Day 22 – Barcelona

First of all, yesterday I tried to get train tickets for the next legs of my travels, but even rushing to the train station 3.5h early, they closed international ticket sales (this was 6PM). So I’ll probably be stuck somewhere pretty soon. Last night’s train went well. This time I think it was a “sleeper” cabin, which had room for four people, a small sink and even a power outlet that I used for my computer.

Upon awaking in the morning, I noticed the Mediterranean Sea going by outside the window. Even though it was an 11 hour train ride, it was nothing since I slept a lot and had power for my computer. In the Barcelona train station I figured this was my chance to get some train tickets! To my horror again, the woman at the booth said it is impossible to sell France/Italy tickets in Spain. Apparently you can’t do it anywhere in the country? Well, I’ll be out of Spain soon enough. But not sure what will happen after that. By the way, in Barcelona they don’t only speak Spanish but most people speak Catalan, which is an entirely different language!

Anyway, I had a good time in Barcelona. This included walking (plus escalators) up a big hill to Parc Guell which gave me a good panorama of the city. Afterwards, I visited Sagrata Familia, a cathedral that has been under construction for over 100 years and still decades away from being complete. And there were people working on it when I was there, so they’re still going.

Later I found a nice buffet restaurant and decided to try it. Called Fresc Co, they had very healthy food that tasted good and was affordable ($11). They would almost force people to have a salad first (everything from brown rice to prunes) by having you pick out that before you pay. Then they have another area with fresh fruit, pasta, pizza (veggies or seafood on it), and some banana in sauce for dessert. So I was impressed and I think they found the right combination. And I was on a roll too; I stacked up quite a few plates and bowls. Good thing I wasn’t kicked out!

The restaurant did put me over my budget though. Today seems like a typical day:

  • $34 Room
  • $11 Food (1 meal)
  • $9 Transportation (subway tickets)
  • $7 Entrance Fees (one fee, and that was with showing my student ID)

= $61 Total

I’m trying to keep my budget under $50. So this means I have to skip food, or skip any place that requires a fee to get in, or walk everywhere, or find a couch to sleep on to do so. Sometimes I have to make some hard decisions and cut out certain things.

At any rate, I spent the rest of the day walking around some of Barcelona, past the giant statue of Christopher Columbus, and walked down La Rambla. La Rambla is a unique dividing line in the city that is an uninterrupted sidewalk and for a half mile and no cars are able to cross. That’s where you see street performers and artists.

Tomorrow morning is a train from Barcelona to Montpellier, France. That’s as far as my tickets go so far. But I’ll probably end up in Nice, France. I want to get on a night train to Venice, Italy ideally, but I doubt that is going to happen now. My plan right now is to move as fast as I can because I’m probably going to be forced to delay somewhere.

Day 21 – Seville

The big attraction in the city is one of the largest cathedrals in the world. So I visited that and also walked up the very high tower to get a view of the city. I think I figured out where all the gold from the Americas went; there sure was a lot in there. Also, Christopher Columbus’ remains are inside. I then looked in the Archivo de Indias very quickly. All the documents from the Americas got sent here.

It is 85°F and sunny today. This is probably one of the warmest cities I’m going to visit in Europe. Tonight, I have another night train and this time to Barcelona.

Day 20 – Madrid / Seville

After sleeping in, my host Noel and I went out to eat a local specialty: Chocolate y Churros.
Then I walked around Madrid a bit more and came across a government or military band playing the 1812 Overture outside, which was a nice surprise. Then I visited Museo del Prado before disembarking on my high-speed train to Seville.

I rode on the nicest train I’ve seen so far. They even have a movie playing during the ride and classical music playing before the train starts moving. About 2.5h later, I am in southern Spain in a city called Seville. It is older and more confusing than Madrid. I imagine this is how it feels to be dropped off in the middle of a town in Mexico. Even though I took a bus which dropped me off within a block from my hostel, it took me a half hour to find it. The signs were so small anyone could have missed it. But inside it is nice and new except no hot water so far.

Day 19 – Madrid

I had a 10 hour train ride from Lisbon to Madrid, overnight. This time I tried sleeping in a seat, but it is still not so easy for me to fall asleep in a seat like that. Plus it turned really cold in the train at night, so didn’t get as much sleep as I would have liked.

A stressful time happened when I arrived in Spain. I had a possible place to stay, on a couch, but no address or way to contact him. First of all, I couldn’t get any free wireless signal anywhere in the city I tried (first time I’ve run into this problem), so I couldn’t get to my email. Second, I tried asking a few people if I could borrow their phones, but no one would help me. I finally found a payphone after a while and was charged about $4 for about a minute of use to a local number. So I did finally meet and was able to get a place to stay.

