Just what are you doing in Spain, Amanda?

I meant to write this before I left but the last few weeks have been insane. So here we are.

I am in Spain working as a researcher/writer for Rick Steves’ Guidebook company. I will be visiting thirteen different cities to check all the information in the Spain guidebook: hotels, sites, restaurants, etc. I am also always on the lookout for new and exciting places to add to the book. And I’m getting paid. Basically it’s my dream job.

So far I have been to Granada, Nerja, Gibraltar, Tarifa, Tangier in Morocco, and I am currently in Ronda. Next I’ll visit Arcos, Jerez, Sevilla, Cordoba, Pamplona, San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Saint Jean de Luz in France. I spend about 1-3 days in a city depending on its size, so I am crazy busy but I love it. In total, I’m working for four weeks and then I’ll be on vacation in Barcelona, Madrid, and Paris for two weeks.

I miss Alex and my friends and family (but my parents are coming to San Sebastian, Barcelona, and Paris!!!), however I do not not not not not not not want to go back to Seattle where it’s still raining every day.

Everything is perfect here. 

Spain Itinerary

I am about to head to Spain to work for four weeks followed by two weeks of vacation. I’ll be working as a researcher for Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door guidebook. Could not be more excited. Here is where I’ll be headed this summer:

Granada, Spain
Nerja, Spain
Gibraltar
Tarifa, Spain
Tangier, Morocco
Ronda, Spain
Arcos, Spain
Sevilla, Spain
Cordoba, Spain
Pamplona, Spain
San Sebastian, Spain
Bilbao, Spain
St. Jean-de-Luz, France
Barcelona, Spain
Madrid, Spain
Paris, France
London, England 

Stay tuned for updates along the way.

Peru Pt. 6: Finale

After a long day at Machu Picchu, we had lunch in Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of the site. From there we took the nearly two hour train and then a two hour bus back to Cuzco. I was seriously worried our hotel would run out of water with us all hopping into much-needed showers at the same time, but no. I took the most amazing shower of my life.

Fresh and clean we all headed out to dinner with our guide, Javier, at this delicious place above a shady market and tattoo parlor. Then about half of us decided it was high time for a night out. We went with Javier, who I thought would know the hot spot in town, but instead we headed to “club corner” where we got mobbed by 10 or so club promoters until Javier worked out some deal and we ducked into this crazy-themed discoteca (I forgot you aren’t supposed to call them “clubs” because club can also mean brothel). Everything is so surprisingly eccentric is Cuzco!

Several boozy drinks later we made our way back to the hotel.

Day Eight:
I tried to iron out some issues with my hotel for that night. I had to change hotels but I wasn’t supposed to and blah blah blah confusion but basically they were supposed to come get me at 10, didn’t happen, so I headed out with the ladies after breakfast for shopping. We spent the morning gathering souvenirs and I finally found the perfect blankets I’d been searching for for my parents since I missed my chance at the Pisac market. Then we dropped into the Pre-Columbian Museum before buying chocolates and then having lunch at Jake’s Cafe, basically the English-mecca. After lunch we did a bit more shopping, stopped at Starbucks (don’t judge) and headed back to the hotel. I was bombarded with questions by a group of ill-prepared Australian girls who were heading out on the trek the next day. “Can I smoke on the trail?” “What kind of pants do I wear?” “Is the third day hard? The third day is my birthday.”

I said a quiet thanks to god for not putting me with those idiots.

That night we all met up for drinks and then dinner at Cicciolina. It was by far the best meal of the entire trip, and maybe one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I don’t remember what exactly we had for an appetizer, just that it was amazing. For my entree I had a squid-ink pasta with prawns and a creamy sauce and I about died. Dessert was caramelized bananas plus a sampling of the many chocolatey, fruity dishes that everyone else had ordered. It was perfect. I particularly loved someone’s balsamic strawberries with pisco ice cream.

And lots and lots of pisco sours.

