Monday, July 03, 2006
Just wanted to let everyone know we made it safely to Atlanta! We'll be hanging out here with the Fords for the next few days and then will head to Austin on Thursday. Hope to catch up with everyone soon!
Saturday, July 01, 2006
Wrapping Things Up
It is our last day in foreign lands! Tomorrow morning we leave bright and early for Atlanta.
June 29 - Barcelona
In the evening we walked over to a cute little Italian joint for dinner. Matt nearly died there as the A/C was broken and he restaurant was stifling.... After dinner we headed to Montjuic to watch the Magic Fountain do it's nightly performance. The fountain "dances" to music and changes colors - sounds cheesy but it is really pretty beautiful.
June 30 - Barcelona
Another day of sight-seeing...we toured the Sagrada Familia, which is Gaudí's unfinished masterpiece. It was started in 1882 and he took over construction in 1883. They have been building it ever since and there is still a long way to go. Gaudí was so passionate about it he lived as a recluse there for the last 16 years of his life. The Sagrada Familia is definitely one of the more distinct churches you will ever see.
In the afternoon we toured the beautiful Catalonian Music Palace. Unfortunately they don't allow pictures inside. It is done in the modernism style and is stunning. The architect designed it so that you feel as if you are in garden, complete with stained glass windows, including a huge sun at the center of the ceiling.
We watched soccer again in the evening....there were some interesting curse words used between some Argentinian and German fans at the bar we were watching in. After the game we had dinner and took a walking tour of the Grácia area of the city.
July 1 - Our Last Day in Barcelona
Beach day....it's all about the beach, right? We spent the morning there but Matt couldn't take it anymore after lunch and I decided not to damage my skin any more than I already have. So this afternoon we'll bum around, probably watch more soccer and then tonight we'll head out for a traditional paella dinner.
Tomorrow afternoon we'll be back in the U.S.! What a great trip it's been. But, like they say, one of the great things about traveling is going home.....
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Gone Gaudí Crazy
Barcelona is as wonderful as ever....fantastic weather, good food, beautiful parks, fabulous architecture...it pretty much has it all. We're having a lot of fun and are really enjoying our last few days of this trip.
June 26 - Venice to Barcelona
June 26 - Venice to Barcelona
We arrived into Barcelona in the early afternoon and took care of some "administrative stuff." These days that means doing laundry, buying cold water (I can't wait to be reunited with ice) and checking email. We had only a few hours of sleep the night before so we decided to call it an early night and save the partying for another day.
June 27 - Barcelona
We spent the day sight-seeing....walking La Rambla, checking out the Christopher Columbus statue, roaming around near the port, strolling through the Gothic Quarter. We kept an eye out for all buildings by Antoni Gaudí, the coolest architect ever and the king of modernism (my opinion). After lunch we toured Casa Battló, my absolute favorite Gaudí piece. It was built in 1906 and has just been opened to the public. I was nearly jumping up and down the entire tour - the man was a genius! After Casa Battló we walked down Passeig de Gracia, a wide tree-lined boulevard, to Casa Mila, which is another one of Gaudí's important works. We decided to hold off on the tour but enjoyed the building from outside.
By the time we were done strolling it was nearly soccer time and Matt was itching to watch the Brazil - Ghana came. So we found a cute little bar where we watched the game with a bunch of old men. It was a good spot. Then I couldn't resist - I dragged Matt out to see some more Guadí! We headed to the Park Güell, which is on a hill over looking the city. It was a nice place to hang out while the sun sank low in the sky.
For the last two weeks we have been going on and on about how we need nachos so when Matt found a Tex-Mex place in a guidebook of course we had to try it. Believe it or not, the food was pretty good and the margaritas were great. So we spent the evening there enjoying our drinks and getting soccer score updates from the waitress.
June 28 - Barcelona
Since we are now living like Spaniards, which means eating dinner at 9 or 10pm, we also have to sleep in. It's either that or we are trying to live like we only have a few days of this dream life left. Whatever the case may be, we didn't move until at least 10 that morning so the day was slipping away. When we finally did get moving we headed to the beach to catch some sun. Unfortunately the clouds moved in so we had to opt for plan B, which was the Catalonia History Museum. It turned out to be a good trade-off as the museum was well-done and gave us some interesting insight to this area of Spain. After we left the museum the sun was out again so we headed back to the beach for a couple hours.
