Friday, June 11, 2010

When In Rome (Yeah yeah I know)

So, we're terrible bloggers, but we've been busy getting sunburnt and seaweeded and sleeping on various modes of transport and basically just not blogging.
At the moment, we're in a dorm in the middle of Rome with 2 girls from Taiwan who probably speak better English than I normally do, one of whom has had her passport stolen today (she was freaking out, badly). We just got home from a delicious dinner, which although was the most expensive we've had in Europe, was totally worth it!
Yesterday we had a nice morning of chatting on Skype to smother, da and Denice and Simon, then ran off to join the hoards at Pompeii (NB: Not actual hoards.)
Pompeii is pretty amazing. It's still very intact, and the audio tour taught us a bunch about the Pompeian lifestyle. We got to visit a brothel, several houses, some temples and the amphitheatre. And we found out that we suck at following the map we were given. We tried really hard to follow the itinerary for the 4 hour audio tour, got lost on the 3rd stop, and just made it up as we wnt from there...still, we had fun, got very dusty and sweaty and tired from walking forever, and learned a bunch. Chris now wants us to live in a Roman-style house, with an atrium and garden included...
Our day today involved battling the Italian post system for most of the morning. Seriously, England hasn't got beaurocracy as bad as PostItaliane do. I filled out 4 forms, had my passport photocopied, and had to wait an hour while they fixed the door of the post office. About 2 and a half hours later (considerable expense and lighter packs evened each other out, in my opinion) we were ready to leave Sorrento for Rome! While Sorrento was beautiful, it was also very touristy and well-travelled, but I suppose it's hard to be a beautiful town and not get overrun by tourists in Europe. In Australia it's hard just to be a beautiful town... =P
We arrived in Rome about 3 hours after leaving Sorrento, which isn't too bad at all, really. We purchased a couple of Roma Passes, which get us into 2 archaeological sites or museums for free, and get us discounts for all the others, free public transport for 3 days, and 20% discount on segway hire (!!!) among other things. Tomorrow I think we'll hit up the Colosseum, Palatine and Roman Forum, which only counts as one site, so I don't know yet what we'll spend our other free visit on... I really want to visit the catacombs as well, which unfortunately aren't covered by the pass, but whatever, we'll still go.
I don't want to try to catch up on all the in-between since we last posted right now, because it's been a long day, and we're getting up early tomorrow, so for now, that's all folks!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

So we're pretty inconsistent...

Alternatively titled 'Part One of the Great Catch Up'

Yeah, The last blog I wrote I think was when we had just arrived in Barcelona. Since then we've been through Zaragoza, Madrid, Athens, Santorini and this morning at 5am arrived in Kos.

First things first, we are alive and relatively unharmed. Barcelona freaked us out a bit at first, but by the time we left we loved it. We're still trying to catch up on the photos on Facebook, so keep an eye out.
I think the best things we did in Barcelona were probably the zoo and Park Montjuic, where you catch a cablecar up to the top of the hill and there's a castle to wander about. Chris played with the cannon fittings and stuff while I chased cats. So many cats!
We finally 'got' tapas while we were in Madrid, but we had some amazing food during our stay in Barcelona. One night we were going to try a restaurant from Corinne's book, but ended up going to the bar across the street from it for a few drinks and had the. best. goddamn. ham ever! Iberian ham is really worth the hype. The cheese was pretty good too, but ohmygod the ham. It melts in your mouth. When we arrived at the bar there was just a surly woman and some young guy lounging behind the bar, but a little while after we arrived, another older guy turned up and jumped behind the bar. None of them spoke a word of English, but that old guy really made our night. I was drinking white wine, and when I asked for another glass he told me off in Spanish and said that red was better and gave me half a glass of red for free. Mind you, they didn't have wine glasses, I was drinking out of tumblers...and the first drink I ordered, there was a cricket or something plastered to the side of the was definitely a diamond in the rough.
We went to the chocolate museum as well in Barcelona, and instead of a ticket, you get a small bar of dark chocolate when you enter, so it was definitely a winner. It wasn't so much a chocolate museum as a chocolate gallery, and there were some pretty impressive chocolate sculptures there. At the end of the walk around the museum, you can watch the trainee chocolatiers making delicious things in their kitchen. They were just finishing up icing some pastries when we had a peek, and it looked pretty damn good.
We also went to Parc Guell, which was one of Antoni Gaudi's civic projects that never quite got finished, but there are some amazing mosaics there, and plenty of gypsies plying their wares.
On our last night in Barcelona, we were doing some washing on the roof of the hostel, and were sitting out on the rooftop terrace reading while we waited, and got invited by some Slovenian people to have drinks with them, which turned out to mean one of their friend making us all caipirinhas from fresh limes, brown sugar and a spirit called Pitu which is apparently like rum but not rum, and is what they use in Brazil to make the real mccoy. Just a tip guys, those things are the tastiest drinks I've ever had. The guy who was making the drinks for us was telling us about how he knew Portuguese from a close friend of his and how he one day wanted to live in Brazil. Then some other people turned up and joined us and we met a girl from Cronulla and her fiancee from somewhere between Shrewsbury and Stratford...we can't remember, but he said it was in between the birthplaces of Shakespeare and Charles Darwin, and some girls from France who sat about and ate fruit and cheese. They were all really nice people, and we hung out for ages, until they went out clubbing and we had to pack and get to bed for our early morning the next day.