Day Nine:
On my last day in Cuzco I met everyone for breakfast at Jake’s Cafe. We then said our goodbyes as most of them headed off to tour the Amazon or hopped a flight back home. I spent the morning hanging out around the city and reading in the square until it was time for my flight to Lima. My layover in Lima was eight hours so I thought I might as well go into the city for a bit. I had lunch/dinner at the LarcoMar, basically a huge, modern shopping center built into the cliff-side overlooking the ocean. It was perfect. Ceviche and more pisco sour. I hung out in the shops for a bit until I heard from one of the members of my group saying that he was in the shopping center as well. So we had some more pisco sours and hung out until I had to catch a cab back to the airport.

 

14 hours and a layover in Houston later and I was back in Seattle.

I miss it there already. Alex and I are having pisco sour night tonight.

Peru Pt. 5: Machu Picchu

The day I came all the way to Peru for.

Day Seven:
We woke up at 3:45. In the morning. AM. Yes. 3:45. I packed up my things and shoved a few pieces of bread in my half-awake face and lined up with everyone else around 5 at the checkpoint, which opened at 5:30. Once we were through, it was an easy peasy two hour hike to Machu Picchu.

Except that it was raining.

I had sort of expected it to rain the whole time so up until that point I was feeling very lucky. But when I woke up in my tent and heard the rain thudding against the canvas I was less than thrilled. At least it wasn’t the first day?

So we trudged through the rain, which eventually let up, wearing our plastic ponchos over the top of our gear. I think it would be better to call them sweat boxes because that is exactly what they were…steamy bags that kept the rain out while heating you up so much that you were drenched in sweat anyway. Yea…I was real attractive.

AND FINALLY! After what our guide called the oh-my-god-steps, which were actually not difficult, just frightening because they are straight up, like scaling a wall, we arrived at the Sun Gate. From the Sun Gate you should be able to have an amazing panoramic view of Machu Picchu, but all we had was clouds. We waited and waited and waited for them to clear while countless groups went past us, down the trail to the site. There were a handful of times were it seemed like it might burn off, but nothing.

So we headed down to the site. I was so full of excitement I could have cried!
We got there and had a victory beer (around 7:30 am) before starting the walking tour. It’s funny because there is this mix of dirty, tired people who just spent four days hiking to Machu Picchu, and clean people who just got of the two hour train now huffing and puffing their way up a flight of stairs. I was dirty and proud.

I’m just going to post some photos of Machu Picchu instead of trying to describe it. I will just say that it is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Truly. I am floored just thinking about it and I am so lucky to have been able to go…I will never forget it in my life.

And that’s that.

I will say again that the hike was the hardest thing I’ve even done in my life. But it was also quite possibly the most fulfilling. I’m sure with time I’ll forget how bad it was because it’s so easy to just remember the photos above and the perfection of it all. I don’t know that I would do the hike again, but I will most definitely be back.

Peru Pt. 4: The Hike

My deepest apologies. I spend 20+ hours at week sitting in front of a computer so it’s verrrry difficult for me to choose to do so lately. So here we go.

Day Five:
The second day of the hike was by far the hardest. We spent the first five hours going up. And up and up and up, climbing a total of 1,200 meters that mostly consisted of stairs. I stopped often. I thought my heart was going to explode at times (and not metaphorically). It was so incredibly difficult and I think everyone thinks I’m exaggerating but the truth is that I don’t really even know what to compare it to. The worst part is definitely the altitude, and at times I felt my body screaming at me for more oxygen but there just wasn’t any.

But then

You reach the top. It’s sort of awful because for the last two hours you can basically see where you are going the whole time, and you see all these little ant people up there, and it looks like a world away because it sort of is. But after one last miserable, uneven staircase, you’re there. Dead Woman’s Pass is the highest point of the trek at 4,200 meters. Whew!

See the littttttle people in the pass? Oh no? Yea probably not because that’s how damn far it is.

Made it!

And from there it is all down hill. The problem with this is that now your legs are so tired from the hike up that they shake non-stop the whole way down. So I went as fast as I could down each mismatched step to camp at the very bottom. And then it was nap time. Plus tea and dinner. I slept so well that night and I’m so glad because I didn’t sleep at all the night before.