That evening we took a recommendation from our guidebook for dinner and had one of our best meals ever. Such a great spot - candlit restaurant with exposed brick...fabulous food...good wine. It was great. Matt had the traditional Spanish chorizo and it was spectacular. We had a nice walk up La Rambla on the way home.
June 29 - Barcelona
Today is definitely a beach day. We were at the beach by 9:30 soaking up the sun on a beautiful, clear day. Matt hung out with me for a while and then went for a run. He reported back that he found the nude beach about 2 miles down the beach - our beach spot for tomorrow, perhaps? Haha. After his run he headed back to the hotel to clean up and have lunch while I stayed on at the beach.
We have just a couple days left but still more Gaudí to see so we'll be busy...and I'm not done with the beach yet!
Monday, June 26, 2006
English Spoken Here
English spoken here....this was all I could think of in Venice as we were surrounded by more Americans than Italians (or so it seemed anyway). There were so many people from the U.S. I felt like I might turn a corner and run into someone I know. The city is packed with people and you're so crammed in you begin to hate it....but then you wind up on a quiet street and the magic of Venice is back. It truly is a beautiful place.
We're in Barcelona now. This is the last leg of our overseas journey. It's hard to believe it's almost over! Truthfully, we are anxious to get back. We've been on the road for three months (plus the two-and-a-half before this trip) and the constant moving around is starting to wear a little. (And we really miss our Sophie dog.) But don't think we won't enjoy these last few days - Barcelona is my favorite city in the world and I can't wait to show Matt around!
Anyway, you're here for the Italy update. It's going to be the abbreviated version since I couldn't keep up with the blog while we were there. The key takeaways are: we drank a LOT of red wine, ate a LOT of delicious food and saw a LOT of beautiful scenery.
June 14-25 - Italy
We arrived at Marco Polo airport in Venice where "Zago Tours" was supposed to pick us up. Zago Tours refers to my Uncle Giovanni and his "entourage." My uncle has brought so many people back to his homeland that it is now a family joke that he runs a tour company. The entourage on this trip included Aunt Carol, my parents and my brother's girlfriend, Julie (others joined up later). Anyway, they were running on Italian time so we had to wait a few minutes. No bother, it's rather amusing to watch a cargo van full of Americans pull up.
We spent the next couple days in and around Padova where we visited St. Anthony's Church and the University. We took a canal cruise where we stopped at several villas between Padova and Venice. We ended up in Venice that night and had a great meal at Tosi's. One night in Padova Matt, Julie and I had a little too much wine and a whole lot of fun. The great thing about Italian wine is that it doesn't give you a hangover - what a great invention!! But, it is possible to still be a little tipsy when you wake up in the morning if you have overindulged (not a good feeling). Our crowning moment in Padova was when we took the wrong train from Venice and ended up in city 20 miles away....I'll always remember the conducter guy tapping on the window (we were all sleeping) and telling us it was the end of the line. Oops.
After our exploits in Padova the Don (Giovanni - you'll remember him from our China trip) steered us north toward his home in Vigo. Vigo is a quaint little Italian village that feels like it is stuck in time - it is wonderful. And the views are incredible. It's up in the Alps so we had a nice drive through the countryside, alongside picteresque Lake Garda and into the mouuntains. The days we were there are a blur (the wine started flowing at lunch) but I can recollect the following: we did a challenging but great hike to the summit of Mt. Tudaio (and have pictures to prove it), we went "Fun Bob-ing" (like a bob sled/rollercoaster down the mountain), played a few competitive games of Monopoly, complete with trash talking, and took a drive to Tre Cimes, where they filmed the movie Cliffhanger. The wine was great....it came by the gallon+ jug and we would go down to the wine store every day or two to have the jugs refilled for only $10!!. We also ate copious amounts of food. There is a pizza place near the house that is absolutely amazing. We found a pastry shop that did fabulous cream puffs. There was pasta nearly every night. I think both Matt and I have put on at least 10 pounds. Not good. Anyway, we truly enjoyed ourselves and the company of our family, Julie (practically family) and our new friends Peter, Kate and Maria (distant family).