Our bus trip from Barcelona to Zaragoza was pretty uneventful, with lots of sleeping and Chris being horrified at Transformers 2 (terrible even with Spanish dubbing!), and we got there about midday at the big huge empty transport interchange with no idea of how to get to our hostel, or indeed what it was called (my bad...) We found the tourist information office and asked if we could use their internet terminal, which had gmail blocked, and then asked if we could use their wifi, to which the lady said they had none (there was a sign on the door saying they did) and that we had to go for a walk to an internet cafe place about 4 blocks away. Turns out Zaragoza has big blocks and we went walking with our big heavy packs for about 45 minutes in the sun (fifteen miles in the snow...) before we decided to trek back to the bus station and see if we could get free internet there, despite what the lady said. Turns out, we could and she's a big stupidhead and we don't like her any more. We figured out that the bus we needed to catch was right outside the door, and off we went. Zaragoza was lovely and quiet after the raucousness of Barcelona, but we were hungry and tired by the time we got there and made a bad food decision. I'm pretty sure it's the worst food we've had thus far. We ate right across from the biggest tourist drawcard, which we should have known not to, but whatever. There were supermarket cold meats and unidentified salad and it was just unsatisfying and gross...
The rest of our stay there was pretty great though, the first day we just looked at the river and all the old buildings and their bridge with the lions on it and stuff, and the second day we went a-wandering to an awesome icecream shop for some 'horchata' which is kind of like a Spanish milkshake, except instead of milk, the base is some kind of sour watery liquid and the icecream makes it awesome. At the icecream shop, the lady was really nice to us even though she didn't speak any English and our Spanish was (is) pretty bad, and partway through our milkshakes, a man and his dog came in and the lady was feeding the dog the broken icecream cones and it was very sweet and funny, because the dog was just about wetting itself in its excitement. Then we had CHURROS! Talk about a taste sensation. (For those not in the know) You get a mug of melted chocolate, and about 5 or 6 long doughnut-type stick things that have been deep friend and are still hot. you dip them in your chocolate, and enjoy! It wasn't what I was expecting because the churros themselves weren't sweet really, but it was still the most delicious chocolatey goodness I've ever had. Chris and I shared a serving and ended up submerging chunks of churros in the chocolate and eating them off a spoon because we're philistines.
That day we went up to the top of the tower in the big cathedral in the middle of the city (which is beautiful, by the way. Spanish people know how to church it up) and looked about for a little while before getting a bit lost looking for another church, and ending up going out for tapas again where no-one spoke English and all we could order was cheese or meat. Spaniards don't seem big on veggies...