Day Six:
Another early morning! This day was a combination of ups and downs and was all around difficult but we were over half way and just ready to get there. This was also the longest hiking day: 16 kilometers compared to 11 on the second day and 10 on the first. We went through two passes and stopped at several sites before arriving at camp around 4:00.

Headed here

View from the terraces in the photo above.

And once we got to camp same story pretty much: tea, dinner, gross bathrooms. Plus I decided it was high time to try and wash my hair. Which was a mistake. They give you a bucket filled with about an inch of warm water, so I dunked my head in, massaged some shampoo into my gross oily scalp, and then attempted to wash it out. The issue was that now I just had soap water so I could never actually get all the soap out of my hair, which just resulted in gross hair that had soap in it. Plus the organic stuff I bought (everything has to be biodegradable) doesn’t even wash out under the hardest of water pressure. So I will forever look gross in my photos.

Anyway! We were nearly finished with the hike. I had about 5 mosquito bites and a wicked sun burn but that was fine…we did the hard part.

The last night we also had a ceremony where we thanked our porters. I cannot stress enough what an amazing and difficult job they do. It would have been completely impossible for me to make this happen without them. So again, thank you, porters of the Inca trail.

Final day coming up.

I swear I’ll finish my trip posts. As soon as I’m not exhausted from school/work.

Peru Pt. 3: The Hike

Day Four:
First hiking day.
I should start by saying that I’m not very outdoorsy, I don’t go hiking, I like to shower. I do enjoy camping, but mostly the romantic snuggle in a tent and make s’mores aspect of it. So I think I surprised even myself by signing up for this trip. I’ll say it again: it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically. I should also start by saying that I’m in decent shape and this hike seemed to be wearing on everyone in my group except the super-family from Canada.

The first day we left at 7:30 to start the hike. We dropped off our duffle bags with the porters and picked up our rental equipment. Our guide Javier had called this day “training day” so I sort of expected it to be easy but I was seriously wrong. It was just the easiest of the hard days. In total we hiked seven miles up and down through the Andes, eventually arriving at camp around 4:00. At camp we met all our porters, hands down the hardest working people I’ve ever encountered. They carry 40+ pounds on the trail and they literally run from site to site, setting up all our tents and cooking and making food. Absolutely no way could I have done the hike without them. After a celebratory beer and dinner we settled into our tents around 8. Real party animals.

I thought I would sleep so hard after the long tiring day, but I tossed and turned and finally decided to finish reading Mockingjay, which was a mistake because then I had to pee so bad but was half terrified to leave my tent. Shortly later one of my fellow hikers got sick and was up the entire night along with the rest of us. I don’t think I slept at all.

You see that pass wayyyy in the distance in the photo above? That’s where we were headed the next day.

Peru Pt. 2

Day Three:
After an early morning breakfast I packed up the duffel that I’d be taking on the hike with me and we left to tour the Sacred Valley. We first drove up to the tip top of Cuzco for the first of many Kodak Moments as Javier called them.

Our second stop was overlooking the Sacred Valley.

And from there we stopped by the Planeterra Project, which was sponsored by our tour company and teaches women weaving and knitting techniques they can use to produce goods and support themselves and their families. All the textiles were so beautiful and I was really impressed to see how much work goes in to a piece.

After that we stopped at the ruins of Pisac and the Pisac market. The ruins were massive and really impressive and at the market I ate the most delicious cheese bread.

We also stopped to try some local chicha…a fermented corn beverage. It was interesting. And eventually we checked in to our hotel in Ollantaytambo and hiked up the ruins there.

I was constantly floored by how beautiful and green Peru is. Everything is so pleasant. The next morning was the first of our hike days! I’ll update soon.

Peru Pt. 1

When I was about 7 years old I had what I think was a bingo set, or flash cards, or something educational with little squares filled with photos of different places all over the world. I couldn’t name what any of the other photos contained, except for one beautiful green, mountainous picture of Machu Picchu. And it’s probably the name that I remember most…Machu Picchu sounds very silly even now. My whole life I’ve wanted to go to this magical Inca site. So last month in the middle of an about-to-graduate/identity/future/relationship/life crisis, after realizing that this is my last spring break and maybe the last time I’ll really have to jet off to Peru for a four day hike, I found a tour and booked it.