Our last few days in Italy were spent in Venice. I've already summed it up I think...too hot, too many tourists and too expensive! However, when you find yourself in the right neighborhood or in that perfect street it is an enchanting place.
Friday, June 23, 2006
We're alive and well in Venice. It's really hot and packed with people. We arrived here by train this morrning after several days at "Villa Vigo" in northern Italy. We had a fantastic time there - the food and wine were wonderful, the scenery was out of this world and the company was not too bad either. Just wanted to let everyone know we are alive!
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
June 11-13 - Budapest
We've spent the last few days bumming around Budapest. I can't say that it has been one of my favorite places, but it has been a cool place to hang out in cafes and watch the World Cup. On Sunday we did a bunch of sight seeing, heading across the river to Buda and taking in the Royal Palace and the Castle District. We spent a few hours wandering the War Museum which was free (!) and well done with a great section on WWII. In the evening we went to a cafe near our hotel and watched the Mexico v. Iran game. I was, of course, cheering loudly for Mexico.
Yesterday we walked to Hero's Square and saw that along with the neighboring park. We took the metro a couple times and the stations are adorable...they are so clean they look like a museum display! Very Norman Rockwell with shiny white tiles and nice benches. In the afternoon we headed to a sports bar to watch the US game. We met a bunch of Americans from Minnesota there - it was fun to chat with all of them and nice to have some fellow Americans to cheer with (even though the game was a big disappointment). It's been pretty surprising how many Americans we have seen in Hungary and Turkey compared to Asia, India and Russia. We saw very few American tourists in Asia and now they are everywhere.
Today has been a total lazy day. We are officially ready to leave Budapest. We had a long, leisurely lunch and this afternoon we're going to try to catch the Da Vinci Code at one of the theaters nearby. It will be our first trip to a movie theater in many many months....I am crossing my fingers for buttery popcorn.
Tomorrow we meet up with my family in Venice. We'll be in Italy for about 10 days. It's hard to believe we only have two countries left in this adventure... In just a few weeks we'll be celebrating 4th of July in Atlanta!
Saturday, June 10, 2006
The Blog Has Finally Caught Up With Us
I officially consider myself up to date. It was quite a task to get all of the pictures done...hope you enjoy them!
Cave Life Suits Us Well
I am in love with Turkey. We have had such a great time and I keep finding out about places that I didn't get to see and I am already trying to figure out when we can go back. Cappadocia was a huge highlight of the trip for me...beautiful scenery like something out of a fairy tale, wonderful people and we stayed at a fantastic hotel. So, anyway, here is the low-down...
June 4 - Istanbul to Cappadocia
After our peaceful dinner on a rooftop we headed back to our hotel to grab our bags. We took a taxi to the bus station and hopped on the bus. The bus looked like it would be comfortable but the eleven hour ride proved to be a bit long for that. The worst part was there was no bathroom on board...you had to wait for the two scheduled stops in the middle of the night. Not good news after our bottle of wine and liter and a half of water at dinner.
June 5 - Cappadocia
We arrived in Nevsehir at around 8am and found our way to another bus that shuttled us to Uchisar, the small town where we would be staying. The bus dropped us off in the center of town with no direction on which way to go. Luckily it was truly a small town...we had been told the hotel office was in front of city hall and down the street we saw a building with flags out front. We hoped that was it and headed down the street. Along the way a friendly shopkeeper helped us out and let us know that we were on the right track. Moments later we were at the steps of the office of Les Maisons de Cappadoce meeting the two wonderful French women who run the place. They were very welcoming and had a cute dog so we were even able to get some puppy lovin' while the girls told us what we should do during our short stay.
We headed to the hill where the hotel is located and caught our first glimpse of our cool new digs. The hotel is part cave and part stone building. Our suite had it's own little patio complete with comfy lounge chairs and grill. The suite itself was awesome - completely decorated in white and remarkably roomy for a cave!