In terms of English speakers, Spain has the fewest in Europe and possibly most of the world. A few decades ago it was illegal to speak anything other than Spanish here, so now it makes it tough to communicate. Also, voice calls are super expensive here. I suppose that’s why SMS text messaging is popular outside the US. The person hosting me, Noel, is an English & Chinese teacher from Malaysia. He’s telling me how there is much demand for English teachers here now and that’s why he is here. I’ve noticed Madrid is a very clean city, you always see someone sweeping, mopping, or taking trash away in public areas. Kind of funny, reminds me of Mexicans cleaning homes in the US.

Anyway, I visited Toledo (the original, not the one in Ohio), which is 30 minutes by train. I was kind of angry it wasn’t covered on my Rail Pass at all. But it was sort of a medieval capital of the area, surrounded by a river on three sides on top of a hill. Back to Madrid, I visited the Reina Sofi­a National Museum and then a found a buffet run by this Romanian guy (he spoke English well!). I also spend some time walking around Madrid. So I’d say things worked out OK in the end.

Day 18 – Lisbon

Today I walked up a nearby hill to Castelo De São Jorge where I had the best views of the city and was able walk through a very old castle. Then I headed out on a day trip to Sintra which is a scenic, historic town. I followed this path up a hill through the woods and made it to Castelo dos Mouros. Another castle! But I didn’t go through the gate since I didn’t want to pay for two castles in one day. Getting cold and windy today and I probably haven’t seen it very cold since Boston. But nice to have a break from the warm weather too.

Back to downtown Lisbon, I went to an $8 buffet that I found (first since London). Except I got there at 4:30 and they close at 4:30, but they said I have 15 minutes to eat. So I grabbed some food and hurried. I couldn’t go back for more since they took away all the food. By the way, it appears they will charge you for water. They bring out a bottle if you say water, but good thing I brought my own (which I keep refilling at the tap).

This is the last day in Portugal and Spain is next after an overnight train. I’m finding myself falling behind in my trip planning. I need to be reserving rooms and seats on trains a few days earlier. For example, all the hostels in Madrid are full tomorrow night.

As far as languages, I’ve gone through French, Portuguese, and tomorrow Spanish. But I’m getting by because I’m not asking for help too much. I’m able to figure out where to go with maps on walls and signs. But for Portugal, I have no guidebook, phrasebook, map or anything to carry around with me. I’ll find out what I can on the computer and then take a few notes.

Day 17 – Lisbon

To get from Paris to Lisbon it takes two trains. One high-speed to Irun, France (almost 6 hours). Then switch over to a sleeping train, which is called the Sud Express. I stayed in a Couchette with five other people on these basic beds (almost 14 hours). Too bad my laptop battery doesn’t last quite this long, I need to get a backup book for this kind of thing.

I haven’t been to a restaurant in a few days. So I asked the hostel staff for a restaurant recommendation and they said this place called É o Nosso Espaço, just up the road. For $8 they gave me a nice selection of healthy food, which I think I needed.

Later I went to the Belam district of the city. They have a near copy of the Golden Gate Bridge here. I saw some monuments and visited the Maritime Museum. Even later, I helped the hostel own fix the wireless on his laptop.

Day 16 – Paris

Today I visited the Paris Opera House, but just the outside. It is famous for being the setting of The Phantom of the Opera. Then I walked down the street and found another Egyptian obelisk (on that theme, this is the 3rd one I’ve seen so far on my trip). Finally, I went to Chateau de Versailles which is a former king’s palace and garden. The line to get in was the longest I’ve seen so far, must be the security slowing everything down. So I skipped the inside and just walked around the gardens which at one point literally one mile long with the highest hedges I’ve seen.

I’m at the train station waiting for the train right now. Going to be on a train for 19 or 20 hours, something like that. Then I’m going to get another time zone change soon, so only 5 hours ahead of Eastern for a little while.

Day 15 – Paris

This morning at the hostel I saw two other people at the front desk saying their bags were stolen from their rooms last night. So far I haven’t had anything go missing.

Today I saw the Arc de Triomphe, Père-Lachaise Cemetery, and saw a little of a political demonstration going on in the streets of Paris today. Today is a holiday across most of Europe and it is special in France because elections are coming up on May 6. Unfortunately, everything is closed so I spent most of the day taking a break from seeing things.

Tomorrow will be my last day in France and throughout tomorrow night I will be on a train heading to Lisbon, Portugal.