Off to Madrid the next day on the bus was more of the same, except this time we confused the Spanish-only-speaking bus driver by having 2 seats a couple of rows apart because I had changed our booking and they hadn't let me choose the seats when I changed it. He was very concerned that we hadn't realised and was speaking a lot of Spanish at us and pointing at the seat numbers until we reassured him that we knew, and it was OK. Apparently I look like I know what's going on because at both of the bus depots I got asked questions about which buses went where by other passengers. Thankfully they spoke English and we all managed to get on the right buses...
Anyway, the trip to Madrid took about 5 hours and this time I remembered to write down how to get to our hostel before we left. The only problem was, it was the dodgiest hostel we've stayed at thus far. It was just a feeling we got as soon as we walked into the place, it just felt kind of dirty or something...the dude at reception kind of looked like a neanderthal with long stringy hair and a low monobrow. And you had to pay to use the (very small) lockers. Thankfully we were only there for a night. We asked reception guy for a recommendation on where to go for dinner, and had to interrupt his skype conversation to ask for better directions, but we still couldn't find the place, mostly because he couldn't show us where it was on a map, or even the name of the street, so we just went to a nearby place for something forgettable. The next day we trekked off to another (much, much nicer) hostel, after getting very little sleep due partly to the 4am street party thrown by patrons of the hotel across the road.
Our next hostel was awesome. The lady who ran it didn't speak much English, but she was really nice and helpful and told us where the supermarkets were, and how to get to the good food areas and stuff, and our room was quiet! That day was apparently a special day for Madrid because there was a military and police parade and there was a jet flyover, so Chris was happy. The rest of that day we just spent wandering around looking at the Plazas and the Palace. Over the next few days we went to the Prado museum, which is the biggest art gallery in Madrid, and was pretty impressive (Chris didn't like it because there was too much Christian art), and the Archaeology museum, which was small but cool and had some really well-preserved stone carvings and jewellery, a lot of which was discovered around Madrid, Toledo and Guadalajara in Mexico. We also went on a tour of the palace which was really cool, and there were ceiling frescoes in almost every room. I think the best room was the little study next to the billiards and game room, which had been decorated in Japanese style (popular at the time) and was just so gaudy and bright it was fantastic.
Food-wise, Madrid was pretty good. We remembered eventually that we had our Europe for Dummies book, and followed some of the tapas recommendations and had a proper tapas crawl wherein we ate some awesome mushrooms at a restaurant called Champignon, some surprisingly good ham and cheese at another place, and our first dabble into croquettes, which was surprisingly good, despite their appearance of being deep fried balls of mashed potato.
I took us on an epic explore the next day in search of a post office (we never found it...) and we found a gorgeous French chocolate place and the bullfighting arena, which was interesting. In May every Sunday there's a bullfight, but it was a weekday, so it was pretty quiet. We thought about going to a bullfight, but just couldn't bring ourselves to do it.
The next night we went out for another tapas crawl and had some good stuff again, at a fancy-pants bar before going back to the mushroom place for more. There we were waylaid by a very VERY loud American woman and her apologetic-looking companions. She wanted to know where we were from, and if we were on our honeymoon (?) and where we were going next, and then proceeded to be drunk and make lewd comments about her husband. We eventually escaped and just wandered about for a bit. For lunchtimes we found another nice place about 5 minutes walk from where we were staying called Miguela's or something similar. The first time we went we had chicken breast and brie cheese toasties, which were yummy, and the second time we went back (we tried a few times but kept getting there too late for lunch) Chris had the same again and I had a steak and brie toastie, which I thought was more delicious than the chicken. Then, they must have felt bad because they moved us a few times before we got to order our food (it was a very busy lunch time) and we got 2 free desserts! One was a cold chocolate gelatine pudding type thing and the other was a coconut pudding. Both were awesome, and we left very happy and full, and I'm pretty sure the guys there recognised us from our several attempts to have lunch there...
In the Plaza Mayor (one of the main squares and a big tourist haunt) we saw some pretty amazing gypsies. In Barcelona they kind of stuck to stupid noisemakers during the day and these light-up flying things at night, but in the Plaza, they dressed up! We saw a Teletubby and Batman and Winnie the Pooh (several at once, it was bizarre) and we saw the poorest imitation of Spiderman ever! He was an overweight guy in a faded skintight Spiderman costume, and at one point we saw him scratching his belly with his mask up so he could have a smoke. It was very funny. To us. You all might think it's odd, but it reminded us of when Barney dresses up as Krusty on the Simpsons...

Anyway, that's pretty much up-to-date for Spain. I'm posting this now so that at least you all have something to read, and I will get working on the next bits tomorrow, because now it's dinner time!!!