After we got settled in and lounged around for a while (we hadn't slept well on the bus) we decided to head out for a hike. Our hotel was perfectly situated on the edge of the Pigeon Valley so that we could walk right our door and begin a hike. The land was very dry and desert-like with a lot of low scraggly shrubs. We came across a big snake which was luckily headed in the opposite direction. We got lost a couple times, just as the girls at the hotel said we would, but quickly found a group of hikers to follow. We made our way to the next town over, Goreme, where we had a very traditional lunch of stew with eggplant, lamb and rice. During lunch we sat on cushions on the floor and ate at low tables.
Later on we headed out to check out the town, which was very touristy and made us glad to be staying in Uchisar. Goreme has an open-air museum so we headed there and checked out a bunch of cave churches with beautiful frescoes. It was extremly hot out so we took a taxi back to Uchisar at the end of the day.
That evening we had our first chance to enjoy that patio overlooking the valley. It was so peaceful - the only sounds were brids chirping and the occasional call to prayer over the loudspeakers from the nearby mosques. It was a beautiful night. It struck me that while I sat there enjoying the tranquilty things were very different in neighboring Iraq.
Later on we went to a local restaurant recommended by the girls at the hotel. Just as they had warned us, the owner was drunk, but no worries as the food was delicious and we did get a kick out of his nonsensical conversations with us.
June 6-7 - Cappadocia
The next two days were enjoyed lazing around, hiking in the valleys and exploring tiny Uchisar. Every evening our breakfast was delivered in a basket and then in the morning fresh baked bread was hanging on the doorknob. It was fun to cook our own breakfast after living in hotels for so long. We went to the local farmers' market and bought vegetables and to the butcher to buy meat which we later grilled on our patio. We bought some more Turkish wine and have now decided it's excellent (when you find the right stuff). We made full use of the lounge chairs on the porch. We hired a local guide to take us hiking through the Red Valley. Mustafa, our guide, was born in Uchisar and obviously loved his home very much. He was very knowledgeable about the geology, history and culture of the region. He pointed out things we would have otherwise missed and took us to hidden cave churches. The scenery was breathtaking and the hike was one of the highlights of our visit to the area.
On our last evening in Cappadocia we had a nice dinner at a restaurant that overlooked the valley. We were able to watch the colors change as the sun went down. What a wonderful place - we both know it is somewhere we will visit again.
June 8 - Istanbul
We survived another long overnight bus ride and were warmly greeted back at our adorable hotel in Istanbul. The people are so hospitable...feeding us breakfast when we got there, letting us into our room at 8am and just generally being friendly. We spent the day bumming around Istanbul, visiting the mosaic museum, eating donor kebabs and hitting the internet cafe. We got a good laugh out of a local who asked where we were from and when we told him Texas replied with "where are your guns and horses?" Ah yes, that was a good one. Normally they just ask us if we are cowboys. We did some shopping in the Grand Bazaar (told you I couldn't resist) and called it an early night as we had to leave the hotel at 6am the following morning.
June 9 - Istanbul to Budapest
A couple quick flights and we arrived in Budapest. I was amused when we arrived at our hotel at 1:40pm and told we could not check in yet...I just assumed the room wasn't clean but then at exactly 2pm the receptionist called us over and handed over the key. Obviously check-in time was 2pm and she was sticking to it!
We took a walking tour around the Parliament area and the Danube River and took in some nice architecture. Andrassy Street is one of the main city arteries and is tree-lined and full of great old buildings. We passed by St. Stephen's Church, one of the Opera Houses and the fantastic Parliament building. We also eyed up the Four Seasons which has prime real estate on the river in an old palace - it is a gorgeous building.
We had a long and lingering dinner at an Italian restaurant. The food and wine were good and we were strategizing about my business. We had a good time and did some entertaining people watching.
June 10 - Budapest
We woke up to rain. Hoping things would clear up we headed to breakfast where we found some unidentifiable foods. I stuck with the bread and cheese since the rest looked like fish and pate. Unfortunately it was pouring after breakfast and that didn't go well with our plans to do some more walking around the city. We headed to a nearby internet place and it's actually been nice to catch up on the blog and have a chance to upload some pictures. We're hoping things will clear up this afternoon and we'll be off to take in the sights.