And I’m almost hesitant to write about the experience, because nothing I say could do it justice, but here it goes…
The most difficult, rewarding, and fulfilling trip of my life so far.

Day One:
I finished my finals on Monday and was awake until 2 packing to leave for the airport at 5. After a long day of flying I arrived in the crazy Lima airport just after 10 that night and by the time I negotiated a cab and got to my hotel it was well after midnight. My roommate was asleep (I had booked an eight day group tour with shared room) so I quietly crept into bed.

Day Two:
Off to Cuzco! I met my fellow travelers in the morning: my roommate was a woman from Ireland, and also a young couple from the UK, a couple from London celebrating their 40th birthdays, two girls from San Francisco, a family of four from Canada, a man from Vancouver, and one other guy from Ireland. We would later be joined by two girls from Denmark. We took a bus to the airport and took a short flight to Cuzco, arriving around 1. From there, we met our amazing guide Javier who got us checked in to our hotel before taking us on a walking tour of the city. Cuzco is really incredible. After leaving the central marking, however, the sky opened up. Perfect time to duck in for lunch where one of the girls ordered guinea pig and I had some coca tea to deal with the altitude. We finished the tour at an Inca wall and that night me and some of my companions went to eat at the craziest restaurant, the Fallen Angel, which I won’t even try to describe except to say it was like a Dali painting met an army of cherubs.

We left for the Sacred Valley the next day.

Plaza de Armas

Cheese in the market

Fallen Angel

Starting the Inca Trail hike tomorrow!

Have I mentioned that I could not be more excited?! Here’s what my hike looks like:

Friday: start the hike at 7:30, hike 10 kilometers stopping for lunch and Kodak moments, arrive at camp by 4:00

Saturday: (hard day) wake up at 5:30, hike five hours up 1,200 meters, have lunch, hike down 600 meters, total of 11 kilos, arrive at camp by 3:00

Sunday: wake up at 5:30, hike a total of 16 kilos through 2 passes, arrive at camp in the afternoon Monday: wake up at 3:45 (yes…3:45), and hike TWO HOURS TO MACHU PICCHU!!! Cannot wait.

Hello from Peru!

After a crazy flying day that begun with a delay due to snow in Seattle (what?!) I finally arrived in Lima last night! But I’m back on a plane to Cuzco in an hour. I’m incredibly excited and I’ll try to update along the way, but I expect wifi to be sparse. Full updates and pictures when I get home! Adios!

a.[carolena]: In the Med 2011 Part 3: Gibraltar/Leaving

acarolena:

Day Six: at sea
We slept and ate and slept and ate. There was the lovely formal night with lobster. Delicious. Alex looked so handsome and classy. I love when we get to dress up for something. We also watched some more magic and got a little tipsy. Great fun.

Day Seven: Gibraltar
The port of…

a.[carolena]: In the Med 2011 Part 1: Barcelona/Morocco

acarolena:

Ah vacations…
We left Seattle very early Thursday morning for Barcelona, which is as I’ve said many many times my favorite city (and future home). After a layover in JFK we arrived in Espana Friday morning and made our way from the airport to the city center to get our bags on the ship and then…

Nice

Off to the south of France!  The train ride was confusing but beautiful. We went by luxurious Cannes and Saint Tropez.  Loved it.  We arrived a little late and hadn’t figured out the public transportation so we ended up spending a fortune on a cab.  At that point I didn’t care so much, I was exhausted.  We checked in to our charming little hotel and then off to hit the town.  Everything was busy and there were street performers all over.  I had muscles in a white wine/lemon cream sauce.  They were magnificent!  We talked for a bit to the family sitting next to us whose kids were prettttty annoying and obviously spoiled.  But the parents were nice enough.  Got some fantastic gelato.  Walked by the water.  The next day we hit the beach!  The beach in Nice has no sand though, just big giant rocks.  We didn’t care, we just spread out some borrowed beach mats.  We spent almost all our time in Nice on the beach and even got to see some French kids get busted for pot.  Whoa.  Delicious food in Nice.  There was a cute little Beatles-themed coffee shop that we stopped at for bagels every day.  We found the tram on the last day and as we headed to the train station we realized there was much more to Nice than what we saw (the beach), but that was fine.  It was nice to relax and eat and relax and eat.

