Beautifully Ridiculous Switzerland

How would I describe my time in Switzerland? Beautifully ridiculous.

First of all, this country beams of rich greenery, massive lakes, mountains and Bavarian houses. After traveling almost four weeks in Europe, I missed nature. I thirsted for thick greenery, blue lakes, and fresh air. By the way, Switzerland has the best tasting water from all 10 countries I visited. So, I needed a break from mounds of statues, architecture, large churches, drier landscapes, and the rush of the city. Looking out my train window at the amazing sights before me, this proved to be the most beautiful of panoramas.

My experience in this country lives, in history, as ridiculous. The train I took into Geneva from France didn’t get in until super late at night, so I planned on spending the night at the train station. However, they closed at 1 or 2am, so they kicked me out. So, I stayed on the street until this woman told me about a store that stayed open 24/7 that I could chill out at for the night (I gotta give the homeless a lot of credit). I hung out with the German owners of this shop until the train station opened and I left for Bern.

The views of Bern include fancy rows of shops and gorgeous views of nature. The downtown square held waltz dancing with an orchestra. I also had my first encounter with the rich taste of Swiss chocolate. Going into a chocolate shop resembles walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, without the machines.

I next left for Interlaken where lots of outdoor activities take place, but because the weather had turned to pouring rain and wind, all the activities had been closed and would be closed for several days. So, I booked an overnight train to Hamburg leaving from Zurich.

In my final town of Zurich, I wandered around trying to see as much of the city in the pouring rain that I could. Finally, I got drenched and I stayed at the station until my train boarded. I gotta say, the Zurich train station allows smokers, had huge World Cup soccer player statues, and stayed pretty dang cold.

Even though I spent my time in Switzerland with no sleep, cold and rainy weather, and all the other ridiculously random things that happened, I still remember the beauty most out of my experience in this land.


Lost in Portuguese Translation

Getting into Portugal requires an overnight commitment. The small old style train carries you through the night on it’s retro style seats. But once arriving in Lisboa (as it’s properly spelled there) train station, you must make your way out and figure where to go.

This is a country where you should definitely do your research before going, because absolutely nothing will be in English and you’ll have a hard time finding someone who speaks the language. I decided to travel to Portugal on a whim – I hadn’t planned on visiting prior to going – so is the way of life as a backpacker.

I searched up and downs the many hills of the city searching for a hostel – funny thing, all the hostel signs display its message in Portuguese, so the common backpacker (who’s not from the country) has no idea that they pass by them all the time.

My paths did cross with a couple of people that spoke English and they suggested the best place to go for the day. So, off I went to Sintra. The town has a huge castle overlooking the lush green park with a cute downtown. I must say that when the sky remains free from clouds, you’ll never find a bluer view. I wish I could have stayed to explore Sintra and Lisboa more, but on that day I felt miserable and all I wanted to do find a bed and sleep.

Everywhere else I traveled in Europe, a good portion of their citizens know English and could direct me to what I needed to find; however, Portugal lead me to confusion. Although, what I did find and seen had been beautiful, I wish that I had read up on this country before going. I strongly recommend doing research prior to going to Portugal in regards to language and what you want to see; otherwise, you’ll wander around for hours lost in translation.

Rolling with the Punches in Spain

I visited Madrid and Valencia after my time in Barcelona. Sometimes my plans in Europe worked out, sometimes they don’t at all; this was my experience in these Spanish cities.

I had a stop in Madrid as I waited for my train to take me to my next location. The ticket line at the Madrid station was the worst I had ever experienced. To buy a ticket, you must wait at least 2 hours – ridiculous! Not to mention that train reservation fees cost one of the highest in all the European countries.

I wandered around Madrid looking for breakfast across the city; that day I desperately craved pancakes, after searching for hours couldn’t find them anywhere. At a bar, they served breakfast and said they could try making something like a pancake, but from my experience when the locals try to replicate my American expectations, they never turn out the way I want them to. I stopped into several handfuls of restaurants in the city streets, but nothing looked good, so I ventured out to the further edges of the area.  I found the cutest family run restaurant; the guy running the place made me feel like one of the locals and hooked me up with some freshly squeezed orange juice and cinnamon sugar twists.

After my breakfast I sat in a city square where a volunteer group had set up a garden of paper red flowers and handed them out to all the people walking by. My next stop allowed me to explore through a large park near a government building.

Exploring Valencia proved to be a test on my patience. My journey to find the right bus to take, to find the correct subway, and then finding the beach from there proved to be the hardest place to get good directions. Everywhere else I went, people could give me easy directions to what I needed to find, not Valencia. After several hours of determined searching for each mode of transportation, I finally made it to the beach. I got to enjoy the spell of seafood drifting from the many restaurants along the edge of the sand; the sand felt like cashmere between my toes. With my luck, a windy rain storm came in about 15 minutes after first being there, so back I went to the hostel.

