rode the spin bike a lot. That was probably the most I did. But, I went in feeling good and just wanting to have fun.

My biggest mistake was probably not renting a wetsuit, but instead borrowing my friend's surf suit. I figured, 1/4 mile, what did it matter what type of suit I wore? This decision came back to bite me. I had never put on a wetsuit, much less swam in one, so I had no idea how different a surf suit is than a tri suit. Trust me: big difference.

I lined up along with all the other old ladies in my group. I jumped in the water to get a feel for it, and thought, hey, not bad. Soon, it was countdown time. 5...4...3...2...1...go! I jumped in to start my swim, and almost immediately, felt a tear in my right shoulder. The wetsuit was bearing down on something, and not allowing me to get any range of motion. So I started to doggie paddle, and tried not to drown. Apparently, with tri wetsuits, they thin out the joints so you can actually get a full stroke in. Lesson learned!

It took me longer than I thought it would to get out of the water, and unfortunately, I had to use my legs a lot more than I had wanted to, so I was starting to get tired by the time I got to my bike. I changed, got on the bike, and headed on out.

The bike course was a lot hillier than we thought it would be. I also learned that I have no confidence on my bike. I was scared to go downhill, scared to build up the momentum I needed to get up the next hill. I also have no idea what gears to use. Another good lesson learned.

The bike took me a bit longer than I thought it would, but soon I was finished and ready to run. Thank god! I was hoping the Cal Poly kids at the turnaround would have a beer for me, but no such luck. I finished strong and crossed the finish line. Whoo-hoo.

I had a great time with the tri, and although I didn't go fast, I did finish. I can't wait for the next one!

07 May 2008

Wildflower 2008: On the Road

This past weekend, I headed back down to my old stomping grounds on the central coast. Specifically, to Lake San Antonio, for this year's Wildflower Triathlon weekend. Last time I had visited this event, I was 21, in college, and, happy as a clam (drunk) most of the time.

Although it felt familiar heading down there, we did one thing I had never done before...stopped in one of the small towns on the way. Gonzales, to be specific. This town is about 20 minutes or so south of Salinas, and is one of those blink and you miss it type of places. We pulled over to get ice and last minute supplies.

The off the freeway strip mall was anchored by a big, over-air-conditioned supermarket, and bookended by a Dairy Queen and McDonald's. There was, of course, a Starbucks as well. The desolation of the area made me a little sad, on one side, a freeway, and on the other, stillness as far as the eye could see (with mountains in the distance).

As someone who grew up near a large city, these small towns baffle me a bit. What is there to do? Where do people work? In places like these, are they largely dependent on people who are heading to the lakes, or traveling on 101?

I don't know...there was a quaintness, that's for sure. Out in front of the supermarket, there was an old-fashioned horse that you could ride for only a quarter.