Barcelona

Ah Barcelona!  I don’t know how to even write this post adequately.  My heart overflows.  Barcelona is HUGE and the metro system is extensive and incredible.  It took us forever to find out hostel but it was very nice once we did.  We stayed in an apartment style room with 2 bunk beds and its own kitchen and bathroom near the Gaudi Cathedral.  The weather was lovely the whole time.  One of my great regrets is not taking a day trip to Figueres to see the Dali Museum but there’s always next time (and there will be a next time).

We went to see the La Sagrada Familia (the Gaudi cathedral) but didn’t have time to wait in the giant line until another day.  Once we finally went, I was blown away.  So from the outside it is pretty cool, but I first thought it was a little too crazy and ridiculous.  Once we were inside and learned more about it, though, I changed my mind.  The inside it amazing.  Really truly absolutely amazing.  The cathedral has been under construction since 1882 and isn’t expected to be finished until 2026.  Gaudi died in 1926 and during the Spanish Civil War his plans and workshop were almost entirely destroyed.  But they have done a pretty incredible job reconstructing his original intentions.  Gaudi was a genius.  Really.  The mathematics and references to nature are unbelievable.  The acoustics, the lighting, the columns, everything.  I can’t wait to go back and see its progress.

We walked around the main street one morning/afternoon and saw some really incredible street performers as well as the best market in all of Europe.  Unfortunately we got there right at closing time.  It was colorful and busy and there were a ton of stand selling every juice combination imaginable.  I love juice!  We bought some fruit and hit the beach.  The waves in Barcelona were probably some of the biggest we saw anywhere.  The water was perfect, it was sandy (not rocky), and warm warm warm.  

One night we found a theater showing Toy Story 3…in 3D…in English!  How lucky for us!  That movie was great.

We ate at all sorts of places in Barcelona, and all of it was delicious.  One night we went to the Barcelona Pipa Club, a bar with a pretty awesome collection of Sherlock Holmes-style pipes.  Everyone we had talked to elsewhere in Europe made Barcelona sound like a place for parties and only parties, until 7 a.m. etc etc…we were not down for that. So we arrived in Barcelona expecting not to like it, expecting it to really not be for us.  But as I said, it’s a big city, so while I am sure all that went on we never even noticed.

We took the bus out to Park Guell, designed by Gaudi.  The views of the city from there are fantastic and the park itself is very charming with its fountains and gingerbread houses.  We were there right as the sun disappeared.


(just to the right of the top point of the house on the left you can see the towers of Sagrada Familia)

I’m sure I’m missing important moments and exciting experiences but I will say that I never expect to love a place like I love Barcelona.  It has this feeling about it, this spirit.  As I said, I don’t know how to explain it.  I would live here…I hope I can live here. 

Valencia

The bus turned out to be our best (read: cheapest) option to get to Valencia from Madrid…but as we learned time and time again in Europe, cheap does not mean comfortable or pleasant.  In this case, it meant a 5 hour trip, 30 minutes into which the kid across the aisle puked all over himself and his seat and his mother causing the entire bus to smell like vomit for the remainder of the ride.  Not. Fun.  Thank god we had Harry Potter audio books to tide us over.

Valencia was lovely.  We spent a lot of time trying to find a theater playing Toy Story 3 in English…to no avail (until Barcelona).  Don’t hate on me for trying to find a littttle bit of home.  Nice hotel. Did laundry.  Mistakenly ate at a Cuban place with an inch of sugar in the bottom of their sangria.  We did take the bus out to the beach for the day and it was beautiful, as Spanish beaches are.  I bought a hat.  Saw a homeless guy try to steal a backpack…shut down.  

I wanted to see a bullfight but only recently realized that it is a horrific and bloody event, not just some guy running around with a red blanket.  Glad we missed it.

Overall, Valencia was a nice stopover and I’m glad we went but my little Spanish heart is in Barcelona.