One thing that I thought was hilarious was that they held alcohol for sale in vending machines. The Indigo Hostel screened at the door, had 24/7 free internet, and full use of their kitchen with pans and silverware. One afternoon I went out to buy some ingredients for making dinner, but everything was closed. Europeans respect the observation of resting on Sundays, but I finally did find a tiny little store that carried a few canned items, so I made some spaghetti.

The day I decided to leave, the weather had decided to be nice, after several days of rain since I arrived. I went to the train station to head off on the 11am train, but my lack of Spanish made it hard for me to communicate where I wanted to go (one of the very few stations that didn’t know English). To top it off, the train I wanted to take had already been fully booked, so I had to wait another 5 hours for the next one. So, I took advantage of the sunny day and took a walk around the downtown of Valencia; which actually was gorgeous and I did some shopping. Because of my booked train, I had the chance to enjoy Valencia on a beautiful day.

Sometimes backpackers don’t have the best luck or things don’t always go according to plan; but it’s funny how everything always works out for the best. We have to roll with the punches, and in my experience, I got to experience more than I imagined because of the hiccups of my plans.

Architecture of Barcelona Spain

Barcelona has many an amazing structure. The city holds it’s traditional architecture of churches, Gothic monuments, and arches which you could find all over Europe. However, the uniqueness of the designs stand out far beyond what I would ever imagine before exploring all the architecture that I did in Barcelona.

The architect, Antoni Gaudi, showcases his work across the city. His imagination left Barcelona forever changed from the beginning of the early twentieth century. His offbeat designs resemble what a festive gingerbread house looks like: boasting with bright mosaics, crafted with a brown base, and has a child-like appearance.

Not all of his work’s features pass for gingerbread houses though. He also built a church, many buildings along La Rambla, and the most amazing park that I had ever seen.

The Parc Geull covers miles of land on a hill overlooking Barcelona. The panoramic view from the top allows you see to the coast and look down upon everything that this amazing city has to offer. While wandering the paths, brightly color parakeets sing from the palm trees and lush greens lead you to the next sights of what the park has to unveil. The park holds a handful of his gingerbread looking buildings, including stone-lined walkways, mosaic ceilings, and figures.   Trying to take a photo of the mosaic lizard figure becomes quite the task when everyone at the park thinks riding the creature is the most hilarious thing ever.

These buildings sit along La Rambla: La Pedrera and Casa Battlo (pictured below)

After viewing the history making architecture of Gaudi, the Spanish city holds more random looking pieces of design as well as a traditional arch. I absolutely loved my time in Barcelona and hope to go back someday and continue exploring the rest of the amazing architecture that Spain has to offer.

For the Love of Barcelona

The one city that I would love to live for awhile would be Barcelona. This Spanish town has everything that I’d ever need. From the beauty of nature, the beach, sparkling waters, and a very cute shopping area, to it’s easy access to the rest of Europe, I could gladly call Barcelona my home.

I spent several days in this large city. Going along the water, you’ll see a large port of sailboats; while you walk along the waterside, peddlers lay blankets of their merchandise (mostly purses and sunglasses). The closer in proximity to the beach you arrive, you’ll hear the beat of music, see bars with their open seating areas, and find more stores selling towels and sunscreen.

The beach stays busy in the middle of the day, so I tried to show up before noon. There is nothing better than overlooking the calm Sea while soaking up the warmth of the late May sun on the beach. However, you will need to ignore the locals walking up and down the beach selling their merchandise, mostly offering massages, if you want to be left alone.

The small shops downtown, weave around like a maze, reminiscent of the streets of Venice. The stores sell anything from jewelry, souvenirs, random glass and pottery items covered in mosaics, to candies and clothing. Down the long walkway of La Rambla that travels through the city, which goes on for miles, has hundreds of stores lining it: restaurants, department stores, and old architecture. La Rambla stays occupied by entertainers dressed in costumes hoping for donations.

My hostel had easy access to La Rambla, which had access to the closer end near the beach. The hostels can be more expensive and not as nice as the rest of the places I stayed in Europe; and you will definitely need to plan on spending more on food as well, but the Spanish delights are worth the extra price. Just watch out for the shrimp on your plate, because they leave everything on. You must try the patatas bravas, what we translate to say”angry potatoes.” These spicy tapas are a must while in Spain. Here’s a recipe for the tapas if you want to give them a try without the long plane ride to Barcelona