Sitting at the Bratislava bus station with time to kill before heading to Budapest, I just found this blog post on our computer and realized I had never shared it. These are a few “fish eye” photos from Harold’s water and dust-proof sports camera, which is amazing for self-portraits and group shots. It is a bit random that these are snaps of France and Spain and we have since covered several other destinations, but if there is one descriptor for this trip, it is “random”! When traveling, I believe one generally has to choose between covering a lot of ground and thoroughly exploring a few places. In the past, we have tended towards the latter, which is part what makes dotting from place to place so interesting and fulfilling for us. I do apologize if seeing a lot of disorganized photos makes your head spin, but keep in mind that it does reflect the chaotic, fragmented nature of my thoughts after covering so much territory in three months :)
This is the Palacio Real in Madrid. When I lived in Barcelona in 2004-2005, I never explored Madrid. If I had, I might have moved there! Who knows, but I can safely say that we are both in love with it! The immaculate, polished buildings and public spaces help to generate income through tourism, and the discounted prices on cultural events and sights make the current economic crisis more bearable for Spaniards. In the face of a severe recession, Spanish residents continue to live life to the fullest, while taking advantage of the many “recession specials” available at hair salons, clothing stores, restaurants, movie theaters and the like.
The garden in front of the Palacio Real. We had just arrived in Madrid via bus in the early morning, hence the double backpack Harold is wearing. Our budget hotel check-in time was a few hours away, so as we are wont to do, we carried our bags around while sightseeing. We are not the world’s lightest packers, so it is an intense workout….
We got rid of our luggage- ah!! Strolling around Madrid’s Plaza del Sol with a friend we met in Morocco. I believe Madrid should be a very top European travel destination, as there is so much life to observe, and the populace tends to be dynamic, pleasant, fun-loving and inspiring in its resilience, when you consider the tumultuousness of Spain’s history.
Madrid is pretty cheap compared to most Western European cities, but it is still cheaper (and sometimes tastier!) to dine-in; here we are enjoying German beer with a homemade paella while trying to recover from a nasty cold. We were staying with a local Madrid couple who advertised a room on a popular hospitality website. This website has been indispensable to us during this trip, saving us oodles of money and providing truly restful, homelike accommodation along with a glimpse of the area’s lifestyle usually not provided by your typical hotel. If you are interested to know about any of the websites, equipment or resources we have used on this trip, feel free to shoot me an email.
You will see several photos of Madrid’s Crystal Palace on this blog. It is part of the Parque del Gran Retiro, our favorite park on this trip so far. It is huge and boasts a lot of activity, street performing, unique fountains and architecture. I have decided that Stanley Park in our home of Vancouver, British Columbia urgently needs a Crystal Palace to provide the illusion of being outdoors when the weather is wet and chilly.
Here we are inside. We were not supposed to sit on those colored circles in the background because, as we were surprised to find out, they constituted an exhibit by a Japanese artist.
Moving on from the Crystal Palace, this large man-made pond is in Parque del Gran Retiro in front of a monument to King Albert IX. People considered it large enough for kayaking and canoeing, and of course strolling around and eating ice cream or picnicking nearby.
Still in Parque del Gran Retiro, in front of the Argentine Lane- there are different lanes named after various Latin American countries.
Crossing a bridge over the river, close to our apartment in Madrid. There is a lot of original street art in Madrid, which we may have actually enjoyed more than the world-class museums :)
The Arco del Trinfo in Madrid. You may notice that H and I switched hats- I think we were getting a bit bored with our travel wardrobe.
Here we have moved on to Bilbao to stay with a family friend we had never met, but wow, are we glad we finally did! Monica was an amazing hostess, super intelligent and simply delightful to talk to. The weather was a bit misty and chilly, but we didn’t mind, since it reminded us of home (in the Pacific Northwest). Here we are in front of the cathedral in the historic center of Bilbao, another uber-polished Spanish city with a sky-high unemployment rate :(
Bilbao’s Puente Colgante is a world heritage site that provides an awesome view of the surrounding area and illustrates how the wealthy and working class neighborhoods were historically divided by the river (I will shed further light on this in subsequent posts).
Here we are a bit bedraggled as we arrive in Paris after an overnight bus from Bilbao. We generally travel by bus, since it tends to be much cheaper than the train, can provide great scenery and overnight accommodation, and can be booked at the last minute. Comfort levels vary from acceptable to luxurious, as was the case on our recent bus from Prague to Bratislava, Slovakia, which provided a personal entertainment system, refreshments and a travel attendant!
Here we are in front of the Louvre. We never went in. Whaaaaat is up with that, you may ask. It is just too much museum. When I went to Paris in the 90s with my family, I had the privilege of entering and viewing the Egyptian portion. For this trip, a few smaller museums were enough for us, especially since the weather was awesome and created an outdoor museum of sorts, setting off the beautiful architecture and detailing on the buildings, and illuminating the flowers in the park landscaping.
Goofing off while my dear friend Marya (with whom I attended the University of Oregon) and her husband, Pierre, looked up our next stop on our walking tour of Paris.
The top floor of the stunning Printemps department store in Paris, which provided an amazing enough view of the city for us to forego the Eiffel Tower. Also a WTF move, right? But we found plenty to do instead, and enjoyed having the extra 40 euros in our pockets :)